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Wednesday, 1 December 2010

A festive story

Here's a festive story written for today's Leeds Savage writers group meeting. Unfortunately I won't be there in person as I'm not risking leaving the house again after the four mile journey home this afternoon took three and a half hours - damn you snow!!!

Speaking of which, here's the view from our front door....


Jim had never enjoyed Christmas - even as a child the forced jollity and feigned festivity had grated on him, and as an adult he had adopted a distinctly Scrooge like attitude to the season. Why should he be expected to waste his energy on spreading love and goodwill to all men given that in any of the other 11 months of the year most of them would not give him so much as a smile when he served them their fries? He had not, mind you, taken on the job at Happy Burger due to a love of customer service; to be honest he hated it when a pimply beef lover tried to engage him in an inane conversation about the weather or enquired into his plans for the weekend. If he had his own way there would be a large sign on the counter instructing customers to place their order, pay up and shut up. No small talk, no problem.

It was an entire month before the start of advent when the ‘C’ word was first uttered in the Craven Road branch shift managers’ meeting. The guilty party was the store manager Gemma who was, with her unfailing love of towing the corporate line, the diametric opposite of Jim, whose sole objective was to get through each day without giving in to the urge to swear at the customers or pummel the numbskulls that he supervised.

“Great news guys!” Gemma announced with her usual irritating enthusiasm. “This year Happy Burger are going to put last year’s politically correct ‘Winterval’ disaster behind them and let us celebrate Christmas properly! There’s going to be a special festive menu on offer and head office are going to award a special prize to the restaurant that they think has best embodied the Christmas spirit! I’m sure you’ll all agree that it’s going to be brilliant.”
Jim rolled his eyes and turned to the colleague at the side of him. “Bah humbug! If she thinks she’s going to get me flipping quarter pounders in an elf outfit whilst singing Silent flipping Night she’s got another thing coming.”

“What’s that Jim?” Gemma replied with a straight face. “You’re volunteering to dress up for us? What a wonderful idea! And speaking of wonderful ideas, I would recommend that you all get your thinking caps on as I’m going to be offering an extra day of paid holiday for the employee who comes up with the best festive idea by the twelfth of December. Let’s show head office what Craven Road is made of!”

At these words Jim suddenly shook off his usual indifference. “An extra day of holiday you say? Let’s get this festive show on the road then!”

That evening Jim set about brainstorming ideas that could win him a priceless day away from the greasy stench and oppressive heat of the Happy Burger kitchen. Certain things he immediately discounted as being off limits, notably dressing up in any kind of fancy dress or putting on any kind of public performance. Working in Happy Burger was by itself demeaning enough without the need to stoop to such a level. What else then could he do to give Craven Road a Christmas that it would never forget?

Santa, Rudolph, Elves – in Jim’s opinion a load of gubbins, twee nonsense for children and others of the same mental age.

Turkey, Crackers, Mince Pies and Pud - festive perhaps, but all a bit clich├ęd and nothing that you wouldn’t find in some shape or form at every eating establishment from Kebab City upwards at this time of year. What Jim needed to do to bag that holiday was something different, something that hadn’t been done before. Then it hit him. Sprouts – what could be more Christmassy than sprouts? After all, Jim couldn’t recall any member of his family who would eat them on any other day of the year, something that couldn’t be said for turkey, spuds and all the other accoutrements. Everything from pizza to pasta was given the turkey and cranberry spin come December, yet he’d never seen a sprout seasoned bag of crisps or sprout stuffed sandwich. Underrated and unloved compared to the other goodies on the Christmas dinner table, why not make sprouts the star attraction for a change?

Obtaining the required volume of sprouts to bring Jim’s plan to life proved to be no easy task. Every supermarket in the vicinity had its supplies exhausted as he loaded case after case into the back of his clapped out car. Eventually, after six round trips and a few odd looks Jim had sourced enough of the vegetables to construct his masterpiece. The next challenge was to peel all ten thousand sprouts; the late shift workers who usually wiled away the hours with a copy of the Sun and a lot of lengthy cigarette breaks being forced to participate by the cracking whip of their usually indifferent and ineffective supervisor. Come the end of the shift Jim would hide the work in progress at the back of the industrial fridge safely away from Gemma’s prying eyes; the likelihood of the boss ever actually lugging around the boxes of frozen buns and processed meat being a longer shot than a white Christmas.

The eleventh of December came round and rather than locking up with his usual haste at the end of the night, Jim retreated into the warehouse to set about building a burger unlike any that he had ever served before. Given that peeling and boiling the sprouts had taken a good week some of them were now frankly past their best, but as this was a meal designed for viewing rather than eating he didn’t foresee that as being a problem. Rolling up his sleeves he pounded the vegetables and fashioned them with the help of sticky egg into something akin to a giant green cow pat almost 6 feet in diameter. The internet had informed him that the world’s biggest burger of the carnivorous variety had weighed in at a whopping 15 stone, but nowhere had he found any stats for the biggest veggie pattie. His fellow workers may have made Gemma smile with their cutesy angel outfits and homemade mince pies, but had they put in Craven Road in the Guinness Book of Records? No sirree. Jim was confident that his efforts would not go unrewarded and that that extra day of holiday was as good as his. The irony of the fact that he had put in a good twenty hours of overtime was not lost on him, but the look on Gemma’s usually patronising face when she begrudgingly declared him winner would surely make it all worthwhile. The official from the book of records was due to arrive at 8am, the same time that Gemma and the morning shift would be rocking up to get the happy hash browns sizzling for the commuter crowd. At 3am, finally satisfied with his handiwork, he sellotaped a printed sign beneath the counter where the creation sat which read 'The world's biggest veggie burger'. As an afterthought he scribbled 'Merry Christmas Boss' underneath in Biro. If immortalising the Craven Road branch in print was not enough to win over Gemma then, much as it pained him, maybe a bit of uncharacteristic ass kissing would seal the deal....

Before locking up and heading home for a couple of hours sleep he took a photo of the gigantoburger on his phone. A true work of sprout based art.

As he approached work Jim was surprised by the massive crowd hanging around. He had expected the news of a world record having been set on Craven road to pull in plenty of customers and locals keen to have a nose, but had not anticipated it spreading so fast. He pushed past not one but several tv crews and journalists, eager to find Gemma and made her concede that his effort was undeniably the best. Her Young Manager of the Year award may have made a tiny column on page 23 of the Winfordshire Evening News, but today he, Jim Gordon, was going to make the headlines.

At last he saw Gemma heading towards him through the chattering crowd. As their eyes met the look on her face was certainly memorable, but not in the manner in which he had expected. She was covered in what appeared to be soot, and her usually pristine cream Happy Burger tunic was black. Jim was taken aback when she threw herself into his arms; he'd thought that the burger might raise a wry smile from his boss, but physical contact was something he had neither expected nor desired.

"Oh Jim, Jim, it's awful!" she sobbed into his chest. "Its completely destroyed, totally gutted!"

It was only at that point that Jim noticed through a gap in the crowd that where his place of reluctant employment had once stood was now a smoking mass of bricks, mortar and Formica.
"What the?" he exclaimed.

"It was a gas explosion" Gemma replied. "An abnormally high build up of methane apparently. I flicked on the light switch and the whole place went up in an instant. Thank goodness there were no customers around or who knows what could have happened!"

"Very lucky indeed" Jim replied solemnly . As Gemma continued to weep onto his shirt he was surprised to find that her hair smelt strangely nice; granted the explosion had given the air a fragrance reminiscent of farts or, dare he admit, sprouts, but at this unfamiliarly close proximity Gemma seemed a little less like a whiny dictator and a bit more like - shock horror - a reasonably attractive girl. He was just contemplating this turn of events and taking another sniff of Gemma's locks when he noticed a familiar looking piece of paper floating towards him on the wind. In a smooth move that would have impressed James Bond he grabbed the note with one hand and pulled Gemma into a tight embrace with the other. Fair enough ass kissing wasn't usually his style, but in the spirit of the season maybe this time he would make an exception. His culinary creation may not have had quite the desired effect, but as it was this was far better than he could ever have planned - not just one day off but no more flipping burgers for the foreseeable future. He screwed the paper up in his hand and tossed it in the gutter before whispering in Gemma's ear 'Merry Christmas Boss. I know we’ve had our differences and all, but given that it looks like we’re going to have a fair bit of time to kill over the Christmas season, do you fancy going sprout some time?'