Notes from Neighbours, and Letters to Other Lands

For the last three years, I’ve lived in a block of flats just out of town, and I’ve become rather well acquainted with my neighbours below me and beside me.

Just after the lockdown was announced on 23 March, I recieved notes through my letterbox from both households, offering assistance if necessary. I didn’t require any help, but it gave me an opportunity to write letters back to them.

Since then, I’ve also received notes from two other neighbours that I’d seen en passant but didn’t know by name. One of them apologised for dropping soil onto my balcony, while the other wanted to talk about a noise issue from another flat.

I keep a special notepad for letters, styled as ‘nu:elite‘. The pages are ringbound A5 sheets that tear off along perforations, leaving a smooth edge. It’s also a heavier weight of paper, which I favour, although I do have a lighter weight, styled simply as ‘nu‘. if I’m not trying to impress the other person.

While I had the notepad to hand, I penned one to a friend in Florida, enclosing some commemorative David Bowie stamps that I rediscovered while clearing up. Shortly after that, a pal in California wondered whether I could send her a pen I’d had custom-made for my open-mike Hotchpotch.

Then I had a birthday card returned undelivered from Dublin; this had been posted before the lockdown. I’d bought and printed my postage online rather than visit the Post Office, but I’d messed it up. Reading back the letter I’d originally enclosed with the card, it seems I’d been pushed for time and hadn’t written much. I therefore decided to send it back with a longer letter, as the first had gone out of date because of the movement restrictions. I was sure to learn how to properly affix self-printed postage.

The letter-writing bug must also have hit my Canadian pen-pal, whom I met through National Novel Writing Month. She apologised via a private Twitter message that she hadn’t managed to write back. I, of course, said not to worry about it.

I remember learning at school how to write letters by hand in the mid-1990s. Looking back, it seemed a little dated even then: word processing software was near-universal, though e-mail was not.

In sixth year, however, I learned how to touch-type and to format a document correctly. The teacher was near retirement age, but she’d moved with the times: there were no double-spaces after full-stops.

Despite my love of letter-writing, I’m also doing it sparingly, as we don’t yet know exactly how the current virus is transmitted. The aforementioned neighbours now have my phone number, so as to reduce physical contact as soon as possible.

Writing to My Influences: Six Months On

Earlier this year, I wrote a letter to Kazuo Ishiguro after reading his book Never Let Me Go. It was necessary to use pen and paper because his publisher didn’t provide an e-mail address. I enjoyed the process so much that it sparked off a project to write to 10 other people who have influenced me.

Six months have now passed since that project. I haven’t received a response from any of them, but I didn’t ask for one; I merely wanted to express my thoughts on their work. At least I can be reasonably certain the letters did reach their respective destinations as none have been returned to sender.

English: The first U.S. aerogram, then called ...
English: The first U.S. aerogram, then called a air letter, the modern transformation of the letter sheet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have no plans to repeat this project, but if I did, I’m uncertain whether I would do anything differently.

The most difficult letters were to Jasper Carrott and Billy Joel because they were childhood influences rather than current ones. Yet I’m glad I did because, as 2016 has shown, nobody will be around forever. Conversely, I fear I might have scared off Andrea Gibson as that ran to four handwritten A5 pages. Given another chance, I might have boiled it down to its essentials, and I acknowledged this point within the letter itself.

There is one side benefit. To carry out the project, I needed suitable writing paper so I bought a notepad with tear-out pages. On the odd occasion when I’ve needed to write other letters and notes over the last six months, it’s been ideal.

I do quite often write on paper even if I’m not composing a letter. This entry, for instance, began life as handwriting in a notebook; I wasn’t in a hurry and it’s more portable than a laptop, plus it slows down your thoughts to the speed of the pencil. When it’s finally put on computer, it undergoes its first edit. If you’re accustomed to using a computer, I recommend the method.