World exclusive! Man in red suit speaks to Democrat
BY PADDY WALSH
Editor's request: An interview with the man of the moment for the Thursday interview slot (actually, not quite a request, more like a direct order and one I'm advised not to argue against so I don't.
Anyway, I tell him, for the past week I've been wanting to meet the chairman of the National Roads Authority to ask him when they can direct a load of salt our way. Not him, editor's shakes his head, THE man of the moment. The one who CAN deliver. And does every year. Red suit, white beard, him. Ah, I nod, I'm the man. No, he's the man, you'll be the one doing the interviewing, editor insists. Here's a list, he says. What's that, the questions I'm going to be asking? No, he replies a bit sheepishly, just a wee list I want him to fill for me).
So here I am face to bearded face with Mr. Santa Claus. I'm nervous - after all I'm engaging with the man who made many a dream come true for me when I was growing up. Though my parents went and spoiled it all for me when I was twenty-five by insisting he's not supposed to come to you over a certain age.
"Er - that's a cold one," I say to him. "COLD," he laughs at me. "That's an August day in Lanzarote. Come to the North Pole, I'll show you cold."
And there was I thinking I WAS in the North Pole.
I ask him about his early life. School and the like. He looks at me. "Never went to school. No schooling where I came from. Just straight into the family business when I was old enough."
Oh, how old was that, I enquire? "Three. Started off as an elf working with my father and went on from there."
So what's the Elf Service like in your neck of the woods, I ask? He looks at me again through the whites of his face fungus. "Next question."
Some people say you have it relatively easy, I tell him. That you only work one night in the year and you have 364 days off? And more in a Leap Year.
"Bah humbug. Do you think all those toys manufacture themselves? That they all pile into my sack like magic? Yes, we get a bit of time off. Eleven months or so but there'll still a lot of work to be done in a short span of time."
Which leads me neatly to the next question. How on earth, literally, does he get around everywhere in the one night? There's only one of him and billions of kids the globe over all waiting for him to drop down the chimney and deliver their Christmas presents? How does he do it?
"I can't say," he responds.
You mean, you don't know? "No, no, I just can't say. There a Claus in the contract. We can't reveal how we manage but we do it. Every year without fail we get to them wherever they are. Good weather or bad, I'll be there. We can't let the young ones down."
And the young ones are always appreciative. Glasses of milk, plates of biscuits, slices of Christmas cake. Plenty to keep the thirst and hunger away as he continues his travels. And Santa consumes it all, not wanting to disappoint the kids who have taken the time and trouble to lay it out for him.
I steal a glance at his midriff. Unfortunately he catches me. "I know. But I diet from January Ist on."
Until the following Christmas? "Well no, until January 2nd actually."
So what about the rest of the year - how does he kill time from one Christmas to the next? "Short walks. Long rests. Mrs. Claus and me go off for a couple of weeks to recharge the batteries."
Oh, where? "We pick a different place every year. Somewhere warm, generally."
Ever been to Donegal, I laugh? "We have, in fact. A few years back. I loved it."
[Editor's Note: Can't we get a news story out of this?].
"What part?," I ask him.
"The whole lot of me."
"No, what part of Donegal did you holiday in?".
"This and there. A couple of days in a place called Kincasslagh. Stayed in a hotel called, I think, the Viking House. Fellow who owned it sang a few songs for us. Decent voice. Could make it big, I told him, if he got rid of the cream suit."
That your first time in Donegal, I quiz him? Another look. "Not quite".
Oh yeah, sorry.
I furnish him with the editor's list (he glances at it and says he's not sure he'll be able to carry that amount of bottles) and take my leave. "One thing", I say to him, "if anyone asks, we conducted this interview at your place."
"Okay. What's all that about?," he enquires.
I say nothing but before he departs I manage to discreetly clock a look at the mileage meter on his sleigh.
Truly, a very rewarding interview.