With apologies to Dickens. Like the original this is a piece of five parts, divided into five staves. I will publish it between now and Christmas. Some of the text is directly borrowed from the original, most of it is not.
A Christmas Carol
Stave One – Simon’s Ghost
Lord Simon was dead. Having been Lord Chancellor in 1945 it would have been a miracle if he had not been dead. Grayling knew he was dead. How could it be otherwise? There had been sixteen holders of the office between Lord Simon and Grayling so he knew him to be dead as definitely as if he had been by the graveside as the gravediggers shovelled the earth on to the casket.
Now was the winter of Grayling. The winter whereby he was to be supreme. As the leaves had turned he had begun to change the world around him. As the days shortened he was calling time on age old aspects of life that spoke of the English dream. Fair play. Decency. The protection of the underdog.
External heat and cold had little influence on Grayling. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn’t know where to have him. There was no wind, no rain, no winter chill that could diminish his ambition. If Macbeth had vaulting ambition that o’erleapt itself then Grayling’s ambition was controlled and calculated. Yes it burned within him but he was determined to be the master not the servant.
In the office, the office so frivolously decorated by a predecessor in title, Grayling sat basking in the warmth of a single candle and an 11% pay rise. A Junior Official passed through the office and caught the eye of The Lord Chancellor.
“Merry Christmas, sir,” said the Junior Official
“Bah!” responded The Lord Chancellor, “Humbug!”
“But Sir, surely Christmas is not time for humbug,” the Junior Official proclaimed.
“It is no more or no less of a day than any other,” Grayling muttered.
“No matter, but I was wondering whether I could have tomorrow off? You see I am doing well reading all the responses this time round and my wife is cooking dinner,” the Junior Official asked.
“And you expect to be paid for 25th December like all other days? You expect the taxpayer to pay for your Christmas celebrations?” spluttered The Lord Chancellor.
“You and I have never quarrelled Lord Chancellor, and we are not going to begin over the festivities,” smiled the Junior Official, “Indeed Mrs Junior Official told me to invite you for Christmas dinner if you do not have plans.”
“Bah! Humbug! You are a bigger fool than I first thought. I am not supping with you and yours. Remind me, what is your wife?”
“A legal aid lawyer,” the Junior Official replied meekly.
“Ha I knew it! You will dine like Kings no doubt. Spending her lavish wealth. I shall spend tomorrow doing no more or no less than I do every other day of the year. I will be working tirelessly to make sure your wife can no longer earn more than the Prime Minister. I shall not cease from my toil,” continued The Lord Chancellor, warming to his theme.
“I wager my wife earns less than yours but lets make nothing of it. I wish you a Merry Christmas,” the undeterred Junior Official gave his superior a warm smile.
“And a Happy New Year!” the Junior Official continued as he backed from the room.
“HUMBUG, HUMBUG I SAY!” Grayling’s voice followed him down the corridor.
And so Grayling packed his belongings in his office by himself. His red ministerial boxes spoke of Christmas cheer but he stuffed them full of the worst news he could find as an antidote. Memos of failing prisons, misspent money on contracts, plummeting opinion polls on Police and Crime Commissioners. Anything to fuel his temperament. The world was agin him.
He walked the corridors to his waiting car. The portraits of those that proceeded him watched his progress. The ermine clad lawyers of yesteryear casting their condescending gaze upon his camel coloured suit. Elwyn-Jones, Hailsham, Simon, Birkenhead, Halsbury et al. What did they know of life and the law? What did they know of his woes as a reformer?
His car whisked him through the London streets. The electorate going about their mundane business. The greyness of their lives matching the blandness of the streets. He was relieved to be at his home, to feel the familiarity of his key in his hand. The door closed on the outside world and he placed his keys on the hallstand. For one moment he saw not his bald features looking back at him from the mirror on the stand but a face from the portraits, the Viscount Simon. He blinked and it was gone. Humbug. It had been a long year.
One of the problems of having two homes was that you could never quite be sure which one your family was in. This house was quiet. He realised that his family must be at their constituency home. “Never mind,” thought he, “tomorrow is just another day.”
So he dined alone. A meal on a tray in the TV room. The wall was adorned with photographs of important people he had met. People of influence. Like his friend Gideon. Him shaking hands with Lady Thatcher. Soon sleep overcame him and his head sank to his chest. He awoke to a sound. His wineglass was over on the tray, disturbed by some unseen force.
Grayling started. Every photograph on the wall was changed. Still his face but every other face was now the face of Lord Simon, his painted features staring blankly at him.
“Humbug!” he said aloud.
Each of the photographs returned to their original subject.
“I shall have none of it!” he proclaimed, to nobody in particular.
There then came a rumbling noise that seemed to come from the bowels of the house. It started in the basement and ascended the stairs.
“Who is there?” cried Grayling, “Susan is that you?” he asked, despite the improbability of his wife making more noise than an oncoming herd of wildebeest.
And then a figure appeared before him in the room. It did not come through the door. It just appeared. The same face: the very same. Viscount Simon in his wing collar and waistcoat. Full of Edwardian patrician bearing. A ceremonial chain of office wound around his translucent body without seeming to bind him. Grayling could observe the other side of the room through his transparent torso. Though he looked the phantom through and through, and saw it standing before him; though he felt the chilling influence of its death-cold eyes; he was still incredulous, and fought against his senses.
“Viscount Simon,” acknowledged Grayling.
“You recognise me and yet you do not know me,” the spectre spoke.
“How now!” said Grayling, caustic and cold as ever. “What do you want with me?”
“Much!” Simon’s voice dripped with foreboding, “witness my ceremonial chains that adhere to me, even in death.”
“What of them?” replied Grayling, voice more assured than his heart.
“Learn of them, Grayling. Learn of the office you hold. The office that lead to my creation of the Legal Aid fund. Learn of the things I know and you should hold dear. You don’t believe in me.”
“I do not,” responded Grayling, “Humbug I say.”
“You do not believe in Legal Aid,” proclaimed the ghost.
“I believe that at £2 billion pounds we have one of the most generous Legal Aid systems in the wor….”
The spectre raised a hand to silence his successor.
“You must learn what I and others know or you must suffer the fate of countless others.”
“Do you mean I am to wander restless as you do, a spectre, the undead?”
“No, I mean the Northern Ireland job. And to wander through history as the person who destroyed a jewel in the crown of British Democracy. So I shall teach you. You have been granted the chance, at my request. You will be visited this evening by Three Spirits.”
“Look if this is the chance you speak of, I’d rather not if its all the same,” murmured Grayling.
“Silence.” commanded the ghost of Viscount Simon, “As the clock strikes the hour so will each spirit visit you. And from this you will learn of what I speak.”
“If its going to happen can’t these guys all come at once?” Grayling asked.
“No, each visit shall come to you in turn. Without their visits,” said the Ghost, “you cannot hope to shun the path I foresee for you.”
And with that the figure was gone. Grayling checked the window which remained locked. He looked all about him and could see no evidence of the presence of anyone or anything. He sat back in his chair. He tried to say the word “Humbug” but stopped at the first syllable. Be it from the dullness of what the spirit said or the excitement of unexpected company or just the rigours of life he lapsed once more in to sleep. A dreamless sleep. A dead sleep.
TO BE CONTINUED