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.

Flies, Lies and Crime Fighting Dogs

fliesI hate flies. They repulse me. If there are too many of them occupying a room in which I’m planning to eat, then I can’t eat. Not until I’ve blasted each and every one of them from the sky with a precision towel flick, or taken the fight directly to them on every wall, ceiling and light-shade upon which they’re bold or stupid enough to land.

My 22-month-old son has observed the ritual many times. I settle down to eat, and before I’ve even ingested so much as a morsel one of the poo-eating ninjas whooshes out from behind a curtain and tries to 9/11 my mashed potatoes. I have to kill it. My jaws lock with disgust, my appetite drops dead. Before I can eat another forkful, I have to kill it, else I’ll spend the remainder of my meal-time imagining its filthy little body crunching between my teeth. So I jump and curse and flail and rage, mad-eyed and spitting, demanding that every human eye in the room become part of my fly-detecting CCTV network.

flies2

It’s rubbed off on the wee guy. He’s become my most trusted fly-spotter. “Daddy… FLY!” he’ll shout any time he sees one, lifting a finger aloft to mark its final resting place. Sometimes it’s a spider, or a fleck of paint, but what he lacks in accuracy he makes up for in vigour. If you ask him, “What do we do with flies?”, he’ll smack his palms together in an almighty cymbal motion and start shouting ‘FLY! FLY DIE!’ And my heart will swell, and I’ll think, “That’s my boy!” I’m surely witnessing the first delicate shoots of his first verifiable inter-generational neuroses, handed down from father to son. It’s truly a landmark moment. So he probably won’t be a Buddhist… but if keeping flies alive is the cost of admission to Buddhism, then I’m glad to have priced my son out of that disease-saturated market. Death to Fly-SIS!

You’ve got to really think about the way your kids see the world at this age, and consider the things they’ll cut and paste from you and the world around them to compile their own personalities. We went to a funday at the weekend and watched a police dog display. Hitherto he’s considered dogs to be plodding, docile beasts that put up with his shit and occasionally lick his face. The police dog display taught him that these furry fuckers he looks upon so fondly are also capable of taking down a fully grown man with a bounding gallop and a single arm-snarling leap. As he watched the dog savage the downed policeman’s arm, I had to make it clear to him that this wasn’t the norm. I framed it for him thusly: “This dog is a special dog. It helps the police. It helps the police fight the baddies.” His face bunched up into a frown before breaking out into a smile. “Fight baddies!” he said, nodding to himself, before shouting out “BATMAN!”

batdog

“Yes, that’s right,” we told him, “the dog fights the baddies like Batman.” (He’s a big fan of the cartoon.) He then proceeded to spend the next five minutes pointing at the dog and shouting BATMAN over and over again. BATMAN! BATMAN! BATMAN! Rather than remark on how clever he was, bystanders unaware of the context in which he’d processed the dog’s actions might’ve thought we’d raised a fucking idiot.

I always want my son to see the mechanism behind things. I’ll probably clue him in on the whole Santa Claus cover-up when he’s a little bit older, so he can use the knowledge to hoodwink and manipulate his daft-ass school friends. Perhaps he’ll tell them that Santa’s a ferocious half-rat, half-alien killing machine that’ll kill them in their beds unless they leave a pile of their mum’s panties on the living room floor. Or that unless they all pay him a fiver each Santa won’t be able to afford enough magic dust to fly on Christmas Eve. The possibilities are endless. In my imagination, that is. Something tells me that my missus isn’t going to allow me to take our little boy’s dreams in my fist and crush them like rice cakes. Spoilsport!

badsanta

Just before I left the house last night I slipped a fake rubber hand up the sleeve of my jacket, and held my ‘hand’ out for my son to shake. At the climax of the handshake he found himself holding a disembodied human hand and staring at a bloodless stump on his dad’s arm. His world-shaking shock lasted only a second, before my real hand spat out of the stump accompanied by a happy TA-DA! “Pretend hand!” I smiled. “…tend hand,” he nodded. I then repeated the trick from the beginning a few times, showing him the whole process from start to finish. His mum did it for him too. He’s now cool and happy with the rubber hand, and I fully expect him to be using it to put the shits up his grandparents by Christmas. Unfortunately, I think part of him now believes two contradictory things at once: that I have two real hands, but also that one of my hands is fake. As I left the house and waved him goodbye with my real hand, he shouted: “Bye pretend hand!”

Is it possible to fuck someone up in a good way?

RELATED ARTICLES

Thoughts on becoming a Dad

The nightmare of soft play

When your child is ill

On breastfeeding

Man vs Insects

 

 

 

Santa’s Journal (Entry 9) – May 25 2013

No stress today. No phone calls, no bullshit. That was my vow. Well, Margaret commanded it because of my heart, actually. Ordered me to take it easy, and have a day of peace.

And I was largely successful. The most excitement came this morning as I was dozing in my armchair, when I thought I heard something coming from the snow dunes. What can I say: it’s a thrilling existence. Hell of a racket, though. It sounded like something was shaking the ground like it was a shag-pile rug, and scattering the snow like debris. Did I hear it? I think we’ve established that I’m getting old, and every sensory organ is packing up one at a time for the old folks’ home, so maybe I didn’t. Besides, when I heard this noise – that may or may not have been of phantom origin – I was still straddling the gulf between Sandman and Snowman, Barbados and Lapland, asleep and awake, so I wasn’t even in possession of the sound, deductive powers of Eamonn Holmes, never mind Sherlock Holmes. I thought maybe Margaret had dropped another tray of mince pies in the kitchen. She hadn’t. She suggested that my own nightmarishly loud snoring had woken me up. It’s possible. My snores sound like a plane-load of panicked, parachuting pigs making an emergency landing onto a passing convoy of motorbikes, just as God squats over their faces and roars out a planet-chewing fart.

Conditions were pleasant in the living room this morning, though, I can tell you. The fire was roaring and spitting by my side. Lovely, warm and stress-free. Screw excitement: there’s nothing quite like dozing off in your favourite chair in-front of your favourite hot fire, the newspaper crumpled on your lap and your slippers clinging to your feet like two tufts of toasty cloud.

Well, unless it’s that fantasy of mine where a naked, voluptuous model on a reclining chair awaits my descent down the chimney, legs akimbo, a cigarette dangling seductively from her ruby-red lips, greeting me in husky tones with the words: ‘So, Santa, let’s see if I can help you empty that bulging sack of yours.’

The fantasy always hovers in the air above my fire-toasted armchair, waiting for me to sit down and slip it on like a virtual reality sex helmet. Hey, I may play the part of Santa, but I’m still a man, right? I’m Frank McGarry: as red-blooded as I am red-jacketed.

It’s just a shame that Margaret’s idea of sex these days is extra clotted cream on our scones. There’s a euphemism in there somewhere, I’m sure.

‘Aw, look at you,’ Margaret’ll say as she catches me daydreaming (she thinks I’m daydreaming!), and spots the beaming grin plastered across my  features. ‘What’s making you so happy, my love?’

‘I’m just thinking…’ I’d purr, ‘…of the happiness I bring… to the children of the world.’

As I mentioned at the beginning of this entry, my vow to remain cocooned in peace was only largely successful. I can always count on my bosses at Coca Cola to get my heart beating like the samba. I waited until Margaret was at the shop, and then tried phoning the bastards multiple times to discuss this Dwerg Neuken situation and how they’re treating the elves, and to vent a little of my anger (nobody calls me Mickey Mouse and gets away with it!), but if the phone wasn’t just ringing out, I was being assured by some automated arsehole that ‘my call was very important.’ So important that they completely ignored it about eighty-five times. A day of reckoning is upon them, let me assure you of that…

Santa’s Journal (Entry 8) – May 24 2013

I spent the morning trying to get through to Coca Cola. Kept getting their switchboard.

‘This is Frank McGarry calling,’ I said in my sternest, boomiest voice. ‘I need to speak with management.’

I always use my real name when I’m angry with them. They know I mean business when I cast off my Santa branding and let my Glasgow show. It didn’t work though. The receptionist told me that the big boss was in meetings all day. I asked for the man under him. Surprise: he’s in meetings too. And the man under him. I think I went through the entire list of staff, top to bottom, trying to find someone to take my call. It turns out that even the guy in the fucking mail room is in meetings today.

Next I called the management at Dwerg Neuken. They’d speak to me, alright, but I’d’ve been better talking to a brick wall. Christ, I’d’ve been better talking to Margaret. I got through to their CEO, some whiny-voiced arsehole by the name of Jorg Griswald, and told him in no uncertain terms that what he was doing to the elves was immoral and deplorable. That the elves were a loyal, decent and hardworking lot who didn’t deserve to have their meagre pay slashed even more. And, besides, if anybody is going to make their lives an unending misery, it should be me!

‘I am full of large apologies today, Mr madam,’ he said, his reedy Norwegian accent going up and down like an asthmatic mouse on a pogo-stick, ‘but what does our business with the little people of the snow have to do to you?’

‘What does it have to do with me?? I’m Santa Claus, motherfucker!!!’

From what I was able to piece together from his terrible command of English, Jorg will answer only to his masters at Coca Cola. I was a mere puppet, a mascot, a breathing piece of branding, scarcely a human being. His exact words were: ‘Sooner I would be taking orders from Mickey Mouse, yes?’

Which is why I’m posting him a big bag of reindeer shite. First class.

 

Santa’s Journal (Entry 7) – May 22 2013

Gundal came to see me at the house today. Margaret let him in, and made him some scones. She keeps calling him Stephen. ‘But he reminds me of Stephen,’ she keeps telling me. But I’ve no idea who Stephen is, and the disturbing thing is: neither does she. We don’t know anyone called Stephen. Plus, Stephen is a human name. Gundal is an elf name. Gundal has an elf name, largely due to the fact that Gundal is an elf. If we did know somebody called Stephen who reminded us of Gundal, then this Stephen would be three-feet tall, with ears that looked like they’d been caught in a thresher. I worry about the old bird sometimes. Her memory’s not what it once was. It’s playing tricks on her. World-class magician tricks. With added conjuring. Because she’s even started to forget things that she hasn’t even done, and then remembering them again.

Margaret’s memory’s a relay baton being passed between illusion and reality, making a lot of our conversations feel like code-breaking sessions at Bletchley Park. She’s lucid most of the time, so I guess it’s simply yet another wonderful side-effect of ageing, like my eight-day hangovers and fierce urges to urinate that come upon me on-the-hour-every-hour, like Piss FM traffic updates. But I would seem to be her rock, in the sense that her memory and focus never seem to fail her when it comes to my transgressions. Oh, they shine like beacons in the mist of her mind, keeping her anchored to reality. That’s my justification for continuing to leave the toilet seat up and nibbling my knuckle warts, in any case. I’m being noble, and trying to keep her memory ticking over. In many ways I’m a hero, I suppose…

Anyway, I gave Gundal a leg up to one of the armchairs in our living room. Typically, elves are predisposed to jolliness – they’re not grumpy wee bastards like dwarfs. But little Gundal looked like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. His smile was a hyphen, and his eyebrows were like two thin daggers each ready to strike diagonally at their opposing nostrils.

He shared what was troubling him, and as I listened I could feel the anger bubbling in me from boots to beard. The elves have received a memo from Coca Cola telling them that they will no longer be employed directly by Coca Cola. The elves’ work has been subcontracted to a third party, some company called Dwerg Neuken, and its management has sent a communication informing the elves that there will be changes to their working hours, conditions and rates of pay; a new, harsher contract, in essence. He wants me to fight their corner, which of course I’ll do – as I always do. I just don’t know if I’ll have a leg to stand on with Coca Cola given recent events. But what the Hell. Who needs legs when you’ve got fists?

Santa’s Journal – (Entry 6) May 19 2013

It looks like I’m getting a visit from those suit-wearing, soul-sucking sons of bitches at Coca Cola. They claim to have photographic evidence of corporate vandalism, and want to ‘have a little chat’ about my ‘plans for the future’, and discuss the ‘ins and outs of my contract.’ I know euphemisms when I hear them. That’s like when a mafia boss kisses you on both cheeks and tells you he’s always loved you. The piano wire and cement shoes can’t be too far away. So I could be getting the retirement of my dreams after all. And all it took was an unwholesome quantity of alcohol, and a heap of reckless abandon.

I wondered, though, exactly what evidence they might have, so I assembled the elves for a meeting. Gundal, my head elf, told me that on the night of his birthday I ordered thirty of the elves to trample ‘FUCK COCA COLA’ into one of the snow dunes, a message that has now frozen in fifty-foot-high letters. Not only that, but I made them pour thousands of vats of Coke into the trenches, which also froze, leaving a big brown message which apparently is visible from space.

Also, one of the elves got the pictures he took that night developed, and from the evidence it looks like I traveled way further than Glasgow on my drunken tour. This picture was taken in Bulgaria, and they say I was responsible for most of the painting. I believe them. Pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Santa’s Journal (Entry 5) – May 16 2013

Drinking’s a young man’s game. I still feel a little out of sorts after Gundal’s birthday bash. My neural pathways are like never-ending corridors in a vast hospital; thoughts staggering down them like heavily-medicated mental patients with their dressing gowns open. I keep finding clues to my drunken behaviour. Trying to remember the other night is like piecing together a jigsaw made out of fog. Maybe some things are better not knowing. Like how the Jesus from Glasgow’s George Square nativity scene ended up in my bathroom. In May. How in the name of Hell’s bum whiskers did I manage that?

I might have a bit of magic at my disposal, but I thank all that’s good that time travel isn’t among my talents. Think how much worse it would have been if I’d managed to snatch the actual baby Jesus. I guess that’s why Doc and Marty McFly don’t get pished up before they hammer the DeLorean up to 88. I dread to think what Marty would have done to his mum if he’d downed a few bottles of vodka on the way to that dance. Anyway, I’ve wandered off the point a little. It serves a purpose, though. Nonsense talk about time travelling incest is distracting me from the fact that I can hear my heartbeat through my fingers. I’m even sure I can smell my blood, and it smells like Jack Daniels on burnt toast. Blasted bloody hangover! Margaret says I should clamp the reindeers before I start drinking. Or stop drinking. A novel idea. Perhaps I’ll consider it.

It might improve staff relations. Doritch, my most reliable elf, had to fly back to Greenland with Rudolph to pick up the elves I’d left behind. Apparently I kidnapped them. That’s a strong word. I’d like to think I invited them on an adventure against their own will. They weren’t too happy, the boring little buggers, but I’ve given the five of them a week off work, plus a bonus, so all’s fair in rum and war. On the home-front, the conversational cold war between me and Margaret finally has ceased, and relations have warmed. I’ve graduated from being a loutish brute to a lovable rogue again.

My friend Ronald phoned today. He’s flying out next week for a visit. We used to have a wild old time back in the day. We would’ve made Gundal’s party look like an Amish disco. Seems like we’re both slowing down. Age has done it to me, a new-found sensibility has done it for him. Was talking to him about my desire to retire, and he thinks it’s a good plan and I should really push it with Coca Cola. He said we can talk about it when he arrives. I’m looking forward to that. Haven’t seen him in years. Last time I saw him he was a natural fluorescent red. Now I gather he dyes it. Ah, well. I just hope he doesn’t bring with him that drippy friend of his; always gabbing on about this stamp collection and the mating behaviour of woodland insects. I can’t stand the Hamburglar.

Santa’s Journal (Entry 4) – May 14 2013

Last night’s party for Gundal was so good I woke up in Greenland. The flight home was a bit shaky, because the reindeers were still a bit pissed, too. Six of them vomited into the Arctic Ocean, and I caught a bit of splash-back. I’m sure we’ve left a few elves behind. I might send one of the more responsible elves back with Rudolph later in the day to do a reconnoitre/search-and-rescue thingy.

Margaret was pretty furious with me. Worried sick, she was. She left the community centre quite early in the evening complaining of a headache, and I said I wouldn’t be too far behind her. By this point, however, I was dressed as a polar bear and roaring at elves, so maybe she shouldn’t have put so much stock in my promise. I guess I’m just trying to rationalise in light of my shenanigans. Margaret said to me this afternoon that I should start acting my age and have a bit more respect for myself. Especially since all of the elves look up to me. By the time she uttered that line I was too hungover even to do the obvious and cruel elf-related height joke. So I vomited into a bucket instead.

‘You should be top of your own naughty list, Frank McGarry!’ she told me.

That’s my real name: Frank. I’m not supposed to reveal that information for fear of contractual reprisals. ‘Brand continuity’ and ‘image integrity’ are the relevant buzz-words here, I believe. But I come from a long line of Santa Claus’s. We’re not immortal; just ordinary Joes living in extra-ordinary circumstances, working for a bunch of extra-ordinary arseholes. There are rites of succession, sort of like what they do with Popes. We die, and another Santa takes our place, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum.

No more journal today, though. My skull feels like it’s filled with explosive eels. And I’ve got a dear wife to crawl to, and sick to scrub.

Santa’s Journal (Entry 3) – May 12 2013

Spent most of the morning revising my ‘Naughty List’. Coca Cola told me I couldn’t use one anymore, that no child could be excluded from Santa’s services no matter how bad their behaviour. I’ve got the memo here somewhere. Ah, yes.

‘It is not your responsibility as one of our major brand representatives, nor the responsibility of Coca Cola itself, its subsidiaries or shareholders, to comment on or offer judgement upon the behaviour of individual customers or to create criteria under which customers could be excluded from our services based on arbitrary and often subjective codes of conduct. Coca Cola is a profit-driven company, and those profits, and indeed our brand, would suffer if we were to behave in this manner. Moral positions are best adopted and enforced by the church, and penalties best enforced through the legal system. It is not in our interests to attempt to fulfill the roles of either institution.’

So, roughly translated: ‘It doesn’t matter if some wee cunt’s put a brick through an old disabled woman’s window, doused her beloved pet-cat in paraffin, set it alight and then taken potshots at its screaming body with a pellet gun; so long as his parents are prepared to spend more money than they have in their bank accounts on Christmas presents, and continue to encourage their Hell-spawn to glug Coca Cola in quantities that would obliterate an elephant’s pancreas, then who gives a flying Yeti’s bawbag?’ I’m no legal eagle, but I do have a first-class honours degree in Reading Between the Lines, and a doctorate in Advanced Bullshit Detection.

Margaret took my blood-pressure again today. It’s high. My heart’s smacking around in my old chest like a jet-propelled pin-ball.

A photo of Snelling, reproduced in the interests of public safety. WARNING: he doesn’t normally look like Barry Cryer. He’s a master of disguise. BEWARE.

Anyway, Innis Snelling. He’s definitely top of the naughty list this year. I won’t go into too much detail and defile my memoirs with a record of his disgusting misdeeds, but suffice to say he got up to some sickening, sexual, banana-related ethnic tomfoolery. And what’s with the lad’s name? He sounds like a rejected Harry Potter villain. No toys for you, motherfucker.

Wee Gundal the elf’s birthday bash tonight. That should relax me.

 

 

Santa’s Journal (Entry 2) – May 11 2013

Scrunch, scrunch, scrunch. I was walking back from the shop when it really struck me. Scrunch, scrunch. That noise, that sickening noise of boot on snow, like a rat gnawing through my skull. Snow. How much I hate it. White, endless white, it’s all the eye can see. I’d punch it if I thought it would make a blind bit of difference.

I’ve been thinking about it since yesterday. Escape. Screw the threat of legal action and the loss of pension. That’s what I should do, just escape. Get a hold of some false identities, shave off my beard, scoop up Margaret and then the pair of us bugger off to Barbados or somewhere equally sun-kist, to be collected by the Grim Reaper replete with burgeoning melanomas and livers gone wonky through one too many beach-front cocktails. Sounds like bliss to me. Fuck Christmas, fuck children and an extra-special fuck reserved for those sharp-suit wearing sons of dogs at Coca Cola.

I used to really enjoy my job, the status of being Santa – it used to really mean something. And the snow didn’t rankle so much when I felt like I was making a difference. Not now though. It was around the conclusion of the six-thousandth snowball fight that the malaise really kicked in, and shortly after the construction of the nine-thousand-and-fiftieth snowman. How I despise snowmen now. Now, at Christmas time, when I go on my deliveries, I take great delight in decapitating those I find in children’s gardens. Sometimes, with a hearty laugh, I sculpt sets of biologically intricate genitalia onto their icy bodies. The snowmen, that is. Not the children. To pass the long, bitter and freezing days here in the North Pole I’ve taken to erecting rows of snowmen, blindfolding them and mowing them down with an industrial strength hairdryer. Sometimes I douse them in petrol and set them alight. I swear that sometimes I can even hear them scream. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

Santa’s Journal (Entry 1) – May 10 2013

I really want to retire, that’s the truth. But I won’t let those bastards at Coca Cola force me out. When I go, I’m going with my pension. So if they’re unhappy with my performance and general attitude to the work, and I’m unhappy being locked into this uninspiring life of snow and misery, then so be it. We’ll just have to be mutually unhappy; but happy that the lawyers too will be unhappy.

They are a shower of bastards, though, Coca Cola. I asked if I could relocate my North Pole base to the Southern hemisphere throughout the winter and spring months, but they said ‘no’. Gave me some shit about ‘brand coherence and continuity.’ So I’ve got to freeze my balls off like Nicholson in a hedge maze just in-case some kid breaks down in a heap cause they’ve seen Santa sauntering through Spain with a fucking Hawaiian shirt on. As if they’d recognise me. I even said I’d shave my beard, but, no, they said. ‘Your beard is the property of Coca Cola, Mr Claus.’

That’s why I’ve switched to drinking Pepsi. It’s not much, but it feels to me like the first strike of a guerrilla war. I can’t even change this coat, or deviate from the Coca Cola corporate colour scheme for fear of a law-suit. That’s definitely something I don’t want to be wearing. Every time I look down at the blood-red of my sleeve I feel more and more like I’m wearing a strait-jacket.

I remember when I used to be happy here. Where did it all go wrong?