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Season's greetings from absent friends

"Know what I hate worst in the world at Christmas time?" said the man next to me in the pub. "I'll tell you what I hate worst at Christmas time. It's getting all those Christmas cards from firms you've done a little business with, all signed by everyone in the office. You know, small charity cards with five or eight names on, all signed by Tracey, Jim, Roger, Sue, Dave, Wayne, Hazel..."

The man in the pub, whose name was actually Pete, which is why he hadn't included Pete in the list of mundane names, trailed away in gloom.

"What's so depressing about that?" asked his companion, a cheery woman despite being his wife.

"Well, I just find it depressing, the thought of all these office workers getting round the table one morning, signing 200 cards in a row, not knowing who any of them are going to, just automatically dishing out Christmas cheer, just signing their name over and over again, Mandy, Mandy, Mandy, Mandy, Mandy ... and then a week later, us getting the card, and we're meant to say, 'Oh, how nice, Excelsior Office Supplies have sent us a card!', but we don't, we don't even say to the wife as a joke, 'Oh, look, we've had a card from Mandy, Rog, Emma, Doug, Sally and Binky', we just say, 'Why on earth do businesses waste their money on this token gesture, because they're not getting a card from me!' "

There was a pause after this low-level tirade, until Charlie chipped in and said: "Well, he's certainly right about the names. I get some of these cards and they're always signed by people called Rog and Mandy and Hazel and Phil. You never get people called Clytemnestra or Phoebe or Cecil or Noel. They're always ordinary names, like Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice."

"When that film came out," said a woman called Mrs Minter, who wasn't the sort of woman you'd like to know the first name of, "when that film came out, I bet there were some groups of friends really called Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, and I bet they were really rather upset by the goings-on in the film."

"Oh, sure," said Charlie, "and I bet that when the famous pop group of the same name got going, there were lots of groups of people called Dave, Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich who were very upset. Very likely."

"It wasn't Dave, comma, Dee, Dozy, Beaky, etc." said Pete. "It was Dave Dee, Dozy, etc. There was one chap called Dave Dee, not two people called Dave and Dee."

"Are you sure?" asked Charlie.

"Landlord!" cried Pete, "Bring hither your copy of the Guinness Book of Pub Arguments!"

There is in fact no such book that I am aware of, but it is a tradition in the pub that whatever reference book is needed to settle an argument, it is referred to as the Guinness Book of Pub Arguments.

"Point one," said the landlord, "the correct title of the group was Dave no comma Dee, etc. Point two, when firms send out Christmas cards, their office workers do NOT sit round all morning signing cards."

"Then how do they get signed, clever clogs?" said Charlie.

"By an outside firm of contractors."

"You what?"

"Oh, yes," said the landlord. "Quite common now. If you're sending out commercial Christmas cards, you get a firm to do it for you. We did."

"Who did?"

"Us here at the Old Black Lion. Last year it took us ages to do all our cards, but this year we were approached by a firm who would do all the signing and sending for us, so we leapt at it. We had to compromise a bit, because we don't really have many people working for us, so the firm added five fictional names of pub staff to the card."

There was a stunned silence.

"Flo, Annie, Mick, Ian and Kim," elucidated the landlord.

There was another stunned silence.

"They do family cards as well," said the landlord.

"If you're interested, I'll give you their card. They take a family mailing list and send cards to everyone on it. They actually practise forging the signatures of everyone in the family so that they can make the names look authentic."

Much later, when the pub was emptying, I asked the landlord if it was true what he had said about the firms that do cards for you. He said it was a total fabrication, but he was getting fed up with the conversation and wanted to bring it to an end.