Saturday, 21 July 2012

The Death of 'Dear....'

Dear People of the World,

I miss letters. I don't just mean that I miss writing or receiving letters, because in reality there are only a handful of people for whom I have ever taken pen to paper. I am mourning the death of letters the whole world over.

The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is check my emails. Admitting that depresses me. But I know that sadly I am far from unusual in being so tied to my online post box.

Most of the time the only things I receive via email are Groupon vouchers and messages from Transport for London telling me about disruptions to my service. Yet for some reason checking my Gmail account is a habit as reflexive as twiddling my hair when I'm thinking. The times that I do find a nice personal email waiting in my inbox it is lovely.

But it is not half as lovely as the thrilling sound of a fat envelope with my name handwritten on its smiling face falling onto my doormat. I open the envelope's mouth and out spills the sound of whoever has written me a letter. The curve or slanted scrawl of their handwriting dances to the sound of their voice and I am suddenly not just holding a letter, but my friend.

If my house were to be ravaged by fire, living loved ones aside, there are a few things I would battle the flames in order to save. My laptop, not so much because it is the most expensive thing I own but because it holds all my photographs and all of my writing. My childhood teddy (don't judge me- wouldn't you?). And my letters.

One of my very best friends is a friend whose handwriting I met before I met her. We started our friendship as pen-pals, put in contact through our schools' language exchange. She is called Juliette and (as the name might suggest) she lives in France.

Throughout the course of our long friendship, I have kept every letter she has sent to me. There are the very first letters, in which she introduces herself and describes her family (who I will come to meet and eventually to think of as my own), there are the letters she sent me after we first met and there are later letters which consist of pages and pages of teenage conversations (mostly about boys). The pile of envelopes, stamps and handwritten 'Dear Libby's are a record of our friendship and I would no more throw them away than I would throw away my own arm.

As well as my letters from Juliette, I have whole stacks of letters and birthday cards from other friends and family members who have written to me. Tucked away in the pile of papers there is probably the odd Valentine's Day card too (not as many as I perhaps would have liked to have received over the course of my 20 years, but special ones none the less).

One of my favourite songs is Baz Luhrmann's 'Wear Sunscreen' that is essentially a list of advice (to wear sunscreen is not surprisingly one of the recommendations). In the song one of the lines I most remember is, "Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements." Because when you are looking back on your life or are just generally feeling blue, it is not as much of a comfort to know how much money you (don't) have as it is to know how much you have been loved. And a love text just doesn't compare. It is far too easy to delete.

Love letters, sadly, are a dying breed. So if you are lucky enough to come across one of these near-extinct species it is only right to keep it safe.

Another casualty of the battle between letters and emails is the word 'Dear'. Most emails I receive start, 'Hi Libby'. It would be somewhat unusual to address someone as 'Dear so-and-so' in a text. Yet the endearment is, well, endearing. When I start my letters to Juliette (usually she writes in English, I write in French) I like writing 'Ma Chère Juliette', because she is my dear friend.

It makes me sad that there are many of my friends whose handwriting I wouldn't recognise. The way we write is such an expressive and personal thing, like the way we sneeze, the sound of our laugh or whether we have dimples when we smile. (In my case: loudly, loudly, and yes.)

One of the problems is that we have become so unaccustomed to sending letters that it is difficult to ask for someone's address without sounding like a stalker. Somehow, "where do you live?" just comes out in a sinister tone. There are many friends who I would sometimes like to write to, but then I remember I only know the way to their Facebook pages, and not necessarily their homes.

It has been a long time since Juliette and I last wrote to each other. University has been hectic for both of us, and it is true that one of the downsides to letter-writing is that it takes time. (Especially when you are not writing in your first language.) Next week I am going to visit her in Paris, but I think beforehand I will put a letter in the post anyway. I may arrive before it does, but I know that when it does arrive it will make her smile, because receiving letters from her makes me smile. And, how can you expect a lovely letter to fall on your doormat if you cannot make time to write one?

To my dear people of the world: write. Even at risk of sounding like a stalker, ask your friends for their addresses, and write them a letter. It will make their day, and when they write back to you it will make yours.

And if anything, do it for the good of humanity. I don't know about you, but I want to live in a world where the sound of post being fed through the letter box can bring excitement and not just the thought of bills, where I recognise my friends' handwriting and not just their phone numbers and where stacks of old letters are the things I would save in a burning building.

Now if you will excuse me, I have some letters to write.

Yours affectionately,


(Et Juliette: on se verra à Paris.)

Cheer up Cupcake (Strawberry Milkshake Cakes)

Getting out of bed on Wednesday was an effort. After two and a half weeks at Vogue and about four weeks of feeling cured, the glandular fever monster had stirred from hibernation and now had me in a headlock.

"Uh oh," I thought, as I wrestled with the invisible creature that was making my body ache and my thoughts blue.

Eventually tearing free, I shuffled to the bathroom where I showered sat in the bath tub. Standing up under the jet of water seemed too much; on Wednesday morning the water droplets looked like gobstoppers large enough to knock me over.

As I stood in front of my wardrobe later that morning the glandular fever monster held out clothes for me - a grey dress, my fluffy black university hoody, some black lyrca running leggings (comfier than being naked) and my huge pink jumper covered in rabbits (the glandular fever monster prefers black but cannot resist an overdose of kitsch).

"No, glandular fever!" I said to the glandular fever monster, putting on some red tights, a colourful floral skirt and a red jacket instead.

I arrived at Vogue House and fell through the revolving doors.

"Good morning John," I said quietly to John the friendly receptionist as I tumbled into the lift, the glandular fever monster following me like smoke that chases you no matter what side of the bonfire you move to.

"You're looking a bit peaky this morning," said one of the Voguettes as I arrived in the office.

"I'm fine," I said, sitting down to work. Was it me or the office that was spinning? And during my lunch break would it be OK to make a blanket of Gucci scarves, curl up in the fashion cupboard and have a nap?

It was two hours later as I was telling someone about a press sample I was looking for on the clothing rail and couldn't dig the phrase 'grey trousers' out of the mud in my brain that I realised I probably wasn't fine.

"I think I'm going to..." I started,

"Go HOME LIBBY," they finished.
So that is how I came to leave my work experience at Vogue two and a half days early. On Thursday morning the glandular fever monster and I climbed onto a train heading home to Dorset. At least I didn't have to buy the monster a ticket. 
 After a long night's sleep in my bed at home I woke up knowing exactly what I needed to do to cheer myself up.

 The pink polka dot apron was my hospital gown and the spoonfuls of unbaked cake mix were my medicine. I have been told that there is no real cure for glandular fever other than rest. I think baking is pretty good treatment. And therapy.
I am not the only one in the house in need of cheering up. My sister is home from Bristol for the weekend and is being hassled by her own monster - the back pain monster that insists on constant piggy-backs without consent.

When my sister was younger and unwell strawberry milkshake would cheer her up. I remember watching her drink the frothy pink milk in one gulp. So I decided to make some strawberry milkshake inspired cupcakes to cheer us both up.
With cakes that pink and with all those strawberries, how could you not be happy?
I may have had to leave Vogue early, but two and a half weeks was still enough time for a great experience. And although I left early, I luckily didn't miss what turned out to be the highlight of my time there: my 'exit interview' with the Managing Editor.

I was just on my way home when she stopped me in the corridor. It was the second time someone had chased me down the corridor at Vogue. The first time was last week when I had just left the bathroom with my dress tucked into my knickers.

Thankfully this time was somewhat less embarrassing. (It's OK though - at least someone told me and at least I wear nice knickers).

"Can we have a quick chat before you leave?"
As we spoke she wrote notes.

"Libby Page," she wrote, "loves colour."

That I do. She told me that everyone in the office had really noticed my colourful outfits and that (instead of making me look insane, thank goodness) they had really cheered up the office and made me stand out.

Well that's that then. When I get back to London and back to my wardrobe I am taking a binliner and filling it with all my black and grey clothes. I want to be 'Libby Page, loves colour'.

The five minute conversation cheered me up as much as a whole pile of cupcakes. Because it may have been the glandular fever monster making me delirious, but I'm pretty sure she said to me, "You're a star and if anyone asks you can say that the Managing Editor of Vogue thinks you are going places."

The only place I was heading right then was home. But I left Vogue House with a smile on my face. I was even feeling happy enough to open the door for the glandular fever monster.

"After you. Because you may be ahead right now, but one day soon I will catch up with you and kick you over the moon and into oblivion."

I can't be certain, but I'm pretty sure it was a flicker of fear that passed across the glandular fever monster's face.

Here are my strawberry milkshake cupcakes - sponge cakes filled with different fillings: strawberry, lemon and raspberry and forest fruits, and topped with cream cheese frosting.

I'm off now - the cupcakes are calling.