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). The third stave, The Ghost of Avarice Past, follows. You can catch up with Stave One, Mensch’s Ghost, here, and Stave Two, The Ghost of Avarice Past, here.
As sketched by Bodz
Osborne was struggling to keep warm on a deserted platform at Corby rail station. He dare not sleep, for fear of imagining yet again the Ghost of Avarice Past that had so recently tormented him.
“Having trouble sleeping, Osborne?” The words seemed to drift out of the snowstorm.
Osborne sat up with a start. “Who called those words?” he cried out. Blinked and peering into the snowstorm he could see nothing.
A whisper of a voice called out of the snowstorm. “Look to me Osborne. Look and witness the Ghost of Arrogance Present. Look closer.”
Osborne peered into the storm. When at last he could make out the ghostly figure, he laughed out loud. “Is it Boyle?” he sneered. “Danny Boyle! On Corby station? Are you trainspotting?”
The ghostly figure began to drift away, saying nothing but beckoning Osborne to follow. “I’m not coming,” the sulking chancellor wailed.
The ghost turned. “Do you have a plan?” he said in a soft voice that carried above the storm.
Osborne shook his head and lowered it into his hands. “Plan A. It’s always been Plan A,” he whimpered.
The ghost edged back towards him. “Plan A?” he scoffed. “That’s A for Apocalypse!”
“And anyway,” he teased, “how will your Plan A get you out of Corby?”
“Okay. I…” the distraught chancellor stuttered. “To be honest, I need some sort of plan to get me out of here.”
The ghost rested his hand on Osborne’s shoulder. “Let me introduce you to Plan B”, he whispered. “Plan Boyle!” He caught Osborne by the scruff of his collar and dragged him into the car park. To Osborne’s surprise and amazement a helicopter was readying for take-off.
Moments later they were flying south from Corby. Osborne did his best to make polite conversation but Boyle remained silent. “Where are going?” Osborne eventually asked in desperation. “London,” Boyle replied gruffly.
Osborne was overjoyed. “Civilisation! You have rescued me from Corby.” He beamed at his captor. “Danny Boyle, I’ll see you get a knighthood for this.”
“No you will not!” Boyle shouted, as he slid open the door of the helicopter. He pulled the whingeing Chancellor forward, clipped a parachute pack onto his back, and pushed him out into the night air.
To Osborne’s understandable relief – even a Scrooge has human emotions – his parachute opened. He soon found himself floating into the Olympic Stadium.
Osborne admired the busy serene pastoral scene below. “All that unused land,” he said to himself. “All those green fields that might be built on. All those happy people that might be sent to work in factories for the profit of others.”
Moments later, with his parachute discarded, Osborne stepped boldly forward. As a choir sang Jerusalem, he strode purposefully onto the slopes of a green mound. Below him the men of industry and finance swaggered. Behind these men of obvious importance, the peasantry of England cowered politely in unimportance.
Osborne nodded greetings to the great men below him. “Welcome! All my heroes are here,” he shouted. Recognising the editor of the Daily Mail, he lifted his hat and called: “Is that Dacre? Sir!” He bobbed a small curtsey in deference to Lord Ashcroft. He was less happy to see that two bearded men had slipped into the back of the group. “Sugar,” he cursed. “And bloody Branson too” he muttered.
Osborne was determined not to be distracted by these interlopers. He stood proud and lifted his arms to take in the adulation of the cheering (or was it really booing?) crowd around him. He smiled awkwardly and stepped forward to address the multitude.
“Be not afeard!” he shouted. He grinned with self-satisfaction as the stadium fell silent, and he began again.
“Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand drilling gas rigs
Will hum about mine ears.”
The men of business that stood before him were now waving their cheque books with enthusiasm. He beamed at them. All around he could hear the rising beat of bulldozers, drills and hammers, a rhythmic beauty that reminded him of a thousand drummers. Men of toil streamed into the landscape all around him. Dirty and exhausted, they cleared the green fields and felled trees with determination. Roads were driven, factories were erected and great drilling rigs rose. Villages were overshadowed and the rural peace shattered.
Osborne lit his cigar and lifted his hat in celebration of the glorious fracking revolution that surrounded him. He congratulated himself that he would go down in history as the Chancellor who had instigated a second industrial revolution. As he chewed on his cigar, he barely noticed the growing vibrations beneath his feet. At first it felt like drumming. Then it seemed like tremors. Not too long afterwards the earth shook violently and everyone in the stadium began to panic.
“Be not afeard,” he shouted. “Fracking will hum about mine ears but doesn’t cause earthquakes. Be not afeard!”
The panic worsened. He rushed to the top of the mound intending to be better heard. But “Frack…” was the only word he managed to howl before a huge tremor shook the stadium and the mound collapsed beneath him and he plummeted to the ground.
Some while later Osborne awoke in a hospital bed, appalled to find his left arm and both legs in plaster. He sighed, and longed for sleep. But to his annoyance, all around him children and nurses were jiving and bouncing on beds in glorious happiness.
“All those stories of the NHS staff being under stress and underfunded are nonsense,” he told himself pompously. “They even have time to party with children. Bah! Starbucks! I will order Hunt to make further budget cuts!”
As the lights began to dim for bedtime, he longed for sleep. But he had no sooner closed his eyes than he was woken by the sound of a horse driven cart being driven towards him. The driver had a huge net in his hand.
Osborne put his thumb into his mouth and cowered beneath the bedclothes. “Are you the Child Catcher?” he asked meekly.
The man laughed. “Child Catcher? Pretending to be a child won’t stop you being forced to work. I am the man from Atos. I am here to assess your fitness to work. I catch shirkers. I am the Skiver Catcher!”
“But I’m all in plaster,” Osborne pleaded. The Catcher glared at him, unimpressed. He lifted a hat from the bedside table. “Is this your hat?” he asked.
“No, well yes, sort of,” Osborne said nervously.
“Just hold it for me a moment,” the Catcher said. Osborne obliged and gripped the stove pipe hat in his right hand.
“If you can grip a hat, you are a skiver fit for work,” the Catcher said, roaring with laughter long and loud. And with that he began to lower his net over Osborne.
“No, no, no!” Osborne protested as the net dragged him towards the foot of the bed.
Suddenly, a piercing alarm echoed through the stadium. The Skiver Catcher paused, listened for a moment, and hurriedly withdrew his net.
“Fire alarm,” he told the crippled chancellor matter of factly. Then, almost apologetically, he said “I must go.”
And with that, he ran off. “But what about me?” a tearful Osborne cried. He glanced left and right and realised that he was on his own in a burning stadium. Alone except for the shadowy figure of Boyle approaching the foot of the bed.
“Boyle,” Osborne cried. “What’s gone wrong? The Olympic opening ceremony was never like this!” Osborne moaned.
Boyle spoke quietly. “The opening ceremony set forth a vision of Britain as it nearly might be. Tonight you have witnessed a vision of Britain as you desire it to be.”
Osborne began to mutter. “But my vision is more profitable, it makes more money.”
“Enough,” Boyle whispered. “You have made your choice. My task as the Ghost of Arrogance Present is done. You are to be visited by a third and final spirit. Prepare for the Ghost of Austerity Future!”
“By the way,” Boyle said casually as he walked off. “You might need this umbrella.” He tossed the weeping chancellor a black umbrella. And with that he was gone.
* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem living in Ludlow, Shropshire. He writes on communities, planning, the environment and history.