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Thursday, 2 December 2010

You'd Better Not Pout

When did you stop believing in Santa Claus? 

If you find this question difficult (largely because you were still hanging on to your belief with grim determination) then please stop reading at this point.  For the rest of us, I’m willing to bet that this particular moment is ingrained in your memory.

When you consider the elaborate belief systems with which we indoctrinate our children, only for them to discover with each passing year that these firmly held beliefs are groundless, it must say something about the human spirit that we are prepared to believe in anything, ever again!  In evidence, I submit The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy and, last but most definitely not least, Father Christmas. 

My own particular crisis of faith, with regard to Santa anyway, happened when I was 10 years old on a Saturday night, just before Christmas, 1964. 

At the time, we kept a pub (the idea had been that the pub would keep us, but it didn’t quite work out that way).  The pub was of an old-fashioned design, in which the living room and kitchen were tucked away behind the serving area whilst all the other living accommodation (bedrooms and bathroom) were upstairs.  In order to get from the living room to the bedrooms, it was necessary to cross The Passage.  The Passage was really a corridor to allow access to the Public Bar and Smoke Room but also contained some tables and seating, and our solitary fruit machine.  Access across The Passage to the bedrooms was fairly straightforward in the week, when only a small group of hardy customers would be huddled by the serving hatch or by the fruit machine.  At weekends, however, The Passage would be crowded with revellers in assorted degrees of intoxication.

The pub was equipped with a woefully inadequate coal-fired boiler that just about managed to heat the public rooms but left the bedrooms as something of an arctic wasteland.  Mum therefore insisted that I change for bed in front of the fire in the living room, to avoid frostbite or hypothermia.  Unfortunately, this meant crossing The Passage to get to the stairs, now attired in pyjamas, dressing gown and slippers.  During the week, with a little careful timing, I usually managed this largely unnoticed.  On a Saturday night however, and particularly at the weekend before Christmas, the only way across was to force my way through the smoke-wreathed throng.  This was always acutely embarrassing, and a journey I tried to complete as quickly as possible.  On this occasion, however, my rapid transit was thwarted by my youngest uncle suddenly appearing from the crowd at the bottom of the stairs and grabbing my arm.

“I just wanted you to know that I’ve left your present with your Mum for Christmas Day.  Thought I ought to tell you because, of course, you don’t believe in Santa Claus any more do you?”  He laughed and winked knowingly.

I muttered my thanks and swallowed hard.  In that moment, I didn’t believe in Santa Claus, but right up to then I had believed with the sort of dogged fervour that only children can muster.  Of course, my compatriots at school had, over the years, come to the conclusion that Santa Claus did not exist but I had hung on to my faith, largely because the alternative didn’t seem too inviting and I was keen to keep the magic of Christmas in one form or another.  Now, in one sentence, it was gone.

I still miss Santa.  Christmas without him has never been the same.  But I suppose if anyone is responsible for that curious bonhomie that arises at some point on Christmas Eve and has disappeared without trace by Boxing Day, maybe we should thank the vestige of Father Christmas, and be grateful.  In the words of the late, lamented Santa, “Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas!”


You can find this story, along with a host of others, in the new bumper collection of stories Crutches For Ducks at Amazon.co.uk or at Amazon.com, available until Christmas Day at the ridiculously low price of just £1.99!