First Class Male – My Teenage Correspondence

In the post today I received an invitation to give blood, a new watch strap ordered from an online retailer, and the details of a firm which could help if I were having any damp problems. (I only get damp problems when I watch Top Gun.)

Since I got into online shopping, the post has become interesting.

There was a period after the establishment of email but before we all got relaxed about using credit cards online when the post was just a tiresome round of tax codes and TV licence reminders with the odd birthday card thrown in.

The golden years of post for me were during the eighties when I was at school.

At different points in my academic career I boarded at a convent overseen by some nuns and a visiting priest.

Every morning in our common room girls would gather. The record player would go on and one of two records would be played: either ‘The Very Best of Chris de Burgh’ or U2’s ‘War.’ Both Christian acts approved of by Jesus.

Girls would sit around eating iced buns and waiting for whichever sixth former had been charged with bringing down the mail from the school office.


The call would go up and we would wait to hear the names of the recipients of the letters yelled across the room.

It became a tense ritual. By it we measured who was popular and who wasn’t.

Popular girls would go away with two or three coloured envelopes – all from Paperchase – and sometimes somebody would receive a parcel.

Getting letters was a really big part of boarding school life. 

Supercool girls would receive letters from boys at other schools describing the most recent Gatecrasher ball Rupert or Jamie or Nick had turned up at. Sometimes there’d be photographic evidence.

I’d get a stream of consciousness from my nan, who addressed all her letters to ‘Dear Beatiful’ and informed me in detail about her days out with Doris to Clacton, the skill of the coach driver and the quality of the fish and chips.

But even that was better than a big fat nothing.

I recall all of this now, because Valentine’s Day will be upon us this week.

Valentine’s Day was the best and the worst of post days. Get an actual Valentine (not one from your dad out of pity) and your stock shot up.

Nothing and you were nothing.

When I was thirteen I spent Valentine’s Day in the school infirmary laid low with flu.

In the bed next to me was a fifth former called Lulu. She was devastatingly attractive, had highlights in her hair like Princess Diana and perfect teeth.

She got SIX Valentine’s cards. From six different Rupert, Jamie or Nicks.

And then Sister Magdalena approached my bed. She had a small package for me.

On Valentine’s Day!

I had butterflies in my stomach. Was there a Rupert, Jamie or Nick out there for me?

I ripped open the large brown envelope to find a scrawled note from my mother wrapped around my orthodontic brace; I’d left it at home the previous weekend and she was determined that my teeth weren’t having any time off.

If only it had arrived the next day! Oh, the pain of hope crushed! There is nothing like it for the teenage ego.

But, as I got older, the post did get more interesting.

My circle of friends, hitherto largely female, began to include boys. Boys whose circles of friends had hitherto been largely male.

We were all learning about each other. And that meant a lot of letters.

Letters in coloured envelopes. Letters hinting at something more than friendship.

But also letters full of boring reports of football/rugby/hockey/cricket matches and even more boring descriptions of exams/lessons/Cadet Force exercises gone badly.

You never knew what was coming your way.

And then, on Valentine’s Day 1986 a little package dropped on my doormat.

Again with the butterflies.

I opened it to find a slice of toast from my much fancied friend, Toby.

But it was not a token of love. Just a token of breakfast.

Unbelievably, I still have that piece of toast (I have kept every one of those school era letters). It’s now older than most of my colleagues.

Later in the year, Toby took me to see ‘Top Gun.’

That’s when my damp problems began.

But I have the name now of a firm which can help. It arrived in the post today.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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