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March 2012 Volume 14 , Issue 3 submit to us!
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Multi-tasking
by David M Smith -- Contributing Author [Email This Story]

It was mid morning. I had just finished the vacuum cleaning and was in the process of removing the Christmas biscuits from the oven when I heard the explosion -- a dull thud rather than a loud bang like the last time. The deep snow must have muffled the sound. I put the biscuits down and opened the kitchen door. Thick smoke was coming from the singed door of the technical workshop out of which staggered my dear husband and his chief technician. Both were black with soot from head to foot. Only their different sizes distinguished my portly Niclaus, normally resplendent in his red robes, from skinny Boffin in his normally off-white lab coat.

"But those were the instructions, boss" I heard the chief technician say. "It said to mix them together and shake!"

Before Niclaus could reply, I intervened, prodding him in the stomach.

"I told you last time, Nicky, no more."

Nicky nodded his head, dislodging soot in the process. It fell like dandruff, dusting the white ground underneath.

"I know, I know," he muttered through his long but no longer white beard, as much to himself as to me.

I ushered them off to the outside bathroom to clean up. Only then did I let them in the house, without their snowy boots, to have a shower. Explosions happened much too frequently! They had been trying to make plastic again. It amazes me how a fairly simple industrial process can defeat normally intelligent people. Elves are brilliant craftsmen in wood but hardly anyone wants to buy wooden toys anymore. Most children these days want the plastic models, cars and spaceships derived from Hollywood movies. These are really expensive for us to buy in from abroad, so dear Nicky had decided that it would be cheaper to make them ourselves. Great idea but this was the third explosion and last time we nearly lost the building.

I went back into the house to check if the bread dough had proved yet. Forty Elves is a lot of mouths to feed, never mind the reindeer! When Nicky eventually reappeared, relatively clean, I sent him off to the wood workshop to get him out of the way, but I made Boffin sit down in the kitchen with me and eat a fairy cake. He has a very sweet tooth.

"What is it about you and plastics, Boffin?" I asked exasperatedly.

"I dunno Mrs Christmas," he replied with his mouth full. "I just can't get the hang of it. It isn't natural somehow. Not for Elves. The trouble is buying the stuff from China's so expensive. Mr Christmas has tried negotiating a better price but it's no good."

I wiped my hands on a cloth, picked up the phone and demanded the number of our Far East suppliers. Boffin wrote it down for me somewhat reluctantly. It took me a while to get through as I confess that my Mandarin is a bit rusty. I told them in no uncertain terms that what with the recession and all, and the strength of the yuan, we were simply not prepared to pay the prices they were asking. When Yung See protested I warned him that if he didn't co-operate I'd be ringing Obama about forcing them to manage their exchange rates better. He tried to argue with me but my logic defeated him easily.

"Right," I said down the telephone, "from now on, you will deal with Mr Boffin, my Chief Buyer and you will give us a decent price. Understand!"

There was a brief pause before he answered. Then he grunted politely. Yung See was always polite but it was clear that he understood.

"That's your new job, Boffin," I told him, putting the phone down. "No more explosions but you'd better get a suit now you're in management."

"Yes, Ma'am," he said, "Can I have a green one?"

I nodded agreement.

I put the bread in the oven and began preparing the rest of my baking - spinach savoury pie for forty. The Elves like spinach. It's good for their complexion. I was hoping for some peace but it wasn't long before Niclaus returned, complaining as usual.

"Trouble in the workshop again?" I asked.

He shook his head.

"Good," I said, "I thought that new labour agreement I negotiated would hold."

"No, it's the reindeer," he replied, scratching his beard. "They're bullying Rudolph. Dasher and Prancer are alright but that Donner and Blitzen have really got above themselves. Just because they lead the sleigh they think they're more important than the others."

"What's wrong with Rudolph this time?" I asked. He's a bit of a hypochondriac.

"Just a cold, I think, but the others don't like it when he sniffles."

"I'll sort it out just as soon as I've finished the lunch. Do you think you could make a green salad to go with it?"

He hesitated but said he would try. I'll give him that, he does try. I smiled affectionately at him. It's just that he doesn't always succeed.

After lunch I sent Niclaus off to check the sleigh's runners. There is nothing wrong with them but he likes to think that he's mechanically minded. I also popped in to see how Boffin was getting on. He hadn't had time to get the suit yet but he sounded quite impressive on the phone.

"You've got quite a flair for negotiating," I told him.

"Do you know, I think I have," he replied smiling broadly. "It never occurred to me before to try."

Then I took some fodder to the stables. Prancer and Vixen were pleased to see me. I enjoyed their company and they were by far the nicest of the reindeer.

"What's wrong with Rudolph?" I asked.

"Poor soul's got a terrible cold," Prancer told me, between munching the fodder.

"Nose like a bicycle rear light!" Vixen added.

"And . . . .?" I asked.

They shrugged their shoulders but neither of them spoke.

"It's Donner and Blitzen isn't it?" I said.

They nodded.

I went to sort the lead pair out. They're an arrogant couple and don't like criticism so I decided not to shout at them. I just whispered ‘venison' in their ears. By the time I had finished talking to them neither could look me in the eye.

"Right!" I concluded. "This year Rudolph will lead the drive. His nose can help light the way. Cupid can partner him."

They both looked shocked but before they could protest, I told them: "You'll take the second row and since you're the brightest, it's your job to make sure that Rudolph and Mr Christmas don't get you lost again. We don't want a repeat of what happened the other year. Understand?"

They both nodded, contrite at last, and I left them to get on with my work.

I was busy making jam in the afternoon when there was a knock on the door. I took the pan off the boil and wiping my hands on a tea towel, I opened it. A small gnome in a pinstriped suit stood there, knee deep in snow, holding a clip board.

"Can you help you?" I enquired politely.

"Indeed," he told me in clipped tones. "I am here to inspect the workshop premises."

"And you are?"

"I, madam, am the Elphin Safety Inspector. We have had complaints."

"Complaints," I enquired, remembering to put on a smile. "What kind of complaints?"

"About the workshop, madam," he continued, giving nothing away.

I shrugged my shoulders and gave up on the jam. I'd have to finish it in the evening. That meant the ironing would have to wait but never mind.

I showed him around the workshop. The Elves didn't like being watched and he insisted on peering over their shoulders as they worked. Gnomes are not renowned for their great stature so he occasionally stood on a chair to see better which made the Elves nervous. Nicky pointed out to him that it was rather dangerous as he might fall off. It didn't endear him to the inspector who pulled himself to his full height - about three feet six inches -- and, prodding himself in the chest, informed Nicky that he "was in charge of safety, thank you!" I gave Nicky one of my looks and he crept quietly away. I have to admit that some of the Elves' traditional practices look dangerous to me, but despite the copious notes the inspector took, he seemed reasonably satisfied in the end.

"I'll have to write up my notes and send you a report," he told me. Just to be on the safe side, I offered him tea and cakes. It seemed to work.

By the time he left I had begun cooking the dinner. Jack Frost had given us a haunch of venison but it didn't seem tactful to use it so I plumped for pesto chicken with Savoy cabbage as a treat for the Elves. While it cooked I sorted the last batch of Nicky's Christmas letters. Thank goodness it was nearly over now for another year. Later that evening, after I had made the jam and while I was doing the ironing, Nicky was watching the repeats on satellite television. For obvious reasons we can't get cable.

"You'd think that after a hard day, there might at least be something decent to watch on television," he spluttered. I forbore to comment.

At last it was Christmas Eve and everything was ready. The sleigh was laden. I had supervised it myself. The reindeer were fed and watered. I had to remind Donner and Blitzen again about their behaviour to Rudolph but Rudolph himself was looking much better, overjoyed at leading the ride. Even Cupid looked a bit less lethargic than usual. Most of the time he's asleep. I made sure that Nicky had on his long underwear and made him promise not to drink every glass of brandy and eat every mince pie as he had done last year. It had been so embarrassing when he had fallen off the sleigh. Then I waved them off and put my feet up at last. Mrs Frost and the Tooth Fairy were due for coffee shortly but I had a few moments free to enjoy my knitting. The Tooth Fairy says she loves Christmas Eve because it is her only guaranteed night off. Apparently, no child has ever spent Christmas Eve working a tooth loose. There are too many chocolate bars and nuts to eat the next day.

Nicky usually complains about his workload at Christmas and it is true that he has a lot of chimneys to go down but then he can slow down the speed of time which must help. Mind you, by the middle of February he is bored and looking for something to do. I usually send him out then to polish the runners on the sleigh. Personally I like Christmas Day. Nicky is always tired by the time he gets home and usually pours himself a beer and goes to sleep in front of the fire. The Elves have the day off because there are no toys to build that day. So that means that just for once I can put my feet up, pour myself a gin and tonic and enjoy reading a workshop manual.

 
 
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Features -- March 2012 -- Beginning Month Issue