A letter from Lady Alexandra Margaret Quinn, Head Gardener here in the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, to Tessa, her botanist friend who is on an extended botanical collecting trip in the Ottoman Empire and elsewhere. She copied her letters into her Journal and her final request was that they should be shared after her death. Alex, as she preferred to be called, lived to be well over a hundred and indeed outlived her beloved Queen. She is buried on the Estate beneath her beloved Oaks.
I was delighted to be asked by a gentleman named Hans to help me pick the best new St. Nicholas at their annual after Christmas retreat they hold at Kinrowan Estate. Though Local 564 of the Ancient and Venerable Guild of St. Nicholas represents Santas, Santa’s helpers, department store elves, tree trimmers, candle lighters, professional gift wrappers, goose stuffers, roast chestnut vendors, plum pudding makers, sleigh drivers, carollers for hire, bell ringers, and related trades across all of the United Kingdom, only those men who are Santa Claus over the Christmas season are invited to the retreat.
We usually get forty or so them for a week here. They sleep everywhere, they chase the Several Annies around which means Isabella chases them away, they sing rude songs with the help of the fiddlers here, and drink more than one could think possible! But we enjoyed them here as all of them joined in Estate chores such as cutting and hauling firewood, cleaning the fireplaces, and assisting Cook in the kitchen with the various feasts they have during this week. And they entertained the students at the School of The Imagination quite well!
A proper Santa in their Guild must be over fifty, of stout stature, a naturally white beard and hair (trimmed properly), with blue eyes preferred, and a deep rumbling laugh. Only pipe smokers need apply and drinking is frowned upon during the employment beyond a bit of eggnog. Oh and they must wear wire-frame spectacles. Not surprisingly, almost all of them are grandfathers! And their Santa outfits are made of the finest materials — nothing shoddy about this is allowed!
The Guild picks one new member to be honoured each year. This year, there were a half dozen outstanding candidates, including one from their local in Germany that had ended up in London at the request of the Royal Family to entertain their children, two from the Scottish Highlands which made for amusing looks on the faces of children at the School of Imagination as their accents were very challenging to their ears, and a twinkling gent from down Cornwall way who said he missed his sea-going cat back in Mousehole.
The winner was, and I picked him as did the younger children at our sister school, was Giles, a Northumbrian born but now London resident who had worked as an assistant to a Northumbrian MP before he retired a few years back. His wife urged him to get out of her way during the Christmas season so he applied to the Guild for work as a Santa Claus. Remember the St. Nicholas that Thomas Nast drew for the 1862 Christmas season Harper’s Weekly cover that Isabella showed us? Well he looked exactly like him! And he had a twinkle in his blue eyes and a really jolly laugh.