169,020 were dead: to begin with. There’s no doubt whatever about that, because that’s what it says on the government’s website.
It’s the time of year when we’re bombarded with half-baked parodies of A Christmas Carol. You know the sort of thing: the Prime Minister grumpily refusing to buy geese or chestnuts (because it’s paterfamilias Stanley who loves nuts and goosing) before being visited by three tiresomely predictable ghosts, who will help him see the error of his ways.
The Ghost of Christmas Past will show him bog-washing David Cameron at Eton or calling George Osborne “Oik” at the Bullingdon Club. Christmas Present will be drawn with the merest hint of misogyny as a shrewish wife complains about the wallpaper. Christmas Future will show a huge but indeterminate number of blond-mopped children weeping by an extra-girth grave.
It won’t, however, be very convincing. Boris Johnson doesn’t fit the model for Scrooge. If Johnson were a Dickensian character, he’d be called something like Boris Beefbasher, and would loudly call for rounds of drinks he didn’t intend to pay for and end every sentence with “don’tcherknow?” We’ve seen him. We know he doesn’t skulk from shadow to shadow, avoiding his nephew wherever possible. If he’d been Fred Holywell’s uncle, Fred wouldn’t have had to spend half an hour on Christmas Eve persuading Uncle Bojo to come to a party. No, he’d have been woken on Christmas morning by Johnson bursting through a window with a half-drunk bottle of Taittinger in each fist, riding a pig and demanding “more pies, damnation, more pies!” Then he’d ruin the charades by doing his impression of Michael Gove vomiting into the Nordmann before “going back to work”.
In an attempt to draw fire from Johnson over Christmas parties, the whole Cabinet have tried to make office Xmas parties sound jolly and, in the process, simply revealed that everything they knew about office parties was gleaned from sitcoms of the early Noughties
Johnson rarely avoids a party, even when parties are illegal. It’s as if Michael Howard had been found in a field in Berkshire, shortly after passing the Criminal Justice Act 1994, ripped to the gills on MDMA with sweat waterfalling off him, muttering about having “lost his friends” – before gyrating nonstop for six hours to music that could be characterised by a series of repetitive beats (not to be confused with the ruddy-faced beets on the Tory backbenches).
It’s difficult to parody the current government with Christmas stories, because it’s quite possible Cabinet ministers haven’t understood them at all. Why else would they choose this time of year – when we remember how the Holy Family were made to flee their native land by Herod and wandered stateless for years – to start really laying into Middle Eastern refugees? It’s like they read the story of the Nativity and thought the hero was the innkeeper.
As a dual citizen himself, I wonder if Johnson felt any pangs on Thanksgiving when most of his Cabinet members took to the airwaves to discuss how we could stop people fleeing religious persecution from crossing rough seas in boats. I don’t wonder for long, because the answer is clearly: No.
In an attempt to draw fire from Johnson over Christmas parties, the whole Cabinet have tried to make office Xmas parties sound jolly and, in the process, simply revealed that everything they knew about office parties was gleaned from sitcoms of the early Noughties. Worst of all, we had to hear Sajid Javid repeatedly say the word “snogging”.
This was as disconcerting as when you sit bolt upright at 3am and realise the china doll, perched in a wicker chair in the corner of your bedroom at an Airbnb, is repeatedly whispering the telephone number you had as a child.
People who work in offices don’t like office parties. Freelancers like office parties because we get to emerge, blinking and pallid from our lonely typing-hovels. The only other people who enjoy workplace bashes are bosses, because their employees are forced to pretend they like them for hours. Well, bosses and Boris Johnson.
Most of us didn’t have office parties last year, or many festivities at all. My family were meant to be seeing my sister-in-law for Christmas but had to cancel because of the restrictions. I never saw her again because she contracted COVID and died in January.
I won’t be writing a version of A Christmas Carol for Johnson, despite there being some open goals. We know what he was doing on Christmas past: turning a blind eye to guideline-busting office parties and having friends over to stay by defining them as part of a “childcare bubble”. We know what he’ll be doing at Christmas present: he’ll be avoiding answering any questions about it. Christmas future is easy to predict, too. There’s a yawning grave in it, but he won’t notice. He’ll be off talking to the press about how amazing Octonauts is.
So, no. Toothless parodies will no longer do. In truth, I don’t know what ghosts will haunt Boris Johnson this year. But, as we sit down for Christmas dinner with an empty seat, I do know who will be haunting us.
Nathaniel Tapley is a comedy writer and performer on the TV shows you hate