I’ve just sent a real, honest-to-God, actual paper letter. It’s got ink on it, and a stamp, and I had to lick the seal.
Since moving house, I’ve been trawling through boxes of assorted flotsam. I know I’ll end up like one of those hermits you hear of, trapped under an avalanche of Screwfix catalogues and dog food tins. Since childhood, I’ve hoarded floppy discs full of Livejournal icons, Star Wars stickers, glitzy plastic bangles I can’t believe I ever wore – and letters.
So many letters.
I was a terrible teenage pen pal. I wrote bundles of pages in indecipherable spider writing; song lyrics, fan fiction, art I’d just discovered (four hundred years late, usually), books I loved, books I hated. Despatches on school (disastrous), air cadets (disastrous), the state of my kidneys (double disastrous). You can hurl yourself into a letter in a way you somehow can’t with email. They’re artefacts.
I put ads out in sci-fi magazines. I did those chain pen pal schemes where a notebook full of address and lists of interests slowly went around the country and you could pick out anyone who sounded interesting. For a while, pre-Internet, I’d order stifling incense from mail order witchcraft catalogues. Do these still exist?
I love reading old letters. Some surprise you all over again with gifts and puffs of glitter.
Some leave you feeling old.
There are treasures I’ll never give up, and things I can’t remember acquiring. I have letters from people I knew so briefly, I can barely recall their names or how we met.
Others are from people still in my life, people I see online every day, as real as a neighbour at the window.
Some are anonymous scraps found in the street. Someone discarded the nine muses in a cloakroom.
These days I’m an Internet person. Many of my dearest friends are people I’ll probably never meet. The web allows us pallid hermits to talk at any time of the day or night without having to venture into The Dreaded Outside and interact with postal workers. But looking through boxes of old correspondence, I do get that slightly embarrassing nostalgic pang for handwritten letters. Though I rarely send them any more, and seldom receive any, I wouldn’t get rid of my old letters any more than I’d give up my jewellery.