Where’s the Innocence of Christmas?
Once, many years ago, I had a holiday job as assistant to a drunken Santa Claus in a British department store.
Being a feisty twenty-something who loved Christmas with a vengeance, I took my job extremely seriously. This was more than Santa (aka Dennis) did. He would sit reading popular newspaper The Sun in his grotto, taking the occasional swig of something from his pocket, while outside I was weaving magical stories of reindeer and the North Pole and seating the tiny tots and their parents into a “sleigh”.
There was a moving wall outside the sleigh which under normal circumstances was a bit crap really. However I was determined that this was to be a magical experience and that we had really travelled miles. The wall was covered in plastic cartoon characters who disappeared into the distance and then reappeared again. I had to think quickly when doubters threatened to spoil my wondrous tale.
Child: “We’ve seen that one.” Me: “No, you haven’t, it’s his twin brother.”
Sometimes the characters would fall off. “Mickey’s lying on the floor!” cried one toddler, peering over the side of the sleigh.
“He’s dead,” smirked his older brother.
“No, he isn’t dead, he’s just having a sleep,” I snapped back, restoring Mickey to his wall and glaring at the smart Alec.
I became very good at this ‘journey’, so much so that some bewildered parents asked where the sleigh stopped as they had arranged to meet someone at the grotto. It was testament to my dazzling storytelling skills that they looked truly amazed to emerge only three yards from where they had gone in.
There was the odd hitch. Once my big build-up — “Are you ready to see Father Christmas because we’re nearly there!” — resulted in an empty grotto.
“I expect Santa is feeding his reindeer again,” I explained as small mouths began to quiver. “I’ll just go and tell him you’re here.” I found Dennis at the back, having a cigarette. “Ah, there you are Santa!” I said in a loud voice. “I think the reindeer have had enough apples now!” I grabbed his arm and hissed “Get the fuck back to the grotto.”