OK, so we’re warming up for Christmas now, aren’t we? And I’ve been absolutely busted – run off my feet for weeks with no time to write. But I thought this seasonal tale might stand a re-run on the blog. It’s another of the commercial ‘Coffee Break Stories’, which I write for one of my clients. This story and others like it go into their regular newsletters alongside the more formal newsy items. People seem to enjoy a little levity and the stories put across the friendly face of this business, Customs Clearance Ltd. The caveat… these are not works of literary genius – they are meant for fun.
This one is about a mysterious visitor who came to their offices on Christmas Eve, needing a helping hand…
I’m glad I was the first one to the office that morning – the morning after the night before – know what I mean? I’m the boss (so they tell me), and hangover or no hangover, well, you just have to be at your desk on time, don’t you? The morning after the staff party. Even if it is Christmas Eve. If only to quietly note who else makes it in on time, and more to the point, who doesn’t….
Anyway, I pulled up outside at around 10 minutes before 9, and as I rounded the corner aiming for my usual parking space, I had to slam on the brakes. There, straddling no less than ten parking spaces, including my own, was the biggest, hugest, brightest, shiniest, fanciest looking sleigh, I’d ever seen. Well, to be honest, I haven’t actually ever seen a sleigh before in real life – just the odd one on the telly, usually round about this time of year. But it was a pretty spectacular sight. I parked in next-door’s spot, hoping they would understand, and climbed out of the car.
Anyhow, this sleigh – think of it a bit like a very large horse-and-carriage, but with runners instead of wheels. And…. well… reindeer instead of a horse. Actually, I counted them, and there were twelve in all, resplendent in fine polished tack, each one bearing reins weighed down with line after line of little golden bells. The noise was quite extraordinary – jingling bells, snorting reindeer, their breath freezing in the cold morning air, their hooves clattering against the concrete – and the gentle hum of rush-hour traffic in the background.
Anyhow, those reindeer – I noticed the one at the front seemed to have a very rosy nose – were just quietly resting, and I looked around for the driver (is that what you call somebody who steers a sleigh?). I didn’t see him at first as he was under the porch. But then he turned around and spotted me and with a big, booming “Ho!” he smiled broadly and waved in my direction.
My, he was a big fella, there’s no doubt about it. And he wasn’t exactly quietly dressed either. I imagine he makes a bit of an entrance wherever he goes. I know it was a bit nippy this morning, but even I could see he was just a little overdressed. A big red jacket, all flumped up around the collar and cuffs with the whitest fur, matching red trousers (all a bit showy in my opinion but my wife and her friends would probably call it ‘over-coordinated’), tucked into the glossiest pair of wellington boots I’d seen for a very long time. A wide, shiny black belt was doing its best to keep a line of bright gold buttons from popping right open. For goodness sake, he even had a matching hat – a great floppy thing with a bobble! He was a massive, beardy giant of a man, with rosy cheeks and a huge smile, but he bounded towards me like a puppy and embraced me in a huge warm hug.
He was too fast for me – I had to go with it. There really wasn’t time to stick out my arm for a professional handy-shaky moment. So there I was in the car park, being literally embraced, by this bubbly, laughing, larger-than-life chap in a red suit.
“Boy, am I glad to see you!” he boomed, when I finally managed to extract myself from his grip. “I’ve got myself into a bit of a pickle and I need some help.”
I unlocked the front door and showed him in. I offered him a mug of coffee, which he gladly accepted, then sat him down. He seemed to fill the room, and he chuckled and grinned as he explained his predicament.
It seems he had an important shipment in progress and the deliveries all had to be made that night. He had packages for just about everywhere in the world, all piled up on the back of that sleigh in the car park. They were for children mostly, and that’s why he didn’t want to let them down. But he’d been speaking with HM Revenue and Customs and they’d been insisting on him completing a mass of forms before he could move these packages around the world. He didn’t look like the form-filling kind to me, and indeed, it seems this task was proving to be something of a nightmare for him. He handed over a file bursting with crumpled sheets of paper. It was obvious he’d lost the plot a bit with the forms but the customs guys weren’t going to let him get away with it, even though he was apparently doing all the deliveries himself.
He asked me, could I help. Well of course! It’s what we do, here at Customs Clearance Ltd. No job to small – no job too big. Customs clearance for imports and customs clearance for exports too. I crossed my fingers though – because he kept on saying how really, very, vitally important it was that he could get all the paperwork processed today, so he could make his deliveries that night.
He was a really lovely guy – quite bubbling over with enthusiasm and good cheer. Even considering the urgent nature of his job, he wasn’t fretting – in fact he kept chuckling quietly to himself and muttering something under his breath. When I asked him to repeat himself, he simply said, “That plane you got from me when you were six must have made quite an impression!”… I didn’t understand what he was going on about, so I let it go.
Anyhow, with his warmth and joviality, he made me want to help him, and I quite forgot my hangover. And as the staff slowly drifted into the office (ok, I’m minded to be generous, do I really want to be making an issue about a few minutes lateness on a day like this?). In the end, everybody pitched in and we got all the forms on the system and processed. The big fella in the red outfit was thrilled to bits. He rustled up a tin of mince pies for the workers and dispensed rather too much mulled wine for my liking, but he made a lot of friends that day and put a smile on all our faces. And when he went on his way as it began to get dark, there was a definite twinkle in his eye.