What Santa told me over a bag of chips on Cromer Pier

PUBLISHED: 06:46 23 December 2017

Cromer Pier: Where Keith bumped into Father Christmas. Really...

Cromer Pier: Where Keith bumped into Father Christmas. Really...

Archant Norfolk 2017

Keith Skipper has been bending the ear of a certain gentleman dressed in red and white...

My annual audience with Santa Claus over a bag of steaming chips on Cromer Pier found him surprisingly cheerful despite a list of seasonal misgivings much longer than his impressive beard.

“I see it’s still necessary to make big allowances for Norfolk,” he mused in a manner possibly linked to current fiscal affairs at a senior local government level. A puckish smile moved him on swiftly to lingering signs of a deep-seated recession.

He’d noted Winfarthing going into negative equity, Quidenham being renamed Ten Bob, Brooke still waiting to be mended and Sloley threatening to come to a standstill before Barton Turf is put out to grass.

Santa knows NDR no longer stands for Nelson’s Delightful Refuge on the poop deck of the good ship HMS Quality of Life and that plans to single and then cobble the A11 highway may have been thrown into doubt by armies of men in orange hats looking for cable corridors.

The old boy is working overtime to cut down his carbon footprint and so play a key part in what is hoped to be the eco-friendliest Christmas since his reindeer went vegetarian in 1947. His traditional greeting underlined a bold approach to the challenge of making do in an era of austerity.

“Ho-ho,” he twinkled. I realised immediately the other “ho” must be held back in case it’s needed when things get really bad. While that kind of forward thinking symbolises the need for downsizing operations across the land this festive season, Santa still feels able to strike a confident note or two in his message to constant believers either side of the Waveney.

“I did wonder if electricity supplies would hold out as so many places decided to light up long before December but perhaps that was no more than impatience to embrace the true spirit of Christmas at a time of doubt and sorrow” he offered by way of measured forgiveness.

He emphasised how his massive annual operation is subject to the same fluctuations in fortunes as any business below. “A dozen little helpers in the grotto present-wrapping department have just been laid off – a big blow to their elf-esteem – but I’m confident they’ll be back next year.”

I had to ask about persistent rumours of Rudolph sledging off lesser-known colleagues and making himself available for panto or even a new Saturday evening television show called Celebrity Come Prancing. “Fake news!” exclaimed Santa with all the disdain of a leading American character dismissing the obvious truth.

“Well, there have been exploratory talks with Dec and Antler and any programmes with red noses in them - but this was bound to happen once Rudolph went on Twitter and attracted enough followers to hire an agent and posh apartment near Foxley Wood Studios.”

An icy blast jumped up from the sea, rattled his chip papers and ruffled his outfit. I winced and shuddered. “Just one of those lazy old winds, boy, hossing in straight from Scroby. We must get used to them. Same with the economy as it blows away so many of our habits and plans. Wrap up warm, keep on the move and don’t fall foul of a massive overdraught!”

He chortled at his own joke. I quoted John Betjeman’s line about “hideous tie so kindly meant” and wondered if we’d be well advised to tread more carefully in the annual rush to prove it really is more blessed to give than to receive. Santa switched immediately to Dickens mode.

“Dear lad, I’m not advocating a complete break from Great Expectations to concentrate on Hard Times and Bleak House… but a few hours of gentle nostalgia in The Old Curiosity Shop with Little Doritt and David Copperfield could prove mighty good for the soul.”

I waited in vain for Tiny Tim to bless us everyone. Santa licked his lips. He’d had his chips on Cromer Pier. I wished him condiments of the season. “You don’t alter much,” he muttered. I accepted that as warm praise as the wind of loose change brushed past our cosy shelter.

I made for home to put sentiment ahead of cynicism, wonder in front of weariness, glee well beyond gloom. We hang up our stockings of hope, no matter how many darns or holes have been added since last year.

And Norfolk’s still top of the tree.

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