Confessions of a Reindeer Impersonator

So another festive season is over. Millions of us are dusting down our gym kit and trying to remember where the healthy food is kept in the supermarket. Friends and family have dispersed back to wherever it is they live and the vast majority of us, several pounds lighter in the pocket and several pounds heavier around the waistline have been trudging, bleary eyed, through the winter darkness back to our generally mundane everyday lives.

There are more than a few people out there who will already be counting down the weeks and months until we can do it all over again. Those who love Christmas and everything that goes with it. I’ve got no problem with that. Despite the rather depressing introduction to this piece, I’m no Scrooge. Though apart from the genuine pleasure I derive from catching up with friends and family and the giving of well thought out gifts, I’m not one of those people who just can’t wait until the tinsel goes back up. The weeks filled with shitty advertisements, the same old Christmas music playing on a loop as we queue up in lines, waiting to pay for the items that our televisions have told us to buy, are certainly not my cup of tea.

You’re probably thinking that some childhood event may have been the trigger for my disdain towards the Yuletide period. You’d be wrong – I don’t need a shrink to help me work this one out.

You see, for a few months in 1998, it really was Christmas every day for me……

I left school in May 1997 armed with 9 GCSEs. I decided to continue my education studying a BTEC National Diploma in Travel and Tourism, in a misguided assumption that a career in this field would bring me fortune and enable me see the World for free. Initially, my dreams were shot down in flames after undertaking some work experience in a local travel agent, where duties consisted solely of making mugs of tea for orange faced ladies and putting stickers on brochures for holidays I’d never be able to afford.

Then, much to my delight, the college arranged for all the students to spend a summer working at various holiday resorts. Things were looking up.

Or not as it turned out. After a 9 hour coach journey, I found myself in the Scottish Highlands. The place I was to spend the summer of 1998 was ‘Santa Claus Land’.

Yes, you read that correctly. A children’s ‘theme park’ which opened its doors 365 days a year. Part of the mostly decaying ‘Aviemore Mountain Resort’, the place was an utter mishmash. Highlights included a dinosaur ride, an amusement arcade (including one of those old 90s virtual reality simulators), a go kart track, a crazy golf course, a petting zoo and various props from an old episode of ‘It’s A Knockout’ dotted around randomly. It needed a lick (well, a Tsunami more like) of paint and most of the attractions probably wouldn’t get past the health and safety police these days.

On arrival I was allocated a cramped room in a dismal staff hostel. My roommate for the next few months was a perma-stoned kitchen porter from Glasgow called Donald. I often felt like I needed a fog light attaching to my arse when negotiating the small room, such was the hash induced haze. He was actually quite good company when he wasn’t comatose underneath his grubby duvet, but it was hardly the sun soaked Spanish villa I had anticipated living in when I signed up for the course.

I was to work as a ‘Kids Club Co-ordinator’. Main duties involved organising games of rounders and football, face painting sessions and generally giving horrible, spoilt little fuckers the chance to bite and nip me and kick and punch me in the bollocks. I also had to take my turn dressing up as the various ‘fun’ park characters. Think what Disneyland would be like if it was taken over by Haven Holidays, and you’re along the right lines. I’ll introduce these to you as I remember them;

‘Santa Claus’ – The head honcho in Christmasville. We had to wear a big fake santa head and sit on a throne whilst someone else read stories to the little horrors – it was so hot and boring, we often dozed off hidden by the mask. A gentle nudge from the story teller signified that snooze time was over.

‘Polar Postie’ – A polar bear dressed as a postal worker. Obviously.

‘Bertha Bigfoot’ – An enormous white fluffy monster which was probably supposed to be a Yeti (I understand there’s a difference – please correct me in the comments below cryptozoology fans) but they couldn’t think of a good enough name – it looked like Miranda Hart wearing a huge fur onesie.

‘Rudy Reindeer’ – A reindeer wearing a t-shirt, dungarees and trainers. You know, standard winter wear in Lapland. He also had the biggest, heaviest false reindeer head you can possibly imagine.

After one rather hectic day dressed up as Rudy Reindeer and wearing his massive furry bonce, I retired to my narcotic infused flea pit and woke up the next morning unable to move, let alone get out of bed. I eventually managed to roll out, swallow my pride and I went to the local doctors. Not many people can say they’ve been given severe whiplash by a reindeer, but I certainly can. I spent the next week in a neck brace. With my ginger curly hair, I was surely the inspiration for Leigh Francis’ character, Avid Merrion.

After long days of looking after the spawn of Satan, in the evenings we partied hard. We were driven to booze. It was here I was first introduced to the delights of the original WKD – “Alcoholic Irn Bru? Fucking hell, they’ve really got problems up here”. We did pub crawls, ill-advised karaoke sessions and many late night hostel parties. Each morning the 5 minute walk to work was broken by a visit to the hostel vending machine to grab a standard Irn Bru and a packet of Space Raiders. A breakfast fit for a king.

Generally, Santa Claus Land made me feel about as Christmassy as a hot summer day. Christmas music played all day, every day but over a terrible tinny PA system. The park was falling to bits and some of the staff could hardly look after themselves, let alone a bunch of kids. It really wasn’t the sort of place you’d actually like to spend any time in at Christmas. It’s now been bulldozed to make way for the redevelopment of the Aviemore resort, which in some ways makes me sad, but in others makes me think it was long overdue.

Nevertheless I made some great friends, some of whom I’m still in touch with 14 years later – I’ll always remember that summer. I grew up a hell of a lot, it set me in good stead for adulthood and it made me realise that travel and tourism wasn’t really all infinity pools and cocktails. I now work in IT.

Most importantly though, each time I hear someone say “I wish it could be Christmas every day”, I can tell them from first-hand experience, quite certainly:

“No you fucking don’t.”

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