Monday, 24 November 2014

What it's really like, being an elf.

Apropos today's Twitter reports of parents complaining about a "Winter Wonderland" theme park which features smoking elves and reindeer who "look bored"(see randomly-chosen tweet containing link below), I thought I'd share with you the story of the only job I've ever had that was worse than working for an MP. 

I was fifteen, and it was my first taste of paid employment – as a Saturday girl, or rather as a Saturday elf – in Father Christmas’s grotto in my home town's main department store. 

I only applied because I stupidly thought it sounded fun. Also, I'd never before come close to exceeding the maximum height criteria for anything. (Someone no taller than five foot was required.)

Here's how every working day would go:

Elf (i.e. me) shows family group into cubicle No.1 to see Santa No.1, opening only the curtains to that particular cubicle. 

Elf waits outside the cubicle, while small child sits on Santa No.1’s knee and says what he would like for Christmas. Mum or Dad confirms that small child has been good all year (usually a filthy lie, which older sibling loses no time in pointing out). This is followed by small child having his photo taken with Santa, (who barely raises a smile, so bored has he become already). 

Elf continues to wait outside until family leaves the cubicle, the small child clutching a present chosen by Santa from one or other of the barrels marked “Boys” and “Girls”. (This stage most often goes wrong after Santa has treated himself to a liquid lunch. Santa No.3 was always the worst for that.)

Elf guides family towards the exit, while simultaneously manning the till, stopping fights breaking out in the queue, and answering questions about where the nearest toilet is. Elf becomes a little harassed.

While Elf’s attention is elsewhere, original small child (the one who earlier claimed to be well-behaved) spots the second set of curtains – and yanks them open before Elf can stop him. (Elf discovers on first day of employment that dead-legging a child isn’t allowed.)

The following conversation then takes place between small child and his mother (at full volume so everyone in the queue can hear it too):

“Mum! Mum! There are two different Santas! Why are there two of them?” 

“There aren’t, dear. Don’t be silly. You must be getting muddled up.” 

“I’m not! There are two. Look in here!” 

Small child opens both sets of curtains again, this time with a flourish, while Mum and Elf struggle to work out what to say.

“See? Two Santas! One in here...and one in there.” 

Elf and Mum remain in a state of paralysis, while small child spots third set of curtains and opens those as well.

“Oh, no! Here’s another, DIFFERENT Santa!”

Three Santas, one Elf and one mother all look at each other in a panic, while cynical older child says to curtain-opening sibling, 

“Well, if there are three Father Christmases, then none of them can be real – can they, stupid?”

Curtain-opening child then cries as if his heart will break, while Mum and all the Santas accuse Elf of gross incompetence. This complaint is repeated shortly afterwards by every parent waiting in the queue, accompanied by a demand for a full refund to compensate for their children’s belief in Father Christmas having been destroyed.

By the time this scenario has been repeated at least once an hour, every hour, for most of each day, Elf feels like crying too.

The job's got a lot more in common with working for an MP than I realised, now I come to think of it.