Spare a thought this Christmas…

‘Ho ho ho,’ says Santa, although his heart isn’t really in it. The sparkle in his eye is dull, and ruddiness has all but left his cheeks. ‘Ho ho ho,’ he says, trying again, but his big body shakes more with hysteria than with mirth, in the same way that a man shakes when he’s about to cry.

But why? What’s happened? What has reduced this walking epitome of merriment to such doldrums? Why does he gulp his brandy with the gentle desperation of a widower, and not with the kick of festive cheer?

I’ll tell you why: IT technicians. A whole workshop full of them.

Christmas has been through a lot of changes over the years. Gone are the times of toys crafted from wood, fabric and fluff. Rocking horses, fire engines, chequer sets, building blocks, patchwork dolls, ducks on pulleys – these are relics of a bygone age, good now for nothing but the stove. Such antiques have been made redundant by the gimmickry and gadgetry of an insatiable generation; a generation in which even infants have their own smartphones. Now it’s all iPhones and iPads, laptops and tablets, Xboxes and Wiis, Blue-rays and 3D TVs.

And what does this mean?

It means that some years ago tough decisions had to be made and a bunch of elves lost their jobs. If there’s no demand you have to change supply, after all. That’s simple business sense.

And the elves understood that. ‘It’s okay, Santa,’ they’d said, patting him on the knee. ‘We understand, and we’ll be fine. Don’t you worry about us. It’s no-one’s fault.’

Such good boys, thinks Santa, sighing to himself. Such good, sweet, lively boys. He downs his third brandy and heads across the snowy courtyard to the workshop.

Entering the workshop is always depressing these days. He used to love it. He’d loved the smell of fresh sawdust and warm gingerbread, the way the elves would stop their sawing and sanding to greet him with a song.

Those days are long gone. Now he walks into a workshop that resembles the back of PC World. Bespectacled, chubby nerds sit at workstations cluttered with the paraphernalia of electronic assembly. Not a speck of worktop can be seen for motherboards, microchips and transistors. Technicians natter nasally about CPUs, MMORPGs and pixelated pin-ups. The scent of sawdust and ginger has been ousted by the stench of Subway footlongs and ozone. Gone are the jaunty cheers and songs of curly-toed elves, replaced by the awkward, whiny guff of the socially inept.

Now don’t get Santa wrong. He knows they’re not a bad bunch. They’re nice people, after all. Harmless, and very sweet in their own way. But it’s just not the same. It’s not what it was.

Santa shakes himself and leans over the rail above the workshop, scanning the pit for his designated Liaison Officer. ‘Dexter!’ he shouts. ‘Dexter!’

‘Santa!’ shouts Dexter from within the mess, lisping lightly. He waves so that the old man can spot him. ‘I’m over here.’

‘Oh yes,’ says Santa. ‘So you are. Dexter, I was just wondering if you’ve had any news on those sleigh bells.’

‘Sleigh bells?’

‘Yes, sleigh bells. If you remember, the bells that were sent were silver, even though we ordered gold ones. The sleigh needs gold bells, Dexter. It’s always had gold bells.’

‘Right, Santa.’

‘So have we sent them back and requested replacements?’

‘Let me check,’ says Dexter, punching some keys at his computer. ‘Hmm. I’m afraid they haven’t been sent back yet. Although I can see that the call was logged.’

Santa puffs some air through his cheeks. ‘That request was made two weeks ago, Dexter,’ he sighs. ‘And it’s been made twice since.’

‘Aha,’ says Dexter.

‘Aha,’ repeats Santa. There’s a moment of silence. Dexter adjusts his spectacles.

‘Listen,’ continues Santa. ‘Can you deal with this for me? I just need some gold bells. It’s simple, really.’

‘Mmmm…’ frowns Dexter, stroking the fluff around his lips. ‘No can do, Mister Claus. It has to go directly through Purchasing. Send them an email. Needs to be a paper trail, you see. If I do it myself it’ll be outside of the system and there’ll be no paper trail.’

Santa grimaces. Electronic mails and paper trails. Nothing makes sense anymore.

‘Dexter,’ he says. ‘I just want some gold bells for the sleigh. I don’t want to send another email to Purchasing.’

‘Pardon?’ says Dexter, cupping his ear. The technicians are becoming noisy. They’re gathering around a monitor to watch a viral YouTube clip.

‘I don’t want to send another email,’ repeats Santa.

‘It’s the only way,’ shrugs Dexter. ‘Needs to be a paper trail. Ask them to escalate it this time. That should help.’

Santa removes his gold wire spectacles and pinches his eyelids. ‘Listen, Dexter. I can’t send an email. My computer keeps freezing when I open Outlook. Can’t you do this for me?’

Dexter shakes his head. ‘Sorry, Mister Claus. Best thing is to give IT Helpdesk a call. They’ll come sort out your email for you.’

‘I’ve tried that, Dexter,’ grumbles Santa. ‘But it’s always the answer phone. I’ve left three messages already and still no-one’s called back. Dexter, you’re good with computers. Why don’t you come and have a quick look at it?’

‘No can do, Mister Claus. Has to go through Helpdesk. That way it’s logged. It’s protocol.’

‘Pardon?’ shouts Santa. The din is rising.

‘Protocol!’ shouts Dexter.

‘Alcohol?’ shouts Santa.

‘Pardon?’ shouts Dexter.

‘Forget it,’ says Santa, more to himself than to Dexter. He turns away and steps back out into the courtyard. He takes a deep breath and watches the snow fall for a while. Holding out his hand, he catches a snowflake in his palm and watches it melt.

When he enters the kitchen he stamps the snow from his boots. Mrs Claus is hunched over the dining table.

‘I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to this,’ laments Santa.

‘Mm,’ grunts Mrs Claus. She doesn’t look up.

‘Do you ever miss the old days, dear?’ asks Santa. ‘Were they simpler, or is it just me?’

‘Mm,’ repeats Mrs Claus, deeply absorbed. She’s updating her Facebook status on her Blackberry.

‘Can you even hear me?’ asks Santa, his voice cracking softly.

‘Mm,’ repeats Mrs Claus.

Santa gets his brandy bottle from the cupboard and takes it to the bedroom.

So spare a thought this Christmas. Spare a thought for Santa. An old man being steadily left behind.

Panspermia Press Issue 7: “Take the Next Exit for Love”

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Good news: the new issue of Panspermia Press, “Take the Next Exit for Love”, is now out. It’s a story about a man who falls in love with a satnav. It will either make you laugh or cry. Or perhaps both. Tear ducts and chuckle tubes all sprout from the heart, after all.

You can find copies scattered all over Nottingham – principally at Nottingham Contemporary, Lee Rosy’s, Broadway, Geoff Blore’s lovely bookshop, and on benches all over the Arboretum, plonked amongst brown paper bags and abandoned trainers.

This issue is brought to you in association with Bees Make Honey’s Memories of the Future pop-up shop. Copies will be available in goodie bags (free to people swapping zines) at the shop, and deluxe collections containing all previous issues will be available for purchase at a steal of a price. More on those bad boys to come…

The Alarmist

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Some news: Issue 3 of The Alarmist is now out and about. As I write, it’s doing its rounds, soiling readers’ fingers and spreading literary STDs all over the shop. I’m happy to report that its many venereal delights include one of my short stories, “Pigeons”. Which proves that the editors either have a faulty admin system or are happy to publish any old guff.

But more seriously: it’s a pretty nifty literary magazine. I’m biased, of course, but I think I can cross my heart and say it fairly objectively. The terms “breath of fresh air” and “irreverent” get bandied about a lot these days, but The Alarmist is the real thing. It’s packed with stories, poems and illustrations which alternate between hilarious, horrific, smutty and surreal, and which often hit the sweet spots between. It’s eclectic, but held nicely together by Christopher Tavoularis‘ graphic design, and by what I can only call a very Alarmist tone. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet at the same time only publishes stuff which is seriously good. (Does that include my short story? Well, it’s a story about dead pigeons and dribbling grannies. Whats not to love?)

The Alarmist is only three issues old and has already earned itself international distribution, a listing as one of Foyles‘ favourites, and enthusiastic reviews from the likes of Dazed and Confused and Rough Trade. Not bad going. On top of that, its editors are genuinely open to publishing work by unestablished writers – as proven by my case. Which is nice. Basically, it’s well worth a gander for readers, writers, poets and perverts.

Right, I think I’ve pushed my nose as far up The Alarmist‘s bum as it can go. So I’ll stop there and leave you with some photos (courtesy of Jan Vrhovnik) from Issue 3’s launch night, which took place in a bunker in somewhere in London Town. I was there. In the shadows. Watching.

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