Belfast Telegraph

Whopping rise in stamp prices spells end for the humble letter

So, this week we had a wonderful taste of early summer, or at the least real spring, and the Royal Mail announced a whopping 14p increase in the price of first and second-class stamps to 50p and 60p, warning that the universal service, under which post is delivered to any house in the UK for the same price, was in 'peril' without higher stamp prices.

The need for an increase is pretty obvious: fewer people send letters nowadays, banks and debt collectors apart, what with e-mail and texting and so, it is the old maxim of diminishing returns and so forth. (They're also perhaps covering themselves because since 2006 a staggering 24,000 postmen and women have been attacked by dogs while delivering our post throughout the UK.)

I mean, when was the last time you sat down and wrote a letter of any consequences to your long-lost relative in Oz or your brother in Birmingham or niece in Nice? Thought so...

There was a time when the letter was our only means of communication - transatlantic phonecalls were costly and often unreliable connections - but now with said email and tweeting and Facebooking, the humble letter is becoming somewhat archaic. When I was a young man seeking my fortunes in Africa I wrote religiously on a daily basis to my parents, banging out pages and reams on my old yellow portable Remington, a diary of sorts, detailing every minutiae of life in a far-flung land. I would wait with bated breath for a reply.

My dear mother would send one small page, hand-written of course, which contained little or no news other than she was 'rushing for the post' and would write again, later, with more details 'when she had time'. And, so it went.

My father on the other hand was a great, if infrequent, man of letters and so what was seldom was wonderful for he could discourse on the whole gamut of life in page after page of beautifully hand-written prose. A joy indeed.

My parents kept my daily dispatches, which covered almost three years, and years later when my daughter was about 16 I gave her a select few from the twine-bound, yellowing volumes to peruse and perhaps glean some inkling of what her old man was like when young and seeking his fame and fortune.

When she and her brother spent their gap year and college breaks in the US and Asia, I don't recall ever receiving any letters, other than the odd, joyless, perfunctory e-mail - with the addendum 'funds running low etc'.

My daughter and postcards are a different matter, though. Which brings me back to the glorious weather of the past week when, perhaps, our thoughts turn to summer holidays.

One of the important parts of my holiday ritual as a young lad was a trip to that seaside shop to browse the picture postcards and pick ones to send home to family and neighbours.

For a young boy on the verge of adolescence, the main attraction of such a ritual was the saucy seaside card. The scantily-clad women on the cards were eye-opening, and the innuendoes well worth a titter behind the card rack. Indeed, looking back I realise how much they contributed to my questionable 'sex education'.

Of course, you didn't pick one of those to buy, not in front of your mother; instead, you chose a nice view of the seaside resort.

If my mother was feeling benevolent towards the intended recipient, the curt message was: "Having a nice time. Wish you were here.''

If, on the other hand, the card was to the neighbour who boasted her husband had became a member of that small but growing elite, the golf club, the message would be: "Having a fantastic time. Very hot. Kids swimming every day. See you soon. Mrs H.''

The dog always barks twice - she's not the biting kind - when the postman calls, but the other day there was not a murmur from her as the man with the bag made his morning round. For instead of the usual load of bills, demands, and assorted bumph dropping through the letterbox, one single item fell through the flap, and it bore no resemblance to the usual daily delivery.

It was a thin strip of card measuring roughly 4.5 by 3.5 inches with a picture on one side and a written message on the other.

Something I had not seen in ages - the dog probably never.

A postcard.

From my daughter, on holiday in LA visiting her god-parents.

It simply said: "You would love it here. Sipping margaritas by the pool all day. Shopping later. On Rodeo Drive!''

Despite being a fully paid-up member of Facebook and an inveterate texter, my daughter still appreciates the simple joy of the holiday postcard.

It now has pride of place bluetacked to the fridge door.

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