The Christmas Café
The Christmas I turned eight, I had my first taste of capitalism. This early incarnation as a tycoon was inspired by a shortage of funds for Christmas present shopping.
I decided to earn some money. But opportunities to pick up extra cash were limited. I was too young to babysit, too small to wash cars, and born too late to become a little match girl.
I puzzled over my conundrum, until struck by one of those ‘hey kids let’s put our show on in the back yard’ inspirations. I’d convert the garden shed into a café.
On the first day of the Christmas holidays, I dragged the lawn mower, ladder and various tins of paint into the coal house, swept out the cobwebs and brushed down the deckchairs.
On the second day of the Christmas holidays, I focused on supplies. Unaware of the term ‘you have to speculate to accumulate’ – but comfortable with the concept – I converted my savings into stock.
I invested in chocolate money, Kola Kubes, coconut mushrooms and flying saucers. Drumstick lollipops were rejected on the basis I’d have to buy them individually. Multi-packs were the way to make money, because they could be opened and sold separately. Oh yes, the entrepreneurial instincts were fermenting away.
My parents were mystified by this wheeler-dealer aptitude, but my mother donated a bottle of orange squash and some paper cups.
On the third day of the Christmas holidays, I went out scavenging for holly, and decorated the shed. Next, I laboured over a red and green sign: ‘Christmas Café’ it announced with a swagger.
On the fourth day of the Christmas holidays, I was ready to make my millions. Word spread at warp speed, and all the neighbouring children congregated in our back garden. They came to rubberneck, but stayed to eat sweetie cigarettes – not yet decommissioned in those carefree times. I sold them singly, increasing my take.
It must have been cold in that shed in late December, but nobody complained. In fact, I was the only one with a grievance after the teenager next door took a felt marker to my sign. I thought it was purely from spite that he scribbled out the ‘y’ in café.
By the end of trading, my get-rich-quick scheme had paid off. A small fortune was jingling in the biscuit tin cash box. There was enough to buy everyone a gift, with money left over.
On the fifth day of the Christmas holidays, I prepared for a spending spree. But my parents had been discussing me overnight. They decided I was turning into too much of a mogul. Possibly due to my refusal to extend credit to family members. They decreed that I should give half my profits to the Baby Jesus – meaning the donations’ box beside the crib in the church.
‘But the Baby Jesus didn’t do all that work – I did,’ I objected. I was ordered to my room to reflect on the spirit of Christmas. ‘I have to go shopping,’ I wailed.
Nothing doing. Omagh’s answer to Alan Sugar needed to de-Scrooge.
I lay on my Cindy Doll bedspread and sulked. I’d earned that money – I didn’t see why the Baby Jesus should have a 50 per cent dividend.
The clock was ticking down to my worst Christmas ever.
On the sixth day of the Christmas holidays – which happened to be Christmas Eve – I woke up knowing what had to be done. I tucked the biscuit tin under my arm and marched up to the church. Coin by coin, with a face like thunder, I dropped every single penny I’d earned into the collection box – adding the original capital for good measure. Nobody was getting any presents from me.
My parents were flummoxed, and there were mutterings about ‘headstrong’ and ‘she must take after your side of the family’. But they couldn’t exactly punish me. Technically, I’d been generous. In reality, I was icy with resentment. This was resistance masquerading as philanthropy.
I thawed out slightly when the parish priest saw me in action, and pressed a bar of Highland toffee into my hands. I defrosted even more when he mentioned my actions in his Christmas morning sermon. At the age of eight, I had become a symbol. Little did he know my motives.
Even so, on the twelfth day of the Christmas holidays, my promising career as an entrepreneur screeched to a halt. I flung the Christmas Café sign in the bin, deciding to make do with pocket money in future.
There was no margin in being a capitalist when your parents interfered with the free market.
Note: First broadcast on Christmas morning 2011