- 14 Apr 20
In the Hot Press 'Stay Safe' Emergency Issue, Irish stars and cultural figures offer their personal takes on the COVID-19 crisis, as part of the 'Letters From Home' series. Laura Whitmore reflects on rediscovering the art of letter-writing during lockdown.
The last time I wrote a letter – a personal one, not one addressed to the bank or my local representative – it was handwritten. The art of letter-writing has been replaced by a 280 character tweet (thanks for increasing it from 140 Twitter) or a voice memo on WhatsApp.
I had a pen-pal when I was younger who lived in Italy and I still have a stash of our scribbled correspondence in a box somewhere. We lost touch when I went to secondary school and I can’t help but wonder how she is now, as Italy is one of the hardest hit countries during this Covid-19 pandemic.
Postcards are something that I’ve never given up on. I’m lucky to have travelled all over the world during my career and I’ve always sent home a postcard to my mother. I think she’s kept them all. I still do it. The last one was sent back in February, from Cape Town, South Africa, ahead of Love Island filming duties.
At the moment, the most travelling I’m doing is from the sofa to the fridge – so instead I’m writing this letter from my home in North London. I’ve gone as far as the edge of my current world – the upstairs balcony. The sun is shining, there’s blue skies above and the street below is deserted.
The UK is currently in lockdown. Apart from one brief walk a day, unless you’re a key worker, you should not leave the house. Usually postcards say ‘wish you were here’. But the truth is, I don’t wish you were here, as now more than ever we need to not do the one thing we all love to do to: socialise. It’s engrained in us: the backbone of Irish culture.
When I moved to London, over ten years ago, my English colleagues used to be intrigued by my incessant organising of get-togethers. I invited everyone back to mine after a night out for a sing-song, some planned, some sporadic, depending on where the night took us. We are social beings. Drop us in any country in any part of the world and we will gravitate towards people; or maybe them to us. Which is why this is so hard. Monday rolls into Tuesday and then it’s Saturday then Sunday and a week has gone by and I’ve only seen one other person in real life.
I’ve always been someone who hates routine. My home until now has been a storage place for my stuff. But now I long for routine. My week is broken up with recording radio and podcasts from my makeshift home-studio and then trying to fill the time in between. I get up early by choice. Lie-ins are great when they are special, rare and celebrated, not because I’ve nothing else to do.
I thought the anonymity in a big city like London was wonderful – but it can also be cripplingly isolating for many. So this week, on some blank postcards I wrote to some of my neighbours (I didn’t have their numbers) and I dropped through their letter boxes a little check-in message. I’ve never sent a postcard such a short distance before, but it felt so much more important than the rest.
Check in on your neighbours. Technology is great, but there are people, generations even, who don’t have a smart phone or know how to use the latest online social platform. The written word is a powerful tool whether it’s typed or penned. Use it and stay safe.
Read more Letters From Home, written by Bob Geldof, Imelda May, Glen Hansard, Danny O'Reilly and more, in the new Hot Press 'Stay Safe' Emergency Issue – available to buy in shops and order online now.