Monthly Archives: December 2011

What do you mean, a giraffe doesn’t fit down the chimney?

Laura Slinn

Santa Claus is coming to town. Well, to the local fire station, to be more precise. So we decide that E should be exposed to the first in a long line of second-rate Santa impersonators and we dutifully join the queue fifteen minutes before the advertised 4pm opening time.

We are already at least tenth, and quickly a long straggly queue forms behind us in the quickly-descending darkness. A fireman – well, I call him a fireman, these days he is probably a Conflagration Consultant or something – lights a fire in an old oil drum. Thank the bloody lord for that, it is sodding freezing and I am woefully under-dressed, with only the three layers under my coat and a pair of gloves to stave off the impending frostbite. However, this being the fire station, they are not taking any chances and he proceeds to set up a tape and-cone barrier at about a twenty foot distance from the aforementioned drum, ensuring none of the queue feels even the remotest benefit of the warmth the fire is starting to generate. Sodding health and safety. Surely it is worth risking a pair of kid’s eyebrows and a possible burnt finger or two to get a bit bloody warmer?Apparently not.

At well past the advertised opening time, someone comes to tell us that Santa’s sleigh had got stuck in traffic but he is just finding a parking spot on the roof. I would smile but my cheeks have frozen. Already, a tantrum has broken out further back in the queue and many of the kids are starting to get a little out of hand. I rack my brains to find a plausible excuse for E as to why we have to leave right now, but none is forthcoming.

Finally, the queue starts to move and at a snail’s pace we creep through the fire station garage toward the nirvana that is Santa’s grotto. Which turns out to be less like a grotto and more like a hastily erected mini marquee in the car park. To extort cash from the parents – oops, I mean to entertain the queue – before we get to Santa, there is a miniature ferris wheel.

‘Can I go on?’ asks E. I fear he may think it a good idea, until he is suspended ten foot in the air in a rusty metal cage, at which point he may well freak out.

‘Sorry darling, it’s for bigger boys,’ I explain, at which point a small boy clambers into one of the cages. Even worse, he is quickly followed in by his mum, who somehow manages to fold her legs in three places and sit down. I immediately take a step to the right to obscure E’s view of this, and break into an over-enthusiastic rendition of Jingle Bells to stop him asking me to go on with him.

At last, we are at the front of the queue, where were are relieved of £2.50 by a girl in an elf costume. She is remarkably cheerful given her thin tights and the current temperature, but she is probably working on commission and can’t believe her bloody luck.

We enter the tent. Sorry, I mean grotto. There is not one speck of tinsel, not one bauble, not even a festive hose draped over the tent poles. Just a plastic chair on which Santa sits, beard askew to reveal brown facial stubble and sporting a shabby red costume that has seen better days. And better sodding grottos, too.

E sits on M’s lap next to Santa.

‘Have you been a good boy this year?’ asks Santa.

E nods.

‘So what do you want me to bring you?’ he asks.

There is a slight pause. ‘A giraffe,’ E replies.

M and I laugh, but Santa is somewhat thrown by this mammal-base response.

‘I’m not sure a giraffe will fit down the chimney,’ he blusters. ‘Perhaps I can bring you something else?’

E remains silent, as he should. What sort of a bloody Santa can’t fit a giraffe down a chimney, for Christ’s sake?

Of all the animals you can pick from Africa, surely this is one practically designed for a chimney? If E had said elephant, then I would be with Santa: you’re shit out of luck, mate –  how about a kitten? But a giraffe? Surely only a snake would beat a giraffe in Animals-Down-The-Chimney Top Trumps? (coming to a retailer near you soon).

And Santa is overlooking a crucial detail. He is quite happy to work on the premise that a fucking fat centenarian carrying a sack with a present for every single child on the globe has no trouble squeezing his lardy arse down a chimney, but suddenly a giraffe is out of the question?

I know I am cold and slightly bitter that this under-par encounter has cost the same as a delicious cup of hot, frothy coffee from the establishment across the road, but really. Call yourself a Santa? Oh no, that’s right, you don’t. You Conflagration Consultant, you.

‘Tis the season to be jolly (well outdone in the fancy dress stakes)

The pre-school Christmas carol concert is upon us. We duly arrive at nursery and pass on a tiny chair to sit on, choosing to stand at the back instead. I have learned to my cost never to trust the load-bearing capabilities of a chair that is roughly the size of one buttock cheek.

First, the elves are led in, those worker bees of the Yuletide season who largely overshadowed by the more glamorous angels or the more antlered reindeer. E is an elf. He scans the audience, looking for us, and we wave enthusiastically. It is at this moment that I realise I have somewhat under-estimated the whole fancy dress thing. It’s not like at an adult fancy dress party, where two or three idiots go the whole hog with their attire whilst the rest of us make a begrudging, half-arsed, last-minute effort which is jettisoned within ten minutes of arrival. Oh no. There are mums involved, so it is a whole lot more professional. E is in fact the only elf that is not in a proper costume. He is wearing his green jogging trousers and a green and black stripy top. I thought I was pulling all the stops out by tacking on some green felt triangles around the neck to make an elf collar. Christ, on four of them I had even sewn little bells. And to top it all, a two pound elf hat from the cheap shop. In my ignorance, I thought the boat was well and truly being pushed out. Turns out we hadn’t even left the shore. I then spot a boy amongst the Christmas tree section who has fairy lights sewn onto his tree costume, and he stands there, twinkling away, shaming the other non-illuminated tree-boys with an air of battery-powered superiority. I do note with a certain amount of relief that the boy standing next to him looks like he has just come off second best in a fight in a box of tinsel, which makes me feel marginally better about my lack of effort.

In file the reindeer, red noses already smudged across cheeks, followed by a group of Santas (a sack of Santas, perhaps?). And then the front row: a host of angels. The tallest girl stands directly in front of E, her excessively large (can I say slightly overly-ostentatious?) glittery wings doing a perfect job of totally obscuring any view of our son we had previously had. Super. Show-Off angel stands unnervingly still, with a straight back and a raised chin.  I bet she knows all the bloody words. With any luck, she’ll pee herself with excitement and have to leave. The concert comprises about seven Christmas songs – mainly sung by the staff, who are all looking slightly ill-a -ease in an assortment of costumes. I am slightly disturbed by a five foot elf with great big breasts, but luckily, she kneels down out of my eye line. So the singing commences. Some of the kids join in, but E is resolutely amongst those who have obviously decided to save their voice for the final performance in two days time. At one point, during an off-key rendition of jingle bells, I think I see E’s mouth moving, but I can’t be sure.

The next time I see him, when Show-Off angel shifts her position slightly, E has his finger rammed securely up his nose and he is having a good old rootle around. That’s nice. What a shame I didn’t bring my video camera. And when I look back a few minutes later, he is still engrossed in nostril fishing. Finally, I am relieved to see that he extricates his forefinger, but only to facilitate an extra large yawn, it seems, before he plugs it back in for some renewed nasal exploration.

I can only pray that he wipes his findings on those bloody great big angel wings, just to serve her right.

Can I phone a friend now?

Laura Slinn

We get in from nursery and are sitting in the kitchen, eating fruit.

“What is milk?” E asks. Hmm, how do I explain milk in a simple terms?

“Cows make milk,” I reply, utilising the well worn tactic of politicians everywhere of if you don’t want to answer to the question, reply to different one.

“What do chickens eat?” This one is a little less taxing.

“Where do fish grow?” comes the next question with barely a pause for breath.

“They grow in the sea… or in a pond or river…from eggs.” I probably should have clarified the term ‘egg’, given that E is probably now thinking that he will find a choice of egg flavoured eggs, or fish flavoured eggs the next time he ventures into Tesco.

“How do you catch crabs?” he asks after popping a satsuma segment in his mouth. I make the assumption that nursery has not started sex education and instead reply along the lines of a crabbing line, bacon and a bucket.

“Where’s the sea?” E then enquires. Bloody hell, it’s like the Spanish Inquisition on a nature trail day.

“It’s all around us,” I answer then immediately regret it. E’s idea of ‘all around us’ means that he therefore must be able to stretch his toe out and dip it in the aforementioned body of water. Rather than stubbing it on the dishwasher.


Deep breath. I eye up the amount of fruit left in his bowl, looking forward to an empty bowl and an adjournment of the interrogation.

“Well, we live on a big, big island and so the sea is all around it, where the land ends.”

E chews ruminatively on a blueberry. Finally, he finishes his snack and we retire to the playroom for some well-earned TV time. Not well-earned for him, obviously, he has spent the day grinding paint into his shoes and leaving indelible lunch stains on his top. It’s well-earned for me though, as I am starting to hear my brain creak under the strain.

“What’s a bonnet?” E asks. Good grief, I think I am getting a nose bleed.

“A type of hat,” I inform him.

“Who wears a bonnet?” he asks. I will, I think, just so long as you promise to stop asking bloody difficult questions so late in the day. Can I phone a friend? Ermm… ah: “Little Bo Peep wears a bonnet, sweetie,” I say, rather smug that not only had I actually thought of a bonnet-toting person, it was someone who E would actually know.

“Who else?” he persists. For crying out loud, at least give me fifty fifty. Who in the world knows two people who wear floppy, out-moded hats that fasten under the chin? That is equivalent to the last, fortune-clinching question on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Someone could have ‘bonnet-wearing’ as a specialist topic on the final of bloody Mastermind, it’s so obscure. In fact, I am not convinced that there ever has been more than one bonnet wearer, ever.  But then I am not supposed to know things like that, surely? That was never in the parental guides under ‘Essential Things to Know’. Well, it might have been. I fell asleep after the first paragraph, somewhere right after it started banging on about breastfeeding your child until it graduates, or something.

I take the cowards way out, and press play on the DVD player. Peace descends: no more questions. It’s my ultimate life line.

It is half way through a particularly annoying episode of Fireman Sam involving the naughty, speccy ginger kid (so no stereotyping there, then) that the thought strikes. Buggar, I could have won that million quid after all. It’s sodding Little Miss Muffet, isn’t it?