“Santa Claus is coming to town.”
A ghostly lullaby, spectral in the distance.
Headlamps sweeping away the dark, silhouetting trees and shrubberies. Well-tended gardens and the tawdry. Nativity figurines and plastic reindeers. Recycling bins and wheelbarrows. Hedgehog shoe-scrapers. Elvish gnomes.
Rounding the corner, a 4x4 labouring in second. Pulling behind it a trailer. Decked out in chipboard and MDF. An approximation of a sleigh. Painted crimson and strung with fairy lights. Health and safety nightmare on wheels.
Blood-red Popemobile. Chariot of Christendom. Beacon of all that is good and holy. Parading the snow-less streets of Sandbach.
Squatting on wooden throne, a Round Tabler. In a cheap Santa suit. Scratchy detachable beard. Ho-ho-ho-ing in a jovial baritone. Grinning through an acrylic-induced stubble rash. Breath fogging the chill air. Waving like Good King Wenceslas.
“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.”
Powering this crude enterprise: a small generator, rattling like a chainsaw. Vibrations for the bones. Tinnitus for the ears. Petroleum for the nose.
Underscoring the sequence of Christmas hits. The best Christmas Album in the world ever. Humble cassette turning stoically in its portable tape player. Tape worn from overuse. Warped voices warbling in the night. Every year the same: Lennon and McCartney, BandAid, Slade, Bing and David.
Cradled in Santa’s lap, a wicker bowl. A pic n’ mix of boiled sweets. Roses, Quality Streets. Last year's leftovers. Last century's sentiments.
Under his seat, a half-full hipflask of whisky. A pack of Lambert and Butler.
“Come they told me, par-a-pa-pa-pum-pum.”
Weaving through the avenues and cul de sacs. Two dozen Tablers rattling charity shakers. A mythic rabble. Ogden, Stubbs, Shepherd, Goodridge, Gibbons, Leese, Molly, Simpson, Brown, Stimpson, Williamson, Diggle, Bridge, Hull, Roberts, Tate, Chapman, Williams, Williamson. Galahads and Gawains, Lancelots, and Bedeveres. In Santa hats.
Collecting for local causes. Gathering goodwill in pounds and pence. Cradling cigaretttes from the wind. Swigging cans of ale on the sly.
Children peeping through closed curtains. Inside, parents raiding pockets, piggy banks and kitchen drawers for pocket change. Ushering over-tired offspring into bewildered and sleepy conference with ‘Santa’. Issuing his careworn spiel. Script crumpled in the left trouser pocket of his red suit: "What is your name / what do you want / have you been good? I'll see what I can do."
Garlanded houses, competitively decorative. Elves moving from door to door, collecting silver and gold. Copper and paper. Cold hold of the knocker. Dull ring of the bell. Shadows in hallways. The television-numbed faces. Ferocious dogs and the high funk of cat piss. The gambit and the patter. The beaming benevolent. The Scrooge-like refusenik. Clunk clink clunk clink.
"Are you hanging up a stocking on the wall?”
Palmer Road, Platt Avenue, Sweettooth Lane. Park House Drive, Tatton Close, Grange Way. Elworth Street, Congleton Road, Blackacres Close. Terrace to townhouse, bungalow to semi.
"I believe in Father Christmas, I believe in peace on earth."
The 4x4 swinging a last pass through the estate. Hitting the main road. Picking up speed under the street lamps. Spreading wide. Wings of an angel. Rain streaking the orange glow. Speckling the windscreen.
Santa taking a nip from his flask. Sparking up a tab. Done and dusted for another night.
Thinking of last orders. Counting up the coppers. Kids asleep in bed. The wife's warm bum.
"Merry Christmas everyone."