I last saw the real Father Christmas when I was six years old.
It was very late at night on Christmas Eve, or possibly very early on Christmas morning. I was asleep in the bunk bed that I shared with my little brother in our house in Sussex Street, Pimlico, London.
Getting to sleep had been difficult. Mum and Dad had warned me that Father Christmas couldn’t visit unless we were truly fast asleep. I’d lain awake for what seemed liked hours, torn between the excitement that only a six year old can feel about the prospect of Christmas and the fear that if I stayed alert, I’d miss out. But I did, eventually drift off.
I awoke, in the dark, to a noise in the room. Someone was there, apart from me and my little brother. An adult. Moving around.
Should I open my eyes and risk catching a glimpse of Father Christmas? If I did, would that mean he wouldn’t be able to leave any presents? If I didn’t, would I have missed the chance of actually seeing the great man? I scrunched my eyes tightly shut, froze my body completely still as a statue ands held my breath. Discretion would, on this occasion, be the better part of valour.
Suddenly, someone spoke, in an excited whisper. “Look, there he goes, Johnnie… Can you see him?” It was my Dad’s voice, urgently calling me. I opened my eyes and sat bolt upright. Mum and Dad were standing by the open window of the bedroom, peering out into the night, pointing into the distance.
I jumped out of bed and stood at the window, squinting in the direction Dad was pointing. And there, just for an instant, I saw a sleigh. And reindeers. And Father Christmas. And then, as Dad put his arm round my middle, and lifted me so I could get a better look, I saw Father Christmas turn and smile at me and wave.