I challenge you to put pen to paper

by Amanda Fleet

When was the last time you held a proper letter in your hand? When was the last time you wrote one? Today? This week? This month? This year?

This decade?

This century??

For many historians, letters are important, often vital documents. They give incredible insight into the minutiae of the day. They can help us to understand a wealth of information, and there are numerous examples of important historical letters. What will the historians of the future have? Tweets? Emails? Text messages? Will such ephemera even survive years, decades, centuries into the future?

During the pandemic, it's been difficult, often impossible, to visit my father who is in a care home, as visiting has been restricted. I've been able to go and shout to him through a window, but that option wasn't really available for my mum. In a marriage of >50 years, they were unable to see each other for 14 weeks. Instead, my mum wrote letters to him (my dad is unable to hold a pen to write back, but dictated some letters via the carers). I know we haven't been alone in sending letters to family members during the pandemic. Who knows what kind of information future historians will glean from any correspondence that survives? It's often the small things - the things that aren't likely to make it into official documents - that will be the most appealing to them. That you've bought a tartan mask to wear in the shops or on public transport. That the supermarket finally has dried yeast. That you did your rainbow for the NHS, but forgot what order the colours went in. Who knows? But they may not get any of that from records that survive.

I'd also like to tell you about a charity - From Me to You - that encourages friends and families of cancer patients to write letters to them. You can also donate a letter - so that someone who would otherwise be isolated will receive a letter. I've written several in my time and hopefully, the recipients have appreciated the random act of kindness and been cheered up by the letter.

You could also write a letter to someone who is isolated as a result of homelessness (link is to a group in Wales) and/or elderly people who are isolated because of covid-19. A quick Internet search should help you to find local charities involved with this, if you wanted to concentrate your efforts closer to home.

What to write?

Keep it simple. A small anecdote about something. A comment on how lovely the birdsong has been in the garden. Things you might have seen or heard on a walk. Anything. It doesn't have to be Hemingway. Nor does it have to be long.

So, I challenge you. Write a letter this week - whether it's to a friend or family member, or a random act of kindness to a stranger - put pen to paper and make someone's day.

Oh, and if you need paper or envelopes or cards, Nero's sells lots of amazing stuff. Look here for the section on correspondence. I can especially recommend the Viking cards and the G Lalo Velin de France writing set.