By Christmas, the bookshelves in my office displayed hundreds of cards from individuals and companies, politically correct and incorrect, tasteful and tasteless. Quite a lot of people I don't know had sent me e-cards, mostly advertising their services. There was one outstanding e-card from CancerBACUP, a dazzling information charity.
My chairman and I, conscious of cost, signed fewer cards than we received.
Overprinting and doing the labels and stamps adds up to a couple of charity pounds per greeting. We'd like to get our act together to send e-cards, or even emails to say that we're no longer sending cards, but transcribing all the email addresses and checking out that valued supporters aren't offended by the loss of a personal greeting costs money too. Occasionally, the card prompts a gift big enough to pay for all the cards as well as the services we fund.
Meanwhile, I struggle over which cards to buy for friends and relatives.
Is it the Brain and Spine Foundation, the excellent little charity I chair, or one of the charities I've previously worked for, or Macmillan, or all of them? Many of you know that, although this looks trivial in the great scheme of things, it's a real quandary. In the end, I reach a feeble but expensive compromise, buying Macmillan cards but making donations to the others.
None of this stems the tide of direct mail that stuffs the mailbox at my flat day after day, demanding my attention and donations: "This Christmas, Give a Goat"; "Buying a pair of wellies could save someone's life"; "Just 10p a day can save a child from poverty"; "Effective Medical Care in Crisis Situations"; "Help us to treat more sick and injured animals"; "With your support, we can provide long-term solutions". "What do you give to the man who has nothing?" Each one is a work of art, carefully wrought to extract maximum empathy with an impeccable cause.
Strangely, because I understand some of the work that goes into these mailpacks and know much about the charitable work that lies behind them, I'm more - not less - susceptible to their appeals. Only one brings respite from the appeal to my better nature, and it isn't from a charity. Greenpeace invites me not only to love, but to hate, and to "Support the Passion".
It invites me not only to send donations, but to be part of something much bigger, a worldwide movement. On reflection, that seems a most Christmassy message.