Over the next five days LibDemVoice is delighted to bring you A Christmas Carol, a contemporary re-imagining of Charles Dickens’ classic tale, told in five staves (as Dickens called them). Here’s Part One, Mensch’s Ghost…
As sketched by Bodz
Osborne was a very grumpy person indeed. Why on earth had the Italian economy decided to implode just days before Christmas? The crisis had kept him chained to his desk long after the rest of the cabinet had fled London. “Curse Berlusconi!” he muttered as his taxi crawled through the thickening snow to St Pancras.
He paid his fare and stalked off towards the station. “Where’s Starbucks!” he shouted at a railway official. The woman, unimpressed with his rudeness, pretended not to hear. “Could you repeat that?” she asked.
“Bah! Starbucks!” the chancellor roared.
“It’s to your right sir,” she said with a laugh. Osborne shoved past her and stormed into the station.
Minutes later, Osborne was striding along the station platform clutching a steaming beaker of coffee. As he opened a door to a first class carriage, he spilled hot coffee onto his hand. “Bah! Starbucks!” he shouted to no one particular. Osborne was at first delighted to find the carriage empty but then became unaccountably annoyed when a woman took a seat at the far end. She was somehow very familiar and that unnerved him.
But presently, as the train pulled northwards through the suburbs of London, his mood began to lighten as he thought of being at his Cheshire farmhouse for Christmas Eve. “I know,” he declared brightly to himself. “I’ll watch a Christmas movie. It will set me in the seasonal spirit.” He idly flicked through the movies on his iPad.
What film should he watch? A Wonderful Life? “So many people are indeed having a wonderful life under my Chancellorship,” he mused. Love Actually? “Such a daft prime minister. Nothing like the real thing” he chortled. His mood was beginning to thaw. The Muppets? He laughed out loud. “Too much like the Cabinet!” After some while he settled upon Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. “A good old classic,” he told himself as he relaxed into his seat and supped his Starbucks.
Soon Osborne was sniggering as the old miser Scrooge bellowed “Bah! Humbug!” at anyone and everyone. And moments later, exhausted from single-handily fixing the world’s economic problems, he drifted into a deep slumber.
Osborne snapped awake and blinked at the train guard leaning over him. “Oh, yes. My ticket is here somewhere,” he muttered as he searched his pockets. But his ticket was not to be found. His panic grew as he investigated his trousers, waistcoat and jacket. When he finally discovered the errant ticket, carefully tucked behind his fob watch, a smile of relief burst onto his face. It was a smile that quickly melted into an expression of puzzlement.
“That’s odd,” he whispered to himself. Then he said out loud. “I don’t have a fob watch. And I wasn’t wearing a waistcoat!”
The guard eyed him with faint amusement. He was used to drunks at this time of year and he had been trained to humour them. “I am sure those are your clothes sir. They fit so well. And, of course, you are wearing them.” The comment so irked Osborne he shouted “Bah! Starbucks!” not once but twice.
The guard ignored the protest and examined Osborne’s ticket. The guard’s grin was now irrepressible. “I’m sorry, sir. This is a standard class ticket and you are quite clearly occupying a first class seat.”
Osborne groaned. Why did this keep happening to him? “I’ll pay the difference,” he spluttered as he pulled his wallet from his jacket. The guard waived his hand away. “I’ll pay. I’ll pay,” Osborne squealed.
The guard grinned and Osborne feared the worst. Would he be fined and tortured with yet more tabloid headlines? Worse. Would he be ejected from the train at Luton?
“It being Christmas I’m prepared to be generous,” the guard said in a mischievous voice. Osborne smiled nervously. He suspected a trap. “Anyway, sir,” the guard continued. “We are just pulling into Corby station. This is your journey’s end.” And with that the guard began to walk away.
Osborne choked. “Corby? But I’m going to Wilmslow. The last place I want to be is Corby! Bah! Starbucks!” Osborne cried. The guard laughed at him. “Starbucks? There ain’t any Starbucks here. It’s bloody Corby and this train is going nowhere else today.”
“All change. All change!” he cried. And turning to Osborne for the last time, he said: “And don’t forget your hat.”
Osborne picked up the stove-pipe hat beside him. Where had that come from? He was still puzzling about the hat minutes later as he stood on the desolate platform. Everywhere was locked and deserted and the snow was still falling thickly. Then, through the blizzard he caught a glimpse of a solitary grey figure at the end of the platform.
“Excuse me,” Osborne called out. “Excuse me!”
The figure beckoned him closer. As he shuffled hesitantly forward, he became sure it was the woman on the train. But she was so pale and grey; he also was convinced he was witnessing an apparition.
Osborne stopped and pleaded: “Who are you?”
Bolts of lightning shot from the spirit’s hair and in their eerie glow, he saw a face he recognised. “I know you now” he gasped. “Louise. But surely you are a spectre!” Lightning bolts again struck out, turning the snow to rain.
“I have passed on from politics,” she said breathlessly. “I am Mensch’s Ghost”
“But why are you here, Louise?” Osborne cried.
“To warn you, Osborne. To warn.”
“What on earth do I need warning about?” he snapped haughtily. “I am, after all, the guardian of Britain’s triple-A rating.”
The ghost laughed at his pomposity. She threw a huge fork of lightning towards him and he fell to the platform.
“Stand up man and listen,” she roared. “Yes, Louise” he said meekly as he struggled to his feet.
The Ghost of Mensch spoke to him in a low taunting voice. “Triple A? That’s A for Avarice. It’s A for Arrogance.” She threw her head back and laughed: “And of course it’s also A for Austerity.”
Osborne shook with fear and began to bleat. “Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?”
She pointed her extended forefinger at him. “You will soon be visited by three spirits.”
Osborne clasped his hands together in the manner of prayer. “Spirits?” he whimpered. Mensch’s Ghost held up its hand to silence him.
“Expect the first spectre tomorrow” she told him firmly. And with that, the Ghost of Mensch vanished.
* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem living in Ludlow, Shropshire. He writes on communities, planning, the environment and history.