Yes, Father Christmas does exist. An exclusive interview with the elusive festive figure, offering conclusive scientific and journalistic proof. Read and believe.

An article from 2007 in The Independent on Sunday, a publication which, unlike Santa, no longer exists.

The voice sounds shrill and furious. “How did you get this number?” he or she (it is impossible to tell) squeaks down the line. “Wait!” In the background are the sounds of wrapping, tapping and humming as if a thousand people of diminished stature are at work in some cavernous underground factory.

“Good morning.” This voice is deeper, smoother, calmer and distinctly transatlantic. “Senior Elf Barnabus, vice president, communications. How may I help you, sir?”

I want to speak to Santa, I say, not quite able to believe that this conversation is happening. “Of course you do,” says Barnabus, oozing professional goodwill. “Everyone does, at this time of year. Unfortunately…”

This is different, I say quickly – I’m a reporter. Barnabus grunts, unable to disguise his disgust in the way his job surely demands he should. No, wait, I say. My eldest son, a nine-year-old called Jacob, has just declared himself an unbeliever. He says he has worked it out and Santa does not exist. So I want to prove him wrong. I want to write a piece that parents can show their doubting offspring on Christmas Eve and say: “Look, there it is, in the paper.”

Barnabus laughs. “Do you really think they’ll believe it any more after that?” But after a moment’s pause he says: “OK. Maybe this is something we can help you with at this time, sir. May I place you on hold?”

The sound of cheerful industry is replaced by a plinky-plunky tune sung by squeaky voices, like Pinky and Perky playing with a Casio keyboard (so this is what happened to those unwanted Eighties presents). “You better watch out, you better not cry …”

The song sounds more threatening than ever, but it gives me a moment to reh`earse my questions. Chief among these, of course, is how does Santa do it? All those houses (and flats, hotels, hostels and shacks), all those chimneys (and the boarded-up ones, the locked doors and windows) and all those children, all in one night. It is impossible. But that is what they used to say about going to the Moon.

There have been many attempts to blow Santa out of the sky with science, but the most popular – it is still doing the rounds by email – came from the now-defunct American magazine Spy and was first published in January 1990. It grudgingly admitted that while no known species of reindeer could fly there were still “300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified”, so it was not quite ridiculous to imagine a kind of reindeer that only Santa knew about.

Spy had a bigger problem with the apparent impossibility of getting around the world. When its theory was first published there were two billion children in the world (that figure has since gone up by 10 per cent). With an unseasonal lack of charity, Spy ruled out Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and other families who would probably not be celebrating Christmas, religiously or otherwise. That left 378 million children, in an estimated 91.8 million homes.

“For each Christian household with good children,” said the article, by Richard Waller, “Santa has one thousandth of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house.”

The resulting calculation was that the sleigh must move at 650 miles per second, or 3,000 times the speed of sound. “A conventional reindeer can run – tops – 15 miles per hour.”

The next problem was the weight of all those presents, estimated at 321,300 tons. Pulling that kind of a load would require 214,200 reindeer, apparently. Moving at 650 miles a second they would generate heat – through air resistance – in the same way a space capsule does when it re-enters the atmosphere. “The entire reindeer fleet will be vapourised within 4.26 thousandths of a second,” said Spy.

The article has generated countless rebuttals, by far the most accomplished being by Roger Highfield, author of Can Reindeer Fly? The Science of Christmas. He says the effortlessness with which Santa appears to do it is propaganda designed to “divert attention away from the most spectacular research and development outfit this planet has ever seen”.

Dr Highfield includes all the children of the world – the pagan Father Christmas did, after all, exist long before the Christian St Nicholas – in his calculations and suggests there are actually 842 million stops to be made, over a distance of 221 million miles. “I like to think,” he says, “that somewhere under the North Pole there is a handful of scientists experimenting with the latest in high-temperature materials, genetic computing technologies and warped geometries of time and space, all united by a single purpose: to make millions of children happy each and every Christmas.”

Conventional wisdom says that Santa has 24 hours to deliver all his presents. Dr Highfield argues that he actually has 48 hours, if he travels against the rotation of the Earth. There should be a series of sonic booms heard in the night sky, but there is now real technology that neutralises sound with “antisound” – an advanced form of which Santa may be pumping out from speakers on the sleigh. The acceleration involved in the journey must produce about two billion times more G-force than a jet pilot feels, but a gravitational field around the sleigh would solve that one, says Dr Highfield.

As for all that friction, the astrophysicist Knut Jorgen Roed Odegaard from Norway (where they take their Arctic neighbour very seriously) has an answer: “Santa obviously has an ion-shield of charged particles, held together by a magnetic field, surrounding his entire sleigh.”

Obviously. The technology involved must make Nasa and the Pentagon sick with envy, so it is no surprise that Santa’s annual journey is always tracked by the North American Aerospace Defense Command. Norad says it uses a spy satellite in space to pick up the glow from Rudolph’s nose. It then follows the sleigh using radar along the northern border of North America before two Canadian fighter jets are sent up to act as an escort (and make sure he is not an imposter).

Norad and its predecessor, Conad, have been doing this for more than 50 years, since the birth of radar. The cover story is that a local paper in Colorado Springs ran an advertisement for Sears Roebuck that asked children to call Santa. Unfortunately the wrong number was printed by mistake – so eager youngsters actually got through to the private hotline of Colonel Harry Shoup, the man responsible for spotting incoming Soviet missiles. He took the first call on Christmas Eve 1955, but rather than hang up or let a child down, he ordered his staff to check the radars and found that, yes, there was a trace of Santa. Last year the Norad hotline took 563,000 calls; there were 7,000 emails and a billion hits on the website that tracks the sleigh’s progress live, at noradsanta.org.

A spokesman for Norad said: “The fact that Santa Claus is more than 15 centuries old and does not appear to age is our biggest clue that he does not work within time as we know it.” Instead he “somehow functions on a different space and time continuum”. So Christmas Eve – which seems impossibly brief to us – could actually feel to him like days, weeks or months. And, of course, Christmas is celebrated on different dates by Christian traditions, which gives him yet more time.

Others are watching, too. Early last Monday morning an unusual, fast-moving fiery image was picked up by Mascot, the all-sky monitor of the Paranal Observatory in Chile. It was as large and bright as a comet but not quite fast enough to be one. The astronomers passed it off as the unannounced launch of a rocket in Japan, but one report carried the headline: “It is too early to be Santa’s sleigh, isn’t it?” That does not allow for training runs, of course, to get in shape for Christmas Eve. He is carrying a lot of weight, after all.

There are other theories about how Santa does it. The most disturbing is that there is not just one Santa, but millions of them, the strange products of inbreeding over the centuries, waiting incognito in every town and village until the moment comes to deliver, simultaneously. This still allows for the possibility of an Emperor Santa, elected or chosen by birth, ruling the North Pole. Is this the man I am holding the line for?

“Merry Christmas,” says a voice as deep and rich and warming as figgy pudding soaked in flaming brandy, with brandy butter and double cream on the side. It’s him. Suddenly I’m speechless. Santa, kindly as he is, breaks the silence with a disconcerting question: “Have you been good?” Erm… yes. No. Maybe. “I know the answer, of course,” he says. “We’ll have to see about you.” What is that accent? Scandinavian, American, Turkish, Old English, Argentinian… a bit of everything. “I like to ask the question as an ice-breaker,” he says. “You can’t very well ask children, ‘So what do you do?’ Hello? Are you still there, young man?”

This is staggering. This is Santa. The Santa. If there really are lots of them, an ancient family, this is the Capo dei Santa. Father Christmas, whatever you call him in your family. I really have to pull myself together. How do you… well, Santa, tell me, how do you do it?

He laughs – a fruity, lived-in laugh – then he answers. Well he doesn’t, to be honest, not really – but somehow, inexplicably, after talking to the man himself and hearing that voice, it almost seems enough. This is what Santa says: “Just believe.”

That’s it? “That’s it,” says the voice of voices. “And merry Christmas, young man. Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas!”

Stories to break your heart, from an English country churchyard

We went for a walk this afternoon, after lunch in the Giant’s Rest pub, and happened to pass through a churchyard. There a tombstone caught my eye, and I paused in the misty rain to run my hand over the metal, trace the words and read the story. It broke my heart. It does again now, writing this.

Elizabeth lived in these parts, around the mysterious Long Man figure in the Sussex countryside, in the 1700s. She and her husband Thomas had 11 children: four sons and seven daughters. Then, over a period of five years, she lost six of them.

The first was Jane, in 1725. She was three years old. The next was Stephen in 1726, also three years old. That same year, Elizabeth also lost Frances, who lived for only three months.

Three years passed, then Thomas died, age one. Richard was next, in 1730, when he was nine months old. That same year, her teenage daughter Mary died, aged 16.

A year later, Elizabeth lost her husband and their father, Thomas.

I don’t know why any of this happened. I don’t know who they were. I feel the need to mark their existence though, having met them like this. Here’s to them. Jane and Stephen and Frances and Thomas and Richard and Mary, and their Dad Thomas. They were here, long ago. They lived. I also want to honour Elizabeth, who somehow found the strength to go on living for 26 more years.

This is the kind of place where time stretches. The tomb is overlooked by a mighty, twisted yew tree whose weary arms are held up by posts and chains. It is said to be at least 1600 years old, which means there is a chance it was alive when the Romans were in Britain, before the legions withdrew.

Time stretches and time spins.

And in another corner of the churchyard there is a memorial to a pair of sisters, Pattie and Catherine, who died 97 years apart. That feels astonishing to me.

Ninety seven years. Pattie in 1894, aged 15 months. Catherine in 1991, having witnessed the First and Second World Wars, the Nuclear Age, the Space Race and the dawning of the age we live in now. She was 93 years old.

Their surname is Ade, which in Sussex is a contraction of Adam, a name that links us all. Walking away, one of us says they must have been related. I go back and check the tombstone and find that yes, it’s true of Elizabeth and Thomas, who lived and loved and raised and lost their children more than a century before the sisters were born. They were called Ade too.

“Beneath the sheets of paper lies my truth …”

Seven songs found or re-found in the last seven days, just for fun and the sake of it. This latest weekly list is a little more mellow than the last, or melancholy if you prefer. I do. The lonesome note. A wonderful song about Samson; the aching and longing of a tune you may have heard on Wallander; Luke Sital-Singh’s brand new cover of a Travis banger; Michael Stipe and 1 Giant Leap listening to the silence; Cornershop in a new light; Buddy Rich’s 12-year-old daughter stepping up to the mic for the first time and Sheila Chandra’s chilling take on a very old song. Love is a killing thing, indeed. (That’s Hedy Lamarr in Samson and Delilah by the way. She was also a brilliant inventor who helped create the technology behind mobile phones. Fact.)

Would you like to stay here?

My first novel The Light Keeper is a story of love and hope, grief, faith and longing.

A young woman called Sarah stands on the brink, arms open wide as if to let the wind carry her away. She’s come to the cliffs to be alone, to face the truth about her life and to work out what to do, Her lover Jack is searching, desperate to find her before it is too late. But Sarah doesn’t want to be found. Not yet. Not by him. And someone else is seeking answers up here where the seabirds soar – a man known only as the Keeper, living in an old lighthouse right on the edge of a four-hundred-foot drop. He is all too aware that sometimes love takes you to the edge …

The book comes out on August 15 but you can pre-order a copy here at a special discount or sign up to the mailing list and get the first three chapters to read immediately, for free.

Now the lovely people at the Belle Tout lighthouse are letting me give away a night’s luxury bed and breakfast there for two people, again for free. It’s a stunning location on a cliff in the beautiful landscape near Beachy Head in East Sussex, close to the Seven Sisters. You will never have stayed anywhere like it. And this is the setting for much of the book, so you will have a sense of being right inside the story.

I’ll be reading from the book, telling the true tales behind it and singing some of the songs written to go with the book, in an exclusive event at lunchtime on Friday 13 September. This is in the Lantern Room of the lighthouse, with spectacular 360 degree views of the sea and the Downs. It’s exclusively for members of the mailing list and there are only a dozen places available, so you have to sign up for a chance to win a pair. We’ll choose them at random (by number rather than name) on publication day, and also select the person who will be offered the chance to stay with a plus one that same night, in a lovely room with a spectacular view. If you win and you can’t come, I’ll give you a signed copy of the book and arrange a private reading at a date to suit you.

So if you want the chance to come, put your name down here. You’ll get those first three chapters immediately. And if you want to pre-order a copy (for four quid off) go here.

Thanks for reading, and hope to see you at the lighthouse.

Love and strength,

Cole

www.thelightkeeper.org

Why You Should Never Turn Your Back On Ode To Joy

I was in Krakow on the night Poland joined the European Union. I used that memory in writing a scene from The Light Keeper, which I’m reading here as a response to those new members of The Brexit Party who stood in the chamber and turned their backs on young musicians playing the EU anthem, Ode To Joy.