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All Around My Life

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Tuesday 7 February 2012: Summer

Looking at all the beautiful icy, frosty and snowy blips from the Northern Hemisphere at the moment has made me nevertheless glad that I am here enjoying somewhat warmer weather. So here are some yellow roses in my garden for all those snowbound in the sudden cold snap that seems to be sweeping Europe.

This wasn't really what I had planned to blip today, but I'm afraid I couldn't find it so I will have to have a more determined look. Yesterday, I read this thought-provoking article which questions whether the modern generation knows how to write letters in the traditional sense of the word.

"In these days of email, texts and instant messaging, I am not alone, I feel sure, in mourning the demise of the old-fashioned handwritten letter. Exchanges of letters capture nuances of shared thought and feeling to which their electronic replacements simply cannot do justice," writes historian Lisa Jardine in the second paragraph.

She goes on to cite several exchanges of letters between Virginia Woolf and some of her correspondents, in which missives written - and sent - in haste by Woolf have caused the recipient to be stung by her words and reply in alarm. Woolf then realised that she had written the first thoughts that came to her mind and apologised for not having thought through her answers more carefully. In other words, she understood that letters dashed off quickly could cause offence where none was intended.

Lisa Jardine says that the majority of people who write to her by email have dispensed with the formalities of 'Dear' and 'Yours sincerely,' and simply say whatever is on their mind (often rather abruptly). They then simply click 'send' without any further thought for how their words may be interpreted.

I thought about this. In fact, I have been thinking about the whole loss of letter-writing as an art in general, since Immy's best friend Kate said to her on our departure from Bahrain, "I might even write you a real letter, like they did in Downton Abbey times."

A bit more recently than Downton Abbey (1912-20s) times, actually! I well remember not only writing weekly letters home from boarding school and the leap of joy in my young breast when my name was read out at Post time; but typing letters from my employer to our clients and others in the 1980s and from myself to my own clients in the 1990s. I even wrote letters to elderly relatives as recently as about seven years ago when even they began to use email. However, I was amused to notice that the 70+ brigade were setting out their emails exactly as they would a traditional letter, with the place and date - 'Bicester, 20th April 2005' - at the top and indented paragraphs. It was not unknown for an email to be followed by a phone call (from our parents, mainly!) to enquire whether we had received the message.

I think the heading of the article should more accurately have been 'A Point of View: Mourning the loss of the handwritten word.' I, for one, find electronic media marvellous because I can type much faster than I can write. I don't think I send things off without checking them first and if the communication is particularly important I write it as a traditional letter and send it as an attachment. My letter-writing skills have not suffered, I think, as a result of the shift from hand-written communication to electronic.

But for my children's generation, I'm not so sure. Despite having been educated at a good school and attaining an A pass in A Level English, my elder daughter still posts things on Facebook without capitalisation, which is something I simply cannot do! I know that when required to, she can write an extremely good formal letter; however I also realise that she must have to make an effort with this if her instinctive way of writing is to let it simply flow through her keyboard as a stream of consciousness..... i dont think i could really write like this as i find it physically difficult to restrain myself from using capital 'i's, for example! That must be why she has nicknamed me 'The Grammar Queen.'

What I was hoping to blip was a photograph of some old letters in my possession - dating from the 1920s (though not from Downton Abbey!). I have put them somewhere safe and will keep looking for them. There is so much more to be said on the subject of letter-writing (how will our communication survive after we are gone, for example, when the only places our letters now reside are servers?) but you may be relieved to hear that I shall leave it there for today!

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