Arts and Entertainment

Old luvvies act with gay abandon  in a classic festive sitcom

Karen McLeod: The beast of Christmas past

I used to love Christmas until I began a job which meant I would be away for it. Ten years ago I'd started to fly for a living. I'd got my wings, a jaunty navy-blue hat and a rather out-of-date red, white and blue blouse with a matching pleated summer skirt. I had to wear navy high heels and force a natural smile over my face as quick as the clouds could move across the sun. I was an air hostess.

Paul Burston: Santa Claus isn't coming to town

I used not to believe in Christmas. I mean, I knew it happened. The fake tree and the silver tinsel saw to that. And I can't pretend that I didn't like the presents. What child doesn't? But I never believed that any of this really meant anything. Long before I stopped believing in Jesus, I'd already given up on Father Christmas. My mother has a photo, taken when I was six, with me sitting on Santa's lap surrounded by toys in plastic packaging and looking less than impressed. Mum says I was a difficult child even then. I say I was too clever to be taken in by such an obvious fraudster. Any fool could see that this wasn't Father Christmas at all, but a man from down our road in a cheap beard.

Raffaella Barker: A walk in the snow

"Christmas is coming and the geese are getting fat / Please to put a penny in the old man's hat / If you haven't got a penny, a ha' penny will do / If you haven't got a ha'penny then God bless you."

Bah humbug: Darkly funny Christmas tales from Britain's best writers

Inflation, recession and gloom: you don't have to be Scrooge to say 'Bah humbug' this year. But even the biggest Christmas curmudgeon will find something to raise the festive spirit in these pages, as AL Kennedy, Ali Smith, Sue Townsend, Neil Gaiman, Sebastian Barry and a host of our favourite writers share what the big day means to them. To kick off, Will Self remembers a perfect Christmas – with none of the trimmings

Dom Joly: Ah, the dreaming towers of Didcot power station

As long as I can remember, I've been using the M40 from Oxford to London. The main geographical feature en route is what I call the "Chilterns Gap". This is where the motorway cuts a vicious trench through them thar hills in a feat of engineering that looks as impressive as the Chunnel project. Ever since I was a kid, this cut-through has been of particular significance to me. As a boy, driving through it spelt dread as it meant that I was only 20 minutes away from being incarcerated in my prep school for another term. As my parents' car slipped down into the valley – back to prison, back to hell – my spirits would sink. I'm never sending my kids to boarding school.

The <i>IoS</i> Twelve Quizzes of Christmas

Cole Moreton tests your Yuletide knowledge

Christmas boredom beaters: top days out with the kids

Sail with Santa across Bristol Harbour or see him swim with sharks at Cheshire Oaks. Simone Kane suggests ways to keep all the family happy over the festive season

Secret life of Lapland: How reindeer play a vital part of a threatened existence

Rudolph may be the stuff of Christmas legend, but for the reindeer herders of Europe's northernmost reaches these extraordinary animals are a vital part of a threatened existence

Simon Calder: The hungry ghosts of polar Christmases past

The sun, when finally she shines, beams benevolently on Sergei Vavilov. Not Stalin's favourite physicist, comrade Vavilov, but the ship that honours the scientist, presently edging south of west at a dozen knots, destination the end of the world.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, BAC, London

They glide, they soar, they loop the loop – in a charming display of Twenties-style eccentric dance, Jo-jo Pickering and Aila Floyd combine two enthusiasms of the decade, the charleston and aviation. Wearing fringed flapper skirts with aviator helmets and scarves, they're a joyously comic duo who would have cheered up any vaudeville house in that period. The girls, however, are the opening act for an entertainment that is much more complicated, both technically and emotionally.

Scammed by Santa: Attraction closes six days after it opened

Lapland New Forest folded under a deluge of complaints. David Randall tells a sad saga of criminality, complaints and Christmas

Investment Column: Game will suffer as economy turns down

Greene King; Park Group

Steve Richards: Inexperience, not treachery, drives Brown's ministers

Governments in deep trouble at the end of July are nearly always in a hole again at the start of September. The fleeting tranquillity of August changes nothing fundamental. Not surprisingly, therefore, cabinet ministers awake each day to the same sort of headlines that greeted them before they departed for their holidays. Above all, there is the same restiveness at the top of the Government that marked the dying days of July. What is Alistair Darling up to? Is David Miliband flexing his muscles with the leadership in mind?

The Weasel: Mr Deedes goes to Waugh

s far as I can see, there are two reasons for anyone buying another copy of a book they already have: a) Their home is so awash with books that it is impossible for the householder to lay his hand on a title that he wants to write about or read again. This situation has resulted in Weasel Villas containing not just two but three copies of various titles ranging from The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald to The Book of Marmalade by C Anne Wilson. b) A bibliophile becomes infected by the curious, but not entirely irrational desire to collect first editions of celebrated works. Largely because of a) I have never indulged in b). Until now, that is. When Mrs W offered to buy me a first edition of a 1938 novel that she spotted in a second-hand bookshop in North Yorkshire, I pondered the matter for maybe 10 seconds before welcoming her generous offer.

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