Charles Nevin

Charles Nevin has been a journalist for 25 years, and has reported for the Daily Telegraph, Guardian, and Observer. He writes a weekly column for The Independent on Mondays.

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Minor British Institutions: Auld Lang Syne

What apter way than this for looking backwards and forwards through a dizzy mist of vigorously induced benevolence? A simple, forgiving tune; fine, dense and eminently slurrable dialect, as in: "We'll tak a right gude-willy waught, for auld lang syne", which translates as a goodwill drink (waught: draught) for old times long since (gone). Its origins are lost amid Rabbie Burns, strong drink and folk memory: some even claim the tune is English.

Minor British Institutions: Last-minute rush

You'll be tired by now, after a testing day which has included much wrapping, preparing and purchasing, plus that moment this afternoon, amid the jingle-jangle of the music, the unnatural heat, the smell of scent and the scent of panic, when you just couldn't think what to get for which visiting extended family member and made your annual resolution to start in September.

Minor British Institutions: Christmas lights

What could be more innocent than celebrating our winter festival with light to defy the darkness and warm the soul? Not in Britain, however, where no opportunity, however sweet, simple and unpromising, is missed to demonstrate distinctions and supposed superiorities, ie, nudge and smirk.

Minor British Institutions: The Christmas ad

The subjects in this space are generally selected with a certain affection, but today, as it's the Season of Goodwill, I'll make an exception. Can no one rid us of these affronts to intelligence and taste, these inducers of an invincible urge for the paper receptacle Alice is accustomed to pass?

Minor British Institutions: The white hell

The most unexpected regular event in Britain is on its way, if it hasn't already arrived.

Minor British Institutions: The eccentric

It seems odd that eccentrics should be cherished by the British, who are pretty much a conformist people, but that's probably why.

Minor British Institutions: Biscuit dunking

Dunking biscuits is one of the chief pleasures many Britons afford themselves, which tells you much about the country. Even so, the practice is disapproved of by other Britons, mostly members of the middle classes who follow what they believe, usually erroneously, to be the views of the upper classes.

Minor British Institutions: The hall

A minor institution with its best days behind it. This was once a hubbub of a place, filled by a long table groaning under the lord's fare, with the unworthy sat below the salt and great dogs slumbering before the fire in between gnawing the large bones hurled to them by their indulgent master, while minstrels plainted and jesters frolicked.

Minor British Institutions: The Guy

Nothing personal, but Guy is a moveable, slippery fellow. Originally German, he arrived with the Normans, gaining a haughty reputation (cf Robin Hood's enemy, Guy of Gisbourne).

Minor British Institutions: Hallowe'en

As you prepare to hide in the dark refusing to answer the door, I have some consolation regarding this festival of faff, fuss and over-excitement.

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