Film The first time I heard W. H. Auden's "verse commentary", specially written for the GPO Film Unit's Night Mail was during a third year English class in secondary school (more recently called year nine) when the teacher utilised it as a way of explaining how rhythm works in poetry. He had us walking around the room incanting the words both separately and together. Although it was the late 80s, with the exception of references to steam, little if none of it felt archaic or unimaginable. Back then, old carriages with wooden interiors were still in use on some journeys with their smell of rotting fabric and soggy nicotine and we still received letters, many letters, every day.
All gone now. Almost every type of post listed in the poem has been replaced by web and telephone communication, although even the latter is slowly drifting away to be replaced by text on screen, short chats and small verbal connections forgotten. The night mail itself still exists, of course, but it's more likely to be shifting parcels than letters, blu-rays and books and bathing suits rather than missives between relatives. Even though I'm writing this into a box on a website, I don't trust the internet with my financial affairs but letters from banks have dwindled with some only issuing statements every three months as the less paranoid of their customers conduct transactions online.
But progress is progress and there's no doubt that people are more connected than ever. Within a few years of that lesson, I was at university and without the finances for a mobile phone, still rare enough amongst students that when one rang everyone in the library or computer room would turn and look, my only connection with home was a timed phone call and shoe box sided care parcels from Mum which as well as canned goods and noodles and chocolate included articles snipped from the Liverpool Echo to remind me of home. Now all students seem to have a powerful computer in their pocket and Skype exists. Effectively they carry a communications channel to their home around with them.
Apart from those statements and the odd e-commerce purchase, my post has dwindled, especially since cancelling my Lovefilm subscription. The most letters I've received in a day recently was three or four and they were all revealed to be connected with the referendum, from the various campaigns and parties, all for naught because I'd already made a decision (not that it made much of a difference). I miss the very excitement Auden spoke of, the quickening of the heart. I do feel forgotten, to some extent even though I know that the fact of me not writing letters to others adds to the obsolescence of what was once a vital communication network.