In a Docklands office on Christmas Eve sat two men working, socially distanced, naturally. One, Ebenezer Scrooge, should really have been shielding but the rules had changed again, while the other, Bob Cratchit was hyper-sensitive to the fact his disabled son was classified vulnerable despite being made to attend school for most of the Autumn term. Bob could have been furloughed and wondered if Scrooge was claiming government cash while making him work. Scrooge looked up.
‘I suppose you want to leave early?’ he snarled. Bob was surprised, mainly because the office should have closed thirty minutes earlier.
‘Nah,’ he said, returning to his Sudoku. Scrooge furrowed his brow.
‘Not going to Spoons?’ he asked. Bob shook his head.
‘We’re in tier 4, remember. Spoons is closed. I don’t suppose you could turn the heating back on?’ he asked. Scrooge capitulated: he knew the next sentence would invoke the Health and Safety at Work Act, or some other pre-Brexit nonsense.
‘No, get out of here, go and spend some time with those brats of yours,’ Scrooge said, distracted by the sound of the phone ringing. When he picked it up Bob could hear the sound of Scrooge’s nephew Fred. Fred didn’t know it, but Scrooge had Fred listed as a Non-executive director but paid the NEDDY remuneration into his own pocket.
‘Uncle Ebenezer,’ said Fred cheerfully, ‘merry Christmas.’
‘Bullshit,’ spat Scrooge. ‘What the fuck do you want this time? A reference? A loan? A hooker?’
‘No uncle, I’m a merchant banker, I have a well paid job and don’t need a reference to change it, just a tap on the right shoulder.’ He left the hooker hanging in case his uncle was prepared to change a habit of a lifetime and treat him to a present. ‘I was wondering if you’d like to come to our house for Christmas dinner tomorrow?’ he asked, brightly.
‘We’re in tier 4, remember?’ he snapped. ‘Now fuck off,’ he said as he slammed the receiver down.
‘You live alone,’ Bob pointed out while wrapping his scarf around his face and bracing himself with a sniff of low grade cocaine. He had an hour on the tube to contend with, sitting with covid riddled Londoners. He wrapped his scarf around his nose and mouth two more times for good luck. Scrooge had to strain to hear Bob as he continued.
‘Your nephew could include you in his bubble,’ he said.
‘And you can fuck off too,’ said Scrooge, words Bob really wanted to hear.
Later that evening Scrooge arrived at his apartment after a long walk avoiding crowds. He parked his Asda ready meal at the step as he fumbled in his pocket for the key card to his door. As he looked up he swore he saw the image of Jacob Marley reflected on the keypad.
‘Jacob?’ he asked, looking around. Residents had been sectioned for less, admittedly pre-austerity. The image emerged from the keypad, the face of his partner of yesteryear who had succumbed to Covid in the first wave.
‘You need to change your ways, or you will end up like me,’ said Jacob.
‘But – you’re dead,’ said Scrooge. ‘I sent Cratchit to your funeral,’ he added.
‘And he never turned up – it was Cheltenham remember? He used the time to dive into a bookies and blew the tube fare you reluctantly gave him,’ said Marley. ‘Never mind that, back to the way changing topic,’ he said. Marley was always a cut-to-the-chase type of guy. Scrooge snorted – naturally he reserved the Gove strength cocaine for himself – before defending himself.
‘I socially distance,’ he said, ‘for me, that’s easy. I wear a face mask if the police are looking, I wash my hands – essential when you know where most of my cash comes from,’ he said. Marley wailed.
‘It’s not all about you. You’ll be visited by three spirits tonight,’ he said. Scrooge wasn’t bothered – he’d lined up a bottle of Laphroig already. Two more wouldn’t harm, especially as he was closed down as a non-essential business now.
Part 2 to follow later