Here Comes Santa Claus (A Christmas Story)

One of the good things about working in construction was that it was one of the last businesses to pay your wages weekly. The days of cash, in hand or in a lovely packet, may have been over but you could still work hard in the week & be holding the folding for the weekend. So, Monday I got Friday on my mind, by the time it’s Friday, it’s 5 to 5 & I’m looking forward to a crackerjack few days. It’s a thing, wash off the day’s dust, a throwaway meal, neck it pronto, music that’s loud & fast, maybe a couple of cheeky lines, certainly a couple of cheekier friends & I’m ready to go. Then the phone rang…

 

“Hi Mal, I need a little favour”. That was my friend Sally & a “favour” usually involved her handing her 3 small children into my care. Charlie, Danni & George were a rambunctious gang of angels.I loved their company, loved being the “uncle” who could share their fun. I think that they liked me too.My weekend would have to wait. “OK, should I come to your’s or will you bring them over ?”. “No it’s not that. I need a man with a big white beard in a big red suit”. It was the third week of December, I knew the fellow she was on about but…hmm…really ? “I know, but I promised a Santa & no-one else is around…Please !”.

 

So, within the hour I’m the most festively dressed man in this North Birmingham car park & thinking that this had all been a bit rapid. The kids knew that I could be a pushover but not all the time. The looks from & the amusement on the back seat clued me in to their surprise that Mum had got me to go along with this. The gig was on behalf of the local Round Table, not, unfortunately, the knights of Arthurian legend but a charitable network involved in raising money for their communities. Their was a hubbub of door-to-door collectors drawn from various junior paramilitary set ups like the Sea Scouts & the Brownies. I was shown to my “sleigh”, a Land Rover-drawn carnival float, handed a large bag of sweets, y’know, for the kids, a microphone (interesting !), a cassette of popular Xmas hits & sent on my way.

 

 

Related imageOK, a couple of things, no right-thinking person should let me loose in the suburbs with a microphone. I’ve got information man ! New shit has come to light & people need to hear it. Also I’m never really seized by the festive spirit until almost the last minute. By Christmas Eve I’m as ready as a red-nosed reindeer. I love the time spent with family & friends, I just don’t get the materialism, the planning in October, the office party with people you avoid for the rest of the year (though I’ve had my moments at these). I’m really not a miserable person but, if asked “Are you ready for Xmas ?” then you may get short shrift & the wrong impression.

 

Another thing…I’m really not a great fan of Xmas pop songs. I know that there are plenty of offbeat, cool seasonal offerings (I can’t resist including one here) but the mainstream staples have always struck me as just being too much of a novelty, bland to start with & not helped by the annual repetition. Phil Spector’s “A Christmas Gift For You” was released in 1963, just as Santa brought me exactly what I wanted, a shiny new record player. It pretty much covered all the ground that needed to be covered. Much of what followed, for me, paled in comparison & no-one was ever going to look as good as the Ronettes did in those Xmas outfits. This was not my gig & I didn’t get to choose the playlist. No-one wants a halfhearted, smart arse Santa stinking up the evening so it was time to get my act together & I’d better be good for goodness sake !

 

 

And it all went very well. I gave it the full amplified “Ho, Ho, Ho”, curtains were opened, old ladies waved back & the kids came out to meet me. I handed out the confectionery & not one of the little mites saw through my disguise. In return, when they told me what they hoped to receive when I called on Christmas Day, I made promises that their parents would possibly be  pissed off about. I didn’t even rise to the cherub who, when asked what he wanted for Xmas, replied “Everything !”. Greedy little blighter !

Image result for santa sleighThe joviality was turned up to 11 despite being stuck with this music by all the usual suspects, Slade Wizzard, Elton John, Wham. I was having a good game, my festive flow was in full effect. The quality & sincerity of “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” seemed incongruous & I wished the citizens of Kingstanding “Peace on Earth from John, Yoko & all the other Beatles”. that was as far as I was going to push it.There was a bit of a swerve when up came “Another Rock & Roll Christmas” by Gary Glitter, a man whose stage costumes resembled a foil-wrapped turkey but who had, more recently made the news because of his unsavoury sexual predilections. The Double Gee was a pervert & this was the wrong soundtrack to be handing out sweets to children. I needed to find the fast forward button sharpish to get to something less controversial (but equally offensive) like “Mistletoe & Wine” by Cliff Richard. Where’s an elf when you need one ?

 

 

Image result for bad santaI was still on roll when we left the residential avenues for the main road. The adults were corralled & we flash crashed a couple of pubs, y’know for charity. Back on my sleigh I gave a ride to Dani & her friend. My job done I passed them the mic & they serenaded passing pedestrians with the hits of Robbie Williams, who, for reasons that eluded me, was very popular at the time. Back at base photos were taken & everyone was very pleased with the evening’s work. Unfortunately they wanted the costume back & I was mild-mannered Clark Kent again.

 

I went back with Sally & the kids & when Dad, Bernie, returned from his late shift he was assailed with the stories of what he had missed. Bernie knew me well & he couldn’t quite believe that I had been persuaded to join the seasonal shenanigans. Sally was so pleased that I had helped her out that she fed me for the weekend (I like food !) & I stayed with this lovely family until Sunday. I wasn’t Santa anymore but I was full of peace & goodwill & knew that if he was busy I was up to the job of helping him out. Merry Xmas everyone.

 

 

 

 

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A Christmas Story (Santa make him hurry, tell him he can take the freeway down)

Friday evenings…Man, Monday I got Friday on my mind & the weekend starts here. Business taken care of, the city that put money in my pocket becomes my adventure playground. I wanted to swing from the ropes, hang from the climbing bars, graze both knees, get down & dirty. I deserved it. First there was a tried & tested transition from work time to playtime to be undertaken. Loud. fast music because bouncing of the walls is good, a couple of spliffs to…er…keep my mind limber. I was just building the first of the bifters when the phone rang. The caller was my good friend Sally, she said she needed a favour, ” a big favour”.

Now Sally was a Mama Lioness with 3 cubs, Charlie, an 11 year old hoodlum, 5 year old George, a wrecking ball on legs & Danielle, 8, an angel in the middle. When Mum needed a favour it meant that just minutes later my life was no longer my own. There was a facade of control but all 4 of us were in on the gag. I was outnumbered & we all knew that too. Just don’t get hurt, don’t hurt each other & try to break as little of my stuff as possible. Oh, we must all laugh as much as we can too, that was a big part of the deal. When Sally needed a favour I never said “No”. I loved being part of that gang, I loved all of that family.

“A big favour. I need a man in a big, red suit with a long, white beard”. I did not mention that this Friday was in mid-December, Xmas was a-coming. I could avoid any festive folderol until Noche Buena. If you have kids I guess that the momentum starts to build soon after Halloween. “Sally…Fuck Right Off”…kneejerk I know but I had to make my position clear. My friend explained that Santa had let them down, that no-one else would do it & I was absolutely the last resort. Yep, she really sold it to me. As she spoke I kind of knew that I was going to cave in & do this thing.

When Sally picked me up she was already most appreciative. The kids looked excited. Charlie was in his Sea Scouts uniform, the flipping Sea Scouts…in Birmingham, as far from the coast as it is possible to be in the UK. The 2 youngest looked at me with admiration, understanding the lengths I was prepared to go to make an absolute idiot of myself. Danni was here with her Brownie friends, George was, I think, just along for the craic. The local Round Table, a charitable association of businessmen had arranged this convocation of children’s groups to tour a neighbourhood & make a collection. At the heart of the procession, the star of the show, was Santa/Father Christmas. That would be me then. In a pub car park I was given the scarlet uniform & a cotton-wool beard. Did I need extra padding ? What was my motivation ? Sally Sims is a formidable woman, someone not to be crossed. She would owe me big time if I carried this off. That’s enough.

I was shown to my “sleigh”, a hastily converted old milk float. There was no red-nosed reindeer guide but there was a Rein-ge Rover (thank you & sorry). I had been given a microphone & an outsize bag of confectionery to distribute to the local cherubs. Now I do not consider myself to be the type who seeks to make a loud public display. I do place some value on subtlety & volume control. No one wants a self-effacing, reticent Santa do they ? As we approached the suburban residential streets I resolved that I had better be good for goodness sake & here’s Ho-Ho-Hoping that it would not be a Christmas calamity.

It went really well, I was great. First the curtains twitched & old people returned Santa’s wave. Cool…gimme that microphone. I want to wish those codgers a Merry Chrimbo ! The children came piling out to meet & greet the custodian of…you get me. I needed some method for this mayhem & I needed it quickly before I was torn apart by a frenzied rabble fighting to get to my sweets. So, what would the real Santa do ? He would ask them what they wanted for Xmas & whether they had been good children this year. It absolutely worked. The kids all answered, some, sweetly, did not mind, others were more specific, wanting particular toys. One of them, when asked what he wanted, replied “Everything !”. Greedy little tyke. I promised that I would do my best & that seemed to be enough. They all claimed that they had been good this year, while some were obviously lying, I took my interrogation no further. Not a single one told me that my suit was shit & my beard worse so how good was that ?

My sleigh had a cassette player &  a tape of seasonal pop hits. I am no great fan of the Xmas song & “Now That’s What I Call An Uncool Yule” was not the best selection. Still we were taking it to & shaking it in the streets with a rocking Santa singalong. I do like “A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector” despite its creator’s fall from grace. However when “Another Rock & Roll Christmas” by the convicted molester Gary Glitter came around I’m afraid a line had been crossed, young ears needed protection & just where was the fast forward button on this thing ? “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” , the unrealistic claim by a former Beatle & his wife, was a sitting duck for this too confident, improvising, ironic Santa. I congratulated all those within earshot of my amplified voice on ending all conflict. I hoped their New Year would be a “good one, without any fear”. I was doing a good thing here, I knew I could get away with it.

All too soon the sweets had nearly gone. There was one last dash for cash in a local pub & we were back on the main road. My job was done here. Peace & goodwill had been spread to all in this part of North Birmingham. Danni & her friend had hitched a lift on my sleigh. I handed over the microphone & they wailed a selection of Robbie Williams songs to the passing traffic. Who put the merry into Xmas ? That would be us then.

Photos were taken in the car park. I suppose that I would have to take this beard & suit off at some time but I really did like being Santa. There was still time to get off home, stick some powder up my nose & head off in search of too much alcohol. I was having too much fun with these 3 lovely children & their Mum, who had offered to feed me back at theirs. Besides, Dad would finish work soon & we could all tell him our new story. These kids are now fine young adults. I am so glad that we were able to have times like this one & a lot of others too when it was all about as much enjoyment & laughter as possible. Hey, the day I got to be Santa…strange but true.