Winter weather creates havoc on the road causing accidents and traffic jams but it never affects Santa. He doesn’t use the roads any way; he flies everywhere. In fact the only likely hold up would be if the reindeer were ill. Santa needs eight strong reindeers and they hitch up to the sledge in pairs. Dasher and Dancer are at the front followed by Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and, finally, Donner and Blitzen.
Dasher and Dancer have always been the leaders and work at keeping fit so they can retain their place but after a few hundred years the grey is peeping through their fur and Dancer complains quietly of the occasional arthritic twinge. To tell the truth they are all ageing and although Prancer and Vixen long to lead the sledge they know, in their hearts, that they would struggle to be pace makers. In fact a pacemaker was something several of them would soon need!
Now Santa, being immortal and having no health problems himself, was blissfully unaware of the slow but steady deterioration of his trusty team. In 2015 he hitched them all up in the usual order, tugged on the reigns and shouted the Laplandish equivalent of ‘gee up’ and they set off at a spanking speed. They usually went to Europe first because some countries preferred to have their gifts on 6th December and that gave them all a chance to pull together again after a year out to pasture. When they got back home elves came out to unhitch the team and when they were all happily stabled and munching their well-earned reindeer nibbles the stable lad approached Santa, who was quaffing a large glass of sherry.
‘Excuse me sir, could I have a word?’
‘How many would you like Pipkin? I’ve hundreds of thousands in multiple languages!’ Then he laughed his traditional three, ho, ho, hoes.
Confused, and a little flustered, Pipkin drew himself up to his full 90 centimetres, in curly tipped shoes, and said, ‘It’s the reindeer, sir, they’re exhausted and I’m worried they’re not up to it this year.’
‘Nonsense they’re just a little out of condition. We’ll give them a bit more exercise between now and Christmas Eve. That’ll do the trick.’
‘Yes sir,’ he said, uncertainly and bowed before leaving his illustrious and blinkered master.
Pipkin worked hard in the next few weeks. He gave the reindeer energy drinks, enriched deerplan nuggets and exercised them twice a day but in his heart he knew this would not be enough and he would have to face Santa and make him accept the truth. His famous team were no longer able to pull the heavy sledge around the world.
It was the day before Christmas Eve and Pipkin approached Santa again with his worries. Santa took him seriously this time and went to the stables himself. Donner and Blitzen, younger than the rest, gave him their usual welcome but the others looked up at him from heads hung down. He was shocked, gently patted them all and apologised for not realising that they had reached retirement age.
Leaving the stables he walked back to the warmth of his house pondering the problem. There was not much time to train a new team of reindeer, so he would have to think of some alternative. He went to his computer and Gooogled ‘pulling sledges’ and immediately, amongst the adverts for unrelated things, there was a team of dogs. They were shown pulling one man standing behind a modest sledge. That’s no good, he thought. They would never be strong enough to pull my huge sledge with a trailer full of presents. He tried again and wrote, ‘ motorised sledges’ Immediately he was hooked with the vision of skidoos flying across the snow.
‘That’s more like it,’ he breathed. ‘I wonder if they make a really powerful one.’
There were massive machines in America and Canada that looked more like lorries with skis but he was not sure he could make those take off and fly. He needed to adapt one of the designs, and he would need help.
‘Pipkin! Alber! Jodi! Come and see this.’
The elves hurried to join him at the computer and quickly set to work to make a Santa snowmobile. Being elves they were able to invoke some magic and in just a few hours the machine was ready to try out. Santa tentatively blipped the throttle and jumped as the roar of the engine shattered the peaceful afternoon and shook snow from the fir trees.
‘Wow,’ he shouted, above the roar. ‘This is amazing!’ He accelerated, took off and skimmed over the trees, the engine noise threatening to start an avalanche. Eventually he landed back near the workshop, turned off the engine and beamed at the anxious elfin engineers.
‘Let’s get loading!’ Loading, even with magic, took a long time but just as Christmas Eve began Santa set off to deliver his presents to all the children of the world. Normally he would finish just as the sun was beginning to rise on Christmas morning but this time he had hours to spare. He arrived home, parked his snow mobile and climbed out feeling tired, satisfied, but a little sad.
Pipkin looked at him with a worried frown, ‘You’ve been really quick sir. It must be a record but you don’t look very happy. What’s the matter?’
‘It was so noisy and I really missed the gentle reindeer and the jingling bells on their harness. We need to find a way to revitalise our team, perhaps a little magic elixir?’
‘I’m sorry, sir, I’ve already tried that. I think we should buy a new, young herd of deer and give our experienced older ones the task of training them.’
Santa approved of this idea and Dasher, Dancer and the others enjoyed their teaching role.
Soon there was a new, politically correct, set of lively youngsters called, Chang, Charles, Mboku, Mowgli, Mirium, Muhammad, Rachel and Rudolph.
Santa inspected them in early December to take them through their paces. They snorted and stamped with impatience keen to show him how well they could pull together.
‘Well done Pipkin, and everyone. They’re a fine team.
Before climbing aboard he looked again at the last one. ‘Pipkin, has he got a cold? Look at his shiny red nose!’