Hold your breath, pinch your nose and dive head first into the absurd world of Thomas Howarth’s Uni Confessions.
An elf welcomed me into the lobby. He took my coat, and shook from it the snow that had amassed like moss over bread.
‘Here on business?’ he asked, in a squeaky, childlike voice.
‘Yes. Well, no. Well, sort of. I’m here to interview Father Christmas for my student newspaper.’
The elf nodded, and saw me through to a warm office, draped like a cavern of vines in tinsel. I was seated on one side of a huge desk. Across from me, behind a towering leather chair, there was a window. It filled the entire wall, and gave view to a vast workshop. Hundreds of elves were milling to and fro in an electric buzz of activity.
‘I’ve not seen anything like this since interviewing Lord Alan Sugar two years ago,’ I said to the elf. He smiled politely and left the room. Through the door came striding Father Christmas himself, a rotund red bauble of a man. Our interview began.
‘So, Mr. Christmas, let’s start with the obvious. How do you fit it all in?’
He glanced down at his bulbous midsection.
‘No, I mean the Christmassing, the Christmas stuff. Getting all the presents to everyone around the world.’
‘Oh, that,’ he said. ‘Isn’t that obvious? I’m a time traveller – and a near-as-damn-it immortal one, at that.’
I stared, baffled, like a dog in a cinema.
‘That’s why I’m so old,’ he said. ‘I have to live every Christmas Eve seven billion times. It gets even more taxing as the population rises, of course.’
He swung back and cast his arm in a wide arc, illuminating to me the workshop. Elves filled every square metre of the room, crafting toys, fixing machinery, and making coffees.
‘The elves are my childhood selves. I remember that. It really hurt, actually.’ He gestured towards an elf stubbing his toe on the base of a rocking horse. ‘And I remember this.’ He nodded towards a doorway. An elf entered, tripped on the doorstep, and the presents he’d been carrying were dispersed through the air like pollen. ‘Took ages to tidy all that up. And that was a pain.’ He pointed as an elf pierced his hand with a screwdriver.
‘Have you never had respite?’ I was aghast at the shackles of this repetitive, wintery life. He paused for a moment, pondering.
‘Yes, I… I did have a short while to live for myself, now that you mention it. I was granted one wish, a million years into my career at the North Pole. A long time ago, now. I wished for an adolescence free of this labour.’ He sighed wistfully. The dim thudding of machinery rattled the window.
‘Did you enjoy it?’ I asked.
‘I don’t know. I don’t remember. You see, part of my wish was that my memory would be wiped afterwards. If I had to go on working with the memories of that youth playing over and over again in my head for billions of years, I’d go insane. So I chose to have them wiped. That I had freedom at all is enough.’
‘You don’t remember anything?’
‘Well, very little of substance. All I know is that I was dropped into life as a sprightly journalism student, 2010 to 2014. Four years of freedom from this.’ He gestured again to the bustle.
‘And you remember nothing at all of the time?’
‘Nope. But there are physical artifacts. My coursework persists, in a drawer somewhere here. I was allowed to keep it, but I’ve never looked.’
‘Can I see?’
He dropped a thick file onto the desk, and excused himself to the toilet. I peeled back the dusty front cover and flicked through at random.
‘Wait a minute…’
I’d settled on a page. ‘Interview with Father Christmas, 2013.’ I sifted back. ‘Interview with Lord Alan Sugar, 2011.’
‘No way, it can’t be…’
I moved back to the Father Christmas interview, and read the first line: ‘It’s not all bad – skip ahead a few pages.’
Footsteps outside announced the return of my interviewee. I scanned ahead through the coursework, panicking. ‘In-flight interview with Werner Herzog, all the Victoria’s Secret models, and the crew of the International Space Station, 2014.’ I scanned further. ‘Testing the new hoverboard, 2015.’ Then to the very end. ‘Final result – First class honours and a knighthood, for services to student journalism.’ Oh. Well. Not all bad, I suppose.
I gave the coursework back to Father Christmas as he resettled himself in the leather chair.
‘Now, where were we?’ he asked.
‘Oh, no, don’t worry. I’m done now, I’ve got everything I need.’
‘It’s just as well,’ he said, standing up again. ‘I’ve got to get back to work. Christmas 2013 is a busy one.’
The elf from the lobby saw me back to the airport. I bade him farewell – ‘make sure to always brush your teeth twice a day’, I advised – and returned home.
So I’ve settled down in front of the fire, kicked off my slippers, and I’m typing up my interview. Right then, that first line. Oh yes, of couse. ‘It’s not all bad – skip ahead a few pages.’