5 JANUARY 1974, Page 12


Seasonal games

Bill Grundy

I'm not sure, &at I think I've finally _snapped. For the last few weeks, as I thumbed through the papers I found myself singing the following curious refrain:

"Christmas comes but once a year, Lhude sing cuckoo."

The reason for this odd activity escaped me until, round about Christmas Eve, I remembered that the cuckoo is a very repetitious bird. In that, therefore, it bears a remarkable resemblance to the press each year as Christmas approaches. This year, as always, we got the same old rubbish about a spending 'spree.' Now I don't know about you, but 'spree' is a word I never use. (Yes, I do know about you. It's a word you never use either.) But the headline writers are mad about it.

And it's not just the word that's daft; it's the story too. Why we are expected to gasp with astonishment when we are told that we spend more at Christmas time, I've never been able to work out. But every year, this being no exception, the papers waste acres of newsprint on the fact. Every year, also, we get the same old pictures. May I announce that if I ever again see another picture of Mr Harry Secombe in a Santa Claus beard I will go stark raving mad? I have nothing against Mr Secombe personally, except that he seems to be overaddicted to singing 'The Holy City' in a very loud voice. But I have everything against those picture editors who, year in and year out, can't come up with anything brighter. I was, however, glad to see that this year there were no pictures of a bulldog wearing a sailor cap whilst perched in the mouth of the big gun of a battleship. I understand, though, that this deficiency was due purely and simply to a serious shortage of battleships.

The run-up to Christmas is also the time when we get the food of the famous — you know the sort of thing: Harry Secombe (naturally) tells us his recipe for a traditional Welsh Christmas dinner. (It's just like any other Christmas dinner except that Mr Secombe sings 'The Holy City' for starters.) Or we get Diana Dors telling us how she keeps her husband's eggs on the boil.

And normally, of course, this is the season when we get a list of idiotic games to play over the holiday. Why do I say idiotic? Look, I know you won't believe me, but I swear that some years ago the Observer gave us one called "Where's Winkle?", or something like that. It went like this. You all ,arm yourselves with boxes of matches and you go out into the night. You separate and, at a pre-arranged signal, you start striking the matches. You hold

each lighted match above your head and you cry 'Where's Winkle?' You do this until all your matches are exhausted. Then you troop back indoors. There: I knew you wouldn't believe me.

But this year, for some reason I don't want to discover, we have been spared the usual loads of lunacy. No games, no pack drill. Which left me with such an emptY feeling I've decided to give you some games of my own, based on a careful study of this year's papers. All you will need is about 500 back numbers of as manY broadsheets as you can lay your hands on. Game 1 Hunt the Perry. This is a very intellectual game. You take hold of any copy of the Sunday Telegraph and you cut out Mr Peregrine Worsthorne's article (there always is one, unless he happens to have used a naughtY word on the telly during the week). Then you read the opening and closing paragraphs. If theY both say the same thing, you guess how many times IsAT Worsthorne has made the point in different ways during the article. If they say diametrically opposite things, you guess which paragraph the switch came in. Any number can play and there is no prize. Game 2 The Lost Leader. You take any leading article from one of the heavies and you count how many times the phrases 'on the one hand' and 'on the other hand' occur. From this you deduce whether the leader writer was merely being cautious, or whether he was really and truly lost and was only filling up the space the editor had told him to. You repeat this with other leading articles until it dawns on you that reading them is largely a waste of time. Game 3 What Sport! You take the back pages of the popular dailies and pile them in a heap in the hearth. Then you set fire to them, thus generating more heat and light than the articles ever did. After which, you sprinkle the ashes over the head of any sporting journalist you know, especially if he has written a football transfer story lately. Game 4 Enoch is Dead. Using the works of any political commentator you fancy (if you don't fancy any of them, you get a bonus mark), you count how many times the commentator has reported that Mr Enoch Powell has committed political suicide as a result of his latest speech. The highest total wins. (Warning: the number is likely to be so high that it had better be expressed as a logarithm.) Advanced players can go on to guessing how the commentator will justify himself on the day Mr Powell becomes Prime Minister. With these and other games, which you can easily think up for yourselves, you will soon become expert students of the press, and even more importantly, will be able to entertain yourselves in those not-so-far-off days when, fro one reason or another, we won't have newspapers any more. A contemplation devoutly to be wished? Maybe. Anyway, a HapPY New Year to you.