Absolutely Fabulous

The age of the computer has moved Christmas on in ways that nobody could have predicted. It wasn’t so long ago that the cosy British sitcom character Margo Leadbetter recoiled in horror when she learned that Harrod’s (or was it Fortnum and Mason?) wouldn’t be able to ‘deliver Christmas’ to her in The Good Life.

It was a great line and it raised a big laugh, but for many families ‘Christmas’ will indeed roll up in a van marked Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda or Waitrose as home deliveries prompted by on-line orders reach record levels.

Millions of presents will be despatched to front doors, too, sparked by the click of a mouse as shoppers visit Amazon or Play.com.

But possibly the saddest development of all in the computer age is the inexorable march of the round robin family Christmas newsletter.

One seasonal greeting, written just once and without any hint of a personal element, will spew forth from the printer on a bland sheet of A4 paper, which will then be folded neatly into four before being thrust inside a card and sealed with not so much as a second though, far less with a kiss.

Job done, Christmas greetings sent, another task on the do list gets a tick in the box (and by the way, where is that fancy little tick icon on Wingdings?) – and you can move on to the next one.

But hold on, if you’re sending a round robin newsletter out, that means you’re going to receive a hundred or so back. And where are you going to find the time to read them all, even if you really want to?

So we have the perfect solution. A round robin Christmas newsletter that will guarantee immunity from all future seasonal despatches.

A spoof round robin that will probably earn you a Christmas tip from the postman because you’ve lightened his load so much.

Dear Friend (why even bother with a name, eh?), Please select the comments most pertinent to you and delete those that are not.

To be brutally honest I don’t know why I’m writing. In last year’s letter I said ‘We must keep in touch.’ But we haven’t, have we, so isn’t it about time we faced facts and admitted that we’re never going to see each other again?

We had a bit of a hoot when we met [on holiday seven years ago] [when our kids were at school together] [when our husbands were attending the same clinic] but things move on.

I was excited to [add you as a friend on Facebook] [follow you on Twitter] [hear about your son’s brush with the law on the local radio] but quite frankly our friendship has not progressed as I’d have hoped.

I’ll be perfectly honest and say that I had anticipated receiving a quick leg up the social ladder by rubbing shoulders with someone who has your connections in the [WI] [leisure club] [underworld].

But in all that time the best you came up with was [a hen night out at the dogs on the eve of your third marriage – and when I say dogs I’m not referring to the hounds at the race track] [a handful of Tesco school vouchers for me to pass on to my kids] [a free pass to our prospective parliamentary candidate’s campaign launch party].

I think I told you that my circumstances would be changing in 2009 and they have.

My Trevor is no longer holding his position as MD at Busby’s Ball-bearings. In fact he’s not holding much at the moment, apart from a glass of beer and the TV remote (who said men can’t multi-task?). So I feel the need to get out and about again, and with my Mikey off my hands (although I can visit him at his place of residence on the Isle of Wight), I’m thinking of hitting the shops for some serious retail therapy in the January sales.

Don’t get me wrong, I would like some [company] [advice] [Aspirin] to help me get through the next 12 months, but you’re not the person to give it or to take with me when I go bargain hunting. No, not after that incident you had with the [dancing instructor] [meter reader] [male nurse behind the curtains at A&E].

Instead I’m going to offer you some advice to help with your [gardenia] [cooking] [addiction]. Katie passed it on to me when we met in [London] [secret] [the bookies]. It’s really quite straightforward – either we knock this on the head right now while we’re still [on reasonable terms] [able to ignore each other’s little foibles] [in the land of the living] or I send my brother round with a bunch of [flowers] [grapes] [fives] to settle it once and for all.

*****

OK, so you probably won’t be going that far, but if you are sending a round robin this Christmas here are a few tips.

DO

* Keep it relevant. Does the other person really care how many bison you saw on your safari holiday or who sat next to you at the captain’s table on your most recent cruise?

* Adapt each letter, so that although the framework remains the same, you at least refer to something that the person told you in their round robin letter last year.

* If you truly value the friendship then make a pledge to pick up the phone and talk to them and try to address the reason why your friendship has slipped.

DON’T

* Don’t write in the third person or tell the story of your last year as if it’s your pet dog speaking. Ugh, how can people think that’s funny?

* Don’t write poetry. It really winds people up.

* Don’t boast about the achievements of your children or spouse. A quick update doesn’t have to make the other person feel like a failure. Just be subtle and say the kids are doing well in their respective jobs, without harking on about some praise they’ve received from the boss or a mega bonus that enabled them to buy an Aston Martin.

*****

Comments about round robins from the web:

‘ ... they gave a detailed account of how the public swimming pool had to be evacuated and closed for cleaning after the daughter had an ‘accident’ during a swimming lesson. Charming.’

‘ ... several years ago we spent a very enjoyable evening with friends as they did dramatic readings of some letters they’d received from other friends and relatives. Destructive, unhousebroken dogs; imprisoned, abusive relatives; aging parents in the throes of dementia; disturbed, underperforming children; impending divorces. Apparently there was no topic too private to share, and by the end we didn't know whether to laugh or cry because the topics sometimes verged on tragic, while the writers persisted in sharing the information in a weirdly upbeat and cheerful tone.’

‘ ... I’m not the biggest fan of these letters. My grandfather, aged 90, declared to all and sundry that despite getting married last year, I had not yet made him a great-grandfather. He said I was his only hope to carry on the family line and he feared he wouldn't see the day, etc, etc. Nothing like a little emotional blackmail at this time of year.’

‘ ... we recently received one that was written, apparently, by the two cats of some people we haven’t seen for years. The owners had even gone to the trouble of contriving different personalities for the two animals. That one ended up on the fridge door so we could all have a good laugh about it.’

‘... I always send them and love to receive them. Having moved house several times to different parts of the country there are people I no longer see but whose news I am definitely interested in. I’d love a handwritten note even more but most people don’t have time to do this on every letter they send.’

‘ ... we have had the same letter every year for 13 years, typed with our names handwritten at the top. The letter tells us about promotions at work, how well the darling child is doing at school, how they enjoyed the skiing trip. Not once have they asked ‘hope things are ok with you’. Last year, to our disappointment, we didn’t get one. Strange, I thought, until I found out that the husband had been made redundant from his job. How sad that they were too ashamed to share this news with us.’

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