A distant memory stirs like some sluggish primeval beast. It’s been so long that for a couple of seconds I was even taken in by the envelope: “72-hour notice of document delivery”.

“Wow,” I thought, “this must be important …”

… plus (half a second later) “so why not just send the important document now …”

… plus (finally) recognition. “It’s them. They’re back.”

I am one of the 2% of households in Abingdon invited to take part in the Reader’s Digest prize draw. I could shortly be the winner of £250,000! The envelope came complete with a certificate that a total of £300,000 has been deposited at the NatWest to cover all the prizes. First prize: £250,000. Number of prizes: 2058. Do the maths to get the average runner up prize.

If past form is anything to go by, they will send me six personal numbers which might just might be eligible for entry into the draw. I have a sneaking suspicion they will be eligible. It would be an awful lot of bother to go to just to send me a load of duff numbers.

There’s a picture of the large orange envelope that will fall through the letterbox. It has all the usual seals and barcodes on it to make it seem Very Important. (What exactly are we to make of “This communication to be delivered to named addressee only”? Who else is it likely to be delivered to? Is a busy postman expected to ring the bell and wait, shivering on the doorstep to press it into my eager hands?) The envelope will positively shriek that if just one of those numbers wins then £250,000 could be mine. Much the same way as I could walk down the road where I live and heave a brick through each window. “Could” does not equal “probably will”. In fact the brick-through-window scenario has a greater chance of happening and I like to think I’m a model neighbour.

Even in the unlikely chance of my not winning anything, I will probably be invited – just because it’s me, you understand, and they like me so much – to purchase one of RD’s publications at a knock-down rate. In the past I’ve purchased their road atlas and maybe a couple of other things, knowing this would just make me a mark for further top priority hands-only mailshots. I have always declined their offers of Reader’s Digest Condensed Novels. They would have more luck offering Jamie Oliver a supersize cheeseburger with extra fries, cheap.

Back in my day the prize draw manager was the improbably named Tom Champagne. Nowadays it’s the slightly more plausible, blokey Nick Shelley. There’s even a brief paragraph assuring us he does exist. At least he has a likely-sounding name.

Oh, balls, it’s all so bloody Daily Mail. It’s Hyacinth Bucket. It’s a relic of a time when the middle classes were busting out like never before and craved respectability. The intent was to fool them into thinking they had it. How better to seem respectable than to have rows of condensed classic works of literature lined up on your stone clad bookcase, gleaming in their leather binding with gold embossed text? Sniggering at us? Who’s sniggering?

And they’re still doing it.

The last time I got one of these, I think, I had never heard of (or indeed received) a Nigerian spam. Now it finally dawns on me that these wastes of treeware are Nigerian spam’s only slightly better good twin. Okay, they’re not invitations to criminal activity but they are equally insulting in their own way. Not by a blithe assumption that a large enough sum will induce me to participate in serious fraud; just by thinking that all the bells, whistles, seals, certificates of authenticity, strident letters assuring me I’m through two out of three stages but could fall at the third so don’t delay, act now and the general good simulation of personal attention will actually make me take them one atom more seriously.

Spam makes it money by costing only pennies to hook in one sucker every few million. It’s all they need. I don’t doubt that Reader’s Digest is actually legal and genuine; someone somewhere will be winning that £250,000. But to fund that, and to pay the considerably higher overheads, they must have to sell a lot of condensed novels, and that’s the most depressing thought of all.