Father Christmas Got Me A Train Set

18 Dec

I must have been around five years old when I had breakfast with Father Christmas.  It was still the golden age of High Street retail then and the department stores were glorious palaces filled with Christmas wonder that December in Southampton.

My parents had told me a month previously that I would be having breakfast with Father Christmas at Owen Owen department store.  The excitement had been building.  I couldn’t believe Father Christmas was actually coming to Southampton.  Mind you, it made total sense the Queen had visited the store earlier in the year.  I vividly remembered my mum stumbling across the royal visit as we had been doing some shopping.  “All these people and all they will get to see is a unattractive hat shuffle past” she said acerbically as she dragged me away from the melee and on to the relative peace and quiet of the shops at the Bargate. 

The night before my morning date with Father Christmas I found it impossible to sleep.  I lay in bed imagining how wonderful it would be to meet this magical man who knew exactly what each child wanted to find at the bottom of their bed Christmas morning.  I was determined, I had to let him know that I wanted a train set. 

I had become increasingly agitated over recent weeks.  I began to realise that train sets were deemed to be Christmas presents for boys and that girls had to have dolls or something similarly boring and yes girly.  I was deeply concerned.  What if Father Christmas just assumed I wanted a doll too?  I had visions of the train set just lying in his sleigh and finding its way onto the bed of the lad who lived over the road.  I strongly suspected the lad over the road would have been happier with the doll than I would have been.

No, this was my chance I had to make sure there was absolutely no confusion.  If not Christmas could be a huge disappointment! 

The morning finally arrived.  I put on my best tartan trousers, anorak (with flag ribbon edging) and angora sweater which itched but would keep my mind sharp. 

Dad drove us to the store and we all got out.  There was a queue forming outside the side entrance to the store where the restaurant was situated.  There were far more other children than I expected.  Far more, some people it seemed had very large families.  They were all going to get their chance at twisting Santa’s arm.  Didn’t they realise how important this was for me?  They could all share each other’s toys but if I ended up with Sindy my Christmas was totally ruined. 

Holding mum and dad’s hand I took my place in the queue and presently we were all ushered in after showing our tickets to the restaurant which had been decorated with lots of red paper chains.  There was a big Christmas tree in the corner, crackers on the table and a menu in the centre of the big round tables.

I was too excited and focussed to even think about breakfast.  Mum and dad both ordered a full English breakfast but I decided on poached eggs and toast.  The waitresses were all dressed in white aprons with black dresses and tiny hats at the front.  “Just like the ‘nippies’ at Lyons Corner house’ mum commented with a wistful look in her eye.

The breakfast service seemed interminable.   We had been told by a man in a suit and decidedly greasy hair that we would all be meeting Father Christmas after breakfast.  We would be lead out table by table to his grotto. 

I glanced across the room.  Everybody still seemed to be eating.  Some of the tables had only just been served.  Mum and dad asked me at regular intervals if I was ‘enjoying myself’.   ‘Yes thank-you,’ I would reply.  But I was getting more and more nervous as every minute passed and the time for my meeting with Father Christmas arrived.

Finally, the man with the greasy hair approached our table and lead all the children out of the room and into a side room where somebody had gone crazy with cardboard, tinsel and crepe paper.  Then I saw him.  It really was HIM.  Father Christmas in his red suit, big white beard and big black belt holding up his outsized trousers. 

There were at least five children in front of me, then four, then three, then two, then it was my turn. 

“Hello, and what’s your name?”  “Angela Juliette Collings.” I replied.  He needed to know my middle name in case he confused me with somebody else.   “My name has a G on the end of it” I continued.  This was all vital information.  “I live at 24 Gainsford Road and I want a train set and not a doll please, and I have been good all year and I am really good at reading”

‘Father Christmas’ or whoever it was beneath that cheap red suit and stuck on beard looked both flummoxed and amused.  “I know you have been a very good girl and of course you can have a train set” now here is a little present for you today.  He passed me a box. It had been covered with the same crepe paper that festooned the grotto.  “Thank-you” I replied  “and I don’t want a doll” was my parting shot I then turned on my heels and made my way back to mum and dad.

I was absolutely ecstatic.  Father Christmas had promised I would get a train set.  “How was that love?”  Mum asked me both interested and a tad warily.

“Oh it was great, and it’s okay I am definitely having a train set he promised me” I announced with a  flourish.  Most of the other children were back at the table now and I was hoping that they could also hear that I wasn’t going to be getting a doll.

The crepe paper clad present Santa had given me was lying on the table and begging to be opened.  I ripped off the paper and cheap parcel tape.  Inside the box was a doll’s tea set with ‘made in China’ stamped on the bottom. 

I never took the tea set home.  I left it on the table at Owen and Owen.  Christmas morning I awoke to a pillow case at the bottom of my bed and a brand new Hornby train set.  Father Christmas had not let me down.  He had listened to me.  So always remember, if you want Santa to get you the correct gift.  There is something even more important than being good all year.  You must make sure Father Christmas knows your address, the correct spelling of your name, your middle name and whether you are a stereotype or not.

Happy Christmas everyone. XX

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One Response to “Father Christmas Got Me A Train Set”

  1. southamptonoldlady November 26, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

    Was it at Debenhams? I remember that old photograph – it is of men defusing an unexploded WWII bomb outside the then gas board at Below Bar. Where did you find that?

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