When You Meet Your Childhood Hero And Find Out He’s A Drunk

25 May

‘Put your gloves on, it’s cold outside. And hurry up, or you’ll miss Father Christmas!’

‘But what about Dad?’

‘He must’ve missed his train home from work. We’ll have to go without him. He knew what time we were leaving. Now come on, the pair of you!’

Disappointed as we both were that Dad was gonna miss out on a few mince pies and the chance to meet Father Christmas, who, by some incredible feat of persuasion my school had managed to book for a personal meet and greet session, for one evening only, and just a week or so before the busiest night of his year – I heard a rumour many years later that this was down to the school secretary of the time Ms. X, who had had an abortion on the quiet fifteen years earlier at the aggressive insistance of the unwilling father, and had never uttered a word of it to anyone since. Not until the day the Chuckle Brothers had cancelled at short notice the appearance they had been booked to make at my school for what seemed like forever. Everyone had been devastated by the news. Some kids reported that their parents had taken down the Christmas trees they’d only just put up a day or two before. It looked to some like Christmas 1989 was going to be cancelled. Ms. X couldn’t just stand by and watch helplessly. She knew what she had to do. She made the phonecall. Sure, getting the real Father Christmas to turn up at our Christmas fair would never fully fill the collective gap that existed in all of us as a result of missing out on meeting Barry and Paul Chuckle (Some of us kids had had a bet on who would be the first to say ‘To me, to you’ to them), but it would at least go some way to restoring Christmas – my sister and I both knew not to dilly dally. We were out the door with Mum and breathing in the crisp air, under the clear sky, illuminated with bright stars, walking down the hill to where the magic was to take place: our primary school.

*I feel I should point out that since hearing that rumour about Ms. X, I now know it to be false; made up by a couple of urchins that I shared detention with one afternoon. Well, I shared detention with them (and many others) almost every afternoon for four years. But that’s not my point. My point is the rumour was bullshit. While we’re clearing the air like this, I also want to get it off my chest that Ms. X wasn’t her real name.

My school (which seemed massive to 6-year old me, but looks no bigger than a few sunday league changing rooms joined together when observed through my grown-up eyes) was buzzing with energy, excitement and festive cheer as we walked through the main door and were greeted by a few of our teachers, who were dressed as elves. ‘Nice touch,’ I thought to myself. All the grown-ups did the ‘Merry Christmas! Here, you must try one of these mince pies!’ thing, while I entertained myself by sliding around on my knees on the polished floor. ‘Oh look, mine does that as well. Little buggers, ain’t they?’ one of the grown-up ladies said to my mum. My mum ignored her to march over and pick me up off of the floor by my collar. I stayed up.

“Is Father Christmas here yet, Ms. Garnham?’ I asked.

‘He’s here, but he’s not ready yet. He’ll come down to the hall shortly to meet you all. In the meantime, come and have a go at the lucky dip, and your mum can buy some raffle tickets.’

‘Can I go outside and see his reindeers first, please?’

‘Actually it’s reindeer,’ Ms. Garnham said.

‘What? It only took one reindeer to bring him the 2700 miles from the North Pole to here?’

‘No, I was saying that the plural of reindeer isn’t reindeers but is reindeer.’

‘Oh, sorry. So can I go outside and stroke his reindeer, please?’

‘No.’

‘Why not?’

‘He didn’t come by reindeer. He came by taxi from the airport. The reindeer are resting ahead of their busy night. Now, come on. By the way, how did you know the distance between the North Pole and Brighton just off the top of your head like that? You’re six years old.’

‘How do you know I didn’t just make it up to impress you?’

‘touché, kid, touché.’

I was just following Ms. Garnham and my mum down the corridor towards the hall, when I spotted him. Father Christmas! He slipped out of one of the classroom doors that lined my path, and began making his way, just in front of me, to the hall. I struggled to contain my excitement. And then Father Christmas missed one of his steps and wobbled quite dramatically, a wobble that turned into a stagger as he tried to regain his equilibrium. Nobody seemed to notice, or more likely they pretended not to notice, and Father Christmas carried on towards the hall, surrounded by a few female teachers, who were all laughing at something he’d said. Kids were starting to collect around his feet, moving along with him towards the grotto his ‘people’ had insisted my school supply when the booking was made. Whenever I hear a story of a celeb being all diva and making ridiculous demands, I always think ‘yea, but did Z really ask for the piñata filled with custard creams and smack, or was it Z’s people taking liberties?’ As I hurried along the corridor, all the time a few metres behind Father Christmas, and all the time my eyes fixed to the back of his person, something made me think of my dad and wish he had made it home from work in time to be here.

As an adult, I have narrowed down the options of what it was that made me think of my dad at that precise moment to two possibilities: (1) Father Christmas’ walk was remarkably similar to my dad’s. In short, it was the walk of a drunk. There was no balance, no clear intent, just a sad sway. Or (2) the warm (almost moist) aroma in the air of stale alcohol mixed with after shave and Trebor XXX mints. If you could have bottled the essence of my dad and sold him with all the other moody perfumes down the market, that would be the scent. ‘Hey, have you tried this new fragrance from Chanel called Eau de Self Conscious Piss-Head?’ ‘I have not. Any good?’ ‘Not really.’ ‘Noted.’ But whether or not it would have sold many bottles, it was the smell my sister and I had grown up with, and one that we thought perfectly normal (even comforting). I didn’t find it strange that Father Christmas smelt like my dad. I imagined that most grown-up men smelt like that. I didn’t know the word ‘alcoholic’ at six, I just thought everyone’s dad came home from work every evening to drink four or five cans of Special Brew. By the way I am pleased to report that my dad is no longer an alcoholic. Hasn’t had a drink for almost five years now. Coincidentally, gave up the bottle the same day he killed himself, and I for one am proud of him!

What? Too soon? Ah shut up!

Father Christmas made it to his grotto, still managing to keep the small group of teachers dressed as elves laughing with a story. I got to the hall and joined the queue of other kids all waiting to meet the big man in the red coat. The excitement in the air was immense, let me tell you! As the queue slowly moved foward and I got closer to the front, I began watching the routine up ahead of me. Kid goes in with mum, kid sits on Father Christmas’ knee, Father Christmas asks kid his or her name and if he or she has been good, kid answers in the positive and then tells Father Christmas what he or she hopes to get on the 25th (while mum takes note), Father Christmas gives kid a pre-wrapped little present, happy kid leaves with mum. I was prepared. I was gonna nail this shit. I knew exactly what I was gonna ask him to bring me for Christmas. I still couldn’t believe I was being given the opportunity to tell him face to face. I mean, I’d written him letters before telling him what I would like, but the fact that he’d never brought me any of those things was blatantly down to the fecklessness of Royal Mail; he’d never received my notes.

After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, I was finally ushered in to the grotto. Father Christmas grinned as he took me up on his knee. My mum and the teachers dressed as elves were looking over me, also all grinning.

“Ho Ho Ho! Hello there young Krissy, how are you?’

‘How do you know my name?’

‘I’m Father Christmas! I know every child’s name!’

I felt silly for having asked the question. Of course it made sense. He was Father Christmas, so naturally he would know every child’s name.

‘Oh yea, I forgot!’ I said.

‘Don’t worry! Anyway, have you been a good boy this year?’

‘Yes, Father Christmas.’

‘Really? That’s not what your mother tells me. You wouldn’t lie to Father Christmas would you?’

I gulped. I hadn’t been that bad throughout the year, had I? Sure, no angel, but come on!

‘Ho Ho Ho! I’m only joking! Of course you’ve been a good boy! And tell me, what would you like me to bring you for Christma…’

‘Please please please can you bring me a Mr. Frosty? That’s all I really want!’ I blurted out before he’d finished his question.

‘A Mr. Frosty? What’s that?’

Father Christmas’ response threw me. How the fuck would he not know what a Mr. Frosty was. He knew every toy in the world! And it’s not like the one I’d named was obscure.

‘Mr. Frosty. You know? Mr. Frosty is such fun, he makes drinks for everyone one,’ I started singing.

‘Oh that Mr. Frosty? Yes, I know him, I know him well,’ Father Christmas’ words reassured me. ‘But if I’m all out of them in my workshop back in the North Pole, is there anything else you’d like as a back-up?’ he then asked.

‘Well I really do want a Mr. Frosty, if you can. But if you can’t, then could I please have a toy Ghostbusters’ trap? Actually, I would be equally happy with either that or the Mr. Frosty. Whichever is easier for you,’ I said sincerely.

And then he gave me a pre-wrapped present (that turned out to be four colouring pencils, which I was very pleased with), we said goodbye to each other and I left the grotto with Mum.

On the walk home, I asked my mum, ‘Mum, was that really Father Christmas? The real one?’

‘Of course it was! Why would you ask that?’

‘I don’t know. Are you sure, though? You wouldn’t lie to me, would you, not about this?’

‘No I would not! Where is this coming from?’

‘Mum, you would tell me if that was really dad dressed up as Father Christmas, wouldn’t you?’

‘What? Wow! You think that was your dad? Wait til I tell him when we get home, he’ll laugh! That was Father Christmas!’

‘But how come he knew my name, but asked all the other kids’ for theirs. And how come he smelt like dad?’

‘That’s just how Father Christmas smells. And if he forgot any of the other kids’ names, that’s understandable because he will have had a drink. He is a man, after all.’

And again I felt silly for having asked a question. It all made sense, didn’t it?

That night I told my dad about my encounter with Father Christmas, and how I had thought it had been him dressed up. Oh how we laughed.

‘Do you remember that time when you were little and your dad got roped in to being Father Christmas at your school? Oh God, he was so pissed that night! We couldn’t take him anywhere, could we?’ my mum casually (and randomly) said, 25 years later.

‘Wait. What? That was dad? I knew it! I fucking knew it! But you swore to me that it wasn’t! All my life! And I believed you!’

‘Oh that was just a little fib, don’t be such a drama whore. Adults are supposed to fib to their children about the existence of Father Christmas, aren’t they?’

‘Fair enough, I guess. But just one thing: if that was dad, and he knew I wanted a Mr. Frosty or a Ghostbusters trap, how come Father Christmas didn’t bring me either of those things that year? How come all I got was that Turtles lunchbox?’

‘That was a good lunchbox and it lasted a long time!’

‘True words.’

drunk-santa

 

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