Does anyone remember pen pals? If you’re over forty you may. Pen pals (for those of you under the age of 40) are people who would write to each other, with actual pens, biro or fountain. We had to buy proper bonded writng paper from proper shops in those days because there were no pound shops. We would put a stamp on the envelope, in the top right hand corner, and then we would post it, into a red pillar box, and perhaps, wait two, maybe three weeks for an answer. We didn’t have computers then. I know, unthinkable, but we were in the ancient times.
Pen pals saved me from certain destruction. They helped me to deal with teenage angst. There was nothing quite like waiting for that fat juicy envelope to land on the mat on a Saturday morning. It always seemed to be a Saturday morning when it landed. Thank you God. I think my pen pals probably stopped me from committing suicide or from going crazy. Either way, I think psychologists have a lot to learn from them, not from fat envelopes landing on the mat…but from pen pals.
Between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, I had an amazing pen pal, who I will call Alice, because her name begins with the same letter, and sounds very similar. She was nineteen when I was fourteen, and taught me much. We were both heavily into Barry Manilow. I still think he’s the most underrated singer/songwriter of all time. That will never change for me. People can only ever offer up the titles Copacabana, Mandy, Could It Magic and Bermuda Triangle, and if they really think they know it all, they add, I Made It Through The Rain, but Barry has written and recorded hundreds of songs. It’s so surprising to me, when people can only ever think of three or four songs when referring to him.
Alice would write regularly and sometimes the content of the letters would border on the erotic. She was as innocent as I. We fantasized, as frustrated teenagers do. We let off steam in our letters. In the end, it probably had nothing to do with Barry. He was just the conduit. She would cover entire outer envelopes, and leave no white bits, with scribblings, like ‘I Wanna Do It With You Barry.’ and other double entendre which related to his song titles. Interestingly enough, now I think of it, he did have a lot of song titles that could be interpreted as double entrendre. To exacerbate the issue, she would write provocative messages to the postman, on the outside of the envelope, like, ‘Whip It Out Postie!’ and other salubrious invitations, which titillated both my fourteen year old self and particularly my forty year old mother, who was also a Barry fan.
But oh, the joy, the joy of her letters. She kept me going when all else failed. She was the buoy in my turbulent sea. It was all innocent fun, in our time of innocence.
I copied her antics and wrote ‘Whip It Out Postie!’ on my envelopes too. She was a bad influence. Of course, it got out among the postmen. ‘Oh, these sad, sexually frustrated teenagers, in love with Barry Manilow, what are we going to do?’ Well, thankfully, they didn’t do anything, except blush.
But, well, the crux of the matter is…pen pals, a dying art? A died art, a dead art? Are pen pals dead?
I had several pen pals after that, over the years, but what I realised was, male pen pals brought their own troubles. Many of them wanted a relationship, they weren’t writing for writing sake, for pen pal sake. Lines were blurred, communications obscured. It was less complicated writing to female pen pals and more fun. I think modern social media has cleared that up. Things are more cut and dried now. There’s no elusiveness, no ambiguity, no doubt as to people’s motivations and there’s certainly no time. You might be waiting for a letter for weeks back in the day. Nowadays, on social media, if people don’t get back to you in twenty four hours, you write them off. They’re history.
There’s no time to think any more, no time to chew the cud. It’s now or never.
I will say though, I have experienced a different ambience on line. It’s not so much about male and female any more. It’s just about people getting on. I’m probably being naive here, but I’m finding there is less predatory action in some environs, obviously more, in others. It’s all about environment. I have been pleasantly surprised at how males and females can get on in modern social media without gender coming into it. Oh, I think I mean sex.
Still, I think old school Pen pals would make a refreshing change. I might just look up these guys.