Wednesday, 11 December 2013
I was sitting in a coffee shop the other day and was just about to put pen to paper, when the pimply teenage waiter arrived at my table and asked the question. Not the question I was expecting, mind you. I was expecting something along the lines of "Can I get you a coffee?"
But instead, he asked "What are you writing?"
It really was quite a simple question and confident I knew the answer without thinking music or phoning a friend, I responded simply – "A letter."
He stared at me blankly. Clearly I hadn’t provided all the necessary information.
"You know. A letter! Words on paper. When I was a kid, this is how we used to communicate. OH. MY. GOD. Did I just use the expression "When I was a kid"? What next? Was I going to start banging on about how things were better in my day, and then complain about this noise they call music? "Sorry, mate, you know letters, right? Envelopes? Stamps? Any of this ringing a bell?"
"Oh yeah," he replied. "I know stamps. Look at all the ones I got at the club last night, the DJ was awesome!"
"You might call that music," I said, trying desperately to catch the inevitable words before they tumbled out of my mouth, "I call it noise."
"But I don’t mean those stamps," I said, moving on before I started suggesting all the world’s problems could be solved by a good dose of national service. "I mean the ones with the Queen’s picture on them, and you lick her back!"
"Why would you want to lick her back?" He asked.
"Do you know, it’s a little-known fact," I said warming to the topic, "that every time you lick the back of a stamp with the Queen’s picture on it, the real Queen feels it."
He paused for a moment as if actually considering it, and then said "Nah … don’t be stupid. And anyway, I know what a letter is. I just wanted to know why you were writing one."
Why? The thought had never occurred to me. He seemed to sense I needed mor information and continued – "I mean, why would you write a letter when you could just send an email?"
"Well you can’t avoid paying your bills by telling someone the cheque is in the email, can you?" I joked.
He didn’t laugh and the thought suddenly struck me, why was I writing a letter? I mean, no one writes letters any more. Even the kid we sponsor in some hick country has an email address and a Facebook page. What was so special about a letter?
"Why?" I said half wondering what the next thing to come out of mouth would be, "let me count the reasons why. For starters, a love email will never be as romantic as a love letter, will it?"
He thought about this for a moment, nodded and said "What if you put some emoticons at the end? A smiley face or I could show you how to do a love heart with an arrow and a 3."
I felt like I was losing him.
"Well what about this then – if you get stuck on a desert island, it’s going to be hard to stick an email in a bottle."
"Unless you’re on Fiji" he countered "I went there with the boys at Christmas and they had a business centre with a printer and everything."
"OK then" I thought desperately, hoping I had another point, "what about spam? I have so many offers in my email for cheap Viagra, I could get the Tower of Pisa to stand up straight."
"There’s a tower somewhere made out of pizza?" he asked with amazement, and then just as suddenly seemed to pull himself back together. "Ok, I get why it’s better than email, but why then don’t you just use your phone?"
"OK mate" I said "letters are so much better than a phone. A letter won’t wake you up on a Sunday morning when you have a hangover, a letter won’t disturb you by going off in a movie, you can still understand a letter if you read it in bright sunlight, and it’s really hard to send a drunken smart arse letter to your mates in the middle of the night.
He laughed and I knew I had him I just knew we had found the same wavelength finally, so I motioned him closer and said "Do you want to know the real reason I am writing a letter?"
"The truth is I’m writing it to keep a tradition alive. You see, my most prized possession in the world is a letter written to me by my mum just before she died."
"Wow" he said "do you still have it?"
Of course and I read it often.
"Cool story, love," he said. "I’ll let you get back to it, but before I do, can I ask you something?"
"Sure" I said, suddenly sentimental.
"Can I get you a coffee?"