If there is one thing which scares a letter writer more than that blank page, it is the thought that they have worked hard, sometimes for hours, and produced a piece of prose worthy of the highest accolades, only to have it lost in the postal system somewhere. We all hear of the stories where a postcard, a letter has been delivered to the grateful heirs of a person decades after it was sent, having slipped down the back of a sorting desk, or been consigned to the dead letter office and only now, years later, can the true recipient of the missive be found and notified of their luck but, now and then one of those scary stories comes up which makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, your hand quiver slightly, and your eyes go moist without the accompanying feeling of joy. The post-person who hoards. That one person who appreciates a good envelope, and so decides to keep it; who cannot complete the round because of backache, and plans on doing the delivery later; the one for whom a certain area in the city, on their route, is out-of-bounds and, of course, those who are either idle, have an appointment somewhere else, or have been set delivery targets which are impossible to meet.
I think the case you might be thinking of was in The Detroit Press in February of last year: a postal worker who was going to deliver the mail later, for whatever reason, but was seen dumping mail behind a dumpster – one thousand five hundred letters – and then, a month later, and I ask myself how it could have taken so long, had a further one thousand eight hundred pieces found in his house. In fact, I ask myself not only how it could have taken a whole month for the rest of the mail to be found, but also why he didn’t destroy those he had at home in that time. His collection, the article states, went back seventeen years, so there must be something other than too much work or idleness involved. Malicious and deliberate destruction? There are such people. And there are those who gain some form of power thrill when they can exercise their limited amount of power in a form of abuse which will hurt far more mentally than physically: messing about with people’s feelings is the worst form of torture, and the prerogative of the small-minded, the vicious, the otherwise ineffectual.
The sad thing, as far as I am concerned, is that mail sent as undeliverable, for whatever reason, is not returned to a foreign sender by the USPS, it is destroyed. The only time that I have received a piece of mail addressed to the United States back was when a German postal worker inadvertently read the small address label with my name on it, rather than the big one with the true recipient’s name and details. That was when I changed my small label and added Absender to it, specifically for the German post, so that they would not get confused by what is so plainly obvious to everyone else. And now I have to change my label again – adding the English From to it – because some of my new correspondents in the United States are including it as the first line when they write to me, not knowing what it means, and assuming it is part of the return address they need to use. But, having said that a letter not being returned is sad, I must admit that there is something which makes me even sadder, if that is possible: the person who uses their limited power in such a despicable and underhand manner. They are probably the saddest people imaginable, with no life or personality of their own, content to hurt others for no reason whatsoever. Such people should never be in a position of any authority, not even the smallest smidgen of authority, although this would probably make them even more bitter and resentful.
I was almost amused by your comment on this person’s fear that drugs have been included in the letters, or in the flaps of the envelopes, or under the stamps, because it is a fear which goes far beyond this person. In Virginia some inmates are not allowed to receive any original mail at all, because the prison authorities fear that the paper which a letter has been written on has been soaked in a drugged solution, dried, and then used for a letter. All mail is taken out: letters, envelopes, photographs, cards and anything else of a similar nature are photocopied – whereby there is a limit to the number of pages an inmate is allowed for each letter – the original is destroyed and the copy passed on. This, apparently, is much easier than having a simple drug test kit where a drop of solution is applied to the paper and it comes up with a specific colour when drug-free, when soaked in drugs. And still the drugs get in, sadly, but everyone suffers as a result of this security procedure.
Luckily, having been involved with paperwork and letter writing for most of my life, and still having a military feeling for order and discipline, I keep a record of all the letters that I write and send, and all those which I receive. A quick glance through my listings tells me that item number 235 from October 2017 was addressed to a certain person in Georgia, and there we have it.
I know just what you mean about quality over quantity, and especially about the crazy few who come along now and then. Writing to people out of the blue, without really knowing anything about them other than what they have written about themselves is a daunting challenge, filled with problems, but an exhilarating journey when the right people come along. The quantity that I had at this time last year, when I took up writing letters seriously again – meaning practically every day of the week – has narrowed itself down to some very high quality and enjoyable people who, despite their circumstances, still find something to consider, to write about each time they put pen to paper. The circumstances of a person’s life do not necessarily limit the width and breadth their brain, their mind, their intellect can expand, the places that they can visit in their thoughts, the experiences they can have without needing to travel too far. Last month I had two completely unconnected people, neither one of whom has a higher education, write to me about Friedrich Nietzsche; a subject which had not come up at all in our relatively short period of correspondence, and they then had me reaching not only back into the past and my youthful studies, but into the mind of a man long since dead whose only memory is the works he wrote over one hundred years ago.
Has Detroit see better days? I’ve never been there but, of course, have heard many of the jokes and stories and know that it was once a great industrial city – which is not the same as a great residential city – which has fallen on hard times and which, no matter who might promise what, is unlikely to come back to those times. A good thing too, I am led to believe, as the industrial side was a necessary bane for those who lived and worked there, creating misery as much as anything else, and living standards which were hardly worthy of the name. There are some areas of the world which should look back on their history and draw a firm and thick line in indelible ink under those memories, then turn to look into a different future, away from what happened before. It is often better to seek out new paths, a new future, than to hark on the past and try to recreate it.
This, I think, is one of the reasons why I rarely consider going back to the city of my birth, back to London; or at least back to those areas of London which are entwined with my earliest memories. I know for a fact that it has changed considerably and, of course, all those people I knew back in those years have moved on. Much the same in many other parts of the world: a visit to Nicosia would probably show that my favourite bar has been overrun by tourists; to Strasbourg, and the violin player who was always outside my favourite street café will no longer be there; to Venice; to Belize, where I know that my girlfriend of those wonderful months is no longer there; to Belfast, where everything has changed, on the surface at least. But they are all still as wonderful memories in my mind, where I can relive them without worry, without the disillusion of seeing the present day and all the changes which have been wrought, for good or bad. One exception, though, is that I would wish to go back to my old school, which was forced to close in the late Nineties thanks to the mismanagement and decision making of the Principal and managing committee in the late Seventies. I’d like to go back there onto the site of that school, conjure all those faces up from that time – many are now dead – and just tell them that they were wrong. Nothing more: they were wrong.
I saw Billy Elliot when it first came out, and loved its country honesty as much as the true image it gave of what the British believe is fitting and what is not. Or, better, what many of them used to believe, and a few still do. Similar films nowadays show the struggle that the working class has against the massive machinery of government and the inhumanity of the system: a lot of the innocence of Billy Elliot, Kes and other films has disappeared into the reality of modern life and modern struggles to exist. I was educated in North Yorkshire, and lived not in a mining village, but in a country village which had completely different standards and ideas to those which I was used to in London. And, of course, I was the one, exactly the same as today, who did not remain within the bounds set by authority – the school – but went out and explored and searched, and discovered and, above all, learned, much to the horror of those people who had that small amount of authority, of power.
I have not seen Get Out as it has not been featured in our small cinema here yet; I am sure it will be one day soon. I have only recently started going back to the cinema – it is across the road from my house, so I have had no physical excuse not to go but none of the films on offer have inspired me – and mainly because of the classical works being live-streamed in; although everything is live-streamed in these days, there are no more rolls of film delivered and threaded onto a projector. The cinema has an internet connection to the server of the film distributor, and it is downloaded directly from there to be shown to the assembled audience as if nothing had changed. I suspect that many of them do not even realise they are watching a digital version, rather than the flickering images from a roll of film. Such technological changes happen without any assistance from us, we just take them for granted these days.
I have noticed quite a few films, documentaries, and many books, which have finally begun tackling the theme of Christianity in its early years and, to a certain extent, today. While I was still a youngster it was, exactly the same as for our great nation, as if the Christians had done nothing wrong, ever. The United Kingdom, and earlier England, had done nothing wrong either. Today we are seeing modern historians bringing out the hidden stories, the hidden truths of history, and not just with the slave trade and the treatment of Native Americans and African-Americans – as they are called today – but in so many other areas of the world too. I read a wonderful book on the Silk Road, the trading route it is thought Marco Polo used at the height of the Venetian Empire, which highlighted the bitter fighting, the murders, the rivalry, the constructed famine and destruction to gain wealth: the British, the Spanish, the Portuguese, Italians and Venetians. It talked about how the newly created Muslim faith, following Mohammad’s teachings, helped protect the Jews against the murderous exploits of the Christians until, eventually, the Muslims began fighting back on their own and protecting their own culture against the Crusades and other commercially inspired religious attacks. I’ve read about the East India Company and their exploits – private government, private armies, rule of law outside the legal rules and legislation of their own founding fathers – the Hudson’s Bay Company and so many others. Things which we were not taught at school, because the United Kingdom, and England before the forced unification, had an Empire which they kept fairly and with all due processes. Seeing and reading the other side of the story casts a completely different light on history, and especially the history of the land of my birth. It is not a pleasant light.
But I knew that I was not being taught the truth at a fairly young age, when I first ran off and explored France and saw that the people there, other as I had been told by my teachers, were indeed normal human beings, ordinary people with their own lives and habits and traditions and customs. I have been constantly questioning ever since, and see no reason to stop posing those awkward questions in the future. And sometimes I answer questions, but not always in great detail: so I shall tell you that my name is Gaelic, and that my forefathers were Scottish fishermen, and those who are still in Scotland are fishermen to this day.