Now that Christmas looms, I’ve managed to switch off and spend several days consumed by reading Alex Rider books and losing hours to GTA: Vice City and Saints Row IV. This hasn’t stopped me getting at least one half-baked writing idea at a friend’s party, or creating some suspiciously familiar figures in my games…
But you don’t want to know about my gaming habit. What ended up coming to me was a story of my Christmas past that’s so harrowing, so raw, it should come with a warning label to pour yourself a large brandy and gird your loins. Read on…
Many moons ago, I lived outside Edinburgh. Well, it was two hours on buses to get to school, and at the same time the house was huddled uncomfortably next to Scotland’s busiest airport. We may have been the only ones who got a Christmas hamper from them to apologise for diverting a flight path directly over our house. Still, it beat the present from the local farmer apologising for shooting birds on his land. That duck shrivelled up in the oven more than my sense of humour gland after watching Citizen Khan.
Being in the countryside was fun for the first few weeks, and then the crushing realisation hits. You’re miles from anything fun. Your friends have to bring a sherpa with them to visit. When there’s heavy snow, or when the river bursts its banks, you have to be taken home from school in your dad’s tractor. (Okay, that one was pretty cool.) Christmas meant meal planning that would put an army general to shame, as the nearest shop was miles away and the grocery vans didn’t come round very often. But there was one tiny shred of comfort. Santa was coming.
Now, we’ve all perched on Santa’s knee in a shop grotto and rattled off the list of expensive things we won’t be given because our parents have spent money on useful things like food and heating. I had it all worked out from an early age. You see, these guys weren’t the real Santa- they were impostors, on a level of terror akin to the Test Card F clown. This would be why I was the only nursery child that ran screaming from the room when he came in to give us presents.
Since we couldn’t get into town easily, my parents hatched a plan. If we couldn’t come to Santa, Santa could come to us. Christmas Eve rolled around, the frosty air laden with anticipation. In the distance, I could hear something. Sleigh bells? No, it was more like… the spluttering engine of a 1980s Ford Fiesta. And I was right. A car was weaving perilously down the country road from the nearest village. Someone had gamely attempted to decorate it like a sleigh, but the end result looked like a tinsel lorry had collided with a fairy lights factory. The driver’s window was down, and a tape of Christmas songs was playing. The car skidded to a halt and the driver stumbled out.
“Look, it’s Santa!”
It became clear at once that a) Santa knew my parents well, b) Santa spoke with a broad West Coast accent and c) Santa wasn’t sober. “Alright, hen? Merry Christmas,’ he slurred, with all the festive spirit of, well, a bottle of spirits. He came bearing gifts, and it occurred to me that he may have just wrapped some Bells or Smirnoff. Fortunately, it was some child-friendly toys. As Slade blared from the rubbish car speakers, Santa explained that it had been a long night, but that my parents had asked him to stop by especially to say hello before the big day. Via the off-licence. After some more small talk, he fell into the car- yes, really- and Dad guided him onto the mercifully-empty roads.
And that, folks, is why Santa frightens me. Merry Christmas Eve Eve!