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Thinking Allowed Newsletter: 'Do you promise not to tell?'

Laurie Taylor

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It's a perfectly ordinary looking box file, with the perfectly innocuous title 'Letters'. But it's not stacked alongside the other box files in my study - the ones labelled 'Tax' and 'VAT', 'Personal Documents', and 'Miscellaneous'. Instead, it has been neatly fitted into the space between the top of the spare wardrobe and the ceiling, so that it can only be accessed with the help of a small step ladder. Over the last thirty years it's sat in many similarly inaccessible places: behind the cleaning things in the space below the stairs, underneath the spare bed, at the back of the airing cupboard, and for a short time only, on the top of the bathroom cistern.

When everyone else is out of the house, I periodically check its contents. Yes, everything is still secure and in proper chronological order. All the letters from Gillian, my very first girl friend, are bundled next to the postcards from her successor, Marjorie.

And Marjorie's loving thoughts are neatly succeeded by Helen's carefully written expressions of affection.

There's nothing obsessive about all this. Oh no. I don't sit and read through all these letters. They've now become so familiar that I only need to flip through them in order to discover the critical sentences: the ones in which the writers mention my enormous attractiveness, my overpowering intelligence, my superb wit, before going on to promise eternal love and devotion.

My life would have been a great deal less pleasant if I'd not owned and maintained my letters box file. While others need to resort to drink and drugs in order to ease doubts about their worth, all I need to do is climb on a chair, fish behind the top of the wardrobe, and I'm already only a second away from Janet's admission that she'll never find anyone to compare with me 'in the whole wide universal world.'

My box file is my only truly private possession. It is my only store of secrets. If others ever ask about its contents I say that it's 'strictly personal' and change the conversation.

But in my more honest moments, I know that I only want to keep it so secret because any public exposure of its contents would quickly reveal that many of the so-called love letters carried quite other messages: unfortunate references to duplicities and dishonesties, to my physical and sexual inadequacies (in one PS, Janet actually compares my performance with that of her tennis coach and finds me 'lacking').

I did once come home and find my Letters box file sitting in the middle of the coffee table.

'Oh sorry about that', said my partner Emma, 'It fell down when I was putting things in the wardrobe. Hey, don't look so worried. I checked. It's got nothing in it. Only boring old love letters.'

The nature of privacy and secrecy. That will be the topic for discussion when I talk to the author of a new book called 'Islands of Privacy'.

Also in the show - How Filippina migrant mothers fulfil their parenting duties - by mobile phone. Mirca Madianou talks about her study of mothers in Britain and their children back home.

Ed's note: Listen to or download this episode of Thinking Allowed (along with 46 other episodes) on the Thinking Allowed podcast page - PM.

Laurie Taylor is the presenter of Thinking Allowed

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