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