Legal Widow

You can tell the firm is feeling twitchy when the size of its official Christmas card increases. This year’s offering is an unappealing image of the most brutal head office building covered with snow. It softens the corners, but can’t disguise the utter bleakness of the building’s north face – a wall of windows which was so badly fitted that if there were any snow it would find its way in and cause small drifts in the meeting rooms. Although it might liven events up a bit; there’d be competitions to smack the litigation partners in the face with snowballs whenever they ventured out of their offices.

The PR department, however, paid a design firm a fortune to mock up the card: in these warm winters no snow has fallen on those cold corridors for at least a decade.

The card is huge, about the size of a large ladies’ handbag, the sort you see celebrities carry. Of course, celebrities are all the size of small birds these days, so the handbags tend to look larger, but you’d struggle to get three of these monsters propped up on your desk. I assume at a time when the associates are leaving in droves and the PEP figure is spiralling downwards, the firm is attempting to send a reassuring message to the outside world: we’ve taken your money, and we’re spending it on sustainable recycled cardboard.

I do wonder about the symbolism of these corporate cards. It seems to me that the bigger the envelope you get in the post, the more valueless, morally and emotionally, the card inside. And the more people who have signed the card, the less likely you are ever to have used the firm’s services.

Who are Lesley, Sue, Alexis and Shasnay, and why are they sending the Lawyer love and best wishes from a firm he’s never heard of? How much luck and happiness do they really hope he will have in the New Year considering they’ve never met? Why is Leslie, written in what looks suspiciously like Shasnay’s handwriting, crossed out and respelled Lesley? Could it be that Shasnay had to forge all the signatures and didn’t know how to spell Lesley? Perhaps she doesn’t even know if Lesley is a man or a woman? It’s all meaningless; it wouldn’t surprise me if Shasnay signed every card they sent out this year.

And where do you display all these big Christmas cards? For years the Lawyer gave them to me, and all the children’s cutting and sticking sessions involved old women carrying bundles of sticks by a river or vicars skating or Dutch peasants wrestling or churches glimpsed through the mist. My kitchen was decorated with collages of a Dickensian intensity of sentiment until I put a stop to it and allowed them to cut up Ninja Turtle and Polly Pocket magazines like any normal household.

As with so many things featuring jolly, red-faced fat men at work, they belong to an age long past, before cholesterol counts and swingeing premiums on your critical illness policy, when everyone had offices and surfaces to put them on, a lunch hour to admire them in, and probably secretaries to keep them dusted. The Lawyer, who for years has been in open-plan hell with the occasional use of a secretary pool, has to pin them on to his fuzzy felt partition, off which they keep falling and sliding around the floor. When they get enough of them they run skating races down the corridors on the very biggest. It’s probably the best use anyone’s thought to put them to yet.