My annual rendezvous with Santa Claus over a bag of steaming chips on Cromer Pier found the old boy far more reflective than usual about our world in general  and this small slice of it in particular.

I put it down to a lingering cost-of-living crisis, climate change worries, febrile political uncertainty, Western Link bill speculation and a growing forest of satellite dishes encountered on his rooftop rounds in fast-expanding Attleborough and Rackheath New Town.

Or perhaps he was fed up with sharing those famous initials with the likes of South Creake, Stiffkey Cockles, Stowmarket Co-op, Sheringham Carnival and Simon Cowell. Or even Sean Connery.

“Singularly Calamitous!” he shouted as if by way of explanation for such an uneasy demeanour. I sensed it had to be the prelude to a sack full of misgivings to go with mounting rumours about difficulties over plugging in his new electric sleigh.

My usual ploy of sprinkling his chips with salt, pepper and vinegar before passing on condiments of the season would have been the epitome of poor taste.

So I followed well-honed Norfolk instincts and asked why he looked as though he’d got up before he went anywhere’

“I expected much better of Norfolk,” sighed a clearly out-of-sorts Santa, unravelling a lengthy list from his fur-trimmed pocket  and daring me to guess where it ended.

He jabbed a finger at some heavily-underlined items, released a frown worthy of any hen-pecked husband trapped in a shopping crowd and repeated his opening line. I felt bound to ask in what way this fine old county had let him down.

“It’s all these demands for more from people who simply don’t realise when they’re well off. That can’t be normal for Norfolk.”

I sprouted little horns and turned devil’s advocate: “But we have to move into the fast lane to claim our share of any spoils going when the going is tough.” 

A disdainful look escaped through a tangle of whiskers and beard. A withering put-down followed: “That’s hardly convincing from someone with a track record for wanting to single and then cobble the A11 highway!”

Santa had called my bluff and we both grimaced at the prospect of denouncing a wish-list seemingly built more on greed than gratitude.

He went first: “Take this lovely part of the world … “ Right on cue, an icy blast jumped up from a lumpy sea, rattled his chip papers and ruffled his outfit.

“One of those lazy ole winds, boy, that come straight from Scroby. Where was I? Oh, yes. A bumper summer holiday season in places like this – and I get requests from tourism bosses to make it even busier next year. It’ll finish up with rationing if they’re not careful.”

Time for me to pretend NDR really stood for Nature Demands Respect and Norfolk Defends Railways – he’d just floated over our priceless Bittern Line – but Santa keeps up to date and insists all carbon footprint should be counted.

“You can’t bypass that Northern Distributor Road, my lad, just look at all these urgent pleas from poor old builders, estate agents, councillors, business leaders and various other movers and shakers for me to leave piles of what they call economic drivers under their beds.”

I tried to nudge him towards the brighter side with a couple of recent thrilling surveys placing Nelson’s County on the poop deck of the good ship HMS Quality Of Life.

“Bah, humbug!” came a curt response with only a modicum of play-acting from someone able to spot unyielding traffic, ugly urban sprawl and unaffordable housing from a great height at any time of year.

Santa completed his evening meal, patted that ample girth with exaggerated gentleness and went in search of a waste paper bin. He returned with a hearty chuckle .

“Found a home for most things on that list, ole partner! Well, these are difficult times. Folk must understand how demands can outstrip resources. How did great-grandfather put it? ‘ What we want and what we need are two different things’ 

“And then great-grandmother Claus reminded him how the cost of living is always about the same – all you’ve got!”

This was more like the old Santa of other seasons. I chipped in with: “It’s far better for us to like what we have than to have what we like.”

Just time for our annual swop of best (or worst) cracker jokes before fond farewells.

I could see he was keen to go first in defence of his Christmas crown. He unwrapped his little shred of paper and held forth. “What do you call a bunch of chess players bragging about their game in a hotel lobby?  

Chess nuts boasting in an open foyer!”

I groaned appropriately, offered a short Nat King Cole impression as another icy gust sought out my seasonal sensibilities and snatched this witty bauble from the tree of no shame:

“Two snowmen standing in a Norfolk field. One turned to the other and said, 'Dunt know abowt yew, but I kin smell carrots'.”

Santa shook his wise old head in disbelief, stroked his beard for solace and headed for an inland tour of day-care centres and full hospital beds with his reputation and title intact.