A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens
THE FIRST OF THE THREE SPIRITS
When Scrooge awoke it was so dark, that, looking out of bed, he could scarcely distinguish the transparent window from the opaque walls of his chamber. He scrambled out of bed, dressed, grabbed his torch and went outside. He worked his way quietly along the path to the small plantation behind his cottage, careful not to disturb the plantation’s star attraction. Scrooge rubbed his eyes and turned on the torch, slowly guiding the beam up the trunks and along the branches of the trees, before his heart stopped as the beam finally illuminated his star find of 2010 – a Hawk Owl.
“There you are, my beauty,” Scrooge said, “three whole weeks you’ve been here, and not a single twitcher has seen you.” Scrooge momentarily illuminated the sign just to the left of the plantation, which read: PUBLIC FOOTPATH, and, upon reading it, he had to stifle his petty laughter as he recalled the countless numbers of birders who’d walked within metres of the Hawk Owl.
Scrooge went back into his cottage, boiled the kettle, knocked up a tomato Cup-a-Soup and opened a packet of Tesco Value digestive biscuits. The visitation by Jacob Marley was weighing heavily on his mind: “Humbug!” he said, and climbed the stairs back to bed.
As he walked into the bedroom the church bell sounded a hollow, melancholy ONE. Light flashed up in the room upon the instant, and there, sat on his bed, was an unearthly visitor.
“Who and what are you?” Scrooge demanded.
“I am the Ghost of Twitching Past.”
“Why are you here?” Scrooge asked.
“Oh, well thanks for that, but my welfare’s fine thanks, so you can go now. Thanks for stopping by.”
“Your reclamation, then. Take heed!” The spirit put out its strong hand: “Rise, and walk with me. Touch my hand.”
“Err… what?” Scrooge asked.
“Touch my hand.”
“Why? What are you going to do?”
“Scrooge, just touch my fucking hand, we’ve got to get on with this, you’re only supposed to write a maximum of 1,500 words for a blog post.”
“Oh yeah, right, let’s go!”
Scrooge and the Spirit were now stood in a small town with cobbled streets, there was the sound of the sea gently lapping against a quay dotted with small fishing boats. Ahead were the lights of a 1980s discotheque, and Poison Arrow by ABC was pounding out of the primitive 1980s speaker system.
“Spirit, I know this place. We’re on the Isles of Scilly. Oh Spirit, that’s the Porthcressa!”
Scrooge and the Spirit walked into the Porthcressa bar. All around were curious looking young men in donkey jackets, looking exhausted, malnourished and some in need of immediate hospitalisation.
“There’s my old friend The Badger,” said Scrooge, “look at him. He’s dancing like he’s just inhaled a canister of hairspray through a damp towel. Oh, what great times!”
“Indeed they were,” said the Spirit, “but look in the corner, who do you see?”
“Why, it’s me!” said Scrooge, “and I’m sitting with my old twitching pals Crackhead Mick and Jimmy Anus – halloa! I say, halloa!” Scrooge shouted in vain to his old twitching pals, one of which was now detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, and the other died in a bizarre gardening accident. “Spirit, I know this day, this is October 1987; this was the day we saw the Philadelphia Vireo!”
Scrooge and the Spirit moved closer, to eavesdrop on the conversation.
“Right, so here’s to the best bird we’ve ever seen! Down in one,” said Crackhead Mick, and then knocked back a whole pint of ale followed by a quadruple whisky chaser.
“Fuck that,” said Jimmy Anus.
“Well I’m game,” a young Scrooge said, “that Vireo was the most amazing bird I’ve ever seen. I think twitching is most bestest hobby in the whole world, and one day I’m going to be the number one twitcher in the whole of Britain. I’m going to be the bestest twitcher ever, and nothing can stop me. And so say all of us!”
“Three cheers for twitching!” shouted the merry fellows, before Scrooge swilled back the pint in one and then gagged on the quadruple whisky chaser.
“Good lad, Ebeneezer,” Crackhead Mick said, as a young Scrooge leaned to the side of the table, vomited on the edge of the dance floor, collapsed, split his skull open on the side of a table and had to be carried back to his tent on The Garrison.
“Oh Spirit,” Scrooge said with joy, “see how much fun we had back then!”
In an instant they were transported to the edge of a row of terraced houses, and the Spirit guided Scrooge to a front window. Inside the living room were two young girls: one was sobbing, and the other was comforting her friend.
“Spirit, can it be?” Scrooge asked. “Is that my dear Belle and her best friend Kelly Five-Cocks? But why is she crying? Why is my poor Belle crying? I bet it’s that bitch Kelly’s fault, leading her astray, tempting her down to Images nightclub for a night of dancing around their handbags, followed by unprotected sex with Ricky the bouncer behind the industrial bins at the back of Kwik Save. Oh, my beautiful Belle!”
“That’s not why she’s crying, Scrooge. Listen carefully to what they’re saying.”
“He’s not worth it,” Kelly Five-Cocks said to Belle, “Ebeneezer’s a selfish bastard. He doesn’t give a toss about leaving you alone for weeks on end as he goes off all over the country with his weird mates, looking at all them stupid bastard birds.”
“I thought it was endearing at first,” Belle said, weeping into her glass of Babycham, “you know, that he was a twitcher. But I never realised that twitching was so damaging to a stable family life; it’s even worse than a wife finding a stash of bestiality videos in her husband’s shed.”
“You deserve better than him,” said Five-Cocks, lighting a Superkings cigarette.
“He’s changed so much,” Belle cried, “at first the twitching was just a weekend thing, but ever since we got engaged he’s been spending less and less time with me. Now I never see him. I’m going to call the wedding off when he gets back from Scilly.”
“You gotta ditch that zero and get yourself a hero,” said Five-Cocks, surprisingly anticipating US chat-show slang that would become common parlance some twenty years later. “You know what you need, Belle? You need a night out with me at Images. Ricky the bouncer keeps giving you the eye.”
The two girls went upstairs, put on a cassette of Curiosity Killed the Cat, and prepared themselves for an evening of excessive alcohol consumption, followed by a morning waking up in an alley filled with deep regret and unusual coldsores on their upper lips.
“Spirit,” Scrooge said in a broken voice, “remove me from this place.”
The Ghost of Twitching Past slowly faded, and Scrooge became aware that he had been returned to his bed chamber. He scratched his nut bag and fell into a deep sleep.
THE SECOND OF THE THREE SPIRITS
Scrooge awoke and sat up in bed to see that his room had undergone a surprising transformation: the walls and ceiling were so hung with living green that it looked a perfect grove, from every part of which bright gleaming berries glistened. And on a couch by a roaring fire sat a jolly Giant. “I am the Ghost of Twitching Present,” he said cheerfully, “come in and know me better, man!” Scrooge walked into the lush grove. “Touch my robe,” the Spirit said.
“Let’s not do that joke again,” the Spirit said, “it wasn’t funny when you did it before, so just touch my robe and let’s go to Bob Cratchit’s house so you can feel really bad about yourself when you see his crippled son Tiny Tim.”
Scrooge touched the Spirit’s robe, and they suddenly found themselves in assistant warden Cratchit’s home.
“Gah!” Scrooged barked, “what’s that disgusting smell?”
“That’s the smell of poor people’s food,” the Spirit informed him, “see how the whole family are sitting around a Nintendo Wii that Bob’s got on tick, even though he can’t even afford to pay his council tax bill.”
“Do I really treat him so badly, Spirit?”
“Yes, Scrooge, you’re a complete bastard to him. See how all of his children are wearing un-branded trainers? There’s no money for Nike or Adidas.”
“Oh Spirit! Look at how poor Mrs Cratchit is sat on her fat arse reading Closer and Heat. I’ve never seen such scenes of utter desolation and poverty. There’s even a 4-pack of Skol on the side. What kind of broken human being would lower themselves to drinking Skol?”
Sat at the table was Bob Cratchit with his crippled son Tiny Tim. On the table was Tiny Tim’s life list, all of the birds he had seen so far in his young life. Scrooge leaned over and looked at the list, and then wept: “He hasn’t even got Black Grouse on his list, the poor tiny mite. Oh Spirit! He’s not even seen Storm Petrel. It’s just so terrible, Spirit!”
Tiny Tim coughed, and his minute body rattled. “Father,” said Tiny Tim, “do you know which bird I should like to see more than any other? A Hawk Owl! That’s my most wanted bird!”
Scrooge looked about shiftily. “Spirit, tell me,” said Scrooge, “will Tim live long enough to get his list up to even 300?”
“I see a British list of only 299 on Bubo,” the Spirit said. “If these shadows remain unaltered by the future, the boy will die a low-listing dude, mocked by those teeny-tickers with rich parents who get lifts all over the country to rack up enormous lists, then they go to university and discover booze and breasts, and so they quit twitching, only to return to it during a mid-life crisis in their early 40s.”
Scrooge lowered his head, overcome by penitence and grief. But his head was raised upon hearing his own name.
“A toast to Mr Scrooge!” said Bob Cratchit, as the family sat at the table. “I give you Mr Scrooge, the Founder of the Feast!”
“Are you fucking serious?” Mrs Cratchit said, somewhat disjointedly, having been drinking Lambrini all morning. “Over my dead body will we be toasting that odious, stingy, hard, unfeeling cu…”
“Mrs Cratchit!” Bob interrupted as he leaped to his feet in anger, “now even I won’t allow the C-word, and on Christmas of all days!”
“Well bollocks to you then, you gutless shit,” Mrs Cratchit said, and staggered into the living room to drown her sorrows with a bottle of Aldi’s finest Tamova vodka and a box of Ferrero Rocher.
“My time is short,” said the Spirit, “we must leave here.” Scrooge touched the Spirit’s robe, and they were transported to a group of bushes in a supermarket car park filled with Waxwings. Tiny Tim, sitting on his father’s back, was enthralled by the birds, as car loads of joyriding young gents drove by screaming vile obscenities out of the window of their Max Power Ford Escorts.
“See how much joy birds can bring to a twitcher’s life?” the Spirit said.
“I remember the feeling well,” said Scrooge, “because like all miserable suppressing bastards, I was once a twitcher myself, but then I got all sanctimonious and sour with age, and I started to hate the very people I once was, and so I moved to a remote part of Britain and started suppressing all the birds I found, and spent all my time slagging off the imbeciles involved in modern birding, because I’m such a bitter and twisted old fruit.”
The jolly Ghost of Twitching Present said farewell, and, as a mist swirled around him, Scrooge saw a draped and hooded phantom coming along the ground towards him.
THE LAST OF THE SPIRITS
“I am in the presence of the Ghost of Twitching Yet to Come?” Scrooge asked, as the air was filled with a solemn dread.
The spirit answered not, but pointed onward with his hand.
“Fair enough. By the way, do you mind if I call you the Ghost of Twitching Future? ‘Yet to Come’ is pretty cumbersome.”
The Spirit shrugged his shoulders, then led Scrooge to a graveyard, where a lone headstone stood in the corner. It had never been tended since it was laid.
“Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,” said Scrooge, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are the shadows of the things that may be only?”
The Ghost looked completely puzzled by the drunken structure of some of Dickens’s indecipherable sentences.
In the distance two figures emerged walking towards the headstone. As the figures drew closer, Scrooge recognised them: “Why it’s Martin Collinson, chairman of the BOURC, and he’s with Irish birding legend Harry Hussey. But why are they here?”
The two men stood at the head of the grave, undid their flies, and began to urinate on the headstone.
“Willet, Black-throated Accentor and Yellow-breasted Chat – three birds we could have added to the British list!” Dr Collinson growled.
“And he never told anyone about a feckin’ Willow Tit he had in Cork!” Harry spat.
“Spirit, who could have aroused such hatred and anger?” Scrooge asked.
Harry kicked the gravestone over, and the two men left. The Ghost led Scrooge to the gravestone, which read:
HERE LIES EBENEEZER SCROOGE, THE MOST MISERABLE SUPPRESSING BASTARD WHO EVER LIVED. EVEN WORSE THAN THE OLD SKOOL FLAMBOROUGH BIRDERS, THOUGH IT’S IMPORTANT TO STRESS THAT THE CURRENT FLAMBOROUGH BIRDERS ARE NOTHING LIKE THAT. IT’S *VERY* IMPORTANT TO STRESS THAT SO THAT NOBODY SENDS McKINNEY NASTY EMAILS OR POSTS DOGSHIT THROUGH HIS LETTERBOX
“No, Spirit! Oh no, no! Hear me, I am not the man I was. I will honour twitching and the dissemination of bird news in my heart. I’ll never suppress a bird again. I’ll never mock anyone in seven layers of Jack Pyke camo gear. I’ll never sign up to Ornithologyforum and endlessly post condescending and slightly aggressive postings designed to spoil a birder’s enjoyment of their hobby. I’ll never pour scorn on anyone who has Pied-billed Grebe on their list before Arctic Tern!”
The Ghost of Twitching Future shrank, collapsed, and dwindled down into the floor.
THE END OF IT
Scrooge awoke glowing with good intentions. He ran to the bedroom window and yelled to a boy below, “Hallo! Hallo there! What’s today?”
“It’s Christmas Day,” the boy replied.
“Christmas Day! My fine fellow, run to the Cratchit’s house, tell young Tiny Tim that there’s a Hawk Owl I’ve been suppressing behind this very house. Go now, run as fast as you can. There’s 50p in it for you!”
“50p? Fuck off, you tight old twat!”
“Okay, there’s a tenner in it for you.”
“A tenner? Nice one, Mr Scrooge,” and with that the boy ran to the Cratchit’s house.
Scrooge dressed and made for his nephew’s home, on his way wishing everyone he met with a very merry Christmas.
“Uncle! What brings you here?” his nephew said, shocked to see his uncle on Christmas day.
“Nephew, I want to take you up on that offer of a day out twitching. I want to feel again what it’s like to stand amongst a group of witless imbeciles that have no idea what they’re doing, looking at a Hen Harrier that we can all pretend is hudsonius. I shall see you early tomorrow!” Scrooge shouted, as he turned to hurry home.
By now the news had been broadcast of the Hawk Owl’s presence, and crowds were gathering behind Scrooge’s cottage. Limping slowly was Tiny Tim, determined to make it to the bird by his own effort.
Scrooge caught up with them: “Bob Cratchit and young Tim! A very merry Christmas to you both! Now you must hurry along, young Tim, the bird could get spooked and piss off never to be seen again.”
Tiny Tim pushed on as fast as his crippled stumps would carry him, and Ebeneezer Scrooge ensured that Tim was pushed to the front of the crowd for a good view.
But nothing could have prepared Scrooge for what he saw: “What the fuck is going on?” Scrooge yelled, as a group of long-lens photographers emerged from the plantation and returned to their cars which were parked side-on blocking an access lane on a farm track. “And what the shit are you two doing?” Scrooge enquired of two men playing Hawk Owl MP3s. “I don’t believe this! Has anyone seen the bird recently?”
“It hasn’t been seen for the last three hours,” a voice in the crowd said, as mobile phones and pagers went off all around, and everyone shouted to each other forgetting that birds actually have ears, “it was showing really well, but then it got flushed when a load of people got too close.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake!” Scrooge screamed.
“God bless us, every one!” Tiny Tim squeaked.
“You can just shut up, you little fucking cripple! It’s because of you that the bird has gone! Three weeks that bird’s been here, three whole weeks, it was perfectly content here. Unbelievable! Absolutely fucking unbelievable!”
Many thanks to Petroglyph for the use of the Hawk Owl photo
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