Why can’t anyone agree to the smallest thing any more without asking you to put it in an email? I rang a friend and asked him to have lunch with me this week and he said, ‘Can you put that in an email?’ Well, I told him, I suppose I could put it in an email but the email would only say, ‘Will you have lunch with me?’ Yeah, he said, that will do.
Turns out he was suffering from aide- memoire syndrome, the need to see something in writing. The urge had apparently overwhelmed him to the point where it had become impossible to enter into any form of human encounter without an exchange of letters agreeing the terms of engagement beforehand.
The tendency has coincided with a rise in ridiculous conversations where someone you bump into or telephone greets you with the words: ‘I’ve just emailed you.’ When you ask what it says they insist you read the email, which inevitably invites you to lunch. Of course the only correct reply to this question, if you want to be fashionable, is: ‘I don’t know, I haven’t got my diary on me.’
It is no longer decent to agree to any invitation without at first being a bit sniffy about it and declining with the proviso that you will check your diary and see whether by some freak of forward planning you can in fact make it. This means that you must always have just misplaced your diary. Anyone who has their diary intentionally about their person is not going to enjoy a happy social life.
It is more polite to leave an inquiry festering gently for at least three days, after which you should ring back and say you can make it after all. All this obfuscating feels satisfyingly chic but it makes for quite a complicated carry-on sometimes.
I have been presiding over a running attempt to fix a date for coffee with a girlfriend for eight months now. We live a few minutes down the road from each other and for all the time we have spent on the phone furiously trying to schedule a cappuccino we could have flown to Columbia several times over and harvested the beans.
However, this particular bout of schedule-itis has given rise to a priceless spiritual insight. We have both come to the conclusion that it is the fixing of the coffee that is keeping our friendship going. If we actually met we might only have an average time, or get faintly irritated and maybe a little competitive with each other in a testy female sort of way and never want to see each other again. But this way we maintain a perfect friendship, based on a mutual longing to arrange a date to have cappo and an equal longing for it never to happen.
Another friend and I have been trying to arrange lunch since August. The drill is that she texts me, I suggest a date, we bat it back and forth, put it in the diary and the morning of the lunch one of us texts to cancel. As the time unlunched stretches out behind us it becomes necessary to invent ever more extreme and unusual excuses. We started off by texting ‘can’t make it am stuck in meeting’ and progressed through flu and stomach upsets to claims of seasonal affective disorder, tuberculosis and rickets.
We now compete to formulate the most unusual disclaimers. Last week she told me she had lost her balance following an impromptu skydive. This week I intend to tell her I have been kidnapped by aliens from the planet Tatooine (but should be OK for next week). Having exchanged excuses, it’s sometimes fun to apportion blame.
One of the cleverest diary clashers in my social circle has been trying to schedule a long weekend at a health spa with me for the best part of three years. Every now and again we lock horns, or whatever it is that women can lock, and engage in an ungainly tussle over it.
The closest we got to a win on either side was when she suddenly, unexpectedly agreed in principle to a particular month for the encounter. Desperate to call her bluff, I rang the hotel the next day and made a provisional booking for the first weekend of that month. I texted her the dates, but she was one step ahead of me. She rang back in a thinly disguised fury. ‘You mean to say you only just rang them? I can’t believe you didn’t ring last night when I told you I wanted to go. You don’t really want to go, do you?’ I had to think quickly. ‘No, not now,’ I said. And, happily enough, it was all off again.
Melissa Kite is deputy political editor of the Sunday Telegraph.