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THE CAT THAT COULD OPEN THE FRIDGE: A curmudgeon’s guide to Christmas round-robin letters

02 November 2006


Atlantic Books, £9.99 (CT Bookshop £9); 1-84354-357-5.

"I HATE these people, hate them, hate them, hate them!" This is a fairly typical reaction, says Simon Hoggart, on the part of those who yearly send on to him the round-robin letters they receive from friends. He has now made a selection of the funniest, most startling and most surreal into a little book. It’s quite startling how loathed many of the letters are, he says. This is mostly because they assume that the recipients have the time and inclination to plough through thousands of words detailing the minutiae of the writers’ lives. Home computers make it easier than ever to write and send round robins at considerable length. A Scottish academic apparently sent out one of 39,000 words.

Simon Hoggart quotes scores of the letters, grouped under themes such as children’s achievements ("In March, Kati gained distinction for Grade IV theory and is currently awaiting the result of Grade V flughelhorn"); home improvements ("A quiet family-style Christmas for 2002? Yes, if you count the delights of installing a new toilet pan and plank-effect floor in our downstairs cloakroom"); holidays ("The Yorkshire Dales were not a huge success, as we didn’t want to walk and there wasn’t a lot else on offer"); disasters ( "After a brief respite last year, Angela’s work situation seems to go from bad to worse"); and death ("After a long illness, my Mum died in November. We are now the owners of a fine drop-leaf dining table. Any offers?")

Smugness, multiple exclamation marks, trivial details and letters in verse form all come in for derision. So, too, does religion — the assumption on the part of the round-robinners that "God is the fourth emergency service up there in the sky" ("We are waiting for God to tell Trevor what his next job ought to be"), and that all their recipients share their faith ("I hope that, however hectic your Christmas festivities, you will find room for the Christ Child").

One recipient was moved by his hatred of these insensitive epics to send out his own round robin: at the top it says "Christmas newsletter 2003"; at the bottom it says "All the best, Dave". And in between it is blank.

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