John Walsh: btw

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The Independent Online

Can we stop asking children to nominate things? It invariably leads to trouble. First, Blue Peter asked its viewers to provide a name for the show's new kitten: they voted to call it Cookie but the editors, believing "cookie" was a genital reference, opted unilaterally for Socks and there was a media firestorm. In Sudan, a British teacher asked her class to name a stuffed bear. Her suggestion of Faris (horseman) was dismissed in favour of Mohamed, after a popular boy in class. There's now a diplomatic firestorm and she's in the Khartoum slammer for 15 days. What's this? In Belfast, just when the warring factions were starting to hum along nicely, that band of blue-eyed scamps called the Orange Order are appealing to young people. They've created an orange cartoon superhero and you guessed are asking young people to suggest a name. You just know no good will come of this. Someone will call him "Billy Boyne" and the whole thing will kick off all over again.

* Book collectors are used to seeing rare items described as "calf-bound" or "vellum-bound", but a 1606 book by Robert Barker, printer to King James I, goes one better. A True and Perfect Relation of the Whole Proceedings against the Late Most Barbarous Traitors Garnet a Jesuit and his Confederats is about the trial of Father Henry Garnet, and it's bound in the poor chap's skin. He became embroiled in the Gunpowder Plot when he heard the confessions of Guy Fawkes and his pals. Though not a plotter, he was found guilty of treason and executed in 1606. The book will be auctioned by Wilkinson's of Doncaster. "Because the subject matter is so strange," said Sid Wilkinson, auctioneer, "we thought putting an estimate on it might be a bit vulgar." Indeed. Or calling it "slightly foxed".

* And they say the Christmas spirit is dead. A toy-maker called Compost Communications is offering unsentimental children a range of roadkill soft toys with their insides hanging out. Splodge the hedgehog, Pop the weasel, Grind the rabbit and Twitch the raccoon are available, with distended eyeballs, sticking-out tongue, splayed intestines and (nice touch) a large tyre mark on their backs. The guts can be stuffed back inside a zip opening, and a note is provided explaining the circumstances in which the toy expired. They're only 25. What are you waiting for?

* Hats off to Fiona Banner, who has been asked to decorate this year's Christmas tree at Tate Modern. (Tracey Emin got the gig in 2002 and gave the tree away, leaving a note asking for charity contributions.) Ms Banner has chosen to festoon it with 122 kit models of all the fighter aircraft in service. A brilliant political gesture, and a jolting bit of nostalgia for the Airfix Generation of boys born between 1945 and 1965, who spent their pocket money on model aeroplane kits Stukas, Spitfires, Hurricanes, Dorniers and hung the models from the ceiling on lengths of cotton. For many, Ms Banner's tree won't represent the abuse of power. It'll replicate, with spooky accuracy, the look of a schoolboy's bedroom, circa 1960...

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