COLD? You can say that again, dear reader! On the brass monkey scale, Christmas Eve 2019 in frozen, snowbound Workington was definitely a ten out of ten.
So as Workington Man settled into his armchair and turned on the TV, it was no surprise to hear him murmur: ‘By ’eck, I’m glad I got that grant-aided cavity wall insulation!’
Sky Sports came on and the football match he had long been looking forward to, Newcastle v Crystal Palace, was just kicking off.
The Premiership game – the first ever played on a Christmas Eve – was close-fought, but still goalless by the 90th minute. Workington Man braced himself for a thrilling finish. Then suddenly the TV screen went blank . . . and a ghost appeared in the room.
The chubby, sweaty figure stood on the carpet, manacled by the legs to a seemingly endless steel chain, whose rusty, creaking links held a long row of heavy iron boxes.
‘Who the hell are you, clanking round here at this hour?’ growled Workington Man. ‘And what’ve you done to my telly?’
‘You can call me Dave,’ groaned the spectre, an air of thwarted ambition swirling around him.
– ‘And what’s all that stuff you’re dragging over my tufted Axminster?’
‘Woe is me!’ came the reply. ‘These boxes contain just some of the baleful burdens I built for myself during my premiership and which I now haul through eternity.
‘That box is the Pasty Tax, the next box is Project Fear, the next is George Osborne’s Dodgy Haircut. And that massive one, that stonking great pile of deadweight, is the 2016 Brexit Referendum.’
Workington Man was unimpressed. ‘Talking about premierships, Dave, I want to watch the football,’ he said. ‘So would you mind, to put it impolitely, doing one?’
‘Football? But I thought this was a rugby league town.’
– ‘Don’t get me started on that. I’ve been a soccer fan all my life, supporting Newcastle. But the other kids in school used to batter me for not liking rugby league. Truth to tell, I could never get used to those tight jockstraps and egg-shaped balls.’
‘Just chillax a bit, forget football and listen to me,’ said the spectre. ‘Tonight you will be visited by three spirits. They will impart to you vital intelligence about Brexit.’
– ‘Why me?’
‘Because the general election on December 12 ended in yet another hung Parliament, with Brexit delayed again. You are Workington Man, the concocted caricature of a voter whom the political parties were trying to target. Your kind may break the deadlock when the next general election is held, as soon it must be. Heed my words!’
With a final rattle of his chains, the phantom vanished.
‘Pillock!’ muttered Workington Man, switching the TV back on. Newcastle were on the attack . . . then Jonjo Shelvey was brought down in the box. ‘Penalty!’ Workington Man yelled at the TV. ‘It’s a stonewall penno, ref!’
But the screen went blank and a strange aroma, that of a cornfield disturbed by a running child, filled the air.
A female phantom appeared – thin, stern, trouser-suited. ‘Oh no, not another one,’ groaned Workington Man. ‘Who the hell are you?’
‘I am the Ghost of Brexit Past.’
– ‘Long past?’
‘Well, not that long. I quit last June, actually.’
– ‘Whaddya want? I’m trying to watch the footy here.’
‘I want to show you how my Withdrawal Agreement was popular before the Commons stupidly rejected it. Come, take my hand and we’ll fly.’
– ‘Okay, I’ll humour you. Just let me get my big coat on, it’s a bit parky out there. But are you sure your hand will hold me? It looks quite flimsy.’
‘I assure you it is strong and stable.’
Off they flew and landed at a bustling bar in Brussels, packed with EU leaders and Eurocrats. Beer and wine flowed, laughter rang out, music played and cries of ‘Wunderbar!’ and ‘Magnifique!’ echoed through the night air.
Jean-Claude Juncker danced a jig with Donald Tusk, while Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron were rolling on the floor in pools of tequila after downing a dozen shots each.
‘What’s all this then?’ asked Workington Man.
– ‘This was the scene in November 2018, after I finalised my deal with the EU leaders. They’re celebrating because they’re so relieved to be free of my tough-as-nails negotiating stance and my steadfast refusal to give an inch. I really had them on the ropes. By jingo, I showed ’em!’
‘What’s that they’re all shouting?’ asked Workington Man. ‘Sacre bleu! Le Brexit en nom seulement!’
– ‘Ah, yes. It translates as: Bloody hell! Britain had a brilliant negotiator! Quickly now, let’s fly again.’
She whisked him off to Ulster, but as they came in to land they smashed into a barrier near the border with the Republic. ‘Sorry,’ said the spirit as she helped Workington Man to his feet. ‘That’s the Irish backstop. Best not dwell on that.’
Seconds later, they were in a Belgravia mansion, where Tory MPs were gathered in the drawing room.
‘Total surrender,’ growled one.
‘Craven traitor,’ said another.
‘Shameful quisling,’ said a third.
‘What are they talking about?’ asked Workington Man. ‘I see they’re all wearing badges with ERG on them.’
‘This is the, er, the English Retrospective Group,’ said the phantom. ‘It’s an MPs’ history debating society and they’re giving their verdict on Chamberlain’s 1938 Munich agreement with Hitler. Earlier on, they discussed my Brexit deal and gave it their full support.’
– ‘Hang on, there’s that posh Rees-Mogg bloke standing by the fireplace. Why is he sticking pins in a picture of you?’
Before he could get an answer, they had whizzed on to Downing Street, where restless crowds chanting ‘B-R-I-N-O’ were being held back by police.
‘What’s BRINO?’ asked Workington Man.
‘It means, er, Britain’s Really Independent Now,’ replied the spirit. ‘The demonstrators just loved my deal.’
– ‘Are you sure? They’re burning you in effigy now.’
‘No, they’re just trying to keep warm,’ said the phantom. ‘Anyhow, must fly . . . bye.’ Then, bobbing through the air to the tune of Dancing Queen, she vanished.
Workington Man suddenly found himself back in his armchair. Switching the TV on again, he saw the game was in injury time and Newcastle had been awarded a penalty.
He waited nervously for Shelvey to take the spot-kick. But the player just stood there.
‘Oh, no!’ groaned Workington Man. ‘It’s a VAR check.’
Continued tomorrow . . .