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An open letter to Fay Weldon (not suitable for transmission by fax)

Dear Fay Weldon,

Ever since you moved back from Somerset to London I haven't seen you at all, so I have attempted to keep up with you by reading your writings, and I duly read a piece you wrote in The Sunday Telegraph earlier this month, all about how women should behave after the age of 50.

Well, I was wandering through the piece, vaguely taking in this advice for 50-year-old women, wondering how much of it would be applicable to men, when suddenly I came across something which stopped me in my tracks. It was when you said that one of the things you learn by the time you're 50 is that "people say nice things to you by fax, and nasty things by letter".

I know that novelists sometimes say things in articles which they don't really mean, simply because they sound interesting and because you have got to say something to fill up 1,000 words, but that did sound a bit odd to me. Why should news in letters be nastier than in faxes? Why couldn't it be the other way round? Why ...?

And before I knew what I was doing, I had started looking through some of my most recent faxes and letters, and now that I have digested a lot of my correspondence (including some stuff I couldn't remember having seen before) I have formulated some more ground rules about methods of communication, which might form the subject-matter for ongoing discussion if you're game. I still haven't found any evidence for your theory one way or the other, but I do think it is true to say that ...

1. Faxes are generally used to remind you tersely of something you previously promised to do by letter or phone call.

2. You can leave a letter unopened, but faxes are harder to ignore.

3. Nobody ever sends a Christmas family fax, only Christmas family letters.

4. All Christmas family letters include at least one fatal accident, major operation or disappearance.

5. One in every 15 faxes is from someone unknown to you promising either cheap World Cup tickets or cheap phone calls.

6. Nobody uses fax or letter to say thanks for dinner any more. It is always done on a postcard bearing the tiny replica of a famous painting.

7. One in every five faxes brings you a newspaper cutting which the sender is very anxious you should read. Unfortunately, they don't fax the cutting directly - it is always a fax of a photocopy of the original cutting, rendering it just illegible.

8. Signatures on holiday postcards never give much clue as to who has sent the card.

9. If any fax is more than one page long, the first page of the fax never tells you anything except that the next page will be the real first page of the fax.

10. Writers of letters quite often add a note saying, "Don't bother to answer this." Writers of faxes never do this.

11. Indeed, senders of faxes get quite upset if you don't respond immediately, and very upset if you claim never to have received their fax.

12. Twice a week at least I answer my phone when it rings and hear the burbling of a fax machine at the other end. I shout down it, "This isn't a fax - it's a phone!" but it never seems to have any effect.

13. Postmen still put Postage Due stamps on insufficiently stamped letters, but they never actually ask you for the postage due any more.

14. The worst news (final reminders) and the best news (cheques) still come by post.

15. Nobody will ever have their collected faxes printed, if only because faxes gradually fade away.

16. Your letters can go to the house next door, but your faxes can't.

17. You can send an anonymous letter, but a fax can always be traced to the machine that sent it.

18. Mad, obscene and offensive messages are harder to send by fax because you can't use green ink.

19. Junk faxes are junkier than junk mail.

20. Nobody ever sent an Open Fax to Fay Weldon.


Miles Kington