Peter Bills: Click click... the Christmas mouse stirs

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The 17th-century English playwright Philip Massinger once wrote in a play: "Pray enter. You are learned Europeans and we worse than ignorant Americans".

To save the sensitivities of our American friends, I make no comment on their intellect. But as for the "learned Europeans", one wonders whether today's breed merits such an epitaph.

The strange activities and goings-on of Europeans this festive season makes one wonder whether there has been a collective loss of marbles among the people of the continent.

It is said that to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus and a unique time in the Christian world, five million Britons went online on Christmas Day. It is believed they spent something in the order of £150 million ($306 million), buying anything from flat-screen televisions and sofa beds to new bicycles, computers and DVDs.

I'm the first to admit that Mother's moanings and Grandma's grotesquely overcooked sprouts might incline anyone to flee the family fold at Christmas. But surely even these things are not enough to persuade normal people to spend Christmas Day glued to a computer screen, scanning bargains in the stores.

Whatever happened to peace on earth, a day of rest and solitude plus an opportunity to contemplate the miracle of the infant born that day?

Swept aside, it would seem, in the maelstrom of present wrapping, binge drinking, over-eating and either television watching until the audience falls into a drunken stupor or hours spent online.

For many Brits this Christmas and New Year, simply getting about was quite a trick, too. In the English Cotswolds, where the snow lay "deep and crisp and even", getting the car out to drive to the nearest store to load up with logs and coal was enough of an adventure.

But what of other parts of Europe? Up to 4000 people spent one night of Christmas week uncomfortably sleeping on the floor of an airline terminal building at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport. Most were waiting to get to snow-bound London.

Alas, their endeavours were undermined by the fact that the owners of Heathrow Airport are now Spanish, and therefore never thought it possible that snow might fall in London in December. Profits of close to £1 billion for the year certainly did not persuade the company to invest in better snow-clearing equipment. And it ran out of de-icer to clear planes before departure.

But in other parts of Europe, too, people were doing strange things. In northern Sweden, where temperatures often reach -25C or more, the hardy locals like nothing better than to get out in the icy cold and go skiing. Not as crazy as the Finns, who cook themselves to a lobster red in an oven known as a sauna, then rush out and plunge into the snow.

The French have their own forms of masochism. At Bandol, in the south of France, 40 people plunged into waters of the Mediterranean registering 13C. The air temperature was 12C.

And just before Christmas, 50 or 60 hardy souls rushed into the sea at Monte Carlo to maintain the tradition of a charity Christmas swim.

Judging by the screams they uttered on entry, this was not an experience to be filed away under "Pleasures".

Still, as they say, it takes all sorts.

- NZ Herald

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