All I Want For Christmas
London Portrait Magazine 12-1984
What we ask Father Christmas to give us at Christmas is, of course, a deeply personal matter. Now, for the first time, thanks to the scurrilous use of cheque-book journalism, Christopher Long reveals some of this year's special requests.
This item was commissioned but, owing to production problems, was not published.
By Christopher Long
Father Christmas leant forward furtively, studied my cheque carefully, held it up to the light, glanced quickly around him and then surreptitiously slipped it into his top pocket.
From the same pocket he produced a large cigar. He sniffed it, cut it, then slowly and very impressively lit it.
Immediately there was a loud explosion. Little bits of cigar and beard littered the table between us some landing in our port glasses.
"Damn!" he muttered. "I was wondering where that had gone. Some idiot journalist from London Portrait Magazine sent a note up his chimney last week asking for a joke cigar. Seems he wanted to offer it to his editor in the very likely event that his request for a Christmas rise was turned down. Now I'll have to get Dunhill's to make up another one."
"Good Lord," I exclaimed in innocent amazement. "Do people really ask for things like that?"
"Oh, you'd be amazed, Mr... er...?"
"Call me Smith," I suggested.
A couple of bolshy-looking reindeer, startled out of their slumbers by the explosion, were blowing bits of Father Christmas's eye-brows out of their nostrils and muttering obscenities about the legitimacy of their employer not to mention his age.
"Yes, you'd be amazed by people's predilections," Father Christmas continued, ignoring the reindeer.
"Take a look at this lot, for example," he said. "By the way you'll find all the notes are sorted by socio-economic groups A, AB1, AB2, etc., and then by post-code."
He flung a great wad of soot-covered messages onto the table, hurled some carrots at the still-grumbling reindeer and settled back to light another cigar rather warily this time, I noticed.
The first note in the 1984 Christmas Requests file was almost illegible. The embossed letterhead read 'Kensington Palace, London W8' and underneath I could just make out the words:
"Dear Father Christmas, Please could I have a new name for Christmas, Love..."
The signature looked as if it might have begun with an H.
Some people in 1984 thought that Harry was not a sufficiently regal name for a prince.
"You see," said Father Christmas, "this job just isn't the doddle everyone thinks it is."
I said I could well believe him and picked out another note from the pile.
This was a long letter from Sir Geoffrey Howe. Father Christmas told me that last year Sir Geoffrey has asked for an alarm clock. This year he wanted another, bigger, alarm clock with a louder bell and a bottle of Pep-U-Up pills and a school atlas.
"The alarm clock and the pills were suggested by his PR advisers, Saatchi & Saatchi," Father Christmas explained. "They felt they might improve his public performance. The atlas is his own idea. If you read his letter you can see why."
Cabinet Minister Sir Geoffrey Howe was not renowned as an energetic person.
Indeed I could. It seemed that Sir Geoffrey's most important task in 1984 was to negotiate the end of a British lease on territory overseas. For months he had been planning how to obtain the best deal for returning Gibraltar to the Argentines. When eventually he was flown out for talks, the journey took so long that he soon realised that of course it must be the Falkland Islands that he was supposed to be giving away. Indeed, he was rather surprised that none of his Foreign Office officials had warned him that such an enormous number of Chinese had settled in Port Stanley since 1983.
Britain went to war in 1982 to protect the Falkland Islands while simultaneously
negotiating the hand-over of another island colony, Hong Kong, to the Chinese.
At this point I asked Father Christmas whether he didn't find some of the requests very boring and repetitive.
"Oh yes," he said, "I get sick and tired of Kensington matrons who ask me to "just pop up and have a quick night-cap on Christmas Eve after all it's far too late to be driving back all that way".
Here the reindeer started loud guffawing, suggesting that Father Christmas was incapable of popping up anywhere in any shape or form these days.
"The archbishops are getting very boring nowadays," Father Christmas continued, wisely ignoring the reindeer. "Take a look at these two notes."
"Dear Father Christmas, May I extend my warm wishes of Christian good-will at this important and very busy time for both of us. In a very real and meaningful way I can say that most of my simple needs are admirably catered for here at Lambeth Palace and I can therefore think of little I might ask you for in my Christmas gaiter this year. Nevertheless, have you by any chance heard that we appointed a new bishop in Durham? Sometimes I wonder who will rid me of this turbulent priest... Yours in seasonal anticipation, Robert Runcie."
The 'shocking' views on Christianity trumpeted by David Jenkyn, Bishop of Durham,
were constant irritations to Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury.
The other letter, this time from an address in Victoria, read:
"Dear Father Christmas, May I extend my warm wishes of Christian good-will at this important and busy time for us both (though I must say I find Easter rather more relevant in a much more meaningful way). I can think of little I might ask you for except perhaps new stockings to replace the holy ones I possess at present. However, I do ask myself whether you have heard of a certain Monsignor Bruce Kent a man much involved with CND, Greenham Common, the Peace Movement, et cetera. Despite this season of goodwill I do ask myself who will rid me of this turbulent priest... Yours expectantly, George Basil Hume."
Bruce Kent's publicly proclaimed pacifist views came to overshadow the agenda
of the Roman Catholic church under Cardinal Basil Hume.
"See what I mean?" asked Father Christmas. "Last time I had a request like that was a job in Canterbury, four days after Christmas, in 1170 and the press reaction wasn't good."
"Of course they aren't all as drastic as that," he continued. "Here you'll see that Arthur Scargill has simply asked for a copy of Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People though I must admit coal shortages are a God-send in my job. A hot chimney's no joke, I can tell you."
"Strangely enough he sent a special request through in the autumn asking for double-deliveries in all threatened pit areas and then informed me he would be picketing any of my deliveries for Nottinghamshire and individual NUM scabs unless there was a climb-down by Macgregor and Thatcher."
Arthur Scargill, the extreme left-wing leader of the National Union of Mineworkers,
brought the pits to a standstill and challenged the Conservative government. His
political agenda infuriated Margaret Thatcher who devastated Britain's traditional
heavy industries in revenge. She employed Macgregor to run down steel and coal.
"Quite right too," murmured one of the reindeer. "We ought to black deliveries altogether until the capitalists are trodden under hoof."
I was interested, of course, to know what Mrs Thatcher, Neil Kinnock and Mr Macgregor had asked for this Christmas. Mrs Thatcher had wanted the same thing he always gives her a bumper-size, wet-resistant hair-spray, guaranteed to survive even a nuclear holocaust. Mr Kinnock had asked for the same thing he requested last year too yet another large supply of banana skins to be dumped on the front steps of No.10 (but this year he wants some dumped on Roy Hattersley's doorstep as well).
Margaret Thatcher despised the more moderate 'wets' in her cabinet while Opposition
leader Neil Kinnock had no great love for his political colleague Roy Hattersley.
Mr Macgregor, by contrast, claims that Father Christmas got last year's present all wrong and wants it put right this year. True, he wanted to get out of steel, he told Father Christmas, but he wanted a new hatchet-job, so why couldn't he have got the Post Office, the National Health Service or anything simpler than the God-damn coal industry.
By this stage the assembled reindeer were snorting with indignation. One wandered over and dug me in the ribs with his antlers.
"Wanna know the truth, squire?" he said. "The whole bloody world's run by geriatrics. Look at Macgregor... Reagan... We're taking a whole bloody sleigh loads of Elixir of Youth to the White House these days. We should be taking embalming fluid to Chernenko in Moscow..."
"Well, well," I said, somewhat lost for words as Father Christmas kicked his rebellious reindeer back into its corner. "Ken Livingston's not so old, is he?"
"Ah, little Kenneth," said Father Christmas fondly as he sat down again and poured us both yet another glass of port. "Little Kenneth... You know, years ago, he used to ask me for newts. Then he wanted to be somebody. So I got him a job on the GLC. Last year he said he still didn't feel important enough so I lined him up for a constituency in Brent. Unfortunately he mucked that up a bit and this year he says they want to abolish the GLC. Worse still, he says some of his extremist pals even want to abolish the House of Lords, so he's begging me to get him made a peer before it's too late."
Ken Livingston was the extreme left-wing Leader of the Greater London Council
whose policies and skill in self-publicity so infuriated Margaret Thatcher that she
later abolished London's governing body altogether.
"But surely that's more than you can promise," I said.
"Oh no!" Father Christmas replied. "For example, last year I had a very nice letter from Bob Maxwell. He said he'd be awfully grateful if I could give him a newspaper of his very own. Well, that wasn't too difficult and he was thrilled when he got the whole Mirror Group. This year he wants something quite different... look, here's the letter."
"Dear Father Christmas," it read, "thank you very much for the Mirror Group. As to this fiscal year I wonder if would arrange for me to win the £1,000,000 bingo competition in The Sun. If you could also let me win The Times competition too I'd be eternally in your debt. Much love, Bob."
The multi-millionaire entrepreneur and publisher, Robert Maxwell, emerged
as one of the greatest and most debt-ridden fraudsters of all time. He was
found drowned beside his yacht ten years later.
By now there were only three questions I wanted to ask Father Christmas. First, was he ever asked for things he couldn't deliver?
"Not often," he replied, "but last year Sir Clive Sinclair asked me for a really amazing home computer. Unfortunately we just couldn't get into production fast enough to meet his order."
The brilliant inventor Sir Clive Sinclair produced a string of high technology
innovations many of which failed when production couldn't match demand.
Second, I wondered if there were any requests that were quite impossible.
"Yes," he said. "This year I've had thousands of requests from girls in London begging me to get them into Annabel's. It's impossible just as impossible as getting them tickets for Wimbledon where they all hope McEnroe will serve an ace into their court the moment he sets eyes on them. The other thing I simply cannot do is arrange for them to get a date with a non-Hooray who doesn't drive a Golf GTI."
Annabel's was the London's smartest night club, a magnet to those renowned social
products of the 1980s: Sloane Rangers and their male equivalents, Hooray Henrys.
"Don't they ever ask for a date with a journalist?" I asked.
"Never," he replied.
My third and final question to Father Christmas was to ask what had been the strangest request he'd ever received.
Father Christmas leant back in his chair and thought hard for a moment. Then he leant forward again and offered me a large cigar from his top pocket. I took it, sniffed it, cut it and put it in my mouth.
Then he leant back and thought a little more.
"Well," he said, "it's funny you should have asked that..."
"Absolutely bloody hilarious," crowed a reindeer. "It's only the same damn fool question every bent journalist asks every Christmas."
"Strangely enough I think the most unusual request came this year, from the editor of London Portrait Magazine," said Father Christmas, striking a match to light my cigar.
"Really?" I said. "And what does he want for Christmas?"
"Well... he said he was rather expecting one of his columnists would be coming along to ask for a Christmas rise..."
"Really?" I said, drawing deeply on the cigar.
Suddenly there was a loud explosion.
© (1984) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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