And Santa Claus went......Pop!
Saturday morning was my favourite time of the week at this age.
Partly because of the regular doses of Wild West escapism reliably delivered by Television. “The Long Ranger” followed by “Champion the Wonder horse” were the flavour of the day. Cowboys were in town. I would run around on my imaginary horse, with my imaginary hat and chaps, firing an imaginary rifle at my imaginary enemies, which included our savage cat and dog. Christmas approached. Wait! Maybe some of these imaginary things could be had for real, with the help of Santa Claus! A horse seemed out of the question (and was too much work as Julie’s one called “Shandy” proved) and who wanted real enemies? That left the must-have apparel of any self-respecting cowboy: hat and chaps, and I needed a weapon to better defend myself than the cap-gun revolver that was my sole defence at the moment.
As I sat writing my letter to Santa, with Mam’s help and advice, I could almost feel the earth shake with the thundering hooves of Champion whisking me across a valley floor behind a pack of Indians fleeing in fear.
The cowboy outfit I had already seen, in Mam’s mail-order (Littlewoods) catalogue. The weapon of choice was a pop-gun I had spotted with a lethal little red cork attached to the barrel by string. That ingenious device ensured that the Indians could never catch you without ammunition, no matter how many times you shot at them (at, all being said, a slow rate of shots). With this I would shoot my enemies from a more prudent distance than the close range afforded by my current cap gun.
Down they went on my list and the letter was done. Folded, sealed and sent. I was sure Santa wouldn’t fail me and the New Year would be the year of the cowboy at Craigvar. With these few things (OK, maybe with a few other toys and games thrown in for good measure in case Santa was feeling generous) my life would be complete, with no other material need on the horizon. Thoughts of them filled my mind in the run-up to Christmas, and no doubt the whole household with my incessant chatter about them!
School was out and I had a lot of time to kill, and I just itched for the big day (and Santa!) to arrive. I could imagine the elves packing the items destined for me, Santa piling the boxes with my name on them on the sleigh, and Rudolph and company dutifully pulling them all that way from the North Pole to Bonar Bridge, and on such a cold night. My pop-gun was now winging its way to me as I waited.
At home, everything was in place for his arrival. Relations had arrived and we’d put up the Christmas tree in the front verandah. Dad had put the lights on it and Mam and Julie had hung all the decorations and tinsel on it. It flashed and shone and glittered in the front veranda window like a beacon for Santa and Rudolph to home-in on. A visual rendition of me standing there: it flashed “Over here Santa, over here Santa” all night long.
Finally,after what seemed like an impossibly long wait, Christmas Eve arrived. Dinner. Games. Playing around the house, running around between the grown-ups as they put the last touches to everything for the big day tomorrow. Until the dreaded call: “Children, bed time!” arrived.
On this day, this call caused a dilemma. On all other days you never wanted the day to end, or to miss any of the remaining fun and games, TV or chats. But this time you did want tomorrow – Christmas day – to arrive as soon as possible. Couldn’t we just snap our fingers and have the presents appear magically under the tree? We would then rip into them, like a pack of lions at a carcass. Skin and bone would fly in all directions until we got to the real meat.
In a word: “No”, or three: “Off to bed”. Followed by veiled threats of Santa not coming at all while we were still awake, or him not bringing presents at all for any poorly behaved child.
Teeth brushed, pyjamas on and into bed we hopped, squirming with excitement under the covers.
“At what time during the night would he come?”
“Would we see or hear him?”
“Would my pop-gun fall off if the sleigh hit a cloud on the way here?”
“Would you waken us first thing in the morning?”
After giggles and chatter we must have dropped off to sleep. Santa came and went, in our dreams.
Daylight crept through the upstairs bedroom window and eventually reached a level that awoke us. It’s Christmas day! Our bare feet hit the floor running and our first brief stop was in Mam and Dads bedroom.
“It’s Christmas day!” “Has Santa come?” “I expect so, check under the tree!”
Down the stairs, we burst into the lounge. The heavy wooden door bashed into the back of the armchair. Ignored. We sped through to the front veranda.
A mass of presents sprawled under the tree, increased in size and number by present of visiting family – who’s Santa had obligingly advanced their delivery, knowing they wouldn’t be at home at Christmas, so they could take them here and open them with us on Christmas day.
We jumped and clapped and immediately started separating the presents into piles by name, as the grown-ups slowly gathered in the lounge wearing pyjamas and dressing gowns and with bleary eyes, no doubt awoken by our shrieks. Dad lit the fire that had been set in the lounge fireplace the night before.
Distribution began and into the presents we ripped, forced to follow some resemblance of protocol by the grown-ups, and the piles of paper quickly grew.
When done, everyone was served and busy examining, or already enjoying, their presents. We didn’t look back and played and played until tired out, only stopping for lunch and dinner.
The days flowed together as the holidays passed, until one day the family was reduced back to its normal size and we recamped back to the kitchen for eating (from the dining room) and the living room for playing (from the lounge and veranda, which was now cooler without the open fire lit each day). My play pals were reduced to my imagination and the TV.
Mam sat knitting and doing (destroying, I hear you say!) the crossword puzzle in her chair in the living room. I played at cowboys, kneeling on the floor in front of “The Long Ranger”, with hat, chaps and ageing silver cap gun: now devoid of caps and making a metallic “clack” each time the trigger was pulled and metal hit metal.
“Are you pleased with the presents Santa brought you Andrew?” “Aye, but I would have liked the Pop-gun too”
Mam emitted a loud shriek “Aaaahhh!!!” and visibly jumped in her chair. She made a gesture to get up by putting both her hands on the arm rests, but didn’t.
“Oh, run and get it. It’s in the top part of the wardrobe in the end bedroom, behind the cake tins”.
I jumped to my feet. Dazed, I stood there, dithering for a second.
“Go on! In the end room, in the top of the …….” her voice faded as I ran off through the kitchen, along the long back corridor and burst into the bottom bedroom.
I was confused.
“Why didn’t Santa leave it under the tree?” “Why would he leave it here, where I would never look for it, where I couldn’t reach it without a step ladder or chair and so would never come across it by accident?”
These questions echoing in my head were drowned out by the excitement as I jumped up on the chair, pulling open the double doors at the top of the wardrobe and reached in – pushing my way through the cake tins and biscuit boxes.
There it was! Just as in the catalogue, exactly the same! In a simple cardboard packaging, unwrapped.
“How could Santa have forgotten to wrap it?” “Was it the elves fault?”
I asked myself as I ran back to Mam with it.
Consternation mixed with excitement as I repeated the same unanswered questions to Mam. John laughed and jibed from the corner seat and Mam made excuses and distracted me
“Open it and see if it works Drew!”
I broke into the packaging, wrestling with the wires that held the gun in place. My hands trembled with excitement as I fumbled with the red cork that hung from the string, attached to the end of the barrel – just as I had imagined.
“It’s a Winchester repeater eh Mam!”
I got the cork in place, pushed it in firmly, raised the butt of the rifle to my shoulder; I put my finger on the trigger, raised the barrel, looked along it past the bead on the end and aimed at Mam.
She held up one hand in front of her face, directly in my line of fire, half in self-defence and half in surrender.
I pulled the trigger………and “Pop!” went Santa Claus!