Give the gift of planning, by Graeme Bell

Santa settled back onto his gilded throne, eased off his boots and pulled down his sweaty beard. It had been a busy and demanding morning.

A procession of small children had been through his grotto and he’d had to smile and be cheerful, it was in his job description after all. He realised that the annual treadmill was making him something of a grumpy old man, such that his family would quip at him over Christmas: "Oh, go back to your grotto!"

He didn’t think it totally fair, because while some kids were great, who but a saint could keep up their cheer when some children, and their pushy parents, were so obnoxious. He’d been pinched (to see if he was real) had his beard pulled (ditto) and had a tiny tot widdle on the floor in shock and awe.

His morning hadn’t started well. A small boy came in who seemed to have lost his voice. His mum did all the talking – perhaps that’s why the child remained silent? "So, what would you like Santa to bring you?" Santa intoned. "Well he wants a town planner’s outfit. You know the one with the jacket and the scale rule in the pocket, the shiny-bottomed trousers and the dictionary of long, obscure words nobody understands," mum responded. "I’ve told him he’ll lose all his friends if he goes around wearing that, he’ll be called a nerd."

The little boy, who we learned was called James, listened to his mum and shifted his gaze towards Santa for some reassurance that he might take a more positive view of what was top of his wish list. At a push he would forego the dictionary, so long as the jacket and scale rule appeared at the end of his bed.

Not yet jaded by the passage of tiny feet, Santa leaned forward and smiled. "Well little Jimmy, I used to have outfits for town planners some years ago but very few have been requested in recent years and I’ve been running stock down. I know we sent a lot to be converted into engineer’s outfits – we just added a hard hat and site boots. But I’ll ask my elves if we have any left in an ice cave out the back."

Our hero brightened up, but his mum wasn’t prepared to see her pride and joy sold so short, so early in his life. She came back with, "What about an airline pilot’s outfit or a barrister with a wig?" Santa smiled. "I have a costume for a president with a hairpiece, or a prince with lots of medals. Lots of them left," he added. Mum turned to her son who was now hopping from foot to foot. "If you want to be socially useful what about an estate agent’s outfit or you could be a volume house-builder?" she said.

Santa, taking his cue joined in. "I’m sure we have an architect’s outfit that will fit you. Everything in black. You’ll look a bit like Darth Vader without the mask – ho, ho, ho," he chortled.

Little Jimmy found his voice. "I don’t want any of those, I want to wear the clothes of someone who’s going to make a real difference by the time I grow up. Someone who will help save the one and only planet in our known universe. Someone who will step forward to take the difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions ahead of where people want to be because they have the science and the facts to demonstrate that our current way of life is unsustainable." His face shone. He knew he was right, and Santa knew too.

Graeme Bell OBE is a vice president of the Town and Country Planning Association


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