A collection of short stories and journalistic commentaries depicting my simple life
and how I fit in with the modern day universe of our times



I once heard Billy Connelly say that there’s no such thing as bad weather - only the wrong clothes. Well I reckon you could make a very similar argument for bad news too. News is only ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in the context of how you choose to react to it.

But it isn’t always easy.

Newspapers and other media actually have a lot to answer for. They love to marinate in a bit of ‘bad news’, and will bend over backwards to find the negative in anything positive. It’s the wrong attitude for progress and mental well-being, but I suspect it’s the right attitude for selling newspapers. I’m also sure there are all sorts of lessons about the human psyche there, but they’ll have to wait for another day, because right now I want to talk about something else.

Just last week, we had the newspapers predicting financial ruin because fuel prices and inflation are rising. And at the same time they were predicting financial disaster because property prices are falling again. My question is, how can a price increase and a price fall… both in things that most of us need to buy… both be viewed negatively? Surely they both have to be either one thing or the other – don’t they?

Look, I’m being a little disingenuous here. I know that fuel is a consumable and property, aside from being somewhere to live, is seen by many as an investment. But for the vast majority of us, and despite the bad news bias of the media, a fall in property prices is actually a good thing.

Let me try and explain…

It’s good for first time buyers for a start. That’s easy enough to understand isn’t it? They don’t own a property, so the cheaper it gets to buy, the better it is for them. It makes it easier for them to get on the property ladder, or to buy something better than they could otherwise afford. So it’s all good news there.

And it’s good news for people trading up to a
bigger or better property too.

Let’s say for instance you live in a property worth £100,000 and you want to trade up to a property worth £200,000. You need to find and fund an extra £100,000. But then let’s say that the market falls by 10%. Your current property is now only £90,000, but the one you want to buy has fallen to £180,000. Now you only need to find and fund an extra £90,000 to make exactly the same move.

And it’s great news for property investors too. I should know!

You see property investors are mainly in the market for the long haul. A fall in property prices may mean a short-term fall in the paper value of their assets, but they don’t care about that. What they do care about though, is that it’s an opportunity to pick up some cheap property before the market resumes its inevitable upward trend again – the one it’s been on since they started putting one brick on top of another one. A market perceived to be falling, becomes awash with people willing to bail out at a silly price, such is the power of the media’s, ‘we’re-all-doomed’ message.

A ‘bad news’ market is where property investment
fortunes are often founded.

In fact the only people a falling market is bad for, are the ones who need to get out of the market quickly, those wanting to trade down, and bone-idle spiv speculators who want to make a fast buck for very little no work. But the first time buyers, up-traders and serious investors massively outnumber these groups anyway.

So overall, falling property prices affect more people positively than negatively. Wouldn’t know it though, would you? So isn’t it time you stopped grumbling about the weather, and started wearing the right clothes instead?



NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWSSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend





My daughters school choir weren’t behaving at all well,
and their teacher wasn’t very happy…

“You lot are a disgrace,” he shouted. “You only ever behave properly when there are visitors here. I went to another school last week, and you should have seen those children… all well behaved, polite, and a pleasure to be around. Not like you lot. Why can’t you ever be like that?”

There was a silence in the room, until one young girl aged 7 had the courage to raise her hand...

“Yes.”, said the teacher, more than a little irritated.

“But sir,” she protested, “you WERE the visitor!”

Almost immediately, the 7-year-old had identified what millions of us adults fail to grasp… that the grass only seems to be greener on the other side of the fence. And when you get to look at it properly, more often than not it’s just as brown, muddy and weed-ridden as yours.

Most people are keen to create a positive impression. That means they tend to play up the good stuff, and hide or suppress the negatives whenever presenting to others. And as an outsider, you very rarely get a realistic impression. You’re not going to get a true picture of their school…

And you’re not going to get a true picture of their business either.

I speak to many people who are running one business or enterprise, but want to switch to another because it looks a lot easier with far less problems, nicer customers and higher profits. But they should always bear in mind that as no more than a ‘visitor’, they can’t possibly see the full picture. That can only come when they get right in on the inside, and stay there for some time – when they get beneath the veneers to what lays beneath.

People who don’t do that, usually spend their whole lives being seduced by newer and newer veneers, only to be forever disappointed by the harsh realities. And then they go off and repeat the same cycle all over and over.

Has this ever happened to you?

I think that the key here, is to understand that in most situations, you’re only ever the ‘visitor’, and to treat what you hear, see and experience accordingly. That doesn’t mean replacing open-mindedness with out and out cynicism, but it does mean abandoning the rose tinted spectacles for a while.

Equally importantly, it also means fairly evaluating and appreciating what you already have. After all, it’s a shame if you have to go to the trouble of clambering over the fence, before you can appreciate how green your own grass really is.

And sometimes, the climb back over, is often less than straightforward.




WHERE IS THE GRASS GREENEST?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend



If, like me, you find time passing by ever more quickly, then I’ve found a brilliant new solution for you all. Simply get yourself a rowing machine. I’ve had one for quite some time now, it was originally my parent’s, and its effect on the passage of time is really quite extraordinary.

You see, if you just flop into your favourite armchair to watch a TV programme, half an hour passes by before you even know it, but set the timer to 30 minutes on the rowing machine or any other piece of exercise equipment for that matter, and it’s like time is all of a sudden, standing totally still. And if you could somehow re-create that effect across your whole life, I’m sure you would live to be about 297… or at least it would feel like it.

And it has another strange effect too.

Because it has also turned me into quite an obsessive reader of food labels whenever I’m at the supermarket.

You see, the rowing machine has an on-board computer which measures the number of calories burned away during your exercise. I know for example, that I will burn away about 400 calories in a half an hour programme.

Remember though, that this isn’t just a regular half-hour. It’s a rowing machine half-hour, which is an awful lot longer in real terms. So when I look at the label on a cream cake, and it tells me there are 425 calories in it, you can bet your life that I’m going to think very carefully about whether I really want to eat it or not…

Because I now know the ‘real price’ it will cost me… more than half an hour’s hard labour on that bloody rowing machine.

Now I know a lot of people think that this sort of behaviour is a little somewhat extreme, but to me it seems to be perfectly logical. I mean, when you go into a shop, do you not automatically look at the prices anyway – what you’ll have to give up - before deciding whether to buy or not? Do you not compare the prices of different items to see which offers the you best value?

Well I do the same thing while in Marks and Spencer when I look at the number of calories in two different ready-made sandwiches for example… the tuna mayonnaise will cost me 22 minutes of hard labour while the BLT costs me nearly twice as much at 47 minutes of blood sweat and tears.

So there really is no contest.

Now I doubt that you have a great deal of interest in my own specific diet, but I think that this idea of knowing the ‘real price’ of things can have many wider implications too. It can certainly be used as a very powerful tool of persuasion for you.

For instance, if you’re trying to persuade someone to take or avoid a particular course of action, then spelling out the overt or hidden ‘real price’ of going against what you want, can usually be very effective. And that could be a financial price, an inconvenience price, a hard work price, a health price, a personal freedom price, a status price or something else.

The point is that by not doing what you want, there will always be a price of some sort. You just need to spell out exactly what that price is going to be. Because, like most people when they eat a cream bun. They don’t know what the ‘real price’ actually is.

This is something that can also be effective in all forms of communication too… socially, at home, in the workplace and of course in any sales and marketing situations. It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling by mail, on line, by telephone or face to face; simply highlighting the negative consequences - the ‘real price’ - of not taking the action you want, can often pay off in a big way.

And as I’ve recently found, when you’re selling to yourself (and that’s what you’re doing when you try to forego those high calorie foods) it helps if you have a very clear focus on the ‘real price’ of going against your own internal pitch.

Without a clear picture of the ‘real price’, there’s no other solid means of quantifying and comparing the benefits.



MIRACLE DIETSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend



There’s no excuse for staying sober these days… there really isn’t.

Let me explain... I went into my local mini-market the other day, to find the cheapest bottle of booze in the shop. I did have my reasons, but they’d take far too long to explain. Suffice to say that it had nothing to do with me falling on hard times or being a raging alcoholic.

Anyway, I didn’t have to look too far to find exactly what I was looking for… a two litre plastic bottle of 7% proof white cider for just a measly £2.18. And this was in a leading supermarket chain like Sainsburys! Now I’m sure that those ‘in the know’ will tell me that I’ve been had… that I could have got it a lot cheaper from somewhere else… but to me, it seemed a ridiculously small amount of money to pay.

And given that quite a large proportion of the average population only drink alcohol with no higher ambition than to get drunk and possibly fall over, you’d probably expect that this is exactly the sort of stuff which everyone would be buying for those purposes. It probably doesn’t even taste much different to the alternatives, (no I didn’t drink it) and will certainly fulfil the brief as far as getting drunk is concerned. And yet the only people I’ve ever seen buying this sort of thing, are youths in hoodies and middle-aged blokes wearing second hand suits who promptly drink it straight out of the bag.

So why is this?

Well from when I studied economics, many years ago now, one of the few useful things I remember is the concept of the reverse elasticity of demand. Explained, this means that with most products, as price increases, demand falls. But some products are somehow different. If you lower the price, then you also lower the demand as well – particularly amongst certain groups of consumers. And there can be several reasons for this:

A low price is often equated with unacceptably low quality.

Image is a key factor with many products. And cheaper products usually have a poorer image.

Products are often bought as gifts. And nobody wants to look a cheapskate.

I mean, would you want to take a £2 bottle of booze to a party? I did, but then I’m a little bit strange and tight fisted too. I must confess though, to being just a little bit embarrassed while buying it in the shop.

You see, the point I want to make is all about price.

And most specifically the prices you can happily charge for your products or services. It’s very easy to get locked into a mindset that says that lower prices will lead to higher sales, or conversely that higher prices will result in lower sales. But the truth of the matter is far more complex than that. It very often depends on the characteristics of your particular product, how it’s marketed and whom you’re attempting to sell it to.

And very few of today’s businesses do enough
testing of the effect of a change in price.

Those that do are very often surprised to find that the effect is seldom what they expected. Look, I know that it’s totally counter-intuitive to think that an increase in price might actually boost sales, but in the right circumstances, it can and often does do. And unfortunately, you won’t know whether this applies to you and your own products, until you go out and test.

Now you might decide that you’re quite happy to continue selling to your own market’s equivalent of the hoodies and the vagrants. It might be a very lucrative market for you. But the option to do something different - to find an even larger market share at a totally different price point may also be there too.

In the case of the white cider I bought the other day for example, it might just take little more than some new fancy packaging and a more sophisticated label to double or even treble the price, and find you a whole new market to tap into…

Because quite often where pricing is concerned, image and perception usually matter more than the actual product itself.



HIGHER OR LOWER?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend




'Twas the night just after Christmas -- Old Santa he was pissed.
He cussed the elves and reindeer while throwing down his list.
Horrid little bastids, ungrateful little jerks.
I’ve a good mind now to give it up and scrap the whole damned works!

 I've busted my ass for damn near a year,
And instead of "Thanks Santa" -- what else do I hear?
The old lady bitches ‘cause I work late at night.
The elves want more money -- The reindeer all fight.

Rudolph got drunk and goosed all the maids.
Donner is pregnant and Blitzen has AIDS.

And just when I’m thinking that things could get better
Those assholes from the IRS  have sent to me a letter,
They say I owe them taxes -- if that ain't so damned funny
Who the hell ever sent Santa Claus, any Christmas money?

And the kids these days -- they’re all the pits
They want the impossible -- Those mean little shits.

I spent a whole year making toys. Little carts and sleds
Making dolls and teddy bears... Their arms, and legs and heads
I made a ton of yo yo's -- But there's no requests for them,
They look out now for laptops... they think I'm IBM!

Flying through the air... and dodging all the trees
Falling down tight chimneys and skinning all my knees.

So there won’t be a Christmas any more,
I’ve spat my dummy on the floor.
I quit, I’m done, I’ve had enough -- and here it is my reason,
I found me a blonde who I adore so I'm living down SOUTH for next season!

So I quit this job right here and now, for me there's no enjoyment
I think I'll sit on my fat ass, and draw on unemployment.



I suppose the only reason Santa has remained so jolly for so much 
time is because he knew all along, where all the bad girls live.





SANTA QUITSSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend




Sitting at home, and trapped all the day,
I e-mail work places my new résumé,
My friends all ignore me and at me they scoff,
And this is my life, since I was laid off.

Companies go bankrupt as we can all see,
Meryl Lynch, Lehman Brothers, and even AIG,
But what’s really scary and don't give assurance,
Is the fact that most companies all have no insurance.

We get blind to the problems, that are now going on,
And don't fret much about them or where they come from,
See for us there’s a bypass, a sort of concession,
We don't have to think twice, we just blame the recession.

And finally we're coming, back out of this fold,
Recession is over, or so we are told,
But that doesn’t mean now, a win situation,
Cos when there isn’t recession, there's normally inflation.





NEW GROWTH?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend





Every December, usually around the evening of the 24th, as I find myself buffeted along all the brightly lit corridors of the Trafford Centre, the recently built temple to the Saturday cash register, by numerous happy, laughing, greedy, materialistic shopping crowds, and as the frosty nights draw in and the pavement artists draw on, I often ponder the true meaning of the Christmas festival and despair of ever understanding its real significance.

I have in the past, searched everywhere for the answer to this perennial spiritual enigma. I once rather stupidly, (considering they were unwise enough to employ my daughter Charlotte), asked the lady in the information booth at Selfridge’s. She seemed to know the answer to every other question of life, the universe and everything that is, so I enquired of her what the real significance of the Christmas celebration was. She said in a rather disdainful, humdrum and monotone way, “Try ‘leather goods’ dear.” At the time, I was too young to understand what she meant and in actual fact, I still am. Not a good sign at all.

I then asked my mother the same question, but she misheard me and gave me the standard lecture that she had learned from the Family Doctor booklet on How Babies are Made. As a matter of fact, she also gave me the very same lecture when I asked her about VAT, and now that I have fully experienced both, I can honestly say that I do see the similarity. Anyway, unabated in my quest, I later asked my father and he said, “My dear girl,” (his sight was failing somewhat, or possibly his memory, maybe even both or was it my ever increasing man-boobs?) “Christmas is nothing but an evil commercial invention of the capitalist consortiums to increase profits, and it would be a whole lot better if it came in February when business is slack.”

So, armed with this fascinating lack of understanding, last year I again set out to learn the real essence of Christmas for myself. As I ventured forth on this voyage of discovery, delving deep into the innermost crinkles of my psyche, I tried to be totally honest. After all, it was Christmas. I knew that deep down inside, I loved Christmas.

But was it, I asked myself, merely because of the gaudy shops jammed with glossy novelties and bright cheap baubles? Was it merely the commercial spirit and the profit motive that so lifted my heart? Was it merely the exchange of monies and the tinkling of cash registers that made me look forward to Christmas from Boxing Day onwards?

And being as shallow as I am, I answered: Yes, yes it was. Christmas is the time when the Spirit of Giving is everywhere in evidence, and if there is one thing I enjoy more than all others, it is to allow other people to fully enjoy themselves by giving me lots of presents. I mean, who am I to refuse them this privilege of giving? Even if I know that in so doing I deny myself the pleasure of giving on my own account, but no true joy ever comes without sacrifice does it?

But then I carried my self-exploration a step further. Granted that Christmas signifies the widespread joy of others in giving me gifts, what is the most enjoyable aspect of the Christmas shops? What then is the single most feature, so unique to the Christmas shops, that brings such rare happiness to the aching heart?

My quest took me to my most favourite of all shops, the book shop. And while musing upon a pile of new and glossy Christmas releases in a brightly lit, tinselly clad modern book shop, I stumbled across a rather strange book. It told a simple tale of a child born in an animal’s manger in a stable, because there was no room at the inn for the mother and putative father. The book came in a plain but stout and shiny cardboard slip case, which also held another book telling of the creation of the world and the first man and woman in it thereof. They were marked the Old & New Testaments.

And then all at once, the answer came to me in a flash. I suddenly realised that I was holding in my hands the two books and the slip case which held the very key to the real essence of Christmas. The real essence of Christmas, it came to me in a burst of revelation (no pun intended), is: THE BOXED SET.

All over the world, to worshippers of every creed, colour, language and credit card, Christmas means that special time of the year when their favourite volumes are miraculously transmogrified and wrapped, bound in identical spines and glittering with uniform lettering, in a skin of glistening cellophane inside an all singing all dancing festive and shiny case. Can there be anything else more satisfying to the human spirit I ask you?

Now that we know the full mystery of Christmas and the boxed set, let us now ask ourselves what it is about the boxed set that exerts such miraculous and seasonal a pull? Well first of all, and above all else, a boxed set of books is something truly substantial. If someone gives you a boxed set, it tells you something, a great deal in fact about the donor straight away. It tells you that they were prepared to spend three (or even four) times as much money on you as they would have normally done if they had bought you only a single book.

Secondly, the boxed set appeals to two basic human emotions simultaneously – the first being a desire to read, learn and inwardly digest, and secondly, the desire to collect things in sets. And in the event of a clash, the latter usually always wins over the former. Such is the level of our fickle mindset.

Of course the book industry hasn’t been alone in appreciating the above mentioned deeper meaning of Christmas for many years. Thus not only are special boxed sets of the testaments widely available, but for many years now, there have been special Christmas sets of other books, CDs, DVDs, cosmetics, cleaning fluids and even biscuits too. And to give these sets a special appeal and purpose, these boxed sets are imbibed with familiar feel good titles such as: “Family Selection”, “Greatest Hits” and “Complete Works.” Prove me wrong if you can, but I doubt if you will find a more meaningful explanation for all this Christmas fuss.




SO THIS IS CHRISTMASSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend



I've been getting ready for Christmas
All revved up for the great magical day
my credit card's cracked and my freezer is packed
'cause I started my shopping in May

Our Xmas tree, it stands tall & proud
and as rigid as a totem,
With Christmassy baubles just hangin' there.....
like testies in an old scrotum!

*****

And the mistletoe's hanging in bunches
'cause the odd Christmas kiss isn't wrong
and the neighbour I've found - quite likes calling round
and exploring my crowns with her tongue

The bin men have gotten quite friendly too
they're after a present I fear
they won't feel so chuffed when I tell them - get stuffed
'cause they don't speak the rest of the year

*****

At Christmas time, when we were just kids,
we were sad and so bloody poor,
and Santa weren't too generous either
when he knocked upon our old front door 

But we all made do by just saving up,
yes we saved up every last bit
"We may be poor" said our dear old Dad,
"but I really don’t give a shit!" 

*****

Now the family is coming for dinner
last year it was quite a good laugh
we ate fairly late - dished the veg on the plate
while the turkey still thawed in the bath.

But everyone loved Christmas dinner,
no if's, no and's or no but's,
and all of us kids would piss ourselves loudly
when Grandfather dropped us his guts.

*****

the Kids now get pink with excitement
'cause Santa will come so they say
their lists are extensive – extremely expensive
and probably broke Boxing day

We'd leave out a six pack for Santa
and he’d always drink it quite quick,
then I found out too late it was just my old man,
the funny old drunken prick!

*****

But it's worth all that fuss Christmas morning
when their little eyes are aglow
when we're all feeling merry, full of goodwill and sherry
and suffering from wind ... Ho Ho Blow

But please never forget why we do it
why each year we must go to this fuss...
For that guy up above who brought peace and brought love 

He probably owns Toys ‘R’ Us...



CHRISTMASSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend



During the Christmas Season the usually stoic lobby of the First National Bank, Rawtenstall branch was transformed into a Christmas wonderland and this the last day before Christmas Eve was to be no different. Wreaths and garlands graced the walls, and centrepieces made from pine cones were at each teller station. The female tellers and bank officers all wore cute little elf outfits, though the men still wore their usual suits and ties. Only the younger ones were bold enough to don a bright Christmas tie of some sort.
 
At the far end of the lobby three eight-foot tables were crammed with cakes, cookies, snacks, eggnog, and punch in a huge crystal punch bowl. A ten-foot tall Christmas tree, decorated with multi-coloured ornaments, garlands, twinkling lights, and tinsel dominated the centre of the lobby. Under the tree were brightly wrapped packages of all shapes and sizes, merely empty boxes of course, but what Christmas tree wouldn't have presents stuffed beneath it?

And sitting right next to the tree in a great stuffed armchair sat Santa Claus... AKA me.

I was uncomfortable in the hot Santa suit and the itchy white beard, but I loved playing Santa Claus. I had never played Santa for the bank's annual Christmas open house before, but my friend Irenie, who was the Public Relations Manager of the bank, had asked me if I could... and Irenie May was a woman I could NEVER say no to.

You see I simply adored Irenie. To me she was probably the most beautiful and sweetest woman in the whole world, though I never dared to let her know I felt that way. I didn't feel I was worthy of a woman like Irenie, let alone think she was attracted to me at all. She was a bright and beautiful woman, climbing the ladder to success, the best part of her life still ahead of her. On the other hand I thought of myself as a washed-up old has-been of a man who had fallen off that ladder years ago. I had once been an ambitious and successful community leader and businessman. Then my wife divorced me, I lost my home, my business fell on lean times, and I lost all confidence in myself... I had simply burned out.

As I sat in my place as Santa Claus, I watched Irenie move around the lobby performing her duties as hostess of the event. I never ceased to marvel at her grace, beauty, and especially her smile that seemed to not only brighten the room, but my heart as well. I remembered how she had offered to pay me to play Santa for the bank and the look of disappointment on her face when I declined. Broke as I was, I couldn't accept any money, even from a bank. I knew she was just trying to help me out, as a lot of my good friends had done after I fell on hard times, but taking money to play Santa on the night before Christmas Eve just didn't seem right.
 
I carefully adjusted the pillow I had duct-taped to my belly before the next child climbed into my lap. I was a bull of a man at over six feet tall, but hardly what you might call fat. People milled all around the bank lobby talking, laughing, and enjoying the snack feast at the refreshment table. A few children ran about playing, but the majority of them waited patiently for their turn to see Santa Claus and share their Christmas wishes. I greeted each one with a hearty "Ho, Ho, Ho", which sometimes scared the more timid young ones into tears and wails. I was good with kids though, and after a bit even the most frightened child would be sitting in my lap laughing and giggling. 

My full attention was on all of the children gathered about me, so I jumped slightly, almost bouncing a young boy right off of my knee, when Irenie came up next to me, leaned down and whispered in my ear. 

"Does Santa need a break for a little while, or maybe some punch?"

I turned and met Irenie's beautiful eyes for what seemed like an eternity, before averting my own, hoping the great white beard hid my blush.

"No ma'am, I'm just fine for now," I croaked. 

Irenie's smile made my heart melt and my legs go weak.

"Well I want to thank you for doing this for me... us, Geoff. I really appreciate it. I can't think of anyone who is a better Santa Claus than you."
 
I blushed again, not sure what to say. I thought it funny that she was so easy to talk to sometimes, yet at other times my tongue felt like a pound of chopped liver and forgot how to form words.

"Anytime you need a Santa Claus, you can count on me Irenie," I finally replied.
 
I almost fainted when she gave me a light kiss on my Santa cap and walked away, finally sending the boy on my lap tumbling to the floor with a surprised squeal. The boy jumped up, indignant, and scolded me.

"Gee Santa, you need to get your mind off the babes and back onto business... I thought you were married to some old lady at the North Pole anyway?"

I blushed a deep red colour as both adults and children began to laugh. I wasn't sure if they were laughing at me or at the unexpected comments from such a small boy. I regained my composure quickly though, a quick-witted response coming to mind almost immediately, but I held my tongue, thinking a Santa should not say such things. 

I didn't notice that Irenie had turned a short distance away, watching me with a twinkle in her eyes. She knew I had a crush on her. It wasn't something I hid very well. The thought made her both uncomfortable and flattered all at the same time I’m sure. Though she had known me for nearly ten years, she had never gotten to know me that well. We never had the same circle of friends and rarely met outside of business related functions. Irenie knew she could always count on me to help out when she had a problem requiring someone with my skills and experience, and she had always reciprocated by throwing some bank business my way. When I was doing work for the bank I never failed to drop by her office to chat for awhile, always bright and cheerful, which ran counter to the normal rumour mill wisdom, that made me out to be a grouchy old bully. I had always treated her with respect and gentleness, and somehow she knew that was the real me.

Irenie had never really considered getting into a relationship with another man since her own divorce and a few painful relationships afterward. Her children and her career were the most important things to her now, and while she missed having a man to share her life with, she didn't miss the pain that caring for one always seemed to bring her. She felt comfortable around me... safe even, but she was always careful not to give me any signals that might lead me on. I had made a few shy attempts to show her that I cared for her, sometimes sending her flowers or a card. She always thanked me, but never let me see how flattered and happy those gifts really made her. 

As she watched me now, bringing such joy into the eyes of every child in the room, Irenie couldn't help but feel pride in me. Life had thrown me a lot of curve balls the past few years, and a lesser man would probably have sunk himself into a bottle of whiskey... but not me. Despite my misfortunes I never quit fighting to rebuild my life, and more importantly, never quit giving of myself to help other people as needy as I was right now. She remembered the fierce pride that radiated from my eyes, overcoming the pain and hurt that usually resided in them, as I declined any payment for playing Santa Claus today. As much as she wanted to help me, she couldn't help but respect me and my wishes. She wished she could see that fire in my eyes more often.

Just then I glanced over at her, noticed she was watching me, and turned away quickly, my blush obvious even behind the white Santa beard. Irenie couldn't help but giggle as she turned back to her duties, thinking, "He's so darn cute when he does that!"

*****

As the afternoon began to grow late, the number of children gathered around me began to slowly subside. After a while I was alone again. The few children remaining in the lobby had already seen me and were now enjoying cookies and punch at the refreshment table. I stood and stretched, holding the beard carefully as I yawned. I turned to survey the remaining people in the bank, looking for Irenie in particular. I loved to watch her while she went about her work. She was always friendly and warm; giving everyone a smile and making them feel welcome. That smile was no painted on beauty queen smile either. It was genuine, and in my mind the all-time most beautiful smile I'd ever seen.

My mind got lost watching Irenie for only a few moments before a slight tug on my sleeve brought me back to earth. I looked down to see a small girl with the biggest brown eyes I'd ever seen looking up at me shyly, but with no trace of fear.

"Are you really Santa Claus?" she whispered hopefully.

I let out a hearty Santa laugh and dropped down to one knee.
 
"Well as a matter of fact I am... and I'll bet your name is... Rosie?"

"Nope." 

"Anabel?"
 
"Nuh uh."

"Tracey?"

"Wrong again, Santa!"

I rubbed my beard thoughtfully.
 
"Stan?" 

The little girl giggled and shook her head.

"OK darlin', Santa must be getting old... help me out?"

She giggled again before whispering "Stacey Jenner."
 
"STACEY! I knew it!"

Little Stacey giggled some more, then her big brown eyes turned serious.

"Can I sit on your lap?"

I laughed again while sitting down into my chair and patting my knee. "Climb aboard Miss Stacey Jenner!"
 
I helped her up onto my knee and waited while she settled in before asking, "What can Santa do for you this fine afternoon, Stacey?"

"Well I need to ask you for something."

"Ask away young lady. What can Santa get you for Christmas this year?"

"A Christmas tree," she said matter-of-factly.
 
"A Christmas tree?" 

"Yes, a Christmas tree, but not a very big one."

I paused a moment, rubbing my beard thoughtfully.
 
"Didn't your Mommy and Daddy get a tree this year?"

Stacey looked me straight in the eye.
 
"I don't have a Daddy, and Mommy is in Hollywood so she can be an actress, and can't come home for Christmas. I live with my Grandma and Grandpa." She pointed across the lobby.

I followed her finger and picked out an old couple sitting at a desk opposite of one of the loan officers. The old man was dressed in a faded old flannel shirt, patched blue jeans, and a beat up flat cap. His face was creased and withered from working through many years of sun, wind, and rain in his fields. His wife was a plump friendly looking woman wearing a simple housedress and a worn knitted shawl. The old man twiddled his thumbs nervously between his knees as the loan officer spoke on the phone.

I turned my attention back to the little girl.

"Your grandparents look like they are very nice people, Stacey, and I'm sure that your Mommy misses you dearly. Just think, someday when she's a famous movie star you'll both live in a big mansion in Beverly Hills... right next door to Harrison Ford!"

Stacey's eyes lit up.

"Yes, won't it be cool?"

Then she looked at me with a quizzical expression. "But I don't think I'd want to live next door to a car lot!"  .... (Harrison - Ford... Get it? Oh never mind...)

She rolled her eyes at me as we exchanged a look, then a hug.

"Never mind darlin'," I grinned. "OK now, what about this tree business? Won't your Grandma and Grandpa get you one this year?"

Stacey sighed.

"We never get a tree, Grandpa says we ain't got room for one. That's why I want just a little tree, one I could fit in my bedroom."

She paused a moment, then whispered, "Can you keep a secret?"

I looked serious and crossed my heart with my finger.  "Santa's no snitch darlin'. Your secret is safe with me."

Stacey looked at me for a moment, then a look of satisfaction came over her face as she continued to whisper.
 
"Well Grandma and Grandpa don't have much money. They don't know I was listening, but I heard them talking. They came down here to the bank to get money so they could buy me a Christmas present. I don't need anything, but I don't want to hurt their feelings either. Christmas isn't about presents anyway, it's about the baby Jesus... isn't it Santa?"

I looked into Stacey's big brown eyes for a moment. I just wanted to take that wonderful little girl into my arms and hug her. After hearing so many children asking for expensive toys all day, it warmed my heart to hear this little angel speak of the true meaning of Christmas.

"Yes Stacey, you're one hundred percent right. You sure are smart for such a little girl. So you've never had a Christmas tree?"

"Nope." 

I rubbed my beard again, seriously deep in thought. 

"Here I go again I thought to myself. I'm gonna get myself involved in things that ain't my business. What the heck, it's Christmas. What can they do, shave my head and send me to Bosnia?"

A tug on my fake beard brought my attention back to Stacey.

"I don't mean to be pushy, Santa, but Grandpa looks like he's ready to go. Do you think you could just throw a little tree on your sleigh for me tonight? I won't ask for anything else, but I've always dreamed of having a Christmas tree like everyone else."

I smiled, but before I could speak I noticed the old couple getting up from the loan officer's desk and walking away, an obvious look of pain and disappointment on their faces. I took young Stacey in my arms and lifted her back onto the floor as I stood.

"Yes Stacey, you'll get your tree. I promise. In fact if you'll excuse me I'll get right to work on it!"

Stacey could only watch as I walked quickly across the lobby to the loan officer's desk. Stephen, the loan officer looked up, somewhat surprised to see Santa Claus leaning over the front of the desk, beard draped over his computer screen.

"What can I do for you Geoff... or should I say Santa Claus?"

I ignored his arrogant tone.  "Stephen, tell me something. Did those two old folks get their loan?"

Stephen shook his head. "No. Their only income is Social Security, and they are way too deep into debt."

"Well how much did they want?"

Stephen snickered. "One hundred pounds. We don't even make loans that small."

I felt my blood begin to boil. I leaned over the desk until I was eye to eye with the loan officer. Stephen didn't like the look he saw in those eyes, and he liked my growling whisper even less.

"You mean to tell me you turned down a loan for a measly £100 on the day before Christmas Eve?"

I let Stephen stew under my glare before continuing. "My God Stephen, you've always been a div, but I never figured you for a Scrooge. A big shot like you couldn't just loan them folks the money yourself? You blow that much cash going to Happy Hour!"

As I rose and turned in disgust, Stephen regained his courage and hissed, "Maybe that's why I've got money and you don't, loser!"

I turned back to Stephen, my eyes cold and hard. I fought the urge to reach out and grab him by the neck and throttle him, knowing Santa beating up on someone, even if he was a jerk, would not look good. I changed tactics, my eyes softening. 

"OK Stephen, you have a job to do, I understand that. The old man upstairs would probably kick your butt for making a loan like that. Tell you what though, we can skin this cat another way. How about you just give them the hundred quid you owe me for playing Santa? I know I've got another hour, but what the heck, how about paying me now?"

I gave Stephen my best used-car salesman look. Stephen started to agree... then caught himself and laughed at me.

"Nice try pal, but you agreed to play Santa for free. I wasn't born yesterday. A deal is a deal, we don't owe you a penny."

I muffled a growl, then grinned innocently at Stephen.

"Well you can't fault a guy for trying Stephen. I guess you're just too smart for me. OK, how about you just loan me £100?"

Stephen just laughed. "Sorry Geoff, you're probably a worse risk than those old folks are. I bet you don't have more than a pound in your pocket, do you?"

I gave Stephen a confident look. 

"Wrong answer Stephen. I may not have a hundred quid, but I've got lots more than a pound."

I had one pound and twelve pence to be exact. I saw the old couple walking towards the door, motioning Stacey to follow. My mind raced furiously, then an alternate plan hatched. I turned and gave Stephen my most intimidating glare.

"I'll deal with you later, count on it," I hissed before turning and running across the lobby. Irenie's eyes were not the only ones in the room that were surprised by Santa's sudden urge to emulate a Superman move as I leapt over a couch on a dead run towards her.

"Geoff what are you doing?" she whispered as I pulled up in front of her, my breathing coming just a bit heavy.

"Irenie, I can't explain now. There's no time. I need a favour?" 

Irenie looked at me, sizing me up for a moment before shaking her head.

"Of course Geoff, if I can."

"Do you see those old folks and that cute little girl heading towards the door? I need you to stop them, stall them, keep them here until I get back?"

"Get back? Where are you going?"
 
"I just need to run home and grab something. I promise I'll explain later. I want you to think over a second favour while I'm gone too... lend me a hundred quid?"

Before Irenie could say anything I turned and ran to the door before the old couple could open it.

"Wait folks. You can't leave yet. Do you see that pretty girl standing over there? She needs to talk to you. I think you won the door prize or something."

Before they could reply, I winked at Stacey and ran out the door, leaving the old couple staring after me in confusion as Irenie walked over to greet them, just as confused as they were. 

*****

From the vantage point of his fully windowed office above the lobby, bank manager Taylor Francis had been watching as his Santa Claus went berserk, then ran out of the building. 

"That darn Geoff," he thought out loud. "I knew we shouldn't have let that loose cannon play Santa Claus. That lout has been nothing but a pain in my neck as long as I've known him. I imagine I'd better go down and find out what's going on before I call the police. It would be best to keep this as quiet as possible. I spend money on these dog-and-pony shows for good publicity, not bad. I hope the moron doesn't come back with an Uzi and really ruin my Christmas."

Francis thought about that as he walked down his carpeted private staircase.
 
"Maybe I'd better call the cops anyway?"

*****

I was out of breath after running the three blocks to my small bungalow, all uphill. My beard was hanging halfway off my face, and the Santa costume was soaked with sweat. I burst through the door and stopped, seeing what I came for immediately. I quickly walked over to the television and picked up my small, one foot tall, artificial Christmas tree, careful not to disturb any of the dozen small red ornaments I had hanging from it. I didn't even shut the door as I walked quickly back into the dusky late afternoon, carefully balancing the tree as I made my way down the hill back to the bank.

*****

Irenie knew her boss had probably been watching everything from his office perch. He was always watching, like a hawk looking for prey.

"Come to think of it, he even looks like a hawk." 

She tried to act casual as he walked across the lobby toward her with a stern look on his face. She hoped I would get back soon, with a darn good story to boot.

"Ms. May, just what in the name of the Queen is going on down here?"

Irenie hated the patronizing, scolding-father voice he always addressed her in. She knew he thought of her as just a dumb blonde, and had only hired her because of her looks. She didn't care. She was good at her job, and everyone else knew it. She didn't need his approval, but she did need the pay-check he signed, so she just did her job and let him think whatever he wanted.

"Well Mr. Francis, it seems that Geoff had a sudden emergency, but I'm sure he'll be right back." 

Before she could continue, Stephen the loan officer leaned over Francis's shoulder and whispered in his ear. Francis's eyes grew wide as he listened.

"Call 999 now," he instructed before turning back to Irenie. 

"Ms. May, Stephen says that Geoff tried to extort money from this bank, and flew into a rage when Stephen called his bluff."

"Mr. Francis, I don't think Geo..."
 
"There's no time to discuss this, Irenie. I think Geoff is going to come back with a gun and rob us. You know as well as I that men who fall on hard times, like Geoff, often get depressed, suicidal and violent this time of year. I want you to help escort all of the customers out of the bank. Stephen is calling the police now. With any luck they'll catch him outside before he comes back."

Irenie opened her mouth to protest, but Francis turned and began to walk away before noticing Stacey and her grandparents sitting on the couch.

"I'm sorry folks, it's closing time now. It is the night before Christmas Eve after all, and we'd like to get our employees home to enjoy Christmas with their families. Thank you so much for coming, and Merry Christmas."

Irenie felt helpless as Francis ushered the Jenner’s to the door. Then the door opened and her heart lifted, only to be disappointed when instead of me, Police Chief Mike Scott and two armed forces members burst through the open door. Despite her worry, she couldn't help but giggle at the serious looks on their faces.
 
The giggle turned into a laugh a few moments later as I walked nonchalantly through the door, unnoticed by anyone but her, balancing a tiny Christmas tree in my right hand. I walked right over to the Police Chief, still unnoticed by anyone as they exchanged frantic words. I tapped the Chief on the shoulder.
 
"What happened Mike, somebody rob the place?"
 
"Not yet Geoff... GEOFF!!!"
 
Every eye in the room turned to me. Francis turned white, and almost fainted when one of the armed forces officers levelled his M16 at me and hollered, "FREEZE AND DROP IT SCUMBAG!"

I gave the young cop a momentary look, then turned to Chief Scott.
 
"You think you could call off your hound dawg there, Mike? Does he think I've got a gun hidden in this itty-bitty Christmas tree... or does he just have some kind of sick Santa/Rambo thing goin' on?"
 
Chief Scott had an amused, but pained look on his face as he turned to his young officer. 

"Colin, put the darn gun down. You ain't even bright enough to realize I never gave you any bullets for that thing." 

He turned to me and rolled his eyes. "Kids."

I just grinned.

"So what's going on here, Mike? Why all the hardware?"

Scott looked at me seriously. 

"Mr. Francis says you got into a mad rage and stormed out, threatening to come back with a gun and kill everyone."

I laughed a belly laugh that would make even the real Santa proud, then looked over at the still ill-looking Francis.

"Hi, Taylor! Funny I don't remember you even being down here with the rest of us peons all day, let alone talking to you. Where did you get such a damn fool idea? I just ran home to get this little Christmas tree. I promise it won't hurt you, unless you're allergic to little fake trees? Perhaps someone spiked your eggnog... you don't look so good."

Francis glared at me.

"I didn't think any such thing. I just got bad information from a moron who used to work for me... Stephen?"

Stephen deflated like a balloon as every eye now turned to him. Francis felt more in control now.

"You're fired, Stephen."

Stephen collapsed into a chair, dumbfounded at his sudden misfortune. I shouldn’t have I know, but I looked over at him and winked.

"Merry Christmas, Stephen. Good thing you didn't loan me that money, seems you might be needing it yourself."

Stephen ignored the comment and sulked. Chief Scott looked around the room and motioned to his officers.

"Well, it looks like there's nothing for us to do here. Colin, Dave, you boys had best git home and put them guns up before you hurt yourselves. I promise you'll get to play commando again soon. In the meantime, those cookies over there look like some kind of contraband... I'd better go taste them to be certain though" 

"I think I'll join you Chief." Francis took the Chief by the arm and led him to the refreshment table, talking to him like a long lost son each step of the way.

"...have I told you what a great job your department is doing..."

Irenie walked over to me, her eyes still moist from laughing at the ludicrous events. I avoided her eyes as she stood in front of me, looking me over with a smile on her face. She took my chin gently into her hand and raised my head, looking me in the eye with amusement.

"So cowboy, you still haven't told me what this is all about. Why did you go home to get that cheap, but cute, little Tesco tree?"

I grinned sheepishly, but before I could answer a young voice piped out from below us. 

"It's for me!" 

We looked down to see little Stacey, staring at the tree in my hand, her eyes wide with excitement. Irenie looked at me, her eyes soft and moist. 

"Is that what this is all about?" 

I looked into Irenie's eyes, and she could see that mine were a bit moist as well, not to mention the cat-that-ate-the-canary grin on my face. 

"She's never had a tree, and she wanted a small one. I figured this little thing of mine was perfect for her. Her grandparents had no money to buy her any presents, and your bank wouldn't loan them a measly hundred quid. I sure don't have a hundred pounds, but I had this tree. I couldn't let that cute, young gal go home empty handed."

"That's what you wanted the hundred pounds for then... to give to them?"
 
"Yep," I was embarrassed, "I'll pay you back, you know I will."
 
Irenie was silent for a moment, then looked at me sternly.

"No, Geoff." 

"No?" 

"No, I won't lend you the money." Her stern look melted into a big smile, "But I will give it to them, as my Christmas gift."

I was speechless, and before I could utter a word Irenie reached over and kissed me lightly on the cheek, before walking over to where the elder Jenners were still sitting. Mr. and Mrs. Jenner exchanged a look as she approached, both wondering if this bank was completely loco all the time. I sighed, then knelt down next to Stacey.

"Is this tree OK, darlin?"

"Oh yes Santa, it's just the best tree I've ever seen, it's perfect!"

I smiled.
 
"Sweetie, I gotta tell ya, I'm not really Santa Claus."
 
Stacey just grinned as she hugged me tight, giving me a kiss on the well-dishevelled beard before whispering, "Oh yes you are."

My heart melted. I returned her hug and wished her a very Merry Christmas.

"Santa had better be going now. You don't want me to be late tonight do you?"

Stacey looked at me sadly, but smiled.

"Well you don't have to come to my house, Santa, you've already given me the best Christmas present I've ever had. I love you."

I smiled, trying to control the tears welling up in my eyes as I turned and walked towards the door. Irenie was busy trying to convince the Jenners to accept the two crisp new fifty pound notes in her hand, and didn't notice as I walked out the door and into the chilly Rawtenstall evening.

*****

As I shuffled up the driveway to my house, I noticed that I had left the door standing wide open. 

"With my luck I probably got robbed by now too." 

I dismissed the thought quickly. They didn't have many burglaries in a town like Rawtenstall, and many people never bothered locking their doors. I also noticed that my dog Whisker was quiet out in the back yard. He'd have been barking up a storm had someone been in the house.

I walked in the through the door and fumbled for the light switch. When the light came on I started for the back door to let Whisker inside, but stopped almost immediately. I took a step backward and turned the light switch back off, rubbing my eyes in the darkness for a moment before turning it back on. I thought I might have been seeing things the first time, but I was wrong. 

In the corner of the living room stood a six-foot tall Christmas tree, decorated to the hilt, a small angel dressed in silk perched at the top. I walked closer to the tree, dumbfounded. I spotted a note wedged between a few branches. I took the note and unfolded it.

People always ask me how I can be everywhere at once on Christmas Eve. I usually just give them a grin and a wink, but the truth is that people like you are the reason. You are the "real" Santa Claus, Geoff. Merry Christmas! - Kris Kringle.

I read the note a dozen times before shaking my head with a chuckle, walking to the back door to let the dog in.

"Thanks, Santa." I whispered.

*****

Whisker, a large black Labrador, lay curled at my feet, sleeping contentedly now that the only master he had ever known was home, where I belonged. I sat on the couch, staring at the photos of my kids on the wall, with tears in my eyes. The biggest regret in my life was the fact that I couldn't be there to watch my children grow into fine young adults, to help them through the pains of growing up. I especially missed them at Christmas time. I remembered how their eyes would light up when they awoke on Christmas morning to find that Santa had visited once again.

I sighed and turned my stare to the blank TV screen. I'd usually be watching a Christmas classic like "It's a Wonderful Life", or "Miracle on 34th Street", but I couldn't afford to keep the cable services. I had a DVD player, but didn't even have enough money to rent a movie. I'd even been contemplating selling the TV and DVD player too, but knew I'd be lucky to get 20 quid a piece for either of them.

I was starting to doze off when a knock on the door and Whisker's sharp bark alerted me. I stood and yawned, momentarily not sure of my surroundings. I walked to the door trying to shake the cobwebs out of my head. When I finally opened the door I did a double take, and rubbed my eyes. A large fir tree took up the entire doorway, then moved slightly to the side revealing the bright smiling face of Irenie May.

"Are you going to make the kids and I stand here holding this tree, Geoff, or are you going to help us get it inside?"

Now fully awake, I took charge of the tree, dragging it into the house, followed by Irenie's young son and daughter, each carrying an armload of packages while their mother went back to the car to grab some more. They gave me a funny look when they spied the decorated Christmas tree in the corner, but I motioned for them to keep silent. I propped the new tree against a wall and ran out after Irenie in my bare feet. 

"What are you doing here Irenie?" I asked, thinking I sounded awfully rude.

Irenie stood and looked at me for a moment with a smile, her eyes bright, then she began stacking packages into my arms. 

"Well Geoff, since you went and gave away your Christmas tree, I figured you might need another one. Of course I couldn't trust you to decorate it properly, so I had to get some ornaments and tinsel for it too. You have had a long day though, and I didn't want you to wear yourself out decorating the tree by yourself, so the kids and I decided we should help you. Since it might take awhile, and you probably didn't eat tonight, I brought some food and snacks, and even some nice old Christmas movies."

Irenie paused and reached back into the car. The mountain of bags and boxes she had stacked into my arms hid my face.

"Of course it's been a long day for me too, so I brought this to help take the edge off!"

Irenie was still smiling as she raised a bottle of wine so I could see it through the mountain of packages.

"Irenie, I gotta tell you something..."

"Shh Geoff, not while you're holding all of that stuff. Take it into the house and then come back to help me with just one more thing."
 
I dutifully carried the load into the house, deposited the packages, and walked back out the door. Irenie stood in the middle of the driveway, her hands behind her back. 

"C'mere cowboy, I've got something for you."

I walked over to her, still confused and a bit in shock. My confused look soon grew into a big grin as Irenie removed her hand from behind her back, holding a small piece of mistletoe. She held it over her head and grinned mischievously at me.
 
"Now you have to kiss me Geoff... it's the law. You don't want me to have to call the National Guard do you?"

I took Irenie gently into my arms, confusion still written all over my face. And when we finally kissed, all uncertainty finally disappeared.

We stood and looked into each other's eyes for a moment, then were interrupted by a timid question from Irenie's son, standing in the doorway.

"Mum? Why did we bring a Christmas tree when he already has one?"

Now it was Irenie's turn to be confused as she looked back up at me.
 
"I thought you didn't have a tree, Geoff." 

I grinned sheepishly "I didn't." 

"Did someone else bring you a tree before I did?"

I began laughing, and Irenie could not help but notice that my eyes were laughing as well.

"Yes darlin, somebody got here before you did."

"Well? Who was it?"
 
"The note said Kris."

"Chris? Chrissy Thomas from the bank? I always knew she was after you."

I was beginning to enjoy this new game.

"No, not Chrissy Thomas."
 
"Well tell me who then?"

I continued to be teasingly evasive and she kept grilling me with questions as we walked into the house, hand in hand, our eyes never leaving each other. The distant tingle of sleigh bells drifted on the cold night wind now as I shouted out to my neighbours, “Merry Christmas everybody!!”

Then looking back into Irenie’s eyes, I slowly closed the door behind us.



A CHRISTMAS TREESocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Some of my more popular posts

There was an error in this gadget

Search This Blog

About This Blog

Its my own fault really, its all about what I see in the world, and how it all translates for me.

Please, please, please, dive in and enjoy this blog and all that I will ever ask in return, is you add a few comments whilst passing through.

And if you've enjoyed reading the contents as much as I have compiling them, help spread the word through your friends.

Thanks again for dropping by, hope to see you again real soon.

Need a little more?

  © Blogger template Shush by Ourblogtemplates.com 2009

Back to TOP