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Four Santas and an Exorcist: Del Hughes gets frighteningly festive

10 Dec 2023 15 minute read
Del with the usual yuletide suspects

Del Hughes

Since booking, the venue had changed twice, with the final destination (gulp!) sent through mere hours before the kick-off. I’d also received strict instructions regarding the ‘total ban’ on recording any video, audio, or even taking a few snaps. Hmm?

It seemed curiously clandestine and somewhat OTT, but I guess that’s exorcists for you – wary, watchful, and constantly cognisant of those furtive forces of evil.

Though, if your day job involves dealing with real-life Linda Blairs, it undoubtedly pays to take precautions – even if that’s purely packing a brolly, to deflect possible pea-soup ’esque emissions. (I’ve got Tim’s Callaway Classic Golf Master, just in case. Eek!)

I’d mentioned it to my mates who remained unyielding in the face of my entreaties to, ‘Come on, it’ll be fun’, but were happy to speculate on what they considered, the ‘shady nature’ of the event. They favoured cults, Step-Dad (ex-VATman), plumped for a pyramid scheme (?), and Tim’s contribution boiled down to a blunt, ‘It’ll be bloody muckment and I’d have nowt to do with it!‘ Sigh.

However, their comments did give me, brief, pause for thought. Maybe, when it comes to my dangerous living regime, I should ‘exorcise’ (couldn’t resist), more caution, rather than bounding into each activity with the naïve enthusiasm of an over-caffeinated cockerpoo?

A Festive Exorcism by Francisco Goya, circa 1800

But, answer me this – how often do you get an opportunity to learn effective ways to ‘safeguard yourself against the dark arts, possession, and more’? Not blooming often enough, I’ll wager.

So, pour me a coffee, scratch my belly, and call me Fido, because this sounded epic, and there was no way in hell (oops!) I was gonna miss it.

Santa parade

But before that, my week was filled with the festive, starting with the annual Killay Community Council’s ‘Santa Parade’. Heavy on the fairy lights, his faux reindeer might have been static, but were life-sized and glowing, as were the kids (and me), who could barely contain ourselves when his sleigh came into sight.

That it was being towed by a truck didn’t mar the magic – and the Christmas carols issuing from hidden speakers, plus a fair dusting of snow – had us all entranced.

When he’d switched on the tree lights in the precinct, I headed home to consult my SAC (Santa Assessment Criteria), derived from the classic ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ poem (aka ‘T’was the Night Before Christmas’), with marks available for: Appearance, Character, Ho-Ho-Knowhow, and Overall Impact.

Santa #1, Killay image by Del Hughes

Santa #1 lost marks for the lack of Ho-Ho-Hos, but despite limited vocal interaction, the kids were starry-eyed, his reindeer were radiant – the addition of a red nose on one being a lovely touch – and the man himself did a lot of enthusiastic waving and seemed exceptionally jolly. Santa #1 = a solid 7.5/10.

Santa #2 took me to Margam Park, early on Saturday morning. I’d asked if Tim fancied coming too, but his response was, ‘Whose child are we taking, ‘cause I wouldn’t go unless we had a five-year-old with us.’ Heavy sigh.

But, as I lurched from the car park towards the entrance, a passing ‘Rudolph’ (aka Dennis), offered me a furry arm (leg?) and escorted me into the castle.

It was like a scene from Frozen, which was fitting because it was freezing AF. (Thank God for the coffee and mince pies included in the ticket price!)

Some of the Friends of Margam Park and Rudolph on his way to work

Joy-ometer

Dennis introduced me to Doreen, another member of Margam Park’s Friends, and co-ordinator of the free activities on offer to visitors. And it was Doreen’s colleagues who were outside, in all weathers, posing patiently as parents took pics of their littlies (and not so littlies), with the usual yuletide suspects.

I took myself off to the terrace, eyed up the best spot for Santa’s 11am arrival, and was soon surrounded by hundreds of hyperactive kids. And it was fab. Their excitement was infectious, as was their collective moaning – Santa was running late and a host of small, disgruntled voices complained incessantly.

But I loved the excuses parents were making – everything from ‘finishing his porridge’, to ‘road works on the M4’, and my personal favourite, ‘defrosting his joy-ometer’. Aw!

But the instant his tractor rolled into view, trailed by a hefty herd of reindeer, a ripple of genuine delight flowed through the crowd, and the kids were thrilled, me less so. (I have an irrational fear of reindeer – those gummy biting plates they have instead of teeth freak me out. Shudder! But these were safely below the viewing area, and were actually quite cute, as was Santa.)

His Ho-Ho-Hoing was admirable, he wished us ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Nadolig Llawen’, his wave was outstanding – more so, considering he was alternating between that, and scattering reindeer food – and his appearance was all a Santa should be; there was even evidence of a ‘little round belly/That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly’! Santa #2 = an impressive 8/10.

Santa #2 feeding his reindeer at Margam Park image by Del Hughes

Magic

Santa #3 was at the St Paul’s Christmas Fayre in Sketty, where our uke club were booked to play a set. After we’d finished strumming (and very successfully too, if I do say so myself), I had a quick skank around the stalls, before joining the kids in the queue for Santa’s Grotto.

And for just £1, I got to spend five minutes with Mr Claus, including an unofficial photo shoot and a brief cwtch. And he did well on the SAC scale too.

Whilst there was no Ho-Ho-Hoing or waving, I noted that his beard was authentic. And ‘His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!’

Marks were lost due to the absence of reindeer, but I appreciated it was a small church hall and reindeer are large and a bit ‘fighty’, so . . . However, the backdrop of Santa’s Sitting Room was smashing, and I was going to award a well-deserved 8/10.

But, as I was leaving, he squeezed my hand and said, ‘It’s so lovely to meet those who still believe’, and in that instant, I truly still did! Santa #3 = 9/10, for not breaking character when confronted by a fifty-four-year-old woman, and for bringing the magic.

Del falling for Santa #3 at St Paul’s Christmas Fayre

My final Santa (#4) saw me at the Gower Fresh Christmas Tree Farm.

I’d chosen a Monday so I could be, relatively sure, I wouldn’t need to elbow many kids out of the way in order to spend quality time with the big guy. And it was a fantastic experience.

Entering through a beautifully carved wooden door, leading into a snowy tunnel, you strolled past numerous animatronic plushies, all belting out festive faves, and there were real reindeer in there too.

Eep! And then you reached Santa’s house.

GFCT Farm grotto, reindeer, and singing animals

Jelly belly

It was like walking into an actual Christmas card, and looked superb, but I was focused on the man himself, and he didn’t disappoint. So, despite there being no jelly belly on show, the beard was real, the eyes sparkled behind grandad glasses, and after a brief photo op, he was happy to answer a few quick questions.

Me: Hi Santa, great to meet you. How are preparations going for Christmas Eve?

Santa: Oh, very well indeed. I’ve nearly finished reading all the letters that the children sent to me, and my elves are working extra hard to make sure that everyone will get what they want on Christmas Day.

Me: Excellent. And how are the reindeer shaping up for the big night?

Santa: Ah, my team are doing very well. They’re experienced fliers, but to give them an extra dash of speed, I feed them a top secret boost food, which ensures they’re tanked up for take-off.

Me: Brilliant. Is there anything you’d like for Christmas, Santa?

Santa: (Long pause) Uh, well, I’d have to say world peace, as we currently seem to be making rather a hash of things regarding that.

Me: (Nodding) Mmhmm, you’re not wrong.

Santa: But failing that, I’d like everyone to be kind to one another. Not only at Christmas, but every day throughout the year. Oh, and remember to recycle.

Me: That’s a great message. And what do you do on Boxing Day? Sleep, I suppose?

Santa: Ho-Ho, yes, but there’s always time for a sherry and some picky bits with Mrs Claus.

Santa #4 at GFCT Farm

Me: Of course, and I totally agree about picky bits. So, my last question, Santa, is this – am I on your ‘Naughty or Nice’ List?

Santa: Ho-Ho, oh, you’re unquestionably in the nice column.

Me: Yay! And how about my other half, Tim?

Santa: Hmm? Let me just check . . . Oh dear, he’s very definitely borderline.

Me: Hah, I bloody knew it!

Santa #4 = an almost faultless 9/10. A wonderful experience from start to finish.

Occult nexus

And so, filled with an over-abundance of Christmas cheer, it felt slightly bizarre to be barrelling along the M4, heading towards a, potential, occult nexus.

But I was up for it, and had armed myself with what I felt were necessary accoutrements – bell, book, and candle (obvs), along with a box of Frosty Fancies, and a six-pack of Frazzles (in case deliverance from demons took a while).

Exorcism Essentials

After grabbing a latte at Pont Abraham, thirty minutes later I arrived. Gulp. No, not gulp – at all! I’d been expecting, if not a gothic pile, something with a turret or two, or an Amityville Dutch colonial. But even a new-build semi would’ve been preferable to the prefab village hall that had seen better days.

No, scratch that – better decades! Maybe Tim’s ‘muckment’ prediction wasn’t that far off the mark. Damn and blast!

I probably should’ve turned tail there and then, but curiosity is one of my besetting sins, so, attempting to ignore its idiomatic effect on cats, I shouldered the door open and tentatively stepped inside . . . And was greeted by a trestle table, heaving with an array of pick ‘n’ mix that would’ve rivalled Woolies. WTH?

Pick ‘n’ Mix

This was way stranger than feared. Still, I’m a bugger for cola bottles, so I filled a bag and bought a bottle of (non-holy) Highland Spring, for the very reasonable price of £2.80. Right, whatever came next, I was ready for it.

And ‘it’ was a gathering of around thirty silver surfers who, like me, had doubtless come along due to a morbid sense of adventure, and possibly because they recalled the terror of watching The Exorcist on Betamax in the 70s.

At the centre of a semi-circle of chairs stood Ben (mid-40s, plaid shirt, jeans), and who, given I’d been expecting a Max von Sydow type, was a bit of a letdown. But then he got going, and I perked up . . . but not for long.

Exorcism Expectation vs Reality

Demonic possession

Ben was clearly knowledgeable on possession, but was also clearly terrible at presenting. In fact, Ben was a little boring, and there was a distinct increase in pick ‘n’ mix rustling/consumption, whilst he attempted to dispel misconceptions about demonic possession.

We’d all been hoping for some hair-raising tales, so his lecture on mental health issues – though 100% valid, and the no 1 consideration in ‘current exorcism guidelines’ – was a tad dull.

Neighbour on my left (Barry) tutted, neighbour on my right (Joyce), tittered, and there was obvious eye-rolling and whispered giggles, which Ben clocked. Aw. Poor Ben. I willed him on . . . C’mon Ben, get to the good stuff.

But no. Next came Harry Potter. Yep, really. Obviously, anyone who’s ever read it/watched the films, would consider that Harry’s on the side of angels, while Voldemort’s a depraved, flat-faced psycho.

But Ben posited that ‘these books plant the idea of two types of magic, good and bad. But actually, all magic must be termed bad!’ Hmm? (This was more book club than anything malevolently meaty, and I was beginning to think Ben’s exorcism credentials were either wildly exaggerated, or purely academic.)

Harry Potter School Shield

In fairness, Rowling’s books did prompt some semi-animated discussion, until Sandra – one of the local W.I. group of eight – informed us, somewhat stridently, that she’d bought the books for her grandkids, ‘and they love them!’.

This led to an accusation, from a bloke at the front, of ‘sowing the seeds of witchcraft!’. LOL!

 Ben, aware things were turning ugly, moved swiftly on.

Malignant menaces

And we, finally, got to the good stuff – the symptoms of possession. Wicked! Ben said there were ‘many signs of demonic possession’, so count yourselves lucky because I’m going to share them with you.

Okay, deep breath . . .

Pain in lower back, heaviness in shoulders and/or neck, headaches, blurry eyesight, thickness in the throat, chest pain, stomach-ache, bloating, excessive wind, indigestion, constipation/diarrhoea, pain in womb/groin, hip/knee ache, insomnia/hypersomnia, overheating, and frequently irritable/argumentative. Oh, and feeling disappointed with life. Hard eye roll!

Frankly, most of the audience looked like they were feeling disappointed with life right about then, but shelving that, given that the bulk of us were in the 50+ age bracket, it seemed we might all be ripe for exorcising.

As one, the W.I. rose, leaving in a flurry of huffing, but the rest of us stayed put, mainly because we felt bad for Ben – but, from a less altruistic perspective, in the unlikely event that my spine, and Barry’s knees, were cursed by hellish hitchhikers, we were keen to find out how to banish these malignant menaces.

Artistic representation of how we felt after Ben’s talk (by the Master of the Ingeborg Psalter, 1205)

And then what?

And Ben’s advice was twofold. Firstly, visit your doctor and get the full raft of tests done, to rule out any medical conditions. WTAF? You can barely get an appointment these days, let alone inform your G.P. you’d like a top-to-toe MRI to rule out demonic possession.

But, he continued, if tests are negative then yes, you ‘might be possessed.’

Barry, who’d reached the end of his, fairly long and relatively relaxed tether, rapped out a brisk, ‘And then what?’, which led to a smatter of applause (and a flirtatious glance from Joyce, who whispered, ‘Now, there’s a man who knows how to take charge’, before helping herself to another packet of Frazzles).

And the answer, if you’ve stuck with it thus far, and fear you might have something more sinister than the menopause or arthritis, is . . .  drumroll please . . . Be happy, no matter what, and read whatever your faith uses as their Good Book.

Un-bollocking-believable! We’d gotten sod all from the evening – apart from a marked increase in bloating and wind, no doubt due to an excess of gelatine goodies rather than possession. Harumph!

But, I still felt a bit sorry for Ben who, in the face of a lacklustre audience reaction, heeded his own advice, and remained upbeat. Poor Ben. I left him my last Fancy as consolation. Mind, I reckon he was dead wrong about magic.

I mean, I don’t really believe in maledictions and hexes, but thinking of my Santa sorties, you only had to see those spellbound little faces (and big ones), to realise that Mr Claus has an enchantment all of his own.

And that is magic, of the very nicest kind.

Tim thanking the REAL Father Christmas (Santa #5 = a perfect10) for all his hard work

If you’d like to see Santa feed his reindeer, and enjoy lots of activities for kids, big and small, visit the Margam Park website for details and availability. Visit the Gower Fresh Christmas Trees website to book their Winter Wonderland & Santa’s Grotto. And if you’re interested in learning more about exorcism, you can find details of various events and seminars on Eventbrite – but you probably won’t be needing that brolly!


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Jamie
Jamie
7 months ago

It’s so obvious that Del absolutely loves Christmas. Her enthusiasm and delight of the festive season positively bubbles into her writing. Merry Christmas Del

Ian
Ian
7 months ago

Another great read and a cool picture of Tim. Hope you have a great Christmas Del. x

Jack S
Jack S
6 months ago

Ho-ho-ho

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