Column Eight: Any new excuse for a parry

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Angry creditors who spend their days chiselling tardy payments from firms say the old explanations - 'the cheque's in the post', 'the bike's just left' - are now passe. A survey of (certified genuine) excuses compiled by the Association of British Factors and Discounters shows that the topical sidestep, 'the accounts department has been busy doing bomb drills' is gaining in popularity.

As are: 'Sadly, the bank manager has just died'; 'I'm afraid our managing director is in prison'; and, best of all: (irately)'If you phone me again I will not put your name in the hat.'

Ferranti International's payroll has shrunk from 23,000 three years ago to 4,600 now. Small wonder that battle- weary survivors of the redundancy axe refer to the Human Resources department (personnel) as Human Remains.

Standing out from our Christmas cards featuring angels, cherubs, drunken reindeer and snow scenes, are a couple of more inventive offerings. The Association of Investment Trust Companies has dispatched cards depicting Father Christmas's curriculum vitae (Address: Dungivin, Polar View, Lapland, BR11 1RR).

'I believe it is time to seek alternative employment which offers less seasonal work, more reasonable hours, with a welcome respite from contact with children and animals.

'I am keen to obtain a suitable position in an organisation which offers good management opportunities and scope for further growth (both personal and corporate) in a centrally heated office with large comfy chair and Teasmade.' Ho, ho, ho.

Or there's the gentle mockery of the European Community offered up by Blackstone Franks's 'EC Xmas card simplification and harmonisation directive': 'It has become apparent that many Xmas cards are wasted because they do not conform to the socio-religious orientation of the recipients. This has resulted in the so- called Xmas card mountain.' And: 'Illustration: Reindeer - prancing, reindeer - not prancing, photo of Jacques Delors,' etc ad nauseam.

On reflection, we'd probably prefer stables, mangers, donkeys and babies.

Leonard Curtis, a leading firm of liquidators famed for its work in the rag trade, held its Christmas party in London Zoo last night. Guests who tramped automatically towards the Vulture Cage, the Reptile House, or even the Hyena Enclosure, were redirected toward the Raffles Suite.