Monday, December 01, 2008

Poison pen

Until either (1) the art of letter-writing died out due to the advent of email, or (2) I (sadly) grew out of it, whichever came first (ie up until about 15 years ago), I used to correspond with dozens of people, many of whom I never met: penpals from Middlesex, Nigeria, Minnesota, or Glasgow, the early ones from Tammy and Misty, a girls' comic, and the later ones from a long-defunct Scottish music magazine called CUT. I used to take incredible care with my envelopes, decorating them painstakingly with black and white pictures cut from music and art magazines and using a silver pen to write the address.

I met three of my correspondents in person in the late 1980s, just after I left home to go to university in Glasgow. They were all from the later group and were all completely different from each other. The only one I'm still in touch with, B from Blantyre, I met (by arrangement) beside the Smiths records in HMV in Renfield Street in my first year at university and although we haven't seen each other for a few years, he's someone I think of with great affection as having been a friend when I needed one and as someone I could pick up with again in a second.

The others were more peculiar: William, the only child of elderly parents, ran his father's gas bottle business in Mount Vernon in Glasgow and, as a present, bought me black towels from Harrods which served only to scandalise my room-mate, an uptight Free Presbyterian from Ullapool called Sheena. William was so nervous when we first met he was sweating profusely, and clumsily attempted to kiss me in his father's Nissan Sunny when he dropped me back at my student flat, while I equally clumsily tried to extricate myself. And then there was Tony from Broughty Ferry (the posh part of Dundee), who worked for the Sunday Post - in the advertising department, but he carried himself with the glamour of a journalist. We met in Princes Street Gardens. Compared to B and William, I was quite attracted to him, and we seemed to be getting on well, but it all went badly wrong when we began talking about what each of us had imagined the other might be like. He remarked "I had no idea what you would be like. I was worried you might be a fat Paki".


Anon Y Mouse said...

I believe it it sometimes best not to sully the purity of a relationship born out of correspondence with an actual meeting in the physical realm.

But never having had a penpal, I am not really in a position to make that call.

Mancsoulsister said...

Oh god, penpals!!! Now there is a concept from a bygone age!

I had loads of penpals...
Dan in West Virginia, Monique in Groningen, Claudia in Berlin, Marlene in Ardberg, Adam in Budapest, Sophie in Nantes, Susanne in Zürich.... There lives always seemed so much more exotic and interesting than ME from Manchester. I am sure they are all in some way responsible for my incurable Wanderlust!

I also remember lavishly decorating letters and envelopes and sending small gifts (stickers, smash hits posters, badges..). I remember Sophie filled an envelope with bath salts for me once and Marlene sent me about 10 Atomkraft- nej tack badges.

I never met any of my many penpals although I did get an invite to Dan's wedding!!

Penpals.... the youth of today don't know what they are missing

LottieP said...

I think it might have been more of a female thing, Anon Y Mouse (great race, by the way, but where are you?) although I did have plenty of boys writing to me. I might even still have all those letters somewhere, in my mum's attic, if they survived my usual scorched earth approach.

I agree, MSS; relationships via email with people you've never met are more immediate but at the same time less personal than a letter. I love receiving handwritten letters and it's a matter of some regret that I rarely get any.

nmj said...

Hey Lottie, I guess you said something along the lines of - 'and I worried you might be a thick racist'... mmm, wonder which paper Tony works for now... I love this post, it would be a brilliant short story. I know Mt Vernon (ex-b.friend) and Broughty Ferry (ex close friend) well!

LottieP said...

Well indeed, NMJ - there was a shocked silence after that and then, as the saying goes, I made my excuses and left. We never wrote to each other again. I like to think that 20 years later he's sitting in front of a one-bar fire somewhere - maybe even in Broughty Ferry - musing upon his past mistakes.

Claire said...

I shall have to write to you! (as long as you write back).

This you remember his surname?

Word verification word of the day: cated

LottieP said...

Actually I'm not even sure he was called Tony, so thoroughly have I blocked him from my memory. Tony might be right; but it seems like an appropriate name for a wee nyaff, so he's stuck with it.