If the lords a-leaping and the milkmaids a-milking were to ply their version of home entertainments for all the days of Christmas as it's presently constituted, they'd be completely knackered

The Weasel

OK now, pay attention. What I have to say is of great, I would go so far as to say vital, importance to the majority of human beings. It's about a psychological affliction and one that cannot be ignored. The syndrome I wish to draw to your attention affects one person in every...

Gosh. Look at that amazing car going by. Registration number K296OMR. The shortest word you can make out of the letters O, M and R is, let me see, homer meaning a homing pigeon. Extraordinary to think that the father of epic poetry, the mythical poet of ancient Greece, has something in common with a fat fluffy grey bird, interested solely in eating seeds and crapping on statues... Where was I?

Oh right, the syndrome. Well the thing is, I was sitting at home last night, reading this new book by a couple of American psychiatrists and, as I did so, I kept glancing at the television and back to the book again, and thus found myself reading the same paragraphs twice over, instead of concentra...

Metempsychosis. That's the word. It's been driving me nuts for 24 hours. It means the transmigration of souls, and it's been fading in and out of my memory for a whole day. Lovely word isn't it? Molly Bloom tries to say it in Ulysses and it comes out all wrong, as "met-him-pike-hoses". But then it's hardly a word that crops up in normal conversation, not like "potato" or "teapot". On the other hand, how often do potato-related themes actually crop up in...

What? Oh the syndrome. Yes, right. Sorry. The syndrome these Yank skypilots have come up with is called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), a name for people who cannot concentrate on any one thing for more than a few minutes, can't finish anything they've started, can't get their act together and so forth. The classic "diagnostic criteria" (this sounds more and more like an attack of shingles) include low self-esteem, a chronic sense of under-achievement, trying to do a million things at once, saying things without considering the effect, impatience, low frustration and boredom thresholds, mood swings, restlessness, fondness for stimulation, addictive behaviour, "inaccurate self-observation" and umpteen others of which the most typical is "distractability", defined as "a tendency to tune out or drift away in the middle of a page or conversation".

The authors, Edward M Hallowell and John J Ratey, claim that about five per cent of schoolchildren are ADD victims who go on to be chronic "underachievers"; but Eddie and John are positive-minded people (and sufferers themselves) and suggest various forms of treatment for grown-ups. I am sure they mean well, and I wish them the compliments of the season, but I feel they should know that the condition they have triumphantly identified is already pretty well known on this side of the Atlantic.

Virtually everybody I know has got it. Almost everybody I see during the day is a walking display-case of ADD symptoms. It's called Being a Middle-Aged Journalist.

Can I recommend a service just introduced by the nation's police force? Apparently if you take your old knives round to them, they'll accept them, no questions asked.

This is marvellous news. The disposal of surplus knives has long been a problem in the Weasel household. You can put them in the bin-bag, but they cut their way out. You can bend them or break them but risk hurting yourself. You could give them away to friends or relations, but risk being laughed to scorn.

That set of British Home Stores imitation-Habitat-imitation-David Mellor- imitation- French-peasant plastic-handled steak-knives might have looked OK in 1975, but now? At least the police, however, won't question the dubiousness of your taste in cutlery. They'll take anything: folding camping sets, airline cutlery, plastic knives you brought home from the office, the ones you won in a raffle, the ones your granny thought were valuable. They won't embarrass you by asking, "Whatever possessed you to buy that?"

Where does Delia Smith go in the winter? Once her Winter Collection has vanished from the television screen, leaving only a ghostly trace of flour and the faint aroma of preserved cranberries to remember her by, what happens next? Does she crash out on a boiling Caribbean island in her Ursuline Convent swimsuit, a Planter's Punch cocktail close to hand? Does she go on retreat in Iona? Does she retire to a farmhouse to write racy thrillers (The Body in the Blanquette? Navarin on Sunday?)? Having worked out the recipe for every dish in the entire gastronomic world and blocked out her moves for the Spring Collection and the Autumn Collection on BBC1, does she enjoy herself doing something completely different in the evenings (salsa dancing? automobile maintenance?)?

The answer, gentle reader, is none of the above. Walking around Dulwich the other day, I discovered Ms Smith's shadowy alternative life. On the corner of Turney Road, a van went by, one of those battered but serviceable things you imagine Delboy Trotter graduating to some day. The van was towing a kitchen-on-wheels thing, the sort you might see someone frying onions or warming rotis on in pedestrian shopping malls. And on the side was written the legend delia's kitchen (africa). I couldn't quite see the driver's face, but I could swear I caught a flash of pageboy haircut and a tiny Irish smile as it swept past.

So, Twelfth Night at last. When the Weasel was a little weaslet, he used to read about Twelfth Night and listen to the song about the partridge in the pear tree and dream, with a mixture of incredulity and envy, about medieval courts and the 12 nights they spent celebrating Christmas.

In my youth, of course, Christmas occupied three days. It started on Christmas Eve when, at about 5.30, they shut up shop and the boss would bring the factory hands a couple of mince pies and a glass of sherry and thank them for their help during the year. Then on Christmas Day, everyone, except the boss and maybe one or two crucial senior figures, would have the day off. On Boxing Day, a few people would have to come back to their desks. On 27 December, everybody would start work at the usual time. And they wouldn't stop until Easter.

What, the Weasel used to wonder, did people in medieval courts do to make Christmas last 12 days? Surely there's only so much jousting, archery, partying, drinking, snogging, turkey-processing, television-watching and family row-having the human frame can stand?

We know differently now. Especially since Christmas doesn't last 12 days any more. It starts in July with the arrival of the gift catalogues, and carries right on through the sales to the end of the panto season in February. If the lords a-leaping and the milkmaids a-milking were to ply their version of home entertainments for all the days of Christmas as it's presently constituted, they'd be completely knackered by the time the decorations were taken down.

Today is also called Epiphany, "the time of appearances". This is the day the Wise Men in the East saw the Star, but it pre-dates all that. It's also what the Greeks called their festivals in celebration of Zeus, who manifested himself at the climax. These days we're lucky to get Michael Barrymore

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