With everything working fine again (touching wood at that point) I went off to a meeting with some WI colleagues this morning, over at our college near Abingdon. There was the usual Monday morning chatter, including a lovely story about the local garden centre Santa Claus. It seems as though he’s the real deal and clearly the experience had left a great impression on one small girl and her Mummy too. Driving home this afternoon, I was thinking about those visits to Father Christmas and looked out a couple of pictures.
I have this photograph from around 1962, when I was taken to see him in Hammonds, one of the department stores in Hull. Simple times, eh? I don’t know if we were given a present or not, but I’m sure we just turned up and took our turn to stand by him and have our picture taken. I’m not sure I was fooled by that false beard, even then, but I guess I went along with it or whatever story I was told.
Moving on a generation and a similar photograph of Edward, around the same age as I was, taken with Father Christmas in Harrods. We loved going there, walking through the elaborate world they’d created and to see this beautifully dressed chap who was definitely considered to be the Man Himself, even after close inspection of his whiskers. We’d go early and thanks to the school holidays starting a little earlier around here, the queue wouldn’t be too long, we hoped.
Fast forward the to this afternoon. I’d planned to stop by the farm shop at the garden centre, to pick up one or two things but thought I’d go and take a look at the Christmas Grotto whilst I was there. Oh my goodness! Not only do they offer booked appointments with the man himself, the whole experience is in an altogether different league!
Sadly, I had no small child to take in there, so had to rely on what I’d been told and what I could see (and read on the website!) Happy elves were greeting children and their parents and the whole affair was beautifully done. There were real reindeer to feed with magic food, the elves were telling jokes and teaching songs to the children and Father Christmas was there in his own sitting room, ready and able to spend the time to tell a story whilst parents enjoyed a mince pie or two. When it was time to leave, the children were taken to the toy room and invited to choose something from the shelves. Best of all, according to my reliable source, he’s the real Father Christmas too, “because his beard is growing from his face”.
Actually, I’d enjoyed wandering about having a look around, though this flying goose surprised me rather!
But sadly, it was starting to rain and the (real) ice rink was empty. I could see a small family there waiting to skate and I hung around a while, hoping to see how they got on. I was getting wet though, so left them to it and went inside.
More magic. More flying geese! How beautifully this place has been decorated for the season. No wonder the garden centre has become a bit of a destination these days – there were several minibuses and groups of people here. Some were shopping, but many were doing as I was – having a look around and admiring the decorations.
Just before I left, I poked my nose outside to see what was going on in the ice rink and spotted the small family moving gingerly around the edge. Their small daughter was skating slowly along, holding tightly to a push-along seal and memories were being created as her parents lovingly braved the rain out there.
Colder weather and a few more people would have given a little more atmosphere; had it been dark, the lights would have twinkled a little more and the floodlit rink would have been more of a focus. But none of that mattered on this rainy Monday morning, because the only thing they’ll remember is the magic.