John Walsh: Tales of the City

From Tring to Sing-Sing, it's all bling, Bing, Ming - and now Ding - at this time of year
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The Independent Online

Some seasonal news items you may have missed:

1. I'll drink less and reflect on my position, says Claus

Beleaguered global philanthropist Santa Claus yesterday confronted the health rumours that have recently undermined his status as Leader of the Liberal Toy Dispensers. He has endured a week of mutiny from Ming, the leading dissident from the Lapland Elves wing of his empire, who have accused him of "spending too much time downstairs in the living-room, with the Taylor's Port and the Mr Kipling Extra-Brandy Mince Pie, and becoming increasingly sloppy in the key areas of Stocking Deployment and Tiptoeing Away.

Mr Claus admitted he has been urged to consider stepping down. "But I have undertaken to knock the Harvey's Bristol Cream thing on the head," he told a sceptical Jeremy Paxman last night. "I will have it under control by Christmas Eve. I will devote far more time to Reindeer Management, and will return in the New Year with fresh ideas and fresh policies in the areas of Sleigh Transport and Beard Enhancement. Okay? Now get off ma back, ye plukey-faced hoor."

2. Stolen Henry Moore "on must-have present list", say police

Experts have been puzzled about the reason why thieves stole the £3m bronze sculpture Reclining Figure by Henry Moore from Much Hadham in Hertfordshire on Saturday. Some think it will be smelted down for £5,000 scrap value. Some think it may have been the work of an art-collecting "mastermind" with a Persian cat on his knee, and a taste for heavy "statement" artworks.

Fresh investigations, however, have revealed the truth. The Moore sculpture featured by mistake in an Independent article listing "must-have" purchases this Christmas. It appears that an unusually shrill and pushy little girl from Egham, Surrey, saw the article and demanded that her father get it for her, along with a Prada handbag and an iPod nano.

"It's understandable," said DCI Thorax of the Thames Valley Art Abduction Squad, "The theft was motivated by fear and intimidation. Some of these 10-year-olds can be pretty scary."

Stop press: Police believed they had found the stolen Moore when a "Reclining Figure" was spotted on a bench at the House of Commons. On closer inspection, however, it turned out to be Mr Charles Kennedy, MP.

3. Penguins accuse filmmaker of "exploitation" in $20m suit

Luc Jacquet, the French biologist and film-maker whose documentary March of the Penguins was an unexpected box-office smash in America, has confirmed that he faces potential "ruin" in the courts. A cabal of 738 penguins have rounded on their former admirer, claiming he gave them inadequate recompense for their labour, and acted in a "patronising and insensitive manner."

"It wasn't just the quantity of the fish," says M. Henri Piscine, the advocate for the complainants, "It was the quality. This guy thought he could serve them any old rubbish he found in the Antarctic waters. My clients are film stars and expect a little more respect, thanks very much. They were hoping for some sole meuniere, grilled hake, some skate with black butter, something in a Rick Stein recipe. Also, he promised he'd film them in colour and, as any fool can see, they're still completely black and white. Plus, it was obvious, from his direction that he could barely tell the actors apart. How d'you think that made them feel? Bloody racist."

M. Jacquet has booked into a rehab clinic in Alaska.

4. Winter outbreak of silly names "due to global warming"

Sports watchers across Britain are impressed by the sudden rise of Ding Junhui, the 18-year-old Chinaman who defeated Steve Davis to win the UK Championship at the weekend. But trend-watchers are concerned that Ding is the latest in a series of absurd names flushed out by the festive season.

"Once, there was just Bing, as in Crosby, singing 'White Christmas' and we could handle that," said Harry Sensible, chairman of the Make Britney History association, which campaigns against idiotic nomenclature. "Last week, there was this Lib Dem chap Campbell, whom everybody's calling "Ming' although his name is really Menzies. Now this snooker person. I mean, honestly - Bing and Ming and Ding. They all come out of the woodwork around Christmas. It happens everywhere, from Sing-Sing to Tring. It's something to do with the weather; it makes people have a fling and buy a lot of bling. I can't stand it. I'm off to see King Kong."

5. Gullible "sky pilots" duped by cruel Reality TV scam

A number of Church of England clergymen confessed to feeling "shocked and disappointed" every Christmas after their hopes of having a genuine congregation are dashed.

"It's always the same," said Reverend G Strong of St Joseph's, Wandsworth. "Every year, the church is packed. You can hardly move for worshippers, praying away like their life depended on it. They sing like mad during the carols, weep during the readings and shake hands vigorously with me outside in the porch. I always think that, by some miracle, the British people have got religion back in their souls and it's going to be like this for ever. But then they disappear. I don't know who these people are, but we think they're employed by Endemol, the reality TV company, to pretend to be a congregation for an hour, so our discomfiture can be broadcast on Channel 4 at a later date. I think it's cruel. No one likes being made a fool of."

His words were echoed in churches across the UK. A spokesman for the "congregation" said, "They've only got themselves to blame. Some of these people would believe anything."