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From Moulton Seas End to the North Pole as Ward's World looks at building Santa's Grotto

By Spalding Today Columnist

As the build up over the last six months gets nearer to the Christmas season I was reminded recently of a time wasting and at times beyond belief period concerning a ‘Santa’s Grotto’ that I was asked to design and build.

I was contacted via self a styled ‘promotion company’ (a person with delusions of grandeur in basic terms) on behalf of a chamber of trade or section of, in a town then not far from home - it was then August - about possibly constructing a grotto for Santa in the town shopping centre.

I attended a meeting where it seemingly consisted of a crop of undertakers who had brought their clients along with them, acouncil representative (?) to make the number up plus the loud mouth son of one of them who shouted ‘Rubbish!’ at just about everything constructive mentioned.

John Ward (16810334)
John Ward (16810334)

Seeing this was going to be an uphill struggle before I even started I was about to walk as I suggested as ‘loudmouth’ knew so much, he should do the job himself which was followed by his daddikins coming out of his partial coma saying: ‘Shut up, Adrian - you know nothing - control that stupid mouth of yours’.

I liked daddikins - to the point, no messing.

Adrian sulked, bless.

Santa's Grottos do not always take several meetings, as John Ward didn't find out
Santa's Grottos do not always take several meetings, as John Ward didn't find out


During the time there it was ‘stage managed’ by the self styled ‘promotion company’ person (possibly his idea of ‘promotion’ was the period covered between being a corporal and sergeant) who basically seemed more interested in promoting himself as some form of ‘big hitter’ in the supposed promotion game.

I was asked to submit some designs for their approval, then once agreed upon I could start work as time was getting on.

At this point I asked about the budget for this venture as then synchronised coughing and spluttering broke out as it seems I had dared mention that nasty money thing - gasp - shock - ‘orror - but worse, theirs.

I was in the surreal world of high expectations with long pockets and short arms as even then if the ‘High street’ was possibly starting to die, with this lot it was more like going through the euthanasia process.

The meeting broke up with a further meeting planned (oh dear - I sensed even more meaningless ‘meetings’) as I went to my workshop as they possibly went to a cemetery or crematorium of their choice I assumed.

I went back a week later as it was by now September as I wanted the ‘okay’ (or not as I had other projects ongoing) to get started as time soon rattles on although perhaps not in their world.

I presented designs to the assembled,but by now smaller group, who heard me out between their synchronised stifled snoring as I wondered if they ran their businesses like their meetings - most probably.

Those who were conscious said I had some good designs (gosh) but they had now reached an agreement, which I took to mean between those still breathing or putting up the pretence of doing so.

Their budget was a ‘firm thousand pounds for the whole project’ which at the time and the year, was reasonable but as I pointed out they would own it outright and it would/could be used for years after.

I knew about the hire charges by some display companies but their ‘firm budget’ would not get them very far in their hands, so this was an investment although most there could not see that.

I was told to go ahead with one design after a bit of lively discussion.

Then a week later, via the self styled promotions imbecile, the budget was now to be seven hundred pounds after a ‘rethink’ (!) but to ‘do your best’ (!) based on this revised figure as this meant a whole rethink - a third gone already.

Not to be outdone a week later the phone rung again as it was now ‘adjusted’ to five hundred and fifty smackers as the ‘budget’ was now nearly halved.

I asked if it was not too late to get Sir Bob Geldorf involved to organise a concert to raise funds to help out.

I whimsically suggested that perhaps it would be best if I constructed it in my own time, my expense ditto delivered plus installed then give them a donation towards ‘helping them out’ but I was told I need not ‘have to go that far’.

A few days later - surprise, surprise - could I attend yet another ‘meeting’ of the Shovel Pushers Club?

Try as I may I could not see how they ever made any money as they seemed to be constantly attending pointless meetings to stare and occasionally say something, among those still breathing, to one another - but with their charisma they could add so much to a rip roaring lively party by just quietly leaving it.

I entered that meeting - one of the five so far in less weeks - wondering if the ‘budget’ was still in three figures still but no - a new ‘mega plan’ had been discussed in the interim and I was to go to one of their member’s businesses to discuss ‘the structure’ (?) with ‘El Promo’ the self styled promotions imbecile as off we went in his car.

Sadly the feeling of impending doom was to prove me right as we arrived at a garden shed and fencing manufacturer (he said) on the other side of town.

We got out the car, greeted with a firm handshake from somebody with an insincere, switched-on smile as I/we were told ‘it’s this way, if you follow me’ as we wandered through to see an obviously returned/damaged garden shed (a customers address label was still attached) with assorted broken bits as could be seen to the untrained eye - much like a customer called Mr S. Bishop did who had returned it according to the label.

Plan D (as in desperate possibly) was about to be unveiled

It appears that in the meanwhile they had been given a donation of a new garden shed (this substandard and rejected one by a customer) with which I could ‘titivate with a few lights and bits’ to make Santa’s grotto with!

My estimations to which one of the committee members I could nominate for the annual ‘Brass Neck Award’ was so frustrating but I think every one of them would be worthy but if the cost was to be a consideration, they could share it.

That was the last straw - or shed - as I walked and advised them that perhaps Adrian should be doing it.

I went along a fortnight after it had been open with Santa sitting rather gloomily amid his by now four by five foot garden hut with a ‘Grotto’ sign nailed across the top of it.

Later I was at another event where the local newspaper photographer mentioned he had to take the opening photo of the town centre grotto as he said that judging by the state of it I could have done it better, but I kept a still tongue

I felt sorry for the kids as this was for them, not to appease the laughable penny pinching organisers.

A couple of years later I did build a grotto (actually two of) that are still going strong I believe after nearly twenty years now, but happily without Adrian’s input.

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