Author of Alex Rider, Foyle's War, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, TV and film writer, occasional journalist.


Anthony Horowitz on shopping for greetings cards

Originally published in The Telegraph
Anthony Horowitz on shopping for greetings cards

Can't anyone think of an original way to express simple, heartfelt emotions?

Are greetings card shops going to follow Blockbusters and HMV into liquidation? Clinton Cards nearly took a dive last year and was only saved by one of its suppliers. But the rest of them? The thought occurred to me this week as I shopped around for a Valentine’s Day card for my wife.

It was a dismaying experience. If greetings cards hold a mirror up to society, it suggests that ours is lewd, violent, sexually frustrated and as smutty as two schoolboys talking after lights out. I cast my eye over row after row of VD cards — in itself not the most appropriate abbreviation, now I come to think about it — and these were the sentiments that greeted me. Men admire women for the size of their breasts and women men for the size of their well, it’s obvious. All anybody wants is sex.

Forget love. “I want to take you into the kitchen and rip all your clothes off,” is about as deep and meaningful as it gets, although the words used, on display to passing children and the faint-hearted, aren’t fit to reproduce in a family newspaper.

VDCs (that’s better) aren’t the only culprits. Have you noticed how horrible birthday cards have become? You’re old, you’re fat, you’re wrinkly, you’re impotent, you’re going to die fairly soon. This is what they tell you. “If your birthday was in dog years, you’d be dead” was the greeting my son sent me last April — it was at least leavened by wit. But sex is the main driving force here, too. One line of birthday cards takes innocent photographs from the Fifties or even children’s illustrations and imposes balloon captions which are invariably filthy.

Another simply prints gratuitously offensive messages — as in “Happy Birthday you heap of excrescence”. What’s the point of that? We are, of course, the race that invented Carry On films. We’ve always had a vulgar streak. But looking at some of what is on offer, I’m sure even Donald McGill would be turning in his grave which was, of course, a big one, as the vicar remarked as he gazed at the members of his congregation. Why does anyone send cards any more when, outrageously, they’re retailing around the £5 mark. And don’t get me started on the price of wrapping paper! Anyway, you’d have thought the whole lot would have been swept away by the internet. The shops don’t just look tacky, they look positively old-fashioned — although Clinton’s has gone upmarket by dropping the word “cards”. I wonder how much it paid for that design makeover? It’s the creeping sense of outmodedness that may eventually get the whole industry queuing up for their bereavement cards.

The first Christmas card was sent in 1843. Birthday cards are less well-defined but may have been started by Prince Albert (a man who took festivities seriously – he also popularised the Christmas tree). Although it was always rumoured that Valentine’s Day cards were invented by Hallmark, they actually have a long history. There’s one in the British Museum that dates back to the 15th century. The point is, they’re all old and they surely owe at least part of their survival to the fact that nearly all e-cards look as if they’ve been designed by a slightly backward IT consultant with little sense of humour and zero artistic ability. It can’t be long before greetings cards, like cigarette cards before them, are only found in antique shops, a quaint reminder of a bygone age.

To be fair, I did see Valentine cards that attempted to be sentimental, but in their own way they were just as nauseating. Puppy dogs kissing and “peas in a pod” indeed! Can’t anyone think of an original way to express simple, heartfelt emotions? In the end, I didn’t buy my wife a card. I’m a writer, after all, so I decided to write her a poem...a sonnet.

What could be more romantic than that? But to my dismay, when she opened it and read it, her face fell. “It’s horrible,” she said. “What do you mean?” I screeched. “It’s beautiful. It’s all about the mutability of love, the way we adapt over the years, how we have to keep redefining ourselves to stay close.” “That’s not what it says,” she sobbed. “It’s just depressing.” Poetry has never been my strong suit, it’s true. Next year I’m sticking to Hallmark.