Charles Nevin: News from Elsewhere

Seasonal stories of portly penguins, tasteless gifts, missing mistletoe and festive rage

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Monday, Monday, ba-da ba-da-da-da, so good to me, ba-da ba-da-da-da ... Ah, there you are, good to see you, I was just giving that old Mamas and Papas number a bit of a topical workout. Great song. They wrote lyrics you could understand then, didn't they? Anyway, how's it all going? I'm feeling pretty chirpy because I've just spotted my first "Teacher tells children there's no Santa" story. I have. Dallas, last Monday. And then, of course, on the same day, there was what we close Claus watchers have come to call the Weisbaden Incident, which could prove to have significant implications for jurisprudence.

Now I cannot condone violence at any time, for any reason, and I am aware that provocation is a defence only to a charge of murder, but I wonder, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, whether you could really find it in yourselves, especially at this season of goodwill, to convict the two men waiting patiently for their train home after a hard day's shopping, minding their own business, troubling nobody, who were approached by a department store Santa asking them to "tell Santa what you want for Christmas" .

I agree that seizing his sack and beating him over the head with it was an over-reaction, and that the damage to his hand was unacceptable, but which one of us can honestly say, our hand on our heart, that the red and white mist would not have similarly descended upon us, faster than you can roast a chestnut, deck a hall, or crush a sleigh bell with a sledge hammer?

And while the teacher in Dallas must be wholeheartedly condemned, I should mention that she was a music teacher, a fine and sensitive body of people for whom this wonderful time of the year is especially testing, particularly if they have to hear the "Little Drummer Boy" one more time, pa rum pa pum-pum.

Heartwarming tale

Still, I wouldn't like to give you an impression of unfestiveness. Ho, no, no. And to prove it, I should like to pass on a tale that has always warmed my heart, to do with a school nativity play in Liverpool. The first wise man solemnly presented his gift: "I bring you gold". The second wise man solemnly presented his gift: "I bring you myrrh." The third wise man solemnly presented his gift: " 'Ere y'are, Frank sent dis." Ah, yes, happy days. I'm also very fond of that great old carol, " Christmas for Cowboys" ("It's tall in the saddle we spend Christmas Day").

Mistletoe. There's something else that conjures up a warm seasonal glow, unless you're young, attractive and have uncles. Mysteriously, though, I see, it's been disappearing all round Britain. This might be signalling a dramatic change of approach by the CIA, but I doubt it. More likely druids. I've been expecting something like this ever since we got an Archbishop of Canterbury called Rowan. We'll wake up on Christmas Day and there'll be druidical music on the radio between appeals to keep calm and get the bedsheets on. Actually, though, druidical music is quite fun. They've come on a bit, you know. "Iceni Queen", for example, is a top number, sung to the Abba hit, "Dancing Queen", ("Iceni Queen, strong and lean"). Another is "Silbury Hill", based on the old Fats Domino number: "I found my thrill ... on Silbury Hill". My favourite, though, has to be, "Only Yew".

Suits you

Other seasonal stuff: well, penguins at a Japanese zoo have been put on an exercise regime to combat the weight they tend to gain at this time of year. So far it's a brisk walk, but you know what the Japanese are like, soon it could be press-ups, star jumps and running machines, not to mention the pole vault. Pole vault. They live at the South Pole, penguins. Suit yourself. Which reminds me of the Garrison Keillor joke: First penguin: "You look as if you're wearing a dinner suit." Second Penguin: "Who says I'm not?" All right, all right, what do you get when you cross a penguin with a gorilla? Search me, but, whatever you do, don't try to adjust its bow tie. Oi!

Roo the day

Kangaroos, now, and one has been run over and killed in Wisconsin. It's the second one found in the state this year, but no one's jumping to conclusions, although I note that there is a Kangaroo Lake up in Door County, just a hop away. Coincidence? I'm making inquiries of Mr Plzak, the County Forester. Meanwhile, I am able to tell you that the Wisconsin state animal is the beaver, the state fish is the muskellunge, and the state dance is the polka, which is interesting, as most states either haven't got one or have rather boringly plumped for the square dance.

Presents? How about a personalised action figure of yourself? Well, just send photos and £240, and Herobuilders, an American firm, will make a 12-inch musclebound version of you. They will. Think of all the people you could send that to! For another £50 or so, they'll even add a voice which says, "Hey, Barbie! I want to play in your dream house." No? All right, then, the Clark County Coroner in Las Vegas sells souvenir T-shirts bearing the legend, "Cashed out in Las Vegas", and a £5 plastic jawbone business card holder. Marvellous. Have a good one!

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