Here is a taste of Hutch’s columns. If you want more, you can always buy his books.
1. I’d Diet for my Country
2. Creativity and Open-Heart Surgery
3. Immutable Laws of Holidays
4. Futile Bureaucracy
5. P-E-T-E-R
6. From Cradle to Criminal
7. Pestilence and Doom
8. Christmas Cards

A mate of mine reckons...

A mate of mine reckons I should remind everyone the festive-season is about to invade our lives once more. It will be heralded by salvoes of incoming Christmas cards, the emotional artillery of elderly aunts. Each card exploding on our consciences as reminders of loving contact lost.

Those with any interest in trivia might want to know the sending of cards at Christmas began in the Victorian era. Though wood engravers produced prints with religious themes in the Middle Ages, the first commercial Christmas and New Year's card is believed to have been designed and printed in London in 1843. One John Horsley, a painter and Royal Academician, designed a Christmas and New Year's card at the suggestion of Sir Henry Cole, the first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. For the next few years they sold about 1000 per year, at a shilling a piece. The idea took off, and from that day on, opportunistic printers and bad poets have flourished, deluging us with sentimental sonnets each season.

But nowadays, scattered randomly among these cards, sliding silently into our letterbox slots, comes the cruelest weapon of all – a stealth letter from a school friend now living in Palmerston North, the one to whom you stupidly gave your address at the 125th Jubilee reunion, while overcome by cask wine and nostalgia.

I’m sure you know the type of letter I mean. It’s a one-size-fits-all epistle written on a computer by your friend’s wife, the smothering earth-mother who swallowed him into her bosom during the loneliness of his late puberty, before he fully understood the implications of lifetime commitment.

She’s the one who wears elastic-waisted skirts, sews the family’s clothes from old chair covers, holds down a part-time job teaching English as a second language to under-privileged famine refugees, knits her armpits, runs the local line-dancing club and home-schools her brood of eleven free-range children.

The only personalised part of the letter is the address on the envelope, the salutation reads “Greetings to all our dear family and friends….”.

It gets steadily worse in the next one hundred and seventeen pages.

First comes the apology for not writing a personal letter – “ But you know how hard it is, after planning the family assault on Mt Everest without oxygen, taking our eleven wonderful kids to special classes for gifted children, particularly our 3 year old, Astrid, who is currently translating Cicero from the original Greek and is about to publish her first book of poems in Maori; then Sorrel, the eldest boy who we expect to be an All Black next season, after the selectors saw him score seven solo tries for his school’s First Fifteen in the curtain raiser before the Manawatu/ Hawkes Bay NPC match, even though he’s only 12; and Celeste, the middle girl, who we were so worried about when she was diagnosed as a hole-in-the-heart baby, but who has now taken to swimming like a dear little duck to water and is about to swim unaccompanied around the moon next month – and of course, our darling Crystal is growing up to be such a beautiful young woman, she has won the national tap-dancing competition and is off to Ireland next week to take the lead role in Riverdance– there simply isn’t time to write individually to the thousands of our warmest friends and relatives around the world, who we know are desperate for news of the children and their little triumphs that make a such an exhausting life worth living.”

Of course, this just makes you glance wistfully around the dining table at the fruit of your own loins; firstly observing your son and heir, picking his nose to the beat of Back-Street Boys - played at 96 decibels through the earplugs permanently welded to his ears, as you read the politically correct report card just received from his school. The report that tells you nothing of value academically, in case it hurts his feelings, but tells you that he attended on quite a few days, was attentive in bi-cultural studies and is well accepted by his peer group.

So he should be, you think to yourself, his mates have drunk most of your beer, wrecked the suspension and shredded the tyres of your Lexus, doing smoky donuts in the shopping mall car-park. He was attentive in bi-cultural studies because he fancies Rachel Pohata.

If only they would give him a kick up the arse for thinking that Afghanistan is a biscuit. Instead they give him a prize for being able to breathe on his own.

And your daughter, who showed promise as a ballet dancer for about five minutes at the age of seven and hasn’t uttered a word since; mopes around the house without looking up unless there is a full-length mirror in the room.

“It all goes to make the Festive Season a time of introspection and anguish, rather than joy and goodwill, don’t you think?” Asks my mate, in a strained voice.

The other great harbinger of Christmas, according to him, is the large welt he gets on his head after being struck by a parcel that falls from the top shelf when he opens the spare-room wardrobe, to remove the tennis racquet he stored for the winter. He finds all the space has been commandeered by his wife, hoarding the Christmas presents she has squirreled away during the cold, dark, non-festive months.

“I had to hide them from the children,” she says defiantly “I couldn’t pass up a chance to buy such a bargain, you know he wanted a slot-car set.”

“But he’s seventeen. He’ll think it’s naff. Besides if we buy him books rather than battery operated toys there’s a chance that he won’t be a burden on the state in later life.”

“Well, he has lots of younger cousins and friends who would be thrilled to get it.”

Images of eager, over-achieving, free-range children from Palmerston North, shirts tucked into their undies and their pants pulled up to their chests, drift into your consciousness.

With horror, you imagine them in their family minivan, all singing ‘Edelweiss’, heading toward your house for Christmas dinner…….

But I digress.

My mate reckons that women undertake present-hoarding to satisfy a natural gathering instinct. “Gathering gifts is natural to women, they’re hard wired to do it. It appeals to their over-weening sentimentality in wanting to lengthen the spirit of the season”, he says.

For women Christmas shopping is a twelve-month window. There are waves of gift buying. Once it’s realised that the items gathered in the early wave may not be quite as appropriate as first thought, when Radio stations start playing songs like “I’m the Happiest Christmas Tree” a Pavlovian response is triggered and the second buying wave commences.

This behaviour is at total variance with the male approach. Take my mate for instance, he will generally start thinking about Christmas presents at 7.30 pm on Christmas Eve, at the office party. He does this after being asked by his PA, a warm and caring person, what he has bought for his kids.

He turns pale. He knows he must sober up. He consults his watch and staggers in the direction of the lift, tie slightly askew, to venture toward the nearest bookshop.

“Cookbooks, comics and Wilbur Smith”, he repeats to himself, over and over.

“If I buy enough of them I’ll have everyone covered, if there’s a bit of overkill, we’ll take them to the beach.”

That’s masculine Christmas shopping for you, it lacks the emotional commitment of the female technique, but it doesn’t fall out of a wardrobe and hit you on the head either.

The Magazine Awards

Business Columnist of the Year 2012

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