The Ash TRAs: The good, bad and ugly of 2012 get their gongs – and come-uppance

Yes, it’s that time of year again commonly dubbed the awards season…from the New Year’s Honours List to the media’s annual verdict on the paragons, plonkers and the plain old whackos gracing and disgracing our lives in 2012.

So, not wishing to be stranded on the red carpet, I’ve launched the Ash TRAs – my Triumphant and Ridiculous Awards, hopefully doled out in fair, equal measure. Some are undisputed champions in their class, others unapologetically contentious. See if you agree…

• Outstanding Achievement of the Year: The 2012 Olympics. Even Larry, the Downing Street cat, must have had his doubts the UK could set a new gold standard for the Games. But London did – despite the security recruitment fiasco orchestrated by G4S – and the nation’s athletes matched the challenge of splendid stadia with a colossal medals haul.

ACHIEVER OF THE YEAR: Danny Boyle for the London Olympics opening splash

ACHIEVER OF THE YEAR: Danny Boyle for the London Olympics opening splash

• Outstanding Achiever of the Year: Film-maker Danny Boyle, tasked with designing a Games opening splash that perfectly encapsulate the best of Britain over the ages. There may have been a nervous, communal intake of breath when he said sheep and NHS beds would feature in the show, but ye of little faith were forced to eat humble pie.

• Long-term Achiever (cont’d): The Queen. Over 60 years, she has employed a steadfast hand on the helm of Britain’s constitutional monarchy; a nerveless, unerring and – at times – humorous figurehead, who’s dedicated her life to serving country and Commonwealth. HM is the perfect rebuttal to republicanism…I mean would you have preferred Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or Margaret Thatcher as GB presidents in her place? No, neither would I.

• Losers of the Year: Most politicians – certainly those, like UK Chancellor George Osborne and his Europrat counterparts – who mistake austerity as the panacea for the world’s ills. Medieval quacks believed bleeding the body was a cure and now the politicos have adopted this discredited medicine. It didn’t work in the 15th Century, so why should it do so in the 21st?  (And by the way, George, we’re not ‘all in this together’, as you insist – because you’re not!)

• Winners of the Year: UKIP, probably the only political party to emerge from 2012 smiling. After drubbing the Coalition – especially the shamelessly power-hungry Lib-Dems – in three recent by-elections, they’re no longer the fringe party of anti-Brussels nutters, though 2013 will determine whether they’re really a force to be reckoned with. Methinks they will be.

LUCKIEST MAN: Barack Obama for being re-elected US President - thanks to a rival who was even worse

LUCKIEST MAN: Barack Obama for being re-elected US President – thanks to a rival who was even worse

• Luckiest Man of the Year: President Barack Hussein Obama. The US’s second socialist leader after the serially-inept Jimmy Carter, he made a pig’s ear of the country’s economy and was a hologram on the world stage, but still won re-election…chiefly because his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, was considered an even worse option.

• International Twerps of the Year: Anyone who actually believed the Arab Spring would prelude democracy. Despite a surprisingly transparent election – probably the last Egypt will see – Mubarak’s usurper, Mohamed Morsi, wants to to be a new-age pharaoh; Libya is a basket-case of factionalism; and the bearded ones can’t wait to get their teeth into Tunisia. Meanwhile, the ruptured Palestinians place PR gains ahead of peace with Israel.

• Twits of the Year: Twitter-addicts, as exemplified by silly Sally Bercow, uppity wife of the House of Commons Speaker, who ‘tweeted’ a line that led to the omnishambles of Lord McAlpine being wrongly smeared as a perv. The sooner this irritating, so-called ‘social forum’ patronised by egoist berks (and Bercows) is booted, the better.

• Disorganisation of the Year: That bastion of right-on, illiberal Leftiness, the BBC, for its multiple cock-ups over the Jimmy Savile scandal and shoddy journalism meant to gloss over fault lines. If ever an organisation proved it isn’t fit for purpose, the BBC is it, though the UN and that Nobel Prize-winning joke, the EU, ran it close (also see next item).

LUCKY PLONKER: BBC's 54-day wonder, George Entwistle

LUCKY PLONKER: George Entwistle, who lasted 54 days as BBC Director General – and scooped a windfall pay-off

• Most Successful Plonker of the Year: George Entwistle. As head of BBC Vision, he was the toast of Sky TV for Auntie’s abysmal coverage of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, only to be propelled to the dizzy heights of Director General – for a whole 54 days! Savilegate saw him off, his pockets bulging with public dosh. Lucky blighter (or words to that effect).

• Misjudgement of the Year: The Leveson Report. Regardless of the judge’s stated intentions of not wanting legal curbs on the Press, he botched it. And now that all with a vested interest in truth have read his two million words of small print, if Leveson’s ideas are adopted they’ll quash investigative journalism and leave politicians effectively editing newspapers.

Justice of the Year: Exoneration for the victims of the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster, in which 96 Liverpool soccer fans died and 766 were injured. An independent panel finally conclude the supporters were not responsible for the tragedy and accused the emergency services of colluding in a massive cover-up, including the alteration of 164 police statements.

• Robber Barons of the Year (cont’d): Bankers. They promised to repent and not use investors’ cash to fund their personal casino, where, even if they lost, the taxpayer covered their bets. Fixing the LIBOR rate and money-laundering confirmed that leopards don’t change their spots, even if they wear pin-striped suits.

• Stellar Telly of the Year: Downton Abbey (a.k.a. Trouble At The Toffs), period drama at its finest, even if Shirley Maclaine’s cameo as a trans-Atlantic dowager was more rank than Yank. Long may the aristo Crawleys go crumbling on and their obsequious servants backstab each other with silver cake slicers.

• Telly Stinker of the Year: The Royal Bodyguard, a monumental blight on sainted David Jason’s CV. Embarrassing and excruciatingly unfunny, no wonder that of the eight million viewers who switched onto the first episode, only a million-and-a-bit were there at the end. If you never saw it (or better still haven’t heard of it) count yourself royally fortunate.

• Must-see Movie of the Year: Probably the best of the 007 flicks since Dr. No a half-century ago, Skyfall has chilling pace, hardly a gimmick, and Daniel Craig as the coolest Bond ever – even if Judi Dench’s M, and Javier Bardem’s traitorous Silva nearly stole his thunder.

• Must Miss Movie of the Year: Despite the presence of nubile Jennifer Aniston in Wanderlust, this tale of a couple of big city losers joining a hippie commune left film fans with only one lust…to wander straight out of the cinema, mid-movie.

• Best Prediction for 2013: This will be the Chinese Year of the Snake…and there’ll be plenty of those slithering around in the grass, so don’t expect much change for the better.

Nonetheless, a happy and hopeful New Year to whoever you are, wherever you are!

Tricky Holiday Quiz – were you an egghead or a dunderhead? Check out the answers…

How many answers did you get right in my Tricky Holiday Quiz? Here are the solutions – and check out how you rated to see if you were an egghead or a dunderhead?

HEADLINE HITTERS OF 2009: 1 – a (Smoking); 2 – c (54 days); 3 – b (Dandy); 4 – c (24); 5 – TRICK QUESTION: In June, Cameron left his eight-year-old daughter, Nancy, in a pub after a family Sunday lunch; 6 – c (Canada); 7 – b (Sheep)

NO BIZ LIKE SHOWBIZ: 8 – b (23); c – (Kerry Katona); 10 – TRICK QUESTION: Homer J. Simpson’s middle name is Jay; 11 – b (The Philosopher’s Stone); 12 – a (Coronation Street); 13 – b (Lady Gaga); 14 – c (Tinky Winky)

A SPORTING CHANCE: 15 – c (Manchester United); 16 – a (Maria Sharapova); 17 – b (Mike Hawthorn); 18 – TRICK QUESTION:  Mo Farah also struck Olympic Gold in the 10,000 metres; 19 – a (Larch); 20 – b (Eldrick); 21 – a (Ten-pin bowling – a ‘turkey’ is three, successive strikes)

ALL IN THE PAST: 22 – TRICK QUESTION: Car-maker Henry Ford described history as ’bunk’; 23 – a (Campbell); 24 – b (David Lloyd-George); 25 – b (12); 26 – a (George I); 27 – c (Mary Had a Little Lamb); 28 – a (Drunk-o-meter)

VIVA ESPANA: 29 – c (Ear); 30 – b (Pink); 31 – a (1975); 32 – b (12th); 33 – a (Minorca); 34 – TRICK QUESTION: Basque, Galician and Occitan are all official regional languages of Spain; 35 – c (ex-King Constantine of Greece)

IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE:  36 – b (Lead); 37 – a (Armpit); 38 – c (Five); 39 – b (Soya bean); 40 – TRICK QUESTION: Sir Tim Berners Lee invented the World Wide Web; 41 – b (76); 42 – a (Jessica Alba)

WHERE THE HECK ARE WE? 43 – b (Mali); 44 – c (Gibraltar); 45 – a (Yellow); 46 – a (Verona); 47 – TRICK QUESTION: Cornwall is the only English county to share a border with only one other shire; 48 – c (21); 49 – b (1961)

THE STINKER: 50 – TRICK QUESTION: Good Friday was a racehorse, which fell in the Thorneycroft Chase, at Wolverhampton at the Boxing Day meeting in 1899

HOW DID YOU RATE?

45 to 50 – Congratulations, you’re an egghead…but get a life; 44 to 35 – Very good, you’re a star in the pub bar; 34 to 25 – Above average, though more swatting up needed; 24 to 15 – Very average, but you watch too much Corrie and not enough Who Wants To Be A Millionaire; 14 to 5 – Beware…you’re in danger of becoming a lot of a thickie; Below 5 – You’re the Forrest Chump of the family!

Have some fun with my Tricky Holiday Quiz – it can drive you Christmas crackers…!

Here’s my Christmas gift to blog fans – a quiz that’s tougher than Aunty Ada’s turkey, harder than an over-baked mince pie and more intoxicating than a crate of Yuletide cava.

I’ve put together 50 teasing questions for you to mull over during the holiday…but beware: in each section there’s one question that’s extra tricky, because none of the multiple-choice, optional answers is correct.

No prizes, except the highest score earns you the title of being the cleverest Tom, Dick or Harriet of your household. However, you’ll have to wait until Wednesday to find out, because that’s when I’ll publish the solution.

Ready, steady, get cracking with a quiz that can drive you Christmas crackers…

2012 HEADLINE HITTERS

HIGH FLYER; Felix Baumgartner - See Question 5

HIGH FLYER…but how high did Felix fly – Q4

1 – WHAT did Barack Obama pledge to give up before he was sworn in as US President a second time – but so far hasn’t managed it? a) Smoking; b) Picking his nose; c) Playing on-line poker

2 – HOW many days did George Entwistle survive as BBC Director General, before quitting over the ‘Savilegate’ Affair? a) 34; b) 44; c) 54

3 – WHICH kids’ comic – Britain’s oldest – printed its last edition earlier this month (though it’ll still be available online)? a) Beano; b) Dandy; c) Eagle

4 – DAREDEVIL Felix Baumgartner parachuted how many miles down from a helium balloon to set up a world skydive record? a) 20; b) 22; c) 24

5 – LAST summer, what did British Prime Minister David Cameron famously leave in a pub? a) His mobile phone; b) Secret government documents; c) The speech he was due to make later that day

6 – NEXT July Mark Carney will be the first foreigner to head the Bank of England, but from which country does he hail? a) USA; b) New Zealand; c) Canada

7 – WHICH farm animals ‘starred’ in the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony? a) Cows; b) Sheep; c) Pigs

NO BIZ LIKE SHOWBIZ

GAY TELLYTUBBY...but which one - See Question 12

GAY TELLYTUBBY…but which one – Q14

8 – FIFTY years ago Doctor No was the first and now Skyfall is the latest 007 movie, but how many James Bond films have there been? a) 21; b) 23; c) 25

9 – WHICH celeb once put her breast implants up for sale on eBay? a) Katie Price; b) Demi Moore; c) Kerry Katona

10 – WHAT does the ‘J’ stand for in Homer J. Simpson’s middle name? a) Jimbo; b) Jeremiah; c) Jo-Jo  

11 – WHAT was the first movie to chronicle the magical adventures of Harry Potter? a) The Chamber of Secrets; b) The Philosopher’s Stone; c) The Prisoner of Azkaban

12 – WHAT telly soap featured a milk float in its opening title credits? a) Coronation Street; b) EastEnders; c) Neighbours 

13 – HOW is sexy songstress Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta better known to pop fans? a) Pink; b) Lady Gaga; c) Madonna

14 – WHICH of the Teletubbies was branded ‘gay’ by US Christian evangelist preacher Jerry Falwell? a) La-la; b) Po; c) Tinky Winky

A SPORTING CHANCE

LOUDEST GRUNT: Is it Serena Williams - See Question XX

WHO GRUNTS LOUDEST? Is it Serena Williams – Q16

15 – WHICH English Premiership side started life as Newton Heath Loco, founded in 1878 by a bunch of soccer-made train drivers? a) Aston Villa; b) Everton; c) Manchester United

16 – WHICH Wimbledon belle has a grunt measuring 101 decibels – as loud as a lion’s roar? a) Maria Sharapova; b) Anna Kournikova; c) Serena Williams

17 – JENSON Button was the last Brit to win motor racing’s Formula 1 world title, but who was the first? a) Stirling Moss; b) Mike Hawthorn; c) Jackie Stewart

18 – APART from winning the 5,000 metres, in which other event did Mo Farah strike Olympic Gold in the 2012 Games? a) High jump; b) Marathon; c) Triple jump 

19 – WHAT kind of wood does a Highland Games tosser traditionally use for his caber? a) Larch; b) Pine; c) Maple

20 – WHAT is troubled golfing legend Tiger Woods real first name? a) Cedric; b) Eldrick; c) Frederick

21 – IN what sport is it possible to score a ‘turkey’? a) Ten-pin bowling; b) Golf; c) Cricket

ALL IN THE PAST

HISTORY BUNK? Did Lenin say it - See Question XX

DE-BUNKING HISTORY? But did Lenin say it – Q22

22 – WHO famously described history as ‘bunk’? a) Adolph Hitler; b) Lenin; c) Napoleon

23 – MEMBERS of which Scottish clan massacred the Macdonalds at Glen Coe in 1692? a) Campbell; b) McGregor; c) Stuart

24 – WHO was Britain’s last Liberal Prime Minister? a) Herbert Asquith; b) David Lloyd-George; c) Winston Churchill

25 – HOW many men have walked on the Moon? a) 10; b) 12; c) 14

26 – WHICH king came to the British throne in 1714, aged 54, and could hardly speak a word of English? a) George I; b) William III; c) Edward VI

27 – WHAT nursery rhyme were the first words recorded by gramophone inventor Thomas Edison? a) Jack & Jill; b) Humpty Dumpty; c) Mary Had A Little Lamb

28 – WHAT was the breathalyser originally called? a) Drunk-o-meter; b) Booze tube; c) Alco-alarm

VIVA ESPANA

ROYAL SISTER...but name Queen Sophia's brother - See Question XX

ROYAL SISTER…but name Sophia’s brother – Q35

29 – WHAT part of Captain Robert Jenkins’ anatomy did the Spanish cut off in 1739 to cause a nine-year war with Britain? a) Nose; b) Testicles; c) Ear

 30 – MATADORS traditionally wear what colour stockings? a) Blue; b) Pink; c) White

31 – IN which year did fascist dictator General Francisco Franco die? a) 1975; b) 1977; c) 1979

32 – OF Spain’s urban areas, where does Palma de Mallorca rank in size? a) 10th; b) 12th; c) 14th

33 – Which Balearic island was once ruled by Britain? a) Minorca; b) Ibiza; c) Formentor

34 – WHICH of the following isn’t one of Spain’s officially-recognised regional languages? a) Basque; b) Galician; c) Occitan

35 – QUEEN Sophia of Spain is the sister of which deposed monarch? a) Ex-King Boris of Bulgaria; b) Ex-King Michael of Rumania; c) Ex-King Constantine of Greece

IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE

WIGGLE RIDDLE: Does Jennifer Lopez have the perfect one - See Question XX

WIGGLE RIDDLE: Does Jennifer have the perfect one – Q42

36 – WHAT metal combines with tin to produce solder? a) Zinc; b) Lead; c) Pewter

37 – IF you have an itchy axilla, what part of your body do you scratch? a) Armpit; b) Groin; c) Backside

38 – AN EU-approved banana must have how many sides? a) Three; b) Four; c) Five

39 – WHAT bean produces the most flatulence? a) Baked bean; b) Soya bean; c) Runner bean 

40 – WHAT did Sir Tim Berners-Lee invent that sent computer sales soaring? a) Computer mouse; b) Google; c) Broadband/ADSL

41 – HALLEY’S Comet appears every how many years? a) 66; b) 76; c) 86

42 – MATHS boffins at Cambridge University calculated which Hollywood belle has the perfect bottom wiggle? a) Jessica Alba; b) Angelina Jolie; c) Jennifer Lopez

WHERE THE HECK ARE WE?

BERLIN WALL FALL: In which year did it come down - See Question 49

BERLIN WALL: In which year did it fall – Q49

43 – IN which far-flung country is the legendary desert outpost city of Timbuktu? a) Sudan; b) Mali; c) Togo

 44 – CARS bearing the international identity plate GBZ come from where? a) Isle of Man; b) Jersey; c) Gibraltar

45 – WHAT colour are the stars on the European Union’s flag? a) Yellow; b) White; c) Red

 46 – SHAKESPEARE’S romantic tragedy Romeo & Juliet is set in which Italian city? a) Verona; b) Padua; c) Siena

47 – WHAT’S the only English county to share a border with only one other shire? a) Norfolk; b) Cumbria; c) Kent 

48 – NOT including Washington, District of Columbia, how many names of US states end in the letter ‘a’? a) 17; b) 19; c) 21

49 – The Berlin Wall came down in 1989, but in what year did it go up?  a) 1951; b) 1961; c) 1971

… AND A FINAL STINKER…

50 – IN 1899, how did Good Friday come to fall on Boxing Day? a) The Vatican decreed it; b) Calendars contained a misprint; c) A lunar eclipse convinced astronomers it was really Easter

PS: No cheating by looking the answers up on the Internet!

Hoax call tragedy isn’t just the stupid shock-jocks fault – we’re to blame, too

For many, there’s nothing more enticing than an invitation to join a lynch mob. Stirring primeval passions to boiling point, the public loves them. Pity, then, we can’t reprise the good old days, when hangings, drawings and quarterings, heads on spikes, dismembered limbs thrown to the dogs and all that were de rigueur.

If so, right now Aussie DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian would be quaking on the scaffold, listening to the song of the executioner’s tools being rasped to razor fineness.

There’s no question that blame is a done deal in the matter of the apparent suicide of Nurse Jacintha Saldanha – I have to say ‘apparent’ at this stage, since the police are labelling her death ‘unexplained’ until a coroner decides otherwise.

So, yes, it was all down to the pair of lame-brained presenters on Sydney radio station, 2Day FM, making a prank phone call.

For the benefit of anyone who’s been holidaying on Mars for the last couple of weeks and is unaware of the furore that it unleashed, the 5.30 a.m. call was made to the King Edward VII Hospital in London, where the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge was being treated for severe, recurrent morning sickness.

With Greig pretending to be The Queen and Christian cast as Prince Charles – authenticity guaranteed by the sound effects of corgis barking in the background – fatefully, as ill-fortune would have it, they reached a naive Jacintha manning the switchboard.

Thus, the time-bomb to unforeseen tragedy was set ticking…because, despite hospital protocol forbidding callers on the public number being put through to wards, so convinced was Jacintha that it was the Royals speaking (albeit with Aussie strain accents she didn’t detect), the nurse channelled the call through to a colleague, who gave them chapter and verse on the duchess’s condition.

SHOCKED SHOCK JOCKS: Michael Christian and Mel Grieg's apology was too little, too late

SHOCKED SHOCK JOCKS: Michael Christian and Mel Greig’s apology was too little, too late

Naturally, the DJs crowed like laughing jackasses on air about their hoax’s success. As it catapulted them into headlines worldwide, 2Day FM re-aired the tape so often, it must have bored their witless listeners even nearer the edge of witlessness.

‘This has been, by far, the best prank I’ve ever been involved in,’ boasted Christian, 30, in only his first week on the station. ‘It seemed so far-fetched to us, but it actually worked. It’s definitely a career highlight.’

By the following Friday, when news of Jacintha’s death made even more compelling, wretched reading, it had plunged him to a professional nadir hopefully he’ll never recover from.

So the finger-pointing, name-calling and rent-a-lynch mob mentality went viral, helped by such pillars of moral propriety as one-time wild child Kelly Osbourne, daughter of pop oddball Ozzy, tweeting her 2.5 million followers, ‘Mel Greig and Michael Christian should be put in prison for what they’ve done.’

Amen to that, Kel, most people will agree, some harking back to the good, old gory days of public executions, though it’s highly doubtful such severe punishment will be meted out.

Meanwhile, the ‘suits’ in charge of the radio station were too slow-witted to go into  instant, media crisis management mode by offering their unqualified condolences to the 46-year-old Indian-born nurse’s family, unambiguously and ashamedly.

Instead, they made an equally lame-brained attempt to defend their indefensibly puerile DJs, eventually seeing sense – no doubt prompted by plummeting ad revenues – by axing the show, putting their now shocked shock-jocks on ice and coming over contrite as born-again moralists.

Greig and Christian, his usual brashness constrained, duly made their own apologies earlier this week, but these seemed pathetically too little too late. Moreover, for many observers the cringe-inducing emphasis on their personal suffering seemed to overshadow the grief of a bereaved family, not to say the unimaginable mental anguish that contributed to the demise of a good woman.

However ‘shattered, gutted, heartbroken’ the pair were, I, for one – and I wasn’t alone – was left wondering  who was the real victim in all this.

Nevertheless, this tragedy deserves more forensic analysis than just hanging a couple of radio gaga twerps out to swing in the wind.

The stunt wasn’t pulled without ‘upstairs’ say-so, even in Oz, its reputation for on-air lawlessness legendary.

Abiding by the rules of Australia’s version of Ofcom, Britain’s broadcasting regulator, the radio station was obliged to get permission from the target of the prank before airing it and 2Day FM claims it tried, unsuccessfully, five times to get this.

If so, from whom and – more to the point – if they hadn’t received prior approval, why did they still give the stunt the go-ahead?

And, despite their rightful and righteous indignation over the tragedy, what of the hospital’s protocols regarding inquiries about celebs and members of the monarchy…

HOAX TRAGEDY VICTIM: Nurse Jacintha Saldanha

HOAX TRAGEDY VICTIM: Nurse Jacintha Saldanha

It begs the question: why was a nurse from a culture far distant from ours – albeit with four years experience at London’s foremost, VIP clinic – and manning the overnight switchboard not required to redirect all calls regarding the duchess’s health through to a Royal Protection Squad Officer, because surely there must have been one on duty?

Of course, this isn’t the first time gobby, ego-tripping radio jocks, some with the mental acumen of the barely potty-trained, have shoved the envelope too far.

Infamously, in October, 2008, Jonathan Ross and alleged funnyman Russell Brand created a voicemail message for veteran actor Andrew Sachs, making insulting, salacious jibes about the granddaughter of the Fawlty Towers star. It resulted in the BBC receiving 38,000 complaints; at least Brand walked away from his BBC2 show and Ross’s contract wasn’t renewed.

Even The Queen and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have been had by on-air pranksters, though never has one resulted in such tragic consequences as the hoax call to Jacintha Saldanha.

Of course, Greig and Christian couldn’t foresee the consequences of their inanity shattering a life. However, if they have a shard of decency about them, they’d quit and take up a sheep-shearing, as will anyone else who shares culpability.

However, that probably includes many of us, too, the very people who are now fully-fledged members of the lynch mob, baying for the blood of the errant DJs.

Which is why I refuse to join in the chorus call for their heads, figuratively or literally.

Because, without us – the fickle audience – who get vicarious pleasure from listening to those who’ve deliberately fashioned cruelty into a comic art form, such morons as Greig and Christian wouldn’t exist.

Prepare to meet thy doom – but here’s how to save some money while you’re at it…

Got any interesting plans for December 16th? Maybe you’re going to do what you normally would on most Sundays – go for a bracing walk, read the papers, quaff a convivial glass or two over lunch, take the family for a spin in the car.

However, according to some in the know, you won’t be going anywhere, because you and all around will be reduced to a pile of gunge, dust or speck of carbon – if you’re lucky – on the disintegrating fragments of a planet once called Earth that’s just been eviscerated.

So no sense in paying off bills early or promising to help granny put up the fairy lights any time in the week leading up the Christmas. And don’t start reading any long books, like Tolstoy’s 1,000-pager, War & Peace.

In fact, at the risk of lowering the tone of this blog, the only advantage I can visualise is using the possibility of the world’s end as an original chat-up line on, say, Friday the 14th – no point in leaving it until the last minute and that date’s propitious, since it’s not the Friday the 13th – so make a play for whoever takes your fancy.

In a recent opinion poll, incidentally, 63% said they’d prefer to go out with a bang (and I don’t think they were referring to Russian Roulette).

So, as you scratch your heads in puzzlement over what is this lunacy being chronicled, allow me to explain: it’s all to do with a humungous, rogue planet called Nibiru, which doomsayers claim will collide with Earth in a couple of Sundays time, causing a world-ending cataclysm.

Nibiru was ‘discovered’ in 1960 by Zecheria Sitchin, an Azerbaijani-American, historian-cum-astronomer, whose work was considered to be more sci-fi bonkers than bona fide science by contemporaries. Nonetheless, his books have sold millions worldwide and been translated into more than 25 languages.

Despite Sitchin’s doubters, countless Internet sites are now sizzling with oddball fantasies about Nibiru, religious cultist crackpots are digging out bomb shelters in anticipation of the end of time – not that a couple of metres of reinforced concrete will help – and suicide pacts are being drawn up by those a plum pudding short of Yuletide dinner.

WORLD'S END? Don't make any plans for December 21, say the doomsday theorists

ANOTHER BIG BANG? December 21 will signal the end of the world, claim the doomsday theorists

Meanwhile, veteran NASA scientist David Morrison has fended off so many queries on the topic from the worried and weird on his webpage, Ask an Astrobiologist, he’s giving up answering any more – until next year, which offers a clue to his thoughts on the subject.

Now, at the risk of tempting fate, I somehow recall we’ve been here before.

For instance, Bugarach, a picturesque village in south-western France, was invaded by UFO/doomsday believers two years ago, claiming it would be the only place to survive a 2012 Armageddon, though no precise figures exist to say how many remain there, waiting to be proven right (and, on the off chance they are, who’s going to be around to hear them crow, ‘See, told you so!’)

Then there was 16th Century French seer, Nostradamus, whose interpreters believed he prophesied all manner of catastrophes, including the advent of Hitler, the Atomic bomb and probably the demise of our dishwasher the other day.

By the by, if the French have somehow grabbed a patent on doomsday and conspiracy theories, someone really ought to tell the Yanks – they’ll go ballistic over their whacky thunder being stolen.

Meanwhile, the pre-Columbian Mayan calendar has much to answer for, its adherents claiming a giant solar flare or expulsion of gases from the sun in December, 2012, will engulf the Earth, wreaking havoc upon mankind and the planet’s ecosystems.

And just for the record, not a few doomsday fans reckon a dramatic reversal of Earth’s magnetic poles is imminent and it will trigger a reversal of the planet’s rotation, thus hastening catastrophic events.

The only problem is they can’t be specific about the date, nor can those who think the slow decimation of the world’s bee population is a telltale omen of woe to come.

And thereby hangs the fatal flaw and mega let-down about doomsday and conspiracy theories. Not one, single notion I’ve read of has ever proven correct (though, in my circle of friends, the jury’s out on a WW2 bomber crashing on the Moon and Elvis not dying on the loo in 1977, but going on to sell used Harley Davidsons, alive and crooning somewhere in California).

Even Dan Brown shamelessly capitalised on the gullible with his best-seller, The Da Vinci Code, in which a bloodline from Jesus and Mary Magdalene permeated through the ranks of a branch of the French monarchy (see, I warned you about the French – any nation that can get away with charging 12 €uros for half-a-dozen grilled slugs in shells is bound to be a bit je ne sais quoi, dodgy even).

DOOMSAYER: Don't bother paying any bills, he just could be right

DOOMSAYER: Don’t bother paying any bills, he just could be right

Naturally, there are occasional conspiracy theories science hasn’t yet answered – i.e. aircraft vanishing without trace in the Bermuda Triangle – and others that beg honest reappraisal, mainly because the official explanation seemed far too glib.

The most commonly cited of the latter is President Jack Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, which the Warren Commission report pinned squarely on Lee Harvey Oswald, who was conveniently bumped off by a conveniently, terminally-ill Jack Ruby. So go figure, as conspiracy theorists will still surely do.

Personally, after nearly 50 years of conjecture, if JFK had been murdered as part of a cunning plot, I think someone would have blabbed by now.

But I’m not, by nature, a conspiracy theorist.

On the other hand what if those blokes in Regent Street, Broadway, the Champs Elysee and Rome’s Via Veneto wearing sandwich-boards bearing the legend, ‘The End of the World is Nigh’, have a point?

My instinct, though, is they’ll be there come Monday, December the 17th, still be parading up and down, peddling the same old doomsday scenario.

All the same, I won’t be paying off my credit card bills early…you never know – and I wouldn’t want to die broke.