A short history of the sleigh runs by Frank Thrower

In the dim and distant past in the days before the Club had a sleigh we used to go around the Marsh in two lorries delivering presents to the children on Christmas morning for a donation of £1 per parcel. Members would get up early on Christmas morning leaving their own children at home and set out to take all these gifts to the houses on the Marsh. One of our members, who worked at the Power Station, was married but he had no family, therefore it didn’t matter to him what time he got home, so it wasn’t unusual to stop for a snifter of whisky just to keep the cold out! Naturally by about 11 o’clock some of Santa’s Helpers were in a very happy mood, while others had to keep sober because they had to get home to wish their own children ‘Merry Christmas’.

We had some good times and there was an interesting encounter in Lydd one year. Having knocked on a door, a lady answered, looked at the label on the parcel and said “Hang on a minute, this is the wrong house, you need next door”, so we went to the next house and the neighbour followed us. This time a man answered the door looking like he had just fallen out of bed, barely wearing a dressing gown. Suddenly there was a click click behind us as the neighbour took a couple of photos. Apparently she had bet this guy that she could get a picture of him on Christmas morning in his underpants! On another occasion we had to deliver a cooker to an address in Littlestone, we tapped on the door and eventually a girl came out looking rather bedraggled. The members gathered around her as they all tried to work out who would have given her a cooker for Christmas.

This all worked well for a number of years until eventually the feeling grew that the gesture was being abused, the presents grew in size and value and instead of delivering a book or a toy we were delivering bikes and large items so after a while the Christmas morning deliveries were given up.

For a number of years the Lydd Ambulance Service had taken a sleigh around the houses at Christmas. It consisted of six reindeer mounted on pallets on a pickup truck and on a separate pallet was the main cabin area mounted on a trailer. The Rotary Club obtained the use of this sleigh in 1998 and in the Spring of 2000 decided to rebuild it. Four of the existing reindeer and the cabin were to be reused and mounted on a single trailer (it would have been too long for the roads on the Marsh if all six reindeer were used). Also the existing lights were well past their sell-by date, and it was therefore decided to install new wiring and lights and purchase a proper sound system.

Once a budget was agreed the Reindeer and Cabin were removed from the pallets, and at the same time the old lights were stripped off. The width for the new Trailer was ascertained from the width of the Cabin and allowing extra space either side to house new lighting. The length of the trailer was calculated allowing sufficient space for the reindeer to be mounted on a “Snowy Hill”. The price for a new trailer was obtained from a company in Folkestone but before work started the Club decided that it would be better if the trailer was galvanised rather than painted. This called for a design change since the total length of the trailer exceeded the capacity of the galvanising company’s tank. Work was started in the summer of 2000 and the Sleigh made its debut in December 2000.

All went well except that virtually every day in December that year it rained. After about two years a lot of the plywood on the cabin started to delaminate. It was soon realised that most of this wood had been obtained from old tea chests, so there was no other option but to replace most of the wood that the cabin was constructed from. At the same time a door was cut in the side since Santa Claus was having difficulty getting his leg over!, and a step was also provided. Over the years the original sound system using a CD Player has been upgraded to the current system using an iPod, the Sleigh has been completely rewired using LED Lighting and has had a complete repaint/refurbishment and is now the feature of what is our major annual fundraiser.

Over the years there have been many memorable moments during the Christmas collection. On one occasion in the dark depths of New Romney Santa was being very energetic in his bell ringing so much so that the clapper came off, shot across the road and hit the kerb then bounced all the way back under the sleigh and ended up on the other side of the road. Fortunately, there was a toolbox in the towing vehicle and the clapper was reunited with the bell housing and Santa could continue waking up the local residents.

On another occasion one of Santa’s little helpers tripped on the kerb in the dark and the large collecting bucket flew from his hands onto a patch of grass scattering coins of the realm of all denominations onto the grass verge. He got onto his knees to pick up the coinage groping around in the grass. He had to remove his gloves on that cold night in order to feel the wet slimy grass to recover the generosity of the local populace. It was then that he realised that not only were they generous people but also that they were owners of well fed generous dogs! It was nightmare of an experience, his wife did not appreciate his efforts but the Treasurer did.

One year in Lydd one youngster thought he spotted a familiar face and exclaimed “I didn’t know Santa worked in the Post Office”!

Not much stopped us going out with the sleigh, but one year half way round Lydd it started to snow hard. The four footed reindeer were fine but the two footed elves were falling all over the place, although it’s not clear whether this was due to the snow or the quantity of mulled wine the residents of one particular road had kindly plied them with.

It has always been the case that we endeavour to knock on as many doors on the Marsh as we are able to and for that reason we take the sleigh out for three weeks on the lead up to Christmas. It is true to say that not everybody opens the door. Reasons range from, “Can’t open the door the Budgies flying about”; “Husbands gone to the pub and he’s locked me in”; “Just got out the bath”; “I’m having me dinner”; “I’m not Church of England”. These cases are a rarity as demonstrated on the occasion that a member knocked on a house and was about to walk away when he heard a voice saying “don’t go, it takes me a while”. When the door eventually opened it was done so by a little elderly lady in her dressing gown using a walking frame and pulling along behind her a stand with an IV drip. The collector apologised profusely for disturbing her. She said “don’t be silly stay there while I go and get my purse.”

The Club are very grateful for the generosity of the people on the Marsh. Many families put their odd change in a tin or jar throughout the year which is very touching (if a bit heavy to carry). The Club has always got immense pleasure from the happiness the sleigh brings to children of all ages, and that community spirit is reason enough to carry on the tradition (Viruses permitting). Collecting money to help local causes is satisfying but it isn’t the main reason we do it