When my daughter was a child, there used to be a Christmas party in Sancreed Village Hall for the children of the parish, with cakes and sweets and fizzy drinks. Besides things to rot the children’s teeth, there was also entertainment, and a visit from Father Christmas. One year the entertainment was a Punch and Judy show, but the year that I agreed to be Father Christmas, the entertainer was a female magician in fishnets and heels, called Yvonne Mystique, who made Chihuahuas disappear.
I’m not built like Father Christmas. He is traditionally pictured as rotund and bewhiskered, and while I did once manage to grow a patchy beard to go to a fancy dress party as Che Guevara, ‘rotund’ doesn’t figure anywhere on my CV. However, I am public spirited, and in the absence of any more rotund and bewhiskered volunteers (or any volunteers at all), I agreed to do it. The previous two Father Christmases had also both been called Robin, but I saw that as less of an obstacle than the rotundity. Nor have I ever seen myself as an entertainer of children. Hey ho. Or maybe ho ho.
So, on the day of the party, I drove my daughter to the Village Hall, where she joined in with all the other children in the business of rotting her teeth. At the appointed time, I slipped out to the kitchen and donned the padded red suit, and with the addition of an extra pillow and some strap on whiskers, I set about being Father Christmas for half an hour. Sancreed Village Hall has no fireplace, but there is the remains of a metal flue that presumably once had a pot bellied stove under it. Even without the padded suit and the extra pillow I wouldn’t have stood a chance of getting down it, and I reckoned that it would have been a bit of a squeeze for one of Yvonne Mystique’s Chihuahuas. Undeterred, I shouldered my sack of toys, snuck round the outside of the hall, and banged on the door. Not the traditional way for Father Christmas to enter, but it would have to do.
“Ho ho ho,” I boomed, nursing my knuckles, which were sore from where I’d overdone the banging on the door. “Merry blooming Christmas.” My research into the role had consisted of reading Raymond Briggs’s excellent book, Father Christmas. A biography of sorts, I suppose. Doing my best to sound like Brian Blessed, I explained my unorthodox method of entry by pointing at the flue. “Call that a blooming chimney! I had to park my sleigh up on Sancreed Beacon and walk. Merry blooming Christmas.” To their credit, none of the children actually cried, though some of the younger ones looked a bit worried. On the other hand, a lot of the parents appeared to find the whole thing rather amusing, as did Yvonne Mystique. For some reason, Raymond Briggs is strangely silent on the subject of Father Christmas and yummy mummies (or female magicians in fishnets and heels), so without his expert guidance, I decided to busk it. “Ho ho ho! Lucky thing Rudolph could see where he was going in this fog. What would I have said to him if he were blind?” I paused and shook my head. “No eyed deer.” It got a laugh from some of the grownups, and the members of the Village Hall Committee who’d previously been so keen for me to volunteer looked at one another nervously.
I was on a roll. “You know, children,” I boomed. “The reindeer have a fancy dress party every Christmas. They’re rubbish. Every year they turn up with a couple of hats on their antlers, pretending to be blooming hatracks. Rubbish. Last year Rudolph came with a woman sitting on his back. ‘Hello, Rudolph,’ I said. ‘You don’t look like a hatrack. What are you supposed to be?’ He said he was a tortoise. When I looked puzzled, he nodded towards the woman. ‘This is Michelle.’ Ho ho ho. Merry blooming Christmas.”
By this stage, my audience was looking like a hung parliament, with the mummies (and Yvonne Mystique) enjoying themselves, the children looking bemused, and the committee undecided as to whether they should frown or go with the mummies. I decided it was a good time to call it a day, and I got on with the business of distributing ‘blooming presents’ to the children. When it was my daughter’s turn, she peered through the fake whiskers, as if she weren’t sure it was really me.
Another ho ho ho or two, a farewell ‘Merry blooming Christmas’, and the show was over. I boomed my way out of the front door and crept in the back, and divested myself of the padded suit. Once I’d straightened my pony tail, I strolled back into the room, where Yvonne Mystique was already running low on Chihuahuas.
The reviews were mixed, but by and large favourable. However, I have never been called upon to reprise the role. Merry blooming Christmas, though.