Hey, go have yourselves a blast

Wouldn't it be wonderful, thought some residents of Embsay, a village in England's Yorkshire Dales, if they put on a Christmas party that would bring everyone together in a spirit of goodwill? It would feature the usual jolly bearded fellow in the red suit, seasonal decorations, fireworks, a brass band, and free food (prepared by a local women's group). The idea people even had a place in mind to hold it: the parking lot of the district council. But first they needed permission to use the lot. Result: If the event takes place at all, someone may have to offer his backyard for it. Why? Because of "bureaucracy gone mad," as coorganizer Steve Dobson put it. Before the council would give its OK, the planners were told they'd have to carry out a "risk assessment" on the mince pies that would be served (which would contain nuts and suet), the temperature of the cocoa, the flammability of the tinsel, and the decibel level at which the band would be playing. The council also wanted to know whether there had been a criminal background check on the fellow who'd be wearing the red suit. A spokesman said it was only trying to ensure that the party would be "as safe as possible." As for Dobson, having been critical once, he was careful not to burn any additional bridges. The council, he said, had been "helpful in taking us through the [necessary legal] processes."

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