15 December 2015
Commando always takes a couple of weeks off over the Christmas period so today Christmas Shopping was top of our list of things to do. This, of course, meant a trip into town and a chance to see the Christmas lights. Weather wise it probably wasn’t the best day for it. It had been raining on and off all day but it’s been raining on and off every day lately. Half way through the afternoon probably wasn’t the best time to go either, but Commando wanted to see Santa flying through the air on his sleigh and that doesn’t happen until five o’clock, at least not in Southampton.
In time honoured fashion we split up when we got to the precinct after synchronising our watches and agreeing to meet just before five. This gave me a chance to get Commando’s Christmas presents and, I suppose, it gave him a chance to get mine. Obviously I can’t say exactly where I went or I’d give away what I bought but I did have a little walk across Watts Park. At this point it wasn’t actually raining and the sun was trying to break through the grey clouds. Unbelievably, there were even roses blooming in the flower beds.
It stayed dry, more or less, until I got back to the precinct. In fact things looked rather jolly, even if the Christmas merry go round was empty of children. In the weeks leading up to Christmas the Above Bar precinct is transformed into a seasonal wonderland. It fills with the little wooden huts of the German Market, stocked with interesting gifts and enticing food, then the lights appear and the merry go round. It becomes a magical place, at least for children.
For the adults there’s the beer garden, Glühwein or hot chocolate with whipped cream. Of course, you can’t please everyone and there are some who say the cabins are not German enough and take up too much room at a time when the city is already crowded with Christmas shoppers. In the past there have been complaints that the lights are not bright enough and too few.
This year there’s a little something else to go with the decorations. A few weeks ago a tall tower appeared in the precinct and another by the Bargate along with some big lorries. We wondered what it was all about. Some people complained because the Bargate arch was closed off. They didn’t like the lorries or the strange towers. Some people like to moan I guess. We just watched. Wondering what it was all about. Then a sleigh and some reindeer appeared above the cabins of the German market…
When the rain started I ducked into WestQuay. There was a lot of dashing around shops getting things on my list and a tiny bit of panic buying. By quarter to five I’d finished. It was still raining but it was now dark so I could appreciate the twinkling lights on the trees and the reflections on the wet pavement. The WestQuay sign was looking pretty sparkly too. It was almost worth getting wet for.
For a second or two I thought about ducking into Starbucks and grabbing a takeaway coffee, maybe even one for Commando too because I was feeling generous. While I was dithering I saw a familiar face in the crowd, Commando had finished his shopping too.
We were standing under the WestQuay awning discussing whether we had time to queue for coffee when a rather rotund man with a white beard wearing a red suit came past ringing a bell. Obviously we didn’t have time. We dashed through the rain to a vantage point under the overhanging roof of one of the shops and, feeling like little children, looked up at the sleigh in anticipation. The lights on the tower had gone out and Santa had disappeared.
We weren’t alone. Parents and children were gathering and all eyes were raised to the sleigh. For a long time nothing seemed to be happening and we wondered if the rain would stop the show. Then the lights on the tower came back on but there was still no sign of Santa.
A minute or two passed. We held our breath waiting for something else to happen. Then a spotlight came on and finally Santa appeared. The sleigh swayed alarmingly as he climbed in.
“Rather him than me,” I said, “I hope he doesn’t fall. Witnessing the death of Santa could ruin Christmas for all these children forever.”
Thankfully, he managed to get in the sleigh without incident. Moments later it began to move towards the Bargate, Santa waved and hundreds of little eyes widened.
When the sleigh stopped I thought something had gone wrong. Maybe the rain had got into the works and Santa was stuck there. It hadn’t and he wasn’t. In a booming voice Santa began to introduce his reindeer. Then he told the story of Rudolph, the reindeer no one loved and how he’d picked him to guide the sleigh one foggy night. Sure enough, one of the reindeer at the front of the sleigh had a bright, shining nose. The children all listened enraptured. Of course we’d heard the story before but the looks on their faces made up for the repitition.
With the story finished Santa and his sleigh carried on with their journey, but a few moments later the sleigh stopped again. “I almost forgot,” Santa callied out, “I have some presents to collect for you all,” and with that a puff of smoke came from the back of the sleigh followed by fireworks. All the children gasped.
Commando and I decided to leave at this point so I never did find out what presents Santa had for the children. By the Bargate I looked at the closed off arch and the lorries. Admittedly it wasn’t a pretty sight and it was a shame not to be able to walk through the ancient arch. Even so, seeing the looks on the faces of all the children, their wide eyes and gasps of excitement is worth a couple of weeks of inconvenience in my book.