UK: Now Is The Time For All Good Men To Come To The Aid Of The Party

Last Updated: 13 December 2007
Article by Sue Nickson

Santa stared with scarcely-concealed loathing at the young barrister elf across the desk from him in the Tribunal room. Sharp suit, shiny shoes and a knot in his nasty nylon tie almost as big as his head. David Beckham had a lot to answer for, Santa thought grimly.

"Yes, Mr, er, Claus?" The Tribunal Chairman’s prompting interrupted his thoughts. Yes what? His mind blank in an instant, Santa scrabbled in vain for the question he had been asked. God, it was hot in here. The relentless probing of the elfin representative was bad enough but he did think suddenly that turning up to Tribunal fully red-suited and booted, fur trim, fake beard, the works, had perhaps been a mistake. The hope that surely no-one could dislike Father Christmas had already withered under the baleful gaze of the Tribunal panel, especially after he had tried to enter the room via the chimney and brought down part of the ceiling. Indeed, they seemed to be having trouble enough just with his name.

"So why was the Christmas party abandoned at the last minute, Mr, er, Claus?" repeated the Chairman. "Why did you wilfully dash the legitimate party expectations of your loyal workforce?" Something told Santa this was not going well.

Suddenly it all came back to him. In the run-up to 25th December Santa had received the usual millions of Christmas lists and almost the same number again of fliers from law firms offering seminars on how to enjoy the Christmas party safely. In the old City merchant banking days, before his redundancy, Santa had managed this quite nicely, thank you, by turning up at it for the first hour only or (on one particularly splendid evening) by not going at all. Not for him the traditional Christmas party discovery that the Human Rights Act entitlement of respect for his private life did not extend to those parts of it consummated in front of three hundred of his colleagues. How he had laughed as others were left to decant into taxis those found out cold in the Gents bobbing gently in a sea of recently recycled Chardonnay. He had preferred to swan in the next day, bright and breezy, while wincing colleagues all around made the bleak discovery that even though "in vino veritas" was Latin, it still did not make it a legal defence. Ah, great days.

However, in his new role as Father Christmas (the "embodiment of jolliness on legs", according to his job description) he could no longer take that view. Fun was compulsory, however distasteful the experience. Conscious of the smirking ranks of Little Helpers packing the back of the Tribunal room, their eyes boring malevolently into him as he spoke, Santa told the Tribunal of the seminar he had attended. It had been an eye-opener. Everything he had assumed the Christmas do was about (drink, sausage rolls, those Bratz girls in Goods Inward) was either inadvisable or actively unlawful. What was left was not a party at all in any sense he understood, but just some ghastly Chekhovian wake as MC’d by Voldemort. He had eaten all the canapés he could hold, pocketed some more for the next day and left the lawyers’ offices a broken man.

That night, Santa told the Tribunal, he had slept badly, haunted by dreams. He had done what the lawyers had said, he thought, pointing out in advance some of the particular hazards of the evening. In hindsight, perhaps identifying the elves in question by name had not been wise, but it had still been well intended. In his dreams it had all gone so horribly wrong. The food had been scorned as discriminatory because some of it was not vegetarian, because some of it was vegetarian, because it contained pork, dairy products or non-organic beef and because (Snow White had dropped by with some of her staff) it was on too high a table. The carol singers had been booed off stage as insufficiently inclusive of other religions. His karaoke selection of White Christmas was shouted down as only for older people. So many of the Little Helpers had smoked that at £2500 a head for failing to stop them, bankruptcy loomed.

As he had tossed and turned fitfully, it had got worse. Opening a door in search of fresh air he had blundered instead into a cupboard. There had he found Barbie and Ken, years of suppressed longing finally cast aside, each stripped naked and staring aghast at the other’s lack of genitalia. Even months later in Tribunal, Barbie’s shrill screams still echoed in his ears. Fuelled by drink and noise, the Lego crowd had just gone to pieces and those Playmobil chaps had lost their heads altogether. It was also definitely the last time he would use Teletubbies as bouncers. Outside in the crisp Arctic air, two Little Helpers being led away from the wreckage of the sleigh in novelty handcuffs shouted slurred abuse at him for letting them drive while under the influence of too many liqueur chocolates. It was no wonder that the very next day he had cancelled the Christmas party, Santa concluded limply. It was for their own good.

There was a moment’s silence. A solitary glass bauble flung from the back of the Tribunal room smashed at his feet. The barrister elf looked up briefly from its Gameboy but offered no further questions. Pausing briefly to tinkle the bells in each others’ hats, the Tribunal panel conferred. Then the Chairman leant forward and Santa flinched, his mouth dry. This was it, here it came. How he wished he had never left Guildford. This is what came of trying to protect the finer feelings of his employees. Wretched little ingrates, the lot of them. He could have stayed in the City, perhaps not actually working but certainly making a nice steady living applying for jobs he was not up to and then bringing spurious age discrimination claims. Two or three thousand a time to go away, all tax-free – that couldn’t be bad. Maybe there was a cost in self-esteem, but it had to be better than this, about to be strung up in red tape, pelted with mince pies and glitter and left to twist in the wind as a lesson to other employers.

"Mr, er, Claus, we do find unanimously that you paid far more attention to the lawyers’ transparent attempts to drum up business than is at all proper for the time of year and, therefore, that you are totally and utterly guilty of killing the Christmas Spirit. We also find, for reasons which we are not able to explain, that you are in breach of the statutory Dispute Resolution Procedures. As a result, it is our decision" – the Chairman paused to place a black handkerchief on his head and continued – "our unanimous decision that you should be taken from here to a place – ".

Suddenly a loud crack rang in Santa’s ear. He started, sitting bolt upright, covered in sweat and his heart pounding. The Tribunal room vanished before him and he was back in his grotto study, slumped in his armchair. An empty bottle of British sherry stood on the table next to him – no wonder he had fallen asleep and his mouth was so dry. The whole Tribunal thing had just been a terrible nightmare. Santa blamed the Stilton. The charred remains of his Christmas tree crackled and popped in the grotto fireplace. The Spice Girls calendar that he had taken from unwanted stock said that it was January 2008. It was all over, another Christmas survived. All he had to do now was the deliveries for the children of parents so stingy as to buy all their presents in the Sales, and he was done. Santa relaxed, at peace for the first time in months.

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