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Tuesday, 5 December, 2000, 10:42 GMT
'Tis the season to be grumpy

Thanks to rail chaos, postal delays, an airport strike and the creaking NHS, it's going to be a merry little Christmas this year. Not.

The UK could be transformed into a nation of Scrooges this Christmas, with a catalogue of things which look like they could go wrong.

Off the rails

Planning to head out of town for the festive season?

Track replacement work
Repairs and re-railing hold up trains
Chances are train travellers will have to use up their Christmas wishes just to make it to their destination on time.

Although the rail companies have at last released Christmas timetables, passengers can expect further delays as Railtrack continues its safety blitz in the wake of the Hatfield crash.

Even the Association of Train Operating Companies doubts the trains will run to the revised timetables, which include delays caused by temporary speed restrictions.

Flying into trouble

Holidaymakers taking to the skies need not look too smug. Those jetting off from Luton Airport face disruption due to strike action over the holiday period.

Some 800 workers - including fire fighters, security guards and cleaners - are planning industrial action against proposed pay cuts of up to 50%.

Bosses want to slash costs by up to 4m a year to fund a new 40m terminal and offset the loss of duty-free sales.

Dream of a white Christmas

Hoping for a bright spell after the wettest autumn since records began 234 years ago?

Flooded playground
Wonder what the weather will hold this Christmas?
The best bet may be to stay snuggled under the duvet, with visions of sunbeams and snowballs dancing in your head.

Although it is too soon to predict whether Christmas Day will dawn crisp and clear or grey and damp, the smart money will be on the latter.

The outlook for December is gloomy, according to the Met Office, so get set for concrete-coloured skies on the big day.

Under the weather

As the chilly dull days continue, health professionals are braced for a winter of discontent.

Despite more hospital beds and more nurses on the wards, there are fears that the health system may be tested to its limits.

In an effort to provide advanced warnings to GPs and hospitals, meteorologists and doctors are looking at possible links between weather conditions and certain illnesses.

Respiratory problems, such as asthma and bronchitis, can be exacerbated by fog.

And flu epidemics are typically preceded by still weather - the theory is that the virus latches on to pollutants in the air.

Nation of talkers

Come Christmas Day, all the good boys and girls will be hoping that Santa has bought them a mobile phone.

New year
"Hello? I'm at the fireworks - no, the f-i-r-e-w-o-r-k-s"
Yet as the wrapping comes off and the batteries fire up, customer service staff will be kept busy trying to get new users registered.

The switchboards were jammed the Christmas before last, according to Oftel, the telecommunications watchdog.

But will the glut of new and existing customers trying to send "Mrry Xms" text messages put undue strain on the technology?

No, says an Oftel spokeswoman, as Christmas calls are made throughout the day.

But come midnight on 31 December, there could be a repeat of the Millennium Eve overload which caused many calls to fail.

Nothing in the post

Feel like Billy-no-mates because there are few - if any - Christmas cards lining the mantelpiece?

The Grinch film
Ditch the inner Grinch this Christmas
It could be the cards and parcels are held up by the chaos on the railways.

After rail deliveries were delayed last month, Royal Mail is doubling its nightly flights to ensure that Christmas post is distributed on time.

Yet should the Christmas haul remain sparse, a classic fable by Dr Seuss may provide some consolation.

In How The Grinch Stole Christmas, currently on the big screen as The Grinch with Jim Carrey, a grumpy green monster tries to ruin the festivities in Whoville by stealing all the presents.

But when the Grinch is woken on Christmas morning by the townspeople celebrating regardless, he comes to learn that the spirit of Christmas goes deeper than tinsel and toys.

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See also:

01 Dec 00 | UK
Ticket to chide
04 Dec 00 | Health
Blair: 'NHS faces tough winter'
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