They make a habit of this, the Happy Campers, popping up at Simon Garfield events wherever they may be, but no ambush so special as this one on home turf. My thanks to them as always for really entering into the spirit of this whole thing, and so over to one half of the Happy Campers and the dying art of letter writing...
I wanted Simon Garfield's latest book, 'To The Letter' for Christmas, but it didn't appear, so I treated myself to it when it came out in paperback recently. I hadn't started reading it though and was a bit worried about this event. Would there be spoilers?!
The other Happy Camper had been sent to bag some seats while I grabbed one of the scrumptious ice lollies for sale opposite the crepe stall. The temperature at mid afternoon was soaring and the air inside the tent still and humid. Our seats were in the front and I was somewhat intrigued by what seemed to be a Giant's Causeway constructed from cardboard and brown paper winding its way round the front of the stage. It must have taken someone ages to construct and my first question was 'Why?' but PE is a showcase for the arts, after all...........
Simon Garfield was joined by Simon Chandler and Rebecca (whose surname I did not note, sorry) who were going to help him interpret some of the material in his books.
Letter writing is a dying art, as any postie will tell you; such missives are now far outnumbered by parcels from internet purchases. Yes, we want to communicate, but briefly- tweets, snapchat, Instagram, the younger generation is totally keyed in to the mobile and the instant. For them, even an email is 'too much faff' as Simon Garfield says. We still write, but we don't wish to express emotion in depth like the letter writers of old. And there are all those problems with confidentiality when emotions are sent off into the ether.
So we need to look back in time to find examples of great correspondence.
Of course, there are famous names in the book; we giggled at the underwritten restraint of some of the Queen Mum's letters, but the most fun was had with some of the unknowns. Step forward Simon Chandler, actor, who alternately read the WW2 letters sent between Chris Barker ( a postman) and his work colleague, Bessie Moore. This was a comic tour de force, how Simon kept it going with the consistent voices I don't know, especially Bessie's falsetto! More than once I kept thinking Mandy mother of Brian had paid us a visit. There was some pathos too, amongst the laughs, and everyone wanted to know whether Chris and Bessie found happiness in the end.
Next, Rebecca, reading extracts from the journals of Jean Lucy Pratt, who was portrayed in sepia wistfulness on the screen, as she was at the time of writing in 1926 merely fifteen years old.Rebecca conveyed all the earnest self consciousness of youth, as we heard of Jean's hopes and romantic longings. We couldn't imagine a teenager today committing to paper or anything else such lengthy musings upon love and life. Jean remained a spinster all her life, which made her journal entries all the more poignant when we heard her expectations of marriage and a family of her own.
We were going to stay for Andy Miller and his Year of Reading Dangerously, but decided instead to go to the book tent and wait for Simon Garfield so we could have a chat and ask him to sign our copies of 'To The Letter'. He was relaxed and very obliging, saying that he likes Port Eliot as he is given the opportunity to try something different - he doesn't have to do the routine book talk.
We will await his next venture with interest and hope to catch up with him again before too long.