In praise of letters…

Settling down to read a letter is an event unto itself. It warrants a cup of tea …

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We forgot to check the post last Saturday so B collected it when he fetched the Sunday papers.  And amongst the mail was a letter from Sue: a handwritten letter!  Phone calls and emails are fast and immediate.  Frequently too it seems, in the case of emails, they are written in haste, with little thought to structure, grammar, prose.  I can be guilty of this, certainly.  The intention of such an email is to communicate in our fast-paced world: to pass on information as rapidly as possible.  Handwritten letters are an entirely different breed.

Writing a letter by hand require time and thought; it requires an effort.  A handwritten letter can’t easily be edited.  Letters must be crafted.  And letters are received quite differently from emails.  I receive emails every day, far too many of them, enticing me to click here, buy this, read that, subscribe …  I whip through my inbox, deleting, actioning, labeling: and the long emails I exchange with friends become a part of that haste, and are frequently read at least initially with that same attitude: a brisk and businesslike skimming through before passing on.   I’ll bookmark them to return to and only then, sometimes not even until I come to reply, do I stop and reread at leisure, and absorb the content and savour the thought that lies behind the words.

Receiving a letter is entirely different.  Because it’s such a rare thing, a letter is greeted with genuine surprise and pleasure.  And I rarely open it immediately.  I recognize the writing and the postmark; I know who it’s from and I tuck it away, waiting for a suitable moment.  So I have the pleasure of anticipation before the pleasure of enjoying its contents.  Settling down to read a letter is an event unto itself.  It warrants a cup of tea as an accompaniment, and a specific time set aside in which it can be read, absorbed, and yes -savoured.  A letter is an occasion.  A letter will be kept and reread, several times in my case.  Sue’s letter was a joyful surprise and very much savoured and appreciated.  To know that she had taken the time and trouble to hand-write a letter to me whispered of care and kindness.  It made me feel very happy and very much cared about.

And now I am inspired to write letters.  Lack of other means of communication when we first arrived here, and the pleasures of receiving them myself, combine to encourage me to make letter-writing a regular activity here at Highfield.  This afternoon I wrote two: not, I must confess, beautifully handwritten as was Sue’s, but printed from the computer.  There are benefits: the font is clear and easy to read; I can get more words on each page; edit until I’m happy with what I’m saying and there are no nasty crossings out.  But a letter from my computer is most definitely crafted.  Plus I can insert photographs among the text, bringing the words to life.  For my parents and my ex-mother-in-law pictures are especially important.  Neither Mum nor Brenda are comfortable with looking at images on a computer screen.   For them, the same basic letter can be tweaked and adjusted to suit each recipient.  Do these computer-generated letters count as letters, or are they merely emails printed off?  A moot point.  I can only say that knowing I intend to seal them in envelopes and deliver them into the care of the Royal Mail, I approach them differently.

So now, from my castle in Cornwall, I am writing emails; I am writing letters; I am writing footnotes, and I am writing The View from Here: all covering the same essential narrative, each for different audiences and all giving me enormous pleasure and satisfaction.

… and post boxes

A further feature of writing letters of course, is that they can’t be sent or delivered by the pushing of a button.  They require conveyancing to a post box.  And on my local wanderings earlier in the week I was very pleased to discover our nearest post box which is a short, bracing and very charming walk up the hill that we see from our windows.  To walk to our post box you have to enter into our view; if I could split myself in two, I’d be able to stand at our windows and watch myself toiling up the hill, letters in hand.  I love that thought.

IMG_0191The post box is very tiny and fitted into an old stone wall.  There is just the one house near it, so an eclectic choice of location, and it appears to be guarded by a free-roaming dog.  I think the dog belongs to the nearby house.  We’ve met the farmer who lives there, so I expect one day we shall be introduced to the dog.  In the meantime, it seems quite harmless but I give it a wary smile and a wide berth!

The walk itself is delightful. I’ve mentioned it before and it’s already become one of my favourite things to do.  It’s an incentive to write letters in itself: I relish an excuse to ‘go to the post box’.  And now, across the road from the post box, is a freezer box stocked with free-range eggs.  Bliss!  And another reason to climb the hill!

The road climbs and winds between high banks crammed with greenery and early spring flowers, with water gurgling alongside.  Tiny waterfalls trickle down its banks, with channels beside and under the road.  When the weather is calm, the sound of water forms a constant, gentle backdrop, mingling with birdsong to create an ever-changing Arcadian arpeggio.

But on this blustery, bludgeoning Sunday, the weather is not calm and the sound of babbling water is overwhelmed by the wind soughing in the trees and roaring across open fields and whistling around rooftops.  To live here it is necessary to venture out to achieve the simplest things that I’ve hitherto taken for granted.  Each day we must make the journey down our steep driveway to collect our post; each week we must make the same journey to deposit our rubbish for collection.  So this afternoon I carried the rubbish down and headed for the post box with my letters.  And I realised that here I don’t ‘go outside’, I enter into the landscape.  Be it good or bad, hot or cold, breezy, bright, blustery, stormy, calm, fierce or fabulous: I enter into the weather and I am enveloped within it.  And it’s a wonderful, invigorating, life-affirming experience.

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