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A Christmas pantomime?

The other day my son discovered that I am the tooth fairy. The good news is that he still believes in Father Christmas although he takes great pleasure in pointing out all the fake Santas that he sees wandering around.

"He's not the real Father Christmas," he says with great authority. "That's not a real beard!"

I expect this will be our last Christmas with Santa because, after we had set up the Christmas tree this year, I found my son examining the sliding thing in front of the chimney and wondering how Father Christmas was going to open it from the inside. Oh well, life goes on. I suppose once the ghost of Santa has been laid to rest, we can enjoy other delights that Christmas brings. I hope one day to take him to see my favourite pantomime, a wonderful show called Poppy which was written by Peter Nichols and first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1982. It is a brilliant piece of work, combining the great traditions of pantomime with unexpected novelties not least because it is about the Opium Wars in China. It always stuck in my mind because it is the only pantomime I have ever seen in which the pantomime horse is shot and eaten by the Europeans beseiged in a compound by the irate Chinese.

It is just the sort of thing for blood-thirsty little boys.

We are just reading The Call of the Wild by Jack London and I have to say that there is nothing I like better than sitting back in front of a fire with a Whisky Mac and reading to kids. Recently, in a moment of apparent madness, I volunteered to go along to my son's school to tell them stories in the run-up to Christmas and now I am trying to figure out what story to tell. Luckily, the other day I was given some inspiration by Bernie Ecclestone when he was discussing his recent court case and was telling journalists all about the big bad banks.

"These people didn't get their shares out of choice," said The Bernard. "They got them as a security. They got the house and they don't want the house. Now they want to cash in the house and that's what they're trying to do. We have no problems with the banks. This is just a problem of them trying to put value on their shares."

It was an interesting analogy and one which deserved to be explored and (why not?) expanded.

Once upon a time, in a town not far from here, there was a big old house. It must have been more than 50 years old. Outside, there was a pretty little garden and a signpost on the gate which said "Formula 1". There was a tiny TM after this indicating that a trademark had been applied for but had not been granted. And on the gate was a sign, surrounded by flowers, which said: "You can only come in if you have a valid swipe card".

The house has been renovated in recent years by a grey-haired fellow called Bernie and his friends. Some of them fell from the building during the reconstruction but others survived and were joined by new helpers. The house belonged to a charitable organization, run by a man called Max but as he could not be bothered with all the paperwork he leased it to Bernie. In exchange, Max is allowed to wear a police uniform and has been given a big whistle and when they have lawn mower races in the garden everyone has to listen to what Max says. If they don't, he hits them on the head with a truncheon. It is a strange little commune with lots of stresses and strains and, at the moment, some of the residents are talking about moving out and buying a plot of land next door in order build their own house. Some of them are so angry at Max being too bossy that they want to throw him on the compost heap.

One of them is also causing trouble because he likes winning the lawnmower races so much that he has spent a fortune to get a team of engineers to fiddle with his lawnmower. The British have always had the best lawns but he is French and does not seem to understand that if one mows the lawn too much the grass will die. He's coming up to retirement soon and doesn't seem to care and is so fed up with the others trying to stop him winning that he has moved to the garden shed where he lives alone with the garden gnomes.

There is a bit of a problem because a few years back Bernie decided to sell his lease of the house to some Germans. Before long they had failed to make the necessary payment on the mortgage and the banks that had loaned them the money came along and wanted to take possession of the house. After a suitable period of time they asked Bernie for the keys but he said that they were his because his wife and kids still own 25% of the lease. Bernie and the mean old bankers could not agree on a deal and Bernie steadfastly refused to hand over the keys and so finally the bankers went to find a policeman to ask what he thought. The policeman said that the keys should be given to the banks. Bernie says that that does not mean anything because he has the keys to the rooms.

More police are likely to be called to the scene and now we must sit back and watch while Bernie runs around the house hiding behind doors, under beds and in the cupboards and the Keystone Cops give chase. It will be a little like a Feydeau farce although half-clad ladies are rarely let into the garden these days. Max will no doubt keep running around hitting people with his truncheon unless he trips up and falls in the compost and the funny little Frenchman will keep mowing the same piece of lawn over and over without ever thinking of watering it.

In an effort to keep everyone inside the house happy, Bernie recently came down the chimney, carrying a big sack which looks like it is full of presents. Everyone is very excited. The little Frenchman wants a bigger present than everyone else.

Some of the others are daring to suggest that Santa Claus does not exist.

It's a bit of a pantomime really.

But, children, do we think someone will actually shoot the horse?

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