When I was a student at Newcastle University in the mid-nineties, I travelled the furthest away from home. All my best friends were miles away – and in the early days before emails (CAN YOU EVEN IMAGINE?!), we all wrote each other page after page of letters.
Every day I’d check my uni pigeon hole for the fresher-week witterings of my home-town soul sisters – and I would treasure every word – instantly connecting me back to the loved and the known.
The days of letter writing seem almost gone – and yet I’ve kept every single letter from those friends for posterity. You can’t do that with a WhatsApp.
Despite half of adults saying they remember a pen-pal from their childhood, according to research by Cunard, all ages seem to be giving up on letter writing. Statistics show that 4 in 10 of British adults are too embarrassed about their handwriting to send a letter, with two thirds not having received a single letter in the last decade.
In an age of instant communication, a third of Brits say lack of time is the main obstacle to doing it more.
Last weekend, I took a 48-hour passage on Cunard’s Queen Victoria to investigate more about the lost art of letter writing.
If you think about it, a cruise is the PERFECT time to pick up pen and paper. There is time to sit, think and properly relax as you travel across the sea.
I discovered so many lovely little corners on board QV – including the beautiful upholstered seating in the many lounge areas, or the traditional cushioned steamer chairs on the decks, where you can spend hours reading – or just lost in your own world – looking out at the water. So relaxing.
There is even a well-stocked, mezzanine library area – where you can write or read. On the day we boarded, there was a queue of passengers borrowing novels. I was quite envious we were only there for 48-hours!
And given the freedom at sea to craft a thoughtful letter, it’s not surprising that the cruise line has such an association with mail.
A bit of history, in 1839 Samuel Cunard, a businessman from Nova Scotia, was awarded the world’s first transatlantic mail service – delivering the Royal Mail letters and packages between Canada, New York and the UK. And in 1840, Cunard’s very first ship, Britannia, was built to deliver mail to and from the UK and America – it even had special writing rooms on board. Even today, Queen Mary has a red Royal Mail box.
The Liverpool-based company have now opened up their archives, which revealed letters written on board their ships by luminaries including Winston Churchill, Rudyard Kipling and Charles Dickens, as well as GI brides sending love letters back to their American soldiers. It’s a gold mine of memories.
And with 9/10 respondents saying they’d love to receive more letters, Cunard has started a campaign to try and reconnect with the lost art of letter writing by asking people to pick up a pen and write a note to a future generation.
I’m going to start by writing an annual birthday letter to my children (a very clever idea given to me by the brilliant Sarah Tomczak, editor of Red magazine) telling them what they like, what music they love and what we love most about them right now, in each year. They can have all the letters when they’re older.
1: Take pride in your stationery stash
There is nothing lovelier than a box filled with cards, paper and envelopes you have picked up and collected. I have just invested in some personalised notecards from Papier – which is definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already. I also love Kikki K and HEMA, who both understand the needs of the stationery obsessive.
2: Always have a book of First Class stamps
Don’t wait until you desperately need to post something before racing to the post office. Buy books of stamps when you see them and either keep in your purse or with your stationery stash.
3: Invest in a really great pen (that you don’t let ANYONE else use!)
Whether you fancy starting calligraphy (check out the sets from Quill London) and really go for it in the penmanship stakes, or just want to get back into the habit of writing rather than typing, you can’t beat a lovely pen. I’m considering going old school again and buying myself a fountain pen – although equally I love a fine nib inkliner, especially when it wears down a little and the writing is more free-flow.
4: Don’t over think the message
Just thinking about someone you haven’t spoken to in a while? Send them a card. Missing your best friend on the other side of the world, write them a letter. Doesn’t have to be reams and reams of words, just something that is thoughtful, pertinent and lets them know you love them.
5: Get your address book in order
After years of texting the same people every year for addresses, I FINALLY invested in a proper address book and now make sure every address goes in. It makes birthdays and Christmas so much easier having an up to date record! So old-school, but technology didn’t cut it for me on this one – I needed a written record.
This project was a paid partnership in association with Cunard. Cunard is giving you the chance to go on a letter writing adventure and find inspiration on a 7-night iconic Transatlantic Voyage on board Queen Mary 2. To find out more, visit the link here. Share your letter writing stories via #FutureOfLetters.