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Bad times at the Pole

IT WASN'T simply the fault of my nose. My being bullied, that is. To start with I came along nearly 100 years after the others. So Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen had already had a century to ingratiate themselves with the Clauses.

My background didn't help either. I spoke differently from the other reindeer and I came from a wealthy home, which made them jealous. They were all orphans and had been fostered with Mr and Mrs Claus through the Caribou in Care project.

My creator was an American advertising man. His parents christened him Robert May, but I was the one who really made his name for him.

The story began in 1939 when Robert May was asked to come up with an idea for a free Christmas gift for customers. He decided on an animal booklet with an Ugly Duckling theme (thanks, dad). And he nearly called me Rollo. You have to admit that Rudolph is a bit classier. Once I found that out, I called him Robbo, which he didn't like.

Anyway, the book took off. Two-and-a-half million copies were published that Christmas, and Robbo was given a 300-dollar bonus. Later, his boss gave him the copyright to me.

Success followed success. But for Robbo and me, things weren't going so well. His first wife died shortly after my creation and I didn't get on with number two - Virginia - even though she insisted she was my step-mother. Everyone these days knows the stresses "step" relationships can cause in a family environment. They weren't so well-informed in 1939.

At first I was the star of the family show. There was a floodlit model of me in the garden (yes, I had a red light bulb for a nose). The numerous May children thought I was wonderful, especially after Gene Autry's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was at number one for three weeks in 1949. It's still the second-most popular Christmas song ever, beaten only by that ghastly White Christmas. If that man had seen as much snow as I have...

But then the Mays got bored with me, though never with the money I made. They said my nasal affliction was psychosomatic and they passed the "Rudolph Rule". Can you guess what that was? No talking about me at mealtimes. And they put my statue in the garage. After that I started to spend more time with my other family - the lot at the North Pole.

Of course I'd always been passed between the Clauses and the Mays. You can guess who I got to spend Christmas with. It didn't do my schooling any good, but the effect on my education was nothing compared to the effect on my psyche.

Caribou are actually sociable creatures. They look out for each other, the strong ones caring for the weak with no one left out in the cold.

Well, there wasn't much compassion at the house of the Clauses. The other reindeer were hardened after childhoods in care followed by years in harness, and they hated hearing about my success. The famous red nose just gave them an easy target. If it hadn't been that, it would have been something else. Did you know I have a rather short tail?

I put up with it for years. Donder was the worst. He had been teased about his name before I turned up, so he was happy to encourage the others to bully me instead.

I know you think that my problems were solved on that much-talked-of foggy night. Well, it's not true and I want to put the record straight, even if it does damage the sales of my latest Disney film. All those smiles when we got back that Christmas Eve, all that chummy antler-rubbing - it was just for the cameras. Underneath, the other deer were seething and the bullying was worse than ever.

No, what sorted out my relations with the other deer was something much simpler and more profound than a nasal foglight. The Arctic Education Department finally caught up with the Clauses and told them we had to go to school. Santa was horrified - he needed us to work - and came up with a compromise that brought Ms Smith to teach us in our stable. And with Ms Smith came Personal and Social Education.

For the first time in our lives someone was prepared to listen to what we had to say - and we had a lot. First, our pasts and second, all those presents. We talked and talked. We found some common ground, shared dislikes and grievances, and gradually we started to get along better. The most amazing thing was that as I cheered up, the redness of my nose faded. Perhaps it was psychosomatic after all.

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