An entry in the erotic short story competition featured sex on top of the Guardian with a paper delivery boy

My home town of Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire, has two main claims to fame. First, it is home to what is now the biggest Indian restaurant, not just in Britain, but in the entire world. Recently opened by Prince Michael of Kent, the Akash Indian restaurant is situated in the former Providence Place Chapel, a great pedimented sandstone hangar of a building, which at one time resounded to hundreds of God-fearing Yorkshire Methodists belting out "Holy, Holy, Holy" on Sunday mornings. Now it serves their grandchildren and great-grandchildren chicken tikka masala on Saturday nights, and in doing so encapsulates history's sweep over the town.

Cleckheaton's other great contribution to the gaiety of nations is its annual exuberant display of Christmas lights. This year, I had the honour of being asked to switch them on. Who needs Regent Street, I thought to myself, as I and local dignitaries paraded slowly round the town in a people carrier preceded by a marching band and followed by a boy carrying a banner that urged us, puzzlingly, to "Remember April 2002". My inquiries as to what this referred to were met by mystified shrugs inside the car. "Well, it's the end of my term of office, I suppose," offered the head of the Chamber of Trade. It was explained to me that the people carrier was not the finest on offer because the very smart ones had tinted windows. There had, apparently, been grumbles last year when the switch-puller, a local radio presenter, progressed round the town in splendour although utterly invisible, in the style of a Russian mafioso.

The switch-on ceremony took place at the raised entrance to a shop, where I found myself joined by other local dignitaries, including Cleckheaton's MP, the charming and dishy Mike Wood (Labour, Batley & Spen) and, unexpectedly, a bright-eyed old man in the red coat and black hat of a Chelsea Pensioner. "Are you a real Chelsea Pensioner?" I asked him, bearing in mind the 250 miles between us and the Royal Hospital, not to mention the several fancy-dress outfits being worn round town for the switch-on (elsewhere on the podium was someone wearing Mr Pinkerton's costume from Madam Butterfly, bought from an Opera North sale). "Absolutely," he said, adding that earlier in the day he had been stopped by a child asking if he was one of Santa's helpers. "I hope you said yes," I remarked. "Of course," he replied.

An entirely different sort of honour recently heaped upon me was the request to judge an erotic short story competition for a women's glossy magazine. Twenty stories subsequently arrived through the post, the names and professions of their authors stapled to each one. After reading a few of these erotic encounters, I learnt to anticipate anything from a civil servant with awe and anything from a Scottish teacher with asbestos gloves. I was staggered by the number of sexual fantasies involving places or situations I had never considered especially erotic: breakdowns (sex with RAC mechanics over car bonnets); in a hotel toilet (sex with a waiter who had just thrown soup all over the protagonist); in a greasy spoon (a lesbian love-in following tea and a bacon sarnie); and even, shock, horror, on top of the Guardian (sex with the paper delivery boy).

An amazing number of people spun powerful porn-fests around, of all places, libraries. For some strange reason, men wearing chinos were portrayed as irresistible. Having always thought the paunch-accentuating, bottom-enlarging, ultra-creasable chino the most unflattering trouser imaginable, I found this surprising. Perhaps this readiness to find excitement in the most mundane of circumstances should be viewed with optimism. But I'll never think of London's Victoria Line or the Guardian in quite the same away again.

More sex: the Literary Review's annual party for its notorious Bad Sex in Fiction award took place just before the holiday. It's a splendid occasion, one that also provides the fictional climax for my new novel Fame Fatale (Headline, £10), a comedy about celebrity. I was fascinated to see that the award presenter, Jerry Hall, who I'd long imagined to be roughly the height of a redwood (the tree, not the John), was actually a good deal less so. Nor was this the only point of interest. Last year, at these same awards, I had met Mick Jagger and, as was only polite given the occasion, we plunged instantly into a discussion about bad sex. Mick explained that there was no such thing as bad sex, so it was riveting to hear Jerry, on this occasion, observe that her way of dealing with BS was to serve it with divorce papers. Ouch!

To the sex capital of Europe for New Year. Lodged in our seventh-floor garret in Montmartre for New Year's Eve, aka the Feast of St Sylvestre (this year also the patron saint of the euro), our evening walk to see friends took us past the neon pornozone of Pigalle and the intriguingly named Deux Anes (Two Donkeys) theatre, whose possibilities defied not only our imagination, but, luckily, those of the erotic story entrants as well. Earlier, the evening had been marked by a power cut across the whole of the north of Paris. Even the floodlit Sacre Coeur was plunged into dark-ness. Amid much boff-ing and honking of horns, pinpricks of candlelight appeared gradually in the myriad windows of the moonlit roofscape.

Very romantic, but I doubt the good burghers of Cleckheaton would have been very impressed. If only Electricite de France had asked me to switch their lights back on!

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.