Your latest letter arrived safe and well here in Germany, so clearly the third-party system works. If you are happy with it, then I am more than happy, so long as communication can continue and we can write to one another freely –as freely as is possible, that is – then I see no problems whatsoever. Of course, if you wish to change at any time in the future and write direct, for whatever reason, I see no problem with that either, and can probably help you to a certain extent. My own resources are limited, to a certain extent, by the rising costs of living in a small town – since not everything is available here and I am often forced to travel for fairly basic needs – but I have always managed to dedicate a certain portion of my means to those areas of true interest and enjoyment; to books, letter writing and the occasional foray out into the wide world of the Arts. I even, for the first time in over a year, allowed myself the pleasure of drinking three beers in a local bar last weekend, by saving expenditure elsewhere. Even out here, where we theoretically have all the resources a person could wish for, there are limits and compromises have to be made.
I’m trying to think of a time, as you mention computers in your letter, when I haven’t been involved with computers in one form or another. Admittedly I began very late: my first real experience with computing as a working resource was in the mid-Eighties when I was involved in real time communicative computing in a network of about thirty different terminals. We had our own server centre – a massive thing for the size of our project compared to what is available today; I suspect that one of my own computers has more data resources than the server we were using then – and I was one of the lucky people who not only worked the control centre, but also get out and about the visit the different outposts now and then. Prior to that my experience with computers had been registers in the book department in Harrods, where I worked initially as a salesman of men’s knitwear, then books and finally as a departmental accountant, and once, at the end of the Seventies, when I visited a computer fair. Nowadays I sit at home, when I’m not out in the wilds of Germany, and use a small laptop for off-line work, and a larger one for online, including working on my own server and maintaining my various web sites. There are a few remains of older computers lying about, forlorn and forgotten, around the house which, one day when I find the time, will find their way to the recycling centre.
The main problem with computers, and software, today is how quickly they go out of date, how often they need to be replace or upgraded in order to keep to the newest standards, to keep up to speed. It often breaks my heart to work on something for a year, rarely more, and then have to change simply because the chip cannot keep up with the speeds demanded. I have always been one for keeping and using until it works no more, then repairing to hold in there for a little longer. These days that is impossible to do; everything is built in such a fashion that a micro-technology-surgeon is needed to replace a broken part, which often costs more than simply signing up for the latest version and discarding the old.
Going beyond that, well back into history, I have many of the old print books and periodicals my father used as a graphic designer still, from the days when printer’s ink had a smell and could be smeared across a typeface by the printer’s devil to produce works of real, personal, and individual beauty. Another of my letter writing friends, in Australia, wrote recently of her love for Heidelberg letterpress printers, and I was forced to recall my old plans to set up a printing press here and print my own chapbooks. As I wrote to her last week, perhaps I still have time to do it; the space is here and the interest, the only thing missing is the machine itself. I sometimes wander in to the printing museum we have in the oldest part of town and take a look at what they’re doing there, but it is a facility which is very underused indeed, only open some weekends in the summer and hardly noticed by anyone in the region. When someone wants cheap(er) posters for an event, they come to the printing museum.
Another thing we have a great deal of here in my region, which could possibly interest you, is beekeepers. Practically every single village here has at least one, and it is possible to buy local honey at most of the farms around my town and further afield. They are all very small and individual, possibly having one or two hives and no more than that, but very proud of what they produce. I will confess that I have no idea of how the whole thing works – a basic knowledge of course, but nothing more than that. Now and then I come across some of the old basket-weave hives which were once very popular here, with their faces and coloured up gaily, but mainly in the smaller local museums and not on the farms themselves. Everyone has moved on to the modern methods, the modern housing, if you like. Are your hives commercially run, or just for the institution itself? Do you have contact with any other beekeepers, or with or or another of the beekeeping magazines, the associations?
Having written up about basket-weave hives, I just checked the German word Imker (beekeeper) to see whether it works in English too, of course it doesn’t. However, it was interesting to see that the etymological origin of Imker is immenkar, which is a compound of imme (bee) and kar (basket), for beehive. The change of spelling to Imker is caused by the word reverting to the business of being a beekeeper – a female beekeeper being Imkerin. Sometimes, bearing in mind that German is not my native language and I am still learning as fast as I can after only twenty-odd years here, it is good to see the origins of a word in order to understand it better. A simple translation doesn’t work, the word needs to be properly understood to have any real meaning.
Another thing I have been looking at lately, for my own personal peace of mind more than anything else, you also mention in your letter: replies. You say that the number of replies you’ve been receiving has dropped, which surprises me. It doesn’t come as any surprise to me when I don’t receive a reply, or when the communication tails off after only one or two exchanges, but mostly I have the experiences that women receive the most letters, and tend to keep their correspondence going for much longer. I have to justify this slightly, because it is not quite as simple as it may seem to be, there is a lot of depth beneath this simple ‘women get more’ surface. There are some women who are capable of attracting and holding a man’s attention through certain feminine devices, through promises and suggestions and the careful use of language. Then there are those men and women who manage to find a genuine partner to correspond with, either because there is a spark there or they share common interests. I feel, although I cannot prove it in any way and have no evidence to back up this thought whatsoever, that two women writing to one another, without any sexual background or suggestion, just as equals with an interest in communication, would be able to hold a friendship longer than anyone else.
I also get the feeling that two men could do much the same, if they throw the macho expectations out of the window and settle down to talk rather than to play off one another. With men, though, it is much harder: I’ve had one who told me clearly that he isn’t writing to anyone who might be gay because that’s not his thing. All of the men I’ve written to have been surprised that another man writes to them, suspicious in the beginning too, but have held on through. If I balance up those who I have written to it comes out at about equal – you must remember that I write for the pleasure of correspondence, and not to find a partner or for any other reason – an equal number of women and men have replied to my letters, and continued writing. Taken over all, though, I have between twenty-five and twenty-seven percent reply rate at the moment, pushed up mainly because several, such as yourself, have continued writing and not given up on me after the first attempt!
One of the reasons why I have always avoided such electronic kiosks is because of the monopoly they constitute, and, to be honest, the lack of service that they offer people. Users are very limited indeed, and much of what is available to them is also there for us either at no cost at all, or considerably cheaper as we have free choice between many different services. I can see the use of these kiosk services in other areas, the transfer of funds for example, but even this is a very costly exercise. I know that if my bank, or any other local bank here, offered the same service at the price demanded, they’d lose customers hand over fist.
But the money business is always a bad thing, no matter how far you go back in history, there has always been someone who makes an absolute fortune out of the misery and difficulties of others. Whether it be pay-check cashing services, money lending or whatever. In one of my very, very rare glimpses of British television last year I caught several adverts for quick money-lending services designed, they claimed, to help people out of a short-term liquidity problem without any of the bureaucratic hurdles raised by banks. I was amazed at a 95% interest rate – balanced over a year – until I saw ones going up to 1200% annual percentage rate. This is not the way to help people get out of difficulties, merely to lock them in to even more problems, and exactly the reason why banks – in Europe at least, since the laws in the USA are being rescinded by the current administration, and all the protections rolled back – are so carefully controlled and regulated in their business dealings. The highest interest rate that I have on my house is 4.5%, and my credit card is not all that much higher.
I know one or two of the programmes that you mention in your letter – well, Dharma & Greg says something to me, at least – and I know of KISS and several of the members of the band from a misspent youth, as I was told at the time, but still dispute. I also know of reality shows – we used to have a joke in England about a programme called Celebrity Squares, which was also on US television, along the lines of asking how real and off-the-cuff the answers from the celebrities are, and asking the scriptwriters for a comment. Reality shows are about as real as the Waltons were – which, as it happens, was based on a book by Earl Hammer jnr., called Spencer’s Mountain and a film from the early Sixties – and if anyone honestly believes them, then I see no hope for the future of civilisation. At least The Waltons tried to bring across a wholesome message (as Wikipedia puts it), whereas the stuff being churned out today is fodder any self-respecting oven-ready gourmet chicken would turn its beak up at.
I spent my youth in libraries, museums and travelling; basically anything that would get me away from the family home and out into the fresh air. Family then was just my father and sister, we lived above his offices and he worked through the entire week. Free and leisure time, especially during the long English vacations, was out in the London parks and museums or with my grandparents. Television was not an option. The cinema was not an option. Anything that cost money was not an option. After a while I found television to be a mere distraction, and a theme in discussion which pushed me more and more to the outsider status I have happily retained through many decades. If you cannot talk about the new episode of Thunderbirds in the school playground, or Captain Scarlet or Baywatch or Dallas and so on, through the years, then you weren’t in. Today you’ve nothing to say if you aren’t up to speed with the latest iPhone application, or registered with SnapChat and all the other social media services. If you read a book which has been printed on paper, well, that’s it, you’re right out there, in the desert, the wilderness of irrelevance.
Which, to be honest, is where I prefer to be because here, in the wilderness of irrelevance, I can watch, make notes, and write my letters in peace and quiet.
I hope I haven’t lost your interest.
I’m confronted with this idea now and then, and sometimes find it hard to answer. Let me put it this way and, hopefully, put your mind at ease: last week I received a letter with a single line message – actually similar to this one I’ve quoted in some ways, but more impatience than anything else – and I wrote a reply of about four pages. That’s much the same length as this letter today. I tend not to lose interest easily, because there is always something worth writing about, always something which can be taken out of a received letter and replied to, always something interesting happening in the world worth writing about. What you bring into my life cannot be valued on a normal scale: it is always something I have not experienced, cannot experience in the manner in which you do, or have. For me it is all new, despite my age, and brings me novel and fascinating thoughts which, hopefully, can be turned into interesting replies and provoke fresh correspondence. That is the way it should be, and that is what I sought and have found with our exchanges.