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Santa's calling card

I WOKE up in the small hours, in the midst of a seasonal nightmare. Christmas trees were falling down on top of me. I lay pondering what this might mean. At a recent drinks party, the tree had fallen down not once but twice. At home, my own Christmas tree had taken two days to secure.

In the past, family rows broke out when the fairy lights refused to work properly. Now, in the age of chopped-off, rootless Christmas trees, they seem to have no sense of stability. Even those expensive metal gadgets you buy to secure them in buckets take a lot of work.

I decided, at the rather glum hour of 2am, that this was a genuinely recessionary sort of Christmas tree, expressing the fears of economic collapse, disaster lurking beneath the tinsel. The problem solved, I drifted into half-sleep . . .

And then there was a substantial bump on the roof, followed by something rather scratchy falling down the chimney. My first thought was that it must be one of the plump white doves from my neighbour's garden. But if the dove had fallen down into the sitting-room and was flapping around, it was going to set off the burglar alarm, so I went downstairs in the dark.

There, in the grate, was indeed a white, but oddly fluorescent object - not a dove, but a letter. The paper had a sparkly border to it, as if inspired by a snowflake. It was a letter. This is what it said:

Dear Parents,

I'm making a swift trip from the North Pole to selected homes to prepare the ground for Christmases to come. I have been alarmed by my postbag this year. Perhaps your children are watching too many television commercials. They are asking me for increasingly extravagant presents which, in the current chilly climate, I simply cannot guarantee to provide. I am digging into my resources this year and, even though they are quite capacious, I am feeling stretched. It cannot go on.

First, some practicalities. Please tell your children that batteries freeze in Arctic conditions. I don't want to disappoint them for this year, but certainly for next year Game Boys and whatever the latest electronic fad turns out to be are things that parents should provide, not me.

My job, laid down over generations of children, by custom and practice, is to provide traditional, classic presents, starting with chocolate money, tangerines and nuts and working upwards through the odd cuddly toy, jigsaw, crayons, pens, paintboxes, colouring books, and on to things such as winter warmers - gloves, scarves, socks, bobbly hats.

I quite like silly toys - spiders that slide down windows, toy guns that make an awful lot of noise, and rattles. I'm quite happy, too, for each child of seven and under to have one nice big toy from me. Perhaps roller skates, a toy pram, or a bicycle.

I am also about to lobby the European Commission for a standard Christmas stocking. There is far too much variation in size, not just country by country, but home by home. I cannot be expected to fill enormous sacks . . . Think about it, it deprives children elsewhere.

I'm proposing a standard Wellington boot size, based on the size 4 shoe (37 continental size), which is about correct, because I always think that this is the borderline between children's sizes and the adult world.

I will also propose that after the age of seven European parents should stand in for me. Attending the odd school Christmas party this year, I have noticed that children above that age most certainly doubt my existence.

Please write to me, c/o PO Box SC, North Pole, with your views, for my aim in life is, after all, to bring pleasure once a year and, however recession- struck, I remain your seasonal servant,

Father Christmas

I read the letter twice and realised that I had not even needed to turn on the light. The Christmas tree recession dream did not recur. When I got up in the morning, I immediately resolved to replace my children's pillowcases with restrained stockings.

When I went downstairs there was no letter but there was a little pool of water on the hearth. I thought I had better pass this letter on because we all like Father Christmas, don't we?