Get in trim for Christmas!

It’s that time of the year once more, when we all start looking forward to Christmas and think that perhaps we need to get in trim so that we can stuff ourselves silly on 25 December.

Here are my some recommendations for seasonal slimming campaigns:

The Yonder Peasant Workout. Tighten those tummy muscles with this simple exercise: take three steps forward then bend down as if you are picking up a piece of winter fuel. If a monarch and a page show up and offer you wine and flesh, resist the temptation.

The 10-Day All-Marzipan Diet. Eat nothing but marzipan, but be sure to include at least three portions of fruit a day – eg marzipan apples, pears and bananas. Go easy on the snowmen. It is an odd fact of life that if you pick a chocolate at random from a box it will always be the marzipan one, but if you are looking for the marzipan, all you get are Turkish delight, hazelnut whirl and coffee creme. Persevere – and only eat one bit of each mistake. This sweetmeat, made of ground almonds, syrup and sugar, is said to have been perfected by Ursuline nuns in France, who were noted for their virtue and their trim figures.

The Glad Tidings Slimming Aid. Glad tidings is a mixture of crushed chickpeas, sesame seeds, oats and dried ewes’ milk which might well have made up the sort of gruel eaten by shepherds abiding in fields. It comes in 500g packets; just add hot water. You’ll find those troublesome extra inches just won’t abide!

Sprouts Galore. Why not supplement your daily salad of alfalfa and mung bean sprouts with a dozen Brussels sprouts? Not only does this make a terrific low calorie treat, but also the triphenolactins in Brussels sprouts help to guard against seasonal anxieties and forebodings about visiting relations.

Sprout water, poured over the head of a loved one, is very good for the scalp – BBC Radio 2’s Sarah Kennedy, world renowned for a personal loathing of sprouts, is an enthusiastic endorser of this treatment.

The Michelangelo Diet. Few people realise that the human tongue burns up an enormous number of calories. Licking the gummed edge of a fair-sized envelope is the equivalent of a two-mile run. So send large Christmas cards this year. It’s called the Michelangelo Diet, but any large reproduction of a renaissance nativity scene will do – or even a Bruegel of skating peasants. Start licking this week, doing about 45 tongue-centimetres a day, gradually building up to 250 by Christmas Eve.

Get That Inner Glitter. The important thing about any diet is to get the balance right. From now on, your daily intake should include a small portion of Sellotape (bitten off your finger while making parcels), one mystery canape (preferably including an unexpected morsel of prune), a heaped teaspoonful of tinsel (glitter will do), one index finger’s worth of raw cake mix and one bite of minced pie heated to 650 degrees centigrade.

Only Fools and Fitness Trainers. Here is an exercise guaranteed to develop those pecs! Every day, get a newspaper’s 86-page Complete Television Guide for the Christmas Holiday and see if you can tear it in half.

The Jingle Tingle. Oh, what fun it is to jog behind a one-horse open sleigh! This makes a bracing change from the traditional Christmas shopping run where you have to sprint round 25 different gift departments, picking up a scented candle in each one.

Soot Is Hot. The top fitness guru everyone is talking about these days is based in Greenland, but is prepared to make house calls. All his clients swear by his “carbon and moss fume” treatment. Apparently, you get dressed up in a scarlet tracksuit, climb into a sort of chimney device to get yourself coated in soot, then you absorb the fumes of a particular type of Arctic moss by getting the reindeer (which feed on it) to breathe heavily into your face. The beauty of this treatment is that you are allowed as many mince pies and glasses of port as you like.

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Christmas shopping ideas (pt 1)

Stumped for Christmas present ideas for your wife or girlfriend? Well I’ve got a few ideas for you to ponder.

My new adopt-an-offshore-wind-turbine scheme means that she can have her very own piece of Britain’s new clean energy.

When you adopt a turbine on her behalf she gets a certificate (on recycled paper, naturally) to say it is hers, she is allowed to name it and she receives an annual letter from it, telling her how it has been getting on, how many gigawatts it has generated and reporting on interesting mechanical faults it has suffered.

You can pick the location for her adopted wind turbine – maybe a particular area of unspoiled coastline which has romantic associations for you both. Imagine the pleasure she will get from choosing the colour scheme for painting her very own turbine and planning boat trips to visit it on its birthday.

And she also gets to use “her” lovely clean electricity absolutely free. That means she is entitled to the equivalent of five electric kettles of boiling water every year. What a wonderful excuse for a party! Invite the friends and neighbours round to watch the kettle boil, using her special electricity.

It goes without saying that this will make a wonderful conversation piece when the topic is climate change. (When isn’t it?) And on wet and windy days she’ll say: “My turbine will be enjoying this. His name is Turby and he’s forget-me-not blue. Would you like to see a photo of him?”

You’ll also be accepted in all the smartest environmental circles; Jonathon Porritt will say “Call me Johnny”, and she’ll be able to drop in unannounced on Al Gore.

Need more ideas? How about this year’s must-have pet: the Mongolian jerboa. This will enchant the lady in your life.

As an endangered species, the white rhino is so 2008, the giant bronze gecko is disappointingly uncuddly and the Ecuadorian lava cactus doesn’t really “do” much, but the lovely thing about the Mongolian jerboa is that it manages to be threatened without being too miserable about it.

They are affectionate creatures and they are ideal if you want to get out the old camcorder and make a wildlife film in your own front room. Order your Mongolian jerboa today and you get a free copy of the booklet, Learn Hushed Commentary Technique The Attenborough Way.

And when your lady shows up to that New Year’s Eve party with her Mongolian jerboa tucked under her arm, she is bound to get envious looks from all her chihuahua-owning friends. Hurry, while stocks last!

Is there someone in your family who is football crazy? Surprise him or her by making them England manager. You only need to bung the FA a couple of million to secure this once-in-a-lifetime experience for a loved one.

The job comes with a smart, weatherproof coat (with stylishly upturned collar) for wearing as you patrol the touchline making angry and despairing gestures. You also get as much free chewing gum as you can handle.

Buy this present and it could be your boyfriend or girlfriend giving that press conference and saying it got better in the second half and he (or she) was disappointed for the lads.

Why not give your son or daughter the precious gift of sporting immortality? Watch their little faces light up on Christmas morning as they open the envelope and read the letter informing them that they have sponsored one centimetre of the running track for London 2012 or, even better, a handful of sand for the long jump pit.

This means that, in less than three years’ time, the backsides of some of the world’s greatest athletes will be landing in sand part-owned by your child. Sealed bids (minimum of £6m) should be sent to Tessa Jowell.

I know some people like to receive jokey surprise presents at Christmas. So what can you give the man who already has a whoopee cushion? Why not secretly install hidden CCTV cameras in his house? Then watch his face when you invite him round to view the footage!

Cinderella, for health & safety’s sake

In the run up to Christmas I wish to register my strong support for Cinderella’s application for an extension, allowing her to be present at balls after midnight during the festive period.

There have, I’m afraid, been the usual scare stories about this, but Cinderella assures me that she has no plans for a 24-hour ball attendance; the relaxation will simply allow her to spend longer at certain charity events attended by HRH Prince Charming.

Last Christmas newspapers were full of tales of balls going on into the early hours, with binge-waltzing, Strauss-fuelled violence, the streets littered with glass slippers and bands of unruly Shetland ponies disturbing the peace and vomiting. These were wildly exaggerated. Let me add that the police have orders to crack down hard on Buttons if he is found in a residential area singing There’s a Hole in My Bucket.

The great advantage of flexible ball-leaving hours is that it would avoid the “mad dash” which exists under the present last-stroke-of-midnight system. Health and safety issues are involved here. We know that Cinderella mislaid an item of footwear while racing down the palace steps last year and this could easily happen again. Suppose another guest lost her shoe, twisted her ankle and decided to sue the palace authorities? Already they have felt the need to install handrails and warning notices.

Golden coaches which suddenly turn into pumpkins also pose a threat. Road safety experts forecast a dramatic reduction in pumpkin-related accidents if Cinderella’s arbitrary midnight deadline is abolished.

Killjoys who predict all-night giddy twirling at the nation’s balls have little to say about infestations of rats and mice in the streets round the palace. Not just any old rodents, but traumatised rats and mice, trying to come to terms with the fact that, for a few brief hours, they were ponies and coachmen. Animal psychologists say they can’t rule out the possibility of a mouse going berserk after remembering its short career in livery.

We should also remember how many members of the police force are diverted from their normal duties to help with security when Prince Charming travels round the country in search of the person with the small-enough foot to fit the mystery slipper. These officers would be better employed fighting crime rather than becoming involved in a massive shoe-fitting operation.

Granting this extension would remove an anomaly. The Ugly Sisters may remain at the ball for as long as they like and they are now defending the status quo. They just don’t want Cinderella to have the same freedom of choice. It’s just another case of the “do-as-I say-and-not-as-I-do” attitude which is so prevalent today.

The last-stroke-of-midnight deadline is an archaic and rigid rule laid down by the Fairy Godmother, who, I would remind you, is not democratically elected. In this day and age we really should have done away with government by wand and puff of smoke.

Imposing a curfew to force Cinderella to leave the ball is just another example of the godmother state. These self-appointed godmothers tell us what is good for us, arrive uninvited in our houses and tell us what we can and can’t do with pumpkins. In this case the Fairy Godmother, without proper consultation, experimented with live animals. There’s an element of social engineering here, too, taking the girl from the fireplace, showing her a good time, then snatching it away from her again.

It is time for the rest of us to make a stand and say “Cinderella, you shall stay at the ball.”

Neighbourhood snooping

There’s nothing new about neighbourhood snooping, the latest wheeze from local government. Council officers all over the country have been at it for some time already …

snooping“Excuse me, Sir. As you can see from the laminated card I am now showing you, I am a member of the council’s squad of highly trained anti-smoking monitors and I’ve just seen you lighting a cigarette in this bus shelter which constitutes an enclosed place. I am therefore duty bound to levy an on-the-spot fine of £50.”

“Not so fast, my friend. This is a decoy cigarette. I’d lit it to lure you out into the open as I suspected, rightly, that you were about to spit your chewing gum out on to the pavement. Opening my overcoat, I can reveal that I’m wearing the fluorescent jacket which is the uniform of an officer in the council’s Pavement Clean Up Brigade. There is a standard fine of £50. Most major credit cards accepted.”

“Sorry to interrupt you two gentlemen. This silver star on my lapel indicates that I am one of the council’s team of obesity tsars. I am exercising my powers to ask you both to remove your belts, so I can check the notches to see if you have let them out. The flat rate fine is £50 per notch which can be added to your council tax. You will also be required to go on a course.”

“Aha! I expect you three chaps thought I was just a little old lady with her shopping. In fact I am a crack undercover member of the council’s Child Safety Patrol. If you give me a moment, I have my maroon peaked cap with gold braid somewhere in my bag. You two gentlemen are committing a statutory offence by having your trousers round your ankles in public within a five kilometre radius of a school. There will be a fine and we accept euros.”

“Good morning madam and gentlemen. As you can see from my important-looking clipboard I am conducting a survey for the council’s healthy eating campaign. I am checking if you’ve had any of your five pieces of fruit today. I regret there will be a fine for anything less than the equivalent of three bananas or 39 grapes. You will be required to state times of fruit consumption and give names of witnesses, where possible. I will write the information on my clipboard using this special ballpoint pen marked with the website address of the council.”

“Freeze! Drop the pen and step forward with your hands above your head. You two with your trousers round your ankles, don’t make a move. And you, madam, in the maroon peaked cap with gold braid, keep your hands away from your shopping basket. You with the silver star, step back from those belts. You all assumed I was an ordinary seller of The Big Issue but, as you can see by the natty badge in this wallet, I am a highly trained plain clothes officer charged by the council to hunt down people in the street with dangerous sharp objects. These include unlicensed ballpoint pens. A licence for a pen costs £50. I am authorised to issue receipts.”

“Hi, folks, can you spare a minute of your time? I’m part of the council’s dental hygiene crackdown. That’s why I’m wearing this white coat with my name badge on it. As you can see, I’m Julie. Now what I want you all to do is blow into my special electronic device here so I can test the freshness of your breath. You with the natty badge and copies of The Big Issue can go first. I should mention there is a £100 fine for non-cooperation, but only a £50 penalty if your breath registers as fetid on my little device.”

“Well, well, well, I see there are seven of you here. That constitutes an unlawful gathering, likely to stir up unease, unrest or other unpleasantness. You could also be members of a gang planning to go and hang round council property, harassing hard-pressed council employees.”

“You may think that I am the mere driver of a mere 91 bus that has just pulled up at this bus shelter, but you are wrong. Driving buses is just my cover. I am an accredited member of the council’s gang-busting squad. I have been on a course and I have this framed diploma to prove it. You must all board the bus now and I will take you to the depot where you will be processed, counselled and fined. Please note that smoking is not permitted in any part of this vehicle.”

Blood will out

bloodI have to have my blood tested regularly, so I consider myself a bit of an expert. I wear that strip of Micropore plaster on the inside of my elbow like a campaign medal.

You could say, when it comes to the needle, my arm is an old hand, if not a pin cushion. They do a very good blood test at the Royal South Hants Hospital in Southampton; indeed it’s so good that the queues start forming half an hour before the department opens. I swaggered in at 2.15pm this afternoon and I was 33rd in line.

They have numbered tickets, like the delicatessen in a supermarket. We sit, arms folded in the waiting area, watchful, in case anyone sabotages the system, and give withering looks if anyone’s mobile rings.

The jabber on duty is usually quick and efficient and the whole thing runs very smoothly. Well done, NHS. When the blood is being taken, I affect nonchalance while I stare out of the window at the trees.

Occasionally, however I run into a few problems and my arm is jabbed several times without success. Rather like getting blood out of a stone; my veins seem to disappear (according to the jabber on duty).

Today was one such exception. “It’s not you, it’s me,” I said to the operative. “I’m being stingy with my blood today.”

I made a few other expert observations, explaining that my blood was like double cream, not like the easy-pouring stuff. She could squeeze out only a droplet, which wouldn’t satisfy the needs of the people in the lab.

All the same, I thought, looking at that meagre amount in the phial, it would be ample for a television crime scene. “Get this around to the lab for DNA testing, Golding,” the detective would say.

“And put out an all-ports alert for a shifty individual with Elastoplast on his arm.”