The Letter

Friday night and my arm is worn out. Not for the reason you’re thinking of (honestly, madam, where do you get it from?) but because I’ve been writing a letter.

Yes, a proper, long-form letter with an old-fashioned pen and paper. Two sides of A4 if you must know (and you must).

A friend wants to keep in touch by writing letters and who am I to deny him this archaic pleasure? If it weren’t for the distraction, he’d only roam the halls of his family seat, bellowing in his pantaloons and wistfully playing the lute.

Besides, letter-writing turns out to be good clean fun and I certainly hope to continue the practice for a while. I mean, it took me so long to find a pen, I’m invested now.

The pen turned out to be hiding in some sort of “case” along with a few coloured pencils, a half-moon-shaped piece of plastic, and one of those devices for stabbing other children in the back of the hand. It’s amazing to think that schools once asked us to maintain such kits of bizarre and sadistic gadgetry but there must have been some reason for it all.

Acceptable writing paper took time to excavate too. I genuinely considered tearing up a cereal packet into squares. Alas, we don’t have an empty one at the moment, and having to eat six bowls of Sugar Puffs in order to write a letter quickly put paid to the idea. Besides, my friend had already set a high standard by writing to me on such nice-quality paper with his home address embossed along the top that it did not seem adequate to reply using a jigsaw puzzle of the Honey Monster’s face.

I eventually found — between some fossilized layers of gas bill — a single sheet of A4 printer paper, probably half-inched from some office job of yore. Come to think of it, what do people steal from work these days to make it worth going in? Bandwidth?

When it finally came to writing the letter, I’ve not had so much physical activity in years. Up and down the pen-strokes go, across and around, dotting and looping. You must avoid the temptation to put down so many exclamation marks, just because the motions inspired by their shape is so appealing. It’s worth reserving such punctuation for phrases like “send help!” or “trapped in a drain!” if you want them to have conviction.

And then you have to tear it all up and start again because you’ve drifted off and written “cockholes” instead of “dear friend” or because you’ve crossed out too many misfires and the pen has leaked and you’ve knocked your glass of water over it.

But just six hours and two small fires later, and you have a beautiful, hand-written letter replete with meaning and personal confidence. It’s a shame the diagonal slant promoted by sitting at a table for once makes everything radiate from the top left-hand corner like an upside-down version of the explosive symbol.

It takes you back, writing a letter. You remember all manner of things — checking the dictionary before committing a word to print; putting the address in the “correct” corner; taking letters dictated by parents and teachers, mischievously including the interjections of passing strangers and pets.

Remember all of the rules like the requisite number of blank lines between date and address, and ending with “Yours Faithfully” if you began with “Dear Sir”? Today, as you know, it’s perfectly acceptable to start an email to a parent or employer with “Alright, Cunt?!?!”

And now, as I seal my masterpiece into the envelope — what better way to end a respectful epistle than with the application of saliva? — my arm is like that of the false Rod Hull. I’ve always had skinny, string-like arms but after writing the letter I fear my limbs will now only move again with the application of Kermit the Frog-style rods.

Off I go now to the Post Box. Hey, remember when we had to put one of those sticky “Queen’s head” things onto the envelope before posting it? Crazy days!

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