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Bill Hicks takes a weekly look at the hot topics in the TES chatrooms.

Each year we look on with amazement as more and more of you log on to the TES Staffroom forums on Christmas Day to exchange greetings, commiserate over domestic difficulties, or bask in various forms of bah-humbug indifference to the great consumer fest.

On December 25 2004, we reckon around 1,500 of you were clicking your way around the forums, well over double last year's figure. Those around me who do not understand the lure of chatrooms are not sure whether to be pleased or horrified. Is the TES website really such a draw, they wonder? Are these people's families so boring that they'd rather spend time with a square foot of excited pixels?

In fact, the majority of postings were anything but sad. It was good, for example, of JWalker - one of many correspondents in Australia - to let us all know how lovely the weather was and what lovely presents he was opening, and what lovely wines he was about to drink, while the UK chatters were still filling stockings, drinking Baileys to keep out the cold, or just shuffling towards bed.

There's always a poster - I will not name this year's model - who goes for the sympathy vote. Our man excelled himself, with the thread title: "What you having for Xmas lunch? Me - tin of soup or cottage pie." He got 35 responses, but little sympathy.

For many - as for the world at large - the festive season ended early, and abruptly, at whatever point on Boxing Day they caught the first news of the Asian earthquake.

For some of you, Christmas ended and schoolwork resumed even before the news hit home. Here's impis, for example, writing on the 26th: "Last night our electricity failed. Around 10ish. Since then, I've been writing reports, and recharging my phone. Hubby nagging about food. Just hit the Baileys, and fed up. Only another five reports to write."

But don't feel too sorry for impis. She's a contributor to one of the warmer threads of the new term, which asks the disingenuously simple question, "How did you decide on your user name?" It was started by a poster who admits, "I have a yearning to be 'violetcreme', but I will stick with Nutella". After one day, there were 65 revelations. I'd recommend this thread to anyone wanting an introduction to the TES Staffroom. It would make a good revision guide - if there were a GCSE in forum studies.

And impis? The Zulu word for warrior, apparently, but chosen by this user because she was so impressed by an account of the impis' sexual initiation rites.

"It sort of stuck," she says. Oh well.

Bill Hicks is editor of the TES website.

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