Suited and booted, bearded and wigged, I am now Father Christmas. A grotto had been found for me, and day one was to consist of me sitting in it talking to … shudder … talking to children. The grotto itself is really a cunningly disguised garden shed.
A smooth functioning grotto works like this: The Elves do everything. In this particular grotto, people had to pre-book and pay their money in advance, and were allocated 5 minute slots. The hot cash they handed over paid for a consultation with me and a nicely wrapped present. The presents were mainly pre-wrapped rubbish that the kids just wouldn’t want (ever) and so I was told to not allow them to unwrap them until they were far far away from the grotto.
So, the Elf checks the name and age of the children, sneaks into the grotto, finds age and sex appropriate presents, hands them to Santa and makes sure he knows their names, and then asks the child and entourage to come into the grotto. Santa can magically recognise the child and say their name as if he already knew it, like he knows every child, right, and not because the Elf just told him, ok?
I mentioned ‘entourage’. I will return to this later.
Anyway, after a chatter with Santa, which includes the receiving of a sticker that doesn’t stick and the rubbish present, Santa cues the photographer. A photo is taken and instantly available in a presentation card and is an extremely expensive memento of the Father Christmas experience They’ll do key-rings too. Everybody wants a picture of their child with Santa on a key-ring, don’t they?
As soon as the photo is taken, the grotto is emptied and instantly ready for the cycle to start all over again.
So, there I was ready for my first ever child.
The Elf came in and said the name and sorted the present. This child was only 18 months old.
No problem, I mused. I’d engage the parent(s) and talk to the child through them. I was confident.
The Elf went away and the parents came forward holding the child and entered the grotto.
Instantly the child screamed and kept up a constant wailing and arching of its back as if trying to escape from its mother’s arms and hurl itself back out of the grotto door. The look of absolute terror in its eyes was quite disturbing. It was as if it was being brought into an abattoir, and I was the one ready to slit its throat. Me, yes, me, Father Christmas.
Despite various attempts to calm it, nothing worked apart from it leaving. I couldn’t really hear what the parents were saying to me or to it. Instead all I could hear was this extremely piercing and high decibel level screaming. The screaming continued for the entire time and then, thank fuck, they went.
So, there were are. My first ever child was a screamer. I felt I had failed. I felt deflated. I felt de-Santa-ed. I wanted to leave, but I had 5 hours and 55 minutes more to do. I wasn’t happy. And I was scared.