I am a fugitive from the chain gang
Achain-letter arrived for me. Craig Sherwood, a 17-year-old
boy suffering from terminal cancer, hopes to enter the Guinness
Book of Recordswith the largest business card collection, it
Ten years ago similar appeals went out, via articles in the press,
for a young boy called Craig Shergold. Could this be the same
boy? Shergold, too, had terminal cancer. He was collecting
greeting cards towards an entry in the Guinness Book of Records.
He succeeded. I recall a photograph of happy faces in a hospital,
the ward festooned with cards. I was pleased that I bothered to
mail a card.
This time, however, I found myself resisting the appeal. the problem
is chain-letters. The first time I got one, I was 12. It came
with a list of names and addresses. For the price of ten stamps
from my collection, the letter promised, I stood to gain a potential
3,600 stamps. Wow! I air-mailed my duplicates at once, dreaming
of becoming the local stamp champ.
Alas, I was disappointed. No stamps came my way. But I continued
to think that chain-letters were a wonderful idea. It surprised
me to hear otherwise. One of the nuns in my school even hinted
that there was a darkly heathen quality to them. Then a friend
received one of those sinister messages which threaten financial
ruin and sudden death unless the recipient sends out ten carbon
copies of the letter to friends and relatives.
I had to admit that was a sneaky trick. In the years since then,
I too have received slithery warnings through the mail. I throw
them away at once. I don't believe bad luck can arrive by parcel
post and I certainly resent the claim made upon my time and money,
just to keep some stranger's malice alive. When I try to imagine
the kind of people who set these things in motion, they always
look like extras from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Then last year I got an irresistible chain-letter. It was a wonderful
scheme for circulating used books. I could see that other
names on the list were of friends. I immediately set about following
the instructions. I chose a book which I had enjoyed, which would
reflect well on my library without causing me a serious loss.
I mailed it to the name at the head of the list. I printed out six
copies of the letter, taking care to supplant my name and address
with that of the friend from whom the letter had come. Hers was
now in the receiver's position. And I sent my copies out feeling
plump with accomplishment. It seemed such a sure thing!
A couple of days later, I had a call from one of my addressees.
She was riven with guilt. She loved all her books too much to lose
any of them. She wanted to send a new one, whereas I felt that
was against the spirit of the chain. We discussed her address-list.
I imagined the pleasure of receiving thirty-six books for the price
of one. Fantasised about what kinds we'd get and from whom.
Two weeks later, I got one book. So weather-beaten that its pages
no longer tore, they shattered. So scholarly that I barely understood
its title, never mind the contents. Truly this was a book discarded,
a book disgraced! And that was all. Other members of the chain
had received between one and four books each.
So it's easy to understand why I am wary of chains. Besides, in
this case of Craig Sherwood, the details are disturbingly vague.
The address is: 'Make a Wish Foundation' Atlanta, GEORGIA
303246, USA. But that zip code has one digit too many. I don't
want to photocopy ten sets of five page lists. I don't want to
sent my visiting card off into the void. and forgive me, Craig,
if you ever see this, but I can't feel that visiting cards for
a record-breaking effort are the same as greetings to a sick child.
So yes, I'm breaking this chain. Even though it was sent to me
by good friends. But by writing this column, I've told all of you who log into Rediff On The NeT about it, right? Not it's up to you to do your bit.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier