Saturday, December 27, 2008
I have been away for Christmas, staying in a house that overlooks the local nuclear power station. The only thing that kept me sane was reading WF Hermans' novel The Darkroom of Damocles - a Dutch masterpiece from the 1950s that has only just been translated into English.
When I returned to Lewes I found a large pile of cards on the doormat, two of which were 'round robins'. I can only assume that they were sent in error, as I haven't been on speaking terms with either of the senders for a long time. One of the round robins was insufferably smug and depressingly banal in equal measure. The other was merely unintentionally annoying.
I hate round robins. I don't particularly want to know about people's wonderful holidays abroad or read about the progress of their home decorating (one letter informed me that the author's curtains were steam cleaned in August).
Also, as the father of a dyslexic child who is about to be screened for an 'Autistic Spectrum Disorder', the last thing I need is proud parents boasting about their perfect children. I'm sure it's very nice that darling Hector is happy at school and has just passed his Grade 7 Flute, but my son has just punched a hole in the wall and spent the best part of an hour screaming with rage, so I'm not really in the mood for tales of exam successes and artistic accomplishments.
One of the round robins informed me that:
2008 has been a rather fab year. Even all the building work was fun. Zoan (yes, Zoan) loved watching the diggers, climbing up the scaffolding (+up... +up!) while me and Pandora huddled ever closer as our living became smaller and more primitive. The wonderful transformation revealed itself just in time for the summer hols.
After an account of Zoan and Pandora's progress at kindergarten, the letter concluded by expressing the wish that 2008 'bought you joy, new possibilities, an opening mind + heart'.
The author of this letter is an extremely nice woman who is intelligent, considerate and self-effacing. However, even she could not manage to write a round robin that wasn't slightly nauseating.
I'm not a complete misanthropist. I like to know what's happened to people and it's great when a Christmas card is accompanied by a small note or letter, but I want them to be personal. I appreciate that writing dozens of letters is time consuming but if you value people enough to stay in touch, surely they're worth a quarter of an hour of your time?
And if people really do have too many letters to write, why can't they type up a standard round robin and customise each one to make it look like a personal letter?