Monday 18 August 2014

Write more letters

I spent a good part of the last few days underground in the place where I used to live a generation ago.  My mentor from graduate school died at the end of March and one of my tasks this week is to sort through boxes of his scientific papers in the same cellar I had inhabited in 1979.

My Scottish granny was thrifty but I didn't live with her and really learned thrift in those months along with multivariate statistics and the fundamentals of ecology.  The thermostat in the house was set at 60oF which is 15.5oC: a huge tank full of air in the cellar was heated by a furnace and forced through pipes into every room in the house.  The roar of fans and furnace was the background symphony of my life asleep and awake. In this regime I learned what my personal thermostat was set to.  Hot air rises and the cellar, despite the furnace, was the coldest place in the system. If the true temperature was 60F, I could do my home-work, albeit wearing a sweater, if it fell to 58F, I couldn't concentrate even if I wore a hat and gloves.  Clearly I'm made of softer stuff than Scott, Челюскин and Amundsen who worked away with icicles on their eyebrows. I'm glad it's Summer!

To a close approximation, none of us write letters, the US Postal Service estimates that, on average, they deliver 6 personal letters a year.  But we all love getting a letter with a stamp in the post. One other thing I learned from my gaffer was to make a carbon copy of each letter that I sent, so I'd know what I'd said when the reply came.  I have a drawer in one of the filing cabinets back home that has these CCs filed by year.  They peter out in the late 80s when I got a word-processing computer and cease entirely by the mid 90s when almost all my comms were by e-mail.  I've been reflecting that my biographer is going to have only patchy material to work with because all those e-mails have long disappeared in a poof of dispersing electrons. When Chris del Bosque spent a year in Spain with his family a few years ago, I resolved to send a regular letter to his casa sin internet in Extremadura.  And just as he returned, Dau.I left home and I wrote every week to her, so that she'd have a direct connexion with home.  So for those two years, the daily doings on the farm and in my head are recorded in minute detail - although I must remember to print them all out and file them away under 2010, 2011.  Of course, The Blob kicks in at the beginning of 2013.

Yesterday in the cellar, I unearthed a box of 1980s letters from me!  Many of them handwritten, so unlikely to have been copied by the writer (me!) - another few pieces in the jigsaw for my biographer.  And not just mine, I was reading an account of how The Boy got lost catching the wrong bus coming home from his first day in secondary school in 1988.  I bet he doesn't remember that.  Either that or he now feels troubled whenever he gets on a bus.

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