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