IT is not generally known that Santa Claus has become increasingly disillusioned with his lot and has felt ‘left behind’ by the incredible advances in technical knowledge and forward looking developments in engineering.
However, Santa is a very ‘modern’ Father Christmas and is fascinated by technology, from digital telephones and computers to transport, alternative sources of energy, the development of new materials and the like.
“I want to get up-to-date. I want sat-navs and i-Pads, 4BS, whatever they are, and what’s an i-Phone 5; and I might want a tablet ...” he said, “if someone tells me what it is for.”
“All this technology will make your brain hurt,” Mrs Claus told him. “And aren’t you a bit old for that stuff? The only tablets you will need are for a headache.”
Each year, for a decade or more, Santa has tried to move his operation, into the twenty-first century; his disillusionment began many years ago when he was unwell over the Christmas period and under doctor’s orders not to spend a bitterly cold night delivering presents in his vintage sleigh pulled by his faithful reindeer. He overcame this problem by using a borrowed electric milk float.
Over the years, Fred has come to Santa’s aid again and again; last year he rescued him by helicopter when Santa was stranded on a roof. Santa was very impressed with the helicopter and said: “I must get one of those next year.” In fact he did start learning to fly but there were many obstacles to overcome, not least the noise; it would cause such a disturbance, with children being wakened that it was most certainly, not a good idea.
Santa had to agree with Fred that a helicopter would not be suitable and began to worry. “You are right, of course,” he said, “but I really don’t want to use the reindeer again; what else is there?”
Fred thought for a moment before suggesting that a milk float might be good. “You know that I have the old milk float you used 20 years ago, that would probably do.”
“But it’s big and heavy and so out of date, Santa replied. “I want modern technology, I want the 21st century and what is ‘Blue Tooth’ and a ‘Blackberry’?”
“I know, and that is what I am suggesting; the milk-float is not the old relic it was back then. It has been completely rebuilt with all the latest gizmos and even experimental techie things. It is absolutely up-to-date, what they call ‘state of the art’.”
“But it’s still 20th century, Fred, it’s nearly as old as your granddad’s car,” Santa said. “But, now that you mention it, that old car of yours is more like my sleigh than the other things; what do you think?”
“I didn’t mention it and that car is far too precious,” Fred said. “My grandfather built it more than 100 years ago, he was one of the pioneers of the automobile.”
Santa wanted to ask several questions about the car, he thought it would be suitable and wondered how he could persuade Fred to let him use it. He was very careful when he raised the subject and started by talking about the car; he managed to get Fred to say that it was quite easy to control, was remarkably reliable and was really quite comfortable.
After a while, Santa asked if he could ‘borrow’ the old car. Fred really did not want him to use it and told him that it would not be available.
He explained: “Every year, on Christmas Eve, I go to the Children’s’ Hospital, pretending to be you; I have done it for years, I usually take a couple of my grandchildren, dressed in elf costumes; they call me Santa and we call them ‘Santa’s Little Helpers’.”
“Who?” Santa asked.
“Daisy and Ben,” Fred answered. “My little helpers; but they won’t be here this year, I will have to manage without them.”
“Perhaps I could help?” Santa suggested, “I might learn something about myself; remember, no one sees me when I am in ‘uniform’ as it were, on ‘official’ duty and, I suspect that most people think that all I say is ‘Ho, ho, ho’. Feedback might be helpful.”
Fred wondered if policemen only said ‘ello. ‘ello, ‘ello, and then said. “But we couldn’t have two Santas, it wouldn’t be right and the children would be confused and probably upset.”
“Fred,” Santa said, “I didn’t mean that, you misunderstood me. I am suggesting that I become myself and YOU become MY helper; I would wear my Santa kit and you could wear something else, a nice clean pair of overalls could be suitable and you might add a bit of tinsel and some Christmas decorations. What do you think?”
“I think I don’t like it very much,” Fred stated. “I could finish up looking like a Christmas tree but, I suppose, your help would make my life a bit easier. It’s very kind of you to offer but it doesn’t help with your problem, does it?”
“Fred,” Santa said, ”I’m not so sure; if I help you, it should speed up the operation and we could be back home in time for me to get organised and ready to go when the time is right; I don’t go until all the children are in bed, you know.”
“Speed isn’t an issue,” Fred replied. “It’s the last thing, we stay as long as we want or are wanted; we spend time with each of the sick children, most of them have family visitors, it really is a very special time. We arrive at about 4pm, in fact we start AT 4pm and the patients are ready for us. We actually drive right into the ward, the children are so excited, the adults also get very excited, it really is a very touching moment. We go to the bedside of those that have to be in bed but we get those who are out of bed to come to Santa and sit the car, if they like.
“There are presents for everyone and time is the last thing we worry about.”
Santa was cross with himself and answered, “Yes, of course,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking of rushing home, I was just pointing out that, even if we stayed with the children for two or three hours, or even more there would still be plenty of time.” He hesitated, cleared his throat and then asked, “Perhaps there would be enough time for me to use your car?”
Fred felt that he had been put into a difficult position. He was not happy about letting Santa use his very precious car and thought for a moment before saying: “Well, I’m not so sure, you have had no experience driving it and you said yourself, quite recently, that you had to do your deliveries alone; it might have been better if someone could go with you.”
Santa replied, enthusiastically, “but that shouldn’t be a problem, if I drive to and from the Children’s Hospital tomorrow, with you beside me, that should give me enough practice and, anyhow, you’ve never heard of Father Christmas having a crash, have you?”
“But I have,” Fred responded. “Who crashed my beautiful pioneer aeroplane, who crashed my glorious elegant Broughton limousine and who crashed my magnificent Edwardian racing car?”
Fred was surprised by Santa’s response, “Not one of them”, he declared, “was my fault; the aeroplane was so light and flimsy and that seat was far too small when it collapsed.
“I was not even in the limousine; you will remember it was stolen, nothing to blame me for and the racing car, that was ridiculous, an enormous engine, far too powerful, it was an accident waiting to happen. I cannot be blamed for any of them. And you can’t blame me for the cherry picker either.”
Fred could not agree but felt that, as Santa was adamant, argument would be futile and, without actually agreeing, he said he would accept Santa’s offer to help him on the hospital visit. “We’ll have to see how we get on,” he said.
Soon after lunch on Christmas Eve, Fred drove to Santa’s house where he made sure that his old friend understood the car’s controls. The two men discussed the driving and then they talked about the children and what they would do. “It’s really a case of playing it by ear,” Fred pointed out. “But we must be guided by the nurses and the staff, they know what’s best.”
Mrs Claus made a pot of tea for them and offered a plate of home-made cakes.
At about half past three, they set off for the hospital with Santa driving.
The journey was quite uneventful and, by four o’clock, they were outside the ward ready for the big doors to be opened so that they could drive in.
During the following two-and-a-half hours there were tears, mostly of joy but some of sadness. One little girl recognised Fred and asked him: “You were Father Christmas last year, how come you’ve changed?”
Fred did not know how to answer but, before it became a problem, the children were gathered together for a ‘party tea’ and presents.
Another young girl asked Santa why he kept looking at his watch. “I didn’t realise that I did,“ he answered, “but, having said that, it will soon be time for us to leave; I’ve got a very busy night in front of me and I mustn’t let anybody down.”
Snow had been falling all afternoon and, as Fred and Santa drove away, the nurses, parents and those children who were able, waved and cheered Santa said, as they headed for home: “I’m not too happy about this snow and these lights aren’t much good; I can hardly see where we are going.”
“Well, slow down, these lights are really only good in built up areas with street lighting so please drive more slowly.”
“But I am going slowly, and we need to get on, a lot to do.”
“If you don’t slow down, we will be having your next accident,” Fred repeated angrily. “slow down.”
It was too late, Santa was not watching the road, he was too busy shouting at Fred. The road curved to the left by the church but the car didn’t .
His speed and the slippery snow caused the car to go straight ahead, through an old hawthorn hedge into the churchyard where it came to a standstill among the gravestones. Santa was furious. “Now see what you have done!” he said. Taking his mobile out of his pocket, Santa ‘phoned for a taxi and asked them to be quick, he was in a hurry. Approaching headlights were obviously the taxi so Santa stepped out into the road. It wasn’t a taxi, it was a police car which slithered to a halt. A policeman got out of the passenger’s side and the officer said, “Hello, hello, hello, what have we got here then?”
Santa resisted the temptation to compare ‘hello, hello, hello’ with his ‘ho, ho, ho’ and answered ‘yes’ when the police man continued: “Fancy dress do, is it sir? Perhaps you would blow into this little party bag for me; you was the driver, was you not sir?”
At this time, the taxi turned up and the driver said: “Car for Mister Birdfoot.”
The police allowed Santa to go as there had been no offence and Fred had agreed to deal with the formalities.
The car was not badly damaged but it was not fit to drive so, while the police were taking down details, Fred ‘phoned his friend, Jim Saddlepump, who owned a garage and asked him to come and collect him and the stricken vehicle. Meanwhile, Santa, now back home, was franticly preparing his old sleigh and getting his animals ready for the journey.
Once again the faithful and reliable reindeer made sure that everyone had a good Christmas.