I know the festive season is now drawing to a close, so I should probably save this post for next year, but hey – I’m far too impatient for that. So instead, consider this the germ of an idea that I might well turn in to reality by next Christmas…
As is probably traditional in a lot of family households, the lead-up to the festive season included a couple of attempts at taking Robert to “meet” Father Chrismtas at one of his local hide-outs.
Our first attempt was what we assumed would be a sure-fire bet for a good Santa – John Lewis in Reading. We’d seen it advertised in a number of places, and I don’t mind admitting my first thought was “John Lewis is a classy-enough store – they’re bound to have a good Santa’s Grotto”. How wrong was I – when we got there it turned out this Santa is what’s apparently known in the trade as a “Roaming Santa” – in other words, no grotto, just a Santa wandering the store saying hello to the little’uns. We couldn’t even find the bugger – so we moved on.
Where to try next? The next biggest-department store in Reading, House of Fraser. No Santa there. So we headed to Debenhams, where signs around the Oracle centre had assured us we’d find a Santa. But once again, we were disappointed – this one wasn’t roaming thankfully, but he wasn’t exactly being treated in the manner in which you’d hope. He was perched on a chair next to the escalators, from where he could (at best) beckon-over any passing children and ask them what they wanted for Christmas. He was also a very measly-looking Santa – very thin, NHS specs and an average outfit. Robert actually ran away from him at first!
Our final attempt was the next day, at what we’d been assured was a BRILLIANT Santa – he even had a grotto, AND reindeer. His location this time was the Henry Street garden centre near Reading, and first signs seemed promising – we queued for almost an hour, winding slowly through a (hideous) “Christmas around the world” display made from bizarre animatronic gnome/elf/things (see photo for proof!). You also had to PAY for this Santa – a reasonable £5, which also covered a present at the end of the “experience”.
If I said that this Santa was poor, it’d be an over-statement. To be fair to our friends that recommended it, there were actually TWO Santas at the end of the queue – which explained how they managed to see so many people reasonably quickly, which had confused me a lot in the queue! So it may well be that they saw another Santa, or perhaps they work in shifts. Either way, our Santa was utterly pants – Really obvious fake beard, no affinity with children, a grumpy attitude and an Australian accent. He sat there like a lemon while Robert tried to make the best of it – he didn’t even seem to know what to ask Robert, offering up a “So, I guess there’s some things you want for Christmas, eh? Er, Robert?”.
We stayed for a few minutes, during which Sara and I shifted uncomfortably and even Robert seemed to want to leave very quickly – which we soon did, armed with a plastic fishing game and a slightly puzzled toddler. Even the reindeer seemed disappointed, wandering round in their pen like they’d been there for decades. All-in-all, a very disappointing experience.
All of which lead me to the conclusion that finding a good Santa to take your children to is a VERY tricky business. Somebody needs to invent some sort of comparison site for Father Christmas / Grottos. Or maybe a version of “Check a Trade” whereby you can submit your own reviews for other families to read before they decide.
If nobody has come up with the solution by next summer, I reckon I’m going to have to start building it myself…