Okay, let's start with the obvious problem - the heat. I'm a little bloke and it's rare that I sweat. Even droving I hardly ever cracked a sweat. The suit is layered. You have shorts and a singlet to try and soak up the sweat, the fat suit (I refuse to call it a structure suit!), socks, gumboots, thick pants, thick jacket and cape, wig cap, wig, beard and hat. Even sitting in an air conditioned shopping centre, you sweat. Maybe just a bit, but usually bucketloads. It's not unusual to have a soaking wet singlet and socks that have to be rung out for the bigger guys, or me when I'm outside on a 25-40 degree day.
It's incredibly easy to become dehydrated so you have to make sure you drink plenty. But you have to balance your liquid intake with the length of your session and the ability of your bladder to hold. You don't want to have to interrupt a session to run to the loo. And there's nothing worse on a full bladder than sitting there with small children clambering over you.
Going to the loo is an interesting experience, too. At Werribee Plaza, they have a staff loo, but I have to go through the main office area to get to it from my dressing room, and you never know when a member of the public will be in Centre Management with their sprog. So I need to keep all the gear on to maintain the illusion. I can't take them off in the loo, because of the time it would take to get them back on.
Now it's one thing to try and pee when you can't see your genitals over your gut (real or pretend), but add the huge beard and you can't even see the bowl! Now, this would make things... interesting... if it was a reliable stream every time. It's not. Tiki in a recent post talked about fluid dynamics. Well, the same problems apply to guys. The majority of the time when you pee, it's a good controlable stream. The rest... Well, let's see...
There's the main stream with: the steady drip (that you can't see), the additional randomly directed light spray (that can even spray back at you), random direction (you're aiming at the bowl and it goes at a radically different angle), a second stream (WTF! There's only one hole!), and last but not least, the sprinkler, where the stream literally flips back and forth over an fair sized arc.
The thing is, you never know when one of these random variations will appear. If you did you could allow for it. And sitting down isn't an easy option because of the fat suit and layering. So, I get to pee blind, holding my hands in such a way as to form a shield around my willy on the off-chance that it decides to send a spray back in my direction. If I hit the floor or something, I can mop that up, but I only have one set of trousers and they will show a wet patch so very, very well.
I've had a couple of jobs where there weren't any loos that were Staff Only, so I had to use the public ones. For these I've headed into the stalls because I really don't want some kid wandering in while St. Nick is at the urinal.
"Mummy, mummy, I saw Santa's dickie!"
I'm not sure if it's the sweating or what, but even in jobs where I'm sitting the majority of the day I get really tired legs. A weak ache that seems to drain my body of strength and last most of the rest of the day after I finish. Sometimes get the same thing in my arms as well.
A recent addition to my problems is the wig cap. Last year I pinned my hair up under the wig, this year they've asked us to use wig caps to try and reduce the amount of sweat that gets into the wig. There are two things we can use, a wig cap or ankle pantyhose things. What I've discovered with both is, they are way too tight on my head. To the point where I have a blinding headache within an hour. My head feels like it's splitting, my eyes feel like they are swelling up and are going to pop out of my head. A really bad run means I feel nauseous and weak and I worry that I may actually pass out if I don't get a break soon. The first day I wore the wig cap was at Big W. By the end of the day my head was pounding, my limbs felt like rubber and I felt really, really sick. It took a few jobs to figure out what had changed. Until that, I was trying to figure out why I didn't have this problem last year.
Needless to say, I'm starting to make radical changes to the caps now to try and solve the problem. So far no luck but trying a new variation today. If it doesn't work, I'm going back to pinning my hair up. The fact that I'm needing to crash out at 9pm and I'm waking up with an achey head makes solving this problem a real priority. The pain also makes it that much harder to stay in character.
You can't break character. Even when people are being rude or demanding, you can't afford to stop being Santa for a moment, because you never know when there's going to be a small pair of eyes watching you. I don't know how many times I've turned around from an in-character conversation with someone, to find a kid watching me. And there are times when you want to break character, like when a teenager girl grabs your hat and runs off, or some old mongrel starts to complain loudly in front of the kids that Santa is greedy because you only have enough lollies for the children and so have politely told him you can't give him any when he's asked. As much as you want to, you can't scream at him and call him a greedy, selfish old fucker and tell him to piss off before you deck him.
Which is a bit of a shame.
Even when a kid is being a little shit, the most you can do is be firm but polite and nice. Fortunately most of the kids really are very good. But a good percentage of the adults really are awful. Demanding and greedy, they push their kids to ask for more of the little presents that we give out or threaten that if they don't smile properly or stop being terrified, Father Christmas won't bring them any presents. For goodness sake, it's not the kids fault if they are scared. It's not like they choose to be terrified. They are being placed with a giant guy in red, who knows everything about them and can get into their house, or even their room, whenever he feels like it. I'd be a bit scared too!
There's probably more that I haven't been able to think of through the echoes of yesterday's headache, but that's the lion's share. Now I don't want anyone writing feeling sorry for me, because I choose to do this to myself. We all do. Plenty of guys do the Santa thing and drop out. But the rest of us stay on. Because at the end of the day, the aches, pains, frustration, dehydration, exhaustion, etc... everything is worth it.
When the simple act of waving to some grim-faced guy walking by can bring a smile to his face and have him call out a happy "G'day Father Christmas!"...
When going up and talking to an old woman walking alone on a Zimmer frame can make her eyes twinkle and bring a youthful spark to her voice...
And when a small child who comes up with nothing but love in their hearts and wonder in their eyes to talk to this big magical guy called Father Christmas and leaves feeling special...
It's all worth it because I have the best job in the world.