With apologies to Charles Dickens.
Major was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by a Mr. Anthony Blair, the cabinet secretary, the electorate, and Norma. Cameron had signed it.
Old Major was as dead as the Lib-Dems.
Cameron was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but would readily admit that his Spitting Image character had been one of the more entertaining ones, and might conceivably be missed. You know, the grey one eating peas that you’re either imagining or about to Google.
It’s fine, we can wait. It’s worth a Google.
Cameron was not exactly a climate-change denier, but then he was no Green. External heat and cold had little influence. 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. The heaviest rain, snow, hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. The pigs they ‘came down’ on tended to be alive.
Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, ‘My dear Mr Cameron, how are you? When will you next come to see West Ham play?’ No beggars implored him for their housing benefit back, no children asked him why their tuition fees had trebled. Even the blind men’s dogs appeared to know him; there were a few hanging around Chequers now their owners had been declared fit to work.
Once upon a time — of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve — old David sat busy in his office. It was cold, biting weather: foggy withal, and he could hear the Conservative Future staffers outside wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts and wailing, being roundly bollocked by Grant Shapps. Once upon a time, Shapps would chase them up and down brandishing a velour cat-o-nine-tails, but it had been confiscated by the Whips’ office. Mr. Shapps was none too pleased by this. Frankly, neither was Cameron.
The door of his office was open that he might keep his eye upon his shifty, bearded clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, was reading out letters from constituents. Cameron had a fire, but the clerk’s fire was so very much smaller that it looked like one coal. But he couldn’t replenish it, for Cameron kept the coal-box for his friends in the City, and having closed the last colliery, planned to privatise the remaining contents of the box, and sell to the Chinese. The clerk put on a sweater his mother had knitted in the 80’s, and tried to warm himself at the candle; in which effort, being a man of a wildly creative imagination, he had some inexplicable success.
‘A merry Christmas, Dave! God save you!’ cried a cheerful voice. It was that of Cameron’s chancellor, who came upon him so quickly (I say!) that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.
‘Bah!’ said Cameron, ‘humbug!’
The chancellor was all in a glow; his face was plump and sneering; his eyes sparkled, and his nose bore the faintest traces of white… er, chalk dust.
‘Christmas a humbug, Dave?’ said Gideon. ‘You don’t mean that, I am sure?’
‘I do,’ said Cameron. ‘Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? You’re to be an Irish baronet! I can think of nowhere more dreadful to be a baronet! You’ve lost all the money in my treasury! What’s more, Christmas is a dangerous term, man. How many times? If you are to mention ‘‘Christmas’’ at all in my presence, or in that of a BBC camera, or, God forbid, Michael Crick, you must first attach the prefix “so-called’’.’
‘What right have you to be dismal?’ replied Gideon. ‘What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough, own half the pigs in Lincolnshire, and, somehow, have a majority in parliament.’
Cameron, having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said ‘Bah!’ again; and followed it up with ‘UKIP.’
‘Don’t be crass, Dave!’ said the chancellor.
‘What else can I be,’ returned the prime minister, ‘when I live in such a world? What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying civil servants’ wages without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer?’
‘Well, not much richer,’ mumbled Gideon.
‘If I could work my will,’ continued Cameron indignantly, ‘every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.’
‘Oh I say old boy, have you been reading my draft budget again?’ asked the chancellor, leafing through the notes in his hand with a baffled expression.
‘Mary in Luton asks, of the ‘so-called’ Big Society…’ muttered the clerk in the next room.
‘Let me hear another sound from you, you unwashed red bastard!’ bellowed Cameron, launching an inkwell through the door ‘and you can spend your Christmas with that tosspot Mary in buggering Luton!’
Meanwhile the fog and darkness thickened, and the cold became intense. In the corner of Downing Street, some Poles were repairing the gas-pipes, and had lighted a great fire in a burnt-out black cab, round which a party of ragged men and women had gathered: warming their hands and winking their eyes before the blaze in rapture. Some were of the Labour Party, and had fallen on hard times; others were Scottish Nationalists, and had never before seen fire.
At length closing time arrived. Cameron took his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy private-members’ club; and having read all the newspapers, and bid goodnight to Robert Halfon as he limped up the stairs after some young blond thing, went home to bed. He lived in chambers which had once belonged to his deceased former leader, and he had not bothered to refurbish them. Not even the hole in the wall where Gordon Brown had once helpfully tried to swat a fly away from an aide’s head with a printer.
Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knob on the door, except that it was very large (Banter!). It is also a fact, that Cameron had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence in that place. Let it also be borne in mind that he had not bestowed one thought on Major since the last party conference. And then let any man, if he can, explain how it happened that Cameron, having his key in the lock, saw in the knob, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change (Bully!) — not a knob, but Major’s face.
Alright, yes, a knob. But still, Major’s face.
It looked at Cameron as Major used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up on its ghostly forehead. The piggy eyes were open, and perfectly motionless. That, and its grey colour, made it horrible to behold.
As Cameron looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knob again.
To say that he was not startled would be untrue. But he put his hand upon the key he had relinquished, turned it sturdily, and walked in.
He did pause before he shut the door; and looked cautiously behind, as if half expecting to be met by the sight of Sir John’s quivering buttocks, head lodged through the letter box, before closing it with a bang.
Up the stairs Cameron went, not caring for the darkness. Like his best one-liners, darkness was cheap, and Cameron liked it. But before he shut his bedroom door, he walked through his rooms to see that all was right. He had just enough recollection of the face to desire to do that, and if you’d just seen John Major’s face in your front door, I daresay you would, too.
As he collapsed into a chair by the fire in his room, his eye settled on the old phone by the bedside. He’d never before had any need of it, only vaguely aware of its existence. It was with great astonishment, then, and with a strange, inexplicable dread, that as he gazed, it began to ring, a loud, shuddering peal that echoed through the house. The phone in the room below rang too, as did the one in the hall. It took him some seconds to realise that his pocket was vibrating, and retrieving the mobile from inside it, was greeted with the sound of Elton John’s Tiny Dancer, which Nick Clegg had set as his ring tone at their first cabinet meeting some years before, and had never told Cameron how to change.
This might have lasted half a minute, or a minute, but it seemed an hour. The phones ceased as they had begun, together, except the mobile, which carried on for a few more excruciating seconds, even as Cameron, exasperated, began battering it again and again against the side of his chair, until the screen cracked and glass and plastic shards spilled across the floor. Then the fire began to dim, and a high, nasal groan came from the end of the passage outside the bedroom. The door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder, coming straight towards his door.
The same face: the very same. Major in his suit and oversized glasses, grey as the day he was born. And the chains. The chains he drew were clasped about his middle; long, and wound about him like a tail.
‘Mercy!’ Cameron wailed, dropping to his knees. ‘Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?’
‘In life’ the spirit responded, ‘I was Conservative Prime Minister John Major, and I wear the chains I forged! I made them link by link, and yard by yard; I girded them on through the ERM and the Maastricht Treaty, and of my own free will I wore them. All bar this one.’ At that, Major gestured to an electronic tag fixed to his right ankle. ‘Norma had G4S put that one on after she found out about Edwina Currie.’
‘But you were such a good Prime Minister, Sir John! So full of enterprise and, erm, inspirational leadership…’ faltered Cameron.
‘Good Prime Minister?’ cried the ghost, wringing its hands, ‘I’m the most forgettable man in the history of British politics! Even Ted Heath came out (!) better than me! A warm pint of spit could best me in a charisma contest! I engaged in numerous romps whilst married, whilst running on an anti-sleaze platform! I sold my country down the river to a cabal of foie gras guzzling Eurocrats! I lost the 1997 election to a chimp in a suit; a fate that will befall you, too, unless you change your ways, David Cameron. Hear me! My time is nearly gone. I am here tonight to warn you, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. You will be haunted -‘
‘Oh come off it Major you old codger!’ snarled Cameron, suddenly indignant, ‘Don’t suggest for a second that you regret Maastricht? Or those, ‘romps’, you called them? And lose? To some illiterate lefty ape, or other I presume?’
‘Stranger things have happened,’ replied Major, ‘I mean, who’d have thought that Edwina Currie and I would have shacked-‘
‘Oh, for the love of Christ! Dine out a lot on that story, do you?’ snapped the PM, ‘Please, do continue, I’d love to hear more about you and Edwina. Good shag, was she? Did she make you feel 68 again?’
‘It was a good moment for me! A man of my age, physically starved for so long… and, my word, the things that woman knew! I’d never seen anyone handle a greased up aubergine with such-‘
‘HUMBUG!’ bellowed Cameron.
‘Well David, we both know why this makes you uncomfortable,’ continued the Ghost, slyly, ‘at least my close encounters didn’t involve livestock, deceased or otherwise.’
‘How dare you, sir!’ Cameron was now noticeably shaken. ‘Whatever you may or may not have heard involving… well, the slimy cow was never able to produce any credible… look, the thing about that pig is –’
‘YOU WILL BE HAUNTED,’ resumed the Ghost, ‘by Three Spirits.’
Cameron’s countenance fell. ‘Christ alive’ he thought to himself ‘please God, don’t let Paxman have had a stroke in the past day or so.’
‘Three Spirits,’ repeated the Ghost, ‘each of whom has business with you, David Cameron. Expect the first tomorrow, when the bell tolls One.’
‘Couldn’t I take ‘em all at once, and have it over, Sir John?’ hinted Cameron.
‘You’re not in the U15’s anymore, boy,’ replied the ghost, drily, ‘that changing room excuse won’t wash here.’
With that, Sir John turned and drifted to the window; it opened, and he passed into the night sky. Cameron followed, intrigued and horrified, and saw below him the street filled with shadowy phantoms, and realised with some dread that they were almost all faces he recognised; even Muammar Gaddafi’s, which had almost melted from his skull into the snow. There were dictators and civil servants, bankers and businessmen, all dragging chains, and all wailing terribly. Indira Ghandi kept slapping away the wandering hands of Aristotle Onassis; half of Airey Neave was being helped along by what was left of Lord Nelson. One by one, they passed the window and disappeared from view, into the shadows.
Slowly, Cameron retreated from the window, aware that he was trembling. He stumbled towards the bed and reached into what had been Samantha’s drawer in her bedside table, withdrawing half a bottle of gin and a large bag of what my lawyer has suggested I should say was flour.
‘Humbug,’ muttered the Prime Minister, and he closed the curtains.