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Keeping in touch

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SEARLE Ronald - Typed Letter Signed 1967 to the cartoonist and illustrator Jean EffelWe’re well into the Covid-19 lockdown here in Richmond and although most people are reasonable and well behaved, there is absolutely no doubt that they are thinking longingly of all those restaurants, cafes and pubs now closed. You can’t friends over for tea or dinner either, though some enterprising friends have organized virtual get-togethers.  It’s not quite the same, but for now it’s a lifesaver, and I am deeply grateful to have friends who have helped me navigate the new (to me) technology (“it should be that little peanut shaped icon at the bottom right of you screen” …. “Where? …. Oh, yes, got it!“).

Twitter takes up more of my time these days.  I’m spending more time on it, exchanging information with followers about books, history, life in general.  The other day I had a great exchange with someone about the books we are currently reading.  Never met her, no idea what her family situation might be, but the important thing is that we like the same books, so we recommended books to each other.  It’s not the close friendship you have with people you have known for years, but it is good to think that strangers can connect like this. (Note: if you’d like to join in, just click on the twitter icon at the bottom of this page.)

It has made me think about how the way in which people communicate changes. As soon as more people were able to read and write, letters, pamphlets and eventually newspapers became a common method of communication.  The advent of the telegraph brought speed for urgent messages, and in the 1870s Paris started its own system, the “poste pneumatique” whereby a handwritten message on a special form, the “petit bleu”, could reach its destination in an hour or less.  The messages had to be kept short, but it was widely used, rather as text messages would be used today.

The telephone changed things dramatically, even more so when international calls became simpler and more reliable.  But since the days when the prevalence of letter writing took off, nothing has quite revolutionized communications the way modern technology has done.  First mobile phones and emails, SMS messages, and today it’s a vast array of methods of keeping in touch, from social media to online business meetings, group chats, and an array of electronic messages, many of which end with an emoji. 

Of course, you might miss the familiarity and closeness of someone’s handwriting, and few people try to include their own sketches in their messages.  From my own perspective, I wonder how people in future generations will be able to “collect” text messages, emails, tweets and whatever else we use, so I hope that there are still enough people out there writing the occasional letter, preferably interesting or witty letters.

I’ll finish with a letter (you knew this was coming, didn’t you?!).  One of my favourites, in this case, written by the great illustrator Ronald Searle. For one thing, it’s a very light-hearted, amusing letter.  And then there’s also the fun of his signature, illustrated with a daisy – in homage to his correspondent’s wife, no doubt, whose name was Marguerite (or daisy in French).  If he were around today, there’s every chance that Searle would have come up with a few new emojis of his own, but I’m so happy he lived in the days of letters so that I can enjoy this signature, in pink felt-tip pen, no less.

And speaking of Searle, why, why, WHY is no one showing all those wonderful 1950s St. Trinian’s films on television during this crisis?  I can think of nothing that would cheer me up more.

Stay safe and well, everyone.

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