Here are some previous thoughts on the subject of Fun. When you have finished on this page, click Back to look at other topics.

Laura Bush told a television interviewer recently that she was delighted by her daughters' decision to campaign for the president. She apparently told them to "stand up straight and keep your hair out of your eyes." She probably didn’t tell them to stick their tongues out at photographers but, with her father sitting beside her, that’s just what Jenna Bush did.
It was all apparently thoroughly amiable. But not perhaps the kind of childish behaviour to be expected from a 22 year-old university graduate. Not the kind of thing either that we associate with Jesus’ comment that we need to become like children.

But, however inappropriate the gesture, it perhaps reflects the need Jesus referred to, whatever age we are, occasionally to let the childish bit of us emerge. Children are no respecters of occasions or people. They easily and unselfconsciously prick the bubble of pomposity, undermine pretentiousness and put us all, whatever our rank, in touch with our common humanity. Jesus did the same. However public or private the situations we’re in, there is sometimes value in refusing to be hide bound by social convention and in letting playfulness emerge. This can help bring about an environment which undermines conventional decorum and creates real contact between people.

Not wise perhaps to go about sticking our tongues out at people, but childlike behaviour of other kinds can break down the barriers that formality sometimes creates.

It's Belfast's turn this year to host the annual Red Bull Flugtag event . About 40 hopeful pilots and their teams will this weekend launch home-made flying machines from a six metre ramp in front of the Waterfront Hall in the hope of making it at least some way across Belfast's waterfront.

Judging from previous experience, the winning team will not fly further than a few metres but the victorioyus team will have the creativity that went into the building of the machine taken into account and their “pre-flight performance”. Here the importance of having fun is taken very seriously.

Our lives need to balance work and leisure. When they do, they will include the important and the trivial, the stressful and the relaxing. Perhaps today we might use our creativity to find new ways of having fun and launch out into it confident of having a laugh even if not success.

Today, “Make way for Noddy”, the theme tune of the Channel 5 computer generated series, joins the race to top the charts for Christmas. Noddy has sold over 200 million books worldwide but up to now, it's not been his singing which has made him popular. We are assured however by his spokesperson that Noddy has a delightful little voice and would love to appear on Top of the Pops.

Singing is a feature of this time of year. The shops echo with carols and the Bible’s description of the birth of Jesus emphasises the song of the angels. Singing expresses a joy that the spoken word can’t capture. Carol Services are popular because they provide an opportunity for the unrestrained singing of some familiar tunes. Finding somewhere private to launch into song can help lift our spirits.

Yet many find singing is not a pleasure. Theirs, they believe, is not a “delightful little voice” and they don’t want to use it for singing. This may be realistic if hitting the right note is a problem but for many it is more that they still believe what they were told as a child about their singing not being acceptable. Those who enjoy singing might celebrate that fact today. Those who struggle with it might choose this time of year to give it another go. If Noddy can suddenly find a voice, what’s to stop others doing the same?

Recently I visited a stables in Richmond Park and watched groups of children from local schools enjoying being taught to ride and care for horses. In many of the Gulf countries, where camel racing is a traditional sport, children as young as six years old are forced or lured into a life as camel jockeys. They are at an extremely high risk of injury and death. In Quatar, Ahmed is a Bedouin "custodian" of the boys, and was himself a camel jockey. "Bleeding due to constant pressure on the back end and smashing of the genitals is common and indescribably painful. Most of the jockeys become impotent because of the friction and there is no medical treatment available.”

The International Labour Organization estimates there are 246 million working children aged between five and 17; one in 13 of the world’s children are working in hazardous jobs and should be immediately withdrawn for safety reasons, let alone because they are children at work. Tomorrow is the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. When we see children at play today or over this weekend, let’s be glad they’re free to do so, but sad for those who are not.