Having a lovely time winding you up, luv Sid 'n' Ron

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WHAT would you think if you got a postcard from abroad with the following scribbled message?

'Staying in the same hotel as a group of Jehovah's Witnesses. Very nice lot. Had long talks with the leader and now have come to see things very differently. See you soon, explain all.'

Or this? 'Can't remember if we told you about the wedding on the 14th? See you there after we get back. Wedding gift list is at off-licence] Just joking . . .'

Or even this one? 'Urgent, urgent, urgent - forgot to set video recorder - could you tape EastEnders for us? Thanks a million]'

Well, what you would think first of all, of course, is who this loony card could possibly be from, so you look at the bottom of the postcard at the signature and it merely says something illegible which looks a bit like 'Ron & Sid', and you don't know any couple called Ron and Sid, so you spend hours thinking who it could really be from and you work out that it might be Roy and Sue, or Rory and Sal, or one person called Ronald or another person called Rebecca, and the only snag is that you don't know anyone by any of these names, and it starts to drive you potty . . .

This is the whole idea. This card has been sent by someone who wants to drive you potty. To be precise, by Holiday Card Services Ltd of Worthing, a firm which has made a tremendous success out of doing for you what you hate doing for yourself; ie sending postcards home while on holiday.

Statistics show that when you go on holiday, you can spend up to 40 per cent of your waking time sending postcards home.

Not only do you have to buy the things and make out a list of people who would be offended if you didn't send them one, and find out how much postage each one needs, and buy the stamps to dispatch them and try to identify what a postbox looks like in this part of the world - you have also got to write the postcards. One terrifying study suggests that each postcard takes at least half an hour to do, once you have added together the labour and research involved. Anyone who sends a dozen postcards has therefore spent most of one day of their holiday sending them.

If you are one of the rare people who likes sending postcards, this is no problem.

If you belong to the other 99 per cent of humanity, you have a problem.

It's a problem which Holiday Card Services of Worthing is only too happy to help you with.

'We find holiday postcards fall into three main groups,' says Fred Poster, boss of Holiday Cards. 'There are the duty cards to relatives and colleagues. There are the cards to people you feel guilty about not keeping in touch with. You know, when you say to your wife halfway through your holiday, 'Oh Lord, we haven't seen the Greens for four months and we never answered their invitation. We could at least send them a card . . .' - that sort of person.'

And the third kind?

'Oh, the third kind is to people you don't like, and whom you want to worry in your absence. It is for them that we have devised that unsettling card with the unsettling message from Ron and Sid, or is it Roy and Sue . . .?'

You even do the routine cards to loved ones?

'Sure. They're the easiest, actually. It's a peculiarity of postcard messages that the closer you are to the person you are writing to, the more impersonal the message. It is only to our loved ones we feel we can say 'Weather lovely, food terrible, burnt pink all over, see you soon'.'

The idea is that, well in advance of your holiday, you supply Holiday Card Services with a complete list of all the cards you want to send, who to, where from, and what kind of message. They then write out all the cards and pre-stamp them and all you have to do is take them with you and remember to post them.

But what if, after all this pre-planning, you let someone fall through the net? What if you come back and find someone very dear to you fuming because you didn't send a card?

'You play the trump card,' says Fred Poster. 'You ask the little question which always works, if you get it in first. It goes like this: 'Did you get our card all right?' Nobody can ever disbelieve you. Always works. Never fails. If everyone used it all the time, we would be out of business.'