When Charlotte Lumsden arrived for a backpacking trip around Australia in November 1992, she realised she would need a job. “I’d spent all my money on the flight,” she says. While staying at a hostel in Kings Cross, Sydney, she was told that “Santa” was recruiting elves for a sales job. “The job was basically to dress up as an elf and go to houses, markets and office blocks around Australia selling stuffed toys.” On her first day she met Calvin, a Canadian traveller, who had also signed up to make some extra cash. “All I remember is that her sneakers were too big. She was really attractive but had these massive shoes,” he says.
The pair began a selling road trip with a group of other elves. Their transport and accommodation were paid for. Over the next two weeks, they got to know each other. “He was so gentlemanly,” says Charlotte. “I was scared of dogs so when we went to try and sell toys at houses, he would protect me from the dogs so I could sell.”
In a nightclub in Parramatta, a Sydney suburb, they shared their first kiss and quickly became a couple. “We would snog by the side of the road in our elf costumes,” Calvin recalls. “People would beep their horns when they went past.”
The group of elves continued to stop at various small towns before arriving in Dubbo, a city in New South Wales famous for its zoo. “By this point we had realised Santa was a terrible person,” says Charlotte. “The company was meant to raise funds for charity, but he spent it all on drugs. We nicknamed him Bad Santa.” When Charlotte crashed Bad Santa’s rental van, known as the sleigh, on a trip to a night market, they knew it was time to leave. The couple hitchhiked back to the Blue Mountains with a stranger and his two young children. “He had a massive machete,” says Charlotte. “His children played nursery rhymes on repeat the entire way back.”
After returning to Sydney, the pair moved to Melbourne to work before travelling up the coast. In March 1993, Calvin returned to Canada while Charlotte travelled on to New Zealand and Thailand. By June, she was back in England and Calvin asked her to visit him in Canada. “I went there to work as a nanny for the summer before coming back for a teacher training course in Carlisle in the autumn,” she says. Calvin then came to stay with her in the UK. “I went to Gatwick to pick him up and he proposed on the National Express coach,” laughs Charlotte. “My parents had never even met him.” The couple married in her home town of Wrexham, North Wales, in July 1994.
“We then moved to Ashford in Kent before I did an MA in literature and later became a teacher,” says Calvin. Their son was born in 1998, followed by their daughter two years later. The couple lived and worked in boarding schools around the UK.
They made the decision to move to Vancouver Island in 2008, to be closer to Calvin’s family. “We also wanted the lifestyle for the children,” he says. “It’s such a great place to be a teenager. There’s so much space.” Although they miss the culture of Europe, Charlotte says they love exploring the outdoors. “We can see the sea and the mountains from our home. We can go canoeing, surfing and hiking. It is a really beautiful place.”
When they first met, Calvin was struck by Charlotte’s strength. “I was in awe of her. She was the hottest one in the group too,” he laughs. “We have so much in common, like literature, films and outdoor adventure. We always have things to talk about.” Charlotte admired his humour. “He was intelligent, interesting and kind. And since we met nothing much has really changed,” she says. “We’ve trusted each other to take lots of risks, like moving to the other side of the world. We are still going strong.”