Scrooge Goes Shopping:
A Modern Christmas Tale
New Statesman, 15 December 2003
Yes! And the bedpost was his own. The bed was his own,
the room was his own. Best and happiest of all, the
Time before him was his own, to make amends in!
I will live in the Past, the Present and the
Future! Scrooge repeated as he scrambled out of
bed. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within
me. O Jacob Marley! Heaven and the Christmastime be
praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob; on
Well, theres no need for that, said
Scrooge leapt into the air. He spun around to find
Marleys ghost at his shoulder, for the second
time that night.
You again! he yelled. I thought
it was over!
Nice to see you too, said Marley. Now,
how far have you got?
Ive done past, present and future!
shouted Scrooge. Im still recovering! Now
its Christmas morning. I have to buy a turkey
for Bob Cratchit. Ive got a whole city of people
to be nice to. What more do you want?
Well, said Marley, contractually,
you know, Ive done all I was obliged to. Shown
you the facts and let you choose, that sort of thing.
He leaned conspiratorially towards Scrooge.
But you know, the one good thing about all this
he raised his chains and rattled them; what had
terrified Scrooge a few hours before seemed now to be
simply showing off
Oh, stop it.
Sorry. Anyway, the one good thing is the travel.
I dont mean all this flying around in chains gnashing
my teeth, I mean the time travel. You saw what those
spirits can do. I get to do a bit of that too.
Do you? said Scrooge, who wasnt
Oh yes! said Marley. I mean, Im
not supposed to. But the places Ive been when
they werent looking! I could tell you some stories
Scrooge looked impatiently at the clock on the mantel,
which he had stolen from a pawn shop.
Yes, well, Im rather busy actually, Jacob.
So if youve just popped back to share a few holiday
anecdotes, youll understand if I ask you to go
Its fine, said Marley. Dont
worry. Ive stopped time again. Just for a while.
Is this going to take long? he asked.
Only I was planning to spend the afternoon kicking
Marley gave him a look.
Sorry, said Scrooge, somewhat wistfully.
I meant buying presents for cripples. Old habits,
Listen, whispered Marley, Im
not really supposed to, but theres one last place
I want to take you. This one is really going to blow
Blow me away?
I picked it up. Youll see. Come with me.
He held out his hand. Scrooge sighed again, and took
Where this time? he said.
Ive done that.
Not this one you havent, said Marley,
with a sly glint in his dead eyes.
Just get on with it, said Scrooge. He
closed his eyes, and they walked through the wall.
They stood in the centre of a giant avenue of light.
It stretched as far as Scrooge could see in both directions.
Great stone buildings reached to the sky, strung with
stars. At eye level, lights of all colours illuminated
cavernous spaces stacked high and wide with glittering
prizes. The place was packed with slow-moving streams
of people, moving on either side, and sometimes among,
a roaring river of red and black metal. The air was
heavy with sickly fumes and hung with clouds of indistinguishable
Bugger me! said Scrooge, his jaw hanging
What is this place? Where are we?
Oxford Street said Marley. Im
surprised you dont recognise it.
Oxford Street! repeated Scrooge, in wonder.
Its Christmas, in the year 2003, since
you were about to ask said Marley. There
are only five shopping days left, so everyones
I dont understand a word youre saying!
Youll get the hang of it. Just keep your
eyes open. This is the future of Christmas, my old friend.
Makes you and your prize turkey look rather quaint,
Turkey, murmured Scrooge. Do people
still eat turkey?
Never more so, said Marley. Look,
theres one. He pointed through the open
doors of a Tesco Metro.
Its diseased! squeaked Scrooge.
Its just wrapped in plastic. Perfectly
safe. Its the hormone injections you have to worry
Just roll with it, said Marley, who was
enjoying himself. The futures a foreign
country. They do things differently here. Now follow
me, and dont get lost.
They drifted down to street level. Scrooge could see,
now, that the vast caverns of light were shops
but shops the like of which he had never seen before.
Shops of such size, magnificence and opulence that they
must surely put the Royal Palaces of England to shame.
Every one of them was packed with people, dragging bags
and levering each other aside to look at the wares.
My Lord! Scrooge repeated. What
are these people doing?
Shopping. What does it look like? Its
Christmas, Ebenezer. A time for giving, remember? Look
at them all giving.
But they all look like theyre suffering!
Well, most of them are, conceded Marley.
Nobody really likes Christmas shopping, do they?
But youve got to get people something good. And
these days you can buy anything at all, right here in
the heart of London. Things you could never have dreamed
of, my old friend.
Scrooge gazed around him. It was true. In one window
stood a library of silver boxes, topped with tinsel
and a single sign: digital cameras. £49.99
Unbeatable Christmas offer. Then a white gold
necklace for £99.99. Purple blocks of what looked
like ice, scattered with what looked like snow and topped
with what looked like shoes, perfume bottles, glasses,
jewels, gold. Magical gift ideas throughout the
store read the writing on the vast window. Something
called DVDs was apparently popular. The
garments were made of materials Scrooge had never seen.
The textures, the shapes there had never been
anything like it.
Look at this, said Marley, peering through
a window. Cubby the Cuddly bear just £6.99.
Isnt that sweet look, hes got a little
hat and scarf.
Jacob, said Scrooge. These people
they must be rich even beyond my dreams! What
Ah, well, said Marley, thats
not quite it. You see, every year the pressure is on
these people to buy more and better gifts than they
bought last year. And every year these wonderful places
he waved his hand towards the nearest FCUK
make them offers they cant refuse. But to afford
it all, most of them get into debt.
Debt! yelped Scrooge, horrified.
I knew you wouldnt like it. Remarkable
how easy it is to get into debt here. In fact, its
positively encouraged. Just last month they managed
to borrow £10 billion between them.
Scrooge fainted, but found himself remaining upright.
You cant faint, said Marley. Youre
a shade from the past, remember? This isnt your
real body. Get with the programme.
Please stop talking like that! begged
Scrooge. Why this debt? And who encourages it?
Oh, everyone, said Marley, vaguely. If
people dont get into debt they cant keep
buying things they dont need, and if they dont
keep buying things they dont need, the economy
Economy? mouthed Scrooge. Collapse?
Yup. All of it. The whole shebang. Nobody really
understands how it works, but essentially they all have
to keep their purses open and their banks empty or everyones
in deep doo-doo.
But why buy things they dont need?
asked Scrooge. Marley burst out laughing.
Oh Ebenezer, you are quaint, he said.
And you call yourself a businessman! The point
is that they have to keep buying things. Its all
about something called consumer confidence.
And the people who make all these wonderful things make
it easier by designing them so they dont last.
Then people have to go and buy more.
Do stop repeating everything I say. Yes, they
break, and then people throw them into big holes in
the ground and go out to the shops again. Guess how
much household rubbish this country produced last year?
Twenty-eight million tonnes! Remarkable eh?
People throw out their bodyweight in the stuff every
three months. And eighty percent of it goes straight
into the aforementioned big holes. Rather like a midden,
they are, but a midden about the size of Middlesex.
Marley stopped and looked at him sternly.
Ebenezer, he said. Ive brought
you all this way. Please try and ask some intelligent
Scrooge gathered his thoughts.
I dont believe it, he said, finally
and somewhat lamely.
Its all true.
How do you know all this?
Well, you know, one picks things up. I have
a lot of time for reading. Did you know that they cut
down fifty thousand trees just to make the paper that
people use to wrap their Christmas presents in? Then
they throw it all away the next day. And, since you
cant faint, you might be interested to know that
last year this lot spent six hundred billion pounds
just buying things. Six hundred billion, Ebenezer! They
spend over £500 each just on Christmas Day. Every
Christmas they spend fifteen hours each shopping, two
hours each queuing
But Jacob, this is awful! cried Scrooge.
Where is the joy? Where is the spirit of love,
of giving, of taking pleasure in simple things? Where
is the true spirit of Christmas?
Oh, that, said Marley. Its
over there. Scrooge followed his finger through
the window of a department store, to where a man in
an ill-fitting Santa costume was handing out Christmas
Sale leaflets in front of a giant plastic iceberg sponsored
by Vodaphone. Scrooge looked utterly crestfallen.
Oh come on, old man, said Marley. Chin
up! Remember what the Spirits taught you!
Spirits! spat Scrooge. Humbug to
the spirits, Jacob, and to you! Three journeys I took
today. I came back changed. I came back feeling all
beneficent and selfless! Then you bring me here!
He hung his head.
Youve really ruined my Christmas,
he said, sadly.
It was beginning to dawn on Marley that this might
not have been a good idea after all. He grabbed Scrooges
hand and, before he had time to think, dragged him bodily
through the wall of the HMV Megastore. For the eighth
time that day, everything went dark.
Scrooge was back in his chair by the fire. Marley was
still at his side.
Was it real? he asked, dazed.
Yup, said Marley, who was shuffling from
foot to foot. Listen, Ebenezer
I may have
made a mistake taking you there. It was just supposed
to be a bit of fun. If Ive gone and undone all
the Spirits work you have no idea how much trouble
Im going to be in
Scrooge looked up at him.
Jacob, he said. Can it be changed?
The Spirits told me I could change my future by my actions.
Could I change that one too?
You could give it a shot, said Marley.
I mean, I dont fancy your chances, but
sensing an escape route, he pulled himself together
no, I mean, certainly. Why not? Hah hah.
The futures just the result of our actions, after
Then I shall not buy a present for Tiny Tim!
declared Scrooge. Now that Ive seen where
it leads, I shall refuse to participate. Instead, I
shall visit him and warn him of the dangers of runaway
said Marley, alarmed, well,
lets not get carried away, eh? That might not
go down too well. Especially the bit about consumption,
what with his chest and all.
Perhaps youre right, Scrooge pondered.
Then I shall keep it simple. Maybe Ill just
buy him an orange.
Bit tight, Ebenezer, said Marley. The
spirit of giving, remember? Surely you could at least
stretch to a bag of walnuts?
Scrooge looked at him, and smiled.
What the hell? he said. It is Christmas.