It's a sign of the festive season

Oh please God.As Christmas cards drop through the letterbox, I know that at some point I must sit down write a list and sign my name over and over again.

Oh please God.

As Christmas cards drop through the letterbox, I know that at some point I must sit down write a list and sign my name over and over again.

It's an activity I avoid.

I know that sounds somewhat Scrooge-like but Christmas cards are a pain and I am a busy boy.

However, once in a while a Christmas card might contains a letter, very often from people you see little of, telling you details of their last 12 months.

Health problems, family news, personal problems - these letters always seem to contain revelations you wouldn't tell your nearest and dearest, let alone people who you hardly see.

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Naturally I wouldn't dream of sending one myself, far too tacky, but deep down we all love a bit of gossip and if we are honest these newsletters can provide a bit of light relief amid the run-up to December 25.

Without fail they all follow the same format - a little hello-how-are you, holiday details, illness, discussions about their friends you have never met, general misery and a moment of reflection as the end of the year beckons - almost all of it mind-numbingly dull.

For those busy people among my loyal fanbase who are thinking of sending one, I have prepared a quick example:

Dear (insert name here)

Merry Christmas. What a year I've had. 2004 ended with New Year's Eve.

Funny how that comes round every year, isn't it? Roger and I went to our friends Derek and Deirdre for drinks and nibbles - we're getting too old for nightclubbing - as usual Deirdre did her quiche - such a handy stalwart and now such a familiar recipe.

Roger didn't drink too much but still managed to spill a glass of Merlot on her cream carpet.

It does stain, so you can imagine how I felt.

I did a Pavlova, despite the cost of strawberries.

That over, we both went on a detox in January.

We aren't addicts or heavy drinkers so it wasn't too tricky but you have to look after your health, don't you? Which brings me nicely on to Roger's ever growing list of ailments.

The usual trouble flared up in early March, scuppering a planned trip to the Lakes with the two dogs Heath and Robinson (they're nearly five now and as mischievous as ever).

Four weeks, and a course of antibiotics later, he was right as rain, which was handy as we jetted off to Guernsey for a week's rest and recuperation.

We also went to France where I picked up a nasty bug and spent most of the time within five steps of our ensuite with heated towel rail.

That's what comes from eating outside, Roger said.

We won't be going abroad again.

The children are okay, we think.

Now Elizabeth lives in that Australian commune with her boyfriend Jupiter and Joseph is researching underwater plant life in the Bering straits, we don't see much of them.

Our nephew Quentin, who you might remember as the particularly able child with a prodigious talent for all things artistic, remains a particular source of pride for our extended family and continues to work as an exotic dancer with his friend Justin.

Planning a quiet Christmas with just the four of us - me, Roger, Heath and Robinson - since mother left this mortal coil there's no need for a whole turkey so we'll be making do with bit of rolled breast.

Well that's us for 2005.

We do hope all is well with you and your kin.

Expect to catch up in the new year.

I must close as I've a nice bacon joint boiling.

All our love and Happy Christmas, (insert name here).

JOURNALISM is a fickle mistress.

Sometimes you get lucky, other times it's a disappointing wash out.

These thoughts passed through my very own capable mind this week as I strolled the length and breadth of Berlin's boulevards in search of the remnants of the Third Reich.

Searching for the scoop-ofthe- century which would have led on to books, TV, film rights and a bolthole in the south of France I was to be sadly disappointed and ultimately fail in my quest to find out what really happened to Hitler and his remains in April 1945.

Notebook in hand and pencil sharpened, I was ready to set the record straight.

The problem was that no one wanted to talk about those dark events more than 60 years ago, and if they did I would have struggled to translate their comments - my command of German being limited to ordering a couple of beers and how much is that pair of lederhosen? I gave up.

I did mange to find the site of Hitler's bunker, however.

It is a small car park not far from the Brandenburg Gate.

An eerie place.

LAST night I was sitting in my little Ipswich sitting room enjoying a small bourbon and lemonade, and nibbling at a few pre-supper blinis when a memory came back to me.

Last week on my flight to Germany - with one of those no-frills airlines - I was sitting next to the window attempting to sleep when my attention was diverted to the scenery 30,000ft below.

At 7am I could distinctly make out the Copdock roundabout.

That's familiar, I thought to myself.

To make sure it was Ipswich I leant a little further towards the little porthole.

Sure enough I could make out the Waterfront, the town centre and the approximate site of The Evening Star offices.

Quite an interesting sight.