Continuing to try and sort out my office and find a place for everything and as usual when I do this sort of thing, I found myself getting lost in a box of old letters from the 1990s (which let’s face it is the last time anyone ever wrote to anyone).
Most of these letters are from half a lifetime ago and, of course, in most cases I only have half the conversation (and it’s not my half weirdly). I am quite glad that I don’t have my own contributions (except in a couple of embarrassing cases when the letter remained unsent) as I am certain I would be mortified by my stupidty. I don't need my half of the conversation to know that it is there.
But the letters are full of passion, frustration (with me being an idiot) and sometimes anger. Say what you like about people in their twenties, but they really fucking feel things.
My love life was much more complicated than I remember it being back then (my memory is of mainly being alone and women not being interested in me, but at least a handful were). One letter from a fairly casual (yet it turns out very intense) American woman, returning home, has incredible insight into my personality at the time. I wanted to believe I was unlovable or broken, but in spite of me behaving in a non-comital fashion with her, she recognises that my self-projection is woefully out of kilter with the reality. She totally nails how sweet and vulnerable I really was at the time and how I would, with time, sort myself out. It’s a brilliantly written letter (she’s gone on to be a successful writer) which I presume I ignored at the time, or certainly didn’t see the wisdom in there. Twenty-one years too late, via Facebook, I thanked her for her kindness and perception.
Two or three of the correspondents told me to not stop being rude to people, because it was funny. I think it’s true that I liked to take my comedy into the real world and defy social norms, even if that meant stomping on people’s feelings. I know that at University I found the whole concept of dating so fake (and terrifying) that I would prefer to mess it up for the joke (and the safety). That’s a commitment to the art of comedy that most would not dare to equal. I was clearly worried about my drunken rudeness, but all the people mentioning it wanted me not to change. Perhaps that’s where I went wrong. The arrogance was slowly beaten out of me by life… but I think there was always kindness beneath it all. Apparent enough so that my friend was able to see it. I wanted to be more of a rebel than I was, but ultimately I cared too much to be the loner heartbreaker that I pretended I might be. Who knows?
The strangest thing though is the occasional letter or card from someone you don’t recall. There’s three letters from someone I’d met on the road and briefly chatted with, who lives with a boyfriend but who is keen to come to London to meet up. The final letter seems to suggest we’d be seeing each other the next weekend, with more than a suggestion that there would be some assignation. But I don’t recall any of this or the woman’s name either.
I am pretty certain that we can’t have met up in fact - she will have got cold feet or realised she couldn’t cheat on her boyfriend. This was the early 90s and romantic interest in me was certainly exceptional enough that I wouldn’t have forgotten if something had happened, even if it was just a date (or would I?)
I googled the name and found a picture of the woman today and though we have both changed a bit in the last quarter of a decade, there was a glimmer of recognition, but only a glimmer. How much else have I forgotten? We could make a really crap 84 Charing Cross Road about our six letter correspondence, followed by her deciding not to come and visit me. Unless the film is about how I have somehow managed to wipe this whole encounter from my memory and how upset she is about that… I wonder if she stayed with her boyfriend. I guess not. That was what this was really all about. Her realisation that it was time to move on. In the 90s I was a great catalyst for such realisation and romantic change. Making women realising they were in the wrong relationship, but that the right relationship was not with me. They changed. I remained unchanged.
It’s interesting and confusing to be thrown back into time, into crises and love affairs that are either forgotten or meaningless or at worst are now only the shock waves of the past gently lapping at your heart, making you wince or giggle.
Life was exciting and bewildering back then and everything was too intense. You get through it, you learn, you forget, you move on.
I don’t know if emails have this emotive power. Obviously if we can be bothered to trawl through them all, we would find the personal ones (and have the advantage or disadvantage of still retaining our half of the conversation), but will we? Will we ever really look back at the thousands of photos we take now in the same way we look back at the 24 on the roll of film that we had to blindly take and hope for the best back in those days? Something about writing down your thoughts and not being able to go back and edit them, beyond crossing out or tearing up, leads to a rawer and more emotional experience.
What surprises me about the letters, a couple of notable exceptions aside, is how much I was liked. My American friend wished that I could leave behind my self-loathing because she thought I was (with some caveats) a kind and thoughtful person who was funny and a good friend. I mainly remember the battle with my own self-esteem and the insecurity and loneliness that clouded that decade (and the next one) and which still occasionally passes overhead.
It’s a shame you can’t go back and do it all again properly. But I needed to go through all that to get what I have now. It might have taken me a long time to get there, but it was worth the wait.
Don’t fuck up your own twenties with such nonsense. Oh it’s too late.
And like me, you wouldn’t listen, even if someone clearly laid it all out for you.
First names announced for new series of RHLSTP
Sept 24th Jonathan Ames
Oct 15th Rick Edwards
Oct 22nd Michael Sheen
Nov 19th Adam Buxton (200th RHLSTP)
And some really amazing guests who have not yet confirmed dates, but want to do it. More news soon!