The night is very dark. Thousands of white motes are flying towards me through the sky. They catch in my eyebrows. They melt on my lips. When they sting my eyes, it’s hard to steer as we fly high above the frozen streets.
It’s five past midnight. The reindeer are starting to merge in the darkness. I tug my beard and sigh. It’s knotted now and grey. The ends are splitting and I keep leaving strands in the soup, on the floor and down the back of the sofa.
Things aren’t what they were. Something’s wrong tonight and I don’t know if it’s me or them. The reindeer aren’t working as a team. The sleigh drifts to left and right. At the back, Donner is all over the place, flip-flopping like a dropped octopus.
I’m on cruise control. I’m on auto-pilot. I’ve done this so many times that don’t even know if I’m thinking about tonight or remembering the year before.
>>Hic<< The sleigh’s so out of control now that I want to laugh. I daydream about letting go and letting the reindeer do whatever the hell they want, but where would that get anyone? All that reindeer want to do is munch lichen on the tundra, or rut.
Me though, I‘m no reindeer. I have plenty of desires. It’s got me into trouble again. It gives me such a buzz. I can’t hold myself back. Once, I even caught myself chucking the presents over the sides. They landed in the snow with a whoomf, on skips and rubbish bins too.
>>Hic<< I can barely see a thing. Fumbling in the glove compartment, I try to find my sat-nav. It takes me a couple of minutes to wedge open the door. When it finally comes unstuck, all sorts of muck spills out: a half-eaten Mars bar, junk and gunk. There’s a stick of chewing gum that’s so faded that I can’t even tell if it’s spearmint or juicyfruit. In short, there’s everything in the world in the glove compartment except the sat-nav, or gloves. I bet the elves have had it again.
No sat-nav. I’ll just have to do it the old way. Use my head. Except that my old skull’s more full of eggnog than noggin.
I never learn, do I? I start off with the best of intentions, I promise you. Then I get led astray. You know how it works. First house. Number 1, Arctic View. First stop after the Pole. What do I see after miles of dark water and waves as black and sharp as the fins of sharks? A little dram of whisky, a mince pie and a carrot. The carrot’s no damn use. There’s not much of that left with eight reindeer to feed. When I chuck it to them, it’s like mutton tossed to tigers.
The mince pie doesn’t last long either. Lovely pastry. Then, you see, I feel a bit dry and there’s nothing to drink except for that tumbler of Scotch that they’ve left out on the side. You know what it’s like. If you’ve had one, you’ve had a hundred. The floodgates are open.
By the time I’ve got to the end of Arctic View, I’ve long since given up on the mince pies, and the reindeer have had so many carrots that even Rudolf’s nose is turning orange. Me though, I’ve barely started on the sauce.
So it begins again, that terrifying night-time ride. At least, it would be terrifying if I could only remember half of it.
I’m back up in the air. High up above the earth. The blizzard has been gathering pace while we’ve been inside. An inch of snow has fallen on the sleigh. When I put a shaking foot up on the rails, a puff of powder scatters around my ankles.
Everything goes mental then. The world whips by like a blur. The backs of the reindeer rise and fall. We drift from side to side just like before. At times, I’m hanging diagonally off the side, holding on for dear life, fumes of whisky steaming up my noise. I’m laughing like a fool.
When I wake up the next morning, it’s carnage in the grotto.
There’s a metallic scraping sound along the old stone wall. I push hard against the window. A slab of snow breaks off and crumbles as it hits the ground. Outside, I see Blitzen. The dumb reindeer’s only gone and put its antler through an aluminium tray, hasn’t it? It’s the sort of tray you get with a takeaway curry. The horn has pierced right through it and it’s bashing against the brickwork. It’s well and truly stuck. The stupid beast’s muzzle is streaked with garam marsala sauce.
Going into the house, things aren’t much better.
The elves are the worse for wear, and I know who’s going to get the blame for it. Never let fantasy beings near the sherry when there’s work to be done. I’m telling you from bitter experience. It got so desperate that they’d even started on the Bénédictine.
It’s all coming back to me now, in snapshots, like Polaroids fluttering before my eyes. The elves! The booze! The pixies’ wild jig! The vicious squabble over the Cluedo board! It was the gnome with the lead pipe in the scullery, like it is every year because all the other cards have got lost.
The presents are in a mess. No labels, no nothing. Never mind. I don’t complain. I always get what I want on Christmas morning. A lie-in and a glass of Alka-Seltzer. And I deserve it too, don’t I?
(c) Alastair Savage 2013