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Competition No 3767

Set by Leonora Casement, 3 February

We asked you for thank you letters for ghastly Christmas presents that you have to pretend you found a "use" for and are delighted with . . . but not so delighted that you get another/part two/more next year.

Report by Ms de Meaner

Well done. Especially well done to Jack Walsh, who can have yet another hon mensh (sorry, Jack), this time for the thank you letter to his nan: "I've often seen the New Statesman in Smith's when I fetched my FHM and my Loaded, but never realised how interesting it could be." I'm afraid, though, that the rest didn't quite live up to this simply stunning opening.

A second hon mensh goes to Anne Du Croz's wincing wail of agony: "Surprise, surprise, indeed! No, I hadn't already bought The Young at Heart Collection. I'm sorry Friends Reunited 'didn't come up trumps'. How did you get my address?"

The winners can have the usual £20, while Adrian Fry is the overall champion and also gets the vouchers.

Thank you very much for the dramatic antique fox fur you sent us for Christmas. Whatever one thinks of the continuing debate on the ethical niceties or otherwise of blood sports (and you know where we stand!), it is an extraordinary memento to possess. Any self-respecting and stylish individual would parade it fearlessly to teach all social hypocrites a lesson they would be reluctant to forget, and only the age of the children will prevent us from taking it on a more public display in the immediate future (the demonstrations are so loud and aggressive in this neck of the urban woods).

Instead, we have decided that its most effective place is in the wardrobe, where a sudden revelation will elicit very loud, very satisfying and very rewarding gasps in response. It is very important indeed to us to have a singular item of such tremendous symbolism; it could never be rivalled.

We hope to invite you round as soon as possible, the better to appreciate our thanks. We will cook one of those marvellous vegetarian dishes in the compendium we sent you ourselves, and drink a toast to countryside, old and new.

Bill Greenwell

Rarely does an Xmas present reduce me to speechless wonder. How can I possibly do justice to your idiosyncratic generosity and my complex feelings on discovering what you'd sent me? My first thought was: who else but Rufus and Harriet? I can think of no one besides your good selves who would send me enlarged colour photographs of their family pets: the five golden retrievers, the hamster, the guinea pig, the flying squirrels, the pony, the geese, the canaries, the three cats, the monitor lizard - each accompanied by a short poem. And how clever of you to write them all in the style of William McGonagall. But, really, you shouldn't. Presents should not be a burden. Your thoughtfulness puts to shame my humble gift of 30-year-old malt whisky. And I simply can't allow you to spend so much time and effort beyond the call of duty. So can we agree a moratorium? No exchange of presents next year. No vintage claret from me, and from you - well, I won't even attempt to second-guess your wilder flights of fancy. Just remember - it's the thought that counts.

Watson Weeks

Dear Aunt Flo,

Sorry to be so late thanking you for your present, but I was simply stunned by it. Fancy you remembering those distant days of my childhood - I'd almost managed to forget them - when I was constantly teased for sharing my Christian name and age with Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole. How right you were, guessing that in all these years I never so much as picked up The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 133/4. Thanks to you, I've no excuse for not reading it now.

Disturbingly, just gripping the book in my hands brings it all back: the childish chants of "Moley", the girls sniggering and asking if I'd measured my "thing". Now I'll be able to discover what it was all about. Older and wiser, I might even end up agreeing with your inscription that Mole is a pale imitation of my adolescent self. Though I know you'd never be so unoriginal as to give me the inferior sequels to Mole for birthdays and Christmases to come, I've taken the liberty of saving you time and disappointment by establishing that they're just as difficult to obtain as the Samuel Beckett books I prefer.

Adrian Fry

Thank you so much for sending our daughter Daphne a copy of My First Creationist Bible. Your kind gesture was particularly unexpected because, as I'm sure you don't need reminding, we haven't celebrated the birth of the so-called Son of Man since Daphne discovered the dead body of her much-loved baby sister Mary on that awful Christmas morning five years ago.

Oddly enough, Daphne's first remark on opening your gift concerned the similarity between the angel on the cover and the festive ornament on which Mary choked to death. What were the odds of that? Well, apparently 124,326,791 to 1, according to Professor Davies from our local humanist society.

Which reminds me - what fun we had reading through the book at the last meeting! You may recall that Sally has been studying archaeology with the Open University, and she did this absolutely brilliant skit based on the dinosaur chapters! The whole group was weeping with laughter by the end of it. Daphne's psychiatrist says he's hopeful that even she will soon see the funny side, once we've dealt with her recent relapse into nightmares. Oh, and no - we won't be at home over Easter.

R Ewing

No 3770 Set by John O'Byrne

Lisa Allardice, in her New Statesman review (17 February) of Sophie Dahl's The Man with the Dancing Eyes, stated that "her last square meal seems to have been the Dictionary of Cliches ('whisper of a smile'; 'waltzed off into the night'; 'sing from the rooftops')". Could we have an extract from a review of a book, play or film that is full of hackneyed and overused phrases. Just the comp to get your juices flowing.

Max 200 words by 7 March (to appear in issue dated 17 March). E-mail:

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2003 issue of the New Statesman, Can Blair survive?