The few days between Christmas and New Year – or Crimbo Limbo as it’s now (apparently) known – are traditionally famous (at least for those privileged enough with the resources) for the eating of left-overs and a possible family trip to see a pantomime. With this in mind I decided to write my own panto story. Jake and the Magic Money Tree is the result (complete with references and links to other, I think, relevant ‘fictional’ pieces that I’ve written over the last few months). As her tweet on the 27th December suggests, the Conservative MP Nadine Dorries has some concerns about the falling intellectual standards of this particular genre. Thus:
Nadine Dorries @NadineDorries
"Left wing snowflakes are killing comedy, tearing down historic statues, removing books from universities, dumbing down panto, removing Christ from Christmas and suppressing free speech. Sadly, it must be true, history does repeat itself. It will be music next."
Twitter responded in its’ usual way and alongside general critique of all of these absurd claims many of those that tweeted in response deployed the obvious panto phrases (I’ve used some in my own story). #IntellectualPanto was trending all day. Amongst my favourite contributions were:
“To be, or not to be.” “THAT is the question.” “Oh no it isn’t.” “Oh yes it is!”
“Gender, Class and Sexuality: viewing Cinderella through a post-structural cultural-feminist lens”
So now, with no claims of being intellectual, but hopefully highlighting the pantomime that is Conservative Britain, I present, girls and boys, grown-ups and all the rest, for your end of Limbo Crimbo entertainment (well hopefully) …
Jake and the Magic Money Tree
I know a woman called Jess who lives with her son Jake. Jess is a nurse in a busy city hospital. She works on the gerontology ward most of the time but helps out elsewhere when needed. The days are long but Jess still finds time to tend the garden which, in order to supplement her wages – she hasn’t had a cost of living rise beyond 1% for eight years now – she recently turned over to vegetable growing. Jake, who is 13, helps with the planting and hoeing and generally spends most the money he earns from his paper-round on seeds and fertiliser.
Jess has never before been very interested in politics; having had neither the time nor the inclination. But everything changed in the middle of 2017 when Jake began talking to her about his school project on ‘Democracy’. The prime minister calling a snap general election put a new dimension on the work and furthered their joint interest in all things political. The infamous Question Time Election Special when Mrs May informed a nurse that there was no ‘magic money tree’ to provide the resources to increase her pay and that of other public servants received considerable attention in Jake’s project. Election over Jake and his mum continue with their political education and it soon becomes obvious that such a tree does exist but only to prop up the current government’s time in power. Funnily enough, and appropriately, the Conservative Party’s logo is a tree although later in the year there is some talk of re-branding, in the hope of trying to convince us all that the Conservatives are the ‘worker’s party’. Time for a song, or at least a poem (well it is panto):
Yesterday I bought a ladder,
Today I paint it blue.
Onlookers jostle to crowd around,
For of course they want one too.
‘This ladder is all that you need’, we’re told;
The rhetoric aimed to impress.
‘Step up and embrace opportunity,
The rungs of ambition your route to success’.
Like Jack with his beanstalk,
It’s all in the climb.
The promise this time.
Yet, ladders can rock and ladders can fall,
They prove dangerous to those underneath.
To ascend safely might mean one goes-it-alone,
That, if the ladder’s not pulled out of reach.
Where’s there’s a ladder,
There’s sometimes a snake.
In this case . . . .
Despite the rhetoric though it’s clear to anyone who cares to look that across The Seven, or So, Ages of Man (and woman) life for most is hard and getting harder.
As the leaves from the trees with no magical properties, other than their natural beauty, fall, Jess and Jake are finding life particularly tough. Jake is having a growth spurt and has needed two lots of new shoes and football boots in three months, the washing machine has broken adding launderette visits to the weekly budget and even their own small kitchen garden has not saved them from a trip or two to the local foodbank. Ministers on the opposition benches challenge the government on their running of the country and although the government are forced to U-turn on many issues their voting down or abstinence from voting on issues such as the reverse of the public sector pay freeze (the Tories laughed when they won that one) and the horror that is Universal Credit means that life gets little better for the majority. It really seems as if the world is divided between The People Who Live In (and benefit from) the Magic Money Trees and those who do not.
And so it goes on. With Christmas fast approaching Jess is worried not only about being unable to buy Jake even the smallest of presents but also about the lack of money for edible treats. Despite little shift in her wage packet the cost of food and clothing, the rent and the bills continue to rise and just getting by gets harder week on week. Jess knows that life is even more precarious for others. Her friend Sarah and her daughter Poppy are really struggling and many of Jess’ patients, who have contributed to society all of their lives, are now, she believes, neglected by the State. And there are others who have even less
A few days before Christmas and little able to stomach yet another bean and vegetable stew Jess recklessly scrapes the leftovers into the outside bin. She’ll scrimp and scrape a little in order to buy them something a little different tomorrow; maybe some mince for homemade beef burgers to have with chips made from their own King Edwards.
In bed Jake can hear his mum crying. AGAIN. If only he could do more. Just a few months ago he’d wanted to be a footballer like all his mates but his ambitions have changed now and he’s decided to go to university and then to be a teacher or a doctor or maybe even a politician. He wants to make things better for his mum and for other families like theirs. He gets so angry when he watches the news. This evening there were clips from Prime Minister’s question time which took place earlier today: “50,000 people were left waiting no trolleys in hospital corridors last month”, said Mr Corbyn. And: "A+E departments are bruising at the seams because the government has failed to see people can get a GP appointment when they need one”. And: “2.3 million older people have unmet care needs”. Jake knows all this is true because his mum has told him. There is, she says, literally No Room at the Infirmary
Rather than respond seriously and agree to do something about the problem the Prime Minister, as she always seems to do, points and shouts about how well the government is doing (IT’S NOT) and how badly the Labour Party did when it was last in power (BUT THAT WAS MORE THAN SEVEN YEAR’S AGO). Even worse, it seems to Jake, is the way that the politicians behave. They are SO RUDE, to one another. Last Christmas he and his mum watched a pantomime on the telly. He enjoyed it. But whereas the booing and cackling was funny in Jack and the Beanstalk he can’t understand why those who work in the Houses of Commons think the same is OK there. He hasn’t yet heard them say “Oh no it isn’t,” or “He’s behind you”, but he expects to every time he listens.
Eventually Jake sleeps.
When he wakes the next morning this room is darker than usual. He looks out of the window and is shocked to see a fully grown tree, so tall that although he leans out as far as he can all he can see is the trunk going up and up and up. Clambering out of the window and grabbing the tree, which he can only think grew from one of the beans from mum’s stew, Jake begins to climb and climb and climb. Eventually, after what seems like hours, passing through one particularly dense cloud Jake sees leaves just above him. As he gets closer he sees that the leaves are not ordinary ones but rather bank notes of various worth. Now he understands; it’s the magic money tree. He tries to pluck a few notes from the tree. Just a handful would be enough to buy a new washing machine and to get mum the new coat she needs. Jake isn’t greedy. He’s worried it might be stealing but doesn’t have to concern himself for long for however hard he tries Jake is unable to collect any of the leaves. The magic of the tree, and those who own it, are clearly working against him. Eventually he gives up trying to collect the money. Having come this far he keeps climbing.
Later, much later, having worked his way through the thickly packed filthy lucre, Jake steps onto land. The surroundings are beautiful; the sea is blue, the trees and bushes covered in butterflies. He’s abroad somewhere he correctly guesses. A little way in the distance Jake can see a castle. The bejewelled gates open as he approaches and as he enters the building he can hear the noise of what he assumes is a party. Following the noise he comes to a banquet hall where some of the 1% are enjoying an opulent meal of succulent food and expensive wine. The government ministers, the Party donors, the bankers and business people are too busy indulging themselves to notice a small boy and Jake walks through the room unseen. In the next room more of the ‘elite’ are tallying their tax-free assets. Looking around all Jake can see is piles and piles of money, shares and precious metals. And, even more strangely, in the corner there is a fat hen surrounded by golden eggs. Edging closer to get a better look Jake disturbs a particularly large pile of coins which clatter to the floor. Hearing the noise a few of the counters turn. They begin to chant:
Flip-fee, poke-oak, We smell the blood of 99% folk. Be they young or be they old,
We’ll not share cos it’s our gold.
Having eaten too much food and drunk too much wine they are too full and lazy to be that bothered really and soon turn back to their greedy occupations. Tucking the hen under his arm Jake leaves the room to explore the next. Sick of being constantly poked and ordered to ‘lay’ the chicken happily submits to the journey, no doubt assuming that life with this child can’t be any worse than her current living conditions. Finding nothing but more piles of money and jewels throughout the rest of the splendid accommodation Jake quietly and carefully makes his way out of the castle. Having taken no money, no shares and no gold nor silver his slight feelings of guilt about leaving with the hen are dampened by both the hen’s sorry state – he’s sure that he and mum can take better care of her – and the absolutely, horrifically, gluttonous amount of food, wine and other riches for such a small amount of people.
Once out of the castle Jake runs as fast as he can back to the magic money tree. At first no one follows although Jake can still hear the chanting of those in the castle:
Flip-fee, poke-oak, We smell the blood of 99% folk. Be they young or be they old,
We’ll not share cos it’s our gold.
The descent down the tree is much easier and quicker that the climb up. Jake slips and slides his way down whilst all the while protecting the hen from any harm. Near the bottom he sees his mum waiting for him. She is shouting: "Careful Jake, they’re behind you, they’re behind you." Jumping from the final branch Jake picks up an axe he’s never noticed before and begins to chop. Cutting through the trunk like a knife through butter the axe soon does its job and as the tree falls it, and the ministers and millionaires who are clambering through its’ money laden branches, vanish as if they never were.
And the hen? Well she has disappeared as well. For of course it was all a dream.
Go on, I dare you… ‘Oh no it wasn’t,’ I hear you cry.
But sadly, ‘oh yes it was.’
But never mind because Jess has just had a call offering her a couple of extra shifts and later today the owner of the newsagents will ask Jake if he would like to help with the annual stock-take during his school holidays. So, for this, small ‘just managing’ family, Christmas, although still lean, will include a few, unexpected, treats.
Sadly, shockingly, this is not the case for all:
T’was the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the House (of Commons),
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The politicians were home, full of comfort and joy,
The gifts all well wrapped, from gadget to toy.
Their offspring snuggled up and warm in their beds,
With visions of excess upmost in their heads.
Elsewhere there are children less able to dream,
Of presents or turkey and pudding with cream.
Austerity bites for many this year,
Feelings of festivity banished by fear. . . . (for more see here )