When I was younger I had pen friends. Lots of pen friends, Hannah who was a daughter of my mum’s old friend and lived in Australia, Sofia in Greece and Celine in France both of who I met through a special pen friend befriending scheme. Yes I was a geek, but I loved hearing from other people outside the UK. I’d take the time to plan what I’d write in my letters, deciding which song lyrics/posters I’d include from Smash Hits, finding presents to buy from the market on a Saturday to enclose, and choosing some recent but flattering (that was kind of hard when you were a hairy teenage Greek offspring with greasy hair and face to match) to add to the package. In these years there was email but no Facebook so PRINTED OUT PHOTOS were the way to go. And I didn’t have the option of retaking and deleting the bad ones. So it was just bad ones.
Now in later years I’ve met Hannah and her husband when they visited the UK, and my relationship with Sofia has become something I’ve treasured, and she is now one of my closest friends. I’m actually hoping to get to her wedding in Thessaloniki in June from all the way over here. One of the funniest things I used to do was write Sofia a whole exercise book, stolen from the school store cupboard, of teenage loves and updates. I’d even get my friends at school to write her little messages too! Sure it was quite an original and interesting read, not boring at all…
Anyway, I’m going slightly off topic here, but since I’ve been out here although I’ve managed to stay in touch with a lot of friends already what I really miss is good old fashioned communication. That excitement of opening your letter box and seeing a letter addressed to you that isn’t a bill, flyer or general junk mail, just cannot be replicated. It’s almost the same as when I wake up to see that I have an email from a friend or family member. I savour every moment of these emails. The temptation to click open and start devouring the content is excruciating but, if you are able to hold on, it can be such a treat. My email reading ritual goes something like this: throwing on a dressing gown (well really this is Joe’s hoodie), make myself a nice pot of coffee and whatever breakfast is about (still have not nailed cooking at home in HK no idea why), and then I curl up on the sofa to have a good read. The best thing about letters and emails is that when I’m feeling a little low I can always go back to the message and rereading brings me a lot of comfort.
Now I can appreciate that sending letters is firstly a bit of hassle, and secondly they are probably quite out of date by the time they reach HK from Europe, but an email is just as lovely to receive. A good personal email, in my opinion, is one that has taken more than a few minutes to write, doesn’t use text speak and gives the reader an insight into your most recent interactions, thoughts and feelings – it’s thoughtful. Even if you think there is not a lot to say or talk about there is always something (not everyone’s life has the same highs and lows as Li-Lo and probably shouldn’t be replicated for your better health), but even little things that might seem mundane to some are interesting to read. What makes a letter or email better quality, is their infrequency – you don’t have to reply straight away but that’s okay. It’s socially acceptable, there’s none of this reply to my message bitch I saw you read it crap. If you reply in a week you’ll have more to say, than right there and now and the reader will appreciate it too.
Obviously being able to stay in touch with people over Skype, Facebook, Whatsapp etc is AMAZING because it is instant and makes you feel closer to home. I am the first to admit I am a total Whatsapp and Instagram junkie, so I am not slamming anything other than emails and letters. Sometimes you do want and need that instant style of communication. For example, I can quickly send my sister a picture of myself lounging on the beach and know I’ll get an instant barrage of abuse which I love, brag about being a housewife and making my working friends jealous, or I can be privvy to the details of the notorious boobie you committed in the pub last night and perv on your latest hot date. Also, on a more serious note if an emergency happens I know about it and I can reach home somehow within a matter of seconds. I suppose Skype comes the closest to a real conversation but it breaks up loads (our internet isn’t amazing) and I just don’t feel very comfortable sitting in front of a screen (call me an old fart I don’t care!). It just isn’t the the same as picking up the phone for a natter – which is also partly time to the time difference, such a pain in the ass EIGHT HOURS.
So I’m not saying that letter and emails are the only way or the best way, but just that I like them and the details a lot. A very lot. And I suppose I just don’t want to be in a position where in the future people don’t write letters, and the art of letter writing is lost forever to technology and progress. What if paper and pens become extinct? What if children only use computers in schools? What if more than 11% of the current population can only write in text speak – How ru my wk was ok bt wld be betta if i cld g2 da pub l8r (this is a made up statistic but this BBC article from 2003 is a shocker http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/2814235.stm ). It just would be wrong.
So write more emails and letters people! Not just to me, (although I would be eternally grateful!), write them to your siblings, friends, gramps, even your Auntie Doris, or that old holiday flame.