The time we met “HIM”!
Take some time to reminisce with me… What story can you recall being read to you as a child? It might have been at school, at bedtime with family members or with a friend. Jon & I enjoyed variety as children, we had a dad who even now, delights his grandchildren and their friends with stories he plucks from thin air, captivating young minds in worlds of fantasy, humour and abject weirdness. Because of this skill, when it came to bedtime we usually asked for a “made up funny story” and then giggle away as tales of worlds made of chocolate and mushy peas filled our imagination and then fall about laughing at the concept of then sitting on a toilet in those worlds. Having said that, when Christmas time came around there was one story book we could have read to us again and again and again, “A Bad Start for Father Christmas”, a book where Father Christmas loses his mittens and has to go through the various departments of his workshop to find them.
Christmas, was a special time for Jon who never EVER stopped believing in Father Christmas across his 35 years of life. This meant that the childhood magic which tends to dwindle into adolescence for our family, never did. This is one of the great things about having Jon as my brother, every Christmas was a magical as the first one he could remember. We would head out on Christmas eve with a torch and look into the sky just in case we could see Santa and his reindeer flying over, leave a carrot for Rudolph, a minced pie and drink for Santa. I still remember Jon jumping on my bed at 3am screaming “he’s been Bab” (a name Jon used to call me when we were little) every Christmas.
One Christmas time morning, I would’ve been 8, Jon 10 and Cameron 3, our parents, randomly got us out of bed at 4am and bundled us into the car to go Christmas shopping in Manchester. We were advised to take our Christmas lists just in case we may have a chance to visit Santa at the shopping centre. As we drove and got closer to Manchester around 5.30am, our parents then suggested we drop off our Christmas lists to Santa in person. Unsure of what this entailed we all happily agreed, however the gravity of this suggestion hit home when we pulled into Manchester Airport Car Park and our pre packed suitcases were pulled from the boot of the car.
We were then whisked through the check in and to the boarding gate where we were met by some fairies and an elf who told us we would be flying to Lapland in Finland. You can imagine the reaction to us and a group of children and their families and I still wonder what other people at the airport would’ve thought about the prospect of screams and shouts from the terminal building.
A few hours later we landed in a winter wonderland and were greeted by elves who escorted us onto a coach. “Snowy Bowy” and “Tricky Dicky” – who had a propensity for throwing snowballs at us all where to be our guides and we were whisked away to log cabins where snow suits and boots were the order of the day. I recall the abject horror at the notion of wearing thick women’s tights to help keep us warm (they really did) considering it was -30 C outside!
Two days of activities were planned including Huskie sledding, reindeer sleighs, hot juice, stories round campfires and sledging were the orders of the weekend with days finishing around 12.30am! Cameron – the calamitous one, only sledged into two trees and fell into one snow drift so that was a win.
After more food which included reindeer stew (sorry Rudolph!) a Reindeer pulled sled took us through another woods to meet the real (REAL!) Father Christmas, Pierre Noel, Saint Nicholas. Our minds were blown that he had received our letters (I recall mine including a radio-controlled spitting cobra car). Cameron cried – because, that’s what little brothers do and Jonathan was transfixed! Staring with a look of abject wonder in his eyes and then began chatting away as though they had known each other all of their lives. Father Christmas was incredible with us all and was very generous with his present giving, (none of this selection box malarkey – I got myself Cross Bows and Catapults Game!) I forget what Jonathan was given however the biggest gift to him was to meet Father Christmas himself!
Sadly, Jonathan is no longer with us now; but I look back upon the incredible fondness on memories that few can say they have had. Potentially one of the best memories I have of my childhood. What we, as young siblings didn’t realise at this point was Jonathan was sick, complex renal failure meaning he required regular hospital trips, with us being on first name terms with the staff and hospital school teachers. But for one, brief weekend, all of that melted away on Jonathan could just be himself and realise a childhood dream which stuck with him every Christmas.
Severe childhood sickness is something which affects 100,000s of people and families across the UK each year. Hospitals become routine, staff members; friends. Lives are fought for and lost on a daily basis. For so many families, the chance of escaping that reality will never happen. However, there are charities, including the ones who helped us. When You Wish Upon a Star, help young people realise their dreams, be they travelling to a formula 1 team’s HQ, walking with Wolves, flying to Florida, or, as they will be doing this Christmas for the first time since Covid pandemic, helping put a little extra sparkle into Christmas.