Feigned Intimacy

I wish Tim Farron would stop sending me emails. “Hi, Blanche,” he wrote recently, “Everything you’ve done makes me proud to be your leader and I know that more is still to come. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.” Really, Tim? All this for £12 (the Liberal Democrats’ lowest possible membership fee)? Come off it now. Pull the other one.

John Lewis is just as bad. For years, he’s been telling me what to wear and how to furnish my house. But since his “top picks” for my home are an Amazon Fire TV stick and Joy 2 coffee machine and I neither own a television nor drink coffee, his overtures fell flat.

Then there’s “Tom” at Admiral — a most devoted correspondent. And “Sophie” at National Express — helpfully keeping me in the loop. Not to mention the directors of Tate Modern and the Royal Ballet, both recently in touch and hoping to hear from me.

What a load of tosh. Does any of it matter? I think it does. Because not only are these emails unpersuasive and uninspiring: they’re offensive, demeaning and positively unhealthy.

Britain is now the loneliness capital of Europe. According to recent statistics, 2.5 million older people and 60 per cent of 18 to 34 year olds “often” feel lonely, putting them at greater risk of heart attacks, dementia and depression.

None of this comes as a surprise. The days of a smile, a greeting or a chat with a relative stranger are over. The bus conductors went long ago. The check-out assistants are going. The friendly postman has gone. Now, if you’re living on your own and not going out to work, whole days can pass without a scrap of human contact. And far from reducing our loneliness, these emails merely exacerbate it.

Feigned intimacy sounds hollow, is hollow and leaves us hollow. A friend told me recently that the only birthday greetings he received this year came from airlines and hotel chains. Did that make him feel better? I doubt it. 

It’s time we put mental health before marketing and people before profit. If “Tom” and “Sophie” want to drop in for tea, they’d be welcome. If Tim Farron wants to take me out to lunch at The Ivy, he can. (Chance would be a fine thing.) Until that point, I wish they’d lay off and leave all us lonely people alone. 

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