Let this card bring joy to you. If it doesn't you may sue

`The greeting card industry demands 100 per cent sincerity. That is very wearing'

CAN A person be caused real suffering by a greetings card? That's the argument being thrashed out in an extraordinary High Court, case, in which a greeting card manufacturer is being sued by a customer who claims that he has been caused excessive mental and emotional distress by their Father's Day cards.

But perhaps a brief extract from yesterday's proceedings will explain things better than I can. We join the case when the card manufacturer, Mr Roberts, had just taken the stand...

Counsel: Your name is Lance Nigel Edwin Roberts?

Roberts: It is. My father was a great trainspotter.

Counsel: I don't quite see...

Roberts: My initials. LNER.

Counsel: I still don't quite see...

Roberts: You remember the London and North East Railway?

Counsel: No.

Roberts: My God. How old are you?

Counsel: If you don't mind, it is meant to be me asking the questions, not you.

Roberts: Fair enough. Fire away!

Counsel: Now, Mr Edwards, you are chairman of the Birthmark greetings card firm...

Roberts: Was that a question?

Counsel: Yes.

Roberts: It didn't sound like one. In the greeting card industry you have to be very careful. We've got just four lines to make our point. Every line has to count. Every punctuation mark has to count!

Counsel: Four lines?

Roberts: Yes. All greeting poems are four lines long. Never more, never less. It's as traditional as a sonnet or steak and kidney pudding. Father, on this day that's yours, Let us hope it shines, not pours, And the sky is bright and blue, For we think the world of you.

Counsel: Is that rubbish -

Roberts: Yes, it is.

Counsel: I hadn't finished the question. Is that rubbish taken from one of your cards?

Roberts: No. I just made it up on the spur of the moment. That's one of the things you learn to do in the card trade.

Counsel: Well, I'm glad you brought up the subject of Father's Day, for I represent a young man called Damien Frontway who claims that he has been caused considerable mental distress by your Father's Day cards.

Roberts: In what way?

Counsel: In that his father deserted him before birth, and like many people he grew up with his mother alone. Bitterly regretting the absence of a father, he is constantly reminded of it every time Father's Day comes round.

Roberts: One day a year? He should be so lucky. I get mental distress every time I go to work.

Counsel: Not just one day a year. Your Father's Day cards are on sale for a long time. Every time he sees one and is reminded of his missing father, it is like a skewer in his heart. A father is a precious thing...

Roberts: For Mum is Queen, but Dad is King.

Counsel: I beg your pardon?

Roberts: I'm sorry. I couldn't help finishing your rhyme for you.

Counsel: Do you not agree that your Father's Day cards are a cause of suffering to young men and women deprived of their fathers?

Roberts: Not at all. One might as well say that wedding cards are an insult to the unmarried, that gay greeting cards are a reproach to heterosexuals and that Congratulations On Your Baby cards are hurtful to infertile parents.

Counsel: If they are infertile, they cannot be parents.

Roberts: True. 15-love to you. But it's 5-1 to me in the first set.

Counsel: You are not taking this case very seriously, Mr Roberts.

Roberts: I should hope not. The greeting card industry demands 100 per cent sincerity while at work. That is very wearing. Off duty, we card people tend to be a little irreverent, just as doctors have a somewhat frivolous sense of humour away from the hospital. It is an understandable reaction.

Counsel: You compare your work to the work of a doctor?

Roberts: Who was it said that laughter was the best medicine?

Counsel: I don't know.

Roberts: Nor do I. But may this day you laughter bring, And happiness and everything, As through another year you go, Knowing that we love you so.

Counsel: That's nauseating.

Roberts: Isn't it just?

Counsel: Mr Roberts, can you seriously pretend that your Father's Day cards bring pleasure to all?

Roberts: Oh, yes. Especially Roman Catholic priests.

Counsel: I'm sorry?

Roberts: Priests are called Father. They don't have their own day in the year, so they often get sent Father's Day cards. Especially if they have lots of children.

More of this tomorrow, I hope.

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