The Eighties were generally good to the Dingwalls. Our days were filled with Eurythmics, Garbage Pail Kids sticker collections, meals made entirely in the deep-fat fryer, beanbags, ‘Going Live’ on a Saturday morning and chasing the neighbour’s kid around the park with some dog shit on the end of a stick (or ‘shitty-stick’ to give it its official title – a rewarding game that I still sometimes play with Billy in Seaton Park if I’m feeling particularly nostalgic). This constant flow of contentment was only ever broken by three things:
1. My mum revealing her latest home-made, pink, satin Roman curtain/blind abomination.
2. Tupperware parties.
3. The writing out of Christmas cards.
Today I will be focussing on the latter. My mum really hated writing out Christmas cards. I remember she had one of those plastic keyboard address books where you press the letter you need and it opens unnecessarily violently to the relevant page. She would just sit and angrily press the keys until she got the addresses she needed, a task made harder by the fact that she filed people like Mr & Mrs Baxter under ‘F’ because Mr Baxter was a farmer. As my sister and I got older, she would try to enlist our help as ‘Envelope Writers’ – enticing us with such rewards as corned-beef hash or a glass of Raspberry Cremola Foam. Despite the E-number heavy incentive, I didn’t like being the Envelope Writer and as I headed toward adulthood this developed into a full-blown aversion to greeting cards in general.
Nowadays, when the thought crosses my mind to maybe write out some Christmas cards, I am instantly put off by the sheer scale of the project:
– I don’t have anyone’s address, so the first task would be to email/text everyone I know and try to obtain their address.
– I don’t have an address book to put these addresses into, so before I start contacting people I should really go into town and buy an address book from WH Smith.
– I don’t want a boring black leather address book. I want an address book that says “Look at me! I’m fun! But not irresponsible”. I also wouldn’t mind one that has all the international time zones, a world map and some first aid pointers. WH Smith simply does not have an address book that caters to all my needs.
– I need to go and buy some cards now. I don’t really like any of the ones I’m seeing. Do I go for the scenic snow-covered churchyard ones, the ones with a picture of Santa doing a shit down someone’s chimney or the ice-skating penguin ones? This is hard.
– I need to buy some stamps. How much are you for stamps nowadays? Turns out I would have to re-mortgage my flat to buy enough stamps to cover the amount of Christmas cards I would like to send. I’m going to have to cut people out.
– Who do I cut out? The people I don’t really like? But then they will know I don’t really like them. People who aren’t related to me? But I like people who aren’t related to me. Well, I can’t send one to Person A and not Person B because they are neighbours and they might start talking about Christmas cards and realise that I deliberately cut out Person B. Oh God…….what the hell am I going to do?
– I know what I’m going to do, I’m not going to send any Christmas cards.
And that is what I do. There have been a couple of times at family parties when Billy’s aunt has – in my favourite form of humour: Drunken sarcasm – said “Oh, thanks for my Christmas card Jillian, I sent you one but it’s okay, I’m not offended that you didn’t send me one back”. She is BILLY’S aunt, not my aunt. Why is it my responsibility to send her a Christmas card? If she wants one then she needs to get all up in Billy’s face with her threatening greeting card hostility. People are sometimes shocked that I don’t even send them to my immediate family but they know the script, they know. If I sent a Christmas card to my sister she would instantly pick up the phone and say, “Um, why the fuck have you sent me a Christmas card? Do you have terminal cancer? Don’t tell me I’m going to have to buy an address book, put your address in it and buy a Christmas card and a stamp. You better have terminal cancer”.
Birthday cards are an entirely different matter, I am in favour of them – mostly because you just have to buy one at a time and you usually give it to them in person instead of posting it. Depending on my mood I can sometimes make a very big effort, like this card that I sent to my sister last year:
Or completely forget about it until the last minute and improvise with whatever I can find in the man-drawer, like this one that I gave to my friend and all-round La Lombarda hero, Michael, the other week:
The problem I have with birthday cards is therefore not that I don’t like them, it’s that I am completely incapable of remembering anyone’s birthday. I now rely entirely on facebook to inform me of my friend’s birthdays, by which time it is far too late to do anything about it. So instead I write “Happy Birthday” on their wall, something I hate doing because, let’s be honest, it is a shit effort and I’m sure the last thing someone wants on their special day is to read a list consisting of three hundred variations of the words “Happy Birthday”.
As a direct result of my inability to get my act together and participate in the thoughtful tradition of greeting card sending, I now only ever receive cards consistently from two people: Billy’s parents and another all-round hero of mine, my friend Alison. No matter how rarely I remember to return the gesture, they still never fail to send me a card every birthday and Christmas and for this I am truly grateful. It does actually feel nice to get a card through your door and I salute them for having the motivation to keep doing it despite the fact that – in true Dingwall fashion – they might never get one back.