Before the age of the internet, before MySpace, Facebook, Bebo and Twitter, the way that kids met other was by finding penfriends. There were several organisations which would help you do this. Most of them were useless, seemingly funded on the basis that the only way to make money was to make kids cough up their pocket money in the blind faith that the child they were supposed to be paired with actually existed. I was never sure that the ones I was linked to did; certainly, none of them ever wrote back.
The only successful penfriends I ever made were actually organised by my schools and the most successful of those was Gerd Bresser. My home town of Leamington was very keen on ‘twinning’, a sort of penfriendship for towns. So keen, in fact, that they were, at the last count, twinned with four places – a move which, when you think about it, is wholly illogical.
One of those towns was Bruhl, a town just outside of Cologne. For some reason, we didn’t have school exchanges with the other towns during my time, but they did have them with a school in Bruhl. Pairing you up with a student from that school was very easy – they just picked the pupil with the closest birth date, irrespective of what you may or may not have had in common.
Gerd may have been a few days younger than me, but he had a full moustache (which caused no end of trouble on public transport), little interest in sport and truly terrible taste in music. Despite this, we remained firm friends for many years, writing to each other regularly. Even when we grew up, we remained in touch. We were invited to each other’s weddings (I still use the towels he gave me) even though neither of us could actually attend, and would meet up if he was ever in this country.
And the odd thing is that the internet killed our relationship. I don’t know why, but around the time that high speed internet connections became available, I stopped hearing from him. I don’t know what may have happened, but my letters were not answered and my attempts to trace him online have failed entirely. I can only hope that, wherever he is and whatever he may be doing, he is happy.