When we go to see a play in the theatre, we know full well that the people on the stage aren't really being themselves but are playing a part. That's obvious, isn't it? We know when we see a mother shouting at a son and daughter in a play, they aren't actually related and there's no conflict between them. They are after all actors. Forgive me if I am stating what you knew already but I'm trying to get across an expression. And that is - 'suspension of disbelief'. What it means is that for a period of time you accept that what you are seeing is unreal but you agree to let it take place without questioning its verisimilitude. Now there's a word to impress your friends with and a simpler way of saying this would be - 'having the appearance of truth'. Let's face it, I'm asking you to indulge in a bit of 'suspension of disbelief' because you have to imagine that I'm writing to you and yet we haven't met and also you don't really know me.
Well, there's a picture of me on the site and I write a lot on www.english-test.net and that's about it. But let that pass. One of the longest running radio programmes in the UK (It's almost as old as me!) is called Desert Island Discs. What happens is that a well known person is invited to choose 8 gramophone records (that's what they called them when it first started) that they would take with them if they found themselves abandoned on a desert island. In between playing the records on the programme there is a chat between an interviewer and the celebrity about their life and career. Of course in the beginning before the latest technology we used to play music nowadays was invented, the castaway (the person left on the island) would be told they would have an inexhaustible supply of gramophone needles so that they could play the records on a wind up gramophone. Today the programme doesn't mention how the music is played and so for the past 68 years listeners have been suspending their disbelief and enjoying the programme.
So what would you do if you were marooned (left alone on a desert island unable to escape)? Eight records wouldn't be much good, would they? A mobile phone wouldn't help either. You probably couldn't get a signal and also you wouldn't know where you were, would you? You could write a letter but then how would you send it? Perhaps in a bottle? But then you wouldn't know how long it would be before someone picked it up. That reminds me of another story about unconventional letter writing. One of England's most famous humorous novelists, P.G. Wodehouse didn't really like bothering to go to the post office because he spent so much time writing his novels (about 100 in total). He lived most of his life in the USA and for a time he lived in New York as did his friend and collaborator, Guy Bolton. He used to dash off (write quickly) a letter to Guy and instead of going down from his apartment to post the letter, he would simply throw it out of the window and on most occasions someone would pick it up and deliver it to his friend. Bit of a tall (difficult to believe) story? Well, may be.
Up until the middle of the 19th century the postal service in the UK was in a bit of a mess. It was really a hit and miss affair; sometimes the letter arrived and sometimes it didn't. In all honesty you might as well have thrown your letter out of the window as P.G. Wodehouse did. The only reliable way to send a letter was through a private organisation and that cost a lot of money. History was waiting for someone to sort out this higgledy-piggledy (disorganised) situation. And along came Rowland Hill (1795-1870) who was a bit of a whizz kid (very clever lad). Even at the age of 11 he was a student teacher in his father's school and throughout his long life he was an educationalist, reformer, inventor, philanthropist and railway executive. But he is best remembered for his paper on Post Office Reform, which he proposed in 1837.
At the time postal services were paid for according to the distance covered and the number of sheets used. And the sting in the tail (the unpleasant aspect) was that the recipient had to pay. You might receive a really nasty letter from someone and you'd have to cough up (pay up) to receive it. Rowland put a stop to all that and introduced prepayment. As a result the world's first adhesive postal stamp was introduced. It was called the Penny Black and depicted the head of the monarch at the time, Queen Victoria. If you happen to come across a Penny Black (an original and unused one), you could make a lot of money. From then on everyone started writing letters and the number of letters rose from an annual 76 million in 1839 to 350 million in 1850.
Well, I hope you've enjoyed this session of 'suspension of disbelief' and I'll end my letter in a conventional way,
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