The Curmudgeon


Monday, December 27, 2004

A Christmas Carol II: Judgement Day

Fit the Fourth and Final

I woke up with a hangover, which is one of the very few Yuletide habits that I have in common with the rest of the world. I was still slumped in the armchair, with the television unplugged before me and three empty bottles by my side. I felt a pang of guilt that I could only remember emptying one; then I remembered what had happened to the others, and the guilt turned to a healthy anti-Cratchit resentment.

I went to the window and opened the curtains. There was very little activity in the street below, but still considerably more than I would have expected on this most paralysed day in the calendar. Another lot of fairy lights - the Glossop's Turkey Vindaloo advert - was well on the way to falling apart, and someone was energetically clambering over the sputtering letters trying to keep them from going out altogether.

Once I'd poured enough coffee down myself to fuel the effort involved, I plugged the television back in so I could see what festive disasters were occurring. I was half-way through the third tragic human interest tale of infants electrocuted by Christmas tree lights and/or impaled upon the spiky armpits of insufficiently standardised Taiwanese teddy bears, and having a reasonable amount of fun for Christmas morning, when I suddenly wondered how they'd managed to get all these news items up so promptly. Then I saw the date at the top of the screen: 27 December.

"If the Spirit of Christmas Present is still fooling around in there," I informed the television loudly, "it has ten seconds to make itself scarce. After that, it's history."

Nothing happened; the date remained the same. Before kicking the screen in I decided to check with an independent source of information. I opened the window and bawled across the street at the electrician trying to fix the Glossop's advertisement:
"Excuse me! What day is it?"
"What day is it?" the distant voice repeated. "Why, December the twenty-seventh, of course. Festivities are over for this year, and thank the gods for that."

Great, I thought. The Spirits had been meant to do it all in one night, and instead they'd taken three. Admittedly I'd missed Christmas; but I'd also missed a whole day's overtime on Boxing Day, and with all the extra money I was presently going to lose to Mr Cratchit's new futures plan it was beginning to look as though what little future I'd ever had was rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

A sound outside the window brought me back to the present. The electrician had clambered down from the sign and crossed the street to see me better. It was a girl about my own age, pretty but grubby.
"Are you a trainee electrician?" I said.
"Why do you ask that?"
"Because that sign you're working on has fewer lights showing now than when you started."
"I'm not a trainee anything," she said. "Certainly not an electrician. I'm a gremlin."
"A gremlin?"
"Industrial saboteur, freelance; working for Cratchit's at the moment. Rival propaganda, wanton destruction of. But that's just a stepping stone; I'll go independent as soon as I'm able."
"You don't like it at Cratchit's?"
"You must be joking. It's like bloody Christmas all the year round, especially where I'm based, in the advertising department. At least in most lines of work Christmas doesn't usually start till August at the earliest."
"I know how you feel," I said. "I work for Cratchit too. Maybe that's where I've seen you before."
"Possibly, though I don't seem to recall seeing you. What's your area?"
"Clerk," I said. "Artificial walnuts. The prospects are good if you like them at nil."
She shrugged. "I don't know that department at all. In my line of work I tend to gravitate away from my employer's centre of operations rather than towards it, you understand. At least during the term of my contract. Speaking of which..." She indicated her unfinished handiwork.
I nodded. "Well, if you should feel that urge towards independence at any time soon, look me up," I said. "I'll show you some good places to plant the charges."
"That would be nice," she said. "It shouldn't be long now, actually. I've already been reprimanded twice for over-zealousness." She winked, turned and walked back towards the Glossop's sign, which was now sagging terminally and looked in some danger of falling on the "Buy Cratchit's" sign right next to it.

"See you soon," I said, recalling where I'd already seen her. "Happy new year, Angela."



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