Put the little whippersnappers to bed, light the fire, pull up the rocking chair, light a pipe (optional) and enjoy the love and joy that Christmas brings... when you still believe in Santa.
Farther Christmas. by Freya Slipper
Tony was pleased. He’d got everything on his list and now they were in 'Pret'. He’d been sceptical when Amy had said they were going to 'Westfield' but he didn’t know there would be a 'Pret'. There was no Maplin though.
His daughter Amy sat opposite him, checking her phone.
“Who are you text-messaging?” he asked.
“I’m checking work emails.”
“Christ – you’ve taken the day off”.
Amy worked very hard. She’d just spent two hundred pounds on a sweatshirt for her new boyfriend, Rory.
“Two hundred quid?” Tony had said. “What does it do? Cook your dinner and mow your lawn?”.
No, he was all right, Rory. He worked at a ‘micro-brewery’.
“Dad?” Amy said, looking at Tony. “I think I might stay in London this Christmas. With Rory.”
She said it tentatively, watching him closely and trying to gauge his reaction. Tony worked hard to hide his disappointment. She went on, gently.
“I’m sorry, Dad. It’s just Rory isn’t very tight with his family, and I’d really like to chill with him, you know?”.
Of course, this was inevitable. Tony’s ex-wife, Doreen had warned him of this.
“No, I understand, Amy. Of course you want to be with Rory.”
He knew what Amy’s next question would be.
“How will Father Christmas find me, Dad?”
Tony looked her dead in the eye.
“He will, Amy. He always does.”
Amy breathed a huge sigh of relief and started to talk about her work Christmas party. But Tony’s mind was now whirring. Taunton to London. It was doable. He’d managed her gap year in Sydney, Christmas 2004 - he could do Peckham Rye.
Tony dropped Amy home in something called an Uber. Rory was watching a Japanese cartoon when they arrived which Tony thought was bizarre. He had got up and came to shake Tony’s hand, though. He was a good bloke, Rory.
Before he left, Tony popped upstairs ‘to the loo’ and took some measurements of the bathroom window. It was tight. He was going to have to lay off the Pringles till Christmas.
“Sajid, it’s Tony.”
“Oh, no, Mate. Not again. I’m not getting involved.”
“Please mate. You don’t need to come. I just need your cherry picker.”
“Look, why don’t you just tell her? She’s 31, man!”
“I’m not asking for your opinion, Sajid. Can I borrow it or not?”
“Yes. Because it’s Christmas.”
Doreen and Tony had split up in November 1990, around Amy’s 5th Birthday. Tony had only been 19 when they’d had Amy. It had been a bloody nightmare if he was honest. Doreen was angry all the time. And he used to stare longingly out of the window, wishing he could go out and get drunk. Amy was heaven, though. She had mountains of orange hair. Doreen said it was red, but it was orange.
Tony cheated on Doreen on a stag night in Exeter. Him and Doreen called it day then and there. The guilt was pretty awful. Amy asked millions of questions and cried when he left.
“Who’s going to put the Christmas tree up?” he’d asked Doreen as he walked down the drive.
“We’ll manage.” she’d said.
That night in the pub, his Father had told him that just because he wasn’t there, it didn’t mean he couldn’t be a good Dad.
“Just make sure she never finds out that Father Christmas isn’t real,” his Dad said, slapping him on the shoulder. “We let you find out when you were 6 years old! You cried for weeks.”
Doreen opened the door cautiously.
“Oh, Hiya, Tony. I thought it was going to be those people asking to clean the windows again.”
Doreen’s new husband shouted from the TV room.
“Who is it?”
He didn’t respond.
“Did Amy tell you about staying in London? For Christmas? It’s fair enough, I think. She’s got to go in to work on the 27th.”
They stood in silence for a while.
Then he looked at his ex-wife pleadingly.
“No, Tony. She’s in her 30s. No more now. That’s it. Just tell her.”
“Please, Doreen. It’s an easy job. One cherry picker, in through the upstairs bathroom and home. You’ll be home by 5am.”
“No, Tony. No more Father Christmas.”
“Fine. I’ll do it on my own.”
“It’s weird now, Tony. She’ll have her own children in a few years.”
But Tony hadn’t hung around to listen. He was off down the path muttering to himself about crampons.
Amy had come over to Tony’s house one evening in her first term of Secondary School and sobbed at Tony’s kitchen table. Tony had made potato waffles and smiley faces for ‘Dad’s Yellow Food night’ but even that hadn’t consoled her.
“But even the teacher laughed, Dad.”
Shit, Tony thought. What a bastard teacher.
“It’s a conspiracy theory, Amy. The government don’t want him to be real because if we acknowledge him, we have to legislate around him. And it’s a minefield. The teacher’s in on it, clearly. She’s a public sector worker. "
“But what about my friends? None of them believe.”
“In on it too. We all have to play the game. That he ain’t ‘real’” said Tony, winking.
That was the year Tony actually did come down the chimney. Those soot stains on the carpet and his dislocated shoulder felt particularly real.
“Merry Christmas, love! And I hope that Rory keeps the turkey well basted tomorrow.”
“We’re not having Turkey, Dad. We’re having fajitas!”
Tony needed to get off the phone and out of the house. He was wearing full ski gear and was beginning to sweat.
“Speak to you in the morning, Dad!” Amy shouted, putting the phone down.
Tony was just hanging up when he spotted a flashlight in his drive, beside the cherry picker. He went to the front door and opened it.
“Come on then, I’ve got to be back by 9am to do the lunch.” said Doreen, smiling.
It was a cold night to be on a cherry picker, travelling at 28mph up the M5 to Peckham.
Doreen and Tony kept warm by drinking Brandy and eating Mini Cheddars.
“The roads are nice and clear at Christmas,” remarked Doreen, through her balaclava.
“Indeed” said Tony. Not in Sydney. The traffic was awful.
“So what have you got her then?” said Doreen.
“A ‘Bake Off’ book and a coat from Asos that she wanted. You?”
“A pasta dish from John Lewis.”
“And from Father Christmas?”
Tony smiled: “Terry’s Chocolate Orange, some gel pens, a Toblerone, some bubbles, a snow globe, a fake poo, some socks, a CD – do people still have CD players?”
“I don’t know. I got her a finger puppet of Donald Trump, some tennis balls, some of that exfoliator she likes and some pants from M&S.”
“Nail varnish! I got her a nail varnish that changes colour! And an Origami instruction set thingy.”
“I got her a mouse trap for the flat. Is that weird?”
“No. It’s great. Satsuma?”
Rory rolled over to give Amy a Christmas kiss but she was already out of bed. He could hear squeals from the living room.
“He’s been! He’s been!”
As Rory pulled on a hoody and hurried downstairs, he noticed muddy footprints the way down the stairs and over to the Christmas tree. On the bottom stair was a crumpled up receipt from Oliver Bonas.
Amy looked up at him. Eyes shining.
Christmas Day traffic was terrible on the M5. Tailbacks due to a cherry picker driving at 28mph to Taunton.