The Good Nephew

'At the very least, children, a thank-you letter will get you a better class of present next year. At the very most, it will get you a fortune'
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This morning I would like to address myself to the children.

This morning I would like to address myself to the children.

Hello, children.

Did you get some nice presents?

Not exactly the ones you wanted, or indeed asked for, but nice enough presents?


I now have some bad news for you, however. Very soon your parents are going to come to you, or guardians if you have no parents, or chief warders if you are in prison, and suggest that you write some thank-you letters.

"No way!" is your natural reaction.

I must reluctantly disagree with you there, for writing thank-you letters is one of the most productive and rewarding forward-planning operations you can ever undertake.

At the very least, it will get you a better class of present next year, when the recipient looks back and remembers your letter with a warm glow of gratitude mixed with astonishment.

At the very most, it will get you a fortune. Yes, I have known rich old relatives sinking towards their final hour, rewriting their will and wondering which nephew to leave the bulk of their estate to, who suddenly remember that nephew Jim always wrote such nice thank-you letters, while the others were strangely silent after Christmas, and decide to leave millions to him.

When the aged relative died and his will was read, this came as a great pleasure to Jim because a) he could now cock a snook at all the other nephews b) he didn't have to write a thank-you letter to his deceased benefactor (though I find it's always worth dropping a nice note to the solicitor, or it will be years before you see anything).

So please pay attention, because I am now going to tell you how to write a thank-you letter that will guarantee to please the giver of the present, and will not cause you endless agony.

1. First of all, do not postpone the evil hour by taking ages to write your address at the top of the letter. This is what we call a displacement activity. Even worse is to write your address and then spend hours colouring it in. This is only justified if you have been given a colouring set by the person you are writing to. So get stuck straight in.

2. Say thank you immediately. If you try to be clever by talking about the weather, or your Christmas, the relative will wonder if you have gone potty. Start the letter with: "Thank you very much for the lovely..."

3. But as that is a very conventional opening, this is the ideal moment to vary it, and show what an interesting young person you are. This you can do with an unusual explanation of why you are so grateful for the present. Any of the following is good:

"Because it fits in very well with the flight trajectory towards my chosen career..."

"Because it is absolutely right for the style image of myself that I am currently trying to project..."

"Because it obviously cost a lot of money..."

"Because it annoys my parents whenever I use it..."

"Because I was able to swap it with a friend for something that I really wanted..."

This last explanation requires that you are writing to a relative with a healthy sense of humour.

4. Pass straight on to a brief description of Christmas. Don't say that you had a lovely time. That is boring. What relatives want to hear is something disastrous, vaguely scandalous or somewhat cheeky. Here are some suggestions:

"Christmas Day was, as usual, chiefly devoted to telephoning countless relations around the world and the country, swapping information abut the respective weather conditions, until we ended up with mother saying to someone in Australia, 'Oh, Belinda says it's unexpectedly mild in Toronto...' "

"It was not until I heard what father had to say after cutting his thumb while carving the turkey that I realised our everyday playground language has a long way to go yet."

"You would think that after 25 Christmases mother would have mastered the art of not overcooking sprouts. No such luck."

"If you know of anything useful you can do with old brandy butter, please ring and tell mum immediately."

"Daddy got drunk and insulted the Queen while she was making her broadcast."

"Who were Morecambe and Wise?"

5. Throw in anything else you like – the important thing is to get to the bottom of the first sheet and start on the top of the second – then sign off. Just getting on to the second sheet makes a letter seem long.

Good luck! Hope that it helps. If it does, don't bother to write and say thanks.