I am going to tell you a tale of woe. Wait, that’s not right – I’m going to tell you a tale of WOAH!!! Such a tale that will turn your hair on end and make you appreciate your simple lives and families. First, we set the scene.
It is late December, and I observe that the snow from the previous week is no longer deep and crisp and even but looks very similar to tripe that has been run over by a turkey driving a steamroller. Instead of happy children with merry and bright hearts flying around on broomsticks, we are left with only seagulls. Having spent much of Advent fighting off evil snowmen (that’s another story, for next Christmas), I determine that more a festive environment should be sought.
I enlist a friend, T into the expedition and we set off for the train station. Unfortunately, we forgot that the university was closing for the season, and the students were departing for their villages and townships, bags full of gifts, cloaks and laundry for their appreciative kinfolk. We do not realise this until we are stranded on board with little chance of escape, but accept that in this time of Advent it is good to reflect on the Son of God and how he was willing to hang out with the normal folk. I condescend manfully but wish I had brought hand sanitiser.
The journey proceeds smoothly, albeit in a standing position, except for the indignity of being clambered over by ordinary people trying to reach the dining car. I note that it must be tasty if so many passengers are keen to elbow their fellow travellers so vigorously in their attempts to reach the food.
A very relieved pair of adventurers arrive at the Christmas Market, where it is cold but decidedly steamrollered-tripe-free. The crowds bustle around us, brimming with festive energy and glowing with cheer, or possibly mulled wine. Both, perhaps. Heads spinning, we behold the Big Wheel, carriages wobbling in a friendly humour as it turns, and down below we see well-cushioned day-trippers jostling for safe passage on the ice rink, teetering and colliding alternately in their pursuit of elegance. Harnessed youngsters bounce high above trampolines and seem to enjoy their endeavours, but we decide that we are best served leaving our stomachs on the inside, and at approximately the present height.
We wait, noses high in the air to catch the delicious smells, until our friend and associate Tallulah, a primary teacher, appears in the vicinity of the giant chicken snow globe. I assume it’s meant to be a giant chicken snow globe. It is certainly full of feathers. We find ourselves in the middle of a market full of treats from Germany, or adjacent parts of Europe pretending to be Germany for the tourists. Overcome by hunger, we hit the sausage stand and drown our sandwiches in sweet German mustard, savouring the tasty, tasty sausage lunch. Thus fortified, we have the strength to investigate the nearby doughnuts recommended by Tallulah.
In a sugar haze, the masses of shoppers, carollers and (paranoia speaking) pickpockets merge and, when we recover our faculties, we find ourselves in possession of bags full of traditional merchandise. Quite inexplicable. Confusion abounds, but the handcrafted items are of such quality and beauty that we do not mind much. The discovery of an outdoor heater leads us into the mulled wine and beer garden, where we enjoy steaming beverages in ceramic goblets, wrapped up against the chill. Caught up in the revelry of the beer garden’s atmosphere, Tallulah and I lead a chorus of the old German drinking song, “When Santa Got Stuck Up the Chimney”. Distracted by the smells wafting from a recently-opened smokehouse, we follow a large joint of smoked pork to the stall where a local artisan slices it with a thump and offers us some of the delicious meat on a roll.
Inside the gallery cafe nearby, we divest ourselves of our outerwear, sipping tea and luxurious melted chocolate while we warm our hands.
The lights of the fair are aglow as we emerge to meet our dear friend, J, who has just finished work.
Tallulah buys me an early Christmas present of hairy highland cow earmuffs, then our attention is drawn to the lights cycling above , spinning and spinning as, one by one, each carriage traces a giant wheel in the air.
‘The Wheel of Death!” I exclaim. “I have heard tales of it, but have never had the chance to see it with mine own eyes!”
‘Ah, ” says Tallulah. “I have seen in before, in my childhood. Indeed, verily, lo, this wheel you see yonder defeated me in my youth and I do believe we are destined to meet again!”
“Um,” says I. “I’m really not all that bothered.” T and J shrug. They are used to these outbursts.
“Look,” says Tallulah. “You brought it up.”
“‘Tis true,” I admit. “You have me there.”
Tallulah considers. “For once, allow me to guide you in this task. We shall conquer the Wheel of Death, or return enbalmed!”
“Yay!” we cry, beginning to feel the heady effects of those delicious beverages.
We approach the attendant and hand over our money, proceeding up the marked path towards the mounting zone. An attendant holds the door as we climb into the carriage.
“Not too bad so far,” I remark.
The Wheel of Death begins to spin.
“MUMMY!” we screech.
Faster and faster the carriage climbs, pausing at the top suspended only by hope and a large metal bar, before surrendering to gravity and plunging, leaving our hearts at the top as we begin to have second thoughts about the day’s indulgences. As we pass the attendant, we see that he has determined to make the Wheel of Death spin until we can barely remember their names, nationalities and pin numbers.
We spin and spin, faster and faster, whirling and whirling until suddenly all is still.
“Are we… dead?” I ask.
“I think they’re unloading,” says J. “If I use this bit can I make it spin?”
“NOOOO!” we cry.
“If you do, then I will throttle you,” I threaten. “Actually, worse – I’ll hug you.”
J thinks about it for a moment. “I’ll be good.”
Painfully slowly, the Wheel of Death crawls around. The winds whistles through the surrounding girders and all I can hear is my pounding heart. Finally we are poised at the top. The view is magnificent, but all we feel is the chill of the night air, tinged with abandoned dreams and missed opportunities, garnished with the stale, cold smell of vague disappointment. As we descend, these afflictions ease, and we feel instead the promise of relief, when the attendant will open the door and welcome us back into a safe world populated not by Evil Wizards with carriage-spinning intentions, but by good, kind people who wish to live secure lives surrounded by grandchildren and puppies.
The carriage halts. The door opens. Tallulah and J alight first, followed by T, who takes my walking stick and handbag as I try to find the most appropriate disembarkation procedure. Crawling around the central pillar, I pull myself into a position from which I might bend my better leg, thus rendering me somewhat more capable of sliding to the door. A shift here. A slither there.
Just as I am about to push myself out of the door, someone absent-mindedly pushes the lever in the control house to “DEATH SPEED”.
The ground disappears. I can see only the stricken face of T as she attempts to effect a rescue, but is cruelly stuck down by a blow from the following carriage. J can only laugh, laughter that would surely turn to tears of distress were she able to wrest full control of emotional faculties.
High above them, I am shrieking in fright, but after a few moments of paralysis I am able to roll away from the open door – and certain death on the streets far below – and slam the door behind me. As I breath a sigh of relief and continue to ascend, below me I hear the welcome voice of Tallulah.
At ground level, she attempts to reach the enthralled safety attendant by issuing a command: “STOP THE WHEEL!”
The power of a yelling teacher could have stopped the wheel by itself, had not the safety attendant shaken off the trance and reversed the action. I was rescued from the Wheel of Death and disaster was averted.
Bet you’re all breathing a sigh of relief. You thought I was a goner there for a minute, didn’t you?