'Tis the season for round-robin letters sent to friends, family and passing acquaintances. Some welcome the chance to touch base, but the heavily-glossed updates on high-achieving children and exotic holidays can be annoying, says writer Lynne Truss.
So this year, she has devised several responses to a fictional round-robin that will, she hopes, result in her removal from future festive mailing lists.
My dear Caro, Tom, Zoe, Sasha, Dotty (the dog) and Fluffy (the hamster),
Well, what a year you've had! Every year seems to be an improvement on the last in your household, if your four-page Wilsons Christmas Gazette is anything to go by! Zoe's exams! Sasha's success in that inter-school speed-texting competition! Tom becoming general manager (eastern region)! Dotty's attainment of a pet passport! Fluffy's worrying disappearance under the floorboards!
My dears, I was quite exhausted just reading it. I was especially fascinated by the whole page and a half on how you dithered for six months about which sort of kitchen to get, and then decided not to get one after all! Do you know, yours was the fourth Christmas newsletter I received this year on the same day, and I hope you don't mind, I felt compelled - well, I know it's unconventional these days, but I just felt compelled to send you a personal reply!
Somehow I don't get round to writing and printing my own Christmas newsletters. For one thing, I'm sure I could never master that wonderful breathless reporting style - or indeed imitate your enviable devil-may-care attitude to written English. Anyway, here are a few thoughts on the latest newsletter.
- There should be an apostrophe after "Wilsons" on the masthead. A small thing, the plural possessive apostrophe, but I'm surprised the new passion for grammatical correctness has passed you by!
- Paragraph two: you say Zoe came "virtually top" in her year for French, history and English. Now, this is odd, because when I checked with the school, they said Zoe was actually a "middling" student who might not get any qualifications at all if she didn't stop hanging round the Arndale all day with a boy called Wayne.
- Paragraph six: Tom's new job is in fact a demotion, isn't it? Rather unwise to attempt sleight-of-hand here.
- The school sports picture. You have bungled the Photoshopping of the large tattoo still clearly circling Sasha's upper arm.
- Concerning the holiday in Antigua, you see the person at the back of the group photo, in a big hat? You probably thought she was an innocent passer-by. Well, look closely... it's me! Yes, I followed you to Antigua as I have followed you and your family everywhere for the past five years, as it happens, because I hate you, Caro Wilson, you smug cow. I hate you and I hate in particular the way you send these four-page full-colour Christmas letters to everybody as if you were the Queen.
I enclose some book tokens for the girls (but only for satirical reasons), and an amusing volume called Adultery for Dummies for Tom, because I fear he hasn't read it. Now, if you're wondering what's been happening to me all these years, it's not an uninteresting story. In the autumn of 2006, I met a handsome and ambitious young man called Jason at Holistic Pilates and gave him a lift home. We became lovers instantly.
After a six-month visit to Australia, we set up a surveillance business, which has been incredibly successful, with an office in Mayfair. We have 25 operatives, and have been retained by several Gulf states, but the best thing is: I've had your entire family under 24-hour intensive surveillance from the very start, just for the pleasure of establishing that your Christmas newsletters are full of complete and utter rubbish.
Don't bother trying to find the cameras and microphones; if Mossad can't do it, I don't suppose you can. Above all, Happy Christmas!
PS: Don't be too hard on Tom when you do eventually find out. Men are such weaklings where attractive younger women are concerned.
Dear Tom, Caro and family,
First of all, thank you so, so, SO MUCH for your Christmas newsletter. You have no idea what it means to me every year to hear about your wonderful family with its wonderful successes. When your envelope arrives, I have a special ritual with a cup of tea and a ginger biscuit, and hang the expense. I'm sorry about the handwriting, by the way. Since I broke my wrist in that silly affray in the pound shop I can't seem to handle a pencil very well, but luckily I don't have to write very much, having no real friends any more and all the family dead and so on, even the children.
Your new bedroom looks beautiful. It was a stroke of genius to include those swatches of wallpaper and upholstering fabric along with the newsletter. But I do hope you get that new kitchen you talk about as well. I've never read anything more interesting than the page and a half you wrote about how you were trying to decide which kitchen to get, and then decided not to do it after all. Spending £60,000 on a kitchen is "a major outlay", I agree.
Did I not tell you I'd moved, by the way? Fortunately, the people who bought my burned-out flat from the receivers have been very kind about forwarding the occasional bit of post to my Morecambe B&B.
You must be so proud of your girls, Caro. I hope this won't sound too "sad", but hearing your lovely happy family news once a year is just about the only thing keeping me going! But you know this, of course, because that's why you send them, isn't it? Bless you. I feel I know you all so intimately, you see, thanks to your lifeline newsletters - even though we last actually saw each other exactly 20 years ago, and (let's be honest) hardly knew each other, even then!
But I feel so close to you now. You'll be amused by this, Caro: every year I cut out the pictures of you and your lovely family and then I scale them up quite big so I can pin you all up on the wall and talk to you.
The point is, I love your family, you see. You have generously shared your lives with me, and the result is I love you very, very much. I feel so included! Someone told me that families send out these letters to just everyone in their address books - maybe hundreds at a time, completely indiscriminately! With no thought to the situation of the person receiving them!
But I know you wouldn't do that. I know you write them just for me.
Caro, I promised myself I wouldn't tell you this, but I was actually on the verge of doing something very silly four years ago when your Christmas letter came through. I won't go into details, but what with the fire, and then the mauling, then the second fire, then the double murder and everything, I was feeling a bit low. But when I saw that close-up of Sasha's scab after she tripped over Goofy's foot at Disneyworld - I thought "Stop! What is Caro telling you here? She's saying that if little Sasha can carry on after a set-back like that, so can you!"
I'll sign off soon. It gets dark so early this time of year. I just wanted to say please, please KEEP SENDING THESE LOVELY CHRISTMAS NEWSLETTERS. They brighten my darkness. If I ever suspected that you and your family weren't truly happy - that these letters embellished things, or hid things, or exaggerated, or misrepresented - I'd be absolutely destroyed. Perhaps you could send them MONTHLY? Or even ONCE A WEEK? In fact, tell you what, Caro. This has honestly just occurred to me. Can I come and live with you?
PS: Please excuse the damp patches on this letter. They are only the marks of my tears.
Dear Mr and Mrs Wilson,
I am writing in connection with the newsletter entitled THE WILSONS CHRISTMAS GAZETTE that you recently sent to a Ms Lynne Truss, who has moved from this address. Opening it in error, I am bound to say I was fascinated by its contents.
As a former inspector at the Inland Revenue, I noticed that, under the heading "June", you admit to a "windfall" from a "mad aunt" and make several unwise admissions concerning your decision not to declare it, but to spend it all on a new kitchen. I am bound to inform you that I have copied the evidence and forwarded it to the relevant authorities. You will be hearing from them after Christmas. In certain cases of brazen tax evasion, a custodial sentence may be applied.
May I take the opportunity, however, of congratulating you on a first-class production? I am told by acquaintances that the "Christmas newsletter" is now an accepted feature of British life and is sent quite indiscriminately to people in one's address book without checking whether they are still alive, still regard themselves as "friends", and so forth.
Personally, I prefer to write a brief note to people I have not seen for a long time. I ask them how they are, give them selected news that I am positive will interest them, and wish them a happy Christmas. I would not feel comfortable sending them a published, illustrated account of my year, oh dear no! I would feel that a bulletin of my own splendid doings was a trifle one-way as a form of communication - a little self-important.
But I have observed how parenthood can distort people's ideas of their own place in the world. Parents become blind to the fact that the run-of-the-mill accomplishments of their offspring are of less than negligible interest to other people. Speaking as a stranger to your own family, I feel it might be helpful for you to know that your two daughters a) sound quite ordinary, and also b) look extremely ordinary. As for their paltry academic achievements, might I point out that a kinder course would be to keep those unexceptional examination grades under wraps? But I apologise for running on in this philosophical vein, especially when you are facing criminal charges.
I will make just one final observation. What strikes me about your newsletter most is that while you have dedicated great care to the cropping and display of the pictures - and while your page and a half on your deliberations concerning the new kitchen admirably leaves no detail, no detail whatever, unexplored - there are several gross errors of spelling and punctuation that seriously let you down and expose you - I'm afraid to say - to accusations of illiteracy.
I have therefore taken the liberty of marking up your abominable publication with a few corrections, transpositions and suggestions for happier re-wordings. I enclose it herewith. It was no trouble at all. Quite the contrary. I must confess I can't remember anything that has given me more enjoyment.
Please note in particular for future reference your repeated misuse of "principal" (P-A-L) for "principle" (P-L-E). Also you use the words "phenomena" and "criteria" as singular on several regrettable occasions. Meanwhile your attitude to apostrophes seems to be to throw a handful in the air and just see where they land. But a happy thought strikes me. Perhaps when you are in prison for defrauding the Inland Revenue, you might take a course in remedial English?
With all compliments of the season.
JB Funbury (Esq).
How wonderful to hear from you. Great stuff. So you're sending out newsletters! Good show.
While I found all your news about kidlings deeply riveting, I have to tell you that you gave me a rather top-hole idea. Listen to this and hold on to your hats. In the past couple of years I have started a small but thriving business selling erotic knick-knacks - nothing distasteful, and packaged VERY discreetly. Now, I'm always looking for new marketing avenues that are a) discreet, b) legal and c) aimed exactly at our sort of people!
So what I'm proposing is this. You take a look at the enclosed Super Dooper - don't be scared, it won't bite! - give it a road test or two, and then maybe next year I could take a half-page advertisement in the Wilsons Christmas Gazette, with a couple of quotes from you two saying, "These really are top notch erotic knick-knacks" or, I know, listen, even better, "Aaaargh, blimey O'Reilly".
What do you think? By the way, has it ever occurred to you that your hamster Fluffy is the spawn of Satan? You might want to look into that. He has all the signs. Anyhow. Sleep on it.
Pip pip. Great stuff.
Dear Caro and Tom Wilson,
I got your newsletter. OMG are you in trubble. OMG!
The first thing is, do not leave this letter laying round where anyone can see it.
Second thing, go look at Fluffy. Picture of Fluffy in you're newsletter - mark behind his EAR. When hamsters have this mark, sometimes OK. But can't see - CAN'T SEE - does fur swirl right, or swirl left.
If right, get rid of Fluffy anyway. If left, he is none other than the ANTICHRIST who's arrival was foretold in the BOOK OF REVELATION.
Calculate the numbers you morons. 5 x 21? 7 x 39! Connect letter Bs - B for Beelzebub. Connect Bs in you're letter and you get outline of a GOAT - a goat with FIVE LEGS and a HAT. See Revelation, chapter 13, verse 16. Get out of the house now!
OR never write family newsletter again. This might save you.
Dear Caro and Tom, children and pets,
This is my reply to your newsletter. I am writing to say Happy Christmas. I have been thinking of all sorts of ingenious ways of stopping you from ever sending me Christmas newsletters again, but I've decided, finally, to try a more direct approach. Here it comes.
PLEASE STOP SENDING ME THESE NEWSLETTERS.
Isn't it bad enough that the years pass so quickly? While I am suspicious of any sentence that begins, "Christmas is a time for" - isn't Christmas a time for reconnecting (however superficially), rather than for issuing journalistic bulletins about yourself and your loved ones that are torn up by people like me and hurled across the room? Isn't it a time for thinking about other people and wishing them well? I suppose I do grudgingly care if your daughters get their exams, or you get a new job. And I'm truly fascinated by Fluffy the hamster - the way the fur swirls along his back, it really does look like 666.
But if we were proper friends, I would know all this stuff about holidays in Antigua already. And if we were really close friends, of course, I would have helped out with the proofreading.
What I feel is this. The sending of greetings at Christmas is not about keeping virtual strangers up to date. It's about stopping for a few seconds (just a few seconds!) to think about a person you maybe haven't seen for a long time - and in return, finding out that, for a similar fleeting moment, they also remembered you. And apart from anything else, good grief, haven't you heard of Facebook, you people?
Oh well. I did my best. Season's greetings,
God bless us, every one (especially Fluffy).
Lynne Truss's round-robin responses were broadcast on BBC Radio 4's Today programme