The Christmas Story – Brussels Style


Some years ago* I sat down to a Christmas lunch at London’s most excellent Bleeding Heart Restaurant with work colleagues and, as is traditional, we kicked off proceedings with a mass cracker pulling. Out popped the usual paper hats and splendidly silly mottos, which as ever is a great way to get all of us into the festive mood.

I particularly liked the joke that fell out of my cracker. Question: “Which players can’t you trust in an orchestra?” Answer: “The fiddlers”. Is it too much to hope some of the boys and girls working on LIBOR interest rate swaps floor get that in their crackers this year? Perchance, I then happened to notice what was written on the motto’s reverse.

It read: “WARNING. Children under 8 years old can choke or suffocate on uninflated or broken whoopee cushion. Adult supervision required. Keep uninflated whoopee cushion from children. Discard broken whoopee cushion at once. MADE OF NATURAL LATEX RUBBER.”

I experienced one of those surreal moments when you think you must have collapsed into a coma and entered a world of disturbing dreams. But no, I looked around at my colleagues and they were all talking away to each other and still making perfect sense (it was early in the lunch!).

I read on: “Bottle opener not dishwasher safe. Please retain this product safety information for future reference”.

Well at least I have obeyed the last sentence.

Yes, you’ve guessed correctly. It comes straight from Brussels’ finest. It took me a matter of minutes on Google to unearth the European Union Toy Safety Directive as the source of this Christmas story.

You may think whoopee cushions are hard done by, but the Directive also proclaims that those whistle blowers, which scroll out into a long coloured paper tongue when sounded, are now unsafe for all children under 14. An EU official, when asked to explain the thought process that went into this Brussels’ version of Christmas, admitted the regulation could be difficult to understand but insisted safety experts knew best. “You might say that small children have been blowing up balloons for generations but not anymore and they will be safer for it”. Our sanity won’t.

This evening I shall be at the traditional and wonderful Service of Nine Lessons and Carols in our village church. When it comes to the reading of the Lesson, which describes the three wise men’s bestowal of gold frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus, I shall offer up a silent prayer to God thanking him Brussels’ finest weren’t around then to ruin the Christmas Story with their demands that risk warnings, etc, be attached to those precious spiritual gifts.

Happy Christmas and an EU-free new year to you.

*Republished from The City Grump in Real Business six years ago. As apposite then as now.

The City Grump has spent some 40 years in the City of London. He started as a stockbroker’s analyst but after some years he decided he was too grumpy to continue with the sell side of things so he moved to the buy side and became a fund manager for the next 20 years, selling his own business in the 1990s. Post the millennium, he found himself in turn chairing a stockbroker, a financial PR company, and an Exchange. He still keeps his hand in, chairing a brace of VCTs and investing personally in startups. The City Grump’s publications are available here.