Class conscious

My five-year-old son is fascinated by my accounts of A Christmas Carol, but I am reluctant to read him the book or show him the video. He enjoys frightening stories at the time, but then tends to wake up screaming at two o'clock in the morning.

"What exactly is the matter with Tiny Tim?" he'll ask repeatedly, and "Does Scrooge really go to bed with his hat on?". He's also very interested in the two kindly gentlemen who call on Scrooge on Christmas Eve asking for donations to the needy, and the way in which, when they tell Scrooge that the poor will die without contributions from the better off, Scrooge replies: "Well, they'd better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

My son, an instinctive Malthusian, now happily chirrups these words while playing with his toys.

I was talking to him about Scrooge the other day when there was a knock at the door. I leaned out of the window and saw one of those shivering waifs who come around selling from a crateload of tea towels, oven gloves and so on. They always target our area in the run-up to Christmas, and they're schooled in class antagonism (if you don't buy, their disgust is palpable). I therefore ignored the knock and went on telling my son about what a rotten old bastard Scrooge was for neglecting the poor at Christmas.

A few minutes later, the penny dropped, and I felt pretty bad about my own conduct. But the next day, the waif with the dishcloths came back, and this time I answered the door.

"I'm glad to have caught you in, sir," he said, with a strong hint of sarcasm. He then began showing me his wares, none of which I wanted, and all of which were quite a bit more expensive than they would be in a shop.

But then I spied a pair of gardening gloves in his crate. I have just taken over an allotment, and that very day I'd lost one of my gardening gloves while strimming. I bought the gloves. I was happy; the vendor was happy. We wished each other a merry Christmas. I could have skipped down the street like Alastair Sim in the closing moments of the 1951 film version.

This article first appeared in the 17 December 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The ignorance of the Islamophobes