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.