'We've had a card from Ron.'
'Good. Hold on, did we send him a card?'
'We haven't sent anyone a card yet.'
'Ah. Better had then. What's his address?'
'He hasn't put it on his card, has he?'
'Not a chance.'
'Oh. Well, how long ago is it that we first met Ron?'
If your household is a normal, well-organised household, you won't have the faintest idea why a Christmas card discussion should suddenly turn to questions of how long ago you met someone. But if your household is anything like my household, you will know exactly why the last question is so important. It's because the answer will give you some idea of which of your address books to look in.
You wouldn't think it was possible to be in possession of more than one address book, would you?
We've got four.
The first one is big, black, lined account-keeping-type book that I got when I first moved to London in the far-off Sixties. You can tell that it's from the Sixties. A lot of people in there don't have London phone numbers at all - they have London letters-plus-numbers, as in MUS 3503 or GER 3075, which is what we all still had in the early Sixties. That stands for Museum 3503 and Gerrard 3075. I have a faded number from that old book for Michael Palin, a Gulliver number. I see I have crossed out GUL and written in the numerical equivalent, 485, which I must have done when it changed.
Sometime towards the end of the Sixties the book started to silt up, and we bought another black book. We obviously didn't transfer all the old names to the new book at one systematic sitting, but just wrote them in as and when we needed them. Then we bought another one in about 1980 and another a couple of years ago, but at no point have we ever done the logical thing, and transferred all the names we need into the most modern book and thrown the others away, with the result that we now have four address books. If you don't find Ron in the current one, you look in the previous one. If you don't see him there, you go to the one before and so on.
Or you save time by asking, 'When did we first meet Ron?'
The inevitable thing about pursuing this line of action is that if you pursue Ron as far back as the first address book, and you start browsing, and looking at all the old pencilled names from the Sixties, then a really scary thought comes to your mind. You think I'm going to say it's scary how many of those people are now dead, don't you? Well, it is a bit scary to realise how many of them are dead, but there's something even more scary than that, and that is to realise how many of these people you have absolutely no recollection of.
There must have been a time when I knew these people well, or well enough to get their phone numbers off them, knowing that I would be phoning them later on, and yet I cannot remember anything about them now. Who is Howard Noyes, of N6? (No postcodes in those days, I see). I've no idea. Not the slightest bell is rung. Graham Pay? Ditto. David Neuberger's parents? Must have been a friend of the children at school, as that's the only reason you ever write down 'parents', but I can't remember any details. Even when the details are given me, I find it hard to remember.
Here's a business card on which it says, 'Dr Mauricio Perez-Badell, Director of Shell Venezuela . . .' How could I have met a director of Shell Venezuela and not remembered it? I do remember talking to a Venezuelan a long time ago about political scandals, and him saying that we in this country were shocked if a cabinet minister had a mistress but that in Venezuela they were shocked if a cabinet minister did not have a mistress, and that some ministers without the desire to have a mistress sometimes acquired one just to prove they were not gay . . .?
Was that Dr Mauricio Perez Badell? I don't know. Great name, though. Here's another great name. Joan Fuglesang. Joan Fuglesang? Ah, yes, I remember her - she was Joan Pollard but she married a Norwegian and went to Oslo and started cross- country skiing. I think she once told me that Fuglesang meant birdsong . . .
I must go now. I've just had another conversation that occurs seasonally in our household. It goes as follows:
Wife: Are you going to send those Christmas cards or are you going to sit reading through old address books all day?
Me: Mmmmm . . .Reuse content