My mum and dad are moving house in a couple of months.... nothing drastic, they're just shifting a mile or so down the road into the middle of the village.... but they have been getting ready for the big day by slowly clearing out the clutter that they have accumulated over the course of the last 29 years or so of living in the same place. Needless to say, quite a bit of that clutter actually belongs to their three sons, and the last few times I have been down here, I have had the pleasure of sorting through boxes of stuff that they have brought down from the attic.
Last time I was here, I had the distinct pleasure of reading through some of my old school reports (watch this space - I'll probably post some of the highlights up here at some point, although suffice it to say that one of the highlights is when I score a "C" for personal hygiene). This time around though I seemed to be trawling though old books and piles and piles of old letters.
Amongst the old birthday cards and things (would you believe that I stumbled across some cards from my first birthday?) I discovered a cache of letters dating from when I was around about 17 or 18 and a number from when I was a student. Judging by the volume of them, it looks like I was quite the correspondent in the pre-email era.
Funnily enough, it was one of the first ones that I read that had the biggest emotional impact on me. It was a letter enclosed in a hand made envelope constructed from the page of a local newspaper, and it dated back to the summer of 1991. It was the first letter sent to me by my friend Sarah after she had suddenly left school in the middle of term and with no explanations. I'm not sure how best to describe my relationship with Sarah. I was a 17 year old emotional cripple who had absolutely no idea how to relate to girls. Sarah was a 17 year old girl who had been thrown into the hostile environment of an (almost) all male English public school and who had struggled to cope. By chance we were in the same history class and we ate our meals together in the same boarding house. I think we got on reasonably well. I liked her, and in spite of the fact that I was unable to find a way of talking to her normally, I think she liked me too. We were friends - or at least we were becoming friends. We only really knew each other for a little less than a year and I wish we had had longer.
I distinctly remember earlier that summer when we were both on a school trip to Stratford to watch some Shakespeare. We had a really good chat in spite of the fact that I became some sort of bumbling Hugh Grant-like figure when my arm accidentally brushed against her side. I think it was a week or two before she left, and I think she tried to tell me... but she never quite did.
Shortly afterwards she was gone, and I don't think I ever saw her again (although I see that we corresponded for a few months afterwards). At the time there was quite a buzz of speculation around the school about why she left. Of course I was curious too, but it seemed largely irrelevant. I was just sad that she was gone. A few weeks later, I received that first letter and although it told me very little really, it was nice just to hear from her and know that she was okay. I treasured that letter, and although I had forgotten all about it, it was no surprise to me that it was the first thing that I saw when I opened that shoebox full old postcards, birthday cards and letters.
I read that letter again this morning and although it was written something like 16 years ago, it hit me quite hard. I found myself wondering all over again how she was and hoping that everything had worked out okay for her.
Amongst the many books I found in those boxes, I stumbled across a thin hardback called "Petra - a dog for everyone". This tells this story of the long and eventful life of the first Blue Peter dog. That bloody dog died in 1977 when I was three years old, and even though I can barely remember watching her on TV, this book has made me cry for as long as I can remember.
So what did I do? I read the book and it made me cry all over again.
I'm rather afraid that underneath this bluff exterior, I am really something of a sentimental old sod.
I've kept the book, obviously. And that letter.