Belfast Telegraph

Take a lesson from the Ghost of Christmas Present and find joy in life's simple pleasures

By Mary Kenny

Marley was dead, to begin with. Eoin Scrooge knew that his business partner was dead, as he had consigned the ashes himself to the crematorium.

Personally, Eoin blamed Jake Marley's death on not really keeping up with the times, business-wise. He had brought so much stress on himself by being so old-fashioned and muttering hopelessly outdated phrases such as "neither a lender nor a borrower be" or "a penny saved is a penny earned". Imagine saving, with interest rates the way they are.

Eoin had tried to update Marley's attitudes. Borrow as much as you possibly can: look at Donald Trump! Filed for bankruptcy at least four times - he had copped the basic principle that if you owe the bank five million bucks, why, that's their problem!

It was the same with his personal assistant, Ros Cratchit. She was a diligent woman, but she had the wrong attitude to contemporary market conditions. Ros belonged to some sort of weird Christian sect which focused on something called 'the simple spirit of Christmas', rather than on the compulsion to spend, spend, spend, and buy, buy, buy - to mark the high consumerist season.

"The Yuletide market," Eoin Scrooge said to Ros, "is all about maxing out the credit card. We must spend beyond our means if the economy is to be stimulated."

Ros would smile and say she appreciated Mr Scrooge's knowledge, but she and her family had chosen to mark the Nativity differently.

He had even given her Yanis Varoufakis' book Talking to My Daughter About the Economy, in which the Greek economist had explained that what was holding up the world economy was debt. Every nation was up to its gunnels in debt. But this was terrific, because it enabled banks to conjure money out of thin air.

Ros just worked away quietly when Scrooge tried to encourage her to spend extravagantly at Christmas.

He was rather shocked to discover that she didn't own a credit card. Ros entertained this peculiar view that she should live within her means. Why, if everyone lived within their means, capitalism would collapse.

She'd been kind and helpful to him after his third divorce and he appreciated her dependability. He knew she was by way of being a single mother herself, though he never enquired about the exact circumstances. He had once berated her for continuing to live in the small cottage near central Dublin that she had bought some years ago and improved through her own endeavours. "Sell it and make a stash!" he had said. She replied - so archaic - that she looked on a house as a home, not as a piece of real estate.

It came to the week before Christmas and Eoin Scrooge went out on the lash with some of the hedge fund guys and gals. After a stonking evening where Dom Perignon was partaken in lavish quantities and some of the group did a little snorting, too, Eoin fell into a troubled sleep and was suddenly awoken in the dark small hours by an alarming apparition that seemed to be all jangling chains and heavy locks. Then the apparition spoke.

"I am the Ghost of Christmas Present," it said. "Come, walk with me." The spirit had a remarkable resemblance to his old partner, Jake Marley.

The ghost took him by the hand and he floated through the air alongside it. And then, suddenly, he was in Ros Cratchit's cottage, where she was preparing her modest Christmas meal with her three children, plus an elderly aunt and a visitor who looked as though she might be a vagrant.

There were no expensive decorations - just some nice fresh greenery - and the gifts placed by the Nativity scene were wrapped in recycled paper.

"Now," said Martha, the eldest daughter. "I hope everyone has kept to our rule of not spending more than a tenner on Christmas presents."

Family and friends then exchanged their gifts: a lovely tapestry pouch for reading glasses that had cost three quid, a map of Ireland found in a junk shop for a fiver, an old pair of opera glasses picked up at a street market, and home-crafted cards and calendars.

Unlike Eoin Scrooge's own children - who seldom looked up from their mobile phones, tablets and iPads, or unplugged the buds of their iPods - there wasn't a handheld gadget in sight.

There was a fiddle in the corner and it was evident that the family were about to make their own music.

Surprisingly, Ros raised a toast of home-made elderflower and said: "To my boss, Eoin Scrooge." To which Eoin heard Martha reply: "But isn't he one of these people who thinks that money brings happiness?"

Eoin's normal instinct would be to respond "Bah, humbug!" to the idea that money can't buy happiness, but he found, unexpectedly, tears springing to his eyes as Ros Cratchit replied: "Under it all, Eoin Scrooge is a man who has had a lonely childhood, but he has a good heart. Let us be happy and grateful for our blessings. Because Christmas is about goodwill and kindness - so God bless us, every one."

And thus did Eoin Scrooge of 2017 learn from the Ghost of Christmas Present - whose chains were made of all the debts he carried - that there can be joy in simplicity and good cheer in modest living, and if Scrooge didn't entirely reform his values, he considerably moderated them.

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