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Saturday, October 22, 2005

Bread-and-Butter Letters

My Christmas starts in late October. Not just because I need the time to think up clever (i.e. cheap) prezzies for my far-flung family and loved ones, but because I prefer the long and happy build-up over the crushed feeling at seven minutes past nine on Christmas morn, when the wrapping paper lies strewn, the forced gasps of orgasmic gratitude delivered, and the contents of all those thrilling shapes under the tree anti-climatically revealed.

I have my gift list ready, my card list Visio'd and Excel'd, and I have my Non  Gift List equally prepared.

Ten months of the year, I am an inveterate gifter, spotting bijou items that I fire off to the perfect recipient.

Most reply, too many do not. I've had it with the non-responders.

I was raised to send bread-and-butters letters, those prompt and polite acknowledgements of gifts or hospitality received. My saintèd mother is Grandma Bountiful personnified and she carps at *me* over her grand-daughter's inability to put - what's that implement? Ah yes - pen to paper to say Ta.

"If only to let me know that it *arrived* safely!"

"Mum - I *know*"

One Christmas i simply bundled all Corfu-sent prezzies into the attic and sat back to enjoy the action.

Barely had the last festive wrapping hit the floor than our younger was asking me for a stamp sufficient for Greece. Why so?

"I want to let Ya Ya know that her presents didn't arrive"

"But no, my pretty. You never let her know when her bounty *did* arrive, now you sweat it out."

Pucker of angelic features, quiver of deprived cherubic lips.

This Yule I shall *not* be sending to those from whom I got not even an email of thanks for the gew-gaws and perfect données I've mailed over the past months.

On the topic of b&b lettres, I once won a short story competition on the topic, beating off some pretty distinguished pros, I might add.

It told of a humorless fellow who preferred to write his letters of thanks *before* the event, when expectation lent fire to his gratitude and expectation.

Nothing pulitzerian:

"Dear Lady ffrontispiece, Thank you *so* much for the marvelous dinner last night, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Delicious food, as usual, and you (also as usual) looking in the pink of health.

And what a wonderful mix of guests! As usual, I talked far too much and hogged all the pretty girls - I hope Lord ffrontispiece didn't find me too  much of a bore, asking him to show me the latest additiosn to his model railway - it really is a splendid operation he has there in the Pink Room ... and so forth."

One day he meets a sweet young thing who joins him in this escapade and very soon the game takes a dangerous turn as they start to compete with every-more daring ploys:

Him: Dear Hugh and Maureen - Great party ... I think. Really, H should never have produced that second bottle of Metaxa. Miranda tells me I ended up singing 'Tom Dooleyt'. Ugh. ... etc"

Her: "Mo', you cow - Amaazing 'do'. Sorry about the accident with the wine -they say baking soda and Port is good on lace.

Of course, I got hell from Himself for flirting with you-know-who but .... what are parties for? Tell me he's not serious about that bint he was with ... yadda yadda."

They would mail their respective notes en route and the 'winner' would get some indeterminate prize.

It ends, of course, in catastrophe which I will not spoil for those prepared to hunt down the bound collection of the top 20 scribblings.

So carried away did I become with the idea that one evening I was boasting to my circle that this is how I behaved in real life. Indeed, had pre-mailed my b&b missive for the party we were currently attending.

Despite coughs and jerking eyebrows, I labored on in my boastful fib til a nudge of a tray in my back revealed the hostess carrying round nibbles, and who had of course heard every word.

Never had a guest paid more attention to the festivities than I did that night.

"Dear Ann - Thank you so much for last night. I did so enjoy myself and it was wonderful to see so many old friends: Petronella looking so grown-up in her Claude Sablon blouse and I loved her hair in that pixie cut.

Tom tells me that you're thinking of selling the Lee-Elliott gouache - might I put in a bid?

When I said that I was thinking of moving to Beltram, Turner that was entre nous . Their current creative director doesn't actually know his post is free (!), so Mum's the word.

Live music! What a treat - and gosh Ronnie has come on with his piano lessons. Scriabner is one of my favourites and he was jolly brave to tackle the minuet.


I'm reminded of all this by Slate's take on the Miers notelets, with which I totally sympathize.

Finally, a killer tip my mum passed on and which has earned me many brownie points: send flowers *before*, rather than turning up with the Chelsea flower show in one hand and a bottle of plonk in t'other. That way madame hostess can have them arranged and resplendent as part of the décor.

This gem of advice came from a capo di capi  of the Hong Kong underworld, a man of bulk and polish who never fell foul of the law.

A complete nobody, I once performed this trick on a peeress of the realm whose radiant dinner I was attending as a suitor of her daughter.

No sooner had I arrived and exchanged air kisses with la jeune than she scolded me with:

"You're such a bore. Mummy demands to meet you all because of your stupid flowers."

Dragged through the turkey-necked aristos to meet "Mum", I was duly thanked - "I've no idea *what* you're doing with my daughter, all she knows is oiks and the moost  plebeian riff-raff."

Turning to her husband, "Henry, this is the young man I was telling you about, the one with the terribly clever idea of sending flowers beforehand so that Cook had time to arrange them in advance."

Summed up and seen through in a trice, I bent low to his lordship.

"So you're the flower toady? What's the game, then? You some sort of fairy, what? Eh? Hrrmph?"

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