Santa, are you listening? Apologies to Xmas-lovers.

Only four weeks to go until the climax of the Season of Giving, Greed and Gluttony. Each year I hate Christmas a little more because of the frenetic and reckless spending on too much food and too many gifts, which could instead provide food, medical treatment and/or shelter for people who don’t have any. Every time somebody smugly pats their belly and says “Oh – I’m absolutely stuffed” I see visions of people starving to death. In their frenzy to get their hands on the latest must-have, children rip up and throw away wrapping paper and boxes which in other parts of the world would be treasured toys themselves. As a Christian celebration, where is the Christianity? Balancing these feelings with grand-parental love of the four youngest members of the family is a bit of a dilemma. We do not want them to think that we don’t care enough or are too stingy to buy them a Christmas present. For the last couple of years we’ve solved the problem in a way that we hope they appreciate – making charity donations on their behalf.

Some years back I went right off charities, after telephoning the UK offices of one of the largest. I’d been about to order their Christmas cards, and after idly reading the wording which said that “a proportion of the profits went towards ….” I wondered what that proportion was – 50%? 18%? 32%? 2%? Perhaps we ought to know? Curiosity aroused, I decided to ask. My polite question was met with a wall of arrogance, astonishment, rudeness and hostility, but could I get an answer? Bugger me backwards, I could not, which led me to the unavoidable conclusion that it wasn’t something they were proud of. And this so alarmed me that I never did order those cards and nor have I ever contributed to that charity again, praise-worthy though their efforts may be.

Unlike the multi-million pound charities with headquarter buildings, large advertising budgets and large staff with large expenses, the small charities struggle on quietly and mostly unknown and unsung. Tower Hill Stables, is such a one, a sanctuary for society’s rejects, the animals nobody else wants – too old, too ugly, too ill, too much trouble. The sanctuary in Essex, England is run by a flimsy-looking female called Fiona Oakes (Google her for some surprises), who cares almost single-handed for around 300 animals ranging from Shire Horses to hamsters. 100% of money received by Fiona goes to the feeding and veterinary care of her charges. That’s why it’s my No. 1 choice. With food bills reaching around £4,000 a month, she is in desperate need of support to supplement her own salary as a fire-fighter and her partner’s income, almost all of which is used for the benefit of the animals. £2 a month can make a difference. As all the grand-children are animal-lovers, for each one we have a monthly standing order donation to “adopt” a pet for them.

Other presents we have given the children include paying for uniforms and equipment for girls in Afghanistan to enable them to go to school for a year, and buying shoes for African schoolgirls.

This site has a fascinating range of ideas: helping educate or feed children or giving them toys; training teachers or medics or funding small businesses; buying a stove for Darfur refugees. There are also heaps of beautiful and original ethnic jewellery, gifts and clothing items, the purchase of which funds donations to charities. The cost of these gifts is derisory – less than a box of decent crackers; the warm glowy feeling they give is priceless.
Bonus! Purchases on the site are in dollars – which means they cost even less for those of us shopping in Sterling or Euros.

We had a fabulous present last year from our daughter, son-in-law and eldest grand-daughter: sponsorship of a beautiful little golden labrador called Willow, who is being trained to be a Guide Dog for the Blind.  

Now, don’t say you can’t find anything for Auntie Polly or young Archie.

Pinstriped what?

This year’s winner of the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction award will be named on Tuesday.

If you have never enjoyed bad sex in fiction, here are some excerpts from the 2002 contenders, from which my personal award goes to: “Sugar pretending to seduce an invisible man, begging him in a voice almost hysterical with lust. ‘Oh, you must let me stroke your balls, they are so beautiful – like . . . like a dog turd.” from Michel Faber’s Crimson Petal.


WordPress category to tag converter

When I began this blog, WordPress didn’t have tags, so I ended up “tagging” each post in categories, thereby ending up with a cumbersome list of 180 of them. Having woken up long before the day was born, I thought I’d put the time to good use this morning and take advantage of the fact that WordPress does now have tags. I’d delete all the superfluous categories and change them into tags. It was laborious work, because each of 96 posts had to be individually decategorised and retagged.

I had done 80 of these fiddly little exercises, when I noticed for the first time an interesting button, saying: “Category to tag converter”. It’s a relatively new facility. I wish I’d noticed it earlier.

A man of the people

Having less interest in Australian politics than even the ever-enthralling subject of Neolithic Dewponds and Waterways, I do at least know something about the new Antipodean premier.

Not his name, nor which party he represents, but the fact that the people love him for his down-to-earth, no airs-and-graces manner, and for the endearing way that he apparently excavates his ear wax and eats it. Who said the Aussies were uncouth? Does this signal the demise of Lamingtons, and the birth of ear-wax sandwiches?

What is weird?

Why do so many people tag Rhydian Roberts, X Factor’s outstanding contestant, as weird?

His current hair style is a little odd, agreed, but that’s not his choice. Leaving aside his “makes-my-hair-stand-on-end-voice”, he has a great physique; loves his family; doesn’t spit at audiences. He’s polite; he has performed graciously and good-naturedly and kept his dignity when dressed as Liberace and later in the horrible sailor suit. He’s a Christian (I’m not, but I don’t think that being one necessarily qualifies as being weird). He’s well-educated, well-spoken, and as far as I have been able to see, doesn’t have any piercings. He doesn’t say “You know what I mean?” at the end of every sentence

So how, precisely, is he weird? Or have I answered my own question?