Santa ate my job
A yule news catrostrophe
It is early December. Saturday morning. A crowd is gathered round the central roundabout of a small seaside town. There’s an air of expectancy. Father Christmas is about to arrive at Debenhams.
It was the end of my first week in journalism. I was 16. I’d walked into the office of my local newspaper a month before and demanded a job. Bizarrely, they gave me one. I was the most junior of junior reporters. The spottiest of spotty boy hacks.
I’d been celebrating the night before for making it through the first week without getting fired. Now I was on my first assignment – to cover the most exciting event on the town’s retail calendar.
Soon a smallish, white-bearded fellow appeared on one of those two-wheeled traps with a horse pulling it. He waved to the crowd and began trotting round the roundabout in his little cart, the police having helpfully blocked all traffic.
Something went horribly wrong.
Was it the cheering children? Or just the sheer volume of the crowds. We will never know.
The horse panicked. It reared up and bolted at great speed, circling the roundabout ever faster. The crowd backed away.
No one could have predicted or prevented what happened next.
A wheel detached itself from the trap, rolling away. The horse, even more spooked, kept going.
Inevitably Father Christmas was thrown from his little vehicle, breaking both legs and having to spend several months in hospital.
It was easily the most significant news event in the town in years.
I missed the whole thing.
Perhaps it was the hangover. Perhaps I was just a dreamy teenager. Either way I failed to see this Yuletide catastrophe, let alone record it for my eager readers. I went home unaware that history had been played out in front of my sleepy, unregistering eyes.
When I got into the office on Monday morning, my colleagues were most excited.
‘Amazing, Michael. Just your luck to get a great story on your first job.’
‘Suppose so’, I replied. ‘But Father Christmas arriving at Debenhams isn’t that interesting, is it?’
I was warned that if I messed up this badly again, I’d be lucky if I could get a gig as an elf, let alone a representative of Her Majesty’s Press.
The chief reporter stood up for me, said I had something going for me.
He took his revenge in a different way.
I had to pose as Father Christmas for a photo on the front page of the sister freesheet, with a carnival queen on my knee.
A glittering career in journalism clearly lay ahead.