Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 24th December 2018

THEY have become as much a part of our pre-Christmas ritual as the fancy lights, the Victorian fairs, the school Nativity plays in which one of the Three Wise Man inevitably wets himself with excitement, plus the usual rash of inconvenient strikes that wreck any festivity for the travelling public. I refer, of course, to winter wonderlands and bad Santas.

As for the former, there is always competition for the biggest rip-off. However, the Xmas Parade in Swansea — the “x” in Christmas being a dead giveaway — took this year’s award for shoddiness. You expect children to be reduced to tears and parents to be hopping mad with anger when the promised spectacular turns out to be a couple of sagging tents, a few rotting tree branches, a stuffed reindeer and a dodgy Santa who hasn’t even got the right costume.

In this case the festive show was described by disappointed punters as “more like a car boot sale”.

And as for bad Santas, this year’s top award must surely go to the chap who tore off his beard and swore at the children during a Father Christmas grotto experience at St Ives, Cambridgeshire. He is said to have lost his cool after a smoke machine at a children’s “rave” taking place in the same building set off the fire alarm.

One parent told how Santa burst into the room and ripped his hat and beard off in front of 50 kids, shouting “get the .... out”. Pictures posted on social media appeared to show Santa standing outside the venue with his beard lying on the pavement.

The father compared the short-tempered Father Christmas to the “Bad Santa” character in the films starring Billy Bob Thornton. The event’s organisers later apologised, but said Santa had been “assisting in the evacuation of the building”. He certainly achieved that.

In one North East town they even had a row over whether Father Christmas should be played by a woman this year. On every Christmas Eve since 1974 Santa has toured the streets on the back of his sleigh handing out sweets to the children. But this time there was a female volunteer, prompting claims that local councillors were keen to impose a form of political correctness. They had to call a special meeting to sort it all out.

My own childhood memory of a bad Santa was when I was about four years old and taken by my mother to one of the big stores where Santa was ensconced in his grotto. It was his over-familiarity and the smell of brandy on his lips that stuck with me in nightmares for years thereafter.

However, on a personal level, I have some sympathy with bad Santas, having unwittingly been one myself some years ago when it was determined that I should offer my services to a leading supermarket in the cause of a Christmas article — headline “My special day as Father Christmas”.

Only it wasn’t special at all. I had all the gear. The red and white outfit, the wig and the flowing false beard. A throne-like seat on which to greet the kids and a sack replete with freebie presents. The store was heaving with pre-Christmas shoppers and there was a big queue waiting for their chat with Father Christmas. So big that nerves got the better of me and, when the first urchin approached the throne, my ho-ho-ho came out as a high pitched squeak. Instead of a deep and manly, full throated greeting, I welcomed the kid with a Joe Pasquale imitation.

Two babies screamed pitifully while an older sibling fled the scene pursued towards the vegetable counters by his distressed parent. It soon became evident that I was not cut out for the job. And my brief career as a store Santa finally came to an end when a cheeky infant surveyed me with threatening gaze and turned to the crowd announcing “he’s not the real Father Christmas”. It was a merciful release when the store manager came over and suggested that I take a tea break and hand over to a more realistic Santa.

At long last I understood why that unconvincing Father Christmas of my childhood needed a few tots of brandy before performing his duties in his grotto. After my hapless stint I could have managed a drop of the hard stuff myself.

SEND FOR THE SHERIFF

KIRKBY STEPHEN, twinned with Tombstone. I can almost envisage it on the road signs as you enter the town after reading tales in the Herald of last summer’s “Wild West” invasion of travelling folk during Appleby fair.

“Unfolding anarchy” as one letter writer described some of the scenes in the town. Previous comments have spoken of ponies racing through the streets, horses being hitched up outside pubs like something from a western movie, and more recently suggestions for the creation of a corral in the centre of town.

It all sounds desperately unfortunate for locals, while the police clearly have their resources stretched to the limit at fair time and their policy would seem to be one of observation rather than stepping in and risking inciting more major problems. What has become evident in recent years is that Appleby fair is spreading out into neighbouring towns and villages and becoming their uninvited problem, too.

Thousands visit the event and would not wish to see it stopped, even if that was physically possible. The majority aren’t there to cause trouble, but it appears some of the people who pitch up in Kirkby Stephen don’t even get to the hill.

The event is so big it’s difficult to police it effectively. What the good folk of Kirkby Stephen need is a good sheriff. Where’s that Wyatt Earp when you need him?

TAKING THE TABLETS

AFTER moralising ad infinitum about the excesses of Black Fridays, Cyber Mondays and the rest of the marketing ploys designed to feed our consumerism and drive us further into debt, I’ve gone and done the opposite of all my good intentions and bought an item I’m not sure, in the cold light of day, I really needed.

I don’t even know if I grabbed a bargain. Which? magazine monitored nearly 100 items, such as TVs, cameras and fitness devices you strap to your wrist, before and after Black Friday in 2017 and, surprise, surprise, came to the conclusion most of them had been on sale cheaper at other times of the year.

First it was Chuck — I remember the name badge on his shirt — who advised me that ownership of a tablet was one of modern life’s essentials. Then his mate, we’ll call him Dave because I didn’t spot his name badge, steered me gently from the £35 quid display to the Apple stand where I willingly parted with 10 times the original amount I was due to spend.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday had gone, but the tablet was still on sale price. The problem is I’m technology blind and apart from sending my bookmaker a fiver as a Christmas present there’s nothing this tablet does that I can’t live without.

It took me half an hour to work out how to open the box and a further half hour to find the “on” switch. My friend, who is into hi-tech stuff, tells me it will transform my life once I get used to it. Within a year I will probably find it’s out of date and I need to upgrade. Can you see the word “mug” written in large letters across my forehead?

THE NUMBERS GAME

PENRITH Football Club manager Andy Coyles speaks optimistically of a “turning point” in a dismal campaign as players return to training and, for the first time, he has the luxury of choice when selecting his team.

Penrith hold the Northern League’s dubious distinction of having registered 70 players this season. Durham City have listed one more. Both are bottom of their respective divisions. There’s no safety in numbers.

It begs the question, what happened to the majority of those 70 players? Very few of them seem to be around at this stage in the season. Quantity appears not to be have been replicated by quality. Better luck to the Bonny Blues, and their signings, for 2019.

MEN ONLY

FEMALE farmers in Devon have called on male counterparts to “get with the times” and let them go to a 100-year-old men-only dinner.

I’ve attended dozens of men-only dos in the course of my job. Mostly boring affairs with lengthy speechifying and blokes getting sentimental for the old days as the booze flows. Sexist and outdated sure. But ladies, have your own dinners. You’re not missing anything, I can assure you.