Paul Burston: Santa Claus isn't coming to town - Features - Books - The Independent

Paul Burston: Santa Claus isn't coming to town

I used not to believe in Christmas. I mean, I knew it happened. The fake tree and the silver tinsel saw to that. And I can't pretend that I didn't like the presents. What child doesn't? But I never believed that any of this really meant anything. Long before I stopped believing in Jesus, I'd already given up on Father Christmas. My mother has a photo, taken when I was six, with me sitting on Santa's lap surrounded by toys in plastic packaging and looking less than impressed. Mum says I was a difficult child even then. I say I was too clever to be taken in by such an obvious fraudster. Any fool could see that this wasn't Father Christmas at all, but a man from down our road in a cheap beard.

Looking back, I think my disenchantment with Christmas began when I first realised that I was different from other boys. You internalise a lot of negativity as a queer child, and by the time I was six I'd internalised more than my fair share. I didn't know that I was gay – I didn't know what "gay" was – but I knew that I was different. The boys who bullied me at school knew too. They were calling me a poof long before any of us understood what a poof was. My father understood, though. If I came home crying because some lad or other had beaten me up in the playground, he didn't offer to visit the school or talk to the boy's parents. He threatened to hit me too. That was the extent of his parenting skills. I don't know how good a dad Father Christmas was supposed to be. Was he even married? Did he have children of his own? But he couldn't have been any worse than mine. My parents' marriage was not a happy one. Not for them, and certainly not for me.

It wasn't all doom and gloom, though. At the age of seven I appeared in the school Nativity play dressed as one of the three wise men. By now, I was wise enough to know that the tale of the Virgin Mary was about as believable as that of Show White. But I did like the costume. My mother was a whizz with the sewing machine and had run me up a red velvet robe from one of her old dresses. I liked the way the cuffs hung over my hands. I liked the crown, too, even if it was made from cardboard and covered in tin foil. My mother could be very inventive when she put her mind to it. She was skilled in the art of making something from nothing. I like to think that I did her proud that night. I wore the robe well. I recited my lines. One teacher told me I gave a good performance. Another found it a little too "festive".

Back at home, the festivities were left largely to my mother. It was her job to create the illusion of a happy Christmas, and to play the part of Santa. When I was a boy, strange men didn't come sneaking into the house in the middle of the night bearing gifts. They went sneaking out of the house having affairs. By now my father was a stranger to me, and getting stranger all the time. Once, when I was eight, I woke up in the middle of the night, terrified and alone. My mother was a nurse, and was working through the night at the local hospital. My father was nowhere to be found. I searched the house, careful not to wake my six-year-old sister. Panic-stricken, I ran down the street to a neighbour's house. A few hours later my father appeared, insisting that he'd been at home all along. I didn't believe him. Neither did my mother. He left shortly afterwards, and moved in with another woman and her teenage daughter. I can't say I envied them much.

My fondest Christmas memory came when I was 10. My parents were divorced, my mother had remarried, and we'd moved out of our smart bungalow and into a dilapidated terraced house purchased for the grand sum of £3,500. It was what was known as a "fixer-upper", and fixing it up took a little longer than my stepfather planned. As Christmas approached, the kitchen was far from complete. One "wall" consisted of a plastic sheet, and the floor was dug out to a depth of three feet to allow for new pipes to be laid. We ate our turkey dinner off garden furniture suspended on scaffolders' planks. It was the best Christmas I'd ever had.

Paul Burston's next novel, 'The Gay Divorcee', will be published in May by Sphere

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week