Jamie’s Digest (3): Cool Bits From Books – FESTIVE EDITION

Whenever I’m reading I always like to highlight phrases and passages that strike a chord with me, either because they’re emotionally or intellectually resonant, or because they’re exceptionally relevant to something that’s happening in the world today. I’d like to continue to share some of the these excerpts with you.

Santa Claus: A Biography

What a well-researched, interesting, funny and insightful book, charting Santa’s evolution from the swamps of myth into the ubiquitous character we know and love today. He’s terrified little children the world over, helped to advertise everything from soap to guns, and if he hadn’t ‘existed’ we would never have been able to read absolutely tremendous news stories like this. I had a great time reading this book, and I’d like to share a few bits and pieces from it.

“The ideal Santa for department-store grottoes or work-shops is described as middle-aged, plump, red-faced, and possessing his own beard with an ability to charm children and pass a police background check. Such candidates are scarce and becoming more so, according to those responsible for recruiting them. Modern healthy lifestyles have apparently reduced the number of suitably obese men, and head-hunting firms are paid handsomely, and advertise far afield, to produce the proper candidates.”

Isn’t that great? A dearth of Santas owing to an overall reduction in obesity levels and generally improved health: have you any idea how hard I, as a Scotsman, laughed at that paragraph. Honestly, we should just change the name of our country to The North Pole and be done with it. It’s the jolly part we’d struggle with.

I like that, though. Scotland becoming a Jurassic Park for Santas. Anyway, elsewhere in that same chapter we learn a little more about why there appear to be so few new Santas:

“Why should there be a shortage of imitation Santas for malls and department stores? Many veteran Santas complain of a new miasma of suspicion surrounding anyone dealing professionally with small children. Shopping centres fearful of litigation have imposed new rules or, in some cases, even forbidden Santas to hold children on their laps, preferring that they merely extend a handshake to the children who are brought to stand by them. Other stores have discouraged a jolly attitude, lest it be interpreted in an inappropriate fashion, and have insisted their Saint Nicks be more business-like in their approach to kids. Santas are told to keep both hands visible at all times, wear white gloves to heighten that visibility , and have to undergo criminal background checks, and in some cases even drug testing. In the United States, they have become targets of bomb threats and irate parents and have asked for police protection; in tropical countries they have had to go on strike to protest the suits they are forced to wear.”

A few things spring to mind after reading this paragraph:

  1. Yes, it’s a shame that we live in a world where we have to doubt the intentions of those who wish to spend time with our children, but, equally, these past fifty years have taught us that an overwhelmingly large number of clowns, teachers, Santas and kids TV presenters have tried to fuck our kids.
  2. I now know why this year’s Santa at our grotto was quite thin, and came across more like a headteacher desperately trying to tamp down his stress as he stares into the precipice of another violent emotional breakdown than an avuncular chuckle-head with a sackful of hohoho. Or maybe the Santa that was originally hired went down with a heart attack, and this miserable son of a bitch had to fill in last minute.
  3. White gloves for visibility? Man, Michael Jackson’s stylist was definitely trying to signal us from the inside, like Dwight shooting arrows for Daryl. I’m also going to be keeping a very close eye on snooker referees from now on.

Amazon link: Santa Claus – A Biography by Gerry Bowler

Insidious as Fuck

I was reading a chapter of The Christmasaurus to my 3-year-old son, when my eyes skimmed a sentence or so ahead and sent back a message to my mouth to shut down mid-sentence. I’d seen some dangerous, insidious shit; a passage that seemed to come straight from a book of religious short stories. Through these same pernicious paragraphs the book also – perhaps paradoxically – threw a wink to those who would support our burgeoning mono-culture, and tipped its hat to the ‘But it’s NICE’ crowd. Sorry to go full Dawkins on y’all, but I’d rather my son was encouraged to follow the dictates of reason than bid to glug from the shit-filled chalice of superstition.

The titular magic dinosaur was fine, of course, as was Santa himself. I don’t have a problem with them. It’s a work of fantasy, after all. Also, I admire the way the author treats the main character’s disability, and was happy to have my son absorb the sentiments… but… the section below where William’s Dad tries to reignite his son’s belief in Santa  (even though, in the context of this book, Santa is supposed to be real, anyway)? Fuck, no.

“‘I believe this story is true. Therefore it is true,’ he [William’s Dad] said.

‘But… how does that work?’ questioned William, desperate to know more. ‘If I’ve never seen something, how do I know it’s real?’

‘Ah, William! You’ve got it the wrong way round!’ said Mr Trundle, smiling. ‘Believing has to come first. People who don’t believe in things will never see those things. Believing is seeing.’

But William still looked uncertain.

‘But, Dad, some kids at school don’t believe in Santa. What if I believe he’s real and someone else doesn’t? If we both believe different things, then we can’t both be right, can we?’ asked William.”

[Mr Trundle then introduces William to the ‘Glass half-full/glass half-empty’ dichotomy, and uses this as a hammer to bash the sense of reason out of him.]

“William looked at the half-empty mug of milk in front of him for a moment before realising that his dad might actually be right too. Even though he and his dad believed different things, they were both right.

‘You see, William, we both believe completely opposite things, but it doesn’t mean that either of us is wrong. This mug is both half empty AND half full at the same time,’ said Mr Trundle, as William sat there with the expression of a young boy whose mind is in the process of being completely blown. ‘People believe all sorts of wild, wacky, weird and wonderful things, but it doesn’t mean that anyone is wrong or that anyone is right. What is important isn’t what is wrong, right, real, fake, true or false. What matters is that whatever you believe makes you a happier, better person.'”

I’m beginning to think that Trundle’s a Scientologist, the disingenuous c***.

Amazon link: The Christmasaurus by Tom Fletcher

WHATEVER YOU DO: READ. AND READ LOTS. IT’S GOOD FOR YOU.

Why the Santa myth is bad for your children’s elf

We live in a time of great freedom, however illusory or temporary that freedom might yet prove.

For instance, I could sit in a circle of peers and announce that I don’t believe in Yahweh, God, Vishnu, Allah or a giant turtle that holds the known world atop its back as it crawls through the cosmos, and most of them would probably accept this declaration with a silent nod or a shrug of the shoulders. Never mind that in certain countries, among certain people and cultures, such a vow would earn me a spell in prison, a steak knife to the stomach or death. Here in the modern, secular west, I can profess belief or its lack in whatsoever I choose and be almost certain of a tolerant reception. But try to tell people that I don’t want to play along with the Santa myth we force upon our kids, and I’m treated like a scar-faced leper with a vest of grenades and a public masturbation problem.

The sprawling Santa conspiracy, global in its reach, in which we entangle our children raises a multitude of uncomfortable questions, and comes at a terrible price: not least of which is the spirit of shattered trust in which it’s perpetuated.

It seems that all other western cultural norms are fluid, except for this one. Never this one. The only things powerful enough to grant you a Santa exemption are deeply-held fundamentalist Christian beliefs or adherence to a non-Christian faith, and even then there’s a chance you’ll be regarded as a destroyer of children’s dreams.

I baulk at the presumptuousness, the unthinkingness of it all. Really, would a Christian parent ever in a month of Sundays approach a Muslim family and knowingly ask them if they’re looking forward to the birthday of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ? A religious person might very well try to preach to or proselytise my children, but I’d be well within my rights to do everything possible to counter their supernaturally-motivated manoeuvrings, from taking expert advice to punching them in the teeth, and I’d enjoy broad moral – if not exactly legal – support. Santa’s commercialist cult, however, has carte blanche, and few would ever support me in a bid to tear it down.

It’s clear that there’s something about this little red-and-white lie that’s seen as integral to and inextricable from a hearty and wholesome childhood. There’s a concomitant notion that somehow the act of debunking Santa holds the potential to obliterate a child’s capacity for innocence and imagination, and quite possibly leave them with the dull, jaded outlook of a middle-aged chartered accountant on the eve of his second divorce. Or else turn them into a fleet of joyless androids each wearing the face of Richard Dawkins. As if in the pre-Santa days of Shakespeare and Dumas the kids of the world were witless dullards, and every visionary, artist and poet worth their salt only emerged post-Pole.

Santa began as a folk-tale that may have morphed out of the legends of a Saint. He was a quite different, certainly less sanguine, figure in his early days, and one that children were more inclined to fear than to keenly anticipate. The Santa we know and love today – the darling of TV adverts, movies and billboards – has only existed in his current form – big-bearded, red-jacketed and jolly – for a comparatively short time (the same is true for his retinue: Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer only arrived in 1939); but yet we are encouraged to believe that something as malleable and arbitrary as the historical idea of Santa should be considered unchallengeable, unchangeable and eternal.

Santa is but one fictional character in a cast of thousands. Why does he get special dispensation when it comes to the laws of reality? I regularly read my eldest son stories about alien encounters, magical beanstalks, sentient robots and talking horses, without ever feeling the need to perpetuate the entertaining fallacies inherent in the source material. No-one would consider it heresy for me to explain to my son that horses can’t really talk; knowing this fact doesn’t in any way limit his imagination or detract from his very real enjoyment of the story. Penguins don’t have jobs, dogs can’t moonlight as policemen, aliens can’t travel through time in a physics-defying police box, there’s no such thing as ghosts, and people can’t turn green and smash buildings when they’re angry. He knows that, or at least these things have been explained to him. He doesn’t care. He still mimics these characters and scenarios, and riffs on them in his own unique, imaginative way when he’s running about the house lost in make-believe or play-acting with his toys.

Strange old ladies don’t stop him in the street to ask if he’s excited about a visit from the talking horse. He doesn’t see a million adverts on TV featuring a talking horse trying to convince him to buy things. He isn’t taken to The Talking Horse’s Grotto every year. In no other sphere of life are children’s fantastical notions so systematically cemented into fact.

Perhaps in the past the Santa fantasy was more innocent and fleeting in nature: a little tale or poem wheeled out every Christmas Eve; a single evening of merry make-believe. These days Santa is everywhere. Literally everywhere; he’s like a God who’s tired of enigma. You can write to him, email him, watch him, read him, visit him, Skype him, tag him. He appears every year at the stroke of November, and doesn’t stop assailing kids with his maniacal mirth-making until the last slice of turkey’s been fed to the dog.

Your motivations may be pure. You may only wish to indulge in a little heart-warming festive fantasy. But you don’t have the luxury of raising your children unplugged from the Matrix. Santa is perpetuated by businesses, not by you.

Money. It’s all about money. Just like everything else.

The power of Santa compels him… to do very little

Here’s a question for you: why does Santa deliver unequal amounts of toys to the children of the world? Why does he deliver more toys to affluent families than he does to poor families? Clearly, on the great sliding scale of political ideology, the red-jacketed sleigh-racer is more tightly aligned to conservative notions of capitalism than he is to communism, or socialism. If your kid goes back to school after the winter break with a new pair of cheap shoes and a toy laser gun, and has to listen to another kid bragging about his £1000 home entertainment system and surprise trip to Disneyland, what is he to infer about his worth in Santa’s eyes? Should he castigate himself for being too naughty, placing the blame for his poor festive haul upon his own tiny shoulders? Or should he just conclude that Santa doesn’t really like him all that much?

Remove Santa from this equation, and you’ve still got a problem with unequal distribution of wealth and resources in society, married to an unslakable thirst for goods and gadgets that’s only heightened and reinforced by our media, but that’s an argument for another time (besides, there are more learned, original and eloquent thinkers out there with better and more important things to say on the topic than little old me).

Consider also this point: Santa is an omniscient being who has mastered time itself, can travel around the globe and back in one evening, and can apparently conjure an endless supply of toys from thin air, much as another bearded magician once did with water, wine, loaves and fish. Santa uses these powers not to alleviate suffering, lift people out of hunger and poverty, cure the sick and the lame or to usher in a new era of world peace, but to drop toy robots down chimneys. What a role model. He’s no better than Sooty. Or Jesus.

You can emphasise the magical, imagination-stretching benefits of a child’s belief in Santa as a rationale for deceiving your children, but when I hear Santa’s name mentioned by parents, more often than not his name is evoked as a correctional tool rather than as an instrument of wonder. Be nice, behave, go to bed, tidy your room, eat your dinner or Santa will cross you off his list, and you won’t get any toys. By weaponising Santa in this way, parents have created a bearded boogeyman to scare or bribe their children into behaving the way they want them to. This may be an instantly effective, no-nonsense behavioural control technique, but then so is smashing them in the face with a cricket bat.

The sad truth is that parents are conditioning their children to be good not for goodness’ sake – as the old snowman song goes – but to be good so they can get a new TV. They’re being encouraged to equate virtue with financial reward. Part of being a happy, successful and fully-socialised human being necessitates a degree of sacrifice, negotiation, humility and deference. These are qualities – and modes of conflict resolution – that shouldn’t need a chuckling demigod, or the dangled carrot of a PlayStation 4, to be fully realised.

My family and I were in a shopping mall last year, and passed by a Santa’s grotto. I couldn’t help feeling that there was something deeply sinister and ritualistic about the line of dead-eyed kids shuffling up to receive their gifts. They were like a cult. Here’s your new church, kids, here’s your new Jesus: roll up, roll up, as we inculcate you into the wholesale religion of consumer greed. Ho ho ho.

We experience rather enough problems with the religions we already have, thank you very much, without adding Santaism to the list. While belief in Santa may be the ‘Temporary Profile Picture’ of quasi-religious micro-faiths, it worries me tremendously that a belief in the supernaturalness of Santa might serve as a gateway drug to harder fictional beings, like Jesus or Moroni.

Imagine the scene in a household where a child who has been raised in a pro-Santa Christian family finally discovers that Santa isn’t real.

CHILD: “Ah, so Santa was all a big lie, was he? That’s hilarious. You had me, you did, you really had me, you got me hook, line and sinker with that one. So, come on, put me out of my misery. Jesus, right? Come on, the cat’s out of the bag. You made him up too, right? Miracles, walking on water, rising from the dead. I knew there was something iffy about that. I’ve got to hand it to you, though, you’ve created a genius fictional character there.”

PARENT: “Em… nope. Nope. That’s all true. Em… Jesus is real.”

CHILD: “…”

(Actually, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that Santa – employed properly – could be the antidote to Jesus: the great flicking wrist to bring down the whole house of cards.)

Nothing should be done to inhibit a child’s burgeoning critical faculties, or to corrupt their very sense of the world as an observable, rational and comprehensible place. Don’t get me wrong. I myself used to believe wholeheartedly in Santa Claus. I used to get letters from him, in this very ornate handwriting. I thought, this could only be the work of a magical being, he writes like a bloody pro. This guy’s the real deal. I also used to get plenty of Valentine’s cards. I don’t think I can properly express the horror I felt on the day I was old enough to realise that the letters from Santa and the Valentine’s cards were all in the same handwriting. That was a shock to me. “Well, Santa. I see last year’s presents have come with a few strings attached. I’m not that sort of boy. But maybe throw in a few Easter eggs and we’ll talk.”

The truth was even more horrible. I cross-referenced the Santa letters and the valentine’s cards with the handwriting on my birthday cards. They were from my gran. “Roses are red, I’m your mum’s mummy, I am going to put you, back up in my tummy.” I know she was just trying to boost my fragile little-boy ego, but I really bought in to the whole romantic fantasy. And all that time the unrequited love of my young life was a bloated septuagenarian who smelled of cabbage. I was cat-fished by own gran before it was even a thing.

“See?” people will say. “You believed in Santa, and YOU weren’t traumatised.”

You could put forward exactly the same argument for religion. Come on, you sang songs, you listened to some nice little stories, you went on coach trips. What’s your problem? I’ll tell you what my problem is: consent.

Believe me, I’ve analysed my opposition to Santa endlessly. Was I lied to as a child? Did I have promises broken? Is this what’s driving my dissection: are my trust issues bleeding on to Santa’s coat? I’m pretty sure that isn’t the case. I just have a hard time accepting that This is the way things are. This is the way things have always been. I can’t stop questioning. I have to ask why do we do it? When did we first do it? How has this ritual evolved? What did we do before it? What might we do in the future? What do they do in other countries? What are the consequences of us doing this? What are the consequences of us not doing this? How can the answers to either of those last two questions be measured to any degree of satisfaction?

Whose interest does Santa really serve?

I’m conscious that I’m probably coming across as even more of a misery guts and world-class humbug than Scrooge himself. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love the ceremony and expectation of Christmas. I love the tree, the twinkling lights, the cosy mugs of cocoa on the cold and bitter nights. I’m probably more excited about my kids opening their presents than they are (especially in the case of my youngest, who doesn’t yet know what the hell Christmas is). My partner and I have chosen presents perfectly suited to their personalities, presents that will help them play and learn and laugh and grow.

Maybe I just don’t want Santa to muscle in on that. But, more than that, I find it almost impossible to lie to my kids. Santa is a secret I’ve had no say in, that I have no need for. You don’t need Santa to make Christmas magical, but you do require his absence to maintain an honest and healthy stance on both society and the universe itself. My silence is being demanded not to preserve the mystery and magic of the festive season, but to stop me from blowing the whistle on the millions of other families who have chosen to deceive their children. Families who want to keep using Santa as a four-month-long carrot-and-stick combo. This only makes me want to blow the whistle all the more; to send my sons into their schools with information bombs strapped to their brains, ready to blast your children in their faces with the bright light of truth.

But I won’t. Because I’m as much a sheep as the rest of you. I took them to Santa’s Grotto last week. Me. Wilfully. Accidentally (I didn’t know the garden centre I was taking them to had a grotto), but of my own volition. And stood like a statue next to them both as pseudo-Santa spewed out his lies. I’m a Christmas quisling. A hypocrite. A man who fears the zeal of his festive partner. A man who has more and more respect for apostates and cult-breakers. If I can’t even wriggle my kids free of Santa’s soft grip, what hope would I have had as a doubting Scientologist?

I always want to be truthful with and to my children. But there are always limits. At some point in the future I’ll find myself having the following conversation:

“Daddy… what happens to grandma and grandpa now that they’re dead? Have they just disappeared? Will I ever see them again?”

“…”

“Daddy?”

“TWO MONTHS UNTIL SANTA COMES, WEE GUY, ARE YOU AS EXCITED AS I AM??!!”

Merry Christmas everybody.

Why it’s time to bid farewell to Santa (or: Why Santa is bad for your kids’ elf)

I could sit in a circle of peers and announce that I don’t believe in Yahweh, God, Vishnu, Allah or a giant turtle that holds the known world atop its back as it crawls through the cosmos, and most of them would probably accept this declaration with a silent nod or a shrug of the shoulders. Never mind that in certain countries, among certain people and cultures, such a vow would earn me a spell in prison, a steak knife to the stomach or death. Here in the modern, secular west, I can profess belief, or its lack, in whatsoever I choose and be almost certain of a tolerant reception. But try to tell people that I don’t want to play along with the Santa myth we force upon our kids, and I’m treated like a scar-faced leper with a vest of grenades and a public masturbation problem.

The sprawling Santa conspiracy, global in its reach, in which we entangle our children raises a multitude of uncomfortable questions, and comes at a terrible price: not least of which is the spirit of shattered trust in which it’s perpetuated.

All other western cultural norms are fluid, it seems, except for this one. Never this one. The only things that will grant you an exemption from Santa are deeply-held fundamentalist Christian beliefs or adherence to a non-Christian faith, and even then you’ll probably still be regarded as a destroyer of children’s dreams.

It’s clear that there’s something about this little red-and-white lie that’s seen as integral to and inextricable from a hearty and wholesome childhood. There’s a concomitant notion that somehow the act of debunking Santa holds the potential to obliterate a child’s capacity for innocence and imagination, and quite possibly leave them with the dull, jaded outlook of a middle-aged chartered accountant on the eve of his second divorce. Or else turn them into a fleet of joyless androids each with the face of Richard Dawkins.

Santa is but one fictional character in a cast of thousands. Why should he get special dispensation when it comes to the laws of reality? I regularly read my son stories about alien encounters, magical beanstalks, sentient robots and talking horses, without ever feeling the need to perpetuate the entertaining fallacies inherent in the source material. No-one would consider it heresy for me to explain to my son that horses can’t really talk; knowing this fact doesn’t in any way limit his imagination or detract from his very real enjoyment of the story. Penguins don’t have jobs, dogs can’t moonlight as policemen, there’s no such thing as ghosts, people can’t turn green and smash buildings when they’re angry. He knows that, or at least these things have been explained to him. He doesn’t care. He still mimics these characters and scenarios, and riffs on them in his own unique, imaginative way when he’s running about the house or play-acting with his toys.

The power of Santa compels him… to do very little

Here’s a question for you: why does Santa deliver unequal amounts of toys to the children of the world? Why does he deliver more toys to affluent families than he does to poor families? Clearly, on the great sliding scale of political ideology, the red-jacketed sleigh-racer is more tightly aligned to conservative notions of capitalism than he is to communism, or socialism. If your kid goes back to school after the winter break with a new pair of cheap shoes and a toy laser gun, and has to listen to another kid bragging about his £1000 home entertainment system and surprise trip to Disneyland, what is he to infer about his worth in Santa’s eyes? Should he castigate himself for being too naughty, placing the blame for his poor festive haul upon his own tiny shoulders? Or should he just conclude that Santa doesn’t really like him all that much?

Remove Santa from this equation, and you’ve still got a problem with unequal distribution of wealth and resources in society, married to an unslakable thirst for goods and gadgets that’s only heightened and reinforced by our media, but that’s an argument for another time (besides, there are more learned, original and eloquent thinkers out there with better and more important things to say on the topic than little old me).

Consider also this point: Santa is an omniscient being who has mastered time itself, can travel around the globe and back in one evening, and can apparently conjure an endless supply of toys from thin air, much as another bearded magician once did with water, wine, loaves and fish. Santa uses these powers not to alleviate suffering, lift people out of hunger and poverty, cure the sick and the lame or to usher in a new era of world peace, but to drop toy robots down chimneys. What a role model. He’s no better than Sooty, or Jesus.

You can emphasise the magical, imagination-stretching benefits of a child’s belief in Santa as a rationale for deceiving your children, but when I hear Santa’s name mentioned by parents, more often than not his name is evoked as a correctional tool rather than as an instrument of wonder. Be nice, behave, go to bed, tidy your room, eat your dinner, or Santa will cross you off his list, and you won’t get any toys. By weaponising Santa in this way, parents have created a bearded boogeyman to scare or bribe their children into behaving the way they want them to. This may be an instantly effective, no-nonsense behavioural control technique, but then so is smashing them in the face with a cricket bat.

The sad truth is that parents are conditioning their children to be good not for goodness’ sake – as the old snowman song goes – but to be good so they can get a new TV. They’re being encouraged to equate virtue with financial reward. Part of being a happy, successful and fully-socialised human being necessitates a degree of sacrifice, negotiation, humility and deference. These are qualities – and modes of conflict resolution – that shouldn’t need a chuckling demigod, or the dangled carrot of a PlayStation 4, to be fully realised.

My family and I were in a shopping mall at the weekend, and passed by a Santa’s grotto. I couldn’t help feeling that there was something deeply sinister and ritualistic about the line of dead-eyed kids shuffling up to receive their gifts. They were like a cult. Ho ho ho. Here’s your new church, kids, here’s your new Jesus: roll up, roll up, as we inculcate you into the wholesale religion of consumer greed.

We experience rather enough problems with the religions we already have, thank you very much, without adding Santaism to the list. While belief in Santa may be the ‘Temporary Profile Picture’ of quasi-religious micro-faiths, it worries me tremendously that a belief in the supernaturalness of Santa might serve as a gateway drug to harder fictional beings, like Jesus or Moroni.

Imagine the scene in a household where a child who has been raised in a pro-Santa Christian family finally discovers that Santa isn’t real.

CHILD: “Ah, so Santa was all a big lie, was he? That’s hilarious. You had me, you did, you really had me, you got me hook, line and sinker with that one. So, come on, put me out of my misery. Jesus, right? Come on, the cat’s out of the bag. You made him up too, right? Miracles, walking on water, rising from the dead. I knew there was something iffy about that. I’ve got to hand it to you, though, you’ve created a genius fictional character there.”

PARENT: “Em… nope. Nope. That’s all true. Em… Jesus is real.”

CHILD: “…”

(Actually, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that Santa – employed properly – could be the antidote to Jesus: the great flicking wrist to bring down the whole house of cards.)

Parents and guardians are the people that children listen to and look up to above all others, whose word is gospel for a significant proportion of their young lives. For them to distort a child’s understanding of the laws of time, physics and the universe is an unforgivable crime. Nothing should be done to inhibit a child’s burgeoning critical faculties, or to corrupt their very sense of the world as an observable, rational and comprehensible place.

Don’t get me wrong. I myself used to believe wholeheartedly in Santa Claus. I used to get letters from him, in this very ornate handwriting. I thought, this could only be the work of a magical being, he writes like a bloody pro. This guy’s the real deal. I also used to get plenty of Valentine’s cards. I don’t think I can properly express the horror I felt on the day I was old enough to realise that the letters from Santa and the Valentine’s cards were all in the same handwriting. That was a shock to me. “Well, Santa. I see last year’s presents have come with a few strings attached. I’m not that sort of boy. But maybe throw in a few easter eggs and we’ll talk.”

The truth was even more horrible. I cross-referenced the Santa letters and the valentine’s cards with the handwriting on my birthday cards. They were from my gran. “Roses are red, I’m your mum’s mummy, I am going to put you, back up in my tummy.” I know she was just trying to boost my fragile little-boy ego, but I really bought in to the whole romantic fantasy. And all that time the unrequited love of my young life was a bloated septugenarian who smelled of cabbage. I was cat-fished by own gran before it was even a thing.

I guess what really irks me about this time of year is the fact that Santa is a secret I’ve had no say in. You don’t need Santa to make Christmas magical, but you do require his absence to maintain an honest and healthy stance on both our society and the universe itself. My silence is being demanded, not to preserve the mystery and magic of the festive season, but to stop me from blowing the whistle on the millions of other families who have chosen to deceive their children. Families who want to keep using Santa as a four-month-long carrot-and-stick combo. This only makes me want to blow the whistle all the more; to send my sons into their future schools with information bombs strapped to their brains, ready to blast your children in their faces with the bright light of truth.

I always want to be truthful with my children.

“Daddy… what happens to grandma and grandpa now that they’re dead? Have they just disappeared? Will I ever see them again?”

“…”

“Daddy?”

“TWO MONTHS UNTIL SANTA COMES, WEE GUY, ARE YOU AS EXCITED AS I AM??!!”

I think I do, anyway.

Christmas Canine 2: The Wag-a Continues

Imagine my astonishment when I logged into this site’s email account to find that some plucky little reader out there had come up with a Brody-related image that’s as insane as it is festive. Well done, mysterious artist, whoever you are.

card (1)

There’s still time to submit your own to theotherjamie@hotmail.co.uk

Here’s a link to the original picture and mission statement:

http://www.jamieandrew-withhands.com/2014/12/23/the-tail-of-the-christmas-canine/

Merrg Brodymas!

The Tail of the Christmas Canine

A very lovely lady at work gave me a her-dog-themed Christmas card, which was sweet and thoughtful. Here it is:

merryxmas

Isn’t it nice? Isn’t the wee dog really cute?

This is how I repaid her:

dog

If any of you out there with too much time on your hands are up for creating pictures that whisk this adorable little quadruped into other places in time and space, then whip them up and drop me an email with the blighters attached. Let’s make Brody the most famous dog in the universe after Lassie, the Littlest Hobo and Hitler’s dog.

I’ll collate the pictures and we’ll give them their own hashtag on Twitter or something, because that’s modern as fuck and I’ve very much got my finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist, whatever that is.

(I already know I won’t receive a single picture of this fucking dog, not even a shit one where he’s at the pyramids, but please let me have my little deluded Yule-fuelled moment. I’m crying now. But my tears are for the dog. He could’ve been somebody. He could’ve been a contender. Goodbye.)

theotherjamie@hotmail.co.uk

Young Jamie: Portrait of a Serial Douchebag (Part 5)

That big tick after the word ‘pitchure’ makes it clear that I was being taught English by an incompetent who was as much a stranger to spelling as I was. Or maybe she was some sort of hippy who didn’t agree with knocking my incipient confidence by doing things like POINTING OUT WHEN I’D MADE A MISTAKE WHICH IS PRETTY MUCH A TEACHER’S RAISON D‘ETRE! ‘Aw, look, he spelled  the word cat using a ‘w’ and the number 9, but I’m not going to be the one to make those blue eyes cry. 10 out of 10, my little genius.’ And what was going on in the pitchure itself? Clearly we’ve got a scale problem; either that or the kid with blue eyebrows for arms is a giant. And what kind of teacher forces the boys to wear Indain (sic)  hats at a Christmas party? A fucking Red Indian Christmas party? SERIOUSLY? ‘OK, kids, let’s pass the parcel around the circle. But be careful. That parcel’s tainted with white man’s smallpox. Now, let’s scalp little Timmy.’ So what kind of hats will the girls be wearing? Well, just look at the pitchure, my young self implores you. Isn’t it obvious??  Em… no. Not really, young Jamie. French baguette and weird blue smudge hats? As worn by fucking Big Chief Blue Subway?

That big tick after the word ‘pitchure’ makes it clear that I was being taught English by an incompetent who was as much a stranger to spelling as I was. Or maybe she was some sort of hippy who didn’t agree with knocking my incipient confidence by doing things like POINTING OUT WHEN I’D MADE A MISTAKE WHICH IS PRETTY MUCH A TEACHER’S RAISON D‘ETRE! ‘Aw, look, he spelled the word cat using a ‘w’ and the number 9, but I’m not going to be the one to make those blue eyes cry. 10 out of 10, my little genius.’ And what was going on in the pitchure itself? Clearly we’ve got a scale problem; either that or the kid with blue eyebrows for arms is a giant. And what kind of teacher forces the boys to wear Indain (sic) hats at a Christmas party? A fucking Red Indian Christmas party? SERIOUSLY? ‘OK, kids, let’s pass the parcel around the circle. But be careful. That parcel’s tainted with white man’s smallpox. Now, let’s scalp little Timmy.’ So what kind of hats will the girls be wearing? Well, just look at the pitchure, my young self implores you. Isn’t it obvious?? Em… no. Not really, young Jamie. French baguette and weird blue smudge hats? As worn by fucking Big Chief Blue Subway?

The Best Shittest Films: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

s1The movie opens with a chorus of children singing the song-cum-mantra ‘Hooray for Santy Claus’, which is catchy in the same way that a song played over and over into a terrorist’s ear in Guantanamo Bay is catchy. Look out for the lyrics: ‘You spell it S-A-N-T-A C-L-A-U-S / Hooray for Santy Claus!’ which contain a glaringly insulting error. These happy kids are made to look like spelling-spastics by the song’s rampant disregard for its own rules. Look out for my new song, ‘You spell it J-A-M-I-E A-N-D-R-E-W / Hooray for Jamue Androw!’ A minor quibble, perhaps, but in the end it’s the little things that’ll have you prising out your eyes with a rusty tea-spoon.

So what’s the plot of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians?

'I'll fucking conquer them alright!'

‘I’ll fucking conquer them alright!’

The movie’s title makes it all sound rather kick-ass, doesn’t it? Perhaps you’re already wondering how he conquers them. Does he get his hands on an assault rifle and rip into the alien scumbags John McClane-style? Does he bash those green bastards to death with a concrete candy cane? No, not really. In fact there’s no conquering at all. Not even a wee bit of subduing. The film should really be called: ‘Santa Claus is Really Nice to the Martians, Even Though They Kidnap Him, and He Ultimately Leaves Mars On Good Terms With Its People Despite the Behaviour of a Tiny Minority of Baddy Martians Who Want to Kill Him.’ Not as catchy, but definitely more accurate.

The story begins on Earth. A news reporter is at Santa’s North Pole Workshop conducting a live interview with the bearded chuckler himself, a role actor John Call brings to life by channelling both the lion from The Wizard of Oz, and a paedophile.

VERY Bad Santa.

VERY Bad Santa.

As we meet him, Santa is overseeing the global production of all toys. Quite a feat, considering his work shop is about the size of a small potting shed and his workforce consists of two dwarves. Two dwarves. That’s it. If magic isn‘t involved then Santa’s a more cruel and brutal slave-driver than all of the pharaohs put together, plus Hitler. The dwarves really should form a union.

'Whachoo talkin' about, Space-Willis?'

‘Whachoo talkin’ about, Space-Willis?’

One of the toys on the production line is a doll of a Martian, a wee piece of foreshadowing for our impending trip to Mars. Now, I don’t know if it was the poor lighting, the screen resolution on my laptop, or my own latent racism, but that Martian doll looked less like a Martian than he did… well… black. The toy was essentially a sci-fi gollywog. The news reporter picked up the doll and said, with some measure of fear and disgust: ’I wouldn’t like to meet him on a dark night.’ Of course you wouldn’t, you big Nazi.

So, Anyway, the Martians…

I'd be sad, too, if my Dad dressed me up like a total helmet.

I’d be sad, too, if my Dad dressed me up like a total helmet.

Meanwhile, across the solar system, the live broadcast of this interview is being watched by a duo of dead-eyed Martian kids, who thanks to their nasty TV addiction look like the offspring of a serial killer and Al Jolson. Their dad, Kimar, whose day-job is Martian supreme commander, is worried shitless about them. If he’d been an American dad he would have known what to do: dope the cunts up with beef burgers and Ritalin. Being Martian and ignorant of Earth ways he has to plump for a more locally-based two-prong solution.

Step one: put them to bed and knock them out with a sleep ray, without warning or consent. Nice work, Dad of the Year. Final step: get a crowd of mates together and go out into the rocky wilderness to consult a creepy 800-year-old man. We’d all do the same, and you know it. This old man, of course, needs to be summoned. ‘Dave? Hey, Dave? DAVE, YOU THERE, MATE?!’ No, that would be too easy. In any case the 800-year-old guy is called Chochum. Not Dave. Apparently Dave isn’t a very common Martian name. We’re all learning something today.

Chochum. A magical space mystic on Mars. That makes sense.

Chochum. A magical space mystic on Mars. That makes sense.

So, Kimar and a bunch of Martian elders band together and chant ‘Chochum’ into the unforgiving darkness, until the old fucker appears in a puff of smoke, complete with Gandalf-beard, standard-issue-old-mystic-guy staff and pish-scented wisdom. Chochum delivers his lines like a man receiving a sloppy blow-job as he fends off a stroke, which is pretty fucking funny.

What does Chochum suggest as a way of releasing the children from their torpor? Kidnap Santa Claus, of course. It’s so logical and sensible it’s a wonder they didn’t think of it themselves. So off they fly in their little spaceship, the operation of which is no more complicated than pressing buttons on a child’s fake calculator. The ship itself is a curious piece of inter-stellar engineering, looking for all the world like a burning condom whooshing through space.

The Search for Santa

s7The Martians reach Earth and begin their search for Santa – using a high-powered telescope, rather than any namby-pamby futuristic technology. To their horror they realise that there are thousands upon thousands of Santas in New York alone. With no way of determining which is the genuine article they do what any military group placed in a similar situation would do: they kidnap some kids. Bloody Martians. Always with the kidnapping! The kids tell the Martians where Santa Claus lives, and they all zoom off to the North Pole to get him.

The two kids, Billy and Betty, are incredibly annoying, and very shit at acting. It’s as if immediately prior to each take the director said to them: ‘The last one was good kids, but this time… NO EMOTION. Brilliant. And remember to deliver your lines in the style of a short-sighted, brain-damaged man struggling to read an autocue.’

Unfortunately, the kids learn not only that the Martians intend to whisk Santa across the solar system against his will, but also that they – being witnesses to the crime – must come, too, never to return to Earth. In fact, as if things couldn’t possibly be any worse, there’s an evil baddy Martian onboard who wants them all dead. His name’s Stevie. Yeah, alright, alright, I’m fucking with you. He’s called Voldar. Fortunately, there’s also a kind-hearted Martian simpleton onboard called Dropo, who succeeds in keeping the kids alive through a winning display of consistently retarded buffoonery.

About as scary as a tub of margarine.

About as scary as a tub of margarine.

The action at the North Pole is… shit. Adjectives fail me. It’s shit. The kids escape the ship and run off to warn Santa of his impending kidnap. In the process they get chased by the most unconvincing polar bear in existence. I know the director couldn’t unleash a real polar bear on the kids – some piffling Health and Safety law about not feeding children to large ursine predators, no doubt – but as far as guys-wearing-shit-animal-costumes go, Barney the Dinosaur is more authentically terrifying than this sorry excuse for a polar bear. Anyway, having escaped one near-death experience the kids then fall into the clutches of Voldar’s killer robot, who looks like the robot from Lost in Space if he was built by a class of special needs kids using cereal boxes, and the bin from Oor Wullie.

About as scary as... a second tub of margarine. And also made from tubs of margarine.

About as scary as… a second tub of margarine. And also made from tubs of margarine.

Don’t worry, though. Before the robot can crush the kids’ heads to dust like a couple of loaves of twelve-week-old bread, Kimar shows up to cool things down. The robot is then sent to retrieve Santa Claus, but is defeated when Santa Claus mistakes it for a giant toy, which inexplicably causes it to BECOME a toy, thereby rendering it harmless. Whoever programmed that robot shouldn‘t have been let loose on a hoover, much less a sophisticated cybernetic life-form.

‘Right, brilliant, my robot can kill a man with its bare hands, withstand gun, rocket and laser fire, smash its way through titanium and destroy whole cities with its nuclearised death beam. Pretty much its only weakness is being treated like a toy by an old man. But how likely’s that, right? I’ll leave that in the programming for some reason. What do you want me to build next? A robot dog that explodes whenever somebody makes it think about Sesame Street? I’m on a fucking roll here.’

The End…

'Ho ho ho! No need for mental health professionals, I'll cure your schizophrenia through laughter!'

‘Ho ho ho! No need for mental health professionals, I’ll cure your schizophrenia through laughter!’

Because I’m quickly losing the will to live I’ll speed up this review. Onboard the USS Flaming Spunk Sac, Voldar tries to kill Santa Claus and the kids by trapping them in the airlock and ejecting them out into the cold, remorseless void of space (lovely to see the threat of choking, exploding children in a kids’ film); unfortunately for Voldar (and all of us) they manage to escape through… well, magic. Yep. Santa Claus defies physics, and when quizzed on the specifics of his escape simply tells a few shit jokes, throws back his head and laughs.

Santa Claus then arrives on Mars and cures the Martian kids by… hmmm mmm, you’ve guessed it: telling a few shit jokes, throwing back his head and laughing. Kimar still slings him in jail, though, because he needs Santa to set up a toy workshop for the Martian kids, which he’ll work in until the day he dies. Ho ho ho!

Kimar (right) with his nemesis, Voldar, who looks like an evil Daley Thompson.

Kimar (right) with his nemesis, Voldar, who looks like an evil Daley Thompson.

Meanwhile, Voldar isn’t happy that everyone he twice tried to kill is still alive, and so forms an evil clique with a handful of the most stupid people on Mars. Why do baddies in kids’ films team up with complete idiots like this? They end up spending their valuable plotting-and-killing-time tip-toeing around like Panto villains, shooshing their bungling henchman as they do things like constantly trip over stuff and accidentally detonate bombs, always scratching their heads and saying, ’Uh, um, gee, sorreeee bosssss.’ Don’t hire them then, you fucking arsehole! There’s no equal opportunities directive dictating the make-up of your kid-murdering co-op. Employ real, ruthless killers and criminals; not the guys who turn up to the interview drooling with their jackets on back-to-front. Christ, your heinous plans deserve to get foiled.

This time, though, instead of murdering Santa and the kids, Voldar plans to discredit Santa by screwing around with his toy factory, causing it to spit out weird toy hybrids, like tennis racquets with doll bodies instead of handles. The plan doesn’t work; principally because it’s a shit plan. If he wanted to discredit Santa he really should have gone down the paedophile route. Cast-iron. Anyway, Voldar thinks, in defiance of all available historical facts: ‘Fuck it. I’ll just try to kill them all again.’

s12That plan doesn’t work either; because clearly one man with a death ray is no match for a bunch of kids with paper aeroplanes, water, bubbles and foam.

Santa, Billy and Betty then get to go home, but it’s OK, because Santa leaves the operation of the workshop in the hands of the mentally-deranged Martian, Dropo and a squad of under-age children. Congratulations! You’ve given the people of Mars the Christmas gift of an exploitative sweat shop. Now back to Earth with you, you fat cunt.

SPOILER ALERT: it turns out that Santa was dead all along and the children were the only ones who could see him. Oh, and he was Kaiser Szose.

The Legacy

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians was a great stepping stone for the careers of its principal actors: a stepping stone into oblivion. After his role as Santa, John Call didn’t act for another seven years, appeared in one more movie, and then died. Still, we’ll always look back fondly at the iconic roles he played throughout his career, like Man With Bushy Hair and Ticket Taker.

Head Martian Kimar was Leonard Hicks’ only film role. He never even went on to work as a movie extra. He just must have thought to himself: ’Fuck movies.’

The two child actors, Victor Stiles and Donna Conforti, went on a drug-fuelled sex-killing rampage in the 70s, torturing their mostly elderly victims whilst dressed as polar bears. Either that or they never acted again.

Uncle Wally/Dropo

Uncle Wally/Dropo

The only ’star’ to achieve any modicum of success was actor Bill McCutcheon, who played Martian mongo Dropo. Bill went on to have a distinguished career portraying many more on-screen mongos, and ended his days working on Sesame Street, alongside other respected luminaries of kids’ TV such as Chris Langham.

Young Jamie: Portrait of a Serial Douchebag (part 2)

Here’s another diary entry from my Primary 2 jotter.

OK, first thing's first, the 12th of November is not near Christmas. You'll have to forgive my poor sense of time perspective. I hadn't started masturbating yet, and so had nothing to fill the void between special occasions. I probably thought December the 26th was pretty near Christmas. Anyway, I seemed to be really looking forward to getting this gorilla suit, ostensibly so I could swap it for a Santa suit.

OK, first thing’s first, the 12th of November isn’t near Christmas. Please forgive my poor sense of time perspective. I hadn’t started masturbating yet, and so there was nothing to fill the void between special occasions. I probably thought December the 30th was near Christmas. What a little toy whore. Anyway, what’s the whole suit swap thing all about? Why did I believe that I could only hope to possess a Santa suit if I first donned a gorilla suit? Maybe gorilla is a soft gateway suit that leads you on to harder and harder suits, until eventually you’re way past Santa and standing infront of the Children’s Panel in a blue tutu and a diver’s helmet. In any case, a gorilla suit is WAY better than a Santa suit. What the fuck was I thinking? You can scare an old lady unconscious when you’re in a gorilla suit. In a Santa suit? Not so much. Unless it’s April and you’re carrying a knife. Speaking of Christmas-related violence, I can’t help but feel that the picture I’ve drawn isn’t that festive. It’s ostensibly a warm, happy picture of a family crowded around a fireplace on Christmas Day; but, if you look closely, I’m throwing my hands in the air and screaming in horror. And no wonder! At the left-hand side of the fireplace there’s a tubby, middle-aged guy showing off a whopping blue boner, and at the right-hand side of the fireplace there’s another guy with an even BIGGER blue boner – it’s longer than his legs, for fuck sake! And look again: the fireplace isn’t a fireplace at all, but a giant box with three massive locks on its lid that those rapey bastards are going to shut me in once they’re done perpetrating sex crimes on my young, black ass. Wait a minute… am I wearing a cat suit? That’s it, I’m phoning Esther Rantzen.