Martyn McLaughlin: Exercise and Monster Munch, the true road to enlightenment

THERE are only a dozen monarchies left in all of Europe, but it seems they are hell-bent on hastening their demise with clod-footed aplomb.

MY FATHER always knew best how to handle The Questions foisted upon him by parenthood.

It was around 23BG (Before Google) when, aged six, I offered him the opportunity to deal with the hardest of them all. Enthused by a particularly Walter Hill-style wildlife programme on the friendliness enjoyed by the Kalahari desert's meerkat community, I prompted him to put forward his rationale of rumpy pumpy.

Judging by his expression, I thought I was receiving my answer in mime. Turned out he was simply mulling – panicking, to be precise – over how best to dispel the myths of the stork and the cabbage patch.

His twin-pronged solution should form the centrepiece of every parenting manual: take your child for a gruelling four-hour hike, before sitting them down with a packet of roast beef-flavour Monster Munch.

The first ensures fatigue will have sapped the child of any remaining inquisition; the second guarantees silence when they are being told the lurid detail (albeit with a small risk of choking).

The ruse proved successful and to this day I hold a full, healthy and invigorating meerkat neurosis.

A year or so later, he refined his approach (pickled onion this time, my palate was maturing) to break the news that some people did not believe in Santa, but everyone was entitled to their own view.

Again, it proved a sage tactic, but it has been trumped by events this week at the Lapland New Forest attraction in Dorset. Envisaged as a magical festive experience for all the family, featuring reindeers, log cabins, a skating rink and a magical tunnel of light, visitors who paid 25 a head discovered a winter wonderland fit only for Dickens's Tiny Tim, with huskies tied up on wasteground and the Nativity scene crudely rendered on a billboard.

So irate was one patron after waiting in line to see Santa for four hours, he duly delivered a right hook to Saint Nick's not inconsiderable jowls. One child was reported to have burst into tears after discovering Santa smoking out the back of his grotto, while three elves were slapped (even when fury blinds your senses, you still can't punch little people).

The park, run by Victor Mears, once convicted as a tax fraudster, has elicited more than 2,000 complaints, while Dorset County Council's trading standards department is reporting "terrible stories of real human misery".

That, I suppose, is one way to look on it. But surely Mears and his staff are doing parents a favour of sorts? There is no need for awkward, stilted answers to the Santa Question. Simply take your children to Lapland New Forest, where not only will they learn Santa relies on the helpers he can muster, but that he is often a poor judge of character.

One wonders, for instance, whether Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg is conscious of the ironic nature of his downfall.

Presiding over the last remaining grand duchy in the world, Henri was expected by most to avoid controversy and follow a quiet path of self-preservation.

Instead, the 53-year-old is to be stripped of his executive power to veto laws passed by parliament after threatening to block a Bill.

The subject of the legislation? Euthanasia.

'They told me to go back to resits…'

OUR LURID and damaging fascination with celebrity may have become so all-encompassing in modern culture that protest seems churlish, but when such pursuits are dressed up in the robes of academia, new depths are being plumbed.

The troubled life of Amy Winehouse is to form the basis of a new diploma and degree-level course at a Scottish university. The University of the West of Scotland, which only came into being last year, is striving to compete with other seats of learning by scrutinising the breakdowns and addictions of pop's leading lights.

"Amy is a great example of the potential pitfalls in the music industry," reasons Allan Dumbreck, head of commercial music at the university. "She is recognised as a multi-award-winning great artist. But the by-product of that lifestyle can be stress and illness."

What possible career can graduates of this course aspire to? Fact-checkers for Heat?