I’ve been trying with little success to buy a birthday card in Witney for my Granddad. The town has three card shops of note, not including gifty-wifty craft shops which sell cards with hand-affixed twine and sticks for the cost of a takeaway. You’d expect three shops to provide between them at least one card that was inoffensive and broadly suitable for an eighty-nine-year old.
WHSmith has already converted its aisles to Christmas. I’d have been spoilt for choice of birthday cards had my Grandad actually been Jesus Christ; as it was, WHS yielded a busted flush. Clinton’s and Hallmark between them weren’t much better: although there was a bit over a dozen “Happy birthday, Granddad” cards to choose from, they exhibited a very bizarre phenomenon that might one day lead to a better academic understanding of the greetings-card industry. One card of the fifteen or so had a big bottle of wine on the cover; three assumed that as a grandson I had to be under ten years old; and ten of them had a bear on the cover.
Fifteen cards; ten bears. What link am I missing here, between granddads and bears? Some granddads are doubtless of a certain level of cuddliness, but they’re generally of an unreconstructed generation. How many of them would like to think of them as being defined by that characteristic, especially by relatives who might conceivably be in their thirties? I suppose that generation would have had bears as children, but what does that even mean? Do the card designers hope that, on receiving the cards, grandparents will only tangentially perceive the bears, and come over all nostalgic and Werther’s Original without really knowing why?
In the end I got the only card without a bear, childish scribbling or—and I only just remember it now—an elephant on it. It looked like a transfer off a helium balloon, all silver and tacky. Mum swears there’s a better choice in Preston, but then I think she quite likes bears. If only she was a granddad.