We're off to meet Santa! It is almost a year to the day since the children first locked eyes with the festive dream-bringer in the dark recesses of a National Trust house. An experience which, truth be told, wasn't quite the occasion I'd hoped it might be. More specifically, it was an awkward two-minute encounter with a corpulent old man who appeared to have been pulled off the street to perform grotto duties – without anyone ever telling him why he was there.
Fast-forward to Saturday morning, present day, and I'm looking for signs of trauma in my daughter's eyes as we join the queue of excited faces outside the grotto in the school assembly room. We are called forwards. "Hello young lady," Santa bellows as we enter his colourful lair. Instinctively, I shove my daughter towards this unknown man's lap.
"Please sit, ho ho ho," he starts, batting her away and pointing towards a space in front of him. "Have you been a good girl this year?" My daughter looks up at me, terrified. I give her a loving smile. "Yes," I say. "She's been a very good girl." "But you said..." my daughter warbles. "Oh!" I laugh: "That? It's all forgotten. Mummy knows you didn't throw the baby down the stairs on purpose..." The four-year-old scrunches up her face: "But you said that I'm a... OW!" She shouts, grasping her shoulder: "YOU'RE HURTING ME!"
Well, Santa says, scrabbling around with his eyes for a helpful elf to come and save him from this nightmare. "Would you like a present?" he squeaks. I jump up and lunge at the bag: "That would be lovely, thank you!" My daughter bursts into tears: "I WANT DADDY!!".