With Christmas fast approaching, I decided to take the boys to the Magic Cave to see Santa. We chose last Friday, as not all schools had finished for the year so we thought it would not be as busy. Earlier in the week I had even tried to book a time online, but the online form kept telling me there were no times left. Confused, I rang David Jones and was told that every time slot had indeed been fully booked until Christmas, and had been for some time. However, we could still walk in, give our phone number to the elf and she would text when Santa was available. I was assured that the wait was not normally too long, and we could explore the Magic Cave while we waited.
So Friday morning off we went to the Magic Cave, gave our phone number to the elf who informed us the wait time was currently 3 hours. 3 hours?! Nope, not happening. Oh well, at least we could explore the Magic Cave. If by explore you mean walk from one end to the other in 10 steps, gazing at a few puppets in windows leading to the obligatory Nipper and Nimble, and a couple of crazy mirrors.
In the interests of full disclosure: 20 or so years ago I was an elf in the Magic Cave. The John Martins Magic Cave. That place was truly magical. It was huge, full of mystical joy and wonder, not hidden away in a tiny corner of the store like an afterthought.
There, the children would eagerly wait in line to see one of our Santas. Would it be Santa Lyle with the smooth baritone voice, perfectly suited to his other day job as a wedding celebrant? Or Santa Roger, who always had a tale to tell about the Reindeer? It could be Santa John, who insisted on emphasising the reason for the season, and ensuring the children kept Christ in Christmas. Or possibly the other Santa John, who only had 3 ½ fingers on one hand. His digits were carefully hidden by his white gloves, but gleefully displayed if children were misbehaving in the cave. It shocked almost all of them into submission.
Regardless of which Santa the children would see, we moved them through like a well oiled machine. We even had an express lane for those who did not want photos. Nobody complained about the wait because there was so much to look at while in the line, and the queues were always moving steadily.
Boy, how things have changed.
Not to be deterred on our mission to see the man in red, we left the Magic Cave in search of redemption at Myer’s “Santaland”. On our way out of David Jones the boys were intrigued by the large bronze sculpture of a rabbit and a dog sitting having a cup of tea. Imagine their glee when they discovered the sculptures were not only human like, but even anatomically correct! The rabbit was obviously female and the dog very, very obviously male. This bizarre piece of art and accompanying appendage kept them amused all the way to Santaland.
At Santaland, we were told the wait was approximately 45 minutes. Prepared to wait that long, we lined up next to the large pretend train. Now I assume it is meant to be the Polar Express, headed to the North Pole, but realistically it was more like the Ghan at a station somewhere on the Birdsville Track given how hot it was in that line.
Nevertheless, we waited.
After 20 minutes the sweat had started dripping and forming pools at our feet but the line had not moved an inch.
Still, we waited.
Our descent into dehydration was broken up by the spectacle of watching a couple stroll casually to the rope at the front of the queue, smug in the knowledge they had pre-booked. (To be honest, if I had managed to get my shit together back in March and pre-booked to see Santa at precisely 12.15pm on December 15, I would stroll around like a smug bastard too). Perhaps they should have spent the 6 months since booking their appointment preparing their daughter for the meet and greet because she wasn’t having a bar of it. She planted her Mary Janes firmly on the ground at the front of the line and started screaming. She would not budge. Sadly, neither did the queue.
After 40 minutes, having not moved any closer to the front of the line, and bordering on heat exhaustion, my boys finally broke and agreed not to wait any longer.
Determined not to have their hearts completely broken as well as their spirits, I whisked them off to Harris Scarfe in search of any old Santa.
Strike three. Harris Scarfe don’t even have a Santa anymore.
No fucking Santa.
At this point there were tears (mine). Silently sobbing my way down the escalator, I cried for the memories I cannot share with my boys. For the time when the Magic Cave was truly magical, not a bit of polystyrene tacked onto the end of the toy department. For the time when the Myer Centre not only had Santaland, but also had Dazzleland, with a real rollercoaster. For the time when Harris Scarfe was a proper department store, not some strange mish mash of material goods in random order, and when they cared enough to find an old fat guy with a white beard, put him in a red suit and wish some kids a Merry Christmas.
I also felt like crying when I had to validate my carpark ticket, feeding enough money into the ticket machine that could probably have fed a small third world country.
By the end of the day we had made memories, just not the ones I intended. We did not see Santa, but we did see a bizarre human looking dog with a large bronze shlong. You can bet the boys will remind me of that every year at Christmas time.
Next year, I think we might just write Santa a letter.