Over the weekend that we met, Melinda and I talked a lot. We spent as much time as possible in each other’s company and talked about everything from the properties of non-Newtonian fluid to the merits and demerits of Melinda’s first Birmingham balti curry. On the morning of Melinda’s return to Devon, we carried on talking – about canals, about a building in Digbeth – next to UB40’s old studios – that is covered in some remarkable graffiti.
But we did more than simply chat. We found ourselves opening up to each other and – as we later discovered – talking more freely than either of us had done in a very long time about ourselves, our beliefs and our thoughts.
So where to go from here? As we parted that September Monday morning – me to return to my office in the Custard Factory, Melinda to catch her train back to Devon – neither of us knew what would happen next. I knew I had met someone wonderful and extraordinary. I knew that I wanted to see Melinda again. And I knew that we had seen into each other’s souls; each of us opening a door and shedding light on places that had been hidden from view.
So, I texted Melinda to say that I hoped that she had caught her train on time and that she had managed to find the doughnuts she wanted for the journey. She had, but the train was full – and I texted my worries for the safety of the doughnuts. From Exeter, Melinda texted back to say that she’d arrived safely – and so had the doughnuts, only for them to meet a “dire fate”. I replied that their fate was not dire, they had simply met their destiny: a destiny called Melinda.
And, naturally, I wasn’t really talking about the destiny of a box full of Krispy Kremes. I was talking about the destiny of a box full of excitement and nerves known as Steve Coxon.
Doughnuts of Destiny
From there on, we were in touch every day in some way. When we weren’t sending text messages, we e-mailed. And when we didn’t e-mail, we wrote letters – the old-fashioned way – choosing paper and ink and words carefully. We exchanged gifts by mail too. Books, feathers, petals.
At first we talked about our weekend in Birmingham. I tracked down the graffiti artists responsible for the house next to UB40’s studios and discovered they were from a Brazilian group of artists who were about to decorate the Tate Modern in London. And we e-mailed each other a lot about them until – one day – Melinda asked what we would talk to each other once we got tired of Brazilian graffiti artists. I replied that there was no end of topics – she could ask me my favourite colour, my recipe for North Staffordshire oatcakes or my favourite quote. In other words, I said, there were enough things to talk about to last a lifetime.
Getting to know each other in these early days through the written word was wonderful. Both of us are thoughtful people and I, certainly, find it far easier to express myself in writing than through the spoken word. I have time to put my thoughts into some semblance of order and meaning before they appear on the page, rather than let them come tumbling out of my mouth.
Getting to know each other through writing enabled us to explore deep feelings and thoughts that – otherwise – may have been awkward to express face to face. So much of the spoken word relies on intonation that meaning can evaporate into the air. A written exchange, by contrast, is fixed and can be re-read, re-examined and questioned.
But, you may ask, what about spontaneity? I don’t think either of us had any trouble whatsoever in communicating with real spontaneity. While some of our written messages were carefully drafted and considered, others were dashed off in seconds – simply because the thoughts and the emotions contained within those words were already fully formed and bursting to be read.
Now, of course, we can simply reach out or turn our heads to say “I love you” – and do so every day. Yet we still write to each other – using Instant Messenger to send little notes to each other, even when we’re only at different ends of the flat. And we still text. But putting it in writing as we got to know each other – giving unspoken feelings a voice – is something that we both feel brought us much closer together, much more quickly, than if we had relied on the spoken word alone.