Archive for the ‘modern life’ Tag

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

When we first moved to Canada from England in 1980, I was ten years old.  There was no email, in those days.  The World Wide Web was not available to all.  In order to stay in touch with all the people I’d left behind, I’d started writing letters.  There were a lot of people I wanted to stay in contact with.  School friends.  Aunts, uncles and cousins.  Grandparents.  My father and step-mother, who were still back in England.

Most people wrote back.  I would look forward to getting home from school and checking the mail, to see if any letters had arrived for me.  I made a point of replying to every one.  I became very good at writing letters, and the process became a ritual.  I kept every letter I received in a letter rack, stacked in order of receipt with the oldest in front.  When I sat down to write a reply, I would reply to the person whose letter I’d had the longest.  If the person had asked any questions in their letter, I would make a point of replying to them, whether it was something generic like “how is school?”, or as specific as, “how did that play go you were rehearsing for last time?”  I would also write about any news that had occurred since last time I wrote to the person.

My letters were long, generally running to at least six pages, sometimes more.  A lot of people gave me stationery sets when we moved to Canada.   Generally they contained a number of decorated front sheets, the same number of envelopes, and half as many continuation sheets.  I never understood this, because it wasn’t enough.  I used up all the continuation sheets within two or three letters and then either had to use more than one of the front sheets, or carry on with pieces of ordinary lined notepaper.  I always wondered why there were never more continuation sheets than front sheets.  How could anyone possibly have so little to say they could do it in a letter only a page long?

Somewhere in the last 20 years, the art of letter writing has been lost.  I admit I don’t write letters any more.  Many of the people I used to write letters to are now on Facebook, so I keep up with their news that way.  Pretty much all of them are on email, and I will occasionally send people newsy emails.

I write emails the way I write letters – in fact, the way I write anything.  Sentences are complete, with all the punctuation in the correct place.  They tend to be very long.  Sometimes I miss writing letters, but it occurs to me that writing this blog is, for me, the modern equivalent of writing letters.  I can relay my news via the World Wide Web, and I don’t have to repeat myself – something of an advantage over letter writing, I must admit, as in my letter-writing heyday I was repeating the same news in every letter.

Nobody writes letters anymore, and not many people write long emails, either.  I can’t decide if this is down to laziness, to the fact that life has just got so busy, or that people’s attention span has got shorter in the last 20 years.  We are used to being fed instantaneous information, in short bursts – Tweets; texts; 30 second commercials.  Now nobody wants to be bothered to read to the end of a lengthy email.  A lot of people seem to write emails the way they write text messages – devoid of grammatical structure, and full of crass abbreviations (“u” instead of “you”) and erroneous spellings.

Most people do not communicate via lengthy emails.  Some people communicate entirely by mobile phone.  I have always been a person who prefers written communication to verbal.  There are very few people I have long telephone conversations with.  If I’ve not seen you in a while and I want to chat, I am more likely to send you a long chatty email than I am to pick up the phone.  But, I am a writer.  Written communication is and always has been my strength.

Sometimes I mourn the lost art of letter writing.  I sometimes regret we can’t go back to those long-gone days when I used to look forward to getting home and reading a letter that had arrived in the post for me.

I also mourn the correct use of English.  I don’t know if grammar has been removed from the school curriculum these days – the appalling state of some people’s Facebook statuses makes me suspect it has been – but certainly letter writing has been.

It may be that people have no need to write letters any more, but kids should still be taught how to form a sentence.  Effective written communication, even by email, is an essential life skill.  What chance have you got of getting the job if the cover email that accompanies your CV is written in text-speak?  If I received a job application like this I would delete the email without even bothering to look at the CV.  If I get an advertising brochure from anyone featuring a misplaced apostrophe in the word “its”, I will make a point of avoiding whatever product it is advertising.  There is no excuse for poor grammar, and no excuse for not knowing how to form a correct sentence.

If we were all taught how to write letters, we’d all be aware of that.

High Tech

About 18 months ago, we got a new franking machine in the office Post Room. Apparently the old one was so outdated it was no longer supported, so we were given a new one. An all singing, all dancing one, that is much more high tech than the old one.

With the old franking machine, we all understood how it worked. You weighed your piece of post, told the machine where the item was going, and the machine came back with a sum. You input the sum into the franking machine, ran the piece of post through it and it came out with the right postage printed on it. Easy.

The new machine does all this for you. All you have to do – allegedly – is put the post on the scales, the machine will calibrate the weight and size of the item, and then you run the item through the machine and it prints the right amount of postage on it.

Or this is the theory. In practice, it’s a bit more complicated than that, and you have to know which buttons to push. Push the wrong ones, or in the wrong order, and it doesn’t work. And sometimes the scales decide to not talk to the machine and you can get nothing out of it. Generally whenever I go to the post room to mail something, there are at least two people huddled over the franking machine, trying to figure out how to get it to do what they want it to do.

I think what this reflects is that the cleverer technology gets, the more complicated it gets, and the more we rely on it. This is a consequence of modern life. When the power goes out in the office – and it occasionally does – no one can do anything. All work is on the computer, and even the phones go down because they are computerised. We can’t even do any filing, because we’re working towards all electronic storage these days.

I’m not necessarily saying this is a bad thing. I’m addicted to the Internet and for the weeks I was without it, after moving, I was completely lost. But the more complicated our technology gets, the more often it goes wrong and the more stressful our lives get.

I’m not criticising the technology. I couldn’t be without my mobile phone, my e-reader and especially my NetBook. But they all need charging on a regular basis, and they can all go wrong. And when they do, my life is thrown into disarray.

In the 1950s, the future was portrayed as being a utopia with so many wonderful time-saving gadgets, we’d all have a lot more leisure time. How different the reality. The more time saving gadgets we have, the busier our lives become.

I couldn’t live my life without electricity. And I think that’s probably not a good thing. But that’s the way it is. When the apocalypse comes, I don’t think I want to be one of the survivors. Let someone else be responsible for the survival of the human race. Given the choice, I think I’d rather die with the power supply.

Moving

We’ve just moved house and I’m currently up to my ears in boxes.  You never know how much stuff you’ve got until you try to move it all.  The new place is a 100-year-old four-bedroom semi detached house, and you’d think that would be plenty of space for just two people.  At the moment, though, we are crawling over boxes and it is a bit hard to see the bigger picture.

It’s ours at last!

The process has been remarkably quick. The day we moved in – Tuesday the 18th – was three months to the day of accepting an offer on our old place. We have been busy since then unpacking boxes, and now my knees and legs are killing me from constant bending and lifting.   And yet there is still much to do, and nothing is actually where it should be.

The worst thing is we have found out that our TV, internet and phone provider can’t connect us for another week and a half. So not only am I missing the new season of TRUE BLOOD – annoying in itself – but blog posts are going to be few and far between.

So, apologies for the lack of posts. Normal service will be resumed as soon as we’re back online.  Hopefully by then we will have managed to unpack most of the boxes.

Stressed

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Generally I don’t post when I’m stressed. When I’m stressed I get grumpy, and I don’t want my blog posts to turn into long whinges. However, I am doing so today for reasons I hope will become clear later.

I’ve had a couple of holidays this summer, which were not stressful in themselves, but coming back to work after time away always makes me regret going away in the first place – the work piles up when I’m gone, and suddenly there isn’t enough time to do everything.

I seem to have been struck by a series of ailments over the last few weeks – nothing serious or long lasting, but it has meant I’ve spent altogether too much time sitting in hospital waiting rooms.

We are in the process of buying and selling property, which is a long, drawn out and stressful process. I’m not going to say too much about this at this stage, because English property law being what it is, nothing is set before exchange, anything can go wrong – and frequently does – before that stage, and so it’s best not to assume it’s actually going to happen until the keys are in your hand. However, the process involves dealing with estate agents and solicitors, which is stressful enough without all the other stuff going on.

Most crucially, though, I am still wrestling with the WIP. I am mired in the “my writing is rubbish” stage, believing the whole thing needs dismantling and putting back together, and I am not sure where to start.

However, I am starting to think that life stress is connected to writing stress and vice versa. When the writing is going well I am in a much better frame of mind and can pretty much handle whatever life throws at me. When it’s not going well, suddenly all kinds of other hassle creeps in – notably, things that wouldn’t be bothering me quite so much if the writing was going well. I started today with an early morning writing session that didn’t go at all well – I spent much of that hour staring at the page thinking what I had written was complete rubbish. Hence, I didn’t have a good day at work, either. When I start the day with a good writing session, the day job is much easier to handle.

So the only stress in my life I should actually be focusing on is my troublesome WIP. If I can kick that into submission, everything else should be a breeze. Even the house move…

Gender Assumptions

Yesterday I was on a train on the Victoria Line, on my way to an early-morning writing session at Starbucks. It was the second day in a row I’d crawled out of bed at 5:45am to get some writing in, and I do tend to be rather grumpy that early in the morning.

There was an advertising poster on my tube carriage that I found rather irritating. It was an advert for an online store. The gist of the advert was that this particular place was a one-stop shop for your Christmas shopping. “Gifts for her”, the advert said. Underneath this was a picture of a make-up set. “Gifts for him,” it went on. This featured a picture of a PS3 game.

Now, I do try to keep politics out of this blog, but it does annoy me when people make assumptions based on gender stereotypes. And this time of year, coming up to the dreaded Festive Season, we are bombarded by ads making the presumption that men sit around watching football, drinking beer and playing computer games, while women are preoccupied with shoes and handbags and clothes.

Me, I’d rather have the computer game than the make-up set. But anyone who doesn’t know me well enough to be aware of this isn’t likely to be buying me presents.

Fat Cats & Vaccinations

Yesterday I had a day off to do those things I don’t get time to do when I am at work all day.

First errand of the day was to go to the doctor’s surgery to get my annual flu vaccination. This is offered to me free of charge every year because having asthma puts me in a ‘high risk’ category. I normally get a letter in early October asking me to make an appointment at the flu clinic. I hadn’t had a letter so I rang the surgery, asking if flu jabs were available yet.

“We’ve sent out the letter”, the reception told me. I explained that I hadn’t had a letter. “Do you normally get a flu jab?” she asked. I replied that I did, suppressing the urge to add that I wouldn’t be phoning otherwise.

“Then you’ll get a letter,” the receptionist went on.

“I haven’t had a letter,” I explained again. “Can I just make an appointment now?”

She took my name and went off to check my records and some time later came back and said, “you have asthma. That means you can get the flu jab.” I think my doctor ought to start offering a higher salary when he advertises receptionist jobs.

But I did get my appointment, and when I turned up to see the nurse, she also offered me a vaccination against pneumonia. In the other arm.

I had also arranged an appointment to take my cats off to have their annual boosters later that day. My cats are big, fat, lazy things, as I’ve mentioned before. And they now know what the cat carrier means. They will let me pick them up without objection, but when I try to put them in the carrier, they do the old – ‘rigid paws clutching either side of opening’ trick.

With both cats eventually locked in the carrier, I heaved said carrier out to the car. And I do mean ‘heaved’. I’ve always put both cats in one carrier – I figure it’s less traumatic for them that way. But they are now far too heavy for this. I think I’m going to have to invest in another carrier, and carry one in each hand. It might actually balance me out a bit and be easier to carry.

The vet’s surgery isn’t far away, but parking anywhere near the surgery is always hit-and-miss. Yesterday it was a ‘miss’. In fact the traffic was a bit of a nightmare. I had to park around the block, meaning I had to lug the carrier quite a long way before arriving at the vet’s surgery.

Once the carrier is deposited on the vet’s table, getting the cats out of it so the vet can look at them is another ordeal. Before now I’ve resorted to tipping the thing upside down and waiting for one or both cats to fall out.

“Your cats are adorable, but they are both far too fat,” the young vet said cheerfully. She was lovely, but she looked about sixteen.

I explained that with my cats being half pedigree, and getting old, they aren’t too interested these days in doing much apart from lying about sleeping. Not that I blame them for that. I quite fancy that sort of life myself. But I do have to acknowledge the fact I have two fat cats. The vet suggested I merely give them less food. Not being very active, they don’t need to eat much. Of course, I’m not sure I can explain this to them.

In spite of their protests, the cats are not remotely traumatised by their vaccinations. I, on the other hand, have two extremely stiff arms, where each needle went in and pierced muscle that was probably already tense, because I hate needles. I suspect the strain on the arm muscles of having to lug two overweight cats half a mile down the road right after the piercing trauma did not help this situation.

I think the lesson learned in this little adventure is not to arrange a trip to the vets after I’ve had my own vaccinations. It’s going to be another couple of days before I can move my arms again.

Jet Lagged

There are many good things about travelling. Jet lag is not one of them. When you have been awake (and wearing the same clothes) for 24 hours, most of that time spent on aircraft, the world does not seem like such a small place.

However, in reality we are now able to travel through many time zones in a short space of time, something we are not biologically designed to do. Our bodies seem to function best with a regular routine. This is why health gurus tell us we should get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. It’s not good for us, apparently, to stay up late on a Saturday night and then sleep in on Sunday morning (but even though I know this, I’m not going to get up at 6am on weekends, thank you very much).

It’s the time zone thing that’s the killer, rather than being on an aeroplane for 12 hours or more (although that has its own side effects). We’ve just returned from Borneo (hence why the blog hasn’t been updated for a while), which is eight hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.

One of the tricks to overcoming jet lag, so I am told, is to adjust one’s watch at the earliest possible opportunity, and get used to thinking in the new time zone as soon as you can. You should stay awake until it’s bed time in the country you are now in, and fight your body’s insistence that it’s midnight in your home country and you should be in bed, no matter what the clock says. And this is, indeed, sound advice. But it doesn’t stop the fact that for two or three days after arriving in a different time zone, I lie awake for hours, watching the minutes tick by in the wee hours of the morning while my brain is insisting it’s actually the middle of the day and I shouldn’t be asleep.

Occasionally I wish that someone would invent teleporting, and we could all beam ourselves from one place to another, like they do on Star Trek. These thoughts usually come when I’m sitting at the airport at the end of my holiday, knowing it’s going to be 24 hours before I get to see my own bed again.

Teleporting might help with the travelling, but it won’t be able to do anything to make the jet lag easier to deal with. Jet lag is simply the price that has to be paid for the privilege of travel, and I accept that this is the way things must be if I want to travel. But I have to allow myself a couple of days at the end of every trip for my brain to catch up with my body.

In case you’re wondering, yes I will be blogging about my Borneo trip. Just as soon as I’ve found my brain again. I think it’s currently still somewhere in Asia…

Nothing To Do, Nowhere to Be – For Once

I’m having a busy old time at the moment. The bi-annual formal dinner I organise for work is on Friday, and the run-up to it is always hectic. The week after that, we’re off to Canada. As we know so many people there, I’ve been firing off emails to various people to find out who’s free to meet up with us and when as part of the trip organisation.

Hubby has spent the best part of the last two weeks working abroad, and when he comes back he’ll have to pack his suitcase for Canada. In fact, I think sitting at the airport waiting for the plane will be the first chance I get to have an extended conversation with him in three weeks. But because he’s not been here, I’ve also had to run errands on his behalf. Taking his suits to the dry cleaners so he has something to wear to the office when he’s back. Sorting out the tax disk for his car, which expires while we’re away. Booking an appointment for a hair cut for him, so he can get it done in the day or so he’s in the UK between flights.

And I’m still being diligent in getting up at 5:30am twice a week to get my ‘writing mornings’ in.

But in spite of all this, I’m not feeling stressed (rather exhausted, perhaps, but not stressed). After a cold winter and unusually cold May, it seems the warm weather has finally arrived in London. I love Spring. Getting up at 5:30am is not so bad at the moment because it’s broad daylight at that time in the morning. I love the extended days we get at this time of year, this far North of the equator. We pay the price with excessive hours of darkness in winter, but winter’s a long way off.

And there’s tonight. Tonight I have nowhere in particular to be – for the first time in ages. I have no urgent emails to send, no documents to hunt out, nothing important to do. So just for tonight, I am going to do nothing. I am going to be on the sofa with the cats, in my PJs by 9pm, watching ‘Supernatural’. And then ‘Dexter’.

From tomorrow, I’m busy until July. But that’s tomorrow. Tonight, I’m spending quality time with the Winchester boys. Bliss.

New Telly

Do you remember the old TV your gran used to have? It was as deep in the back as the screen was wide. It was probably black and white. It had no remote control – you had to get up and fiddle with the dial to change channel. And it was probably bought in the 50s and lasted 30 or 40 years.

Sadly, these days are no more. Modern TVs have a five-year life span. We were told this when we bought our first flat screen 42-inch plasma TV, not long after we bought our new house, about six years ago. We hung it on the wall, and revelled in the amazing picture quality.

So knowing its life span, we were expecting it to die this year, and I wasn’t too surprised when it went kaput last week. Apparently modern TVs have a finite number of viewing hours. If you’re the sort of person who watches TV a couple of hours a week at most, you can probably make yours last years. The five-year estimate comes from the viewing habits of the average household, watching a few hours a day.

After a week of having to make do with the second smaller TV upstairs, which has only freeview and not the digi-box (and there’s NOTHING worth watching on freeview), and a crap signal which kept cutting out and crashing every five minutes, and no Nintendo Wii because configuring it to a new TV was too much of an effort, our new TV is now installed, in its 47-inch glory, on the living room wall.

And I am impressed. The picture quality is amazing. This one is backlit and blu-ray compatible and has all sorts of other shiny things I haven’t yet figured out. But maybe that’s why things aren’t built to last these days. Technology has become complicated, and disposable. When something breaks down, it becomes easier to buy a new one.

But I am not lamenting over the shortfalls of society. I am too busy basking in the glory of new telly-ness. I have yet to see how Leon of ‘RE4’ will look on this sexy new screen, but I look forward to that moment.

Hubba hubba.