Miles Kington: Wombat is here, wish you were lovely

There are three things that none of us ever seems to get proper instruction in: present-buying, parenting and postcard-writing.
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The Independent Online

There are three things that none of us ever seems to get proper instruction in: present-buying, parenting and postcard-writing.

If present-buying was taught properly, we wouldn't have cupboards full of mugs and vases we didn't like.

If parenting was taught properly, we wouldn't have houses full of troublesome teenagers we didn't like.

If postcard-writing was taught properly...

Well, postcard-writing can be taught, and we may as well get the whole messy business over with now.

The big mistake people make on holiday is to sit down at a café table, uneasily aware that they are over halfway through their vacation with not a single card sent home, and to start scribbling out banal thoughts like "We had quite a good trip" or "The plane was full".

Think back to the last time you got a postcard. Either it was as boring as that or, more likely, because the sender was trying to do 10 postcards at a sitting, it was boring and illegible.

"It's a postcard from Bill," you say. "In Madeira."

"Great!" says your partner, insincerely and jealously. "What does he say?"

"I'm not sure," you say, squinting at the squiggles, "but I think he says 'The wombat is lively'."

"That's nonsense," says your partner, putting on reading glasses. "Give it here." A pause, then: "It certainly looks like 'The wombat is lively'."

You then have a lively discussion as to the true wording, like scholars poring over a Dead Sea Scroll, until you have a short-list of the most likely interpretations:

"The water is lovely."

"The weather is lovely."

"The water is limpid."

"The weather is lousy."

"The waiter is lonely."

"The waiter is lovely."

"The waiter is a loverat."

Shall I tell you a secret? What the writer actually put was "The wombat is lively".

That is because he had studied by post at the Miles Kington School of Postcard-Writing, where we advise students to start off their postcard with a phrase that can't possibly be what it seems to be and that gives the recipient hours of worry.

Another example of a successful phrase is: "I am amazed how cheap the Tampax is out here." Can you imagine how well that goes down at home?

"Why on earth would Bill be interested in the price of Tampax?"

"Maybe we've misread it. Maybe it's... it's... tapas!"

"I don't think Madeira has tapas. Tapas is Spanish. Madeira is Portuguese."

"Oh. Maybe it's... tigers!"

"They don't have tigers in Madeira, either."

"Tiger prawns?"

Eventually they settle for: "I am amazed how cheap the taxis are out here," but they have a deep suspicion that that can't be right, either. But at least they have had more fun out of the card than they would have done if you had written legibly.

Here is another hastily scrawled sentence we like to teach our pupils: "The place was full of pilchards."

This is good because "place" looks like "plane" and "pilchards" is obviously wrong. Here are the commonest interpretations of that particular sentence.

"The plane was full of pilgrims."

"The plaza was full of pictures."

"The playa was full of picnics."

"The plaice was full of pesticides."

"The plate was full of pesetas."

All these are clearly wrong, which adds to the piquancy of the situation.

Here are one or two other good kick-off phrases for the art of postmodernist postcard-writing.

"It has hardly stopped skipping since we got here."

"Could you drop round to our house and make sure we switched off the dynamite?"

"I had a touch of somersault when we arrived but am fine now."

"Flo sends all her scarf."


Tomorrow: what to put on the rest of the postcard