Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Eric Waugh: 2009 - the more things change, the more they remain the same

This is the Christmas on the never-never. The Government is on tick. Eat, drink and be merry - for tomorrow . . .

It is even rumoured that the Prime Minister may duck the sour Budget that is on the way by going to the country in March.

Meanwhile, it is Christmas and 'Christmas' is back where it belongs - on our greetings cards, the PC lunatics mostly having been seen off with their meaningless 'Season's Greetings'.

But, like British Airways, which pampers its spoiled cabin staff with overnights in the best hotels, the Royal Mail has its Christmas troubles, reflected in the number of uncancelled stamps arriving in the post.

James Logan, of Portstewart, wrote to the Daily Telegraph to forecast a bumper harvest, having already collected eight. Supermarkets are offering 'bogof' on packets of cards - buy one, get one free. But a shrewd onlooker warned that this meant the charities whose logos are plastered on the back would get a mere 5% of the original price.

This Christmas is also the Christmas of Copenhagen with the great beano of diplomacy collapsing in a magnificent shambles.

The mass audience, pausing between office party and the hunt for that last elusive present in the shops, was already bored stiff by the extravagant over-coverage in media with too little else to do. The Daily Mail was offering a weekend in Copenhagen as a prize; one hopes it was after the beano was over.

Before he left, Gordon Brown was throwing around more billions he has not got. Being billions all of us will have to repay, it made page one.

But on page two was the scandal of the baby who died in Milton Keynes Hospital because staff shortages meant there was no midwife to attend the mother. This was not how the Christmas story was meant to be.

An uneasy Christmas, too, for the Irish Catholic bishops, charged by the singer-songwriter Sinead O'Connor with having brought the idea of God into disrepute and sounding a distinctly Protestant note: "We need to take back the church, which is ours, not theirs."

If the PC lunatics have been chased off the Christmas cards, they still lurk in wait for the unwary; like Norma Cail (66), the warm-hearted former nurse, now a pensioner in a wheelchair and a stroke victim, in Bournemouth, who bought her three carers a small Christmas gift in gratitude for their loving care the year round; only to receive a pompous letter from Neil Smurthwaite, boss of care services for Bournemouth Council, advising the lady that, "in line with the requirements . . of the Care Quality Commission and with the Council's code of conduct, staff are not allowed to accept individual gifts".

Quality? Conduct? Bah, humbug, Mr Smurthwaite! Take Dickens to bed tonight. Read him!

This Christmas is a sorry one for honoured names fallen on sad times, the Guardian and the Observer among them, with losses of the parent company running at £100,000-a-day and voluntary redundancy offers being dangled before the 800 staff.

Terry Wogan almost shed a Christmas tear at the end of his last morning on Radio 2. His departure was an example of scintillating PR - even though, dare one whisper it, his going is of the most temporary nature, as he is coming back for a new Sunday show on February 14.

Meantime, nearer home, the surly brothers put on a Christmas panto in earnest at Stormont. Chuckling, this was not. Whatever the cause, their contribution was distinctly unseasonable.

Elsewhere, traces of the splurge of former times are still to be found . . . in the 27 Christmas trees in the White House (and 50,000 guests invited) . . . in the 'festive' afternoon tea offered to weary, though well-heeled, shoppers, by Claridge's, fully booked at a mere £45-a-head.

As they disengage from the spotlight for the holiday, Hillary Clinton can rejoice quietly in having made something of a comeback; Tony Blair, who presumably will fly to his Buckinghamshire mansion in his private jet, can be satisfied that his Faith Foundation flourishes.

He only works for it on average one hour a week, but it has already taken in more than a million dollars, suggesting that the foundation is no slouch with Mammon either.

This Christmas is also marked by the persistent deepening of the relationship between London and Dublin, the new warmth beginning with admiring glances cast from all Westminster parties at the brutal commonsense of the emergency economic package introduced by Cowen's government - which Brown so far has not dared to replicate in London; and furthered by Dublin's prompt changing of the law governing householders tackling burglars - in householders' favour.

Dublin observes an embarrassed silence; for this will not do at all, at all. A suitable concluding note, I think, upon which to say 'Happy Christmas'.

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