Monday, 22 November 2010

The Man who saved Christmas and Mr Saint Nick

I did participate in a school Nativity play one year, perhaps two but it was only walk on and off parts. I then longed to have more of a role. The Nativity play today, if the two recently experienced are typical, reflect recent advances in primary school teaching from those of three and four decades ago, having progressed to large inclusive all singing and movement productions with professional scripts, sound systems and lighting and an attempt to also reflect the increasing diversity of British Society. One of the two half hour performance had children as pilgrims going on a magic carpet world tour collecting children from different races on their trip to Bethlehem. With most parents armed with photograph and film taking mobile phones and digital cameras the school in question adopted a sensible approach, reminding parents and relatives they should respect the position of others and focus on the performance of their child or children. Overall it seemed to me the school was equipping children for contemporary Britain, where the Christmas story is only one aspect of the Christmas experience.

Alfred Carlton Gilbert has become known as The Man who saved Christmas according to the Hollywood film and although there is a little truth in that he did persuade the USA administration to abandon a plan to encouraging people to curb the wilder excesses of Christmas expenditure towards the end of World War 1 his life merits celebrating in its own right. Born in 1884 he financed his time at Yale studying for a degree in sports medicine working as a Magician and training for the Olympics where he tied for Gold on the Pole Vault in the 1908 London Summer games, an athletics event in which he set two world records.

However in 1909 he participated in the founding of the toy making firm which bore his name, starting with magic sets but where just before the outbreak of the World War he started to produce the Erector sets which were a form of the Meccano sets, invented in Britain in 1901. A fact which some appear to have forgotten claiming that Gilbert was the inventor of this type of construction kit.

My Meccano set was my pride and joy although I found it impossible to create the kind of models according to the handbooks and had to rely on a relative on was most upset when I immediately took the creation apart immediately to see if I could create it again myself. I failed. I always had the less expensive sets although I did try and build mine up a little. It did create in me the urge to know how things worked. It was decades later that I acquired the full 98 weekly part work Marshall Cavendish How It Works A to Z of Invention, science and technology in six bound volumes. I continue to marvel at those who invented created and understood. Gilbert’s claim to present day fame is that during World War I the Council for National Defence considered a ban on Toy Making because of the need to concentrate on war time production but Gilbert successfully argued against this although he had become engaged in the production of armaments. This was less of an issue during three second world war when the only toys produced were of planes and ships and tanks and games promoting the British war involvement

It was after the First World War that Gilbert established the reputation of his toys internationally selling 30 million of his constructor sets, and producing chemistry sets, microscope sets and other education products accumulating 150 patents. The emphasis of his work was on precision and stimulating creativity and frustrated that invention was not taught in schools created an early science and technology museum in New York. He retired in 1954, transferring the company to his son and published an autobiography, The Man who lives in Paradise, with a biography entitled The Man who changed How boys and Toys were made published in 2002 and this led to the film which as usual makes little attempt to keep historical accuracy, something which Gilbert would have hated. He died in 1961 when the family sold its interest in the business which end six years later A discovery village museum opened at his birthplace in 1989.

My other Christmas film of the day was pure enjoyable nonsense featuring the son of Santa who was something of playboy living in Miami with a big chip on his shoulder about the fact he never spent Christmas with his father because he was too busy delivery toys to other people’s kids. There is an important moral in this story for all those who work in the public sector and government as well as the entertainment business and or Christmas goodies. He is also apprehensive about taking over from his father who is reluctant to give up and become a nonentity. In this film Mr Saint Nick, Nick St Nicholas falls for a scheming news reader and her fraudster lover overlooking the ideal qualities of a recently employed girl Friday played by Lupe Ontiveros until she does not bat an eyelid when he reveals who he is and asks her to become his queen living in their palace in the Frozen North.
This is not the ideal time to continue reading Robert Peston on why many families will spend Christmas in fear of what is to become of them over the next two years as jobs disappear and payments on mortgage become more and more difficult to keep up. In this next part of his book he concentrate on the impact of Equity firms who over the past five years mushroomed in the amounts of capital raised to buy out businesses, reorganise and reshape and then sell off at gigantic profits sometimes three times the purchase price. One example he gives is of Travel Lodge where he estimates £10 million was saved reducing the time allocated to cleaning individual rooms by half. The point he makes several times is that the benefits of these changes are rarely passed onto the workforce and even then the gains for their lower paid, often on family credit means that for every £1 awarded they actually receive about 50p not so the 100’s of millions which are pocketed by the partners in such firms where Good Gordon enables them to pay only 5 to 10% of their gains in taxation. I recently commented on the replacement of a Little Chef restaurant by Starbucks on the way to the M25 M23 at Hooley in Surrey. Apparently this occurred as part of another buyout and repackaging when some of these outlet were sold off.

I got angry again last night and switched off Strictly Come dancing as the British Public again showed its stupidity or perhaps it was the BBC voting system which resulted in a former trained dancer and male love rat in a medical soap winning the competition beating two women who without previous experience worked exceptionally hard and performed wonderfully. The outcome explained why the programme producers cancelled last week’s vote as they obviously realised one of the two best dancers would be voted out. Grr

On the other hand I cheered no end as Sunderland scored four goals away from home and achieved their second 4 goal win in succession to jump out of the bottom three as other teams above them lost. At present this will be the first time in several decades I have not attended a live match during the Christmas New Year period. I did check the internet booking systems Newcastle offered me a poor seat for £39 for today’s game whereas Sunderland offered one for £18.25 which included an internet credit card tax. I may go and book a seat at the club on Tuesday. Maybe Monday depending when the annual service on the boiler and cooker is carried out. In addition to listening to the Sunderland game at Hull on the radio, I watched most of the match live on Sky and then the highlights on Match of the Day on the BBC.

This morning the Andrew Marr show was great with Vince Cable, William Hague and Lord Neil Kinnock, together with Rory Bremner’s take on the year. The highlight however was the Corrigan Brothers with their rapidly rising song about Obama the Irish man. It is very funny and a good tune and has got them an invite to the inauguration shindig. It ought to be Christmas number 1 although this will go to Hallelujah the X factor winner displacing a former winner.

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