Wednesday 22 December 2021


Snow fell onto the sodium-lit London street outside my Rats Alley flat. 
The Winter of 1986 was so cold the water in my loo froze over. All down my road, cracked toilets bowls lay dumped outside the flats, like rejected Christmas presents.

Chris and I sat in my living room for hours, staring at each other in silence, hunched against the old plastic sofas, wrapped in layers of clothing and blankets. 
Utterly boracic and lint: skint, the pair of us, with only two days to go until Christmas.

“Hey Charlie, have you got any old whiskey bottles?”
“Yeh, there’s two empties in the kitchen. Why?”
“Aha! Bring them to me, and get out that fan heater you hide in your bedroom. We’ll have a drink yet!”

Ten minutes later, we were lying on our bellies, eyes at carpet level, watching whiskey seemingly appear from nowhere. 
Chris had stood the two empty bottles in front of the fan heater, which was running at full blast. The heat from the fan was hitting the cold glass, thereby condensing the holy juice out of the bottle. 
Where before there was nothing, we suddenly had a couple of inches of Christmas Cheer. 
So we did.

“Yay! Nice work mate! Happy Christmas to you and your cunning ways! You’re a bloomin’ genius!” I exclaimed.

The phone rang. It was my landlord, who also owned the shop below my flat. He was sorry to ask at such short notice, but he wondered if I wanted to earn some cash? And did I know anyone else who needed some too?

Did I?

He explained that the shop owners of the street were looking for a couple of guys to stand outside dressed as Santa Claus. They would be collecting money for the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.

“Sure, yeh, 'course we can do that!” I told him, “But how can you pay us if we’re collecting for a charity? We wouldn’t stoop so low as to take money from the sick kiddies!”

He explained that our presence was going to attract punters to his shop, one way or another.

Well, fair enough then. More than fair, but just one more thing. This was Golders Green, at that time the most Jewish suburb in North London. 
How kindly were the locals going to take to Father Christmas?

“Well, he was Jewish, wasn’t he?” came the inscrutable, irrefutable reply.

Yes, Jesus was born, lived and died a Jew. 1,986 years later, in the tiny back room of a shop in frozen London, Chris and I were falling about laughing as we tried on our costumes. 
We were unsure if Santa was meant to be naked underneath his regalia, but the freezing air settled our minds on that issue.

Somehow, fitting the tights over our jeans felt more than a little Superman-ish, but the beard was another matter entirely. 
It got up my nose, tickled my lips, and after a minute or two of breathing, returned to my senses the less-than delightful scent of the previous night’s Rogan Josh.

And so, out onto the streets, followed by a gaggle of giggling girly shop assistants.
“Cor! Look at those two sex bombs!”
“Yeh, don’t fancy yours much though!”

We asked the boss if it wasn’t a little excessive having two Santas out there together, but once again, his answer was beyond reason.

“Most places they get one, so in Golders Green, they get two!”

Chris and I started to shake our buckets, trying to catch a generous eye. People were ready and eager to give. Great Ormond Street Children’s hospital was a cause that crossed the barriers of race and religion, although I felt a little saddened to have to treat a hospital like a charity.

We had been provided with bags of lollipops, which we were meant to give to sweet little kiddies who came up to us. 
Unfortunately, (or maybe most fortunately) children are trained to stay away from strange men bearing candy. The combination of my costume, and the ultra-deep voice I adopted for my role seemed to scare the hell out of the wee darlings.

All it took was “Hellow lickle girlie! Do you want a lollipop?” and I was instant pervert, children scurrying away to hide behind their parents, safe from the nasty red man.

Suddenly, off in the distance, we heard a strange commotion. Two police cars were creeping slowly down the street, followed by a massive demonstration by Hassidic Jews, they who sport the long hair curls, blue raincoats and big floppy velvet hats.

Hundreds of them were marching down the Golders Green Road, carrying placards written in Hebrew. Chris and I stepped back to watch this strangest of sights unfold, and then all of a sudden, it dawned on me that each and every one of them was a potential punter.

Leaping into the fray, I frantically shook my collection bucket. Each side of me, every which way, hats, raincoats and beards glided past, the marchers temporarily blinded by my flash of scarlet ripple in their ocean of dark blue.

I felt I was inside a roll of Pathé News film, and was sorely tempted simply to savour the moment, but there was work to be done.

“Cough up for the kiddies! Great Ormond Street Hospital needs your help! Dig deep!’”

Dig they did. Hands reached into pockets, coppers started flying into the bucket, followed by silver coins and then notes. 
To the left of me wallets were hurriedly opened, to the right a passing beard, a glance of spectacles, everywhere hands putting notes into the bucket, fivers, tenners. 
It was wonderful to stand there and watch them give wads of cash; enough to bring a tear to my eye.

There was no question of Old or New Testament loyalty here, just a river of raincoats on a mission from God.

A full bucket, a happy shopkeeper, and two very merry Santas in the pub that Christmas Eve.

May your God be with you.

©Charlie Adley