THE CAMPAIGN FOR BETTER LETTER WRITING

An Indian Letter Pouffe

In Post Moment, Uncategorized on March 20, 2009 at 7:08 pm

I’m reading Julian Barnes’s Book of Death (Nothing To Be Frightened Of). In it he remembers clearing out his parents’ bungalow.

I found a small stack of postcards dating from the 1930s to the 1980s All had been sent from abroad; clearly those posted from within Britain, however flavourful the message, had at some point been culled. Here is my father writing to his mother in the thirties (“Warm greetings from cold Brussels”; “Austria calling!”); my father in Germany to my mother in France (“I’m wondering whether you got all the letters I wrote from England. Did you?”); my father to his small sons at home (“I hope you are doing your duty and listening to the Test Match”), announcing his acquisition of stamps for me and matchboxes for my brother.

The best postal moment comes only two pages later when Barnes stumbles across a circular leather pouffe from his youth. It had been brought back from Allahabad or Madras not full or fat but empty – and ready to stuff.

They stuffed it with the letters of their courtship and early married years. I was an idealistic adolescent, who swerved easily into cynicism when confronted with life’s realities; this was one such moment. How could they have taken their love letters (doubtless kept in ribboned bundles), torn them into tiny pieces, and then watched other people’s fat arses hunker down on top?

… In company, I would now lower myself gently onto the pouffe; alone, I would drop heavily, so that an exhalation might jet out a scrap of blue airmail paper bearing one or other of my parents’ youthful hands.

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