A Sussex Christmas Carol

It’s the last week of term before Christmas, so what better time of year to have your houses haunted pleasantly in an improving moral tale. Non-Sussex material is further down the page…!

Stave 1: Mackie’s Ghost
Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, was Ebenezer Scrarthing! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!

What Sussex House might of looked like in Victorian times
What Sussex House might of looked like in Victorian times

Nobody ever stopped him around Falmer to say with gladsome looks, “My dear Scrarthing, how are you? When will you come to see me?” No beggars or other junior staff implored him to bestow a trifle, no students asked him what it was o’clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to Bramber House, of Scrarthing. But what did Scrarthing care! It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of The Claimant’s Campus, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance.

One afternoon, Scrarthing was sat at his desk – provided under price-competitive tender from the Duffiwig & Sons Desk Company of Coldean Lane – when his Porter, Mr Cratchit, passing the open doorway, wished him a merry Christmas.

Despite his comparatively good mood, for he had that very morning banished five irksome students from his domain, this jovial greeting was too much.

“Let me hear another sound from you,” said Scrarthing, “and you’ll keep your Christmas by losing your situation! And while admittedly that’s likely to happen anyway once I transfer your employment to Interservants Limited, let us not hasten the process unduly!”

That night, Scrarthing returned to his mansion in disgust. “Christmas!” he muttered to himself. “Bah humbug! How was Christmas ever profitable to anyone at all?”

29[1]Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the front door, except that it was very large. And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Scrarthing, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change—not a knocker, but Mackie’s face.

Mackie’s face. As in life, the face of Sussex’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor had a dismal light about it. And then, in tones ethereal, it began to speak: “Scrarthing!” scraped Mackie’s hideous voice. “Scrarthing! I am here, tonight, to warn you, that you have yet a chance of escaping my fate! Tonight, you will be haunted by three protestors, erm, I mean spirits of course. Wooooooooooooh!” (This last sound was a ghostly noise which that bastard Charles Dickens will no doubt neglect to include when he writes a parody of this story hundreds of years later.)

Stave 2: The First of the Three Spirits
Scrarthing went to bed and thought, and thought, and thought it over and over, and over, and could make nothing of it. The more he thought, the more perplexed he was; and, the more he endeavoured not to think – as any good university master should – the more he thought.

Then the curtains of his bed were drawn aside, and a ghostly voice said, “I am the Ghost of Falmer Past.” It put out its strong hand as it spoke, and clasped him gently by the arm. “Rise! And walk with me!”

It would have been in vain for Scrarthing to plead that the weather and the hour were not adapted to pedestrian purposes, and that he had actually sold off all the roads of the campus to Serco and therefore had no right of way – for suddenly he found himself standing in the Library Square of a year long left behind by the mists of time.

Falmer Past
Falmer Past

“Good Heavens!” gasped Scrarthing, clasping his hands together as he looked around him. “This is the year I first joined this establishment! Why look: there, that group of five students is engaging in a public debate about the nature of a university. And a crowd has gathered around them to contribute their own opinions!

“And – hello! – there’s Penny, the girl I was betrothed to until she decided to marry someone who wouldn’t turn her name into a cheap joke.”

“Your lip is trembling”, said the Ghost. “And what is that upon your cheek?” Scrarthing muttered, with an unusual catching in his voice, that it was a pimple.

At sight of a young gentleman with a full head of hair, Scrarthing cried in great excitement: “Why, it’s Duffiwig! Bless his heart; it’s Duffiwig with his old hair back again.” Young Duffiwig rubbed his hands; adjusted his tailored waistcoat; and called out in a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice (but mainly rich): “What an idea I have just had!”

“And you remember what that idea was?” crooned the Spirit.

“Aye,” replied Scrarthing. “It was the idea that shattered this tranquil scene of freedom and equality. Duffiwig’s Patented Outsourcing Proposal landed on my desk the very next morning.”

Stave 3: The Second of the Three Spirits
Awaking in the middle of a prodigiously tough snore, and sitting up in bed to get his thoughts together, Scrarthing put his astonishingly vivid thoughts down to a dream. “An undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. That Michelin-starred chef I employed may not be a progidy after all.”

But then he heard himself being summoned by another ghostly voice. “I am the Ghost of Falmer Present!” And then, in a maelstrom of effervescent light and energy, the TARDIS materialised (Is this right? -Ed.) outside the home of Scrarthing’s poor Porter, Mr Cratchit.

lewes-court-porter-signMrs Cratchit was slaving over a hot stove, preparing the out-sauce to serve with the family’s meagre portions of turkey. She turned to her eldest daughter: “What has ever got your precious father then?” she wondered. “He should have been back a good 30 minutes ago. I expect he’s stopped for another one of his tea-breaks.”

The family sat and waited for its head to arrive. An hour or two later, Scrarthing said, “Spirit, tell me if this bit of the story will ever be resolved!” and the Ghost of Falmer Present said, “If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the Porter will never end his tea-break.”

“Good Lord, how awful,” ejaculated Scrarthing (See me. -Ed.) “Is there no way we can do this slumborous Porter Cratchit out of his position?”

But at that very moment, the bell struck twelve. Scrarthing looked about him for the Ghost, but saw it not.

Stave 4: The Last of the Spirits
No sooner had the striking finished, and the picket lines disbanded, did Scrarthing behold a hideous hooded Phantom. On its hoodie was inscribed the legend, “One solution: revolution!”

What Sussex IT Services still looks like
What Sussex IT Services still looks like

“I am in the presence of the Ghost of Falmer Yet to Come?” asked Scrarthing. The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand. The campus seemed to spring up around them; there they were, in the heart of it, amongst a throng of merchants which appeared to have become established in Library Square, chinking their money in their pockets.

The Spirit stopped beside one little knot of business men. Scrarthing advanced to listen to their talk.

“No,” said one of them. “I wouldn’t turn off the fire alarm in Lewes Court because one of the tenants hadn’t paid their subscription to my security service.”

“Quite right too,” put in another. “I had to fine a student today for bringing their own vittles rather than buying lunch from my outlet.”

Scrarthing was wide-eyed with astonishment. “Spirit!” he said. “This is a glorious place! In leaving it, I shall not leave its lesson, trust me. I could create this Future!”

But just then, a group of sinister figures appeared at the entrance to Sussex House. “I have written a monograph on the subject of The Student and Its Repression on the South Coast,” said one of them, a journalist for the Central Press Syndicate.

“The Manchester Guardian has paid me 5 shillings for my piece,” said another, sharpening his pencil as he spoke, “on ‘Banished Scholar Speaks Out: Why Cannot I Attend My Physician’s Appointment?’ The University authorities only offered me 3 shilings not to publish it!”

Scrarthing was wide-eyed with astonishment. “Forsooth!” he cried, breaking into a parody of Shakespeare for a brief moment, “Is this what will happen in the Future if we go ahead without making appearences of listening to that surplus population that people call ‘students’?

Why, I cannot have this glorious vision of a University eradicated  by a knot of long-haired malnourished red republicans! I shall re-admit those five irksome louts to my establishment, and for ever more point that as an example of my tolerance, mercy and compasion – while I carry out Duffiwig’s strategem, of course.”

Stave 5: The End of It
Yes! The bedpost was his own. The bed was his own, the room was his own, the mansion with five acres of accompanying land was his own. Best of all, his time was his own, to make his amends in.

“Duffiwig’s idea shall yet live on! I have seen the Future, and it is outsourced.”

And they all lived commercially ever after.

Monkey business

Michael Farthing is 65
Michael Farthing is 65

Today is Human Rights Day, so what more appropriate occasion for the Nonhuman Rights Project to launch its first case to challenge the unlawful detention of a monkey, Tommy the Chimpanzee.

This is based on an argument of Stephen Pinker’s that “we have used the language of human rights to expand its net of solicitude ever outwards towards categories of humans (women; slaves; prisoners-of-war; also children, prisoners, those with mental and physical disabilities and many others) previously invisible to the powerful.”

In a press statement, legal peson Tommy the Chimpanzee told reporters: “Ooh aaaah oh oooooh aahhh oooohh.”

Public good theory

Remember the guy who jumped into the Thames and disrupted the Oxbridge Boat Race a couple of years ago? Well, he’s narrowly escaped being deported back to Australia and forced to leave his British wife and child behind.

This is the sort of boat that will be used to take Trenton back to his home country
This is the sort of boat that will be used to take Trenton back to his home country

The government had decided that his presence in the UK was “not conducive to the public good” – with his six-month prison sentence, Trenton Oldfield’s case set a new record for this power, usually used against serious criminals such as violent robbers and sexual offenders.

Documents served on him also stated that he “could be considered a threat to national security,” presumably because the sort of people who take part in the Oxbridge Boat Race will one day be running the Home Office, MI5 and MI6.

Fortunately, his appeal to the immigration tribunal was successful, so he will not be becoming the first convict to be transported to Australia since 1868.

On the downside, this means that he will not – in the fullness of time – become wealthy, change his name to Magwitch, return to the UK and bestow great gifts upon me as a charming young man who supported his cause.

How fortunate that legislation that would effectively suspend the use of ‘right to family life’ arguments in immigration cases has not (yet) been passed by Parliament!

john duffy cartoon large

Five Plus! of the best seasonal articles

That was the year that was

We’re at nearly-the-end of 2013, and this blog has had almost 14,000 hits from people who either have a slightly creepy interest in some of the random drivel I write about, but also from those who stumbled upon it by accident, with search terms that give me a laugh when checking out my statistics, such as:

mr whippy cone with hundreds & thousands
quality services studies in 5 stars hotels using spss
has anyone one a farm in the covent garden?
gabriel jewish quotes
even communists have friends – and
henry viii bedroom

TardisXmas[1]Whichever group you’re in, Gabrielquotes would like to wish a very merry Christmas and a happy new year to all of our readers – and also to our stars: Sir George Campbell MP, and -Ed., and even to Michael Farthing, Claire Mackie, John Duffy, Katy Bourne, the beleaguered Press Office at the University of Sussex; and all the rest of you: you may be extremely irritating/incompetent/frustrating and have only a vaguest grasp of human rights, but you never provide a dull moment so enjoy a winter break on whatever outrageously favourable salary you have.

God bless us, every (That’s enough goodwill. -Ed.)

Your spirited bunch of performers this week
In tonight’s episode, the part of Ebenezer Scrooge was played by Professor Michael Farthing. Jacob Marley was played by Professor Claire Mackie, and I’ll leave to your imagination who was behind Porter Cratchit. Mr Fezziwig was played by John Duffy, and the Three Spirits were played by the Sussex Three (there were going to be Five Spirits but we had to downsize due to commercial pressures). This was an Gabrielquotes production.

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