Title: The Hamster That Loved Puccini: The Seven Modern Sins of Christmas Round Robin Letters
Author: Simon Hoggart
Publisher: Atlantic Books, London
Publication date: November 2005
ISBN: 1 84354 474 1
Length: 167 Pages
The Hamster That Loved Puccini ~ Simon Hoggart ~ Atlantic Books ~ Humour
The best of the worst!
The Hamster That Loved Puccini: The Seven Modern Sins of Christmas Round Robin Letters, is the second of its kind collated by British journalist and broadcaster, Simon Hoggart, and frolicking good fun it is too. Most of the letters submitted are by people who would probably prefer to sign the ‘make this my last’ tear-off slip at the bottom of a personal yearly roundup, but daren’t. So, instead of cancelling their subscription, what do the chosen recipients of these choice missives do? (After they’ve had a good laugh and passed it on to all their friends to snigger at). They send them to Simon in the hope of publication so everyone can join in. Change the names, places and any other details so the individual authors remain anonymous, and you have a recipe for success.
In the opening introduction Simon Hoggart explains, with amusing clarity, the developing trends of these letters and the mixed feelings of those people who received them. I’m certain this is not done to humiliate anyone, however, I cannot help feeling that maybe the victims (I mean recipients) of such round robin letters are feeling good about ‘getting their own back’ when they forward them onto Mr Hoggart; especially when their covering notes often explain how the newsletters come from friends and relations they hardly know. Many complain about being forced to read excruciating and minute details that should never even be spoken aloud, let alone written down and sent to hundreds of subscribers. Of course there are some who actually look forward to receiving these letters, but whether they are for the right reasons will be for you to decide.
The title of the book The Hamster That Loved Puccini is taken from a delightful tale written by a family of opera lovers whose pet hamster sits quietly whenever Verdi, Wagner or Mozart CD’s are playing, but goes berserk in his wheel for Puccini!
The second part of the title, The Seven Modern Sins of Christmas Round Robin Letters breaks down little snippets of supposedly normal people’s lives into seven chapters, which are categorised into specific groups. For example ‘The Peccadillo of Proud Parenthood’ is a fancy name for saying ‘My child is better than yours’. Followed by ‘The Sin of Smug Self-satisfaction’ where many are reputed to have sailed the seven seas for most of the year, as opposed to my one weekend away in Boggy Bognor. Now can you see where I am leading?
Of course, not every newsletter is themed ‘bet you wish you were me’. Some are downright depressing, as the letters in the chapter titled ‘The Melancholy Mawkishness of Misery’ will explain.
Animals can play a huge part in these letters, some even write them. Yes, you did read that correctly. One letter in particular was written and paw-print signed by the spirit of a dead dog! Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
Finally, saving the best for last, Simon Hoggart concludes with ‘The Vice of Vituperation’ in the final chapter, which is an ingenious statement for what is positively a newsletter’s most repeated (and cringe making) sickly tone, sending fiery currents of rage coursing through their readers’ veins, as Simon so aptly puts it! My all time favourite example is a letter that relentlessly arrives every year to a couple who are both dead. (The recipient’s daughter sent it in). And with no reply address, her annual torment will probably go on until she dies too.
At its best, this book will leave you wondering whatever possessed these people to talk keenly about such riveting matters as how much per kilo Supermarkets are importing beef for throughout the country or how swimming pools, although not a necessity, are actually quite nice once you own one. (Sigh, oh all right, I’ll have one too, if I must). At its worst you’ll shut the book feeling slightly inferior and wonder if these people consider their yearly newsletters, whilst booking their seven holidays a year, or putting their multitasked children through every sports/dance/music/ exam possible.
Yes, this is probably the best of the worst Christmas round robin collection so far. If I wore a hat I would take it off to Simon Hoggart for sharing such toe-curlingly embarrasing material with the general public in a manner which is not only comically commentated on, but more pleasing to the eye than reading a whole bunch of these full length monstrosities in one go. And let’s admit it, when it comes to being nosey, who can’t resist a peek into the lives of others?
Simon Hoggart, the author of last year’s smash hit, The Cat that Could Open the Fridge, writes a weekly diary and daily parliamentary sketch for the Guardian newspaper. He also writes about wine and television for the Spectator and is chairman of the BBC Radio 4 show, The News Quiz.
For more information than Simon Hoggart probably knows about himself – look on Wikipedia, so I don’t have to do all the hard work or take the blame!