Elderly friends of my family, Tom and Polly, recently showed me a collection of letters they wrote to each other when they were - lovely old-fashioned word - courting.
In the aftermath of the Second World War Tom had to return to his family after spending the duration in Polly's tiny rural village. Circumstances and parents didn't allow the young couple to meet for a year. It was their daily love letters on cheap lined paper torn from exercise books that kept their love alive. Don't you forget to come back and marry me, wrote Polly. Tom responded sadly, Dad won't let me. He says I have to wait till I'm older. But don't forget you're my girl. I never forget that I'm your fellow. I never ask another girl to stand up with me at the dances.
Tom and Polly were teenagers when they inked these honest but awkward sentences in their best handwriting. Old enough to earn a living (though most of their wages would have been dutifully handed over to parents), they weren't old enough to marry without permission. Their letters flew across the fifty miles that separated them until Tom was allowed to return to the village and ask Polly's dad if he could court Polly once more.
Tom and Polly have now celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary. Tom has dentures, a replacement hip and a walking stick, Polly has two new knees, but the couple still stand up together at dances. They still live in Polly's village. And they still read those now-yellowing letters as evidence of how long they've been in love.
So is it surprising that a recent survey, conducted to celebrate the DVD release of Ain't Them Bodies Saints, found that 86% of British people believe that no text, email or snapchat can compare to the romance of a hand-penned note?
My emails evaporate from my inbox after sixty days and if I print them out the ink soon fades. Texts last only until I change my phone or accidentally delete the thread. The survey says that 70% of Brits believe that modern technologies have had a damaging effect on romance and I think it's because most electronic communications simply disappear.
But paper? Popped safely into a drawer, Tom and Polly's letters could be there to be read by their great-great-great grandchildren, just like the ones sent by Bob Muldoon in Ain't Them Bodies Saints. Paper won't be attacked by computer virus or lost in a rush of technological advances.
Are you tempted to tell your love how you feel? Do it on paper, here's some of my top tips to help you get started...
• Your handwriting is part of you. Use it and your letter will be personal
• Think about what's motivating you to write. Are you making that first tentative move? Making a general declaration of love? Or is the love letter a celebration of your first anniversary or an outpouring of how you feel to be working away from home and missing the feel of your partner in your arms? Focus on that
• If you're not a natural writer, plan your letter in bullet points. Then you can move the points around until you're satisfied
• When expanding those points, be prepared to do rough drafts and then when you're ready to attempt the finished product you'll be able to present it beautifully
• Decide on the tone you're aiming for. Serious? Jokey? Passionate? Revealing? Stick with it
• Think about the one receiving your letter. What would s/he like to find when the pages slip from the envelope? You'll get the most from your romantic gesture if it's thoughtful
• At the same time, try and let your own voice come through. Then you'll sound sincere
• Don't say anything you're going to wish you hadn't! And definitely don't propose if you don't mean it. (In fact, don't propose at all. That's a face-to-face activity)
• If you find it absolutely impossible to say what you'd like to, copy out a poem or song that says it for you. Explain why you chose it.
Make your letter a treasure ... in sixty-plus years you may want to read it again.
The epic tale of love and lost, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, is out now on DVD.