WhatsApp is fun, but nothing beats the inky, intimate thrill of a letter | Hannah Jane Parkinson

I used to have a pen pal, as a pre-teen. She lived in Spain. We would write to each other on embossed paper, weighed down with elaborate stickers.

The letters smelled of perfume or sweets. They came in the most exciting envelopes I have ever seen. Red and blue borders. A little logo of a plane and AIR MAIL or PAR AVION on them.

The men in the stamps, the Spanish and the British, had differently styled beards from those on the stamps I used. Usually there would be multiple paper stamps and then circles of ink on top of those; a busy little corner of navigation. The envelopes from my pen pal were cream, though the ones I bought from my local post office were a pale blue, the same shade as my short-sleeved school shirts.

Nothing exciting comes through my letterbox now. Bills (despite the fact that I long ago requested email statements only), not only my own, but those for the tenants before me, and the ones before them. Lucky me! Leaflets for kebab shops, though I am (um, mostly) vegetarian. Sometimes folded sheets from estate agents, which sycamore down to the tiled hall, inquiring as to whether I want to sell my flat which is not, in fact, my flat. Hospital reminders, which mostly arrive after the date of the appointment. PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL written on the envelopes – which is a tautology, but never mind.

The things I am fortunate to receive, both expected and unexpected, are books – secondhand books I have ordered greedily online, but also the surprise thud of proof copies that publishers send me for review.

Occasionally a love interest will send me notes, written in beautifully cursive script – as is proper – with small gifts enclosed. A healing crystal, once, after I had admitted knowing nothing about such things. Postcards, wittily annotated. But sifting through a pile of letters and recognising familiar handwriting is a now an all-too-rare thrill.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate modern communication. WhatsApp banter and voice memos are fun. Phone calls I enjoy more and more. But text, email and chat windows do not have the personality of looping words or near-indecipherable scrawls. My father used to write me absurdly long letters – polemics way too complex for an eight-year-old to parse – but at the end, he would tape a few strands of the dog’s hair and always signed off with a drawing of a paw. I looked forward to these letters so much.

Anyway, the address of the Guardian’s office can be found on our website. Just saying.

The Guardian

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