As if the summer holidays hadn’t been boring enough, my mother recently asked me to go through some of the relics that had been left to gather dust in the loft since long before my birth. Yet another show-stopping day of the summer holidays, I thought. This exercise, however, proved to be more interesting and entertaining than expected.
This was firstly due to my discovery of a scandal-ridden diary from my mother’s first year at St Andrews. After a couple of pages of jaw-dropping literature that was hauntingly factual, I decided to hand the journal back over to my mother and continue the clear-out.
We then began going through letters from her summer holidays. Raking through piles of letters, she shared several of them with me, laughing as she read some of the funnier ones, trailing off through the boring ones, and screwing her face up while trying to decipher the scribbles on the (literally) hundreds of postcards she had collected from her fellow students over the course of those long summer breaks. She had even kept invitations to parties in flats on North Street and drunken dinners at her friend’s house, a boozy cottage by the pier nicknamed “Cirrhosis sur Mer.” Ah, the days before Facebook events.
As much as it was good fun to read through these letters with my mother, two things stood out to me amongst the handwriting of her friends from the ’80s. The first was the love for St Andrews that nearly every student seems to have is nothing new. British friends complained of boredom, bad weather and the distinct lack of alcohol in their parents’ cupboards. American friends sent postcards from their sunny beachside vacations, but they longed to be back on West Sands. The words on paper are nearly identical to iMessages I have been receiving since we left St Andrews this May.
The second realisation was that I felt a sudden panic that showing my children text messages or Facebook messenger group chats simply wasn’t going to cut it. It was, in fact, going to be completely impossible to show anyone any evidence of our correspondence and communication during the too-lengthy periods of time away from St Andrews. So, resolving that I had been born on the wrong side of the internet invention, I decided to write letters to some of my friends from university. This “project,” if it can even be called that, probably demonstrates just how bored one becomes during the holidays.
Still ongoing, I have compiled a list of reasons why I believe we should not yet abandon the written word. Pick up your pens, and get ready to take note:
The fridge-freezer of memories: A letter will not be lost amongst the never-ending stream of texts, iMessages and group chats. Because we send fewer of them, letters are more important and likely to be of more meaningful value. They provide a sort of fridge-freezer mechanism for memories and occasions in your life that you wish to be remembered by others. As my mother read through her letters, she was reminded of events that had occurred not only in the life of her friends but also in her own youth. Our mind only has room for a fraction of the memories that we desire to hold. Most people cannot even remember what they had for dinner last night. The idea that what I write to my friends and what they detail in their responses could be remembered in decades to come was a comfort to me. In this way, we have the power to choose what is remembered and, also, what is forgotten. In a letter, by detailing the present, you are creating memories to be shared in the future. Writing a letter envelopes those memories in paper so that they can never escape us.
The pen in hand and the creativity that it forces: Writing a letter forced me to detail how I was filling my summer. More importantly, it forced me to make the holiday sound interesting. A letter could detail mundane events in the most exciting way, and that was something that proved enjoyable; writing for pleasure was as relaxing as reading is. Furthermore, it made me question the following: What’s worthwhile enough to be remembered in paper form? There was something about writing a letter, something more concrete and everlasting, which made me feel like I had to get it right. I had to make my trip to IKEA sound interesting. I realise now that there are things in the letters I probably wouldn’t have bothered to tell my friends in a text but would have absolutely have mentioned in the ramblings of real life conversation. I also realised that, had I chosen friends who were anything like me, they would, of course, find my trip to IKEA beyond thrilling.
The absolutely necessary kit: It might just be me, but the stationery involved in letter writing is really what seals the deal. There was recently an article in Vogue entitled “A bit of all Write.” It detailed the latest accessories for this new-old sport whilst also recommending websites on which to find pen friends. The accessories listed (a fountain pen for £235 and some personalised notecards, £160 for 100), might just be slightly out of my price range, but the idea of letter-writing equipment gracing the pages of one of the most accredited fashion magazines in the world was quite something considering the technological age we live in. The aesthetic of a letter is perhaps one of its most appealing features: It’s more charming than a text and more personal than an email. The accessories which frame the written word are equally enchanting. This all combines to make this form of communication stand out amongst the rest. Today, a letter written to someone is a sign of a great amount of thoughtfulness. Something pretty sitting on a friend’s desk will make them feel all the more important.
The clatter of the letterbox: Possibly the most exciting part of letter writing is when you realise there is something on your doormat that isn’t just a leaflet from Go-Compare or a political party’s latest campaign flyer. It’s first of all something addressed to you, not your parents or flatmate, which is exciting enough. Beyond that is the fact that it is handwritten, which confirms the fact that you have received real life communication from another human being in the form of actual paper! You suddenly feel as if you haven’t spoken to your friend in years as you rip open the envelope and begin to frantically read their news, which is usually minimal as you have just an hour ago concluded a lengthy FaceTime call with them. Nonetheless, the fact that your friend has taken time out of their own day to tell you just how much they are wishing that their parents were out at work more, or really how much they cannot wait to move into the new flat and be back in the Bubble, is something really special. It is something that you can keep for a long time, long after you have dropped your phone in a swimming pool on holiday or left your laptop on a train, never to be seen again. A letter is for life.
There is something I have found so nice about now having something concrete to show for our love of St Andrews. Letter writing in general has been great fun and something that I will now keep up, not just exclusive to the dull moments of the summer holidays. Even if you write one page (please note that stamps are surprisingly pricey, who knew?!), just think of the excitement that will greet one page of absolute drivel. A letter can contain everything or nothing, because in fifty years’ time it will still hold something. It will be sitting in the loft, unmoved and unmarked, whilst you will have deleted texts and archived emails and will probably be sending messages through telepathy or something ridiculous. I don’t know. What I really feel is that no matter what, letters should be written. They should continue to be posted and received. I would like to think that, what with Vogue doing an article on this lost art, there could be a minor rebirth for letter writing. Perhaps we will continue to laugh, sigh and squint at them for many more decades to come.