Will Self: PsychoGeography #115

The plot against Santa
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The Independent Online

It was no idle confrontation. The four of us - Jesus, the Yeti, the Beast of Bodmin and myself - coordinated our rendezvous by mobile phone, then took a flying sleigh from Stansted bound for the far north. "No bloody meals or movies on this low-cost service," Jesus grumbled. And when I put it to him that given his God-given powers he should be able to conjure up a quarter bottle of Shiraz and a tin pannikin of boeuf bourguignon, he became surlier still and sank down under the reindeer- hide coverlet.

The Beast and the Yeti were equally taciturn. Perhaps it was the nature of our errand, or more probably it was because neither of them could effectively vocalise. Over the lights of Reykjavik, in the dead of the subpolar night, the Yeti did try and show me some snaps he'd taken of Himalayan climbers looking at him incredulously, but I dismissed them as obvious fakes. The Beast of Bodmin yawned and curled up on my lap, cutting the circulation out of my cramped legs. Bloody big cats, they seem unerringly to sense when you can't stand them.

We landed on an ice floe which rose from the pack ice like an aircraft carrier adrift on a petrified sea. Slipping and slithering down to the level, we were met by a bored detachment of inuit, one of whom stamped our travel documents. Looking up, I was met by the breathtaking sight of the Northern Lights: huge swags and ruches of peculiarly shimmering green light, which fell from some pelmet high up in the empyrean. "You wanna girl? Boy? Seal fat? Canadian Club?" An inuit procurer wheedled me back down to sea level. "Come to my igloo, I show you a good time." And it impinged on me how in the modern world even the strangest journeys had become prosaic.

I found the wind cut through my synthetic fleece-lined nether garments like a cheese knife through an aged relative, but our inuit guide assured us that: "This isn't real winter. We haven't had a proper freeze hereabouts in over 10 years. Look at that bloody shower!" He gestured to an open patch of oily water, on the yellowing ice surrounding which were some sluggardly walruses and narwhals sporting garish Hawaiian shirts and wraparound sunglasses. "I tell you man," the inuit shook his head, "our wildlife is forced down south and there they pick up these dreadful styles. It's all over for furry hypoboreal chic."

On we plodded through the slush; the Yeti and the Beast were furry enough but poor Jesus only had sandals. "To tell you the truth," the guide continued, "I'm glad you lot have come, because he's up here operating completely beyond any control. He has this army of crazy elves and they do anything he says - they think he's some kinduva god or something. So, what're you gonna do to him? Are you gonna terminate him with extreme -"

"No," I cut in, "just get him into rehab." Stating our purpose made the four us feel more resolved. Which was as well, because as we drew closer to Santa's grotto the phantasmagoric landscape of ice grew still stranger.

Here and there were thickets of sharpened bamboo poles sunk into the ice. Atop them were the severed heads of dolls, toy robots and teddy bears, while scattered below was a sinister moraine of discarded chattels: sandwich toasters, hair dryers, electric razors, smashed bottles of aftershave, cashmere scarfs and celebrity chef cookbooks. The gale whistled eerily through the gibbets of materialism and plucked at the sleeves of pyjamas strewn on the ice. Even the Yeti shivered and hugged himself with his long, simian arms. The Beast of Bodmin plodded on, a lithe black shape glissading over the ice hummocks.

Suddenly we were surrounded by a gang of bearded manikins in virulent green suits. They hustled us on towards an eerily lit cave, hollowed out from the face of a giant berg. Finally we were ushered into his presence. He sat on an up-ended box from the Conran Shop, alternately swigging from a bottle of Crabbies Ginger Wine and puffing on a large Havana. His beard was matted with mince secretions and his bald head glistened in the toxic light thrown by an open fire of bubblewrap. Jesus, the Yeti and the Beast of Bodmin slunk away into the shadows, but I stood my ground and listened sympathetically to his deranged rant: "The horror," he muttered, "the horror of it all."

I never thought we stood a chance - and yet he did consent to come with us. I think it was the fact that I'd got other mythical beings to join me in the intervention which made all the difference. When he said,"I feel so unreal," they were able to identify. Waving goodbye to him as he walked through the barrier at Heathrow, a ticket for Phoenix Arizona held in his fat hand, I felt a momentary twinge of disquiet. With Santa in rehab, Christmas 2006 just wasn't going to be the same.

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