Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. Which is just obvious, really, mice can’t stir, they have got the, you know, what are they called…opposable thumbs. Oh, and spoons.

Phil stood on the roof of the house and examined his objets d’art critically. Big hessian sack, nicy shiny boots, comedy beard and reindeer. Actually, the reindeer had proven to be a slight problem (what with the species being somewhat rare in Wigan.) so Phil had had to make do, as it were. So, a pair of confused rottweilers, one of whom had last years Comic Relief nose sellotaped to his snout (and was currently being called ‘Rudolph’, which he actually preferred to his real name of Cuddles.) were huddled next to the sleigh trying to stay out of the rain.

The sleigh actually looked the part – one of the things that the Santa Claus ™ Franchising Corp. did surprisingly well was make a good sleigh. Nice runners, padded seating, big space at the back for the sack; it was a class act. Phil was impressed with the sleigh. He wasn’t, however, too happy with the beard. It itched, even more so when he’d not had a shave recently, which was definitely the case on this evening. Phil had been up all night trying to work out how to set up the bloody sleigh. It had come flat-packed, in a big brown box marked “This way up” with an arrow pointing down. The instructions were about as much use as..well, instructions for something that came flat packed. Try as he might, Phil could just not find Slot B anyway, a fact that Mrs Phil had remarked upon on more than one occasion.

With a sigh and a manly grunt of effort (“bugger me, this is heavy”) Phil tottered under the weight of the sack in the direction of the chimney. Peering into the black hole Phil began to doubt his career choice, and his mind drifted back to the advert in the paper.

Would YOU like to earn £££££ this Xmas?

Progressive company offers you the chance to run your own business as you see fit. All start-up materials provided, including uniform. (red) Pay negotiable, starting at one mince pie, raising to as many as 3 glasses of sherry per visit as your experiences grow.

A little seed of doubt had been sown in Phil’s mind upon reading this, but Mrs Phil had been on at him since the pet shop closed down to get a new job. (Phil still glared whenever he saw a parrot, as though it being alive was a deliberate attempt to get at him) So Phil made the call, and here he was, December 24th, a cold wind (combined with a loose outfit) creating a serious shrinkage issue, and with a bloody great chimney to negotiate.

The instruction manual had explained that all you had to do was jump into the chimney and you’d soon appear in the front room of the house in question. But it transpired that the leaflet had been written 60 years previously; the last 3 houses he’d been to had a bricked up fireplace, and Phil had been forced to abandon those, writing on the worksheet that “apparently, the children had been naughty.”

It was with some trepidation, then, that Phil peered into the chimney. He could, however, see a tiny shaft of light at the bottom so he decided to give it a bash. Phil attempted a graceful skip into the hole, but by this stage his bootlaces had become untied and he fell into the chimney, and landed with an “OOF!” For once the really was a fireplace, and, even better, it wasn’t lit. Santa Claus ™ Franchising Corp folklore was that one guy had been a bit too keen and jumped in without checking.

The company gag was that “He was sacked for smoking on the job.”

This sort of stuff actually counts as a gag in some offices.

Anyway, back to Phil…blinking in the light, Phil was relieved to see all the trappings of Christmas Eve; a tree, tinsel, fairy lights, a drunken grandmother. On the mantelpiece was a plate with 3 mince pies, two sugar cubes and a glass of sherry. Phil necked the sherry, and stuffed the rest of the food into his voluminous pockets. As he turned to make for the tree, a small note caught his eye;

Dear Santa,

I hope that you like the mince pies. Mum says you cant have marks and spensers one becos your not reel but you can have the aldi ons instead. My sister Laura says you must be reely fat becos you ete lots of pies. I dont mind thogh. It means that wen i sit on you in ther shop it doesnt hurt. For crismas/cristmuss/chrismust….XMAS I wood like a playstation so i can kill my little sister at games and a sword so i can kill my little sister.

thank you from Michael.

ps i no i am suposed to be good but i was a bit bad when i thru a spoon at laura. sorry. its okay becos she was out of hoppital in no time.

This was always the kind of note that made the job worthwhile for Phil. He’d had a little sister too. Taking care not to disturb the grandmother, who by this time was snoring and mumbling things like “go on cliff, i want it”, Phil took the presents out of the sack and placed them under the tree.

Tradition dictated that Phil use the chimney to get back up top, but he’d learned that it was quite difficult so he’d invested in a foldaway ladder from the internet. With that in mind he opened the front door and stepped outside.

“Okay, sonny, hold it right there! You’re nicked!”

“but I haven’t done anything!”

“oh, really, not even a bit of breaking and entering?! And what’s that on your shoulder?”

“It’s just toys. You know, children’s toys.”

“You bastard! You total bastard! Who do you think you are, eh?”

“Well, I’m Santa Claus..”

“Ooo, you’re santa claus, are you? and you just happened to be in Wigan, did you? A bit convenient, don’t you think? Shouldn’t you be all over the world right now?”

“nono, I’m not *the* Santa..I’m just one of them. A sort of..sub-contractor. I just do Wigan and maybe Preston if George is feeling a bit peaky.”

“Right, that’s it, get in the van.”

Phil was bundled into a big police van. He was breathalysed, which didn’t go down too well because of all the sherry, and he had his sleigh clamped for parking illegally. The RSPCA took away the two dogs to go on a course of ‘Reindeer adjustment therapy’, and all the while Phil protested his innocence.

Naturally, the police didn’t believe him. Apparently there was some doubt as to the existence of a Mr S. Claus at all, and and correspondence to him (or, indeed, F Christmas, his alter ego) was returned from Lapland marked “not at this address”

In passing sentence in court the judge described him as “a sad and deluded man, whose failures in life have led to building of a fantasy world in which reindeer fly and beards look good on men.” Phil was sentenced to 4 years in a secure institute, where he became friends with Peter Pan and Jack Frost.

It’s a sad, sad, story, with an important moral – Never go for a job with “uniform included” in the job description.