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IS THERE any­thing you are des­per­ately yearn­ing to know? Are there any press­ing fac­tual dis­putes you would like us to help re­solve? This is the page where we shall do our best to an­swer any ques­tions you throw at us, what­ever the sub­ject.

PLEASE can you tell me who in­vented Fa­ther Christ­mas?

AFATHER CHRIST­MAS or Santa Claus grew out of tra­di­tions sur­round­ing the his­tor­i­cal Saint Ni­cholas (a fourth-cen­tury Greek bishop and gift-giver of Myra).

Fa­ther Christ­mas dates back as far as the reign of Henry VIII in Eng­land, when he was de­picted as a large man in green or scar­let robes lined with fur.

He typ­i­fied the spirit of good cheer at Christ­mas, bring­ing peace, joy, good food and wine and revelry. As Eng­land no longer kept the feast day of Saint Ni­cholas on De­cem­ber 6, the Fa­ther Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tion was moved to De­cem­ber 25.

The Vic­to­rian re­vival of Christ­mas in­cluded Fa­ther Christ­mas as the em­blem of “good cheer”. His phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance was vari­able, with one fa­mous im­age be­ing John Leech’s il­lus­tra­tion of the Ghost Of Christ­mas Present in Charles Dick­ens’ A Christ­mas Carol, as a great ge­nial man in a green coat lined with fur who takes Scrooge through the bustling streets of Lon­don on the cur­rent Christ­mas morn­ing, sprin­kling the essence of Christ­mas on peo­ple.

The im­age of Santa Claus as a jolly, white-bearded man in a red coat and hat bear­ing gifts be­came pop­u­lar in the US and Canada in the 19th cen­tury due to the in­flu­ence of the 1823 poem A Visit From St Ni­cholas, il­lus­trated by po­lit­i­cal car­toon­ist Thomas Nast.

WHO was Michael He­sel­tine quot­ing af­ter he failed to beat Mrs Thatcher, then los­ing to John Ma­jor, when he said: “He who wields the dag­ger never wears the crown”?

Ian Gard­ner, Clack­man­nan­shire

ATHIS quote is par­tic­u­larly per­ti­nent at the mo­ment and could be ap­plied to sev­eral Tory

HSue Boocock, Lan­cashire MPs wait­ing in the wings, ready to stab Theresa May in the back if she loses the vote on Brexit next week in the House of Com­mons. In 1990, when Margaret Thatcher’s 11-year reign as PM was com­ing to an end, He­sel­tine was en­cour­aged to chal­lenge her for the lead­er­ship by the then Arts Minister, David Mel­lor. He­sel­tine re­moved Thatcher from of­fice but was then un­able to build on his suc­cess, and John Ma­jor over­took him.

The say­ing seems to orig­i­nate with He­sel­tine him­self who first said it in Fe­bru­ary 1986, a month af­ter he had quit the Cab­i­net over the West­land af­fair.

He was aware of the con­se­quences, telling re­porters: “I knew that he who wields the knife never wears the crown.”

But He­sel­tine’s com­ment came back to haunt him when he fi­nally made his move in 1990 and it be­came a self-ful­fill­ing prophecy. It has also shaped per­cep­tions of sub­se­quent con­tests AVE you no­ticed the out­break of faces­lap­ping that is af­fect­ing us? Sug­ges­tions of a ref­er­en­dum re-run have been de­scribed as “a slap in the face” to Bri­tish vot­ers. Rail fare rises are “a slap in the face” for trav­ellers, Tube strikes are a “slap in the face” for com­muters and even the clo­sure of a Dundee restau­rant has been called “a slap in the face” to its em­ploy­ees.

Are we fac­ing a face-slap­ping epi­demic? I put that ques­tion to Sir Harty Back­slap, the un­der­sec­re­tary for rea­son­able vi­o­lence at the Min­istry of Chas­tise­ment.

“The fig­ures must be viewed in a global con­text,” Sir Harty said.

“News that the cli­mate change con­fer­ence in and may have even stayed the hand of more than one would-be as­sas­sin, fear­ful of ram­i­fi­ca­tions.

DUR­ING 1943, I was serv­ing in the air force at the large base RAF Hab­baniya, west of Bagh­dad. I’d like to know if it is still there?

AL Not­ting­ham, West Sus­sex

RAF Hab­baniya was sit­u­ated on the west bank of the Euphrates be­tween Ra­madi and Fal­lu­jah and opened in 1936.

As well as the air­field, there were com­mu­ni­ca­tion fa­cil­i­ties, main­te­nance units, a hos­pi­tal and fuel and bomb stores.

Later in the Sec­ond World War Hab­baniya be­came an im­por­tant stage on the south­ern air route be­tween the UK and the USSR.

Roald Dahl was sta­tioned there in 1940 but his de­scrip­tion in his book Go­ing Solo is some­what in­ac­cu­rate and his opin­ion rather un­favourable com­pared with most per­son­nel who served there.

No. 6 Squadron RAF, No. 8 Squadron RAF and No. 73 Squadron RAF were the last fly­ing squadrons to de­part the base in the mid 1950s and it closed in 1959 when the Bri­tish were fi­nally with­drawn fol­low­ing Poland has been spon­sored by a coal com­pany has been de­scribed as a slap in the face to en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists; a Vat­i­can-China deal is a slap in the face to Catholics; Don­ald Trump’s re­fusal to shake Mr Putin’s hand in Ar­gentina was a slap in the face to the Rus­sian premier while Trump him­self re­ceived a slap in the face from Em­manuel Macron when the lat­ter spoke dis­parag­ingly of na­tion­al­ist lead­ers.

“Ac­cord­ing to one re­port, Macron’s metaphor­i­cal face-slap ‘fell on deaf ears’ which sug­gests a lamentably poor aim by the French premier.” We asked Sir Harty whether he was by the 1958 Rev­o­lu­tion. In June 1961, the Iraqi Air Force moved in and used it as a base un­til it took on a more sin­is­ter role un­der Sad­dam Hus­sein.

Ac­cord­ing to the Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can Sci­en­tists the site was used to pro­duce mus­tard gas for use against the Ira­ni­ans dur­ing the Iran-Iraq War in 1980.

Af­ter 2003, the air­field was used by both the United States Armed Forces and the New Iraqi Army as a for­ward op­er­at­ing base, and is now known as Camp Hab­baniyah.

From here, com­bat op­er­a­tions are run from the out­skirts of Fal­lu­jah to Ra­madi’s out­skirts.

As of 2015, Hab­baniya serves as a base for Shia mili­tias, the Iraqi army and its Amer­i­can train­ers, in their cam­paign against Isis.

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suggest­ing that the cur­rent UK face-slap­ping epi­demic was the re­sult of world­wide fac­tors.

“In fact, we have done well to control faces­lap­ping in the UK over the past decade,” he said.

“In 2010, the num­ber of slaps in the face recorded by UK-based news­pa­pers was 156 and rose to a max­i­mum of 176 in 2014.

“Last year, how­ever, it was only 151.

“So far in 2018, there have been 168 face slaps, which is cause for con­cern, but I would sug­gest not alarm­ingly so, par­tic­u­larly when seen along­side slaps on the wrist.” I was taken by

And to the pres­ence in the room he said,

“What writest thou?”– The vi­sion raised its head,

And with a look made of all sweet ac­cord, An­swered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”

“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,” Replied the an­gel. Abou spoke more low,

But cheerly still; and said, “I pray thee, then,

Write me as one that loves his fel­low men.”

The an­gel wrote, and van­ished. The next night

It came again with a great wak­en­ing light,

And showed the names whom love of God had blest, And lo! Ben Ad­hem’s name led all the rest.

Do you have a half-re­mem­bered poem from your child­hood you would like to see again? Just send us de­tails of what you can re­mem­ber and we shall bring as many as pos­si­ble to our For­got­ten Verse cor­ner. sur­prise and asked Sir Harty to ex­plain. “The num­ber of slaps on the wrist re­ported in the UK press was only 50 in 2010, but has risen in­ex­orably since then and so far this year stands at 184,” he said.

“In­deed, slaps on the wrist over­took slaps in the face in 2015 and has re­mained ahead of it since then.”

“But slaps in the face are a violent pun­ish­ment, while slaps on the wrist de­scribe a pun­ish­ment that is seen as too mild,” I said.

“Ex­actly,” he replied. “The huge rise in slaps on the wrist might fairly be de­scribed as a slap in the face to those of us who are work­ing for a just pun­ish­ment sys­tem.”

And we left it at that.

Pic­tures: GETTY; PA

IN­TER­EST­ING READ­ING: Fa­ther Christ­mas dates back to the time of Henry VIII. Be­low: Michael He­sel­tine

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