First rule of Xmas raffles: never understate the prizes. My eye was caught by a local charity tombola whose prize list includes: “Family meal voucher for four people.” On closer inspection the prize is donated by a baked potato stall.
The longer the war in Ukraine thunders on, the more it resembles the opening stages of the First World War 108 years ago. First, the invading army delivers a mighty right hook, aimed at encircling and occupying the capital city. Then, after a chaotic start, the defenders rally and push the enemy back to a big strategic river. Next, as winter approaches, both sides dig in. And once trench warfare begins, no-one knows how to end it without a series of bloody, futile rushes at the barbed wire.
Finally, technology provides a breakthrough (tanks in 1916, God knows what in 2023). This could almost be a re-run of great-grandfather's war on the Western Front.
With one notable difference. By Christmas 1914 the attackers and defenders, united in the wearying misery of trench life, were able to forget their quarrel for a few hours and walk into no man's land where they shook hands, exchanged gifts and, according to some accounts, played football.
There will be no Christmas Truce in Ukraine. The Russians can't rip a nation apart, rape, steal and turn 10 million people into refugees and then expect a nice game of footie.
About this time last year a group of revellers found themselves stranded by snow for three nights in Britain's highest pub, the Tan Hill Inn in the Yorkshire Dales. In true British style they have just held a celebratory reunion marking the first anniversary of their ordeal. It sounds like an exercise in tempting fate but this year not a flake of snow fell and the recollections of their chilly incarceration were decidedly warm.
As one put it: “Looking back on it, it was one of the best weekends of my life." I can believe that. There is nothing so bonding, so life-affirming and so positive as a crisis shared, and survived, with others. Beer helps.