Singapore is no place to be Santa Claus. I am referring to the dress up version here - a fake Santa – not the real one.
Yesterday I donned a full Santa suit for my good friend Jo Bo. My acceptance of her request was one of those nonchalant didn’t-think-about-it-too-much moments. She asked me at work a few weeks back, claiming that her own children Ben and Charlotte were suspicious last year that Santa was her husband - the Frenchman Antony. Anyway, I felt sympathy for Jo Bo and I am very fond of little Benny and Charlotte – so I instantly agreed.
It is more than twenty-four hours after the event and I am still suffering.
The origin of the word ‘don’ in the context that I have used it – as in I put on the Santa suit – is from the middle English period It is actually a contraction of the term ‘do on’ – which meant to get dressed. A Don is also a head of an Italian mafia family and it is also a title bestowed upon Department Heads or Tutors at certain colleges in Oxford and Cambridge University. There are also three rivers named Don. There is one in Russia and two in Great Britain. Don is also of course an abbreviation of the name Donald. I have a very good mate called Donald.
Anyway I digress.
I was asked by Jo Bo to dress up as Santa Claus to hand out gifts at her condominium's Christmas party. It is an annual event and Jo Bo is one of the chief organizers on the social committee where she lives. When I so nonchalantly agreed to play the part all those weeks ago I had no idea of the largesse of the event nor indeed the discomfort that was involved in wearing the outfit.
Jo Bo had ordered a new Santa Suit for the occasion and it was delivered to her from Europe last week. The suit comprised of thick red woolen pants, a matching long jacket that was trimmed with fluffy white fur, a curly white wig and beard made of some nylon-type material, a floppy Santa hat, big black boots and a pair of white gloves. Also provided were an inflatable tummy and an enormous black belt. The fat tummy contraption was worn by straps that were hung around the neck and back.
It was an instrument of torture.
The suit was quite magnificent but it was obviously designed for cold climates. It was made for wear in countries where there sub-zero temperatures and where there are white Christmases. In the incessant heat and humidity of Singapore donning this suit was a nightmare.
It really was.
The plans that were made for the entrance and role of Santa at Jo Bo’s children’s Christmas party were elaborate. I was to arrive at the rear entrance of her apartment complex at 10.30 am exactly – fully suited-up. There I was to be met by her husband Antony - who would usher me to their apartment where we would await word that all fourty three of the children had been ushered into the function room. Santa was to make a grand entrance.
Yes fourty three children.
What was I thinking?
Jo Bo’s apartment complex is about a fifteen-minute taxi ride from where I live. I awoke early and I steeled myself by having several double-shot vanilla lattes at my local café. At 8.30 am I showered, blew up my inflatable tummy and dressed up as Santa. It was difficult to breathe through the nylon beard and the fibres greatly irritated my skin. Walking was also not easy.
At 9.15 am I left the relative comfort of my air conditioned apartment and went downstairs to the foyer where I intended to ask the security guards to hail a taxi for me. As soon as the lift doors opened the wave of heat and humidity hit me hard. I staggered and reeled and after only a dozen or so steps I was bathed in perspiration. My whole body began to prickle and itch as the wool and nylon irritated my skin.
I lurched and wobbled my way to the Security hut at the entrance to my complex and with my white-gloved hand I tapped on the window. The security guards Raj and Raj stood with looks of surprise on their faces. One of them opened the sliding window. A blast of air-conditioned air was released and I felt momentary relief as my nylon beard flapped in the draft.
“Good be morning Santa,” one of the Rajs said.
“No it is not Raj” I replied.
“Is that being you Mr. Peter sir?” the other Raj enquired.
“Yes it is Raj,” I said – spitting nylon hairs from my mouth.
Both Raj and Raj snapped to immediate attention at the realisation that the melting man in the Santa suit was me. I have explained the origins of this saluting thing before and I will not repeat the sorry saga again here. Suffice to say it is bewildering and unstoppable.
I have tried and tried.
“At ease boys” I commanded. I have found that this is the only way to get them to stop.
“You are besplendid Mr. Peter sir in your Santas uniform” a Raj beamed.
“I am be-fucked Raj” I replied.
“Could you please get me a taxi?”
One of the Rajs immediately picked up the phone.
“I am going to have to come inside the security room and wait,” I told the Rajs
“I will otherwise melt into a Santa puddle”
The Raj who was not on the phone calling me a taxi immediately opened the door to the security hut and I squeezed my way inside. Such was the size of my inflatable girth I had to wriggle my way in sideways.
I was very uncomfortable.
“A taxi is being on the way Mr. Peter,” the other Raj announced
“Why is it that you are being all dressinged up as the Santa Claus?” he then enquired.
“I am doing it for a friend’s children’s Christmas party Raj” I replied.
Both Rajs nodded their approval.
The elastic that was holding on my beard was now cutting into the skin behind my ears and I could feel welts rising all over my body as the suit chaffed my back and chest.
The taxi arrived within a few minutes and I squeezed my way out of the security hut. One of the Rajs opened the rear door of the taxi for me and I tumbled inside. I could see a look of mild amusement on the face of the elderly Singaporean taxi driver in his rear vision mirror.
“Where to Santa sir?”
“Aspen Place condominiums in River Valley road please uncle. Could you please also turn your air conditioning up full blast?”
“Can la” he responded and I maneuvered my bulk to the middle of the seat in order to receive the cool breeze of the air conditioning on my bearded face.
As we took off I noticed that both Rajs were in rigid salutes but such was the restriction of the suit I was unable to salute or wave back. The inflatable tummy was being pushed up into my chest when I was in a seated position and the straps were taut against my neck and lower back. I inwardly groaned at the prospect of fourty three children clambering all over me.
The taxi ride was fortuitously a brief one and I waved off any attempt at conversation by the uncle with a white-gloved hand.
“Cannot speak uncle la,” I declared in Singlish.
“Pieces of beard get into my mouth la”
He nodded his understanding.
As had been pre-arranged I punched in the sms message ‘En route’ to Antony. Moments later we pulled into the Aspen Heights condominium where Antony was awaiting my arrival. I struggled out of the vehicle as he opened the taxi door for me and the blast of the heat hit me again.
“Bonjour Peter you are early” Antony said to me in his French accent
“Bonjour Antony – yes I am” I replied
“You look very ‘ot” he declared
“I am very ‘ot,” I responded.
Antony ushered me down a narrow alley to the rear of his house where I begged him to turn his air conditioning up full blast. He obligingly did so and I then collapsed into an armchair. With some difficulty I pulled up the sleeve of my Santa jacket. A red rash covered my entire forearm and I was alarmed to see what appeared to be blood staining my skin. I then realized that it was just the dye of the suit that had leaked from the sweat that was pouring off my body.
It was already a nightmare.
“Ve must wait until Joanna has gathered together all of zee enfants and zen she vill ring for us to come” Antony declared in his somewhat annoying French accent.
“That will be like herding cats” I responded.
“’Erding cats?” Antony enquired.
“It is an expression that means it will be very difficult”
Bits of nylon beard were tickling my nose and some had now lodged themselves in my teeth.
“Vould you like some vater?” Antony asked
Antony disappeared and then returned moments later with a tall glass of iced water. Drinking it proved difficult and my nylon beard was soon saturated with spillage.
After about ten minutes or so Antony’s phone rang and he listened intently then spoke in rapid French.
“Zey are ready” he then said to me.
“Nice one” I replied.
I stood painfully and laboriously and Antony led me out of the air-conditioned apartment down a path to the pool. The function room was located immediately adjacent to the swimming pool. Perspiration was dripping from my every pore and my thighs were chaffing and stinging.
I heard the children before I sighted them. There was much screeching and squealing. As I limped my way forward a child’s voice yelled, “There he is” and a swarm of ankle biters surged in my direction. I stopped in my tracks and awaited the impact. The force near knocked me off my feet. Most of the little ones were between the ages of four and six so they were only knee-height to me. To maintain my balance I raised both arms and ignoring the burning pain I roared “Ho ho ho. Merry Christmas”.
This seemed to excite the children even more and some I think tried to climb up my body. Several little girls were clutching my legs so hard that I feared that they would pull my pants down. I could do naught but hug the masses that surround me and I bellowed out a few more “Ho Ho Ho’s”. Adults who I assumed were the parents of these waifs did not rescue me from their grip but they stood around laughing and taking photos with their cameras and mobile telephones. My eyes that were already stinging from the salty sweat that was drenching my face were momentarily blinded from camera flashes.
I stood poolside for what seemed like an eternity “ho ho hoing” with gusto. I gently batted down the children that were trying to climb me and I managed to hitch up my pants. To my great relief Jo Bo emerged through the crowd and she took my hand an announced. “Alright everyone go sit down next to the tree so Santa can hand out your presents”
This seemed to have an immediate and positive effect and a sea of little ones squealed again as one and ran off into the function room. The adults trailed behind them. Two little blonde-headed girls however refused to let go of my legs and I was compelled to walk stiffly to the function room with them attached.
It was very difficult.
I literally collapsed into the leather armchair that had been placed next to a very large Christmas tree that was surrounded by an enormous pile of brightly wrapped gifts. There was then much hushing uttered by a number of parents and slowly the din of the excited children quelled.
When the room was near silent I let loose with another mighty “Ho ho ho Merry Christmas” and I roared out my pre-prepared diatribe. I told the now spell-bound little ones that I had just arrived in Singapore from the North Pole and had parked my reindeer and sleigh on the roof of the building. I told the children that my reindeer were tired after such a long journey and they were resting while drinking water and munching on carrots. Then I asked all the boys and girls if they had been good this year and there were deafening screams of affirmation. So I then declared how happy I was to hear that and I gave one more “Ho ho ho” and announced I was going to give them their presents.
My helper elf then began the process of handing me gifts – each with a nametag on them. I then called out the child’s name and one by one they came forward to receive them. The tightness of the suit, the cutting pain of the inflatable belly and the discomfort of the heat that I was suffering all seemed to dissipate.
This was the really nice bit.
Some of the little one’s were a bit shy and reticent receiving their gifts and others were more enthusiastic. I picked each of them up and sat them on my knee and we had little chats. We talked about what they wanted me to leave them under their Christmas trees and I asked a few of them if they wouldn’t mind leaving me out a biscuit and a glass of milk and some carrots for my reindeer. A few of the little girls hugged me tight and said “I love you Santa”. I hugged them right back and told them that I loved them too of course.
Quite a few of the children coyly gave me their hand written notes with their Christmas wish lists. Some of the letters had beautiful pictures that they had drawn for me - and a few actually brought tears to my eyes. I don’t think anyone noticed - as my face was all red and sweaty anyway.
One of the older children – a Canadian boy named Seth who might have been nine or ten - told me that he knew I wasn’t the real Santa because he could see the elastic that was holding my beard on. He refused to sit on my knee and I had to grab him and hold him squirming so his Mum could take a photo. I told Seth that of course I was real and the elastic was just covering a wound. He then called me a shit so I pulled him close again and told him with a smiling whisper that I would set him on fire if he tried to tell any of the little kids that I wasn’t real.
It seemed to shut him up.
Handing out all the presents took a long while but time actually passed quite quickly and I liked it a lot. When all of the presents under the tree had been handed out I once again “Ho ho and hoed” and I asked if everyone had got their presents. To my horror a little Indian boy who was sitting cross-legged right in front of me told me that he hadn’t. I cast a desperate and furtive glance at my helper elf - who then ran away. I patted my lap and the little boy climbed up and I reassured him that Santa was a silly old sausage and he must have left his gift in his sleigh and I had sent my elf to go an retrieve it.
I asked the little fellow where his Mummy and Daddy were and he told me that his Mum was at work and his Dad lived in India and my heart broke in half. I gave him a big sweaty hug and to my great relief Jo Bo soon arrived with a hastily wrapped present that must have been plucked from her own children’s stash of toys. The little boy hugged me hard and kissed my cheek - then he climbed down from my lap and ran to the other children.
I dragged myself creakily to my feet and gave one final and mighty holler of “Ho ho ho - Merry Christmas” before I limped painfully out of the room. Clusters of little girls and boys surrounded me as I departed and Jo Bo and Antony helped to gently detach some from my greatly inflamed legs and torso. A few tried to follow me up the path but I waved them off saying that they couldn’t come any further as both Donner and Blitzen were inclined to bite children and their safety was at risk.
At Jo Bo’s house I staggered into her bathroom and immediately disrobed. I was unsurprised to see that my whole body was covered in a rash and red dye. The water of the shower stung my skin and provided no relief at all. While I dressed into my street clothes Antony called me a taxi and I bid both he and Jo Bo adieu and returned home.
I sit here now in agony writing this – and wondering whether the pain and suffering I had endured – and indeed continue to endure - was offset by the joy that I had experienced in playing Santa. I ask myself the question would I do it all again next year?
Yep – of course I would - in a heartbeat.
In a blink.
In a blink.