LETTER from THE EDITOR

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Do you conclude, from reading your newspaper and listening to the radio over Christmas and New Year, that there is a particular propensity around this time for dumping babies out in the cold, getting lost on mountains, or vanishing tragically after going off in search of a bag of chips? Do people, overwhelmed by the stress and strain of enforced jollity (when in fact they feel desperate, or scared), prove more susceptible to personal disaster?

The answer is almost certainly no. The only difference about this time of year is that there is rarely anything else to report. The normal political and cultural mayhem is at an ebb; even politicians and celebrities need to spend at least a few hours with their families every year, as do their PR staff and spin doctors. For once, the happy(ish) and healthy(ish) segment of the population is hidden quietly away at home, doing the proper thing and minding its own business. In consequence, terrible individual events that, in fact, happen unreported every day and everywhere suddenly rise to the top of the news editors' lists, and you get to hear about them.

In a way, although sad, this seems rather a good thing. It reminds us that our sense of what is going on in the world is always slightly artificial. And there may even be a fortuitous seasonal value. We should, after all, perhaps recollect at Christmas that for many people the holiday serves only to emphasise their isolation or dismay.

Which leads neatly on to our Christmas appeal. In recent years one of my most gratifying tasks (first as managing editor, now as deputy) has been to organise appeals. First, the good news. Hundreds of you have responded to this year's appeal, which is on behalf of the NSPCC's work with abused children. By midday yesterday we had very nearly reached pounds 20,000, every penny of which I have no doubt will be gratefully and well used by the charity. As ever, people's generosity has taken me aback.

So do you detect a note of disappointment? To be frank, yes: though grateful to those who have contributed (often very large sums) I had thought we would raise more. Three years ago we raised more than pounds 300,000 for Bosnia charities; last year we raised well over pounds 100,000, again for former Yugoslavia. This year we deliberately chose a charity close to home, and one that is working in a field where the paper has been busy uncovering scandal. Is it possible that Independent readers respond more positively to giving money to people suffering abroad, rather than round the next corner? That would be curious, if true. Either way, I would love to know whether you feel an annual Christmas appeal is a worthwhile exercise, and perhaps hear suggestions about what we might consider next time. And, of course, you can still catch up. Just send a cheque, made out to the Independent/NSPCC Victims of Abuse Appeal, to our usual address.

Like many other parents I spend a large part of Christmas playing children's games, talking children's talk, watching children's television. This occasionally leads to minor journalistic revelation, such as the acquisition of a whole new cultural vocabulary. My youngest daughter (aged two) has just discovered the Big Friendly Giant and his disgusterous muddled words. So, from the back seat of the car earlier this week, Daddy having cracked some feeble joke, she cackled flatteringly and shouted out: "Oh Daddy, you're just bonkerous!" This is a word I am willing to loan to headline writers everywhere. Indeed, I can think of several papers further down market who might have a regular use for it.

Have a bonkerous New Year. Colin Hughes Deputy Editor

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