Monday 5 December 2016

Mary Kenny: Despatches from 1963

My 19-year-old self comes pouring out of a clutch of old letters

Published 20/11/2016 | 02:30

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin

Do you have any old letters in the attic? Don't chuck them, keep them: they are social documents. They are voices from the past which may impart many lessons - some of them possibly embarrassing - but striking, just the same.

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It happened to me. A cousin found some letters I'd written to the family as a teenager and she sent a handful of these back to me. Open the old envelopes still bearing those lovely stamps of yore, and from them my teenage self came tumbling out - a painful mixture of the innocent and the mortifying, half-baked opinions and events observed that have a strangely contemporary echo.

One of the most telling aspects of old letters lies in remarks about money, and what things cost. In one letter from Paris, in May 1963, I thank an aunt "for your wonderful present of £1, and warm letter. The pound replenished my purse which had diminished to the sterling equivalent of roughly one penny farthing, and the letter silenced my grumblings that I had No Friends and Negligent Relations." A pound sterling meant much, as did a letter.

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