Occasionally, all of the time, I forget what it was like to exist before my phone became glued to my hand and my eyes glued to a computer screen. Phone conversations took place privately in the home; emails were letters carefully handwritten. Without instant Facebook or Twitter feeds people could exist in relative anonymity; the line between public and private life was a distinct.
Dear Lupin…. Letters to a Wayward Son, a collection of letters Roger Mortimer wrote to his son Charlie over the course of his life, is a glorious illumination on pre-technological years. I have never been so desperate to pick up and pen and write someone a letter.
Nostalgic, witty and filled with characters and situations that people of all ages will recognise, Dear Lupin is the entire correspondence of a Father to his only son, spanning nearly 25 years.
Roger Mortimer’s sometimes hilarious, sometimes touching, always generous letters to his son are packed with anecdotes and sharp observations, with a unique analogy for each and every scrape Charlie Mortimer got himself into. The trials and tribulations of his youth and early adulthood are received by his father with humour, understanding and a touch of resignation, making them the perfect reminder of when letters were common, but always special. A racing journalist himself, Roger Mortimer wrote for a living, yet still wrote more than 150 letters to his son as he left school, and lived in places such as South America, Africa, Weston-super-Mare and eventually London. These letters form a memoir of their relationship, and an affectionate portrait of a time gone by.1
Dear Lupin… is beautiful not only in wit and genius but also in demonstrating the extent to which a father can love his son. Charlie Mortimer, fifteen at the beginning of the shared correspondence and over thirty-five by the time of his fathers death, sounds like a child over which any parent would worry. While an affectionate and amusing youth he grows to be allergic not only to full time education but, in addition, full time employment. In wit and determination Charlie clearly takes after Mortimer the elder; in terms of addictive personality, his mother.
A retired journalist, Roger Mortimer’s talent at turning mundane events into fascinating and humours tales is more than evident when observing his writing style. He is dead-pan and monotone, his despairing amusement at life more than evident. Roger’s letters read as if it were fiction, and even though you are reading about people you do not know it does not matter. The insight I gained into a different type of family dynamic was as interesting; assumptions are often formed on how the upper and lower classes live, without realising they can have the same family oddities we do.
Over the years, as correspondence often does, Roger’s letters begin wittier than they end. However, Roger moves from chastising his child for not sticking with an expensive education or a job gained from connections, to communicating with his adult son who may do as he pleases. Eventually Roger will have accepted (but I imagine, not discontinuing to judge) his son’s ventures. In an emotional manner Roger and Charlie move from adult and child at war, to father and son as friends, finally understanding one another. When the final letter is over it is as if Roger has died all over again; to have such pithy correspondence end, from such a marvellous personality, is devastating.
“Old age is full of surprises, most of them unpleasant, and is rather life being punished for a crime one has never committed.”2