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A Christmas Carol. (Updated)

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Mr Ebenezer Scrooge turned off his computer, took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He reached for his coffee mug, but finding the contents cold and congealed, he carefully replaced it on his cluttered desk. It was close to midnight on Christmas Eve, but outside in the streets the crowds of frenzied shoppers still milled about, clutching shopping bags and snarling at each other.

He got up and stretched, then walked through to the next door office. His assistant, Bob Cratchitt was still at his desk. “Time to call it a day eh Bob?” said Scrooge, “What have you got planned for Christmas? At home in front of the fire, kids opening their presents, turkey roasting in the oven and all that?”

Cratchitt shook his head. “Nah,” he replied, “We were going to give the family thing a miss this year. Well, my boyfriend doesn’t exactly hit it off with Mrs Cratchitt’s new girlfriend, and anyway, Tiny Tim is off to a rave up north for a few days. At least I think he is….he took his shotgun with him anyway.”

Scrooge blinked in bewilderment. “So what are you doing tomorrow then?” He enquired, “It’s Christmas Day!”
Cratchitt looked puzzled, “Well I’ll be here won’t I?” he said, “We are supposed to be open right through the Festive Season.”
“But we’re a bloody accounting firm!” said Scrooge, “Surely we don’t need to be open through Christmas! These are busy times I admit, but who needs their accounts done that urgently?”

Cratchitt looked at his boss in surprise, “Whoa! Steady on Eb” he said, “Don’t forget that people have a RIGHT to professional services and you can’t let some outdated holiday get in the way of that! Marley, Marley and Marley down the street are open right through this week, we don’t want to lose business to them do we?

“I suppose not,” sighed Scrooge. “You know, my Great Great Grandfather used to have a lot of difficult issues to deal with at this time of year. He got it all sorted in the end though, apparently a group of ghosts turned up and gave him some sort of counselling. It seemed to work at the time…. I wonder if they still do that?”
Cratchitt looked dubious. “Sounds well iffy to me Guv,” he said, “I don’t think there’s much call for supernatural stuff these days. Have a look on the Net, see if there’s a website for them.”

Scrooge returned to his desk and opened the web browser. It took some time. A search for the word ‘Dickens’ returned some results that made him blink in amazement, but eventually he found what he was after. www. christmas past/present/future.com looked promising, so he followed the link to the site.

The screen filled with a large number of drop downs, mainly dealing with religious or secular preferences, age, and income bracket. Scrooge worked his way through them, carefully avoiding anything that looked likely to fill his inbox with spam messages for the next year, until he got what he was looking for. There was a pause, and then the Ghost of Christmas Present appeared on his screen. She was smartly dressed with short, well coiffured hair and a patronising manner. “Welcome!” she said briskly,”Just wait a minute while I divert my phone.” she pushed a couple of buttons on a slim cellphone then gave a brief and rather unconvincing smile. “Now then,” she said, “This manifestation service is brought to you with government funding from the Social Services Department and the Department of Womyn’s Affairs. Simultaneous translations are available in Maori, Urdu and Swahili at the bottom of your screen. Now how can I help you?”

Scrooge took a deep breath and began. “I want to know where Christmas went!” he cried, “When I was a kid it was what we waited for all year. School was out, Mum had done turkey and a cake, Dad had a week off work and Gran came over and made us Christmas pudding! We went carol singing, decorated the Christmas Tree and put our stockings by the mantelpiece with a glass of milk and some mince pies for Santa. When we got home from Church on Christmas day we opened our presents, had our lunch, maybe watched a Disney film on TV or listened while Dad read us a story. It was good! It worked! Where did it all go?”

Ms Xmas Present had assumed a patronising smirk by this time and the pixels on the screen seemed to shimmer with self righteous disgust. “That is just THE most sexist, self centred crap I’ve heard in ages!” she snapped, “This is just the kind of Eurocentric, elitist rubbish that we’ve been trying to stop! I don’t suppose you stopped for a moment to consider those people who were entitled to celebrate Kwaanza, Ramadan or Pagan rituals did you? The fact that many families of different, but equally valid sexual orientation have a right to the festivities of their choice never occurred to you did it? And what about the homeless? Did they get a look in? People like you make me sick!”
She paused for a sip of mineral water and Scrooge quickly pressed the talk button on his microphone. “Actually,” he said, “In our house we made a point of making a generous donation to the Salvation Army. My Brother and Sister and I used to give all our pocket money that week. Mum and Dad used to insist that we did! In fact I have a standing order at the Bank to give money to various charities every month!”

The ghost shuddered. “Oh that’s just WONDERFUL!” she sneered, “A private donation and your precious conscience was salved! Let’s get one thing straight. Charity is no longer a private matter. The provision of social services needed to alleviate poverty, caused, I should point out, entirely by capitalism and self interest, is the job of GOVERNMENT! You think you know better than we do how to deal with social issues? Just pay your taxes and leave the complicated stuff to us!

With a trembling hand, Scrooge hit the ‘escape’ button and the window closed. He pushed the chair away from the desk and went over to the filing cabinet. Filed away under ‘G’ for Glen Morangie was his private supply of Christmas cheer. Filling a large glass he went back to the desk and clicked the mouse on “Christmas Past”

The screen flickered and a white bearded old man in a shabby Santa suit appeared. “WHAT?!” said the apparition crossly. Scrooge began to repeat his question but the ghost cut him off.

“I know! You want to know what happened to Christmas right? You woke up one morning and found that peace on Earth and goodwill to all men was an “Outmoded Concept”, he said ,emphasising the quotation marks with an ironic waggling of his fingers. “Well join the bloody club pal! It’s a question I wouldn’t mind the answer to!”

He paused to take a large swig from a bottle in a brown paper bag, then passed it to a long haired young man with sad eyes sitting next to him. “I mean Christmas was just perfect right? Proof that man can create the ideal fusion of pagan joy and Christian compassion just for a day or two each year. It wasn’t such a big ask was it? Just a couple of quiet, civilised days each December just to pause, see the relatives, talk to your neighbours and so on……But no! That’s just too much effort these days isn’t it? I mean, it needs things like faith, and imagination and a sense of wonder to make it work, and people like you just sat on their arses and let all that slip away! Now it’s gone and you suddenly miss it. Well tough! I realised it years ago when I found I was reduced to sitting for hours in some ugly shopping mall taking endless requests for Play Stations from overfed, stupid modern kids! I snapped one day and dropped the kid I was holding down the wishing well. I walked off the job, sold the sleigh and signed on the dole! Nobody noticed, they just hired some old loser in a fake beard to do it and good luck to him!

So you miss the old days do you? Me too! Still, mustn’t grumble eh? At least you have 24 hour a day shopping over the “Festive Season”, you won’t make it to church on account of the hangover from the office party, but you’ll be working that day anyway, or fighting your way through the sales, so what’s the problem? A nice movie like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ on the TV? Don’t make me laugh! They’ll probably show ‘Die Hard 7’ or some other load of violent swill. Much more in keeping with the mood of the times eh? Then you can…Oh forget it! Bugger off and leave me alone!”

The window snapped shut abruptly and Scrooge sat back and blinked. He refilled his glass, and with trepidation opened the last window.
A blast of hideous rap style music issued from the speakers and Scrooge quickly reached for the volume control. A bizarre figure appeared on the screen, dressed in a baggy nylon shell suit and enormous square spectacles.
“YO! DUDE!” Screeched the Ghost of Christmas yet to come, “NEW CONCEPT OK? NOT CHRISTMAS BUT ‘CRASSMAS’! CHECK IT OUT! NOT ONCE A YEAR BUT ALL YEAR ROUND! SLAP DOWN THE CREDIT CARD MY FRIEND AND LET THE FUN BEGIN! EAT A DOZEN ‘CRASSMAS BURGERS’ THEN BUY A ‘STAIRMASTER’ AND WORK THEM OFF AGAIN! OR HOW ABOUT THIS? THE LATEST HARRY POTTER FILM ‘HARRY POTTER GOES TO THE MALL’! BUY IT ON DVD AND GUESS WHAT? IT’S THE WRONG FORMAT! YES! BLOODY BRILLIANT! THROW IT IN THE BIN AND BUY ANOTHER! YOU JUST GOTTA LOVE IT! TOO BUSY TO GET TO THE SHOPS?????? RELAAAAAAAAAX! WE’LL BRING THEM TO YOU! HOW ABOUT SHOES? YOU GOTTA LOVE SHOES RIGHT? WE GOT THOUSANDS OF EM! SOME OF THEM ARE THREE FEET TALL! SO THEY GET MADE IN THIRD WORLD SWEATSHOPS BY LOSERS, IS THAT YOUR PROBLEM???? ‘COURSE NOT! YOU SIGNED A PETITION DIDN’T YOU? SO YOU’RE IN THE CLEAR! AND THAT BRINGS US TO BOOZE! WE GOT ALL THE LATEST READY TO DRINK PRODUCTS! WOOD ALCOHOL AND BATTERY ACID! GENUINE ALGERIAN SCOTCH WHISKY WITH CRANBERRY JUICE! GUARANTEED TO LOWER YOUR STANDARDS! BUY SOME FOR THE KIDS!

Computer screens make quite a satisfying sound when you put a paperweight through them, thought Scrooge as he put on his coat. He bade goodnight to Cratchitt, still working away at his desk, and walked out into the teeming street. A florid faced young office worker with a balloon tied around his wrist was noisily regurgitating a kebab in the doorway. Scrooge gave him a dirty look as he passed. A voice followed him down the street, “Oh come on you miserable bastard! IT’S CHRISTMAS!”

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