Our editor-at-large, Fergus Butler-Gallie, tries to buy a new friend.

Did you know you can buy goblins from the internet? I don’t mean toy goblins. I mean real goblins. Actual supernatural bringers of chaos. Obviously I decided I wanted to buy one as soon as I learnt of this fact. I needed the right excuse, though, as my instinct was that goblins are like a dinner at a fancy restaurant, a big television or a sex toy: there’s still a sense that buying one just for yourself is a little self-indulgent. If, however, you can dress up a goblin (or a fancy dinner or a big telly or a sex toy) as a considered gift for somebody else, then that’s a completely different matter.  Earlier this year my girlfriend’s birthday was coming up and, while I had taken various hints about gifts, I nursed a suspicion that wouldn’t go away. What she really wanted was a goblin.

Some context. I was obsessed with goblins. Before tweens were talking about ‘goblin mode’, I spent a period in the mid-1990s – when I was, in fairness, a child – stoically convinced that a patch of sparse and ugly woodland near my grandmother’s house was inhabited by actual, living and breathing goblins. Mostly I think I liked the formulation of the word. (There is something particularly pleasing, onomatopoeic even, about its pair of syllables.) Slowly though, as with so many other parts of childhood, I left goblins behind. 

However, a spell spent teaching in southern Africa a few years ago re-acquainted me with goblins. And specifically their online availability. The students and faculty I worked with were from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Eswatini and Mozambique. The business of teaching and socialising was conducted in every language going: isiZulu, isiXhosa, Shona, Afrikaans, English, Ndebele and numerous others. Cultural difference was the norm, but one thing united all staff and students: Zimbabwe had a goblin obsession.

Some viewed it relatively seriously, expressing a belief in the tokoloshe – the water sprites found across traditional beliefs in Bantu-speaking cultures. Others dismissed it as another sign of Zimbabwe’s continued reputation as the ‘sick man’ of the region. Why blame structural problems when you can blame goblins? A cursory look at headlines in Zimbabwe’s press confirmed that goblins were a routine scourge of the nation’s infrastructure:

‘GOBLINS FORCE SCHOOL TO CLOSE’

‘CLINIC SHUTS AFTER GOBLINS HAUNT NURSES’

‘GOBLIN CAUSES POLICE STATION EVACUATION’

Goblins are also, it seems, responsible for other, more personally sensitive disruptions to life:

‘GOBLIN CRISIS: THEY INVADE MARITAL BEDS’

‘SEX CRAZY GOBLINS ON THE PROWL’

‘GOKWE PANTY STEALING SAGA: MAN CLAIMS OWNERSHIP OF GOBLIN’

However, there is the occasional story revealing aspects of fraud around goblin sales, usage and quality control:

‘NDUGE GOBLIN SCANDAL: TOP COP FINGERED’

‘SHOCK AS PROPHETS USE VERY SHORT MAN AS A GOBLIN’

I had the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: buy a unique birthday present for my girlfriend, one that she would definitely want, despite her repeated requests for a necklace, and also I’d have fulfilled that childhood dream to own an actual goblin. I mean, technically she’d own it, but I was sure that she’d have no objections to me occasionally playing with the goblin, feeding the goblin, singing horrible raspy-voiced songs with the goblin while she was out.

What would I do with my – I mean her – goblin, I wondered. Go on little jaunts with it? Let it loose on the Tube? Contact other goblin owners via NextDoor and arrange goblin picnics or breeding or fights? My mind was absolutely filled with goblin-adjacent scenarios and the fun I would have with my – again, sorry – her goblin. It could be a Netflix series, in a similar vein to Clarkson’s Farm. I was utterly convinced by this point and so cleared an entire day for goblin procurement.

Perhaps appropriately for this task, I took to the metaverse. Zuckerberg and Clegg came up trumps and a quick Facebook search for goblin sellers yielded results. Now, I would normally suggest, from bitter experience, that most gifts – especially ones for your significant other – are not best bought on Facebook Marketplace. But then most gifts aren’t goblins. The vendor page of ‘business-minded and flamboyant’ Sekuru Kafura was my first port of call. Not my words, the words of the Zimbabwe Sunday Mail. He claims to make a very healthy living indeed out of his traditional healing job and, crucially, his Facebook page bears the bio:

‘I CAN HELP YOU WITH GOBLINS’

I sent him a WhatsApp and the reply was almost instantaneous: perfect customer service. I told him I was interested in buying a goblin. He informed me it was a living thing and that there were certain ‘rules’ attached.

I had read enough about goblins to query this – normally signing up to rules without some form of exploration is a bad idea even when buying something on Amazon Prime, let alone when purchasing a menacing sprite. Mostly these related to what sustenance the goblin would need: milk, wine and roasted maize. Well, that was easy enough, but did any of the rules apply to me? Yes, came the answer. There are three main rules to goblin ownership:

1. Don’t eat okra

2. Don’t eat catfish

3. Don’t sleep with a virgin

Content with these very specific T&Cs, I asked about delivery. It involved a bird being sent some distance – namely across two continents – to my house, specifically via those who ‘fear the bird’. I thought, momentarily, of how Royal Mail might deal with this particular dispatch.

The next step in goblin ownership was, even by the pretty broad perimeters of the conversation, a bit of an unexpected turn:

‘I want a photo of your hands’.

I obliged, although it was never exactly clarified what this was for.

Next, with some trepidation, I asked about the possibility of a goblin turning against its owner. I wasn’t exactly expecting a three-year warranty, but I felt it was probably a good idea to check. I didn’t want a thing I welcomed into my own home turning against me and using its proximity to my personal life for nefarious means. No, I was told, that would be the work of a blood goblin, and blood goblins are a completely different ball game.

Blood goblins are the ones that are responsible for much of the chaos described and are fed, unsurprisingly, on blood. Mr Kafura mysteriously implied that a number of global presidents were in possession of such goblins, but wouldn’t be drawn on who in particular might owe their current power to them. Besides, not wanting to have to oversee the energy crisis or inflation, I decided to stick with the vegetarian goblin variety.

Then came the big question: the price. I was told it was $2,500. I hoped this was Zimbabwean currency but alas no, it was US dollar and, despite the best efforts of the most recent US presidents – perhaps with goblin assistance – that is still a considerable amount. Even in my quest to own a goblin, this was a price tag too far and so I apologised for wasting his time. Mr Kafura was very reasonable about this: goblins, he said, weren’t for everyone. He is very happy to have his business advertised further afield, reiterating that his creatures were ‘clean goblins’ which is why he is, he tells me, so often invited on television and radio. 

In the end, I settled for the jewellery, and bought something very tasteful indeed, which my girlfriend loved (the logistics and price on the goblin being a step too far). It’s back to dreams of haunted woods for me, I’m afraid. Still, if anyone is looking for an office Secret Santa with a difference, then I’m sure Mr Kafura will oblige.