Brian Viner: I'm a Christmas card failure. Apologies

Share
Related Topics

Every year it happens, with the utter predictability of my children saying no to the Christmas Day sprouts, and my father-in-law to the parsnips. Somewhere around 25 November my mind turns to Christmas cards, and in particular those destined for friends and relatives in the United States and Australia. This year, I assure myself, will be different. The cards travelling to distant lands, with a bespoke accompanying letter and perhaps a clutch of photographs, will be in the post by the beginning of December. And with that done, I will sit down with the dozens of cards meant for friends in the UK, and actually enjoy writing them, without the pressure of Royal Mail deadlines.

It never works out like that. Maybe as a way of limbering up for all those New Year resolutions I will fail to keep, the cards get sidelined as life becomes inexorably more hectic. The folk in Australia and America don't get their cards. Instead they get a Christmas Eve email, chatty enough, but based on the one sent to an elderly friend in Atlanta, Georgia, who is always the first recipient. Hers gets used as the template, so if I'm not concentrating, my old school pal and his family in Wagga-Wagga get asked what the weather is like in the American South, and how their grown-up grandchildren are.

As for the UK cards, they never get dashed off before Christmas week, and if you happen to live in rural north Herefordshire you might even spot me trudging through the snow today to a postbox, for one desperate final fling of envelopes. It's a form of procrastination reserved for the festive season, what we might call proChristination, and I know that I'm not the only person afflicted, indeed I'm not even the only person in our house. My wife has the same problem, with the consequence that the task of writing Christmas cards looms over us both like the gigantic shadow of an ogre in a Santa hat.

It doesn't help that I consider the business of sending Christmas cards – and boy, is it a business – a little ridiculous, especially in this text and email age of constant communication. I have 20 or 30 precious friends I rarely see or hear from, and I value the cards I get from them as much as I value writing cards for them. But I'm in regular contact with my other mates, so why the palaver of exchanging the greetings that we've already expressed verbally, or at the click of mouse? I know that sounds Scrooge-like, but there it is.

I can think of only one sound reason for dashing off dozens of Christmas cards to all the folk you're in frequent touch with, and that's to raise money for good causes. Why would anyone line the pockets of WH Smith or Clinton Cards when they could be making a small contribution to Shelter, or Macmillan Cancer Support? It's an annual bleat of mine, but it bears constant repetition, a bit like those Christmas Day sprouts.

Interrogation isn't the way to get the best answers

In the blurb for The Independent's splendid charity auction, which finished yesterday, I was tickled to be described, by my colleague John Walsh, as "an interrogator of legends". Anyone who has been interviewed by me will know that I'm no interrogator, not in the familiar sense of that word. I've never thought that interrogation was the best way to get a person talking, although police inspectors and spymasters would disagree, to say nothing of Jeremy Paxman and John Humphrys, who enthusiastically apply that old journalistic maxim: "Why is this lying bastard lying to me?"

I suppose all interviewers find their own style. Over 20 years and more than 1,000 encounters with stars of stage, screen and sporting arena, I've found that an atmosphere of conviviality, preferably involving lunch and at least one bottle of wine, yields the best interview. Maybe that's what makes me an interrogator of legends rather than a legendary interrogator. On the other hand, the two men you might describe as genuine interviewing legends are Michael Parkinson and the recently retired Larry King, neither of whom ever went directly for the jugular, which doesn't mean that they didn't, charmingly, with a smile, very often find it.

Who rises earlier? The TV presenter or the farmer?

Maybe it's the stable-and-donkey dimension to Christmas that makes the countryside so much more Christmassy than the city, for all the metropolitan carol-singing collectives and festive illuminations. Yet the imperatives of life in the country are untouched by the holiday; the cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens still need feeding.

Last week we had a drinks party, at which a friend visiting from London, a breakfast television presenter, met some of our Herefordshire friends. One asked her what time she has to get up, and she told him 4am four days a week, expecting the sympathetic response she gets in Muswell Hill. He was unmoved. He's a dairy farmer, up seven days a week at 3am.

As for the countryside feeling more Christmassy, it's never truer than when we're under a blanket of snow. However, the dazzling loveliness of the scenery is a nightmare for country pubs. On Wednesday we had to cancel dinner at the Stagg Inn at Titley, high up near the Welsh border, because of the deep snow. They told us that they'd already lost all but one of their other reservations. Paradoxically, with the landscape looking exactly like a Christmas card, there's heaps of room at the inn. Merry Christmas!

b.viner@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A hawk is seen resting in a tree in the Florida Everglades on August 11, 2011 in the Everglades National Park, Florida. The Obama administration announced it will pump $100 million into Everglades restoration. The money will go to buy land from ranchers as much as 24,000 acres - some 37 square miles - in four counties northwest of Lake Okeechobee and preserve them under permanent conservation easements.  

Nature Studies: My best nature books of 2014

Michael McCarthy
 

My Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'