Who Killed Round Robin?

From the year I left home until a few years ago, I sent a letter to all my friends every Christmas telling them what I’d been up to (and, once Jane was on the scene, what we’d both been up to)—my “form letter”, as I jokingly called it. I couldn’t face hand-writing the same news out again and again, and top-and-tailing it on a word processor seemed less honest than acknowledging its photocopied origins. Which was fine, until we moved to Britain and ran up against:

  1. Seasonal Affective Disorder, and
  2. Institutionalized mockery of “round robins”, as they’re called here, in the British press.

The first—that recurring bout of high-latitude gloom brought on by four-o’clock darkness—makes December and January not the best time to think about writing to everyone, especially if you tend to be too introspective and have had an up-and-down year (or, worse, a plain down one). I tried to shake up my schedule and write at another time of year, but somehow the northern seasons make it harder: mid-year is mid-summer, when stuff is happening, and it feels like the story of the year isn’t finished. So instead I’ve ended up sending out a ramshackle collection of postcards, Christmas cards, and not enough emails or phone calls, and hoping that this website will let people know I’m still around. (It’s led more than one old friend back to me after years of being out of touch, so that’s something. There are certain advantages to having an unusual name.)

The second problem has been more insidious. Every time I start thinking about writing one, one of the columnists for The Guardian trots out his hee-larrr-ious annual piss-take of round robins and leaves me feeling that writing to my friends would be like Boring for Britain. This year it’s even worse: he’s released a collection of the worst examples and spent all month plugging it—so successfully that he’s afraid he might have given the goose that laid the golden egg an extra-large helping of Polyfilla Casserole:

Please keep them coming. I have a terrible feeling that the sarcasm and ribaldry many of us have heaped on these letters—the late John Peel was an aficionado, too—mean that people are becoming rather self-conscious.

No kidding. Who wouldn’t, when examples like the following are held up for derision:

For the most part ... they contain all the classic material, such as the incredibly successful children. This from London: “My ears ringing with praise of Jake from his teachers at our termly parent-teacher evening, I got home to find Emily opening a letter telling her that she had won a place at Oxford! To read medicine, no less! Gordon Brown, eat your heart out. It is a four-year course, so she has had to postpone her gap year in Latin America.”

Parents being proud that their kids got into Oxford? How unheard of. Rich pickings for a columnist, though: 3360 students were admitted to Oxford in 2003, and the numbers would have been even higher this year.

Fortunately, an end is in sight. The columnist in question has just had more publicity than any of his unsuspecting targets, and not the kind you’d wish on anybody. I’d love to see his next round robin.

Meanwhile, the SAD doesn’t seem to have hit as hard this year (must be acclimatizing at last), so I’ve bitten the bullet and written another, running off a bunch of copies to send out to all those friends I miss and think about and (dare I say it) would like to let know what I’ve been up to. All I have to do now is mail the things... sometime before next year. Merry Christmas.*

*This greeting expires 24-12-2005.

Here’s what people said about this entry.

I have not ever got around to the chain newsletter, yet it is really a good idea. I just got a digital camera so I send CDs full of unlabeled snaps to people of everything I snap and I do snap everything. They can pick which is good or attach their own meanings as they will and do anyway even if precise details are are asigned to each pic. anyway 50 cat pics ought to be enough to satisfy most people.

Oh I am talking, as I type, on SKYPE, across broadband intenet for FREE to my brother in Aberdeen. Perfectly clear.

Added by Francis Xavier Holden on a Monday in December.