It is sometimes overlooked that the penny post made fan mail possible. It is unlikely, for example, that Byron was greatly troubled by autograph hunters when he awoke to find himself famous on the appearance of Childe Harold, though women who fell in love with him may have written to request a lock of his hair.
Today not to receive such attention is a sign of not having arrived, or of becoming a back number. Yet many a lesser light shudders at the flap of the letter box, fearing the problems that come with the morning mail.
A German student cheerfully flung at me the following "asks"; he says there is some urgency, because he needs the answers for an examination.
I can decipher the first questions: "What is my great, wight and step great?" and "Was I grown on town or land in the youth age?" I am in difficulties with "What are in this disciplin your best display, special in sprint?" and I am in deep waters with "Have you all the time to train the middle part?"
But I am utterly defeated by his last question: "How is your fence time to the width of your arcade time?" I am unhappy to be the cause of this able and earnest student's failing his examination.
A PROBLEM OF ARITHMETIC
Here is a more difficult problem. "I am 12 years of age, I can run 80 yards in 11 seconds and 220 yards in 28 seconds. Last year I could only run 80 yards in 14 seconds. Can you tell me what speed I should be running 220 yards in three years' time?"
To this seeker I must confess that I failed arithmetic at school because I could not answer the problem of filling the leaky vase.
Autograph hunting adds most letters to the postman's burden; it seems to be accepted as a growing pain of modern childhood. The highly organized collector now sends typed requests with "Please sign the enclosed card along the dotted line." I can see my name being filed away in endless cabinets labeled "European ex-Athlete, 1950-60."
Sometimes the request is in a childish hand: "Please would you put your name six times on one piece of paper, because my brothers and sisters want one too."