THERE’S an old cartoon in the satirical magazine Private Eye where an oldish, balding man with a beard – who is meant to be St Paul – is sat at a desk with a pen, pots of ink and rolls and rolls of parchment paper. Behind him is an old woman who is looking at him accusingly and who says: “He writes to the Romans, he writes to the Corinthians, Ephesians, but does he ever write to his mother?”

Writing a letter to someone has never felt more personal. Whilst emails, texts, whatsapp messages and zoom meetings all have the benefits of immediacy, there is a lost art of the considered phrase, crafted joke or reflected wisdom all of which were at the heart of a well written letter.

At their best letters contained achingly prophetic wisdom which provided inspiration or warning to their readers. Bobby Kennedy, the younger brother of John F. Kennedy, used to keep in his desk draw an extract of a copy of a letter sent by the poet John Keats in 1819 to his brother and sister in law – George and Georgina Keats which said: “While we are laughing the seed of some trouble is put into the wide arable land of events. While we are laughing it grows and suddenly bears a poison fruit which we must pluck.”

One of the side effects of the long lockdown has been eventually getting round to doing some of the things that have remained stubbornly at the bottom of to-do lists for months.

Embarking on one such project led to a re-discovery of a bunch of old letters in a shoe box which had been transported as part of multiple house moves over the past 20 years.

Spending time re-reading some of those lovely old missives was a reminder of the joy that a letter could bring. Some of the letters – received in the 1980s – came in colourful biro and envelopes which had been artfully vandalised by their teenage sender with acronyms such as SWALK (Sealed with a loving kiss) and quotes from the old pop song Please Mr Postman (deliver da letter, da sooner, da better).

Others from the 90s were written in fountain pen on heavyweight paper with formal crests slipped into envelopes embossed with Downing Street or House of Lords.

All of them served a reminder of the need for me to pick up a pen again during the lockdown, to close the lid of my laptop and to dig out the blue airmail envelope and rediscover my fountain pen.

At times such as this it seems the first letters to send should be letters of thanks. Whether as notes to the postman, bin collector or your regular GP. Someone who inspired you and who you lost contact with. A long forgotten friend or teacher. Someone who placed their trust in you or who brightened up your life. Let me encourage you to pick up your pen with me and write all over again.

  • Arun Arora is vicar of St Nicholas Church, Durham