Friday, December 16, 2005
Last year, amongst the Christmas books Tom buys me every year, was one by the otherwise well appreciated Simon Hoggart, which annoyed me enormously.
The book came in a manageable format, a pretty red and silver sleeve, which features a funny seasonal cartoon and the intriguing title, ‘The cat that could open the fridge’. Moreover, the blurb promises an ‘inimitable funny commentary’, and attests that the writer has wisdom and humanity, with a touch of class. (Yes, you’ve guessed it, such accolade can only come from a fellow journalist, one who has worked for the same paper and who is still a colleague in broadcasting…)
Well, I only recall laughing out once, namely at the quote on page 92, when an extremely miserable circular letter, describing all the disasters and mishaps of one family, ends thus: ‘On this note, we wish you an equally contented and peaceful 2004’. As the comic element was provided by the sender himself it did not need SH’s commentary at all. As for the rest of the book: it didn’t even put me into the agreeable state of mild amusement, which is all any of the other books that have the undeserved praise “hilariously funny” heaped on them have ever managed to do. In fact, it thoroughly frustrated and angered me. So much so, that I have decided not to send any more Round Robins.
And to those of you who might see the book around, or - heaven forbid - the follow-up, I'd like to say:
Do not buy this book. Its 145 pages consist almost entirely of quotes from Christmas letters, all of which have been sent to SH by readers who declare to absolutely loathe them, who find them excruciatingly boring and/or disgracefully smug and boasting. At £9.99, SH has added nothing worthwhile. In fact, everything he says/implies about the so-called round robins – the writers don’t know when to stop, the letters aren’t really funny, not really entertaining, not really enlightening, not really insightful, and really, really, really could have done with radical editing… – aptly applies to his own book. Only difference being that the poor betrayed writers of those letters did not claim to be funny and insightful, they had the decency to use their own words and didn’t ask anyone for payment!!!
If you’ve ever felt like SH’s contributors about someone’s Christmas circulars – namely that they’re “boasting, whingeing, ... miserable, ... nit-picking, testy and grandiloquent, ... packed with facts without information and information without knowledge", their writers "often blissfully lacking in self-awareness” – don’t be as cowardly as they were! Don’t shop those people (whose only ‘crime’ is to think that staying in touch is a nice trait) to SH so that he can publish another book, with 95% of the work done by the very people he insults. One page, for instance, contains less than 18 words by the author himself. Instead, do the decent thing: Tell them that you don’t want to be bothered with their annual whinge.
And another thing: Reply to Christmas greetings! Only horrible people like those who write to SH, and include such lines as, ‘my oldest and dearest friend, but oh dear, what a plonker!’ think that not replying for a decade is a hint that they don’t want your Christmas cards, the rest of us think that you simply can’t find the time, but that you still appreciate hearing from us!
I for one have decided not only to give up writing Round Robins, but also writing to people who do not write to me. I used to think such tit-for-tat attitude was rather silly and small-minded and petty, but the thought that there could be just one person out there who thinks of me as someone “trapped in a forest of self-delusion” who forces other people to plough through "thousands of words describing every detail of someone’s life" (as if free will and bins didn't exist...), has resulted in this resolve. Instead, I'll point people into this direction, my blog.
Blogs, of course, will undoubtedly receive the same loathing as Round Robins by fans of Simon Hoggart, are they not, after all, certainly by those people's definition, the very epitome of wearisome self-important drivel, detailing every boring development in some non-entity's life: from what they've cooked/eaten to their nostalgia for 80s punk, let's say?
Well, to all of those (who might as well call for the undertaker now, as they're clearly already dead inside) I have to say, I have 'met' more people via blogging who are tremendously kind and generous, interesting and exceptionally educated (which says quite a lot considering I have worked at Universities in Germany and the UK for longer than I care to admit to), not to mention talented, funny and original, than in 'real life' for yonks and yonks and yonks!!!
And tomorrow I'm going to meet some of them in the flesh, and I can't wait!