Tuesday, 9 August 2005

After-Christmas Party

Regular readers of Other Men's Flowers - three or four people log on to it almost every month - know me well and are aware that most of what I write is not to be taken seriously; others who have come across the blog by accident when they are looking for something else may not realise this. More than once I have been taken to task for irresponsibility, or disrespect to some cherished institution, and have had to say: no no, I didn't really mean that, it was supposed to be a joke. Perhaps I ought to preface each post with a Seriousness Rating: 10 points for absolutely no kidding, 9 for touch of irony here and so on down to 0 for this piece is total hogwash.

On one occasion some years ago my levity led to a major misunderstanding. A film company I had been in contact with invited me to a post-Christmas party. The invitation said that they were closing down from December 20th to January 6th, described the various (fictitious) ways in which their directors were planning to spend Christmas, and announced that they were holding “a small and extremely informal party for a number of hand-pickled guests on 17th January….if you would care to join us we would be diluted to see you….Please do not drive as the smoked cheese sandwiches we will be supplying are notoriously strong...

All very light-hearted and it was nice of them to invite me. But I replied:
Dear Sirs,
Thank you for your letter, from which I note that your directors and staff, like those in other trades similarly unaware of the need to combat the industrial challenge of the Far East, are, on the pretext of observing a religious festival, stopping work for no less than seventeen days in order to indulge in activities which sound to me to be highly improper if not actually offences under the Public Order Act of 1904.
In these circumstances there seems little point in giving you advance notice of our own Christmas shut-down period, which will run from 4.30pm on December 24th to 8am on December 27th.
Thank you also for your invitation to a party on 17th January. I am obliged to decline it partly because I shall be away that weekend but mainly because, in my experience, such “extremely informal” parties tend to be occasions for unseemly horseplay or, at the very least, behaviour of a questionable nature.
Yours sincerely

A reasonable response to such a letter would have been Get lost, you pompous git, but the recipient was a gentleman, and after Christmas he replied, with much forbearance:
I am extremely sorry if our light-hearted Christmas note offended you, as your letter seems to suggest. That was certainly not our intention. No-one is more conscious of the importance of Christmas as a religious festival than I am and I would be most upset to feel that anyone had any doubts on that point.
For the record, we stopped work for seventeen days because we have been so busy over the last twelve months that most of our staff have had no time to take a summer holiday.
Our party, which we are sorry you are unable to attend, is certainly not an occasion for horseplay of any kind. We have simply found from experience that a light-hearted invitation is more appreciated by most of the people we have the pleasure with than the conventional printed text sent out on most similar occasions.
I apologise if we have caused you any offence and send you our good wishes for the coming year.
Yours sincerely

This, of course, made me feel ashamed, and I responded immediately:
Dear John,
Your letter was a charming one, and I am really very sorry that I put you to the trouble of writing it.
The invitation was a breath of fresh air amid the dreary stuff which arrives at Christmas and my reply was intended to be in similar vein. Although it is some time since we last met, it simply didn’t occur to me that you might remember me, if at all, as a person likely to be offended by the offer of free booze and a good time.
I would like to ask you to bear me in mind the next time you throw a party but from your second letter it sounds as if you expect your guests to behave with the utmost decorum, so I might not fit in. I should tell you that now, in the evening of my days, I am always grateful for the chance of watching a bit of unseemly horseplay, let alone joining in.
Oh, and what I wrote about our own shut-down was not strictly accurate: I myself took an extended break legless in a pub in Dorset, and some of my staff haven’t come back yet.
Yours sincerely

Back came a gracious letter forgiving me and promising to invite me another time, so it all ended happily.

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