17.12.2006 15:21 - A Little Christmas Humbug Does You Good
When I was young, I was particularly fond of "Uncle" Doug. Uncle Doug was an old friend of the family on my mother's side. What particularly fascinated me about uncle Doug was that he had an artificial arm, a relic of an injury during the war. This wasn't an all-singing, all-dancing modern prosthetic, this was just a rubber and plastic fake arm, provided by the National Health, which was held on by light suction - as I discovered when Uncle Doug pulled it off for a laugh.
When I'd finished screaming the house down, Uncle Doug let me help him put it back on. Once you knew about it, it was fairly obvious that the limb was false, although if you didn't look, it could pass as a real one. As long as you didn't ask him to pass the salt or something.
Now, as Uncle Doug couldn't find many jobs, he lived on a disability pension that penny-pinching mean civil servants had begrudgingly bestowed on him in return for sacrificing his limb for his country. This meant that he often had to find casual work. Being a kindly, gentle man, Uncle Doug was often in demand as a department store Santa. The kids liked him, he liked the kids, and he didn't drink or swear, which endeared him to the parents, and, more importantly, the middle-management of the local Co-Op. So, come December, Doug would take his place in the Co-Op Grotto, with one of the girls off the till assisting him as the Christmas Fairy.
It was this particular year that my mother decided to take me to see Father Christmas. I was old enough, she thought, not to be frightened by Santa and widdle on his knee, and so I was duly dragged to the Co-op, to wait in the queue outside the grotto with the other children. I patiently waited my turn, to be ushered inside by the fairy. I entered into the sublime presence of Santa, and was hoisted up on his knee. "Hello, young Steven" he said. Santa was magic! He knew my name!
Except that Santa didn't quite look the part for me. Santa was wearing thick bifocals, which looked suspiciously like the ones that Uncle Doug wore. His beard looked suspiciously home-made from cotton wool.
And that's when I noticed the clincher.
Santa had a prosthetic arm.
I know, because I grabbed it and pulled it off.
"Uncle Doug!" I yelled, only to find myself grabbed by my mother, who had sneaked in unnoticed through the exit. Her hand over my mouth muffled any further exclamations. The Fairy, who was new to the job and didn't know about Uncle Doug's arm, fainted clean away. As she was what in local terms would be described as "a big lass", this had near-fatal consequences for both Uncle Doug, whom she glanced off, and the grotto, which shook like a Los Angeles skyscraper. This must have alerted the floor manager, who appeared, grabbed the arm off me, and vainly attempted to reattach it to Uncle Doug, who, beard askew, was searching for his coke-bottle glasses that had got knocked off when the Fairy collapsed on him. This was the last I saw of the scene, as I was hurredly bundled away by my mother, my cries of "That's not Santa!" muffled least I destroy the myth for the unsuspecting children still waiting.
I often wonder how the floor manager explained the fairy being dragged off on a stretcher to the onlooking mothers and children. It's just as well they don't have Knecht Ruprecht in Staffordshire, as I would have been on his list for the next seven years.