My daughter needed a scooter
The Santa Diary Nov/Dec 2007
In 2007 I took the plunge and became Santa Claus at various Debenhams stores. In a vain attempt to keep my dignity I kept a diary everyday. This is the diary.
I needed some money for Christmas to get my daughter a scooter. And presents for all the nephews and nieces. I saw the ad and wondered, then answered it. I was desperate. I had no work and my mood was low. My self-confidence had disappeared.
My GP referred me to a counsellor, who referred me to a therapist, on the NHS. We talked about economic survival, he thought I should be able to pay him £75 a session, but I wanted to be able to pay my rent, eat and get my daughter a scooter. I felt sorry for the therapist. He was delusional- he wanted money that didn’t exist, he saw being Santa as a subconscious desire to place myself in a benign non-threatening impotent father figure role. I denied that was the case and thought he just didn’t understand acting, he didn’t understand me and worse still, he didn’t understand the true nature of Santa- poor bloke.
and I needed to get that scooter so I took the job and er…got into my character...
I WAS SANTA
Monday 19th November DAY 1
Debenhams is deserted. My first day as Santa in Debenhams, Hounslow. Santa’s grotto is an open plan grotto is tucked away on the 2nd floor next to the restaurant and opposite kitchenware. “We’re not big on Santa in Woking.” Said Chris the manager. That’s what they said at Debenhams, Uxbridge. There are two big escalators in the centre of the store. I like the escalators because Santa is on show there- he can see and be seen.
If I sit very still on Santa’s throne, people do not know I am here, they think I am a dummy. Until I wave at them and give them a hearty welcome and bid them a Happy Christmas. ‘Ooh you gave me such a shock’, ‘I’m sorry about that - not my intention - Happy Christmas to you’. Santa is beginning to sound like Sean Connery.
A teenage boy was looking through the knives department in kitchenware opposite me unaware that Santa was watching him, and had opened several boxes of knife blocks, glanced around to see if anyone was watching, and was maybe thinking of removing a knife from one, when I bid him “Happy Christmas!” in a loud voice. He stops being nearly a criminal, forgets about the knives and nearly becomes a child again. I feel I have been a useful old Santa and helped to reduce the threat of juvenile crime in the Hounslow area
Some kids still believe. Younger kids, 2-6 usually are thrilled and excited to see you. Older kids will usually play along even if they don’t believe, if, by not dropping the Santa façade, you make them. Am I humouring them or are they humouring me? Or both? Complicity, Ooh theatah
The woman at the till downstairs didn’t recognise who was behind the beard, thinking it was someone who usually worked in the store, and she wanted to pull it. Santa and I were both outraged, I was hurt, but Santa was jovial and rose to “Cheeky, would I pull your hair to see if you were real?”
Menswear is a difficult department for Santa to walk around. Is it because men wearing suits, forced into clothes buying moods can’t handle a man wearing a false beard, boots and a red gown?
Aah, real life. Just Debenhams, Santa, and me. Santa is an old hippy- laid back, a bit bumbling, relentlessly positive and without a trace of cynicism. That degree of disarming warmth can take people to a vulnerable place where the faintest trace of cynicism could be very cruel - it is easy to upset a playing child
DAY 2 [20th November]
I have been here in Debenhams, Hounslow for five minutes and I am bored stiff already. Give me the reindeers and the wide open icy wastes rather than the kitchenware department, DVD adverts for the Pro Chef and bland piped pop. Time to go for a wander. A couple of days in and it is getting easier to wear Santa’s mantle of friendly mirth.
Character- gadget man 45 with anorak and laptop bag over his shoulder, looks at the coffee cups autistically, holding them very close to his eyes as if he has lost his pebble-lensed glasses.
Santa goes walkabout near the entrance on the first floor encounters a big flurry of kids who want phone photos of Santa. I oblige with some Elvis poses.
Casually dressed design manager arrives with a photographer to take photos of Santa’s grotto. I am sitting in the centre of the Santa display and he tries to frame the picture so I am not in it – he wants a shot of the design, but they do not even acknowledge Santa. Bizarre. Maybe I am just upset because they don’t want me in their photograph? Well it is my grotto
Character- The Sales girl who moved the display unit, her action revealing rubbish that has been kicked under the display unit – torn bits of packaging, swept up dust – she pauses wondering whether to clean them up then kicks them underneath the display unit in its new position..
Wedenesday DAY 3 [21 November]
Rules of Santa Behaviour today-
Move slowly, no sudden movements,
Wear a mantle of mirth,
Treat everybody as your friend, your long lost friend even if they are in the distance on the other side of the store.
An Ode to the Road to authentic Santahood
It is easier to don a mantle of mirth
Than add padding to increase my girth
Thursday DAY 4
Didn’t write anything in my diary on this day
Is it me, or was it reelly reelly that uneventful?
Saturday DAY 5
Today I will wave at everyone and chuckle more, and try to draw them to me, in a big daddyish kind of way.
I should definitely have shaved before coming here -I had vowed that I would be cheerful and well in my breaks, but I fear I look a wee bit rough. Ooh I forgot I am wearing beard- no-one will notice.
The twin aims for today- keep my voice low and relaxed.
Sunday. DAY 6
Today has been really really slow, like an anchor dragging along the sea bed but failing to grip. Its not been easy to keep up the jollity today – its been quiet here. Feeling very isolated and sad.
Monday DAY 7
Maybe its intentional that they put Santa near the knife department- to keep an eye on the place when its quiet and it is oh so quiet today that thoughts like that arise.
Every so often a voice comes over the tannoy saying , “Security to Section 4” “What”, I asked “is section 4?” “It doesn’t exist”, I was told but apparently security announcements every so often make the shoppers feel safer.
The Manager said he had been so busy with mega days ( special Debenhams sales strategies)that he hadn’t had time to think about Santa- he doesn’t want to move me because (what’s his phrase?) he didn’t want to ‘lose prime retail space’, so it looks like I am staying put in kitchenware looking at the water filters, oven dishes, oven gloves, knives, wastepaper bins, magic dusters, juice jugs, ladles, potato mashers, kettles, whisks and the advertising signs that are slightly wonky at the base of the JML display cases. The music is piped through, mostly very bland but now at least its Aretha, but we have had more than our share of bad Christmas fare, dead soulful ballads from sensitive white boys like James Blunt or Daniel Powter or ‘Love’s Eternal Flame’ - ‘Say my name, sunshine through the rain’.
Tuesday DAY 8
Cheese graters, kitchen scales, pest shields and a looped DVD advert for a magnicard. What’s a magnicard? A credit card shaped magnifying glass with a light that you can keep in your wallet. Its about 1min.45 secs long, I estimate after watching it 6 times in 10 minutes as I watch the minutes in the digital display in my phone.
Yes and the chair upon which I sit (gilded and red) in my open plan grotto – an island in a sea of less-than prime retail space – my chair is truly magnificent. Mmm!
Muzack … Aaron Neville, a hardened crim, forced to sing crap to pay his lawyers,a tru voice from Noo Awlins with the voice of an angel, sings a smushy song that doesn’t deserve his voice, it wafts across the deserted retail space. Ooh there are so many products surrounding Santa, so many goods.- chip trays, pasta scoops, pastry brushes, grapefruit spoons, automatic hands-free can openers. Who called them goods? Lets call them bads. They disturb Santa’s sense of self. They are bad. What’s a Santa to do to reclaim his sanity? Close his eyes and visualise arctic wastes, whistling winds, Santa and his wife Sunita, snuggling together under many reindeer skins in front of a crackling warm fire …
Ode to Debenhams
How can I be bored of Debenhams?
Here on the second floor in my open plan grotto, next to the restaurant, opposite kitchenware.
Ah kitchenware, applecorers and cheesegraters
Who needs glamour? Sometimes I roam around the retail space,
trying really hard to be cheery, the perfect Santa
but I cannot deny that sometimes I get pleasure,
a slightly perverse pleasure when a child looks at Santa and bursts into tears.
It’s the beard It’s the beard.. Sorry. I am becoming a Debenhamz demon
If I was not in DbenhamZ right now where would I rather be?
There are many finer kitchenware departments I am sure, but once freed from the slavery of desire and ambition you can find happiness and fulfilment any where, and so I choose to be here
In this DbnhamZ This Hounslow DBnhmZ,
This Temple of Enlightenment this … (from the Hebrew root, DBNMZ) meaning ‘Prime Retail Space.’
Reindeer Haemerrhoids. What? I was walking around yesterday, near the 2nd floor escalator, “Why are you walking around like you have Haemerrhoids,” some one said, “I haven’t”, I replied “but you should see my view of the reindeers from the sleigh, its not pretty,” I said and waddled off before they got the joke. Did they get the joke? I dunno. I waddled off. Timing or cowardice?
Its now only 16.22. 1 hour and 23 minutes to go.
I went down the big escalator to spread cheer through moribund departments. The man in menswear wants a four bedroom house with a sauna, but all his friend, the men’s clothing manager from Algeria, wants for Christmas, is for me to keep on smiling. Is he gay or just warm spirited or both? Who cares? I think Santa has won over the menswear department.
Wednesday DAY 9
When a man is tired of DBNMZ, he is tired of life. Oh the places I’ve been – from the Valley of the Kings to the Louisiana Swamps, to the golden strands of Barbados, Copacabana and Marina Beach, Madras with the candy floss sellers and the sea stretched out miles at low tide, the bustle of Hongkong, the dust of Cairo, the killer snakes of Australia and now DBNMZ, not just Hounslow, but last weekend Uxbridge and yonder Woking. 2007 the year I returned to London suburbia and saw the house I was born in. yes this shop is half amile from the house where I was born. Worton Way:I wandered there after work and found the house and knocked on the door. An Indian woman answered. I thought she was much older than I was, butwe talked for a couple of minutes on the doorstep and it turned out we were about the same age. I didn’t go in the house. I wasn’t invited in and it felt inappropriate to ask.
2007. This was the year I witnessed the following event: two business men on a rainy morning outside Woking train station, one looks to the sky as the rain comes down and says to the other, “Hmm think I should move to Surbiton.” Yes back in suburbia
So it’s the end of Wednesday, an uneventful day apart from the two girls, about 11 who liked Santa but didn’t really believe in him came up to the grotto anyway, the open plan grotto opposite kitchenware, and sat on Santa’s stool and wanted to pull my beard but I was wary. One of them tried to stare me out and failed and then tried to shock Santa by telling him about her two year old sister who swore fucking this and cunt that. But she didn’t know that this actor, moi, playing Santa, is immune to swear shock. Then she wanted a free present and wanted to pull my beard. Her friend a slightly taller mixed race girl told me she didn’t believe in Santa and looked at all the pressies in the grotto and then looked slyly at me and wondered if she could half inch them. I was wary, they were scary with a short attention span and eventually they wandered off after I bored them to death.
The boy on the top floor is chatting up the Indian girl from Hong Kong who is showing him how to write Chinese numbers. “That’s well cool”, he says, “I would really like to speak Chinese”, and the store serving assistant with the limp came by with about forty bars of chocolate in blue wrappers and put them in the overstock trolley. 17.38. A few minutes to go.
Thursday DAY 10
The last day at DBNMZ Hounslow, the last day next to kitchenware, my last opportunity to list kitchenware- I estimated the were probably about 500 different lines of stock in this kitchenware department - deep muffin tins, pizza crisper, Swiss roll tin ( a pause to have my photo taken) garlic magipress, water filter refills .. Aah DBNMZ, Temple of Enlightenment, Prime Retail Space, containing nothing but goods, more goods and more nothing. So how to be happy all the time in this Place of Nothing? The problem with nothing [maybe its just my state of mind], is there is nothing there but nothing and nothing to react to so nothing to look at for inspiration or stimulation. DBNMZ you are a hard nut to crack.
So where’s Santa to get his mirth from? Close his eyes and visualize those icy wastes, the howling wind and snuggling down with Sunita Claus under many reindeer skins in front of a crackling warm fire …Acting.
Why do some kids find Santa scary? Or is it the parents?
We had one child about 3 in a buggy who, from a distance, looked excited to see Santa, but as soon as mum saw Santa, she said loudly, “She’s scared of Santa”, and they steered the buggy down another aisle of goods and out of view.
Some children find the beard frightening, maybe its because its too mask like. It often depends on whether they know the figure of Santa, and if they do the experience of seeing Santa can be completely magical. If not they wonder, “Who is this stranger pretending to know me?” and that’s scary.
But being warm full of mirth and soft-voiced, soothes a nervous child.
An 8-month old baby girl carried by her dad has just come by. She sat on my throne and looked around in wonder at the open plan Christmas grotto opposite kitchenware and was comfortable there. The mum turned up and saw that the baby was really comfortable. Relaxed parents have relaxed children. Dad took photos of her there on the chair - on his iPhone, the first iPhone I had seen. Thus ends Santa at DMBNMZ Hounslow. Onto Woking…
9.13 Waterloo, The train for Woking, a Hazlemere train is due to depart at 9.15. It left 5 seconds early. Do all trains to Woking leave early? That’s a creepy idea. The place where the trains always leave early. Not that creepy -maybe I’m just bored.
10.45. Santa’s grotto in DBNMZ Woking is a plywood box on the lower ground floor in the corner behind carpets and the three-piece suites, kitted out with the same decorations as DBNMZ Hounslow-3 different presents. Under a Christmas tree, fake of course, a gilded fireplace above which there is a slot together reindeer’s head hanging on the wall, lots of flashing lights, some huge fat mocked up Christmas books. Is it wrong to expect your place of work to stimulate the imagination? I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself the king of infinite space. [Hmm] Imagination or delusion? Napoleon complex or what? Magic is what works and I’m not working.
So its about 2.30ish. The throne upon which Santa sits is a bit unfortunate and with its roaring lions head on the front legs, and slightly sinister baroque stylings seems designed to scare kids. The frame is gilt and the seat and back is covered in bright red cloth and has a large cushion. Its really uncomfortable and much higher than the leatherette stool that the child has to sit on. I imagine it must have been designed by someone with only half a mind on the job. Like me now. I’m getting better at being Santa. They want to know who I am. Suzanne, the floor manager started asking me “I was Les the Egg man on ‘In Suspicious Circumstances’ with Edward Woodward on Granada,” I proclaimed proudly. She was really impressed – She knew who Edward Woodward was. What else have I done that she might be impressed by? Our worlds do not coincide, I think, as I sit being Santa in my grotto on the lower ground floor near the carpet of the month display. The carpet of the month is a plain beige carpet, reduced from £45 a metre to £17.99.
So the second session on Sunday ….Nothing… And now the third session. I didn’t write anything for the first session and I really am feeling numb numb numb, still we haven’t had any terrified crying children today. Is it something I am beginning to do? Or what?
Why I wrote the Santa diary. I had to justify to myself that it was somehow worth doing [It doesn’t matter, you dove, my brother said inventing a past tense of dive, to rhyme with cove]. I have always thought that listening and responding was all that was important but in a situation like this it is necessary to find resources and responses in yourself, because, being Santa at DBNMZ there is not a lot to respond to AND its difficult to justify counting the seconds to my departure at the end of the day. I feel there must be a better way of using my time.
So what is there to respond to? The lovely potential for play. Children believing is magical. Kids too old to believe, but playing along is magical. In Uxbridge, a boy in England tracksuit came towards me “How are you doing SantAGH? I’m going to see a film”, “ What are you going to see?” I asked. “Beowulf.”, he said and walked off. I thought maybe he was going to pull my beard or mug me.
It is very dreary when, in order to be real, you have to stop pretending. Or believing in pretence. I always thought that you create reality through play Play is all. If you can’t play, life becomes dull, life becomes disillusion.
Some parents want to drill a sense of play out of their kids as early as possible.
Some parents choose to bring up their kids scared. Like the ones who came by just now. They didn’t have tickets and didn’t want to say that they didn’t want to pay for tickets so they preferred to say that their kids were too scared to see Santa. But the kids weren’t scared. The parents were too busy and mean.
“Imagination brings forth the form of things unknown,” but its dangerous for me to stay too long in dull places, like Debenhams, Woking because there is nothing for my imagination to respond to. Maybe its my fault, maybe I am listening wrong, maybe this place is actually deeply fascinating I just hear negatives so I throw negative energy back out again, amplifying it. You can choose what you listen to. To listen for the positive even in the deserted ground floor of Debenhams, Woking. You can blot out the carpet of the month promotions, or bland tannoy sales announcements or the human behaviour of toeing the corporate line and listen( by listen I include more than sense of hearing) to the sound of the people and engage with that. Hmm.
I’m feeling picky. I notice the slot-together reindeer head above the fireplace in my grotto has been put together hurriedly. There are three main pieces of board (1/4” ply?) running nose to neck, with cross pieces every few inches that slot into the longitudinal piece to make it 3D but it has been put together so hastily that it is wonky faced like it has had a stroke. A reindeer with a stroke.
AND they haven’t ironed the cloth across the entrance to Santa’s grotto, I noticed this on the first day but haven’t remarked on it til now. It hasn’t niggled me. I’m feeling picky
Still, some people love the grotto. A grandmother and mother came by recently to check out Santa’s suitability for their nervous 3 year-old daughter and they approved.
Some Good and Bad Things about Santa’s Grotto.
A GOOD THING about Santa’s grotto is that it is cosy compared to the carpet department outside.
A BAD THING about Santa’s grotto is that it is tucked away in the corner of the carpet department.
A GOOD THING about Santa’s grotto is Suzanne the floor manager who loves being Santa’s accomplice (although she bristled at my suggestion she needed a pixie costume; (‘I’m a manager” she sniffed.)
A BAD THING about Santa’s grotto is the beige carpet, white floor and leatherette stool.
A GOOD THING about Santa’s grotto is that it has lots of twinkly lights.
A BAD THING about Santa’s grotto is that the design team only tried a bit
A GOOD THING about Santa’s grotto is that at least they tried a bit.
A BAD THING about Santa’s grotto is that if you look up, you see a damaged false ceiling with broken plastic tiles and a concrete void above the neon lights.
A GOOD THING about Santa’s grotto is Santa’s big chair.
A BAD THING about Santa’s grotto is the terrifying roaring lions on the legs.
A GOOD THING about Santa’s grotto is the cardboard shiny red and gold stars above head level.
A BAD THING about Santa’s grotto is the badly drawn fire in the fireplace.
A GOOD THING about Santa’s grotto is the real firewood in front of the badly drawn fire in the fireplace.
A BAD THING about Santa’s grotto is the pinkish red plastic imitation gravel outside the door.
A GOOD THING about Santa’s grotto is the real cast iron fender round the fireplace.
Yesterday there was a scary dad when I went on a walkabout- I asked this little girl what she wanted for Christmas and Dad goes harshly at her ‘tell him! Tell him then! go on tell him!” She cowered, bullied, and retreated from her excitement into a scared shell who will hate Santa for the rest of her life
TUESDAY DAY 14
Its nearly 4 – half way through the afternoon, 2 days to go and Suzanne and the shopping assistant in bedding have decided that this Santa needs fattening up so they have been stuffing pillows down me. So I have retreated back to the grotto after they have decided on the right cushion to give me a realistic looking stomach.
Ho ho back in the grotgrotgrotto sitting back in the hot suit, in the big Santa suit on the Santa seat. Nuffink like a bit bit bit of a lit lit literation.
I am a little disappointed in the Woking Santa suit- its not nearly as good as the fine cloak that Hounslow provided; and the beard and wig - not pure white, hot and very unrealistic. The wig has a very seventies fringe, the hair matches the off white of the beard but not the cuffs on the suit, which is made of thin material. In Hounslow there was a huge cloak, made of thick weighty cloth, with a white waist cord. Here the cloth is flimsy and cheap, there is a horrible pair of trousers that comes to just below the knee, looking like furry red pedal pushers, the tunic is shapeless. At least the Santa costume in Hounslow opposite kitchenware had some gravitas. Here it is just silly and cartoony. That’s what I think. But that’s just the way it is. You win some you lose some. Santa and I will survive.
So Edie [my daughter] came to see me as Santa with Vicky and Nicky. I had just gone on tea-break and the coffee machines in the canteen were not working, just as well because a sales woman burst in who had hotfooted it from the ground floor and said “Santa you’ve got visitors! How long will you be?” “3 minutes”, I said, I put my beard back on and prepared to get back in there. My phone rang, so I took my beard off again. It was Vicky - they had arrived and were waiting for me outside the grotto. Santa hurriedly waddled his way back to the grotto where there was a little girl called, I think, Bailey who took one look at flustered Santa with a beard and burst into tears. Edie, with Vicky and Nicky was watching a little aghast. Not only was dad wearing a beard, he was pretending to know this little girl and stop her crying. Edie was a little confused. Bailey would not come into the grotto because she was too upset, so Vicky started saying in a loud voice, ‘we’ll go into the grotto. Edie’s not scared” I looked at Edie. She was not quite scared, but she was uncomfortable. I went into the grotto to get Bailey’s present and gave it to her outside. She cheered up and left, but Edie was by now very wary of both me as Santa and entering the grotto, this flimsy box in the corner of the carpet department, but she came into the grotto, looked around and said “Flashing lights!” approvingly. She sat on the big book and Vicky and Nicky took lots of photos. She ended up liking Santa, and sat on his chair. Nicky looked vaguely horrified by the whole event, but for Vicky it was a photo opportunity and she snapped merrily away.
What is wonderful about Edie and maybe all two year-olds is her complete trust - once she saw that the situation was OK and we were OK, she was OK and happy to be here but I will remember that look on her face along time. It seemed to be saying “Dad what the fuck are you doing, dressed up like that? Why the beard? And the cod Scottish accent?!” “Darling, you are to young to understand what drives me to do this, too young to understand the depths of my anxiety for you and my existential and economic insecurity”
When I mentioned it to Edie later, she said she loved Santa and the flashing lights. Parental oversensitivity.
THURSDAY DAY 16
So my last day of being Santa at least for this year, maybe never again, who am I to judge whether its been worthwhile? Is it, as Dr Taylor suggested,
a choice to dumb down, not take myself seriously and be a benign bumbling and impotent father figure
has it been an interesting opportunity to
a) examine belief and trance in children? (really?)
b) act a character and test its believability in a low stress environment? (hmm, may be …)
c) learn how to speak to children? Children prefer a higher voice than a lower voice but what they like most, whether its high or low, is a relaxed cheerful welcoming voice. Its tension they pick up on most. (yes useful … )
d) Observe the horrible ways some parents coerce their kids. (its about learning to be a parent)
The truth usually lies somewhere between the extremes of an argument.
We cannot leave DBNMZ Woking without mentioning the strangely disturbing small security man with the hollow eyes who avoids eye contact and hellos when you sign in and who saw that I was taking a book and my mobile phone under Santa’s cloak said to me “No personal possessions on the trading floor (did he say ‘trading floor?’ or something similar – ‘store floor’ maybe.) He leans against the balustrade surrounding the escalators in the centre of the store and scrutinizes the movements of customers, looking for irregularities in their rhythm and dynamic that might signify criminal intent. “Shoppers have a way of moving, crims have a way of moving’ .He might say. He gives me the willies. He’s a hard nut. He has been taught to resist the charm and friendliness that makes Santa tick, in order to maintain maximum objective security awareness. I’m sure he thinks I have stolen electrical goods hidden in Santa’s voluminous tunic. He won’t get much for Christmas.
So what have I got out of this apart from a few pennies to buy Edie’ scooter and afew otherChristmas presents?
Santa has taught me that it is possible to exude permanent merriment whilst being depressed.
Santa has taught me how infectious it is to exude permanent merriment. People children and adults, like it. The opposite is also true – people get nervous and suspicious if you do not exude permanent merriment.
So Santa has taught me that you have to consciously apply it and reapply it and it sticks a few grains more each time.
Rereading this, I had forgotten how much I had tried to remain cheerful and half in-character in my breaks at Hounslow. Here in Woking I have been unnerved by time keeping lapses – I know I am at fault – that saps me, the security man and miserable faces, and because here there is a grotto where I am hidden from the public much of the time - In Hounslow it was simple – Once in the store I was in character all the time, and I was discovering and cementing the Santa persona. Here, in Woking I had the character already established, I was bored and have let my cynicism and depression seep into the character, so he is still cheery but people see sad behind the cheeriness - an unnecessary depth of character -DBNMZ Woking is not the place to get multi layered. people want simplicity and things drawn in big simple clear lines when shopping. Despite my inadvertent complicating, I still had my moments of sublime innocent merriment with customers and children- I got better at just turning it on. In Hounslow nobody would have suggested putting a pillow round my waist to fatten me up- no-one dared approach me – Santa was simpler and maybe stronger here in Woking. Suzanne and the women from soft furnishings have spent some time finding the right cushion for me and eventually have decided on a velvet and silk blue stripe cushion by Jasper Conran - they deemed it the ideal cushion for Santa’s tum. [So we finish at Debenhams, Woking on a cosmetic note. Am I taking being Santa too seriously?]
I will take the world as seriously as it takes itself so if and when it laughs at me, it laughs at itself.
Then followed a two week pause where I nearly forgot about being Santa
Then on the 18th of December I got a phone call from Hanna, e Santa’s agent from Exeter –Help! Santa’s been sacked! Can you go back to Debenhams, Woking for everyday until Christmas, starting tomorrow morning?
The diary resumes …
He had got himself sacked, how or why, I was not told but when I asked about the previous Santa I was told a couple of half stories, accompanied by smirks and smiles. In one story he had insinuated to a child that Santa was gay and the parents complained, in the other he had behaved ‘inappropriately with some salesgirls in the canteen. The man in carpets said he was a nice friendly keep-everyone-happy sort of Santa, but the signs are that he got fed up, flipped, got himself sacked, and left very swiftly.
The grotto was a mess. Bits of crumpled paper littered around, and a half consumed plastic bottle of pee coloured pop lay under the throne. I went to get changed. The costume had not been mended since my first stint as Santa – the zip was not mended and there were about six safety pins to take its place, it was not washed or folded – another sign that he left in a hurry. The beard smelt really rank, the same smell as the costume but stronger –Mostly BO, mixed with a cheap aftershave and a sickly sweet whiff of a petuly like perfume. I did not want that on my face. It was gross. Fortunately there was a new Santa wig and beard set.
Why am I back in Santa’s grotto? I have been plunged back into a place I thought I had left behind.
So in this 2nd stint as Santa I am much clearer about the line between myself and the character – when I drop it and when I put it on: off the trading floor with other staff who I know and out of earshot of customers, I am myself and don it when with customers, on walkabout or with customers in the grotto.
Santa Scripts and Strategies:
- Treat everyone as a long lost friend
- Wave at people on the other side of the store
- Walk slowly
- Chuckle to yourself a lot
- Be really friendly and really happy
- Vocally, think a cross between Sean Connery and Billy Connolly
Script bits for Santa in his Grotto
Well hello welcome! Welcome! welcome! Do come in, make yourself comfortable. Sit yourself down and lets have a wee chat.
Whats your name? (Answer)
Do you know what you want for Christmas? (Answer)
So you’ve told me what you want for Christmas, now you have to do something as well, because that’s the way the magic works – I do something, you do something and we put the two things together and then – abracadabra! - your lovely present.
(looking at the reindeer head on the wall)
That’s a 3D portrait of Rudolf, he’s out and about somewhere in Woking. He got me here on time this morning and his time is his until the end of the day.
Do you know how old I am? 498 only 2 more years until the big 5 double 0 and then I am going to have a big party and you are all invited. Its going to be such fun.
Yes Mrs Claus, Sunita is back there waiting for me. Sunita Claus. She runs the biggest launderette chain north of the Arctic Circle they have 34 branches from Svarlbad to Siberia. They all have sunbeds during the winter darkness so you can get a tan while doing your washing. Of course that’s not all she does she’s written nine romantic novels in her spare time, mainly about lost explorers finding true love amongst the Lapps and Eskimos.
This suit is made of genuine organic 100% reindeer fur dyed with cranberry juice with polar bear collars and cuffs. Yes it is
I am much better at talking to children than I was. If a child is frightened by Santa, ask the parent the child’s name and say hello welcome – if they have a older sibling with them who likes Santa let the fearful one watch and see that all is OK. Children want to be at ease and looked after, they don’t want to be upset and crying.
And as for the longeurs in between visits to the grotto, how do I cope now?
Reading, writing , exercising or strolling about. I’m much less likely to allow myself to be bored and fed up.
I am reading ‘Trickster makes the World” by Lewis Hyde. How to sum it up in one sentence?
How the trickster figure- in various manifestations from mythic figure to artist, uses and abuses accident, chance and coincidence, sometimes selfishly, sometimes selflessly, sometimes deftly, sometime ineptly to bring about change and growth to the world.
This that you are reading now is the writing
And the exercising? Within the confines of the grotto, the beard and warm costume, exercise cannot be too vigourous. No-one wants a sweaty Santa, in a sweaty grotto. So exercise is very Tai Chi based- shifts of balance and weight, breathing, pushing through the palms of the hand, sending slowly rippling movements through my arms and torso - all movement slow and smooth.
Writing seems to have moved to more positive territory, less cynical, but maybe more boring. Maybe the more disgruntled me is funnier. I have been so pompous for years in my refusal to accept how the world is. And when I’vedone the writing, reading and exercising, I’ll go for a stroll around wondrous DBNMZ Woking
Another Santa Script
Why is Rudolf’s nose red?
Well its foggy outside right? What’s Santa to do on Christmas Eve when its foggy? In order to get round all the houses in time its estimated he has to travel at speeds of up to 4000 miles a second. That’s legging it a bit, so I can’t afford to make a mistake or I’ll end up giving a Barbie doll instead of a Ferrari, or a Play Station instead of a purple bike. That’s where Rudolf’s red nose comes in – its chockablock full of the most sophisticated up to the minute navigational aids known to mankind. Rudolf keeps me on track. I’d be lost without him. Literally lost. In all weathers – fog, snow lightning, blinding rain and hurricanes, Rudolf and his Red Nose get me there
I have just been out of the grotto and sat for a while on a comfy Parker Knoll settee on the trading floor. Its oh so quiet. I’m feeling wistful and this is my second last day. Two days to Christmas, a flat sublet and in need of a splash of paint and some new things, I felt a little better this morning after talking to family- I may not go up to Scotland there is too much to do getting the flat ready, finding somewhere to be and K and E going off to Sweden. And I feel oh so shaky. Its hard to keep track. Ma talked about the picture of the madly galloping horses pulling a chariot over the steppes and used that as an analogy for mid-life.
Ho hum, I think I maybe a good Santa now
Does learning to be a good Santa inevitably make you a moron?
A happier moron but a moron no less.
Santa, the natural alternative to Prozac.
A bit of dialogue from today: Me: What would you like for Christmas?
A 4 year old girl: A bike … a purple bike … a purple sparkly bike … anything sparkly really … I love sparkles.
The last, no no no really the last, day, yes it is, the very last day of being Santa.
“Will Santa please return to his grotto?”, the tannoy calls out, uncannily whenever I have a break. Whenever it does, I can’t help it, I feel accused hurt and misunderstood. It makes me want to retaliate petulantly.
What’s a fine actor like Jonathan Stone doing being Santa for DBNMZ Woking?
What will I do today? Its wiser to stay put in the grotto today and accept the steady trickle of visitors. I don’t feel like going on a walkabout. Maybe I’ll do a walkabout if it gets too quiet. Its one way to guarantee visitors to Santa’s grotto.
And at 1.50 I left the grotto for the last time and walked through the ground floor, up the escalator and past lingerie to the store room where I got changed. Just as I was about to leave, after I got changed, the tannoy called out “Will Santa please return to his grotto?”
But I’ve already got the beard off, and If I make the next London train, I’ll get back in time before the shops shut to get Edie’s scooter. “Will Santa please return to his grotto?” No chance.