I owe Kiki Dee big time. Well, her and Elton John. And sometimes Oasis. And one time – can we scrub that memory – Johnny Cash (let’s be clear, I won’t go near “Ring of Fire” ever again). You see, Kiki Dee and Elton’s 1976 duet “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” has become my go-to karaoke song, as long as I can bully someone else into joining me on the microphones (and, yes, I’ll be Kiki). The good thing about the song is that the lyrics are limited (plus, of course, you are sharing them) and encourage your acting skills: “Oh, honey, when you knock on my door. Ooh, I gave you my key.” Believe me, I can do this. And with a wig I’m unstoppable.
Now the reason that this matters is because at Monocle you need a karaoke song. Especially when you are on the road with any of our team in Asia (Mr Brûlé has a well-polished line-up, including “From Russia With Love”). Last month, after our conference in Chengdu and a shirt-splattering hotpot dinner, it was decided that karaoke would be fun. A colleague knew the spot – a whole tower filled with numerous vast lounges full of huge video screens primed for action. And this being Chengdu, every now and then someone dressed as a panda would come busting in to the room to shake his fluffy booty. But there was an even more memorable moment. One of our radio team sang “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”. Now, she is in a band, she has trained as an opera singer but, still. Let’s just say that Kiki Tuck kept very quiet that night.
We had our company Christmas party this week at the Rosewood in London. There were fun awards and a lot of dancing. And this year, back from her appearance in Chengdu, a surprise appearance by the one and only Paige Reynolds. I knew what was coming having lobbied hard for her to sing but seeing someone take to the stage and reveal to the whole company such an amazing talent was moving – especially when the whole company is up dancing, cheering and joining in with Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”. I fear that Kiki might have left the stage, got a taxi to a retirement home and taken an oath of silence.
Post-it note: where have all the Christmas cards gone? On colleagues’ desks, in friends’ homes – in my home – there are a few tight clusters standing tall but their numbers have dwindled from the displays of cheery robins, Dickensian street scenes, fat Santas and sprigs of holly that once brightened homes and offices at this time of year. In the corporate world perhaps some misery thinks that they are saving the planet by declining to send cards (fine, but don’t imagine that a Christmas email means anything to anyone – my reaction is to hit delete). Or perhaps they fear offending someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas (meanwhile Jewish friends are enjoying “Chistmaskah”). But it feels as though there are other shifts killing the card. In business the vogue for hot desking and remote working means that even if you got a card there would be nowhere to put it. And in our personal lives, social media has delivered the illusion of constant intimate connection with everyone we know, so why would you bother sending a card? And then there’s just the act of writing – people just don’t like picking up a pen.
As with all these shifts, other things get lost along the way – including the postman or postwoman who walks a neighbourhood delivering Christmas greetings and, in the process, acts as social glue and notices when something is amiss. But there’s another thing. We keep chipping away at things that for the single and the old – people who don’t live their lives on social media – can ease their sense of isolation. Hearing a wad of Christmas cards come through a letterbox is one of the most heartening sounds there is. And, yes, a personal note – ink committed to paper – says more than a text.
We’ve often talked about this at Monocle: the stripping away of connection, face-to-face encounters, intimacy. We no longer need to go to the bank, talk to a cashier in the supermarket, even phone anyone. Restaurants are adopting apps that let you pay and leave without any engagement with their staff. And it’s leaving a vacuum and a craving for conversation. Who knows what the fix is – but e-cards will never be a salve for loneliness.