Christmas Prose Competition 2008
Derek and Pauline's Round Robin by Icy North
It's mid-December, and through your letterbox drops a seasonally-stamped envelope, one which has a discernible slightly-fatter-than-a-greetings-card bulge. This can mean one of two things, which are situated at opposite ends of the happiness scale. On the one hand, it could be a paper present - perhaps a banknote or two, or a gift token from a high street store. In fact, as you slowly tear it open, your mind might well be turning to the new pair of shoes, the bottle of single malt, or the Take That DVD that you were dying to purchase in the January sales.
More than likely though, it's the annual round-robin newsletter from Derek and Pauline in Redcar.
You've never met Derek or Pauline. You don't actually remember who they are, in fact you've never remembered who they are. Many years ago you remember asking your partner who they were, to which she replied, 'But I thought they were your friends!' They exist today as they have always existed, timeless and remote. You have their address of course, and they have always been a permanent fixture on your Christmas card list. You perpetuate the annual contact ritual in the same way that you always send that £5 to Water Aid in January - stuff it in the envelope and forget about it until next year.
There's a timeless quality to the newsletter too. The children have always been the same ages. Derek has always had the same job, and Pauline has always had the same interests. It's the kind of temporal paradox which would baffle Hawking.
In fact, the only thing which changes from year to year is the format. In the 1970s the news was scribbled in tiny handwriting on the reverse of the greetings card. In the 1980s it was written on Andrew Brownsword's Forever Friends stationery, with in-jokes written in bubbles emanating from the cartoon animals' mouths. The 1990s saw it rendered using the word processor on Derek's office PC, complete with snazzy WordPerfect borders. These days it looks suspiciously like it's been typeset as part of a school project, littered with fuzzy colour pictures from Pauline's digital camera.
You consider all these things and more before you read the letter. You need a little preparation before you embark on such a considerable task, for Derek and Pauline's news is not going to be easy to read. It will not be entertaining, in fact you know that it is going to plumb uncharted depths in banality. Perhaps you had better sit down first.
The Hutchinson Family Newsletter!
That exclamation mark is no accident. Not only does it set the breezy tone, it's a kind of imperative. 'You will read this letter and enjoy it', it screams.
There are no formalities with a round-robin, no 'Dear So-and-so'. Derek and Pauline's conversational style assumes that not only are you already familiar with all the minutiae of their daily lives, but that you are hanging on their every word. No need to address you personally - this one's broadcast for the whole world to enjoy:
Greetings from all at Cunningham Avenue!
God, even their street sounds dull.
We can't believe it's been a whole year since the last newsletter!
This is the festive equivalent of Groundhog Day. You in turn cannot believe that nothing of incident has happened in 12 months. Nor the 12 months before that. Nor the...
Great news! C finally passed his driving test after the third time of asking. It certainly justifies all those late nights we sat up testing him with those road-sign flash cards. We're certain he'd have passed last year if he hadn't twice drawn the short straw and had the dreaded Mr Parker as the examiner - each time he took him along that contraflow on the A19, the nasty man...
Comic Sans! Why do they always have to use Comic Sans?
L's recorder lessons have continued against all the odds. What a brave young thing she has been to continue. Granny H and I were so proud to hear her play 'God Save The Queen' at the primary school concert...
Presumably, 'Anarchy in the UK' didn't go down quite so well.
We were so pleased to drop in on Jim and Harriet in Droitwich in March. I don't believe we'd seen each other since Phoebe's wedding, and we're so jealous how young you're both looking these days! ...
And, before you ask, no, you've never heard of Phoebe, Jim, Harriet, or even Droitwich.
Leo surprised us when he appeared on the doorstep in April, stopping off on his world tour, and amazing us with all that Swahili!
You can hear them saying 'World Tour' in the same way that Hyacinth Bucket would boast about her 'Mobile Phone'.
D's managed to avoid the axe again. Fortunately when they were all made to reapply for their own jobs he was accidentally re-hired in another section. Then when they noticed the mistake his entire department had already disappeared, so now he's being paid to manage no-one - lucky devil!...
This is the point at which your brain physically starts to atrophy.
Finally some better news about Hilda's illness. The fifth specialist has agreed that the swellings will reduce over time, and it's very unlikely to be contagious...
Hypochondriac Hilda appears annually. You swear that over the years she's actually had two hysterectomies.
The Home Improvement Project
Well it's been another hectic year on the house! Work on the conservatory has been in full flow - We eventually decided on a double layer of brick nogging in the end...
Oh, yes, the brick nogging! Last year you were treated to chapter and verse on why Derek preferred stretcher bond rather than Flemish pattern - It's all in the rigidity, you know.
The Dead Pet
February was a sad month when Hannibal the gerbil finally left us after his long illness. The children wrote poems, and even D shed a few tears when we laid him to rest under the rhubarb...
Good grief - a life event! That's a first. This is uncharted water for Derek and Pauline, so who knows what might happen from here on in?
This summer we decided to go back to Gran Canaria again. Well, why change, that's our motto! We've got a great deal for next year, so have booked up to 2014...
Back to earth with a bump, no, that's too interesting, maybe a muffled splat.
We're so happy that the Archers from no 13 had their planning application overturned, although they've now taken to exercising their Staffordshire Terriers on our front lawn. I'm glad we opposed it though - we'd have lost the view all the way down the valley to the Young Offenders' Institute...
This is a long-running feud. You make a mental note to send this year's round-robin to no 13, just so you can hear the other side of the story.
The Hilarious Incident
Well, that's almost it! Oh, did we ever tell you the saga of our overdue library book? ...
You tried to make it through the whole letter - you really did, but sometimes, well, you just have to skip a bit.
Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a great 2009!
Thank heavens that's that over for another year. Oh, no, wait - there's a handwritten bit at the end!
Must catch up with you in the spring - it's been so long. Love P & D xxx
Don't hold your breath.