The simulation before Christmas

21 Dec 2021, 5:33 p.m.

The CSC Team and manikins, taken at Christmas 2020

It was a cold, cold night in the north pole. Not just any old night, but the night of 23 December in fact. In a small village somewhere north of the Arctic Circle, accessible only by reindeer who know where to look for the ancient routes through the taiga, a lot was going on, and what went on in that village mattered around the world.

Around the world, or some of it, children were looking excitedly in the corners of their homes, under their pillows, suspiciously at parents who talked in that smirk-voice of grown-ups who thought they knew something their children didn’t. But there were no presents in any of those homes, not yet.

The presents were in the process of being checked, and tagged, yes, you guessed it, in that village somewhere north of the Arctic Circle. Santa was not helping this process. He wandered through the factory, haphazardly pulling presents off conveyor belts and peering at them, then tapping his head.

"Ah yes, little Priya, Hackney I think, or maybe Dalston".

"Attah, really? I thought he was a little naughty. Hmm. But those Ojojo fritters his grandma left out last year, they were something. Didn’t know I liked yam."

"Emily, yes, that Emu caught me by surprise last year, got to watch out for that little blighter."

Behind him came the Elf & Safety team, carefully putting the presents back in the right place. The head elf gently tapped Santa on the shoulder.

"Time for the sim Santa."

Festive simulation

Santa sighed. This was a new thing, brought in after a few incidents last year. It was true, 6-year-old Priya had ended up with the Take That reunion tickets that Jose’s mothers had asked for, and yes, there was the small matter of the crash landing in the Gobi when he’d forgotten to bring enough carrots for the reindeer. Lucky those camels were around to give us a tow, he thought, chuckling to himself.

This year, it had been decided that they would simulate the run first. The head elf was going through the plan. ‘Remember, this is not an exam’ she began.

Really? Thought Santa. It felt like it. But the head elf was just getting into her element. She talked about the importance of suspending disbelief, (which Santa thought was ironic, given that they were in a magical factory that could make any present in the world, in an invisible village surrounded by talking reindeer), about communication and teamwork, about verbalising the mental model. It was bewildering, but she’d come back talking like this after she’d attended that course at the hospital in London, the one that Peter Pan built.

Despite himself, Santa was a little nervous. He knew everyone was looking up to him, and he really didn’t want to let them down. (Ah, nodded the head elf wisely when he mentioned this later, as if she’d heard it before). They started, and the nerves gave way to something else. Maybe it was the adrenaline, although Santa wasn’t sure that he could make any of that. Maybe familiarity born of hundreds of years of midnight trips across the world, flying through stars, peering down at windy forest roads and roaring highways, snow-clad villages and towering metropolises, twinkly streams and roaring rivers. He knew he could do this. The sleigh was piled high with presents, the reindeer rose at his command. In the enthusiasm, a few presents fell off, but it was only a sim after all.

The advantage of having a magical invisible village to practice in was that it really could be whatever you wanted it to be. Santa had to admit that he was impressed at the facilities the elves has rigged up. Swooping over the winter forest he saw the entire world dotted into the clearings in the trees. There was the Taj Mahal, glistening magnificently through the gently falling snow, like some billionaire’s snow shaker (no presents for them, he thought, they’ve done quite nicely enough this year). Tower Bridge looked like a fairy-tale (he was never sure why people said that like it was a nice thing. Bad things happened in those stories, and of course, they weren’t really stories, but the history of lost times), striding over a magical Thames with the evening lights of London twinkling around it. There was Emily’s home in Australia, and yes, if he looked carefully he was sure he could see that emu, skulking round the bush. Hmm, I’ve got your number mate, he thought.

"Prancer, to London! Dasher check the winds to Lagos! Rudolf, leave that carrot alone and concentrate! Prancer, let’s go to Emily’s first. Dasher, are the winds to Berlin better? Prancer, I thought I said Lagos, I want yam fritters, why are we over the Sydney Opera House?! And where’s Attah’s present, I can’t find it!"

"I think it may have fallen off Santa," said Rudolf, chewing balefully on the end of his carrot, the cold flushing his nose even redder than usual. "I did say we should bring spares."

So back they went to get Attah’s present, swerving, because Santa was dreaming of yam fritters and not paying attention, to avoid a rather upset polar bear that was fishing on an ice float. As they landed, the head elf pressed a little button that she was secretly pleased she’d acquired, and a booming voice rang out over the magical village.

"THE SIMULATION IS NOW OVER!"

Debrief for Santa

Ten minutes later they were all sat in a little room, around a table heaving with festive treats, but alas, no Ojojo. Twelve reindeer squeezed 48 limbs onto uncomfortable chairs, and many antlers were clattered. Santa sat nervously, telling himself it wasn’t an exam. Some elves crowded in, and Santa didn’t like the way they were giggling. The head elf walked into the room.

"So, Santa, how did that go?"

Santa furrowed his considerable brows. He didn’t like that. It felt like a trick question. She’s asking how it went like she knows exactly how it went, he thought.

"Ho ho, well, fine, good," he began nervously. "Got round a few children didn’t we. No fritters though, but mustn’t grumble." He glanced up at the head elf. She smiled encouragingly.

"Go on."

Santa looked round pleadingly. "Erm, well, and there were no fritters, and we forgot Attah’s present."

"Ah yes, the present," she said. "We’ll come back to that." She swivelled to face the reindeer, who froze. Prancer tried desperately to remember what Santa had said. Something about fritters. Dancer decided that if she asked him he’d talk about that bear who’d almost ended up with a sleigh on his head. Not a lot of situational awareness there from Santa but the bear was being a bit dozy. Rudolph chewed his carrot and sighed.

Santa watched them talk. He had to admit she got some good points out of them. All he usually got was a lot of snorting. And yes, he was a bit overenthusiastic at one point, wanting to go to London, Lagos and Sydney all at the same time. That was the trouble with being an eternal magical being – you forgot sometimes that you couldn’t do everything. Yes, he agreed, that would be something to work on. And maybe some back-up presents, that would be good.

The head elf smiled: "Let’s leave it there for now. You’ve got a big day tomorrow. Oh, and we’ve got you something Santa, all the way from Lagos." And she put a big bowl of Ojojo in front of a beaming Santa Claus.

Wishing you all a wonderful festive season, with best wishes for 2022 from all at the Clinical Simulation Centre!

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