Annual chat with Santa finds even he’s downsizing

Creamy waves at Cromer to greet Santa Claus for his annual audience with Skip on the pier

Creamy waves at Cromer to greet Santa Claus for his annual audience with Skip on the pier - Credit: Archant

Keith Skipper checks in with Santa as finds out that he's far from leading a lavish lifestyle

Santa Claus sees more of our beleaguered planet in one night than most of the rest of us can manage in an entire lifetime.

Happily, he still finds time to fit in an annual audience with me over a bag of chips at the draughty end of Cromer Pier in a valiant attempt to soften the brash lights of commercialism and to brighten the true spirit of charity and care.

His own carbon footprint won't be quite as big this year. He's caught the cutting-back bug to play a part in the biggest eco-friendly festival since Rudolph went vegetarian. Norfolk is among main testing grounds to nurture dreams of a greener Christmas.

'After a long chat with my sponsors (Joys R Us), business manager (Dec Antler) and non-executive helpers – my subordinate Clauses – I decided to set a more environmentally-friendly example, starting in the county with a royal residence and regal reputation for sensible living' he twinkled.

His cheery greeting had promised a fresh approach to the old challenge of making do in an era of austerity. 'Ho-ho' he chortled. I realised immediately that the other 'ho' had to be held back in the event of things getting worse.

Such forward thinking is at the heart of his downsizing operation. A bulky sledge pulled by a team of reindeer is being replaced by a self-drive Santapod, no bigger than a tea tray and fully reliant on a following wind from Scroby Sands.

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He's urging children of all ages to help him fight the festive flab by turning traditional treats of mince pies and sherry into celery sticks and cranberry juice. While the custom of climbing in and out of chimneys continues, Santa is anxious to find more completely smoke-free areas.

The old boy singed his beard badly in three places last year – Burnham Deepdale, Wood Rising and Ashwicken. A heavy fall of soot at Grate Snoring left him chesty until Old Year's Night. And there was a nasty little incident with boiling water at Kettlestone.

An icy blast 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 have to 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 overdraft!'

He tittered at his own joke. I quoted John Betjeman's line about 'hideous tie so kindly meant' and asked if we'd be well advised to tread more carefully in the annual stampede to prove it really is more blessed to give than to receive. Santa switched to Dickens mode:

'Well, 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 Dorrit and David Copperfield could prove good for the soul'.

I took that as a hint to be more frugal and thoughtful, laudable traits, surely, during that strange interlude when we leave homeless people outside and carry trees inside. My well-clad mentor smiled approval and pointed out he was telling anyone who'd listen that 'stressed is just desserts spelt backwards'.

As we finished our chips and swigged ginger beer, Santa again emphasised how he wanted his downsizing to inspire a more realistic attitude among his Norfolk supporters. He jabbed a finger at heavily underlined items on his list and unleashed a frown worthy of any henpecked husband trapped in a crowded shopping mall.

He asked for a reminder of what NDR might stand for. I tried to fob him off with Nature Demands Respect and Norfolk Defends Railways, but he could see through my little inventions.

'You can't bypass the truth. Just look at all these urgent pleas from MPs, builders, estate agents, councillors, business leaders and various other movers and shakers to leave what they describe as 'economic drivers' under their beds. Is this truly Normal for Norfolk?'

I tried to nudge him towards the brighter side with a couple of surveys placing Nelson's County on the poop deck of HMS Quality of Life. 'Bah, humbug!' came the swift response.

It carried only a modicum of play-acting from someone fully able to spot unyielding traffic, ugly urban sprawl and thousands of unaffordable houses from a great height any time of year.

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