The Cherry on Top of Time

One of the greatest joys of getting older is revisiting things you did when you were younger that are even better now with age. Like talking to your mates’ parents about life. Massive drag when you were young, but now you nod along like the Churchill dog. “I KNOW, VALERIE – I get really narked when the bin-men just leave my food waste bin lying on its side like they don’t even care too. I know. I know, Val. You don’t have to tell me; I KNOW. Now, do you want another slice of quiche?”

Or lying on grass – an ordinary act for kids pooped from running through the ambrosial fields of their youth, but for an adult it is a prostrate way of sticking it to the man. “Yeah, that’s right. There’s no grass in the office, so here I am, lying on grass outside the office. YOU WON’T SHACKLE MY SPIRIT, THE MAN.”

Or flicking a V sign at a rude kid in the street. Unremarkable when you’re the same age as them, but when older than them it’s dead exhilarating. Plus you are providing a service. You are keeping those precocious twits on their toes. “Mummy, why is that lady swearing at me?”, “Because you’re a dick, dear and it’s high time you knew it. Now stop eating your boogers or I’ll have you adopted.”

(Exceptions to the ‘things being better when you’re older’ rule are: gnawing raw Oxo cubes, and weeing by the side of the road when things gets desperate. Not the same. Never the same. Avoid.)

This week I added another thing to my list of things I did as a kid but now love more as an adult. Sending and receiving handwritten letters. When they come out of the blue they can really knock your socks off.

I’d been chatting to a friend on the ol’ Facebook. Nattering about books and writing and how sometimes they are the best things and sometimes they are the worst things. She’s an awesome comedian who’s already written two books so I had nothing to offer but the odd “go gettum, tiger” type sentiment. When we said goodbye I thought I had probably been the exact opposite of useful.

But a few days later I received a floral envelope in the post. I thought “those pizza dudes are getting very metrosexual”, and then I opened it and saw my friend’s name written at the top of the page above her address. She had included her middle name, which is the penpal version of tongues, and had written my name in big swirly letters with an exclamation mark. It was like getting banged in the heart by the 90s.

The letter contained lots of funny charming things, underlinings and capitals for dramatic effect, and ended with a thank you. And it made me so happy. I was routinely obsessed with writing letters to my friends while growing up. I had pen pals dotted around the country that I’d met on holidays, and as if that wasn’t enough correspondence to be tending to, my school friends and I were caught in an infinite loop of notes. We didn’t have texts or emails. We had paper and pens. And the best letters were the ones you had to wait for. The expanse of time was exquisite torture. We didn’t have the Internet or mobile networks, we had the Royal Mail.

This unexpected letter from my friend was the loveliest reminder of something I used to love, but it brought it right up to date. It was like the 90s with a cherry on top. And the cherry is the knowledge that I was lucky to have the 90s. In the 90s I just thought the 90s were dead normal. But they weren’t.

I wrote back in various pens on multi-coloured sheets and my friend wrote back again, including a page ripped out of a magazine with a picture of some sheep “really looking” that made me guffaw. Two women in their mid thirties, talking about things they love – big girl stuff, real life stuff, books and publishers and birthdays and age and shoes and drinking and love and dogs – but adding dinosaur and rainbow stickers to the envelopes which means we’re extra cool and the 90s can, actually, just bite us.

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