If you’ve seen one Santa, you’ve seen a mall – Anonymous punster of the executable  kind

The Christmas lights along Orchard Road in Singapore go up in mid-November and, as they cost around S$2 million, are as festive as it gets but not so bright as to encourage planes to land. 

But it does the trick and almost everyone walking down the road is smiling: the season does that to you, don’t you think? 

I had no idea about all that before as I’d been raised a Hindu. Then I met Rebecca when I was 21 and began viewing it through her eyes.

But it really only began to have meaning for me when  Raisa came along. There is nothing like the joy in a child’s eyes on Christmas morn to buttress the point about giving and the spirit of Christmas. 

“I told you he reads all our letters,” she’d inform me loftily and, as always, we’d feign astonishment, delighting in her innocence.

Indeed, Raisa went on believing in Santa right up to age 7 when a cousin, embittered by a bah-humbug priest, who, during midnight Mass, thought nothing about ruining the innocent fancies of children, felt compelled  to share his horrified knowledge  with Raisa. 

Which was how my daughter discovered that Santa was actually an Indian; even, occasionally, Eurasian. 

When we are all together it’s generally a time of bad jokes. Mostly mine, I confess. 

Knock, knock
Who’s there?
Mary who?
Merry Christmas

Knock. Knock
Who’s there
Anna who?
And a Happy New Year
(mine, I think)

What goes Oh-oh-oh?
Santa walking backwards

Unlike us, Rebecca doesn’t tell bad jokes but she obligingly laughs at all of ours. 

I remember Christmas in New York with my wife and I witnessing our first snowfall. The thrill of it made us feel like children all over again.  

My younger brother, who has settled down in  Connecticut, isn’t as enthused. He sent me  pictures of his garage after Hurricane Sandy: the snow had piled up so thickly that it completely obstructed the garage door. 

That’s why we generally prefer Christmas at home. It helps that December is probably the coolest month of the year which gives some added relevance to the occasion. 

It’s about trimming the tree amidst the smell of pineapple tarts and carols on the stereo.

It’s about  dressing up for church, family singalongs in harmony to accompanying guitars and beer or mulled wine for the thirsty musicians – they generally are.  

But mostly it’s about family which makes this year especially memorable. It will be the first time we will spend Christmas with Raisa since 2019: the pandemic made sure of that. 

It will also be the first time we spend the holidays in Europe, specifically in Southern Portugal where it’s the off-peak season and there are bargains galore to be had. 

Moreover,  the temperatures over there, if Google is to be believed, range from 13 to 18 degrees. 

In the interim, have a Blessed Christmas and a Joyous New Year folks.  



Some people think football is a matter of life and death…I can assure them it’s much more serious than that. – Bill Shankly, Scottish football player and manager 

No one thinks Mr Shankly was joking when he made the assertion. Similarly, David Beckham wasn’t at all offended when English manager Brian Clough made this observation about him. 

“Being thick isn’t an affliction if you’re a footballer, because your brains need to be in your feet.” 

It isn’t clear, however, what the media thought of this Clough-ism, to explain away an English defeat. “We had a good team on paper,” disclosed the always-inventive manager. “Unfortunately, the game was played on grass.” 

No one was in any doubt what Joe Namath, the 1970s quarterback star of the New York Jets, meant when he was asked which he preferred, grass or Astroturf. Broadway Joe didn’t hesitate.

“I’ve never smoked Astroturf,” he replied, deadpan. 

For all the hyperbole surrounding American football, there is nothing puny about football, or soccer as the Americans derisively call it. And the World Cup is as big as it gets. 

Over half the world’s population, or 3.6 billion people, will watch the 65 games that will be played until the final whistle is blown during the decider in two weeks.

And the money, both spent and made, is prodigious. In 2010, Qatar beat out competing bids from the US, Korea, Japan, and Australia to win the right to host the games this year. It has since spent over US$300 billion to beef up its infrastructure, creating whole new cities in the process.  

Fifa, the game’s international governing body is expected to rake in a whopping US7.5 billion from the Cup via advertising and merchandising deals. 

That’s RM33 billion, a respectable amount even by Najib Razak standards. 

And every team that qualifies for the privilege of playing in the World Cup will go home, pockets jingling. 

The winner will jingle all the way with US$42 million, while the runner-up will be consoled by a calming $30 million.  

Teams finishing third and fourth will receive $27 million and $25 million, respectively. Those finishing between fifth and eighth will get $17 million, while those finishing between ninth and the 16th spot will be awarded $13 million. 

Everyone else – even rank outsiders like Qatar – will get a suitably restorative $9 million. Finally, each of the 35 teams will receive $1.5 million for their pains.  

Those pains will include horror stories about worker abuse in Qatar during construction of the various stadia: locations where summer temperatures can exceed a hundred degrees. 

The stories also extend to the grasping, avaricious ways of Fifa officials, some of whose antics would make Jho Low blush. OK, maybe not Jho Low but certainly the odd Goldman Sachs banker or two. 

It was football’s maestro, Pele, who dubbed it the “beautiful” sport. But even Pele could not have foreseen how big the game has become.

Or how ugly, some of its aspects. Fifa has thought nothing of hosting games in questionable places – from Argentina in the 80s to Russia in 2018. How much of that is due to money is anybody’s guess. 

But Pele was also right. At its dizzying finest, football elicits an undisguised admiration: a ballet for the masses; or to paraphrase one of its finest exponents currently, Lionel Messi; “talent and elegance coexisting, simultaneously, with rigour and precision.”