Review-Roger Hargreaves’s Mr Christmas

Like many parents at this time of year I read my children Christmas books. Tonight’s choice from my youngest was Mr Christmas, a late addition to the Roger Hargreaves Mr Men series.

When it comes to the Mr Men I am a traditionalist. I read the stories to my children doing an Arthur Lowe impersonation. I prefer the morality tales of the first twenty or so books, where a small character is sadly afflicted by the curse of nominative determinism (Happy, Greedy, Uppity, Messy, Tickle) and over the course of the story encounters something that impacts on that characteristic. In the ideal Mr Men story the characteristic is remedied and the nominative determinism that has tainted the life of the Mr Man is thrown off demonstrating the importance of free will to pre school children. In much the same way that The Bill went off the rails when the show started concentrating on the personal lives of the characters, things all went wrong when the Mr Men started making guest appearances in other Mr Men’s books. At times the guest appearance involved the Mr Man having resumed the character flaw from his eponymous tome. What sort of message is that to send to children?

Now Mr Christmas is a late entry to the series. Illustrated by Adam Hargreaves it shows little sign of the classic Roger Hargreaves formula. In it Mr Christmas, who lives at the South Pole and has a penguin as a postman, is invited by Father Christmas to deliver presents to the Mr Men because there are so many of them Father Christmas can’t make it round all of them without help. This confuses the small child. There are lots of children in their nursery or school. More, in fact, than there are Mr Men. But Father Christmas can’t handle the pressure of delivering to the forty odd Mr Men. He needs to contract out his work, in a manner which fails to satisfy basic requirements of public procurement legislation. This creates unnecessary panic in the child that Christmas may not be delivered, due to pressure of work.

More confusing though is Father Christmas’s relationship to Mr Christmas. He is referred to, throughout, as Mr Christmas’s uncle. Given the shared surname it may be thought by the casual reader that Father Christmas is his paternal uncle. However, Mr Christmas’s mother may be Father Christmas’s sister, and be a single parent, or in a relationship but has retained her own name, or may have reasserted her name following a relationship breakdown. I have discounted the possibility that an Icelandic system of surname allocation is adopted (with “mas” meaning son) given the later Little Miss Christmas. On this important question of the relationship between Father and Mr Christmas the book is sadly silent.

Contemplation of the blood relationship between Father and Mr Christmas does lead one down some difficult paths. We are aware from earlier books, Mr Small and Mr Silly being two classic illustrations, that Mr Men and humans co-exist in the world. However, the prospect of inter species breeding, creating some sort of Gallifrey worrying hybrid, is not raised in other books. Mr Christmas though hints at the issue. Father Christmas is a big bloke, beard, hat, the usual stuff. Mr Christmas is a Mr Man. Now, whether maternal or paternal uncle the physical appearance of Father Christmas this suggests that, unless the parents of Mr Christmas have adopted a Mr Man and a Little Miss, there is cross breeding. The matter of fact way in which this is presented in the text is commendable, but does little to assist the parental reader in addressing the inevitable questions asked.

Cumulatively I feel these factors impact on my rating of the book so two stars.


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Analysis of the political debate

Let us be clear on this: any observer will note that everyone seems certain. Whether you are of the view that something or nothing must be done the position taken is certain. There are some who with certainty say that something must be done.  And as this is something we must do it.  And there are others who say with certainty that this is wrong and that nothing should be done, or that while something should be done the something that is proposed is not desirable and that other things should be done, although the nature of those other things is such that in effect they are things that amount to nothing. And those who argue that nothing (or a collection of things that are something but in effect amount to nothing) must be done say, with certainty, that those who are in favour of doing something have not thought about the consequences of doing something, and that doing something will mean that a much worse thing will happen. And those who argue that something must be done point out, with certainty, that doing nothing has consequences too, because doing nothing is the omission of doing something and that the consequences of failing to do something (or doing things that in effect amount to doing nothing) will mean that a much worse thing than the something they propose will happen. The difficulty in comprehending how to proceed is not helped by the fact that the main person who wants to do something always seems to want to do something. Indeed, two years ago he wanted to do something that was directly contradictory to the thing he wants to do now – but at the time it was a thing that could be done, and so he would have been prepared to do it. Because it would have been something. However, he is now glad that he did not do something then, because if he had done something then it would have meant that something worse might have happened now, and that is an even worse thing than the thing that happened because he did nothing.  Now this might seem to make things easier, but the person who wants to do nothing is pretending that he would be happy to do something if the thing that could be done did not actually amount to anything by setting a series of conditions as to things that he knows are impossible to attain, and consequently amount to nothing. Every observer knows that he always wants to do nothing, and so arguing that he has carefully considered the position and concluded that doing nothing is the answer sits awkwardly with his never wanting to do something, meaning that the things he has said he has considered before deciding that he should not do something but should instead do nothing might actually not have been things at all, and were in fact nothing.

In conclusion if, like me, you are someone who thinks that sometimes you should do something, but that sometimes you should do nothing you fall into an undesirable position of uncertainty which means that your views count for nothing, or something – depending on who you talk to.

I hope that has cleared things up.

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an open telegram to people who write open letters in The Guardian

Stop Stop

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on hearing incidental music in a news segment on a radio news programme

We need a montage on the news.

Let music sweep

Survivors weep

And experts share their views.

Let us skilfully juxtapose

The soaring tones

With victims’ moans –

Let editors impose.

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What the terrorists don’t want

What the terrorists don’t want

is my hot take:

my carefully crafted tweet,

sincerely fake.

Admire how hashtag riddled

I pontificate:

on why my politics is right

and why those others are talking shite.

And you will see

what this tragedy

means really

for me,

for me.

For me.

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The first named British storm – live blog

16.16 – still windy. and wet.

16.10 – the rain is so hard it has set off all the car alarms in the street making a sound like an orchestra of found sounds in an avant garde concerto by an American who spent too long in Paris in his early twenties

16.06 – the trees visible from my bedroom window bend awkwardly in the wind like Jeremy Vine completing a Latin dance move with his much shorter partner on the Strictly.

16.02 – the sky is as grey as the suits worn by Conservative MPs sent to tell a party leader that he or she has lost the confidence of the backbenchers.

15.59 – the lampposts are  swaying like an alcoholic man walking along a road after an evening in a local hostelry.

15.58 – the rain is bouncing off the ground as if it was rain hitting the ground and bouncing.

15.57 – it’s wet and windy, and dark, and wet. And did I mention the wind?

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the news where you are

They sit on the sofa. As he speaks she gazes through him with awestruck attention, nods and smiles to camera as he tells us

– and now a chance to hear the news where you are.

It never is though. With news of crime there is nothing about missing school ties.  It is strangely silent on the trauma caused by the Cheerios running out when all that is left is Weetabix. Amidst the politics the newsreader has no space for the prohibition on living room gymnastics.

– and now the weather.

We look out of the window.

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the shy atheist

in court

he speaks

he swears

(and lies)

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A letter to my solicitor

Dear sir,

I wish to meet with you at the earliest opportunity to instruct some amendments to my will. I would be grateful if you could advise on the implications of disinheritance of children and whether reference to the reasons within the will is valid.

Yours faithfully

E. Malley

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A further letter to my twelve year old son and ten year old daughter


Mother would like a word with you.


Yours etc

E Malley

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A letter to my twelve year old son and my ten year old daughter

Look you two,

I am not saying this whole remote control thing is putting a strain on our relationship but if you don’t tell me where you have hidden it right now I am afraid I am going to have to go public on this in a clickbait column in a newspaper.

yours faithfully

Ernest Malley, esq

(your father)

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A letter to my ten year old daughter


he says you had the remote control last and it is not down the side of the sofa and I am not watching this rubbish any longer. Now where is it?



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A letter to my twelve year old son

how do?

Where the fuck have you put the remote control?



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this afternoon’s phone call

Mid-afternoon, the house still, the phone was insistent.


“Hallo sir. You have had an accident.”

“who is this?”

“You have had an accident sir.”

“no. Who are you?”

“A bump. a small bump. An accident. You have had sir. An accident.”

“no one here has had an accident. Who is this?”

“National insurer sir. Your insurer. You have had accident in your car.”



“You’re a liar.”

“sir. Your accident. I call about your accident.”

“no one has had an accident here. No one.”


“how did you get this number?”

“your accident. In your car sir. I am insurer. your claim.”

“There’s no claim. There’s been no accident. How did you get this number? It’s ex directory. And I’m on”

“Sir. There was bump. In your car.”

“the telephone preference service. Where did you get this number?”

“your claim, sir. Your claim. the bump.”

“There was no bump.”

“Your car”

“You’re a liar.”

“the car”

“You’re a scamming liar”

“Your claim for your car.”

“I don’t have a car. I don’t drive.”


“so, liar. Where did you get?”

The line purred.

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there’s a poet in every one of us

There’s a poet in every one of us, says


And when they eulogise Corbyn

Beware of the influence they’re absorbin’.

Old Tom knew the score

With his poetic lore:

The younger ones will imitate

Defacing, making Tom irate

But watch for mature versifiers of the left

For whom all poetry is theft.

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I do not want to have to stop the kids going to buy their comics tomorrow. But I will.

Because I do not want to see pictures of someone being murdered, or the reaction of a person watching another person being murdered, on the front page of the newspapers. And I do not want my children to see those pictures.

And I do not want news websites to show a video of someone being killed, or hint that they are showing a video of someone being killed – urging the click through with their disturbing video warnings.

But the battle’s lost. This is what sections of the media here do: voyeuristically ogling violent death. For clicks. For revenue. Because this is what the people making editorial decisions are, and what they think we have become.

Sod them.

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lost Tolkien work published

I was delighted to learn earlier today of the planned publication of the annual pre Christmas lost Tolkien work. The work, long known to scholars, is intriguing and I am pleased to release an exclusive excerpt.







Eleven apples

It is thought that the  work is based, in part, on a free translation of Snorri Sturluson’s Younger Edda, although the influence of the older Poetic Edda is clear. I don’t think I’m the only one who sees echoes of Skirnir’s Journey here, and the way in which Tolkien expands the produce offered to Gerd by Skirnir Is characteristic of his expansive translation determined to build the contemporary relevance of Norse myths.

Appetite whetted, I for one can’t wait for the full publication

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some personal reflections on the reunion of the Spice Girls and what it means for people like me



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Hastily written topical poem about vilifying matadors

Unlike Papa Hemingway I abhor
The bullfighter’s art. In fact I despises
Brandished scarlet capes, and blood, and gore
But I’m less sure about cats torturing mices.
I, for one, vilify the matador
Whenever the opportunity arises.

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A statement from acting Labour leader Harriet Harman

Responding to tonight’s opinion poll on the Labour leadership election, acting Labour part leader Harriet Harman released the following statement to waiting reporters.

“Oh my God.

“All the time, it was…

“We finally really did it.

“You Maniacs!

“You blew it up!

“Ah, damn you!

“God damn you all to hell!”

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