Thursday, 4 July 2013

Chain Letter Disciples No.1

With just under four weeks to go until the start of the Edinburgh Fringe (cue involuntary anxiety spasm) and the first of my Chain Letter shows (spasm...hold it together Van der Velde) each preview I do is bringing forth new and excellent stories from audience members who've been inspired by the show and I thought I'd share a few of them with you as they're so good.

For those who haven't had their ears chewed off with my enthusiasm about this project, here's a quick rundown. Over the past few months I've been trying to save the humble handwritten chain letter in the face of the onslaught of digital communication.  I appreciate that writing a blog post about the project is possibly slightly self-defeating, but I'm not going to write a pamphlet and nail it to every town hall door in the country, Martin Luther-style.  My way of saving the handwritten letter has been to turn myself into a human chain letter and post myself to some of my long lost friends, to see if I could encourage them to pass me on to their long lost friends in turn and keep the joy of receiving letters alive. 

As I said, audience's have really connected with the idea and told me some ace things.  Here are a few of them:

1. Last night I met Preshan, an Indian chap who told me about his relationship with letters when he was a kid.  As a kid he was mesmerised by the procession of people walking down his street every day to pop letters into the fabulous bright red post box at the end of it.  It was a wonder that from this simple box you could reach any person in the whole of India. For months he saw his mother writing letters to her father, but his Dad never doing likewise to his own father.  Confused and frustrated by this, he resolved to start writing to his paternal grandfather, who he had never met.  Over the next few months he concientously handwrote letters to his grandad and every time was disappointed not to receive a reply.  This did not deter him and so he kept writing.  After a year of this he felt distraught at being ignored by his grandfather and so tearfully asked his Dad why his letters were going unanswered.  He was told very simply why his grandad did not reply: he was blind.  Preshan failed to mention if he then went to work with a hammer and nail to make homemade Braille letters.

2. Jack, a lad I met at a preview last week in Wivenhoe, told me of a great idea he's been inspired to do from the show.  He's an artist and has decided to send 10 disposable cameras out to his own childhood home and those of 9 of his family/friends and ask the new owners to take pictures so they can see what's changed.  I thought it was a beautiful thought, which appealled perfectly to my own love of navel-gazing nostalgia.

3. Last night I also met Aria, who told me about her pen pal in Singapore who she wrote to when she was a child, until one day the letters simply stopped.  She kept sending hers for a few months but got no reply, assuming that her pen pal had simply forgotten about her.  Fast forward 15 years later and she had moved from America to Perth in Australia.  Being considerably closer to Singapore, she thought she'd chance her arm with another letter to her childhood friend. This time she did get a reply, but from Perth.  Her friend's family had moved there all those years ago and not told her, nor kept her American address.  Somehow, by hook or by crook, this new letter and found it's way from the old address in Singapore to the new one in Perth and in adulthood the two pen pals were reunited.

4.  This is my favourite preview story so far, told to me by Julian.  As a teenager, trying to win the affections of a girl he had a crush on, he thought he'd try something a bit romantic and write her a postcard and send it across town.  On his journey into college however, the postcard fell out of his pocket on the tube, without a stamp.  Disappointed to have misplacedthe postcard, Julian lost his nerve and didn't write another one, assuming that the fates did not want him and the girl to get together, so he was pleasantly surprised a few days later when he received a phone call from the girl thanking him for the card and asking him out for a drink.  Unbeknownst to Julian some secret commuter cupid had found the postcard, read its contents, put their own stamp on it and posted it.  You may now swoon communally...

I'm delighted by how many ace stories about the power of handwritten letters that I've been given already from audience members and can't wait to hear more over the next 6 weeks.  If you have any good letter stories, please do get i touch with me.  Now gotta go write to Kevin Bacon, who I'm convinced should be the patron saint of chain letters.