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Sunday 20 December 2009

A Christmas Cavil

The Return of Marley's Ghost

If it could be said that a chain rattled apologetically then this one did, a feeble jingle, one hardly worthy of the name. Scrooge opened one eye and glared balefully out from under his night covers.

“Hi there,” said his dead ex-partner, Jacob Marley, exuding a blatantly false cheer while once more clinking the chains that bound him in a manner which suggested that he was embarrassed by the whole affair. “How you hanging?”

Scrooge groaned, his now constantly happy mood as the most joyous ex-miser in England undermined by the untimely hour and the hangover from the Christmas Eve party down at the Codpiece and Kettle. “What?” he groaned, “Am I not now the most famously generous man in England, a kind benefactor to all the unfortunates that cross my path and the gentlest employer a man such as Bob Cratchit could ever know? Have I not fully learned the lesson that you and your ghostly accomplices taught me last Christmas but one?”

Marley clanked his chains softly once more and hopped from foot to foot anxiously, his ghostly complexion marred by what looked suspiciously like a blush. “Err, well, yes”, he said, hesitantly, “but you see, we’ve sort of .. umm ... well, we’ve changed our minds”.

“You’ve done what!” shouted Scrooge, involuntarily rising out of his bed like a giant crow, albeit one clad in a long nightdress and a floppy nightcap with matching pink bunny logos across the front of them. “What do you mean you’ve changed your mind?”

Marley stepped back hastily, holding his transparent hands out in front of him as if to ward off an evil spirit. “It’s not my idea”, he said, quickly. “Look you’ll be visited by three ghosts, the Ghost of Christmas Past ...”, he tailed off at the sight of his old partner’s incredulous face. “Oh, you know the drill. Got to go. Byeeeee.”

And go he did, vanishing through the floor, returning moments later to drag his chains after him. Scrooge stood in silence for a moment before shaking his head and climbing back into bed. “Can't a man have just one Christmas Eve in piece?” he muttered to himself, before falling into a deep sleep amid disturbed and confused dreams of the Codpiece’s landlady and Marley’s chains.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

It felt like mere moments before the Ghost of Christmas Past appeared, a clammy hand shaking Scrooge to wakefulness, its candle lit head casting a ghastly glow across the bedchamber. “OK, OK”, he grumbled. “What have you got to show me now?”

“Follow me”, said the Ghost, taking Scrooge by the hand and leading him through the bedroom wall. Outside the sun was shining on the glistening snow while high above cheerful chimney sweeps scampered merrily from rooftop to rooftop singing loudly as they went, only occasionally falling off. Everywhere children could be seen charging about happily on sleighs while flinging snowballs at each other with gay abandon.

“I started that craze last year”, chortled Scrooge happily, as Tiny Tim zoomed by pelting everyone in sight with snowballs fired from his automatic repeating catapult. “Now everyone’s got to have one”. Scrooge cavorted happily in the snow, kicking up a spray of white powder. The Ghost tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to the sight of Bob Cratchit staggering up the road under a weight of Christmas presents.

“Getting the hang of it, isn’t he?” smiled Scrooge, “Get the kids what they want, that’s what I say”.

Suddenly the Ghost grabbed Scrooge and pulled him into a toy shop where a vision of himself confronted the old businessman as he staggered out of the door loaded with a mass of toys. A long queue of parents stood in line, anxiously clutching their wallets and purses, waiting for their turn at the counter. It pushed Scrooge to the butcher’s next door where there too he was exiting loaded up with the largest turkey and hock of ham a man could carry. And once more there was a multitude of people waiting their opportunity.

“You see, Scrooge?” the Ghost said, as they moved from grocers to hardware store and from dress shop to milliners. In each Scrooge was to be found purchasing the latest and the best and the most expensive items and in each he was followed by a thronging crowd, all desiring what he had.

One man turned to the next and muttered: “My wife says that if that fearful miser is buying this stuff then I must as well.” His confident nodded, “and the children, they demand what Cratchit’s mob has – no worse”. Their faces fell as they examined their depleted wallets, “’tis a good job our credit is good”.

The Ghost turned to Scrooge, its candle lit face a mask of misery. “So it begins”, it hissed, and Scrooge found himself back in his bedchamber where he immediately fell asleep, the deep slumber of the man with an untroubled conscience.

The Ghost of Christmas Present

“Ho, ho, ho”, rumbled the Ghost of Christmas Present, rolling Scrooge out of bed by pulling hard at the bedcovers. Scrooge staggered to his feet, rubbing his head. He peered closely at the Ghost.

“Weren’t you wearing green last time?” he asked, suspiciously, "and the beard's new as well."

“Corporate sponsorship,” rumbled the Ghost, clad in a fetching red and white outfit, “it’s all the rage. C’mon, we’ve got stuff to do”.

So saying he grabbed Scrooge and pulled him up through the chimney where an edgy looking bunch of reindeers were precariously balancing on the rooftop while simultaneously trying to keep a large sleigh upright. Scrooge looked askance sideways at the Ghost.

“They’re new to this”, he waved airily, “We tried wolves at first” he whispered confidentially, “didn’t work very well. Kept on eating the children. And each other”.

“Wouldn’t something that can actually fly and perch on roofs have been a better choice?” asked Scrooge. The Ghost looked thoughtful.

“Never thought of that”, he admitted, “too late now, we’ve let the franchise for the next millennium. I’m sure they’ll soon get the hang of it. Giddy up!”

With a confident crack of the whip the sleigh rose uncertainly into the air and Scrooge soared over the rooftops of London, holding tight to the Ghost in terror as they sailed through sooty chimney stacks before eventually descending onto a house in one of the finest suburbs. The Ghost pulled Scrooge down the chimney where he stood, feeling dazed, on the hearth of the nicest house he’d ever been in. “Look”, said the Ghost. And there was Bob Cratchit and his wife and their three children including little Tiny Tim, the apple of Scrooge’s eye, leaning on his crutch.

“My word”, said, Scrooge, looking around the palatial dining room in awe, “I know I gave Bob a generous pay rise but I didn’t know he could afford this”.

The Ghost waved a mortgage statement under Scrooge’s nose. The old ex-miser rapidly calculated the interest owing and his eyes opened. “Cratchit can’t afford that!” he snapped.

The Ghost waved an arm around the room where every modern convenience and contrivance could be seen. The Cratchit parents were happily wrapping their children’s presents, a great mountain of gifts under a huge and wildly decorated tree. Scrooge gaped.

“You see?” said the Ghost, “you see where your largesse has led this family. What inflated expectations they now have and what debt they suffer under to achieve this. But”, he held up a finger, “there is more”.

Grabbing Scrooge by the hand the Ghost pulled him through the wall of the house and into the next and the next and the next and beyond. In each household there was the same story, huge and massive and conspicuous consumption and outside each was a large and gleaming new carriage. Finally the Ghost hauled Scrooge back, breathless, to a rooftop where the reindeers were perched uncomfortably.

“That’s impossible”, said Scrooge, “they can’t afford that sort of lifestyle”.

“But they do”, said the Ghost, “and they follow your example. For they think if the greatest miser in London spends his money like water then they must do the same. And if they do not they are called mean by their families and despised. This is all your doing, Scrooge.”

“Mine!” shouted Scrooge, ”what do you mean, mine! It was you with your bloody warnings of future misery, loneliness and death that started this.”

“Oh yeah”, said the Ghost, shiftily, “Well, we may have exaggerated just a little bit. We weren’t expecting you to take it quite so much to heart. I mean, it was in your own best interests”.

One of the reindeer fell off the roof, dangling over the edge by its reins, kicking its legs feebly. Scrooge raised an eyebrow.

“Perching and flying you say”, murmured the Ghost, stroking his beard. “Do you think vultures would work better?” he asked, hopefully.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come

With a sudden start Scrooge jerked back to wakefulness, staring into the empty eye sockets of the silent Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. “Hello, Mr. Cheerful”, said Scrooge gloomily, “somehow I don’t think you’ve come to spread great tidings of comfort and joy”.

The Ghost waved a scythe about with a bony hand in a way that somehow conveyed the idea that, no, he wasn’t in the light entertainment business but would be interested in media roles involving seven foot high skeletons with their own garden implements; cookery and home improvement shows being of especial interest. Scrooge eyed the scythe warily: “you could do some damage with that”, he observed. The Ghost nodded carefully, Scrooge got the idea that this was definitely not his day job.

Suddenly Scrooge found himself outside, standing next to the Ghost upon Olde London Bridge in the sleeting rain. Christmas decorations swung dolefully in the wind, a few candles flickered balefully in the windows of distant houses. "Bank Failure!" screamed the headline on the hoardings for the evening paper. A pair of lost looking spotty dogs wandered by followed by an even more lost looking beaver. It was a dreadful, Dickensian night.

The Ghost pointed a skeletal finger and Scrooge followed its line to the great poorhouse by the banks of the Thames. It was a piteous sight, as a heaving throng of desperate people clamoured for safe access to that most grim of buildings, standing tall and foreboding like a great mausoleum, a place where those who entered rarely left alive. As they stood gazing a man in a high hat came to the doors, shook his head at the wailing crowd, many of whom Scrooge recognised as the spendthrift consumers seen in the night’s previous excursions, and slammed shut the portal.

A great groan escaped from the crowd and many ran to the bridge and flung themselves into the abyss below, oft carrying their children with them. Scrooge saw Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim among the great multitude and his heart fell.

“There”, shouted little Tim, from his father’s arms, “there he is”.

On the bridge, shuffling along, was Scrooge himself, making his way home. Looking up he saw the crowd and the crowd saw him and with a great roar they descended upon him, picked him up above their heads and threw him, terrified, into the black swirling depths of the river. Scrooge sank below the dank surface, leaving only his battered cap washing upon the waters.

“Good riddance”, shouted Tiny Tim, and the crowd cheered him before setting upon each other in a frenzy of desperate consumption. At the last Scrooge saw Tim’s tiny crutch thrown into the air and then broken as the mass of wretched people destroyed each other, desirous of each others' belongings to the very last.

“Oh woe,” sobbed Scrooge, “this is all the result of my profligacy. But how was I to know people would follow my example with credit and not by the sweat of their own brows? Are people mad that they must spend so without the means, merely to keep up with the neighbours? What kind of world is this?”

The Ghost looked as thoughtful as an expressionless skeleton can do. Then he shrugged and hit Scrooge over the head with his scythe.

Christmas Day

Scrooge awoke, in a sweat, and rushed to the window where he threw open the blinds on a bright new Christmas morn. Bells tolled joyously, carollers wassailed in the street and grubby street urchins merrily picked the pockets of portly gentlemen lying unconcious in the gutters before engaging in a spot of spontaneous, yet strangely choreographed, musical theatre.

Dressing quickly Scrooge rushed across town to the Cratchits' new house and rang twice on the door. Bob himself opened the portal and looked at his employer in surprise. “Mr. Scrooge”, he said, “what are you doing here?”

Scrooge grinned, evilly. "Bah”, he said, “old Humbug’s back”.

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1 comment:

  1. The Cat in the Hat and the Grinch are two Doctor Seuss characters. Which one is the spendthrift and which one is the miser?

    Most say that the Cat is the spendthrift and that the Grinch is the miser. There's nothing in the books to indicate that this is so. It is just that we think of those who are careful with money as being nasty and small-minded and mean. And we think of those who spend freely as being full of heart and optimism and good cheer.

    And we are not entirely wrong. Misers really are a drag. Spendthrifts really are onto something -- Money does no good for us unless we spend it.

    We need to revisit our fundamental beliefs about money. Saving is not in itself a good and spending is not in itself a good. Each of these things can be good or bad depending on the circumstances.

    The goal should not be to save more but to obtain greater value from our money. That sometimes requires saving more and in other circumstances requires spending more.