Pen Pals

I've never received so many letters in my whole life. I've recently become pen pals with the most prolific correspondent. And all I had to do was subscribe to Readers' Digest. It's true! I get at least a letter a week. And all because I, Amanda Finnis was lucky enough to be selected from thousands of households around Australia to be eligible for the most fabulous lottery ever invented. Or so I've been told. Repeatedly.

Now, the interesting thing is that I don't even like reading Readers' Digest really. I get a minor chuckle on occasion from those jokes and quips that they print at the end of their condensed stories. However, I am prepared to admit that I was rather easily roped in. When I received the letter telling me of my outstanding good fortune at being selected to be in the lottery, I leapt for my credit card, filled in the payment details on the form and sent it back in the YES envelope with my lottery entry. You see, I was being canny. There were two return envelopes enclosed . YES and NO. Though my correspondent told me that I of course would receive the same chance if I didn't subscribe as I would if I did, I could sense that I would be failing a test if I didn't choose YES. I would be disappointing not only the Marketing Manager and the Sweepstakes Manager but a veritable army of researchers who had ferreted out my name from probably thousands and had banked on the fact that I would go for their offer. I also thought that if I didn't use the YES envelope, my lottery entry would be summarily thrown into the shredder and that would be my last chance at hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Of course it was Readers' Digest being canny. I was bound to go for it. I subscribe to six magazines, I belong to four libraries, I'm on the mailing list for at least two bookshops and I'm on so many book club databases that my name probably cross-referenced ten times on all the lists that Readers' Digest invested in.

So I convinced myself that $35 is not such a bad price for a lottery ticket with damn good odds.

The next thing I know, I received a very official looking letter with the words WINNER emblazoned across the front. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't have won already? I was right, I couldn't. Upon opening the letter I was informed that I could still be a winner . All I had to do was stick a sticker on the box on the specially personalised lottery ticket. Stick another sticker on my early bird registration ticket, scratch and match for a mystery prize, read six coloured brochures (in case they contained more instructions about the lottery) and decide, again, whether to choose the YES or the NO envelope. This time I could have a volume of condensed books for free if I just bought (and paid for in three low instalments) some book full of little known trivia.

In for a penny, in for a pound, I thought. Besides I didn't want to stuff up my chances at the hundreds and thousands of dollars I was now in the running for. So I'll give the book to a cousin for Christmas. As I shoved everything back into the YES envelope I ran a quick mental check to make sure I had followed all instructions to the letter. These Readers' Digest types are sticklers for correct lottery procedure. All was well. I posted it within the requisite seven days of receipt in the hope that I might add another $25,000 to my ever expanding swag of possible prize money.

This routine, with variations, has been repeated at least six times over the last few months.

Not only do I receive lots of letters but this whole thing has improved my correspondence output. I now have a list of letters I must write. There's the one telling Readers' Digest not to send me any more condensed books. Thanks for the free one and all that but it's not really my style. Then the one that will accompany the book of Fabulous Broadway Hits of the 40's (or something like that) that I ordered at correspondence round 4 and am now sending to the local primary school. And of course I will write to my cousin and tell him what a fabulous Christmas present I've already bought him...

I received yet another letter not long ago. As usual I had to stick more stickers, scratch more secret panels, match some playing cards, and decide YES or NO to a huge world atlas. Finally I decided NO. Ah well, I thought to myself, this can't go on forever, even though this may well be a fatal mistake.

But no! A few days later I found I was still in the running. This is more exciting than Backyard Blitz. I'm asked if in the event that I do win would I rather a) receive my prize from a celebrity in Sydney, b) from the sweepstakes manager at a quiet lunch in my home town, c) receive a cheque in the mail. I plumped for option b, and sent off all the stamped, licked, scratched and folded bits of coloured paper yet again.

I haven't heard anything at all lately. I suspect my choice of option b was the biggest tactical error I could have made. I kick myself at night before going to bed. Of course they would want you to go to Sydney and collect the prize from a celeb. Publicity. Promotion. How many times have you seen the pictures of Beryl from Blackwood and Bob from Bendigo with their arms around some old soapie star as they accept their cheque? "You idiot," I tell myself.

I'm an idiot because I was surely down to the last handful of undisqualified entrants. The fine print on these letters was extensive. And I am sure most people give up following the instructions after about the third letter. But I am still raring to go. Bring on more brightly coloured window envelopes. But don't send me the books. In a sheepish moment, having realised the foolishness of subscribing to a publication I had no intention of reading, I converted mine to a gift membership and have it diverted to the local senior citizens residence. I hope they don't mind that they're getting the books but not the chance to have more fun with paper than an origami convention.

But I must dash. Have to check if the postie's been yet.

I hope they don't mind that they're getting the books but not the chance to have more fun with paper than an origami convention.