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I knew that the writing case was in the back of a cupboard in my London flat, but I don’t think I’ve opened it in ten years. It belonged to my mother when she went to boarding school in the 1950s, and it is embossed with her maiden name initials – which handily became her married ones too.

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When I was little, I remember the case lived in a dusty lumber room up on the top floor with the hot water tank, and I was always fascinated by it. When I was a lot older, my mother emptied it out, and allowed me to take it to boarding school as my writing case. That was in the pre-mobile, pre-email days when the only contact with the outside world was a single payphone for a house of sixty people, and which always had a long, long queue of people sitting slumped against the corridor wall waiting for their turn.

So we wrote letters, and received them. And notes. Many, many notes.

Because, of course, pre-email & smartphone, you had to leave notes for people to let them know what you were doing. At Uppingham, the boarding school I went to for sixth form*, there were ancient wooden pigeonholes, organised by boarding house, where notes could be left, and entire romances were conducted on folded scaps of paper torn from exercise books.

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On my GAP year between school & university our friends and family wrote to me on thin blue airline forms, and sent them via Poste Restante around the world. At every destination, from Kathmandu to Sydney, KL to Ubud, Caro & I made a beeline to the post office – whether a tiny shack or the major central buildings in capital cities, to ask if there were any letters waiting for us.

And at university that reliance on postal correspondence continued. Imagine: in my first year we didn’t even have a phone in our official apartment block, let alone mobiles. So letters were important and, in the holidays, when we were separated from boyfriends, we sent long letters to each other.

And I kept them all, along with my letters from school.

But I only kept my love letters in the writing case. They chart the entire breadth of each relationship, and I am  pretty sure that at least three packets contain letters saying goodbye forever.

And, being an incurable romantic, who read too many novels, I tied them all up with ribbons, along with all the notes we exchanged. They’re a reminder that I loved and was loved.

I can’t bring myself to read them, but neither can I throw them away.

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* (that’s junior & senior year for my American readers.)

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17 comments

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You know, I too went to boarding school (same basic circumstances) and I have the same kind of conflicted relationship to old letters… What a poignant post.

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I absolute loved your piece ‘writing case’ blog. I too have a box of letters in the attic that go back to boarding school days and beyond, and every couple of years I pull the box down and go through them.
In today technological world I really miss these paper gems that the post man deliver (all i seem to get are junk mail and bills). Opening letters induced the same feel of opening christmas present. The is something romantic and tangible about a hand written piece of paper.
I now live overseas and I tend to write letters only to my 6 year old niece because I want her to feel that special feeling of receiving a letter, that is not a birthday card or junk mail, but something that was design with her in mind about me. That is to and for only her, something that she will be able to read and reread over time. And something that she can take time to respond to. It is a beautiful art that is sadly dying. But it takes one 2 to keep it alive. Thank you for share something that made me smile.

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Love the case and love this post. Pen and ink will always rule! Fx

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I miss writing letters too and have kept my old ones for over 15 years! Or more! And I think with your old love letters, perhaps you could keep them for another 10 years and see what happens then 🙂 letter writing is slowly fading, although I am trying my best to do more writing than emailing! 🙂 I remembered seeing old love letters and notes sold in vintage shop, so maybe that could be you?!

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That is adorable. I can’t imagine owning, yet alone receiving a love letter.

The Lovelorn

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I am just like you except I don’t have the writer’s case. I have shoeboxes : ) And chests of drawers : ) Emails arrived in my life half-way through university but I vividly recall writing to my friends all over the country and avidly checking my mailbox for replies on a daily basis. I love letters and I still get a buzz when I get one now. I never throw letters away either and as for love letters, I received amazing ones when I was 18 from an older man, written on parchment in calligraphy, I will never throw those away. xx

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I usually get your musings delivered to my inbox so don’t often make the effort to click and comment. This post was so touching though, especially since I remember those very pigeon holes. I always felt a little guilty about hanging on to old billet doux, so it’s lovely to know I’m not the only one who has these secret reminders of an age of innocence.

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What a beautiful little tale! thank you for sharing, I adore the case and the initials. I’ve very recently taken to having my belongings (home textiles, handkerchiefs, towels etc) monogrammed, like the good ol’ days! I adore the considered, personal touches. Perfectly lovely! xxx

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It’s so wonderful that you kept them all. I wish I had wrote letters rather than sent texts and chatted on msn messenger. The phones those texts were on are long gone and even if I still had them I’m sure none would be left. At the end of the relationship my friends and I always went through a ritual of deleting all texts and sometimes even their phone numbers by way of cleansing ourselves. This is so much more romantic.

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A box full of memories. Can’t think of anything nicer to have stashed away.
x

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