Opening Lines: On the art of correspondence

Opening Lines: On the art of correspondence
Columnist Colm O'Regan.

I found a letter the other day. From an era known as the time of the Great Cringe. An era spanning most of the 90s where a lot of my memories just make my face fold up inside itself in such a way that it can only be coaxed out with a tweezers and patience.

The letter was from a girl and it was along the lines of iheardyoushiftedsoandsoandthenshewasgoingaroundsayingsuchandsuchaboutmesodontbelievehershesnotmyfriend.

It’s a tangible record that has lasted 30 years. I don’t know if it’ll be in the Papers that I bequeath to the State. But even this letter, torn out of a notebook roughly around the time Ray Houghton scored against Italy, will last longer than any digital records have so far.

Records like my first email address. It was my UCC student number 985something at UCC Dot something and in Autumn 1996, I wrote my first email. It was on a black screen with green writing and I remember thinking I wasn’t all that sure that email would ‘take off’. The internet was iffy too.

The browser was Netscape Navigator and there was a sort of swishing at the bottom of the screen to let you know it was busy trying to get the page for you. You could nearly have gone away and bought the Irish Times in the shop in the time taken for it to load the page. And you already knew Notts Forest and Leeds had drawn 1-1 in the Premiership because you heard it on the radio.

But while there is a record of that Forest match, all those emails are gone. Lost in time like tears in the rain, as yer man would say. There isn’t much gold to be mined out of it but still. There are memories of the dull stuff and they often give more information than any graduation photo. At last count, 985something AT UCC DOT Something is one of six email addresses I have no way of recovering.

Some are work ones so they are likely to be mainly messages from a manager asking me if The Thing that looks like a steaming pile of shite is actually “under control”. But also all the flirty ones where I made unsuccessful attempts to impress Her (whoever the Her was that month). Hotmail is gone too. I go to the building where Hotmail used to live and it’s just an old man sweeping windblown newspapers out of the lobby telling me "there’s no one here by that name."

There are a few other letters in the shoebox including ones I wrote home from the J1 in 1999. It’s striking how confessional they are. Emails are colder and often we find ourselves saying “I won’t write it here, I’ll tell you on the phone.” But the letters have it all. Obviously not all. I was writing to my parents. I left out the bit about how we torched everything, sat across the street watching it burn, before getting into the car and hitting the freeway and just driving, man.

It’s hard to get back into writing letters. I’m self-conscious about it. The handwriting is cat. It reminds me of when I sign for a delivery and they give me one of the black plastic needles and their screen is as scratched as a bus shelter and my signature looks like what a toddler would write on new wallpaper.

But I’ll persevere as my eldest has started writing letters to her grandparents. They are fairly curt. “Dear Granny, we miss you bye Love from Mammy Daddy, [me] and [sister]”

So my turn. Now, how does it go? Let’s see, my address top-right hand corner, the date and “Dear…”

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