IN ‘A Christmas Carol’, or as I like to call it ‘Christmas – A User Guide’, Scrooge grumbles at poor little Bob Cratchit that celebrating the birth of the baby Jesus is a pretty poor excuse for wanting the day off and expecting to get paid at the same time.
In 2015, Ebenezer Scrooge and Iain Duncan Smith would be the closest of buddies.
Of course, Scrooge relents and gives his impoverished clerk the holiday with pay, which is just as well, because you can’t have the secretarial staff sitting about whilst ghosts flit all over the place, dragging chains about and wailing fit to burst. That’s a health and safety nightmare right there. Not even Sports Direct would put up with that sort of thing, unless the spirits of the dead could be put to work filling shelves and dispatching orders.
Bob takes off and has a gay old time (in the Victorian sense) and has a number of affecting scenes with Tiny Tim, possibly the most irritating child in Dickens, and that’s going some when you look at the competition.
There is no doubt in my mind that a remarkably prescient Mr Dickens wrote the part for some winsome child actor in the future who would grow up to be a drink-sodden, drug-addled, much-divorced wreck by the time he was 22.
Today Bob would be stacking shelves in a 24-hour supermarket, or manning the till at a petrol station, or trying to look like he really is as happy to help as his McBurger name badge says he is.
On Christmas Day, Tiny Tim would have to sing his affecting song to his family without dad about.
A lot of people will be doing the same thing. There’s been a rise in the number of people working at Christmas.
People have always worked at Christmas. We’ve always had wards to be staffed, police to be called, and buses to be driven.
Now, apparently, we can’t cope with our supermarkets being closed for more than one day, the notion that we may not be able to buy a bigger telly throws us into panic, and jings, we might just want to pop out after the biggest food fight of the year for a Happy Meal and a milkshake.
Retail staff and fast food workers are now joining the ranks of perpetual working class. Well, bless you, everyone. I hope there is a little Christmas spirit in the warehouses and behind the counters.
Going to extremes
In Scotland, Christmas wasn’t even a public holiday until 1958. My grandmother, a formidable dragon of the Church of Scotland, would not even permit a tree in the house, in support of the very dim view Knox held towards this dangerously pagan celebration in midwinter.
To be fair, old Johnny had a militant tendency to hold fairly extreme views about practically everything, something the Scots still maintain to this day. We are nation that loves an extreme. We do love a bit of a binge, whether that be eating, drinking, or going completely berserk with a Christmas Fair so massive it makes the castle look like it’s under siege by the joint allied forces of the Faerie Queen and Disney.
We here in the grim North got even grimmer in 1640 and banned the whole thing outright. There are times when I wonder if we should look again at the 1712 legalisation that repealed the ban.
Peake-ing our interest in space
Our astronaut won’t get Christmas off. Tim Peake, a man who looks so like Sean Bean that’s it’s faintly worrying, will be orbiting around Earth on the International Space Station, and presumably will be able to keep a weather eye on Santa’s progress around the globe, or at least that part of the globe that does Christmas.
According to a nice man on the BBC, Spaceman Tim will also be able to look out for ‘Britain’s interests in space’. This came as news to me. I didn’t know we had any interests in space, not since Dan Dare was retired.
Given the recent revelations of the enthusiasm with which Scotland Yard thought it was protecting Britain’s interests against such formidable foes as Greenpeace, wacky animal rights activists and flaky far left groups who couldn’t even organise a jumble sale, never mind a revolution, if I were on the International Space Station, I’d be getting a bit concerned about Tim’s bona fides. After all, at least one of them has a faintly Commie sounding name.
Christmas always has that magical ability to pop out of nowhere and surprise us. It certainly seems to have startled the weather gods who were under the impression that the festive season had been cancelled this year and we were just moving straight to spring.
There are flowers growing in my front garden. I don’t think that’s right.