As you may or may not know, I’m an old fashioned, traditional kind of guy who rejects not only 1990s culture, but also that of most of the twentieth century with discernible vehemence–my use of letters and telegrams rather than telephones, quill pens and ink instead of biros or word processors, and my incessant ramblings pertaining to how things were when everything was fields and you could hang your key outside your front door without a single worry–those were the days!
[M.F.E. Bruce. From a letter postmarked 3 August 1997; in response to my writing ‘having just read a Jane Austen novel’.]
Michael and I shared a friendship by correspondence that outlasted the end of sixth form by about six months. As other good corresponding friends will know, his letter-writing habits combined the attraction of time since lost with a strategy for surviving teenage life in a tiny village. We operated in an era that just predated widespread access to email and mobile phones, and in the later correspondence (his first year of university) it’s clear that physical post was becoming less central to his student lifestyle–if still one of life’s pleasures.
In reading back over his letters today, I found the last voiced just the right mix of envy and rejoicing as he reacted to my good news—a place at Cambridge. I also noticed how often he signed off with “Dream bigger dreams, then make them come true”. In some ironic contradiction, one such letter has him envisage retiring to Darlington (a relative metropolis in his sights), to “wear half-moon spectacles, smoke a pipe [ . . . and] wear tartan zip-up bootie slippers”. Signing off he includes a sketch of a picket fence and a medieval door frame to illustrate other dreams of the moment.
When I learned of the first stroke, I intended to recommence our correspondence. We’d not long reconnected over Facebook, but I had observed the recent move to Cambridge and hoped that paths would cross. Having now read the old letters, I’m the more god-awfully sad that’s not possible.
I hope others too have correspondence to look back on. I’d be glad to share a copy of the letters with his family. I found the sequence to be littered with the combination of concerns and humour that made the Michael I once knew. And goodness, he made me laugh. I close as he once did:
Q: What’s E.T. short for?
A: Because he’s only got little legs.