Friday, May 8, 2009

Shuffling the cards

(This appeared in Issue 134 but for some reason I forgot to upload it)

Long before Ireland was plunged into this deep, dark fiscal abyss that begins with the letter ‘R,’ I was always very suspicious of cards.
Not, I hasten to add, those adorned with shovels and diamonds and two colours of royalty. Nor indeed those dished out by zealous referees whenever slight contact is made in the formerly physical sport of football. Rather the little folded pieces of stiffened paper that we give each other on the occasion of birthday, anniversary, retirement etc.
I must admit, I thoroughly enjoy going into Birthdays or Easons and gasping in mock amazement at the price of the cards on view, providing of course I am able to decipher the price from the unfathomable coding system they have on display. (Is it too difficult to get card manufacturers to come together at a big summit and agree on a universal coding system for the industry? What would happen if all clothing manufacturers adopted their own sizing system?)
“€4.25 for a bit of card?” I shout, clutching my heart, while my wife edges towards the exit looking for a quick getaway before I get around to informing the world that I could have bought a whole street in Cabra for €4.25 in the old days.
To make things worse, a good half of the card is usually blank. A half-hearted picture on the front and a bit of a verse on the third page and that is about it. And it’s only half-finished – you still have to add your own message to it!
Those that are really posh have a bit of paper stapled to the inside of the card, transforming it from a mere four pager to an eight page luxurious mini-booklet and adding another couple of euro to the price.
Personally, I long ago gave up buying cards for my wife. Cards for husbands can be funny, serious, wistful, romantic. Cards for wives tend to fall into two categories.
Firstly there is the cute little teddy bear holding a little balloon and smiling at a sheepish female teddy bear. This doesn’t really reflect our marital life together. I am not a teddy bear, a cat, a raccoon or a cuddly woodland creature and, the last time I looked, neither is my wife. And neither of us gets a particular buzz out of holding balloons.
The second sort of card is the one with a photo of a big bunch of roses, superimposed with the words “For my darling wife.” Why my wife – or anybody’s wife, for that matter – is supposed to feel grateful for a picture of a bunch of roses is beyond me. And if I ever called her “my darling wife,” she would probably think I was looking for something. This type of card normally has some sort of soppy verse on the inside which I never bother to read and probably wouldn’t make my neck-hairs stand on end even if I did.
Why are there never any funny cards for wives? Are women not supposed to have a sense of humour?
Not that the birthday cards for husbands are ever particularly funny. They normally focus on the recipient’s loss of hair, libido or eyesight, all subjects that the middle-aged man finds uproariously funny. Or else they advise the youthfully-challenged spouse to go out and down copious amounts of beer, without the stock proviso to drink sensibly.
Recently, my wife went out trying to find a card for her mother on Mother’s Day. Despite scouring the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre from top to bottom and despite the thousands of Mothers Day cards on view, there was not a single one addressed to Mother. Mum, yes. Mummy, yes. But none for Mother.
Cards for teenage boys tend to have pictures of cricket bats and model sailing boats on them, rather than hoodies and iPods. Cards for fathers have an antique car driving down a country lane, rather than an Avensis stuck in traffic on the N3. Get well soon cards have more teddy bears with bandages on their arms or over their eyes. And all for the price of a Ryanair flight to Grenoble.
My wife and I have come to some sort of arrangement over giving each other cards for Valentines Day, birthdays and anniversaries. I make a card myself out of recycled cardboard and she gives me the card she gave me the year before, which she has put away for the past twelve months. As she says, the sentiment is still the same one year on and as I have a memory like a sieve, what’s the point in her forking out for a new one?
I do feel a pang of guilt occasionally for poor Mr. Hallmark. Such has been my enthusiasm for self-made cards that I understand that his business has come perilously close to folding (excuse the pun.)
My cards have become veritable works of art down through the years, at least according to myself. My wife merely tuts and throws her eyes to heaven, trying hard to mask her excitement whenever I present her with a new creation.
Normally I stick a funny picture on the front, say a Meer cat, with a speech bubble saying “Watch out! There’s another birthday coming over the horizon!”
On the inside I’ll write a few verses of my own, possibly not quite as romantic as normally appears on such offerings and then perhaps another funny picture if something captures my imagination in the RTE Guide (a phrase that I very rarely use).
Then on the back, I’ll put “Copyright Cheapo Productions” and advise that no Meer cats were harmed during the making of the card.
They say it’s the thought that counts. My overriding thought is always that I can find much better things to spend €4.25 on, rather than a piece of card folded in half. And, of course, anybody can go out and simply buy a card that has been mass-produced in Vietnam. I, on the other hand, slave away tirelessly for a half an hour or more to bring my true love a card that is unique and highly personal. The card is the proof that I am prepared to go that extra mile for her, that she means so much to me that I prepared to work with Pritt Stick and felt-tip pen to give her a birthday / anniversary / Valentines Day card (delete as appropriate) to savour.
And it costs nothing.

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