Lockdowns without Letters …

It would have seemed unimaginable to previous generations.

This past twelve months or so have, after all, deprived us of much, but gifted us – or some of us – chunks of time that are elusive in the normal scheme of things.

And people have been responding. Homemade bread has evidently become ‘a thing’ with sour dough for some reason being given star status and the subject of endless WhatsApp communications. Neglected flutes, guitars, violins et al have been picked up, dusted off and some semblance of sound encouraged out of the instruments by their owners who last attempted a note in primary school.

DIY has resurfaced and accent walls very much the look of lockdown.

But has anyone started writing letters again?

Blessed or cursed – according to your view – with isolation, deprived of day to day social contact and face to face conversations, is there anyone who has turned to the neglected pad of Basildon Bond or Queen’s Velvet and devoted an hour or more to writing a letter to a friend or family?

I doubt it.

Letter-writing is, after all, so very 20th century.

Try telling anyone under the age of 40 or so that as children we actually sought out pen pals, found someone of a similar age with whom to correspond and devoted time every week to writing this virtual stranger a letter. It sounds now like a habit suited only to a Victorian spinster.

Yet letter-writing was definitely a ‘thing’ – it was normal.

And somehow, even as an adult, there was always time to write that letter. To a friend who had moved abroad, to someone living the other side of the country.

And yes, it did take time, often a couple of hours were happily devoted to the task because it was a form of communication that was enjoyable.

Besides, the reward was enormous.

There was nothing quite like coming home from a long day at work to find a letter on the doormat, a thick wedge of pages crammed into a neat envelope, hand written in the sender’s unmistakable style.

Saving it up was the key. Savouring it for some minutes while the kettle went on, the coffee made, the chair chosen in which to sit and devour the contents. There was definitely a kind of ritual attached.

Can one say the same about an email? A text message?

All right, so we’ve all discovered the joy of zoom calls over our various lockdowns. We are all now conversant in meeting numbers and passwords and suitable back drops and the best lighting to enhance our lockdown jaded, weary faces.

But it’s hardly the same.

Of course our time is now so much more challenged than in those erstwhile 20th century days – and for centuries before.

Even in a lockdown.

What with Facebook to check and emails to send and Netflix to watch..

What with Google to consult and YouTube to see.

In fact, for letter-writing to become a habit once more it would no doubt take a complete absence of electricity, an entire switching-off from all technology to drive people to pick up a pen and enjoy the process of composing a letter ……

which is, of course, the situation for Jane Austen’s characters and therefore the hook to finish with a quote from one of my favourite literary letters – from Captain Wentworth to Anne Eliot in PERSUASION:

Tell me that I am not too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it eight years and a half ago. I can hardly write – too good, too excellent a creature!

Don’t tell me that would sound as good in a zoom call – especially if Captain Wentworth forgot to unmute himself!

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