I will freely admit, I have a long way to go until I understand the many problems and restrictions involved in the lives of other people: not having to experience them myself is the greatest hurdle to be overcome but, with the right explanations and descriptions, it is possible to set myself, to a certain extent, into another person’s shoes and see some of what their life is like. A full understanding will never be possible, simply because we are unable to physically see through the eyes of another person, coupled with their emotions, their earlier experiences, their life as a whole, which makes our understanding of a situation somewhat wanting. Although, through personal changes in my life, I have come to understand a great deal more than before: thanks to an accident in November last year I am unable to work at my normal job and sit at home – admittedly enjoying the time to read, write and visit museums – knowing that I have to check every penny before spending it as my income, fully insured, is about twenty percent less than when I was working. Of course this does not put me on the same level as those who have no income whatsoever, or those who earn a dollar for an hour and wonder whether they’ll find a dry place to sleep overnight.

I have set myself a target, however, with my letter writing, and I mean to continue with it as a priority, and when that means that I use whatever finances I have to assist someone else to write letters, then I will do that too. It’s not something which will happen immediately, but it is there, on the plan, and the plan is firm and settled: it’s going to happen. And I am also well aware that there are other means open to people, other opportunities which they can take advantage of, although many of these means are only open to those who have a good deal of freedom – both of movement and earning capability – as well as the time to exploit them. So, for example, with beaded bracelets. Now and then I see a Jamaican man at the flea market in Bremen who has a small table and makes brightly coloured and beautiful beaded bracelets on order for people whole they watch, as well as selling those he has already made. I’m not sure whether this is his only means of earning a living, I doubt it, but it seems to work nonetheless. Of course, this option is not open to everyone, but there are others providing someone has access to the internet. There are a large number of web services which allow individuals to open a small shop to sell their wares, and these services then take a commission on items sold or a monthly / yearly fee. There are some where the price of a sold item is fixed by the web site – such as Fiverr, where prices for services and goods start at five units of currency – or where someone can set their own price for what is on offer, especially for arts and crafts – such as Etsy.

The thing with these sites is that a person must have access to the internet in order to post on the site and keep it up to date. That said, absolutely anyone can do it, the templates and instructions are so easy to follow, so perhaps there is someone you know who would market your beaded bracelets and take orders? Then all you would need is a stock of good designs to back up any special orders people might have, as many people will see something that appeals to them and buy it, rather than making a design for themselves and ordering it. After that it needs promotion, through Twitter or Facebook, another web site and personal promotion, and then there is the possibility – nothing is guaranteed – of success. The drawbacks you will see immediately: it needs someone who can run the shop, promote the bracelets and handle orders.

You asked also about Brandywine tomatoes and curling leaves. My only experience with tomatoes is when they are on my plate, preferably with Mozzarella and Basil, or cooked and stuffed with all sorts of tasty things. However, having taken a quick look to find out more about the Brandywine strain, I suspect that your tomato plant leaves might have caught a virus or similar. The web sites I have looked at claim that tomato plants are very susceptible to disease, especially if the leaves are watered rather than just the earth. The answer from all the sites I have seen is to ensure that the plant has about eight hours sun a day, that the earth remains moist and is well dunged, and that the leaves are regularly cropped – which also ensures the plant doesn’t grow too big and is designed to bring more fruit – and kept moist from their own water only. The curling leaves problem you mentioned is not one that I have found described, but there have been some on browning and brown spots which suggests a similar problem to me, and there the recommendation is also sun, cropping and earth moisture with dung.

I know very little about plants and gardens, only that my own garden is an overrun jungle at the moment, with brambles and shoulder-high grasses, which desperately needs my attention. It is a wonderful play area for many of the local cats, and has bird’s nests tucked into the less accessible corners as well as any number of field mice and other creatures. At least they are quiet in the night: my neighbour’s new pond has frogs and toads, and they insist on chatting very loudly when everyone else is trying to sleep. My bedroom window looks directly out across this pond, so I get the best of their night time songs. During the day, sitting in my small office and library, I have the birds on my balcony – where I have built several wooden nesting boxes – to keep me distracted, but I can suffer that quite happily too. Since we have goats and sheep right in the middle of town, I see no reason why we shouldn’t have frogs and toads too. I often feel a greater affinity for the animals which populate our town than I do for the people, some of whom insist of raising their own cacophony of sound in the middle of the night, which disturbs far more than a few mating calls.

Logic is one of those things which can be twisted and turned in every single direction according to need: what is logical is not necessarily true, it merely reflects what a person puts in to it which, especially with politicians and those who are selling something, is often designed to bring out the one answer they want, and nothing more. So, yes, my logic on not having an electronic gadget to store my books in as opposed to a library filled with hard copies is designed to reflect the result I wish to have. I appreciate that I am biased in favour of real books, and will always rather be surrounded by the printed versions in many rooms of my house, in preference to five, ten or even twenty electronic storage devices. Aside from which, and I think most people could agree with this, books look more impressive on shelves compared to a Kindle or two.

Fire, water, any number of catastrophes could destroy a library – Pompeii, the great library of Alexandria, all show this – but there is always the chance of rescue. With these new devices, which don’t give the same wonderful feeling when you’re reading a text as a printed book does, the chances of losing an entire library of two thousand or more volumes is considerably higher, as people tend to carry their library around with them and, as some do, forget in on the bus or have it helpfully removed by a concerned passerby from their shoulder bag whilst distracted. Amongst the usual reasons for preferring real books, I have to add: research. Sometimes when I sit here and write a letter, or a talk I’m about to give, or a paper I wish to submit, I have three or four books open at once; I need to be able to refer quickly back and forth between authors to gain an insight, to make a reference, to check my facts. I’d need to have four reading devices open at individual bookmarks all at the same time to be able to do that, since none of them are multi-screen. You open a book to read it, cross reference to another book by closing the first and opening the second, then go back by closing the second and opening the first, and so on. Here I can stretch my hand out, grab the book I desire, or need, at any particular moment, and then lay it to one side again, all without having to close it in order to make room for another title. I think my desk, which is already a mess, would be so cluttered with gadgets and things after a while, that I’d be unable to work anymore. And then, amid all this disorder and confusion, a Kindle falls to the floor. Well, a book would fold and maybe end up with a creased page, but a predominantly plastic gadget?

There is a major difference, I feel, between letters you receive, whether they are hand written or typed, and those which come in as an e-mail: for some reason the personal side is missing, the intimate, just for you side. Electronic mail has never been able to get that, not even with all the fancy HTML designs from AOL and several other early mail concerns. There is, of course, also a difference between a hand written and a typed postal letter, of that there is no doubt, but it is a lesser difference, in my opinion, to that between electronic and snail mail. I will also freely admit that there is a lack of intimacy or the personal touch when someone types a letter, although there are also justifications for this too, as in my case, where holding a fountain pen – and the three I have used for so many years are always close at hand, one of them from the Seventies – is now a practical impossibility. And you also point out that you can probably save two hundred mails on a machine? I have letters I received from the early Nineties, when I was out in Saudi Arabia, and considerably more than the two hundred which could be preserved. And the many hundreds which came afterwards? I receive on average thirty to forty electronic mails a day; my storage facilities would be exhausted inside a working week.

Plato, Socrates: yes, I do seem to quote them quite frequently, but not only; I have a massive list of books where something has caught my attention and I’ve slipped a bookmark in just in case I need the reference later. Not just the ancient classics, but also modern books, biographies, collections of letters, works of fiction. Sometimes a sentence, an idea, grabs the attention and you know it’s going to be useful. I rarely know when, but it comes up eventually. Last week I made a note of a funny line from a classic movie, and got to use it this week in a letter about relationships. And the reading that I do, which is not confined to the classics by any means, brings many new ideas and information, often stretching the imagination. As a child I read many books including several by, I believe, Edgar Wallace, who wrote several mystic books about out of body experiences – mainly of the hero and his sidekick solving mysteries by slipping out of their earthly prisons and checking out the enemy as floating spirits – and they have remained an interest since, although I think I’d probably find the books either puerile or juvenile now. I often find myself losing myself in a work; just disappearing from the physical world around me and entering whichever world the author has created. I suppose that could almost be an out of body experience.  Have never, however, had any just so, without a book or a film, or something where I could wander in and follow everything as if I were taking part. Dreams are, of course, another matter entirely.

Mythology is also a fascinating subject area, and one which occupied my time at school, when I had to be seen to be reading something healthy and suitable for my age. I read many books on myths and legends, Celtic, Norse, Germanic, and they slowly brought me on to the classics of antiquity which, as I am sure you know, are closely linked with myths – Homer and all the others who write of mythical voyages into the underworld, or of journeys to strange lands long before anyone could do fact checking – and they persist into our day and age, with J. M. Barrie and so many others. Perhaps the myths and legends of past centuries would be what we call science fiction today; alien monsters similar to Medusa, Stheno and Euryale, the Gorgon sisters with their snakes, wings and hatred of man.

My moving to different time periods, though, is something slightly different, in that I tend to leave wherever I happen to be mentally, and travel into the words of whoever writes. So I can transpose myself into the Victorian world of Chelsea in London and the letter writer Jane Welsh Carlyle with her historian husband Thomas Carlyle, their friends – such as Charles Dickens – partially because of the words, and partially because I know exactly where they are and have seen the area where they lived or are writing about. Through my travels I can place my mind into a colonial area, with slaves and horse-drawn carriages transporting gentile women across unpaved streets, sporting their parasols against the sun’s rays; or into the back streets of an Arabian town; the open desert; the ghetto of a Polish city, oppressed by an invading regime. This is all partially experience, and partially an ability to imagine and bring my imagination to life, what other people might call daydreaming or a waking dream. The whole is actually a wonderful experience, when you let your mind go, but can be a pretty scary one when it transposes itself into your night-time dream world, where the conscious mind has very little or no control.

Coming back to stamps and letter writing, before I close and consign this to the good care of my local post office: I am registered with JPay, and you are on my list, so if you prefer – or have no other choice – to reply at any time by these means, that is fine by me. I will, however, stick to my letter writing, for which I hope you have some understanding, and any replies to your mails will come through the post, even though it takes a few days longer.