The local problem with broadband and telephone lines that I and a group of neighbours have been experiencing over the past month has continued. Notifications of the work needing to be done are mysteriously lost, work teams of engineers turn up then don’t do what they are supposed to, complaints are mysteriously vanished. The late appearance of blogs is consequently due to the complete lack of capacity. It hasn’t even been possible to get to Edinburgh because trains are on strike and there is heavy snow and freezing fog, so driving is out as well.

If blogs can be seen as a kind of letter, lacking some but having others of the attributes of letterness, then some of these are very contemporary problems which have stymied publishing the weekly episodes. Others of them are not so technologically governed, like snowstorms and freezing fog. But this morning we and others have been helped through the kindness of strangers, two telecom engineers working in the area who have – for now – rescued our broadband. This has sparked off thoughts of a comparative kind, regarding what sorts of things would have prevented writing and sending letters in the past, in South Africa in particular, as compared with email and blogs.

Weather events would have been similar, snow and fog, high winds, also floods. Ink could be made using a variety of different substances when the ‘real‘ kind ran out. Paper too could be fudged, by removing blank pages from diaries and notebooks or finding leftover scraps of paper, though eventually it would run out. Facilities for sending letters could be so prohibitive that they were not actually sent, including matters of distance, absence of a postal infrastructure and reliance on the kindness of travelling strangers to take letters on their way, and also the impact of warfare and fighting. And while strangers are not always kind, they are frequently so, like the telecom engineers, and make the vicissitudes of life bearable. So, the same but different!

Last updated 9 December 2022