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The great Christmas charade

Don't you just love the tradition of Christmas, or should that be predictability? I bet you've got a fridge full of turkey and a rack with fewer bottles in it than a couple of days ago. Some of the Christmas tree chocolates have been eaten while you watched the films served up for your festive delectation.

And now it's the day after Boxing Day. Most other years, people other than teachers would be back at work. These folk yearn for this lucky positioning of December 25 on a Wednesday so that they can argue that it's not worth returning to work for just one day before the weekend. However, for years with a Christmas Wednesday, teachers and others all have to face the same dilemma: what silly games shall we play today? Nobody in their right minds would do anything sensible the Friday after Christmas, and so they play games. Others would argue that no one in their right mind would play games, and who am I to disagree?

For years I was addicted to the Guardian holiday crossword, and would spend the whole of the Christmas period with my dictionary of quotations, the AA road map, the Complete Works of Shakespeare or Spices and Seasonings from around the World, depending on the theme of the year. Bear in mind that I value the lesser-known fact that episcopal is an anagram of Pepsi cola, as well as cart horse bearing the same relationship to orchestra and you'll recognise the valuable and useful information I fill my memory with.

For a while I taught media studies, and once whiled away an interesting afternoon with a group of students who wanted to understand how cryptic crossword clues were constructed. Teaching the concept of anagrams wasn't too hard, nor those clues where the answer runs through several of the words, but the class was dumbfounded by the type of clue that the master compiler Araucaria (meaning Monkey Puzzle tree) comes up with at Christmas. How can you teach people to make the mind-boggling leap between a clue such as "Today is December 25" and the answer, no doubt obvious to some, "Christmas present"?

Games with straightforward knowledge questions are much easier; you know the answers or you don't, and many people play Trivial Pursuit and such for just these reasons. But these can be expensive games, and you soon get to know the answers to the question modules you own. That's why, here in Cromarty, we share our games around. There's even a regular games night for girls between about eight and 14. They scour the town for versions of Monopoly or Pictionary, Cluedo or Articulate and borrow them for a week or two until it's time to move onto something else. Sometimes I wonder if schools couldn't borrow from the community like this to enable short-term loans of games and widen pupil's experience?

Forgive me, I almost talked of education, and it's the holidays. Back to the best Christmas game of all: charades. Anyone can play, or doze on the sofa and laugh. The children are likely to shame the adults, and everyone can make a complete fool of themselves. One of my sons has a humdinger of a charade challenge which beats everyone for miles around. Unfortunately for him, he's now played charades with everyone for miles around that's willing, and so he's agreed that I share his hot Christmas charade tip with you all.

Everyone ready? It's a song. The title contains 15 words. Words three, nine, 10 and 14 are little words like in, an, up, for, to, the, and, and of. The rest you'll need to improvise. If you've not worked it out, I'll give you a real big clue. Several species of small furry animals gathered together in a cave grooving with a Pict was a hit for Pink Floyd a while back, and continues to wow charade players each Christmas. If you come across anyone who guesses it correctly, they're either my son, or the only other person with nothing better to do on December 27 than read this column.

Go have some fun, and a wonderful 1997 to you both.

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