From one terribly independent soul to another . . .

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The Independent Online
DEAR Amanda, what a pleasant surprise to receive your Christmas 'round robin' letter and photograph: we haven't heard from you since, well, last Christmas. It must be five years since we communicated face to face] How time flies.

How wonderful that Sophie graduated with a 2:1. Getting into Cambridge was such a struggle for her, wasn't it? Did she get in on the third or fourth attempt? Funnily enough, I heard on the grapevine that Sophie got a 2:2; her third-year troubles must have been taken into account in the final reckoning.

Talking of which, you don't mention her long battle with irritable bowel syndrome; I assume this means it's finally over. Plus it looks as if her hair has thickened up. What good news. Perhaps she is well enough to find 'Mr Right', at last. As you say, she's been studying so hard, but there is such a preponderance of men at Cambridge. I had to fight them off]

Will Hugo be following in her footsteps (to Cambridge, not the bowel thing)? As you say, he is more of a 'get up and go man' than Sophie, but has he considered the archaeology and anthropology tripos? Princes Charles and Edward both seemed to cope with the workload. How wonderful that he is keen to have a go at a fourth A-level subject. Only an idiot would fail general studies] All those rugby matches sound wonderful, even though it is freezing cold. Not my idea of a fun Saturday afternoon]

And little Christabel - or Caz, as she now likes to be called. What a shame she couldn't make the photograph session. That holiday in Amsterdam must have been jolly exciting. Does she still have pierced everything? Not that it would be legal to send that kind of photograph in the post] I can hardly believe she is 15 already. Do you remember that incident on her school trip to Italy in 1989? How could you forget]

And dear Humphrey. What a lot of weight he's lost - he looks very healthy, if a little pale. Stress is obviously just as effective when it comes to keeping the arteries open] Or maybe not. Whatever. How wonderful that he will be working again in the new year; I'm sure he will make a marvellous supply maths teacher, though, gosh, it is a bit different from stockbroking.

Last but not least: you. Spanish, German, Greek and Serbo- Croat sound a tremendous challenge. (Is Serbo-Croat still a language, incidentally?) How you find the time, I don't know, but I suppose Caz is an independent soul. And your creative-writing class. How wonderful to get a poem published in the Sussex Poetry Review: is it your second or third year as deputy editor? Redecorating the lounge must also have been a tremendous challenge. Your life seems to get richer every year.

Life here in Hackney is as quiet as ever. Though not for much longer: we have found a divine Georgian house in Islington and move in the early spring. Our lovely home is, alas, too small: Johnny and I both need offices these days and the grandchildren are constant visitors. You may yearn for another generation, but, believe me, it's nothing but baking gingerbread men, flying kites on the heath and reading Alice in Wonderland. Actually, not too much Lewis Carroll these days: Jake and Harriet were both reading before they were three. A genetic fluke, I'm sure.

They keep me so busy that I couldn't go to New York to accept my knitwear designer of the year award. Actually, I'm not interested in hierarchical competitions, but it would have been fun to see the Matisse there as well as in Paris.

Johnny had a terrible time with his last novel: his computer ate the lot and he had to start again. His agent said it was his best yet - all the better for being rewritten in one six-week splurge in the house in Tuscany - but it was a terrible sweat. He rewarded himself - or, rather, us - with a trip to Bali. It was a great inspiration as a designer.

The children are as selfish as ever: Katya refused to come home for Christmas because it clashed with a Vogue shoot in the Caribbean. I disapprove of her career, terribly: all that money for so little work. Thank God she has the law degree to fall back on.

We have had our share of sadness: Great Aunt Edith died in the summer, suddenly but peacefully. The children were so close to her: in fact, she left them an indecent amount of money. You must dread the day that Humphrey's mother dies: she's in her nineties now, isn't she? Amazing that she can still cope, living with you, as she has done all these years, rather than in a nursing home.

So, not much to report, unlike you Busy Bees. Perhaps we can compete with you next year. A bientot] (What is 'until next year' in Spanish?)

Miles Kington is on holiday.