Santa weaved past the boarded-up remnants of a chip shop at the top of the high street. ‘The Buccaneer’ was finished with swashbuckling and selling shitty chips and gravy in a cob. Glory days. Stained shirts before a night on the town. Battered sausages thrown like airborne torpedoes into the traffic. Someone with a perm taking the impact on his Fred Perry t-shirt. Shouting and laughter into the early evening, everyone pickled within an hour of food, then up to “Henry Africa’s” for the desperate sexual hunt brought down through the centuries and now refined and distilled into a couple of hours of bad music under the grim neon lights of a Scunthorpe nightclub. A flat, a bench, a dark wall behind a solicitors office – ‘Criminal Defenders. Legal Aid Welcome. Phone for Bail’. Groping drunkenly, humping someone in the dark. The realisation of something half-hoped for when those chips were going down.
Christmas Eve. Santa was alone on streets that used to be full. He was feeling his way along the steel shutters, keeping himself upright against the sway of cheap afternoon drink. He’d gone too hard too soon and now the booze was tugging at one side of his brain, trying to make him walk in an ever decreasing circle until he was pulled down to the ground by the weight of his mistake. He looked confused. This wasn’t the Christmas sleigh ride he’d hoped for when the first Jagermeister was knocked back in a bar at the bottom of Town. Things had deteriorated quickly, obviously. It was 4pm, and now the knees were dirty on his red trousers and the fluffy white end had been ripped off of his red felt hat.
I turned the corner and drove up to the supermarket that stands on the old football ground. The place was almost empty. Grim panicked faces chuffed trolleys up and down the aisles. Christmas music pumped with beige blandness from unseen speakers. A drunk sang the Twelve Days of Christmas good and loud in the cheese section, gripping a chunk of red cheese tightly in one red-clawed hand, the other wagging along to the beat above her blonde wig. Kids threw sticky treats against the long windows by the checkout. Two security guards, old and out of shape, stood idly against the CCTV screens and chewed lazily on chocolate bars.
To the sound of silence, the quickening cold wind, and the feel of despair, Christmas approached like a Motown band – barely remembered, a whisper of its former self. Worn out, badly fitting, drunk, getting through the show in a medicated stupor that freezes the face and makes limbs hard to move to the rhythm. A half-remembered song in a steel town.