My Epson Stylus Photo 1400 photo printer of 2007 vintage - which I used to produce printed letters as well - wouldn't work when I tried to use it last year. Most likely the ink jets had finally gummed up in a terminal fashion. Or maybe the ancient electronics had developed some glitch. In any event, although it looked in fine fettle (I'd looked after it) it was in fact unusable, and I relegated it to the garage, pending a solemn state funeral at the local tip.
I can't say I was in tears. It had always been a big bulky presence in my study, occupying space that could have been put to better use. I'd never printed many photos with it. Good-quality photo paper, and particularly the proper Epson ink cartridges that had to be used, made printing pictures an expensive exercise. When I last bought a complete set of six ink cartridges in January 2017, it cost me a whopping £89.94. And any kind of one-off print run would use up half the ink.
In short, it hurt my purse every time I fired it up for its prime intended purpose. A big discouragement to use it at all. In any case, there was no need. Not many people ever asked me print pictures for them. And I rarely wanted to produce prints for myself. I'm a prolific photographer, but all my output is nowadays viewed on a laptop or phone screen. I don't want paper versions of my pictures. Not even to decorate my walls. I've pretty well run out of space anyway, and the few spots left are reserved for proper paintings, as and when I can afford them.
For a while there were letters to print, but even these steadily consumed black ink cartridges, and the cost mounted up. Then, a few years back, it seemed that emailing, or completing an online form, had finally become almost universal for the types of organisations I might need to communicate with, making a paper letter in a stamped envelope almost redundant. Printing became an unusual thing to do, and my superannuated printer went into a sharp decline. Latterly it wasn't able to print nearly as well as it used to. It looked as if I were making do with a rather shoddy machine, and treating the recipient with a certain amount of disrespect. That certainly wouldn't do.
The obvious answer was to junk the old printer and replace it with a new one. If photo-printing was now a thing of the past, then I could buy a simple printer just for the odd letter. But even that looked like a waste of money. I wouldn't use it enough. It would soon seize up from inactivity.
On the whole, I didn't mind this state of affairs one bit. I'd begun to slim down my computer equipment, and it suited me to get rid of unnecessary, outmoded paraphernalia.
And emails are fine; perfectly appropriate for most purposes; they cost nothing to send; there's a useful saving on printer ink; on postage even more so; and emailing ensures that the message gets to the recipient in a flash, with the date and time of sending automatically recorded. There's really no snag.
That said, I wouldn't send a love-letter by email. Nor a heartfelt or delicate message of any kind. That sort of thing needs the very personal touch of a handwritten letter. Such a thing takes extra effort of course, plus a pen, paper, an envelope, a stamp, and a windy walk to the nearest letterbox. But then, that's half the point - the thought and effort that will have to go into it, the skill (possibly labour) of personally writing words on a real sheet of paper, in an individual hand, to create something that can be touched and handled, maybe sniffed, and possibly cherished forever.
It sounds old-fashioned, but a letter of this kind has a timeless appeal and significance. Handwriting makes the thing extra special. We may still get printed certificates for achievements - passing exams, say - or to record a birth, marriage or death. But the most important public documents - city charters, for instance - are still beautifully handwritten by a scribe on vellum, and sealed.
Vellum is specially-prepared calves' hide - the ultimate durable luxury writing surface. But hey, I have a stack of unused A4 printing paper. I'll be working through that first!
An email has lately arrived from the organisers of the Appledore Book Festival in North Devon, which I attend almost every year, and will do again this year. The Festival deserves support, and I always pay to be a Friend of the ABF. The cost is only £20. For that you get a priority opportunity to book the events you fancy, and there are bookable Friends-only events too, such as a special evening meal or a drink with literary celebrities. I think £20 for all this is a pretty fair deal.
So, having read the email, I clicked the link to renew my Friend membership, and paid online, all of that easy-peasy. Within seconds, I was emailed a membership card to show at events. This could be downloaded and printed out if wished, but the obvious thing to do - and what the organisers seemed to prefer me to do - was take a screenshot, and preserve that to show when attending events. So I'd just need to flash the image on my phone screen. Exactly as last year, when I noticed that most people used their phones, and were not fiddling around with bits of paper.
It seems to be the modern way all across the board - whenever you buy a ticket for a ferry, for instance. You simply get an image to show, or a QR Code. They know it's individual to you, because it will have been acquired securely using your personal email address, and a credit card that only you can use.
So no more of this:
I'm thinking of taking my car to the Isle of Wight one day in October, and I wondered if you could explain to me the times of the ferry services, and the various kinds of ticket I might take advantage of, and whether my ten year old son and nine year old daughter, and my dog, can all come free. And if, as a friend tells me, the fares are only half price after 8.00pm. We'll need a snack on both the outward and return journeys - what are the catering facilities like, and will they be open in the evening? We'll be visiting the theme park at Alum Bay and using the chair lift to the beach with the coloured sands - well the dog won't be of course - come to that, the dog will have to descend to the beach with me, using the steps, and I'm not sure the children will be able to use the chair lift on their own - but anyway, do you offer a deal on the bus to get there, included in the ferry cost?
I usually like to pay by cash, but I can send you a cheque if that's more convenient for you...
Even if churned out on a printer, I don't think this would elicit the desired response - or any response - nowadays!
(Come to that, not even if quill-penned exquisitely on vellum in fine italic, and embellished with gold leaf and crimson capitals...)