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Dear Clinton Cards: So Sorry for Your Loss

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Despite the fact I've never bought a Valentine's card with cuddly bears on it, I still felt a pang of sympathy for fans of Clinton Cards when it went into administration earlier this week. And I hoped some of their loyal customers had the presence of mind to send bright-red "My Deepest Sympathies For Your Financial Loss" helium balloons, attached helpfully to bamboo sticks.

You see, I learned early on in life, that there's no situation in which a greeting card doesn't play a role.

While at University, managing essays and new friends with the grace of Lindsay Lohan, no matter how minor my current achievement or crisis - a supportive card from my family (okay, mother) would appear on my doormat.

I had only to receive a first in an essay, or buy a new pen, that some Buddhist-style words of wisdom, or humorous feminist aphorism, would come hurtling through the universe on a tiny piece of cardboard - a reminder that my position in life was already fixed and permanent, despite my efforts otherwise.

Card-giving is about social contracts and the relationships you've been signed up to from birth.

From your own christening to funeral (the two family occasions during which you are legitimately allowed not to smile), there's a card to wish you well on your way - and underline that your nuclear family and outlying friends are paying very close attention.

So, having discovered early on that I'll never be free of greeting cards, I've embraced this anachronistic ritual with a more low-brow, aggressive approach, than my mother's thoughtful, wise and witty notes.

I now love finding the 'right' card. So much so that when my friend had her first baby, and I went round to inspect, I realised that my card looked completely different to everything pink, pearly and cutesy, that she had the mantelpiece.

"I've got something tell you, darling. The baby's... Northern..." it read.

It's funny because she's from Pontefract, I had decided.

She said it was fine - and then muttered something about my unique sense of humour.

For me, modern greeting cards have morphed away from bland sentiment into a wonderful vessel of true, no-holds-barred communication. And I remain ever vigilant in finding the most apposite expression of love for my friends and family.

I'll never forget the day I found a card called that the receiver a "bitch"... in a funny way. I bought three - and ran out them within days.

I'm as addicted to finding perfectly-judged cards, as people are to sending Christmas cards featuring a lipstick-covered cartoon Santa lying snoring, beside an empty bottle of Scotch, a fireplace, and what looks suspiciously like a pair of mum's knickers.

Personally, I won't miss Clinton Cards. But if the person who knows how to put speech bubbles on pictures of black 'n' white fifties housewives has some horrible accident, my life will be immeasurably spoiled.

As my mother once taught me, cards allow us to remind certain people that they will always be central to our lives - no matter how hard they try to run away, or forget to tell me their new address.

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