I’ve been clearing out old boxes of letters dating from student days. In these days of email and texts, when most messages are brief and casual, it’s amazing to sort through these handwritten letters. I’m struck by what a passion for communication we had. Whenever my friends were apart from one another, we all wrote to one another constantly, describing daily events, and more particularly, our feelings about them, which in many cases ran to multiple pages of closely-written blue ink. Most of the envelopes were bulging with thickly folded wads of paper.
It was touching to re-read them. Apart from anything else, there was an enormous amount of good writing there! I intended just to ‘sample’ each letter, but was unable to tear myself away from the fascinating accounts of people and places. During this period, my friends had dispersed to various places around the world to continue their education or their musical training with particular teachers. They were trying out jobs in orchestras around the world. They wrote from the United States, from Hong Kong, from Florence. They reported on life in Las Palmas, in California, in north Germany and Scandinavia. And not just occasionally: we wrote to one another regularly, sometimes apologising that a whole week or fortnight had gone by without putting pen to paper. We wrote about the books we were reading, the concerts we’d heard, the late-night conversations we’d had. We wrote about the people who had influenced us, and about our personal philosophies as they started to become clear to us.
These days, a handwritten personal letter arriving in the post is an incredibly rare event. I probably communicate as much as I ever did, but in a different way. That way is circumscribed by my awareness that electronic messages can easily fall into the wrong hands. I never thought about that in the days when I sat at my window with a big pad of notepaper and a pen newly filled with blue Quink. Remember Quink?
Looking back, I see that these letters played a very important role in my development. In writing to my friends I was forced to try and articulate what my feelings were; in mulling over their replies I was able to extend my understanding of how situations and dilemmas could be tackled by people with more ‘nous’ than I had. I read about people trying for jobs, thinking about money, considering which country to live in, falling in and out of love. It was a heart-warming collection, and set me musing about how much our modes of communication have changed.