The Many Faces of Santa Claus
I only remember visiting Father Christmas once or twice in my life and on December the first this year, on the inevitable slide towards Christmas, I went along into town where the Art Gallery was holding a local Craft Fair where he was set to put in an appearance with the flyer advertising a “rare opportunity” to immortalise him, in the medium of your choice, with a Santa life-drawing class…
A Santa life-drawing class… The mental images that gives me…
I’ve never been to life-drawing before, and I was imagining a re-run of that scene from Titanic… Draw me like one of your French girls… Wearing this… Wearing only this.
In the end it all turned out to be a little bit more sedate, with less screaming mentally-disturbed children trying to claw their eyes out.
I didn’t get to speak to Father Christmas, surrounded as he was by drawing kids, but I could tell from the glint in his eye that he remembered me from my childhood visits and so I left to do some supermarket shopping… Only when I’d finished Santa was there again, doing odd valedictory laps of the Tesco car park on the back of a flatbed truck to what sounded like a scratch-remix of Good King Wenceslas in Welsh. It got odder how, on the way out, he pulled into the McDonald’s drive-through. I overheard a parent saying that it did remove some of the magic.
In Santa’s defence, again I don’t want to misrepresent him and get into his bad books, he did just do a lap of the drive-through to wave to all inside to spread his Christmas cheer. He didn’t stop for a burger.
And that was that, until I got home and looked at the pictures, got the impression that something wasn’t quite right, sent them off to the forensic lab, and then realised that within half an hour of these two appearances Santa had changed his face. This led me to get all nostalgic and have a little search through my parents’ stash of photos from my childhood with the hope of finding just one nice-looking period picture of me with a proper-looking Father Christmas…
And I turned up evidence of NINE annual visits to see Father Christmas. Nine! And there’s not a real beard between the lot of them. I can’t believe I was so gullible and fell for it every year. I have no idea where all these Santa assignations took place, I’m thinking a department store in Manchester, but I only remembered going about twice… Oh treasured childhood memories.
The photos reveal such a den of scum and villainy as I’ve never seen… since I saw them in the flesh, obviously.
And as I view them now I see them looking like someone’s Dad (1983), a Scouser youth who’s just knocked over a Building Society (1984), and the pub drunk (1985).
Then there’s the bored college student (1981), a glue-sniffer with a black stubble moustache (1980), and a depressed Tony Hancock (1986).
I get the impression now that some of their hearts mustn’t have been in it. Seriously, where’s the quality control over here in the UK?
So I’ve lowered my expectations in life, still further, and have updated my criteria of what I desire from the many faces of Santa: Looking for an older gentleman, over sixty, clean from drink and drugs a bonus. And that’s when I realised that that’s what turned up to Bury Art Gallery in the first place… And he brought his own hair! It just shows that you don’t appreciate what you’ve got until it’s gone… all the way back to the North Pole.
This is possibly my best Santa visit picture, at the age of one, where I must have been thinking that I’ve just been handed away to the dodgy man in the tinsel room. I also found one of my Mum at the same age, from the fifties, where she almost seems as concerned about the man on the glitter throne as I was… would be. Why do people put their kids through this?