“Heavy air traffic?” I asked, looking at my watch.
“Hmmph,” he dismissed.
His cheeks began to match the colour of his red jacket and so I quickly clicked my fingers at the waiter and asked for a double Black Bush whiskey, with plenty of ice.
When it arrived I said, “get that in you Santa, that’ll make you feel better.”
It barely touched the sides.
“Have another … you’re not driving are you?”
His crinkly blue eyes narrowed dangerously and I calculated by the time he levered his backside off the chair he was in I could be long gone, camera bag and all, so I sat my ground.
Staring back at those eyes behind the thin wire-framed glasses I thought the white-whiskered guy was getting a bit old and well past doing the sort of hours he was racking up.
“You look tired,” I ventured, offering what I hoped would be a bit of a reboot for an interview that was heading very fast into the Never Ever Again file.
“It’s been a long week and a hard year,” he said. The second glass arrived, chocker with ice, and was downed again in a moment.
“Make that two more,” I said. My expense account had been relatively untouched and what better way to spend it than by cheering up an old man.
Particularly at Christmas and, particularly, this guy.
Throughout my childhood Santa made me feel such expectation, excitement and joy on Christmas Eve he could have been the grumpiest git in the world and I wouldn’t have cared.
“How can I help?” I asked.
“To start with, you can give me your new address. How can you have stuff delivered without an address? Do you know how many Richard Moores there are in the world?”
“I reckon about 38 billion …”
“There are too blasted many. Why don’t you use your middle initials?”
“Well, that’s a bit American for my tastes,” I responded. “But if it will make you happier, I’ll plonk them in.”
“And why did you move to the Cook Islands without leaving a forwarding address? Tax issues? Lawyers’ letters?”
“No, I had lived in New Zealand for 12 years and, well, you get less for murder,” I quipped. I had enough of the Land of the Long White Shroud.
“Lucky for you I’m not a Kiwi,” he answered.
“Lucky for the world too,” I would have thought.
“I mean every house you visited you’d leave bottles of Steinlager, - a beer that tastes like it has already been drunk once – an autographed photo of the All Blacks, a black shirt with a silver fern and a digital photo frame of the entire household doing a blinking haka.” “You may have something there,” he said, “but I am a man of no nation. I am of all countries. I am … a living United Nations.”
Roll back the sleigh a bit there Santa, you live in the North Pole. How international is that?
“Well it’s a lot more so since they discovered mineral deposits and oil in the Arctic Circle,” he countered quickly. “Everyone is up there now trying to claim a piece of the action.”
“You have a point,” I conceded. “Anyone doing a China? You know, pouring massive amounts of concrete into the sea around the icecap, painting it white and then claiming it’s theirs?”
“No,” he boomed, “It’s mine. My home is shrinking courtesy of climate change and, no matter what Donald Trump says, it is real. The other day half my front yard dropped into the sea.”
“So we need to make our environmental footprint smaller,” I posed?
“We do,” he said calming down, almost being pleasant - for the first time since he had entered the room.
“So to save your home we need to reduce carbon emissions?”
So we should travel less?
Then those blue eyes opened wide as he realised my meaning and he dropped a very naughty un-Santa-like word.
Well I had to ask, I said. I mean what sort of a carbon footprint do you leave delivering presents to all of the good children in the world?
Then Santa Claus laughed and sat forward. His eyes fair sparkled and he whispered to me. “I don’t leave a footprint as my sleigh is magical.”
One does not dare scoff at Santa, but I was tempted and said facetiously: “So you don’t get airpoints then?”
He smiled and pulled out a little booklet of air-mile rewards he had in his pocket. “I have the second highest number that anyone has ever collected!”
You are joking? Crikey you must do several million miles on Christmas Eve. Who on Earth … or above Earth … could possibly do more?
He looked at me still smiling. He kept staring until the penny dropped. “No,” I said. That can’t be right … can it?”
His ruddy cheeks wobbled as he nodded faster and burst into laughter. “Yes, lad, none other than Henry Puna.”
I could have fallen off my chair. It may have been the laughter, or a couple more whiskies, but I think Santa was warming to me. There had been something puzzling me for decades about his December 24 night flights and that was how could he possibly travel such distances and deliver so many presents in 31 hours. (That figure is to cover the different time zones that band the globe, dear readers.) “You would have to travel at about 10 million kilometres an hour to do so,” I said to him. Santa sat back, smiled and said with a wink: “Einstein’s Theory of Relativity - it makes my seemingly impossible journey … possible.”
He explained: “According to Einstein the faster one travels the smaller one gets. That means I shrink. So does my sleigh, my sack of presents and … even … my tummy. Hard to believe though that may be.”
I nodded my head to let him know I believed his stomach could reduce in size … hey, readers, I want my Chrissie pressies!
Anyway, this special Theory of Relativity meant he could zip around the place at unimaginable speeds, hop down the tightest chimney and even squeeze into the narrowest window cracks to deliver his presents.
“Blinking brilliant,” I said. “So Jenny Craig is doomed and KFC can become the world’s prime food? All flights into Rarotonga will need to use bigger aircraft to bring that particular fast food to the island?”
“Ah, no, not really,” Santa replied. “You need to be moving very fast to achieve the size loss.”
Initially I was unsure of what he meant but then had a lightbulb moment. He was right, there wasn’t much chance of anyone moving too fast on Rarotonga, I agreed.
“Now tell me, Santa, I’ve heard you had a few problems with your little helpers this year.”
“Yes, we did have some industrial action as some of the staff got a little too big for their booties and demanded more recognition for what they did.”
“You mean they were full of elf-importance?”
That brought a withering look. I know, it was bad, but you can’t mention Santa’s little helpers without cracking appalling puns about elves … can you?
The Big Man sighed: “On one occasion it was just me and Mrs Claus wrapping up thousands of presents.”
“So it was like petrol stations on Rarotonga then?”
He looked up quizzically.
“No elf-service,” I said.
Santa groaned. “Come on then, get them all over and done with …”
“Is it true you banned mobile phones from the workshop because you were sick of them always taking elfies?
“And you wanted to bring back some elf-control?
“And to cheer everybody up you brought in Elf-is to sing some songs?
“And a psychologist to raise their low elf-esteem?
“That’s enough!” Santa shouted. “Any more and you are officially off the Christmas card list.”
Okay, all right then.
“One last question Santa, are your elves good spellers?”
Just wanting to know if they knew the elfabet?
By crikey he moved fast for such a tubby chappie, but I was quicker and flew out the door faster than Rudolph on steroids.
Well, that’s me stuffed for a Christmas visit this year.
Mind you, I’ll still leave the old guy a nice tumbler of whiskey and a box of home-made peppermint bark ... just in case.