earthly why should I join the chain gang?

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The Independent Culture
This morning I thought it was funny, but that was then. Nestled on the mat in the rainy light, midst gas and Access bills, was a white envelope. On the front, my name and address on an anonymous, printed label. Inside, a sheet of white photocopier paper. And on it a curse.

"WITH LOVE ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE," said the block capitals at the top, then, "This letter has been sent to you for good luck. The original is in New England. It has been around the world nine times ... You will receive luck within four days, providing you sent it out".

The usual guff. I am always amused by chain letters: they represent the essence of human gullibility: excellent business for the Federation of World Post Offices. I love the fact that they have all been round the world nine times, no more, no less. This letter mentions an incident in 1953. If I were to follow its instructions, and send out 20 copies, 81.92 billion people would receive it in time for Christmas.

The block capitals resumed at the bottom. "DO NOT IGNORE THIS. FOR SOME STRANGE REASON IT WORKS." I skimmed back. Promises, promises. An RAF officer received $70,000, a man received pounds 40,000 and lost it when he broke the chain. Another won $2m on the lottery after his secretary sent out copies. Don't really see why the person who did the work shouldn't have got the money, but there you go.

I once responded to a chain letter: the Chain of Gold. It promised that, if I sent a quid to the person at the top of the list and added my wishes to the bottom, I would receive at least pounds 40,000. The recipient of my pounds 1 wanted to "use it to spread love in the world". No 2 wanted to "experience other cultures", No 3 to "save my children from starving". Oh, please: in Leeds, love? I scrawled my own wish: "I want more shoes than Imelda Marcos". I'm still waiting.

This letter continued with warnings. Carl Deddin lost his job when he forgot. A woman in California broke the chain, was plagued with car repair bills and won a new one when she resumed it. Then there was Gene Welch in the Philippines. He, and I quote, "lost his wife after receiving the letter which failed to circulate. However, before her death he had received $7,773,000". It doesn't say if Gene was upset about his wife. He could have bought several more with that sort of dough in the Philippines, anyway.

There was something in the tone of this letter, though, that I found ominous. Too many threats, and promises of earthly gifts, for the New Agey sentiments at the top. Then a name caught my eye. Samuel Anthos de Group: purportedly the Venezuelan missionary who started the thing. I wondered if the Pope knew anything about it.

Then I looked again. Having spent a chunk of my career in crosswords, I know an anagram when I see one. I got out the Scrabble letters. Words spread under my fingertips. Death plagues sunroom. The proud souls manage. Glad men pat our houses. Then, once I got PAGE, it was easy, if horripilant: THE PAGE DAMNS OUR SOUL.

Great. Goosebump city. Thanks, friend, whoever you are. Remind me to send you a bag of chicken innards. So I'm damned if I do, damned if I don't. Ay, Papa, isn't it time you got your church in order?