Keeping in touch

By BARRIE MAHONEY [email protected]

Barrie Mahoney was a teacher, headteacher and school inspector in the UK, as well as a reporter in Spain, before moving to the Canary Islands as a newspaper editor. He is still enjoying life in the sun as a writer and author.

Are you good at keeping in touch with the folks back home? I mean to, but somehow other things just seem to get in the way and time goes so quickly over here.

Thank goodness for electronic communication. A quick call or message now and again says it all, or does it?

How do you keep in touch with the folks back home? Email, text messages, telephone, Twitter, Facebook and Skype maybe?

I wonder how many of us actually write letters

to our loved ones and friends nowadays…

Old habits die hard and, as an ex-teacher, I find it hard to resist reading the results of current educational research. One recent survey of 1,200 seven to 14-year-olds conducted for the children’s charity, World Vision, surprised me.

The survey discovered that one in five children had never received a handwritten letter. A quarter of children surveyed had not written a letter in the last year and 43 per cent had not received one.

With all of us increasingly relying on email and social networking sites to communicate, the research found that a tenth of children had never written a letter themselves.

Teachers and experts said that they feared young people were missing out on the pleasures and developmental benefits of letter writing. Maybe they are just over-reacting and creating a news story?

However, if we think about it, handwritten letters do seem much more personal than electronic communication. Maybe it is because of going to the trouble of physically committing words to paper, going to the post office to buy a stamp and posting a letter. Yes, I do know that queuing for a stamp at the Post Office can push us all towards breaking point!

However, when we write a letter to someone we care about, we show our investment of time and effort in a relationship. I guess that is why we tend to hang on to personal letters as keepsakes. I still have some letters written to me as a child by my grandfather and my favourite aunt.

The child gains too. The very effort of writing is a real one: painstakingly manoeuvring the pencil or pen across the page, thinking of the best words to convey a message, and struggling with spelling and punctuation.

Maybe it is an effort worth making, because it is only through practice that we become truly literate – and the experts tell us that literacy is the hallmark of human civilisation. Now, there’s a really big thought for us to ponder over our gin and tonics!

So what has happened to all those letters from grandparents that I certainly remember? A letter at Christmas or birthday would often include the added bonus of a postal order too. Do you remember the excitement of opening those? Perhaps the letter even had one of the new definitive stamps stuck on if we were really lucky. Such simple pleasures!

The experts say that if we care about real relationships, we should invest in real communication, not just the quick fix of a greetings card, text or email. Hmm, maybe just for today I’m going to put away my beloved Mac laptop and write real letters to my nephews and nieces. Ah, would that mean a morning queuing at the Post Office? Well, maybe not today.

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: and or read his latest novel, ‘Journeys and Jigsaws’ (ISBN: 9781843865384).