In which Bob Cratchit shivers and Ebeneezer Scrooge welcomes a visitor.
BOB Cratchit shivered on his high stool and raised his fingerless gloves to his mouth. Through his chattering teeth his breath emerged in a white plume, bringing scant relief to his chilled hands. He picked up his quill again and through the gathering gloom of the late Christmas Eve afternoon, a single coal glowed weakly in the grate, the only source of heat in his tiny room, save for the stuttering flame of a candle stump on his desk.

Along the narrow lane outside, a band of merry carollers crunched through the snow and stopped outside the office wherein Bob Cratchit laboured. Their twinkling lanterns illuminated the sign that hung above the door: ‘Ebeneezer Scrooge, DUP MLA.’ Through the frosted windows the strains of ‘Silent Night’ drifted to warm the frozen ears of the clerk and he smiled and dismounted his stool, walked to the fireplace and lifted the coal scuttle, at which juncture the door of the connecting office opened.

“Cratchit! I trust you are aware of the price of fuel in Our Wee Country at the present juncture.” The deliverer of the injunction was a cadaverous, thin-lipped man of advanced middle-age with a long, thin nose and long, thin hair. His eyes were narrow and suspicious.

“Y-y-yes, sir,” stammered Bob Cratchit. “Fierce expensive it is, sir. Sorry, sir. Terrible the way them coal companies are getting the arm in, sir.” Scrooge’s narrow eyes grew narrower, his thin lips thinner. “Coal companies!” he roared. “Coal companies! It’s the union-subjugating Protocol that has you freezing your ging-gangs off in here, Cratchit, and don’t you forget it.” The clerk’s mouth opened and closed again. “Well?” demanded Scrooge. “You don’t think the blasted Provocol is to blame for your wretched situation?”

“N-n-no, sir. I mean yes, sir. I mean… the energy companies in Britain are getting their arm in too, aren’t they?” Bob Cratchit winced, closed his eyes and waited. Then his shoulders sagged in relief as a knock was heard on the front door. “What are you waiting for?” snapped Scrooge. “See who it is.” And with that he stamped back into his office.

Presently a timid knuckle on glass was met with “Enter” by Scrooge and the clerk’s head appeared round the door. “Begging your pardon, sir. A gentleman from the local food bank asking to see you, sir.” Without waiting for permission to advance, the visitor stepped briskly and confidently past the clerk and took his place before Scrooge’s desk. “A pleasure to meet you, Mr Scrooge,” said the smiling gentleman, presenting the MLA with his credentials, which were quickly scanned by the same with some irritation.
“Well?” barked Scrooge, “what is it that you want?”

“At this festive time of year, Mr Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking a pen and paper from the pocket of his greatcoat, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some provision for the poor and destitute, their need being so keenly felt at the present time.”

“Bah, humbug!” said Scrooge. “I work for everything I get, so why shouldn’t they?”

“Well, actually, Mr Scrooge, you haven’t been at work since you were elected. I’m told you simply sit in your constituency office here doing your expenses and banging out press releases about the, ah, Protocol, I believe you call it. Which is all the more reason that you might consider doing something now to help the hungry.”

“Are there no chippies?” asked Scrooge. “Plenty of chippies, sir,” replied the gentleman, “but despite what your colleague Sammy Wilson seems to think, they usually ask for this thing called money.”

“Can they not eat grass?”

“No, sir, unlike cows, the poor have only one stomach, although your colleague Edwin Poots would appear to believe otherwise. What can I put you down for, Mr Scrooge?”

“Nothing! Good afternoon, sir!”
In which Ebeneezer Scrooge receives his first promised visit.
“I AM the Ghost of Christmas Past,” the apparition told Scrooge, who sat cowering beneath his blankets, his bony knees pulled up to his chin. Scrooge whimpered in fear as the ghost spoke again. “Bear but a touch of my hand and we shall depart.” As the words were spoken they passed through the bedroom and emerged on to a street along which the apparition led Scrooge, who after a short distance stopped dead in his tracks and gasped. “By Jove! It’s my old DUP office. The one where I worked the year I joined.”

“Come,” said the ghost, and through the wall they went, finding themselves in a smoke-filled office full of flags and posters. “Oh, how happy I was back then,” said Scrooge, and he smiled wistfully. “Happy?” replied the ghost. “Happy in what way?”

“We didn’t have a poof about the place,” he told the ghost and there was a chuckle in his voice when he continued. “Linfield and Rangers had no Catholics, the swings in the park were tied up on Sundays. Why, they played God Save the Queen in the cinemas. It was permitted to admit you wanted the RAF to bomb West Belfast and Paisley was holding comic Masses in the Ulster Hall with defrocked priests. We could walk where we wanted, there was no GAA on the TV or the wireless and nobody spoke Irish. But tell me, ghost, why do you torture me so? Why do you show me what delights we had and what we lost?”

“You had a chance to reach out to your neighbour,” intoned the ghost gravely, “you had a chance to show some love and compassion but you turned away from the Christian path.”

“But Catholics aren’t Christians,” replied Scrooge in a pleading voice. “Taigs don’t pay rates. It’s all smoke and beads and statues with them.”

“Enough!” cried the ghost, the time has come for us to leave.”

In which Ebeneezer Scrooge receives his second promised visit.
EBENEEZER Scrooge sat in the City Hall public gallery alongside the Ghost of Christmas Present.
“Look at them,” harrumphed Scrooge as he looked down at the assembled members. “Fenians everywhere. Talking Irish too. Wouldn’t have got that in my day. We used to let off rape alarms and spray deodorant at them. All the Lord Mayors were Prods and nearly all the Council workers too. Happy, happy days. Tell me, ghost, will those glad times ever return? Will our flag ever go back up over this place?”

“Listen carefully, Ebeneezer Scrooge, and learn well,” replied the ghost. “There’s more chance of Professor Colin Harvey getting a column in the News Letter. There’s more chance of Gregory Campbell having a pint in the Bogside Inn. There’s more chance of…”

“Stop!” cried Scrooge, “for pity’s sake, stop. You have shown me the grim audit of Ulster’s pain. Our flag torn down. A Sinn Féin/IRA First Minister. The Christmas-subjugating Protocol. The Irish Language Act. More Taigs than Prods. ‘Ooh, ah, up the Ra’ gets sung more than the national anthem. No Twelfth on the BBC. Why do you hurt me so?” The ghost slowly raised a hand and pointed a finger. “Because, Ebeneezer Scrooge, you have brought this on yourself and you must learn the error of your ways ere the night be out and Ulster is lost.”

“But behold the work that I and my colleagues have done to save our Precious Union. We won’t go to work. We won’t let others go to work. We won’t let a Fenian First Minister take her place. We won’t talk about the future. We won’t surrender.” At that, the ghost took Scrooge by the arm and they rose up and through the great domed roof, alighting at the front gates beside the Saturday flag protest. “These are my people,” said Scrooge delightedly, “this is why we’ll never be beaten.”

“Behold!” cried the ghost, “there are four people here and a skebby dog on a blue nylon rope. Although, I shall be fair to them and say that’s more than most of the Protocol protests. What say you?”

“Believe me, ghost, this is an off-day, there are normally a dozen people here. Easily.”

Again the pair arose again and presently they stood in a room where six men were gathered round a table. “Ebeneezer Scrooge, do you recognise any of these fellows?” asked the ghost. Scrooge smiled broadly as he scanned the faces. “Why, yes,” he exclaimed delightedly, “yes, I do. They’re dear party colleagues of mine.”

“And the other two gentlemen?”

“Of course, those fine fellows are Knuckles and Pliers, two of the stoutest Ulster yeomen you’ll come across in a day’s parading.”

“And they represent?”

“The Orange Order?”


“Apprentice Boys?”

“Wrong again, Ebeneezer Scrooge. They are UVF and UDA. And they’re discussing the Protocol and sundry other matters of  loyal import.”

“Oh, yes,” coughed Scrooge, “I’d quite forgotten about that area of their fascinating hinterland, forgive me. Very important to get their thoughts on things, especially in the middle of this cost-of-living crisis and with them being mightily engaged in the business of community banking.”

“Money-lending, you mean?”

“You know what I used to say to my old friend Marley, ghost? One man’s financier is another man’s loan-shark.”
In which Ebeneezer Scrooge receives his third promised visit.
“DIA duit, Ebeneezer Scrooge,” said the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. “Am le dul mar tá sé déanach.”

“Speak to me in English, ghost,” pleaded Scrooge with some passion. “For God’s sake speak to me in Irish. It’s like being back in the Stormont chamber.”

“Let’s go,” said the ghost, “it’s getting late.” Suddenly Ebeneezer Scrooge found himself flying high in the winter sky, snow covering the backs of man and ghost as they gazed down on the lights of the towns and villages and cities of the island far below. Suddenly the ghost swooped earthwards and the pair found themselves soaring above a busy road full of motorists making their way home for Christmas. “The sign says ‘Sligo 200km’, ghost, why have you brought me to the south.”

“That’s the M1, Ebeneezer Scrooge, we’re above the Applegreen outside Lisburn, or Lios na gCearrbach, to give its new name. Or its old name, in fact, but you get the drift.” Upwards they flew again, speeding through the night sky and presently alighting beside a stately building with Christmas lights twinkling and the muffled sound of happy voices and clinking glasses coming from within. They peered through the window at the merry band of revellers. “What manner of event is this, ghost?” asked Ebeneezer Scrooge.

“President Jim Allister Jnr is giving a reception here in Dublin for the Linfield team that won the cup.”

“Bad news and good news, I suppose,” shrugged Scrooge. What was the score?”
“2-03 to 1-07," replied the ghost.
In which Ebeneezer Scrooge wakes on Christmas Day.
EBENEEZER Scrooge threw open the bedroom window and looked out on a sunny, snowy street as an urchin passed below.“You there boy,” he called out, “What day is it?”

“Why, it’s Christmas Day, sir.”

“I haven’t missed it,” said Scrooge to himself. “The spirits have done it all in one night.” He thought of Bob Cratchit and he thought of Bob’s little boy Jamie, who hadn’t ever had a present to speak of. An idea came into his head and laughed and raised his voice again.

“Do you know the hardware shop on the corner?”

“I do, sir.”

“Have you seen the big blue wheelie bin in the window?”

“The one as big as me, sir?”

“The very one. Go and come back with the shop owner that I may pay him and tell him where to take it and I’ll give you a shilling. Come back with the man in less than five minutes and I’ll give you half a crown.”

"Can I tell Mr Nolan of my good fortune first, sir?"

"Bah, humbug," said Scrooge and pulled the window closed.