Belfast Telegraph

Rab's Week: How Christmas greetings can cause commotion

Welcome to the sideways world of our star columnist

By Robert McNeil

A town in Co Down is being called the most religious place in the UK after a controversial Christmas card stunt.

The insult to Banbridge followed the local council's decision to mention revolutionary pacifist Jesus Christ in its seasonal greeting.

Worse, or better still, according to a survey by the Christian Institute, barely half the councils across the UK didn't even mention Christmas in their Christmas greetings.

Trying to be "inclusive", d'you see? Fine by me. I never get a Christmas card from my council anyway. And yet I still send them one every year. Don't know why I bother sometimes.

Banbridge remains unrepentant about its militant gesture, claiming that Christmas is a Christian festival. Of course, it was originally a northern, pagan festival, hence all the confusion between Middle Eastern desert imagery and snow dripping from pine trees.

Doesn't matter when you're a kid, but as you grow up you think: "There's something not quite right about this."

At least cards let your friends know you're still alive - though they could always read your tweets - and that they're still in your thoughts, even if only as a fleeting nuisance, particularly when you feel obliged to add something meaningful to the card. Why do that when someone has already gone to the trouble of printing sincere verses on it?

People who don't give cards share the same DNA as those who don't say hello to neighbours they've passed in the street every day for the last 35 years.

Alas, it'll soon be time for my annual pilgrimage of shame down our avenue. An old lady makes me hand-deliver her cards to a vast number of neighbours, and my dread is being caught in the act.

For I'd have to say: "It's a Christmas card, but don't worry, it's not from me."

Already this year I've received a Christmas card from someone who doesn't normally send me one and, in return, have sent them a terse note saying: "What the hell do you think you're doing? You've mucked up my entire system." Ach, it's only once a year, even if it causes weeks of anxiety and despair.

Sunday: Cold-shouldering cold callers

Lib Dem MP Mike Crockart has called for the bosses of cold

call companies to be treated with the same gravity as organised crime.

Crockart was speaking as the Commons All-Party Group on Nuisance  Calls, which he chairs, revealed 226,000 complaints had been made about the irritating intrusions.

Citizens of Britainshire receive a billion such calls a year. Most irritating are the recorded messages left on our answer-phones. You can’t enter into constructive dialogue with these.

Many callers try conning you into insulation schemes. I fear many citizens could cheerfully insulate these phoney phone-line mafiosi in concrete overcoats.

Tuesday: Who's sorry now?

How awful to be a politician. Not my words, but those of Peter Capaldi who plays yon Dr Who in a top TV show. On taking the role, Capaldi found his every public word came under scrutiny.

He railed: “What’s now shocking is I can’t say anything publicly without it having a life. Not because I have extraordinary views, but because people are keen on conflict, so they’ll make that the story.”

I don’t want to sound controversial, but conflict is troubling. All my attempts at novels failed because, as I was playing God, nothing bad happened to any character.

Indeed, nothing happened at all. It’s the recipe for a happy life: don’t just do something, sit there.

But life and literature demand conflict. Karl Marx, in his theory of dialectical materialism, said conflict was the motor of progress. And, under Dalektial materialism, it’s pretty much the same for Dr Who.

Wednesday: The cost of funerals being what they are, who can afford to die?

Death news, and hard-up families are burying expired relatives in their gardens because they can’t afford funerals.

How often do we make a common sense estimate of the cost of something and find we’re out by 90%? Thus burials.

They’re four grand on average. Cremations are over three grand — not the kind of sum a family on the breadline is likely to have in the biscuit tin.

Personally, I don’t much care where I end up. Sling me out with the bins. But do tie up the ends of the black bag properly. Wouldn’t want my head sticking out.

Friday: Tory left fuming at bum deal on train

A Tory MP has called for people with big bottoms — around 82.6% of the population — to slim down or stay off public transport.

Anne Milton made her remarks in a well-researched academic paper, or tweet, after being squashed by a large man’s buttocks on the 7.30 train to Waterloo.

Electronically she ululated: “Small-bottomed man to my left but a very large-bottomed man to my right, who is asleep with his arms crossed on his ample stomach, which makes that squashed feeling so much worse somehow.”

Eventually, she popped free when “the man, his bottom and stomach” woke up and shifted.

The world’s Press were on the

story immediately, and Milton told London’s Evening Subsidiser: “If your bottom is bigger than a third (of three train seats) then you need to reduce its size.”

Fat activists on Twitter said Milton had a cheek. Two indeed. And both smaller than theirs.

Saturday: Brain freeze over quiz

Ballymena brainbox Michael Taylor starred for Cambridge Uni’s Gonville and Caius college on University Challenge.

Not my thing. Recently, I scored one out of 10 in a quiz about hit film Frozen.

Michael answered questions about legal positivism and metachronal rhythm, neither of which comes up much in the average Disney movie.

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