childs letter to santa with milk and carrot

Dear Santa

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Santa letter

Well its nearly that time of year again.
The 40th birthday celebrations are now behind me and its time to turn into a grumpy old man. Well not quite.
Its a mad time of year the roads are full of idiots making their way into ‘the big smoke’ for their annual pilgrimage to stand in a queue in Argos or just to drive round roundabouts or double park in the main streets and roads. Its time to go to the 24hr supermarket and see people stocking up for the third world war which will consist of shops being closed for no more than 48 hours.
Last year I thought I’d get my Christmas food in, bread and milk because I sponge off other people for Christmas dinners, at an ungodly hour so went down to the 24 hour tescos at 3:30am. There wasnt a selection box or turkey drumstick to be had. Obviously in the four hours before Id missed the impending meteorite strike warning and felt a bit of a social outcast walking past loads of people saying ‘excuse me I’ve only bread and milk’ as I went through the hoardes of two trolley people (i.e. bought so much they had to get two trolleys).
Apparently this year will be an ‘under tree’ year. In other words the bankers have stole so much of our money we can only afford to put things under the tree, not round them or in 50 inch plasma sized boxes beside the tree. I think this is a good thing. Leaving religious implications aside for a minute when I see bad tempered people shouting at each other in traffic, banging shopping trolleys into each other and generally almost coming to blows over that last car parking space I think do we really need this, I’ve seen more minor car accidents, more instance of people shouting at each other and so on in the last week than at most other times of the year. People here are generally considerate, will smile back if you smile back (in a non Im about to cut your head off type of way), but in this season of goodwill it tends to go out the window and it shouldnt.
Ive been as commercial as anyone else but where has all this pressure come from? Has it always been there? I was talking to some friends today who said, yes it has been. I saw an ad on tv tonight which said the first family fight at Christmas day is at 10am and the first children scolded was at 11am. They’ve obviously never met my mother. I think we were ‘scolded’ before we even woke up!
Like birthdays, Christmas seems to be a time for children, rubbish. Last night a couple of kids hit my front windows with snowballs. I put my boots on, put my coat on and thought about going out to shout my head off. ‘clear off you young ruffians’ or words to that effect. I have to say the kids were shocked when I hit one of them on the head with a snowball when they started pelting next doors windows.
I await the child protection police and the SWAT team to lock me up in Guantanamo Bay for 4 million years. I know Obama is closing it but thats just for Al Quaida, grown adults who hit kids with snowballs have their own section of hell reserved for them. I hear people my age complaining about kids doing exactly what we did at their age. Difference now is you cant give them a boot up the arse or hit them with snowballs because they have ‘rights’. Now I’m not advocating holding them down and breaking their kneecaps (well maybe not most of the time) but nothing put the fear of God up me as a kid as some adult hitting me a slap round the head and then telling my parents who instead of discussing my rights with me would also slap me around the head and not let me out for days.
I heard a quote from I think it was a comedian who said that when does a snow forecast go from ‘brilliant, snowmen, snowball fights’ to ‘I’ll never be able to make it into work’. Whatever day that is its a sad one.
Christmas Cards

Oh yeah Christmas. Bah Humbug. And what is it with Christmas Cards. I dont do the whole ‘Christmas Cards’ thing. Yes I know hitting kids with snowballs and now no Christmas Cards puts me somewhere between Pol Pot and Adolf Hitler but let me explain.
Its not the environmental aspect, its not the keeping the Royal Mail in business aspect either, its the whole idea of the thing.
I remember my Dad going through the early December ritual of getting out the address book and sitting down with maybe 200 christmas cards writing until he got hand cramp to people we’d once said hello to holiday. I voiced my concerns to him one year when I had my own house and he asked if I’d done my christmas card list and I said I didnt believe it in, two days later I got a card from him and family to me and family. But I am your family you eejit!
I’ll tell you what sums up Christmas Cards to me. Ive been living in my house now for about 14 years, the people who had it before me had it for at least 6 years. In my first year I got a Christmas Card for the previous but one owner. Every year since, apart from one Ive got the same card addressed to the same people. Now they havent lived here for at least 20 years! Why on earth would you send a card to someone you havent spoken to in over 20 years? To make matters worse there was a years hiatus. Maybe they had found out the people had moved, I didnt know. Then the following year, different handwriting but from the same part of the country. It was from the daughter of the original people. Now maybe the original senders had died and the daughter had inherited the Christmas Card list I dunno but that for me sums up Christmas Cards. Yes, I know its good to receive, yes I know its good to send but come on.
Now. Im not a complete scrooge. My train of thought is that if you have the time to write a christmas card, even at the 2 seconds a card my Dad seemed to write them at, you have the time to pick up the phone and say hello. I make a point of trying to visit everyone on what would be my christmas card list in the period early December to mid January, if I dont, I give them a quick call.
I have to say though this year I received an e-card from a client through a charities website, what a good idea! I might go against the grain and look this up for next year.Now I’m not trying to give the impression that Im bah humbug, far from it, I just think that we’ve lost sight of the human interaction, the bonding, the idea of giving and receiving. This can also mean time, not just money or presents. Spending time is much more valuable than spending money and hopefully economic conditions mean people start to realise this. Sometimes the how gets emphasised more than the why. Two of the main things I learned from my dad were.
1. Theres no such thing as having too big a tv
2. A Christmas tree can never have enough lights.

Every year the search for the broken bulb ritual would take place, all the kids sitting on the floor screwing and unscrewing bulbs until finally the lights would come on, or as dougal in Fr Ted says ‘ on, off, on, off, on…’ Its not until later in life that this ‘tedium’ meant that we all sat round in close proximity, no tv, no texting, no nintendo ds, no nothing and worked towards a common goal. A couple of hours just sitting round talking and laughing and telling stories. Often the fixing of the lights was never achieved so it was off to Woolies the next day for another 3 sets of 120 lights to replace the one set of 120 we hadnt fixed. Another 2 sets ‘just in case.’
With my led never blow sets of lights we’ll never have that again and the odds of getting people to just sit and stare at the lights for a while is slim.

Putting the Christmas Tree up is a ritual and one I have to admit I havent always observed, when I havent put it up with some bah humbug excuse like ‘I’ll be away most of the time’ or ‘too busy’ or some other such pathetic excuse, even putting it up for one day always seems to be magical, seems to add warmth and light to a room. Even if its just one of those wee stick on trees you get for cars, theres some sense of achievement. Oh sorry left out point 3 from my dad, you can never have too big a christmas tree.
Ok you can. A load of years ago a very good friend of mine broke his leg in an accident before Christmas, he always had a real christmas tree but as his leg was in plaster he couldnt get one himself and wondered if I could get him one. Of course I could, the honour of getting someone elses tree!
I applied my dads principle of buying the biggest tree I could get (within budget of course). Naturally it was too big to fit in the car and it was back in the days of army checkpoints across Belfast. So when you are stopped by a British Army soldier at a checkpoint and he asks. ‘What is in the boot’, you do fear for the whole English race when even a blind man on a galloping horse can see the 9 foot christmas tree sticking out of the back of it. He didnt see the funny side of it when I pointed it out. Luckily enough the policeman did and I left with my teeth intact.
20 mins it took us to get the tree in the front door only to find out that the tree was two feet taller than the ceiling height. Suddenly that soldier didnt seem soooo stupid after all.
My mate told me not to worry as he would just saw two feet off it. Of course being an engineer he measured the height difference and marked it off on a measuring tape.
10 mins and a lot of sawing later he reappeared with the tree.
It was inch perfect, floor to ceiling allowing for floor fixings, perfect height.
He was so proud of himself that it did pain me to say that traditionally you take extra height off the bottom of the tree, not the top. It looked like it was just growing through the ceiling with no space for the angel. Still not to worry, I’m sure the army would offer him a job.

Not having kids of my own my loft is usually the repository for all my nephews, godchildren, pseudo relations kids Christmas presents. Im often called for ‘sticker’ or ‘battery’ duty. (putting stickers on things or putting batteries in them. Yes I’m often the one to blame for wendy houses being partially assembled upside down, toy motorbikes with the wing mirrors on the wrong way round or in the worst case scenario a radio controlled truck with the all the stickers on upside down because thats how I was reading the instructions. So kids, if you are reading this some of your presents have been in my loft since August and if I dont look carefully enough, some of them will also be there next August.
11:30pm on Christmas Eve to 1am on Christmas morning is a magical time to be driving. If you havent ever experienced this then I thoroughly recommend it. The roads are full of cars with half built bikes, dolls houses and various other large cardboard boxes hanging out the back of cars. Good job the checkpoints arent there any more, I’d hate to have to explain half the stuff sticking out of rear windows, sunroofs and tailgates.
Dont ever drive the period 6am-9am on Christmas morning as the roads are full of new bikes, scooters, skateboards, radio controlled cars etc.

Santa making a list

I started my photographic ‘career’ working in santa grottos in shopping centres/malls. It taught me very little about photography and a great deal about dealing with people and about people. In the country grottos kids wanted toy tractors or dolls and the city kids wanted mobile phones and makeup!
Its very easy to knock christmas and although not seeing sunshine for 8 weeks of the year (on the road before sunup, in a grotto all day and leaving after sun down) isnt good for the physical health it can be good for the soul.
Every year I said I would never do it again (stopped about 4 years ago) as it was too much hassle and the side benefits of every kid you know knowing you worked with Santa have worn off as they got older. It used to be great, I would get everyone I knew to come to my grotto to get their photo with santa and told their parents that if the kids played up to ring me and I would tell santa. I’d even santa programmed into my mobile so even in July if kids were messing about I’d hit speed dial!
Its tough work, its a great way of refining workflow and its a great way to learn if you are suited to social photography, its a stressful alien situation to a lot of parents and kids and its your job to get the best photo possible, we all have seen santa photos of kids crying but it gave me one of the best moments of my photography career which has made up for one of the worst.
Id stopped doing press shifts around Christmas, I was sent out on one job not knowing what it was, it was the week before Christmas and met a reporter at this house. Turns out it was to interview a family who had rang the paper about the dangers of quad bikes. They had bought their teenager one for Christmas and being a teenager they had taken it out of the garage and taken it for a spin late at night. They lost control, hit a tree and were killed. Walking up that drive I saw the mother through the window taking the decorations off the christmas tree. Ive seen some things here in Northern Ireland but its funny that that image is one that stays with me.
Its why I stopped doing that and started doing more of the Santa Grotto stuff so one particular time a father came in and asked if we could widen the entrance path which we did. A couple of minutes later he came in with a girl aged about 8 in one of those ventilator wheelchairs. I got her turned round and got Santa to come out to her, took a few photos with Santa leaning down and printed off one whilst Santa spoke to her. I handed the photo to the mum and she burst into tears and ran out of the Grotto. I didnt know what to say but the Dad said to excuse them and he wheeled the young girl out.
He came back a couple of seconds later holding the photo. He explained that his wife was very happy with the photo, it was the first they had of their daughter smiling and that this was her last christmas and that she only had a couple of months left to live. He was in tears, I was in tears, Santas beard was getting very wet indeed.

Whenever I get stressed in shops or traffic at Christmas, whenever family issues get annoying, whenever it seems like too much hassle or too commercial I think of that wee girl and her family. I hope they had a good one.

Click here for a selection of good and bad themed Christmas photos

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