Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Dear Santa

This my attempt at a little seasonal satire. I wrote it three years ago at about this time of year. This blog probably isn't the place for it and nor was my old blog, Working On Me, where I first published it. Still, I'd like people to read it, enjoy it, perhaps think about it. I'd like to say I had fun writing it, but I didn't really. It was written to get rid of a bit of NewsRage, that burning feeling of injustice and impotence you get from watching the news sometimes.

Dear Santa,

Having now cooled off after our discussion yesterday, I am writing to tender my resignation. I believe that in the heat of my temper I may not fully have explained my reasons, so I shall endeavour to do so now, in a rather calmer state of mind.

When I first arrived at the North Pole, with hardly a single coin and a floppy pointed hat to my name, I thought myself lucky to have found a benefactor such as yourself. “Mr Claus,” I said to myself, “is a real prince among men.” And so it seemed. Nobody in my family had ever amounted to much, even in gnome terms. As I explained to you at the time, I was the first gnome in our family ever to leave the street. If it hadn’t been for that incident with my Uncle Clem and the border collie next door, I’d have been the first in the family even to leave the garden. And your laughter then made me feel so welcome, although I have had cause to wonder about that laugh from time to time ever since.

My lodgings at the North Pole were modest, as my means dictated. Mrs Whisper was the first elf I had ever met, close up. Back home in the garden, we’d only ever caught glimpses of them as the frolicked and gambolled in the woods beyond the canal (and I’m afraid I still can’t tell the difference between a frolic and a gambol.) How beautiful and exotic they appeared to us. It was my mother who told me about the elves: about how they were Santa’s eyes and ears in the human world, and how some of them worked for you, Santa, making the toys or wrapping them up. I was enthralled by the glamour of it all, but when Dad found out, he spoke severely to Mother about filling my head with such notions and treated me to a full hour’s lecture on the virtues of toadstool-sitting and another on the spiritual rewards of dry fishing. In the years that followed, we would argue many times about this, me suggesting that fishing the canal might be more productive, him maintaining that the lawn was the only proper feature above which to dangle a rod. But I digress.

Mrs Whisper was not like a mother to me. She was a considerate landlady, though, although I now realise that on top of premature widowhood and financial penury, giving houseroom to any lodger – let alone me – must have been humiliating for an elf of her distinction. Well, I say she wasn’t like a mother to me, but in one respect she was: I didn’t appreciate her until she had gone.

Of course, most of my waking hours then were devoted to you, Santa, and your special teams of helper elves. I worked longer hours than any of your other sweepers, and it seemed I had less to show for it than any of them, even before I sent money back home to the garden. That money brought more of my family up here, and other families, too. For some reason, though, there seemed to be almost nowhere for us to live. For more than a year after we were married, Betty and I were sharing Mrs Whisper’s back room with three of my cousins.

Meanwhile, as more gnomes came to the Pole, the elves who had been so glad that we would do all the jobs they didn’t want to started getting grumpy with us. We were called names in the street and our hats were flicked from our heads. In the canteen – in your canteen, Santa – the elves made us all sit in one corner to eat. It wasn’t long before the seats disappeared, to be replaced by wooden, painted toadstools.

Slowly, so slowly, things got better. Some of us got to be supervisors, even managers. We bought houses of our own in the poorer areas, many of which survived the various assaults of elves. The Christmas Spirit always seemed to afford us quite a wide path, but as we prospered times changed, and the new generations started to get along more cordially than we had seemed able. My proudest moment, Santa, was when my Fergus, my wonderful boy, joined the team that filled your Christmas sack. That Christmas Eve, I felt more truly part of the North Pole community than I had ever imagined might be possible.

But of course experience should have warned me that it could not last. While I was raising my children to work hard, be respectful and honour the values of the Christmas Spirit, while all the gnomes I knew worked hard to please you and the elves, trying to forgive the increasingly subtle disdain with which we were treated, one rogue gnome and his lunatic friends were planning to lash out against you, Santa. What happened that day can never be forgotten, of course. But what it seems can be forgotten is who it was that walked with you through the rubble in the days that followed. We were there, Santa. We buried our own people, too. We cried ourselves to sleep at night, grieving our lost brothers and we felt deep shame that a gnome, a wearer of the floppy hat, could possibly have done such a thing.

It seemed, though, that to a certain type of elf, there was no surprise that a gnome had so acted. In the following months, this view spread. The sort of glances I had once been used to, but had believed were a thing of the past, again became common. Fergus was sidelined to a desk job. The poor boy still thinks he could be packing your sack this year, but we know better, don’t we, Santa? How long, I wonder, before his swivel chair is replaced with a painted toadstool? And when it is, what will you do about it? I won’t be here to see. It breaks my heart that I cannot get Fergus to see this, that I cannot spare him the hurt I feel sure will soon come his way. He is staying, but Betty and I are taking the younger children home in the morning.

So, as I explained to you in your office yesterday, Santa, I will not be removing my hat. For the thirty years I have swept your factory floors, my hat has not been a ‘barrier to communication’ nor a ‘badge of militancy’. It seems that whilst any elf may carry his bow and arrows with impunity, a gnome’s floppy old pointy hat is some sort of open threat to public safety.

My hat, my wife and most of my children will return to the garden. I will teach the boys how to dry fish, and no doubt they will grow up to despise me for depriving them of the opportunity to frolic and gambol (yes, they know the difference) with their elf friends here. But I’ll live with that. I went through all that hatred and humiliation so they might have a better life, and just when it looked to have worked, the dream shattered.

Goodbye, Santa, and a Merry Christmas to you and Mrs Claus. Please try to protect my boy from the folly of his decision; do what you can for him, Santa.

Yours,

Feargal Fisher.
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