COLUMN: November 29, 2018

A number of elephants

I DO NOT know if you are familiar with the Elephant Man Syndrome. This is not something which involves medical intervention, I am happy to say.

The Elephant Man Syndrome is what happens when you have, for example and by chance, a couple of elephant ornaments. “Oh,” people think when they pop round to your house to borrow a video or cup of sugar like somebody from an 80s sitcom, “I see from his mantelpiece that Terence is clearly a huge fan of elephants. I know exactly what to get him for Christmas/his birthday.”

Before you know it, your house is full of elephant-themed teatowels and elephant clocks and tusk-shaped candles, and people start describing you as The Elephant Man, and you’re not even allowed to be offended.

All of a sudden you have a collection without doing any collecting, like one of those people who buy full Panini sticker albums on eBay.

But there’s the opposite syndrome too. Let’s call it the Elf Syndrome. I’ve been suffering from the Elf Syndrome at this time of year for a few years now, ever since I published a column in which I explained, at great, even tedious, length, the many reasons why I do not like the film Elf.

I won’t go into the reasons here, except to say that the film is clearly a practical joke being played on the credulous, and the producers are laughing all the way to the bank, though not at the script or performances.

I am keenly aware that mine is a minority opinion, but, as Brexit has shown us, the majority is not always correct.

The problem is that I have been identified as an Elf hater, which is fine, and this means that people who are full of mischief keep throwing Elf-related things at me, which is not.

“Oh, I’ve got just the thing for you,” they tell me. “Gosh, really?” I think, excited by the thought of a lovely present, for I have feelings and enjoy the idea of people liking me enough to give me gifts.

And then I open the attachment and it is a picture of an Elf onesie, or an Elf bedspread.

Sometimes it is a picture of tickets to Elf The Musical. I cannot imagine anything worse than a musical version of Elf, apart from a musical version of Mrs Brown’s Boys, or a musical version of being tied to a stake while arrows are shot at me. Imagine. It’s the story of Elf, but performed by the sort of people who enjoy participating in musical theatre.

And sometimes it is just a picture of Will Ferrell, the star of Elf, gurning while wearing the clothes of the eponymous character, with a quote from the film overlaying it.

These last ones are the worst, because the sender hasn’t even gone to the trouble of looking on the internet for Elf merchandise. It is the difference between being insulted in a creative way, as Oscar Wilde might have done to me, and being called a four-letter word in a rough pub.

The only thing these messages have in common apart from the Elf content is that they all appear initially benign. They lull me into a false sense of security by making me feel loved for a moment. And then – BAM! – I’m smashed in the face with a picture of the man who has ruined my Christmases for a decade and a half.

I am like Charlie Brown from the Peanuts strip taking a run up at that football time after time, only for Lucy always to pull it away. It is not good for a person with trust issues, who tries again and again, despite my inherent pessimism about human nature, to see the good in people.

I know I am taking a risk by telling you this. In fact, it is no risk at all, as this will definitely happen. Now they know how needled I am by Elf bombs, the people responsible will redouble their efforts. My email will be spammed with awful memes, dinners ruined by syrup, and pictures of a man in tights who thinks it’s fine to go into women’s locker rooms.

But this is not OK. If I told you I had a phobia of creepy-crawlies and dungarees, you wouldn’t send me endless pictures of Super Mario riding on the back of a tarantula.

It’s enough to make me pack my trunk and say goodbye to the circus.  

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