THE Christmas star, begetter of the lights that have brightened perhaps every Christmas since the first, was white and steady. It was as serene a presence over troubled old Earth as the moon herself.

Can I be the only person who finds the flickering and flashing lights, that are an ever-more prominent part of Christmas, jarring and restless? Especially those programmed to race maniacally round windows, or jump from side to side in a tree. These smack more of Blackpool than Bethlehem. Surely Christmas is hectic enough without all this visual clamour?

I'm tempted to add that many coloured "Christmas" lights more evoke the fairground waltzer than the candle-lit crib. But I'll not go that far. Fact remains that the most pleasing public Christmas tree I have ever seen was one dressed entirely with white light bulbs at Skelton Green, East Cleveland, some years ago.

A cross of white lights that usually crowns the tree at Helmsley is also a Christmas spectacle that cheers the soul, even of religious sceptics like me. And the spirit of Christmas has rarely been better expressed than in a large star, bathed in gentle white light, that filled the length of the church tower at Sharow, near Ripon, at the Millennium.

Meanwhile, I notice that the tree outside No 10 Downing Street, last year grotesquely filled with what looked like huge bows, is now decorated solely with lights - plain white. At least New Labour has got that right.

English Heritage has a new, young chairman - Simon Thurley. Already he is being bombarded with advice on what might be called the big picture. Pay more attention to churches, or war relics. Reassess tower blocks. That sort of thing. I would urge him to take more care with the trimmings.

Due to open at Easter, the new Visitor Centre at Whitby Abbey might or not enhance visits to the abbey. Already in place, what first greets the visitor are car park signs in a stark and hard style more appropriate to a factory. And a footpath from the car park round to the headland has been laid in slabs of artificial stone rather than York flags, which would have topped the job off splendidly. English Heritage has much to learn from the National Trust on such details.

Talking of which, one place where York flagstones are to be laid is at Goathland, where they will form a footpath through the village, hopefully reducing damage to the sheep-cropped greens by the Heartbeat hordes.

Prince Charles looked at home propping up the bar of The Craven Heifer at Staincliffe in the Dales, to launch a campaign aimed at saving local pubs. But how well does the Prince support his local?

Popping into a pub in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, a year or so ago, I was surprised to come across a plaque marking a visit by the Prince, whose Highgrove home is just up the road. I remarked to the landlord: "Surely the Prince is in and out of pubs and shops here all the time.'' The reply was: "No. He's hardly ever seen in the town.'' Entitled The Pub is the Hub, the report launched by the Prince reveals that fewer than half of English villages now have a pub, and only one in seven a shop. So my village, with four pubs and a shop-cum-PO, is doing rather well. Mind it has no church, although it houses the local vicar. There's a Christmas puzzle for you.