I have found myself a new role – as a volunteer in a charity bookshop, which is about as perfect as things can get. I was browsing there a couple of weeks ago and suddenly realised the lady behind the counter was an old friend I hadn’t seen for many years, and the next thing I knew I was signed up as a volunteer!
Today was my first stint as a helper, and I had a wonderful morning there, learning how to price the books up, how to ‘code’ them, and how to use the till. The last time I used a till I was a Saturday girl in an old-fashioned ironmongers, the till had keys which had to be pressed down (like a typewriter), and we had to add up the customers’ purchases and work out the change. Fortunately, modern technology makes life much easier for those of us with wobbly maths, and the other volunteers and the customers were all so lovely that it didn’t seem like work at all. I enjoyed myself tremendously, and got very excited when I made my first sale and, as an added bonus, I bought a copy of Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent, which I have always wanted to read.
Anyway, today’s selection for the Advent Bookfest is someone who is not nearly as charming as the people I met today – in fact, he could be considered to be bloomin’ bad-tempered. Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas, in the book of the same name, is a wonderful creation, grumpy and grouchy, he moans and groans about everything and everyone. He’s got no helpers, and no wife, and he lives in an ordinary, old-fashioned house, with stabling for the reindeer at the back. He’d have us think he hates his job, but it soon becomes apparent that he takes great pride in making sure every present is delivered, on time, to the right person.
Briggs’ illustrations are magical, and it’s sheer genius to ignore the conventional image of Father Christmas as a jolly man, living at the North Pole, with a host of elvish helpers. Instead Briggs makes him a lonely, curmudgeonly old man, leading a relatively normal life – apart from his rather unusual job.