I’ve got mail…

On this dreadful day, as we all wonder about Paris, a post such as this has little relevance.

I wrote it before the events in Paris and offer it up as a gentle escape for a short while…


I finally finished this


 the other night. I’ve mentioned the book before. It’s a very thick book and has been my comfort book for two years – the book I would go to at night when I just wanted to calm down, to think nice thoughts and slip into an easy sleep. On closing the book that last time, I felt as if I had lost a mentor, a good friend, someone who had the capacity to make every day seem better than just good. And I wondered about Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s letter-writing and her etiquette.

She wrote and thanked anyone for everything – from a weekend with her daughter, Lillibet, to her son in law Phillip for the loan of books, to her adored Charles for gifts of time and attention, to her horse-trainers for wins and losses, her fishing friends for wet and wonderful weekends in the highlands, Ted Hughes for loved poems, hosts for dinners and holidays … and so much more.

“Every body allows that the talent of writing agreeable letters is peculiarly female.”

Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey


I regret the loss of letter writing – the pleasure of sitting with lovely deckle-edged paper, a good medium-nibbed pen and news. I loved writing letters and I loved receiving them. I still do, although it happens so rarely. I still have important letters from my parents, I have a whole collection of daily letters written by my husband, then my ‘boyfriend’, whilst he was touring Europe for 3 months in the early 1970’s – every letter numbered and so very special. And yes, they are tied with ribbon!


I loved writing to my best friends when I was a young adult. I loved going to the local post office. It was a strange place, all brown linoleum and wood, and the letters were sorted into alphabetical order and placed into cubby holes by 11 AM and one always said the same thing every day – ‘Any mail for Wallace?’ The post mistress or post master would go to the ‘W’ pigeonhole and flip through a pile of mail and oh, the joy if they slapped one or more down on the long wooden counter!


“Every body at all addicted to letter writing, without having much to say … will include a large proportion of the female world at least…”

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

Writing was an art-form, a gentle communication and something imbued with manners and etiquette and all the things that so much of the world seems to have forgotten in its headlong, hedonistic race to destruction.

But perhaps not entirely because you see, when Mum died, I inherited a box…


I thought it was an ornamental wooden casket, wishfully Regency, probably Victorian, but just a box.


But no!



We unlocked it after running fingers over the un-engraved shields and found a portable writing case


and my heart stopped because I have always wanted one and I had no idea that the box on top of Mum’s chest of drawers was a writing case. She had never said and I felt as if I had stepped into a Jane Austen novel.


It now sits in our living room, and I look at it and wish I could fill the bottles with ink.


I wish I had the perfect ‘hand’, that when I picked up a pen, the writing would be elegant and fine.



More than anything, I wish the art of letter-writing wasn’t a dying art, and that people today could write beautifully crafted long sentences rather than the herniated and unemotional words of ‘texting’.


“Then letters came in but three times a week: indeed, in some places in Scotland where I have stayed when I was a girl, the post came in but once a month;—but letters were letters then; and we made great prizes of them, and read them and studied them like books. Now the post comes rattling in twice a day, bringing short jerky notes, some without beginning or end, but just a little sharp sentence, which well-bred folks would think too abrupt to be spoken.”

Elizabeth Gaskell, My Lady Ludlow

And in particular, I wish that people had the kind of respect that went hand in hand with the exchange of letters between folk. At least I can look at this box and remember a gracious time past when things were … different.


Post scriptum: For those who wonder, I don’t text. I dislike it with a passion. I would much prefer to talk on the phone, to email, or even better, to write a real letter!