In my childhood, “His Master’s Voice” was not the lady of the house but phenomena that waxed even warmer and needed to be wound up to give voice. They were records set, not by Usain Bolt, but a large record company, RCA Victor. Those thick, black discs carried on their labels pictures of a dog named Nipper, with his face stuck in a large brass phonograph cylinder. “Why the dog trying to eat the gramophone?” I asked my grandmother. “He teeth go break!”
Unfortunately, His Master’s Voice was almost impossible for me to understand since it was invariably in Hindi. My grandmother preferred her “Indian songs” and played them almost incessantly. The one song I understood and played when I could was a calypso by the late Lord Melody called “Jonah And The Bake”. The story line was simple – Jonah’s father was making bakes, Johah diverted one, his father discovered that one was missing and poor Jonah, wishing perhaps that a whale would come and swallow him as he had swallowed the hot bake, was beaten to within an inch of his life. I remember the lines, “Jonah, you take a bake here? One gone, one gone.” Given the frequency with which I played the song, I was lucky there were no neighbours around otherwise the next thing would have been, “Another one gone.”
Years later the rage was the radiogram – huge, glass-fronted wooden cabinets with a radio, phonograph, cloth-covered speakers woven within the design and lots of glass and polish. For something we called a “gram” it weighed tons. Like chrome dining sets and living-room furniture, “grams” became the rage and if you wanted to keep up with the Joneses, you had to acquire one. They were expensive but there was no more stirring spectacle than the truck from the village department store coming to your house on Christmas Eve to drop off a “gram”. Neighbours peeped surreptitiously from behind the curtains they were “putting up” and the children ran out asking “All youh buy a gram?” and then shouting rhythmically, “Dey buy a gram, dey buy a gram!” There were people who were so stretched financially after buying the gram, even though this was through “terms” or credit, they had no money left to buy records.
Our “gram” was a Blaupunkt, made in Germany, and coming so soon after World War Two, I later figured out that was the way the Germans chose to get back at us for winning the war. My mother, like my grandmother, preferred Indian songs too but among the pile we had one song which that Christmas got more airtime than any Messerschmidt bomber. It was a “45”, the new record format which had started to replace the old “78s” and it had two songs on it – “Mamacita Donde Esta Santa Claus?” (which continues to be the most Spanish I ever learnt at any one time) and, my favourite, “Don’t Care Who You Are Old Fatso.”
It was sung by a child star named Augie Rios whose career disappeared like Santa after that Christmas ended. But for a while he made it to the top of the charts. The premise was simple. A cynical little kid seeing this sled and its owner on his roof, demands, “Don’t care who you are old Fatso get that reindeer off my roof/ Don’t care who you are old Fatso get that reindeer off my roof/ Don’t care who you are because/ There aint no Santa Claus/ There aint no Santa Clause and I have proof.”
Now, Dr. Thomas Cavalieri, a geriatrician who is the dean of the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, has put a new spin on Santa’s avoirdupois without cutting a disk. In his view the Old Fatso is not doing so badly. “Because Santa is probably more than 550 years old, a lot of people would say that growing older hasn’t been a problem for him.” However, Dr. Cavalieri says that Santa still looks like he could lose a few pounds. He believes if Santa could skip some of those sugary snacks that children leave for him, he would avoid the weight gain that could lead to conditions like heart disease and diabetes especially in people over 65.
On the plus side the milk that Santa drinks with his cookies helps him to avoid osteoporosis but climbing up and down chimneys while good is dangerous and should be replaced by a brisk walk. Cavalieri’s prognosis is that when you add it all together, Santa’s health habits definitely put him on a successful aging path that others can follow, “He appears to be in pretty good shape and should be able to continue filling Christmas wishes for many years to come.”
Researchers at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg are not as sanguine. “Santa’s quite obvious abdominal obesity and deep red facial complexion are convincing indicators that the man is at risk for both heart attack and stroke,” says Annika Rosengren, professor at the Department of Emergency and Cardiovascular Medicine. So if you see Santa on your roof next Tuesday night, tell him that Australian public health expert, Dr. Nathan Gillis, advises that he should share Rudolf’s snack of carrots and celery sticks rather than brandy and mince pies and swap his reindeer for a bike or walk. Otherwise he would probably go down under.
*Tony Deyal was last seen saying that the estimated speed of Santa’s travel would make both him and his reindeer explode and burn up within milliseconds of take-off. The fact that he survives is a record.