This Side of the Pond – Dec. 28

By Sarah Pridgeon

In the season to be jolly, there are few things I love more than the silly, funny and heartwarming stories that always appear. For your Christmas enjoyment, here are just a few I’ve come across this year.

In Boston, the city held its 29th annual “Winter Wonderland” for 5000 homeless or “in transitional housing” children and their families. Obviously, these tots are further removed from the magic of Christmas than most – gifts, merrymaking and even a hearty festive meal are usually off the table.

And so, 1000 volunteers come together to put on a party that would wow even the Rockefellers, with performances this year by the Blue Man Group and the South Central Mass Choir, camel rides, an indoor carnival, costumed Avengers and Jedi and plenty of edible treats.

“Everything we took for granted as a kid, they don’t have,” founder Jake Kennedy told the Boston Globe. “It’s not just the gifts. It’s the music, the compassion, the dignity, the red carpet, the acts. It’s so special.”

In the UK, Insurers Ecclesiastical, which is the insurer most of the Anglican churches use, has been flooded with strange requests this year. One customer asked if they could hold their nativity service in a barn, one church put in an insurance request for angels on stilts and another wanted advice on bringing real camels into the church.

The company likes to think of itself as an enabler, a spokesperson told the Telegraph. After making the proper risk assessments, all the weird and wonderful requests were granted.

Residents of Rome are none too pleased with their mayor this Christmas, who has spent $60,000 to transport a tree from a forest near the Austrian border. Unfortunately, it wasn’t worth the effort.

“It is clearly dead,” said a local consumer group. Others said it looked like a toilet brush. The mayor claimed it was supposed to be “simple and refined”, but most Romans felt it looked more like a plucked chicken. Charlie Brown would be proud.

In Scotland, staff at a hospital in Inverness were slightly confused when a woman turned up at the outpatient department and handed over an enormous stack of wrapped presents. Each one was marked with a label noting what age and gender the gift was suitable for. She disappeared without sharing her name.

In Minnesota, a dastardly Grinch set about stealing Christmas present deliveries from porches, where they were waiting for their new owners to come home. It’s not uncommon, apparently, and there have been some innovative solutions from victims, such as the Oregon woman who stuffed a box with dirty diapers and left it with a note saying, “Enjoy this, you thief!”

But the cops in Minnesota had a more fragrant approach: they used a decoy gift with a GPS tracker to attract the grinch’s attention and catch him in all his Scrooge-ness. He was arrested with an entire haul of stolen packages still in his vehicle.

And then there’s the little boy from Mississippi who, at five years old, saved Christmas for all of us this year. TyLon Bittman was pondering the problems of the season when he realized he was too little to do anything about them on his own.

What do you do when you’re too tiny to fight crime? Obviously, you call your local police department.

“I just want to tell you something. Watch for that little Grinch,” he told the dispatcher in a recording played by Good Morning America. “Because the Grinch is gonna steal Christmas, ok?”

The little one’s father snatched the phone from him in a panic and apologized for the call, but a local police officer called Lauren Develle didn’t think it deserved to be ignored. She paid a visit to TyLon’s house to reassure him that his tip had done its work and the Grinch would not be stealing Christmas.

She even went looking for that pesky green miscreant and escorted him to the city jail. Meanwhile, spotting potential in the toddler, the Byram Police Chief suggested that TyLon might want to apply to be a real police officer when he turns 21.

And finally, the excitement of discovering that science has once again proven the blindingly obvious. I’m all for checking what we think we know to make sure we’re really right, but the hypothesis, “Christmas lights will always tangle themselves in the box” is surely just a fact of life.

The author of a book about the mathematical theory of knots, Colin Adams, says it’s because the cord itself is prone to tangle. This is a valuable insight.

Apparently, two scientists at the University of California did an experiment to see how easily cords get tangled by putting bits of string in a box and rotating it. They repeated the experiment 3400 times.

If you consider how unsurprising the results must have been the first time they opened the box, I can only be impressed at how staggeringly patient those two people must be. What they discovered, to the shock of nobody at all, is that knots appeared within seconds and the string spontaneously created more than 120 different types of knot.

Their recommendation for solving this problem is to coil the lights as you put them away and use twist ties to keep them in place. If it doesn’t work, the official advice from mathematics is to find a free end and work through the tangle from there.

Now that’s the kind of festive advice I think we can all make use of. You’re very welcome, and I hope you are enjoying the afterglow of a merry and bright Christmas season!