Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thinking outside the envelope

The moment has come: the deed must be done. It’s time to write the Christmas cards.
Task one: find the address book. This is a tough one, as the book migrates between the kitchen and the home office with monotonous regularity and is always guaranteed not to be in the place where you last saw it.
Task two: try to remember the friends and relatives whose addresses aren’t in the address book itself, but are in the computerised contacts book to which only you know the password and which gets synced with your internet profile every other week despite repeated attempts to stop it.
Now ‘syncing’ your contacts is a process which may sound, to the terminally naive and innocent, as though it could possibly have something to do with co-ordinating and organising your vital data. But in fact it involves a sociopathic program which compares two slightly different lists of people and their mailing addresses and phone numbers and then deletes all of them without asking you, leaving you only with the phone numbers (but not the addresses) of an old work colleague you lost touch with years ago and never liked anyway. And mad Uncle Nigel.
The same thing happens with downloaded music tracks: you copy them to your iPod or MP3 player of choice, and the next time you connect said player to your computer all the tracks vanish. Try to download them again from the music store and you’ll be told you’ve already got them and will be re-charged.
Decision time: how badly do you want to walk to work to the beat of obscure 1970s disco hits? Pretty badly, truth be told.
Franz Kafka’s nightmarish visions of bureaucratic rigor mortis had nothing on what a computer will do with your musical tastes if you give it half a chance.
Back to the Christmas cards. (Thought you’d got away with it, did you, wittering on about computers and music and synchronisation and all that stuff? No chance, mate: it’s Christmas cards or nothing.)
Task three: make a list. No, actually, let’s make several lists. One list for Mrs D’s friends and relatives, postage required. One list for yours truly, ditto and likewise. Ruthlessly exclude potential recipients who are suspected of (a) moving; (b) not intending to send a card to you; or (c) snuffing it.
A bit later, after we’ve made good the Post Office’s annual trading deficit, we’ll draw up another list for local friends, postage not required. Plus another list for everyone else who doesn’t qualify for inclusion on lists one, two or three.
Let’s make these lists on four separate pieces of paper. (Can you guess where this is going yet?)
Task four: write out the cards that need posting. Discover that constant use of a computer keyboard over the last year for all written communications apart from notes to the milkman has struck down your writing muscles with a distressing case of the atrophies, and that after five cards and envelopes your once elegant cursive script is indistinguishable from the tracks of a drunken sparrow on an icy path.
Task five: waggle hand furiously, get on with it.
Task six: stick on the stamps. This is the best bit, because the introduction of those new-fangled self-adhesive jobbies means you no longer end up with a mouth tasting like a fishbone reprocessing plant. But worse is to come.
Step seven: out into the Arctic wastes to post the finished cards. Easy – a brisk walk down to the postbox, a slip, a crunch, a bruise the size of Belgium. Nothing to it.
Step eight. Start to draw up list three, for the hand deliveries. Realise that you’ve lost lists one and two, and have already posted half the cards. You now have two choices: send a second lot of cards and risk confirming to your nearest and dearest that you are a total idiot, or send no more cards and make them think you’re a Scrooge-mongous skinflint.
Step nine: sit back and wait. Because the one thing you can be absolutely sure of is that the last delivery before Christmas will bring a card from the one person you left off all four of your lists.
This first appeared in my Bath Chronicle column on Thursday December 11.

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