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Tuesday 22 December 2015, Tony Pierce

No way! In a manger?

Tony Pierce reworks the Christmas story for a health-and-safety obsessed world.

Arriving in the City of David, Joseph and Mary had no place to stay. Mary was heavy with child, but the hospital could not accept her, what with it being filled to the brim with anti-social drunks.

Eventually, they came upon an inn. The innkeeper, eager for custom but restricted by the terms of his Fire Safety Risk Assessment, had no room for them. However, seeing their plight, he offered them a lowly cattle shed where the child was born and laid in a manger.

Lo! And there soon appeared to the innkeeper a Stop Notice from Bethlehem District Council, nailed to the stable door, alleging the unauthorised, material change of use of a lowly cattle-shed to a maternity nursery, residence and place of assembly, and requiring that the non-agricultural use of said building should cease forthwith. The structure and the excessively bright star of freedom above contravened the Council’s Dark Skies policy and represented a visually intrusive and detrimental feature in King David’s most cherished heritage conservation area, and reduced openness, so harmful to Bethlehem’s Green Belt.

The Notice also referred to the severe risk to public health and safety from a lack of regard to the safeguarding of vulnerable persons unknown from the unnatural mixing of human babies, animals and wise men from the east and talk of a ‘virgin birth from immaculate conception’, which was offensive to all right-thinking people who sought to limit human impacts on the planet. Moreover, how could the Council’s policy on teenage pregnancy be successfully implemented if young women like Mary could circumvent birth control and conceive through divine intervention?

The innkeeper was sorely troubled and so appealed to King Herod. And the innkeeper said unto the king’s planning inspector that the building is within the curtilage of the inn and its non-agricultural use ancillary to it. The miraculous use complained of was exceptional, unique and a very special circumstance that outweighed any harm to the conservation area and Green Belt. The innkeeper assured the inspector that he intended to improve facilities in the shed to the best, modern design with acoustic barriers as required so that the building would become an exemplar in the conservation area, while the retrofitting of insulation would enormously reduce its carbon footprint.

Furthermore, he offered a unilateral undertaking to Herod, in mitigation of the deleterious impact of a new born baby on the world, of a personal vat of wine, without prejudice to his decision, as he did not wish it thought he sordidly bought his permission.

Herod sought to address the extreme housing need in Bethlehem and the use of the manger and stable for residential purposes would contribute to meeting the under-supply of new housing. He submitted a detailed risk assessment, undertaken independently by a shepherd, that showed the newborn infant was the Son of God. An action plan had been drawn up to ensure areas of the shed reserved for animals were clearly separated from human habitation. On top of that, a proper Healthcare Management Plan was in place, including a Safeguarding Protection Plan for the baby, called Jesus, with arrangements in hand to remove him forcibly if needs be from his mother, who still claims divine intervention in the conception and is clearly not sufficiently responsible to care for a Son of God, her arranged marriage to a much older man notwithstanding.

And the planning inspector meticulously considered all the material issues presented to him and pronounced, on balance of the vat of wine, that permission be granted, but with conditions that: the baby be taken into the care of Herod (who seemed strangely happy about the news); the mother be compelled to undertake a six-month relationship counselling course; there must be no further assemblages of royalty with agricultural workers or animals and the bright star must be dimmed forever. And something would need to be done to label the gift of myrrh under the chemical Classification, Labelling and Packaging Regulation, as nobody knew what on earth it was or whether it was a hazardous substance.

And so it was that the baby Jesus, born to set mankind free, was laid in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes and red tape.

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