Spare a thought for Scrooge this Christmas

THE homeless East European man had been missing for so long from his usual spot under Tower Bridge that it seemed like he might have succumbed to the Great Freeze.

Then up he popped on Christmas Eve, flogging copies of Freedom, a slim journal that has been preaching anarchism from its headquarters in Whitechapel since 1886.

I think it’s an omen of the revival of anarchism in 2023 after decades in which it has been reduced to being peddled as a political gateway drug by Trotskyists and other weirdos.

After all, the mutual aid philosophy promoted by Prince Kropotkin, a founder of the Freedom journal during his London exile, seems eminently suited to a modern Britain in which the whole political class has essentially done a runner.

Is Richly Sunak even prime minister anymore? What IS the plan for the future NHS? Difficult to say for sure in a country where serious debate is now confined to the pros and cons of the air fryer.

As we look back fondly to the traditional homebound Christmases of the Covid years, many have confronted the prospects of this year’s celebrations with dread and trepidation.

It’s been a season of unavailable trains and unaffordable turkeys, with little to look forward to but Season 3 of Emily in Paris. Is 2023 likely to bring any relief? No.

Anyway, I’ve sidetracked myself.

Today’s Christmas message was intended as a defence of my fellow Londoner, Ebenezer Scrooge. Since his creation in 1843, the year after Kropotkin’s birth, Dickens’ character has served as the model of the mean-spirited miser.

There’s been more Scrooge-mania than usual this Christmas, perhaps a reflection of the mean spirits of the time. Among the new adaptations that have popped up are one set in Peckham, just three and a half miles south of the triangle between the Monument and Cornhill where Dickens placed the original.

I’ve always thought it was a bit unfair that Scrooge’s name gets linked to every covetous and unrepentant low-life from the sweatshop baron to the bloke in the pub who skips out before his round.

After all, Scrooge saw the light after the ghostly visitations on Christmas Eve and immediately sent round for the biggest goose in Leadenhall Market to treat the Cratchits.

Contrast that with the likes of Ebenezer Hunt, who’ll be just as big of a tightwad on Boxing Day as he was on Christmas Eve as he continues to assure us that the country simply cannot afford to pay workers a living wage.

A lot of commentators have jumped on the Scrooge bandwagon this year to denounce our selfless political and business leadership.

“If we look at 2022 we can see any number of Scrooges at work,” according to a piece in the Morning Star. (Yes, you read that right. Apparently it’s still going.) “One example is Simon Thompson, chief executive of Royal Mail.”

“Dickens never suggested that Scrooge was bad at business,” it opines. “Scrooge no doubt, before the visitation of the Christmas ghosts, would have argued frugality was the key to keeping his business going – keeping heating and staffing costs under tight control being central to it.

“Thompson, on the other hand, shows no signs of being any good at business, but is eager to copy all the worst aspects of Scrooge.”

In an equally humourless missive from across the Atlantic, the Star Tribune reflects that “What’s notable is that Scrooge departs from his miserly course in two quite distinct ways. He commits himself to income “redistribution” (as in the largesse to be planned over punch) and also to what economists sometimes call “pre-distribution” (as in Cratchit’s pay raise).

“Today, as in the 1840s, both approaches have a role to play in improving the well-being of the less affluent — both efforts that increase the earned incomes of lower-paid workers as well as public and private transfers of resources to those left in need.”

Right. Enough. I’ll stop now. It’s almost time to get the Greggs Festive Vegan Pie into the microwave.

Happy Christmas! And look kindly on all the Scrooges. They may one day see the light.

Greetings from Gringo Central

I WAS in the Dog House for the England-Senegal match.

It’s a pub in Roma Norte, one of the chintzier bits of Mexico City and on Sunday lunchtime it was rammed with Brits. 

“I never knew there were so many of the buggers,” I remarked to the only Mexican who wasn’t one of the bar staff. “Hay muchos,” he sighed. “There’s a lot of them. And today they’re all in here!” 

I thought Mexico City would be a safe getaway from World Cup fever but no such luck. Ingerluuuund had followed me here from London.

It turns out Roma and the neighbouring district of Condesa have become Gringo Central since the pandemic. An army of foreign millennials has moved in to take advantage of long distance out-of-office working and to blight the lives of the Mexicanos in the process.

You now hear more English than Spanish on the street and it’s easier to get a kambucha tea, whatever that is, than a cafe con leche with a mezcal livener.

One long term expat reckons it’ll need either a magnitude-8 quake or a kidnapping of foreigners in the main Zocalo square to shift the bastards.  

Most of the newcomers are from north of the border, although you spot the odd Brit or Aussie. The Mexicans have had trouble with invading Yanks ever since independence from Spain in 1810. I don’t know why they don’t just build a wall.

Having grabbed half the territory of historic Mexico in the 19th century, the Gringos planned to extend their territory all the way to Guatemala before settling on taking over much of the land and economy instead.

“Poor Mexico. So near to the United States, so far from God,” as the 19th century President Porfirio Diaz once lamented.

With the post-pandemic surge, it’s reckoned that there are now up to 1.8m US citizens living in Mexico, escaping the rat race at home while pushing up the local rents.

Many have opted for life in the capital, which is as safe as most US cities and isolated from the drug cartel slaughter that infects much of the provinces.

But the Mexicans are a forgiving lot, which perhaps comes from having so much practice at it. Foreigners were interfering in their lives for most of the 200 years since they dumped the Spanish.

It hasn’t just been the Gringos. In the 1860s, Napoleon III had the bright idea of creating a North American empire and conned a redundant Hapsburg archduke, Maximilian, to serve as Emperor of Mexico.

Max wasn’t a bad guy. He was a bit of a liberal actually, given his background. Trouble was, nobody had thought to tell the Mexicans he was coming.

He set up headquarters at Chapultepec Castle, 10 minutes west of the Dog House, with his equally aristocratic wife Carlota.

Things went bad from the start as Max faced armed revolts from nationalist reformists. He thought of fleeing but decided it wouldn’t look good for the Hapsburg name. The great reformist leader Benito Juarez eventually had him imprisoned and shot despite appeals from all the crowned heads of Europe.

Carlota accused everyone from Napoleon to the Pope for trying to have her poisoned, went mad, and stayed that way until her death in 1927.

Some Mexicans still have a soft spot for Maximilian, who was pursuing his study of butterflies until the day the executioner knocked. One leading Mexican intellectual (or that’s what he told me. It turned out he was a West Ham fan) said the country had suffered worse leaders than the gentle Austrian. 

So the lesson is: you’re welcome in Mexico but don’t get to thinking you’re Emperor material. Enjoy the football. And easy on the kambucha.