I was digging in the garden when my spade struck something metal.
Hello, I thought, what’s this? I knew the allotments had been checked and cleared by the Bomb Squad years ago, once the War was over. I leant on my spade and looked down. Saw nothing. But there’d been a definite clunk, and it was a metallic clunk, not a rocky thunk. I’ve done enough digging in my 75 years to know the difference. Okay. I slowly scraped the earth away, gently dug down and after a while, there it was. Whatever it was. Actually, I knew what it was. I mean a trapdoor is a trapdoor, innit? Even if it is painted dark green with a pattern of … bells – bells?? …round the border and two twisty handles. How come the paint looks fresh? Buried under a good eight inches of muck. Not possible. But there it was.
Now what? I looked around. Dusk was falling, the allotments were deserted. I wanted to know what lay under the trapdoor. I grabbed the handles and tugged. Bet you would’ve done the same. The trapdoor flew open. Just like that! Amazingly easy. And would you believe, there was a metal slide, like you get at WaterWorld for the kiddies, but it was wide, not kiddy-sized. So, obviously, I stepped down and whoosh! Away I went. Down, down, down through the darkness, round a bend and thump! I landed on my bottom inside a wide, sandy tunnel.
Further down the tunnel I could see a bright yellow light, and hear the sound of, well, it sounded like a – a – workshop, I suppose, hammering and banging and clanging. You know, like people working, making stuff. I dusted off my trousers and crept down the tunnel. Luckily the rocky wall bulged out, so I could hide in the tunnel and peep round the rock to see what was what.
It was a workshop all right. Hammering, and sawing, painting and sanding, cutting and grinding, a real proper workshop, but – and I rubbed my eyes and squinted hard: why were the workers all so short, and wearing red caps with bells on? And green jackets with brass buttons, and green and white striped tights, and their shoes! No workboots here – Health & Safety would’ve had a field day: no yellow hard hats, no boots – pointy red soft shoes, ending with curled up toes, and bells on the curly tips. Bells on your shoes – well, I never!
And then I noticed the slanty eyes, and .. omigod … the pointy ears … Mr Spock had nothing on this lot! I clutched the rocky outcrop, and took a deep breath. Where was I?
I inched cautiously round the rock, just a little closer, so I could see what the … the .. umm … elves, I suppose , were making. Toys, that’s what they were busy with. You name it, they were making ’em. Toy trains, dolls, and doll-houses, rocking horses, teddy bears, and I don’t know what all. Even some of those modern X-box thingies. And then I spied them: they were making Dinky cars! I collect Dinkies. I’ve loved them ever since I was a kid. Just love ‘em. But they’re hard to find these days, they went out of production years ago. But not down here, apparently. I looked around, and worked out that if I sneaked under the workbenches I could get right up close to the dinkies. I was dying to get a good look, and see if they were real Dinkies. So I did. Holding my breath, quiet as a mouse, a bit of scientific crawling, and there I was. Crouched under the workbench opposite the Dinky makers. Luckily I’m a skinny little man, take after my Dad, who was a Jockey.
Anyway, I spied a blue Morris Minor Traveller that I’d been after for years. The car came out in 1953. I think it was the English answer to those huge American station wagons, only being British, ours was more modest – utilitarian, even. My Dad had a green one, and I thought it was the smartest car, ever. Nobody else in our street had one. Only us. I’ve always admired the shiny yellow wood trim along the sides. It complimented the classic bull-nose of the front view. And there it was, a beautiful, shiny new Dinky. Could I? Should I? Oh – what the hell : why not? There’ll never be another chance like this , that’s for sure.
I took a deep breath, popped my head and shoulders out from under the workbench, closed my fist over the Dinky, and was preparing to whip back my arm and slither away as fast as I could, when: “What’s this then?” bellowed a deep, bass voice. An angry deep bass voice.
I craned my neck and saw a huge pair of black shiny boots next to the bench, and two red-clad legs, big as oak tree trunks, but my view upwards was blocked by a vast red bulge. A massive hand, decorated with a white fur cuff on a stout red sleeve grabbed my arm, shoulder and then the rest of me. I was hauled out and held up, eye to eye, facing very irate bright blue eyes under bushy white eyebrows. The round red apple cheeks glowed red with rage. Dimly I notice the silence. The hammering and banging stopped.
“Well? “ roared Santa. “Explain yourself! You miserable little shrimp!” he shook me hard, but I hung onto my precious new Dinky like grim death. I wasn’t letting it go, not for anything.
Santa’s popping blue eyes narrowed a fraction, “Oh, I see”, he growled. “This is all about that Christmas when you were nine, isn’t it? No presents, no money for the gas meter, no Christmas Dinner. I’m right, aren’t I? Of course I am, I’m always right!” He plonked me back on my feet and glared down at me from his gigantic height.
“Errm”, I began, had to clear my throat, my voice wasn’t working. All that shaking must’ve rattled my voice box loose, I reckon.
“Save your breath, you miserable little man. I’m too busy to worry about you and one little green Dinky. Look at our production line – down to a standstill. Back to work you nosey lot!” he bellowed. An immediate salvo of hammering and drilling broke out. Somewhere in the background I heard what sounded like neighing – what? horses, down here? Surely not? Then it dawned on me: oh, the reindeer, of course. Fleetingly I wondered what they ate, so far underground, but maybe they were taken up-world to graze. My dazed thoughts were jolted rudely when Santa scooped me up in a meaty paw, swung back his arm and hurled me upwards … into the blackness.
When I came to, I was lying flat on my back, next to the hole I’d dug, and Debbie’s shrill voice was berating me:
“Grandpa! Just look at you! Flat out in the muck – in the dark, on your own – bet you’ve been at your dandelion wine again, Granny’s going to give you what for, I can tell you. Good thing she sent me to fetch you home for supper. What’re we going to do with you? And what’s the big hole about, then? I thought you were planting leeks? Looks like you were digging down to Australia more like it! C’mon, upsadaisy, on your feet. Put your arm around my neck, let’s get you home. What’s that in your hand? Lemme see – wherever did you find that? It looks brand new – going to add it to your Dinky collection, I expect. Funny place to find a new Dinky, I must say.”