The Member of Parliament looked at the stocking lying at the foot of his bed early on Christmas morning. He had not slept well – he had had that recurring nightmare. He had been called to speak in the House of Commons, and had risen from the opposition benches to address a packed chamber. It was the crucial No Confidence debate that might bring down the Government and precipitate his party back into power after years in exile. As the cheers from his own side died down when his name was called by Mr Speaker, he glanced down at the notes for his carefully-prepared speech. But in his hand was his wife’s shopping list. He would wake up in a cold sweat.
It was some time since he had had a stocking on Christmas Day – the last time was just before he left school. The stocking was one of the thick grey ones his father had worn for shooting, with the burrs still attached to it. In those days, there would be an orange at the bottom, perhaps a Swiss Army pen-knife, a packet of Spangles, some squash balls, a pack of cards, a Chinese puzzle, a padlock for his bicycle, a biro which wrote in four different colours and a Letts diary. Ah, those were the days of innocence.
This time, a letter stuck out of the top – a card with a book token in it perhaps? But no; it was a letter from his agent, asking for the photographs for his election address. Underneath there was a book – the latest Booker Prize winner perhaps that he had put on his Christmas list? But no – it was No Expenses Spared, the Daily Telegraph book of the sleaze scoop. It promised to take him “behind the scenes in Downing Street as Labour’s spin machine frantically tried to close down a crisis which rapidly spiralled out of control.” What was going on? He dug further down the stocking to find a box of House of Commons mints – but he already had a chest full of them; and below that a bath plug “with best wishes” from one of his political opponents. He shouted, waking up his wife who started shaking him.
Then he woke up. He heard his wife asking him if he was OK, as he had sounded distressed. At the bottom of his bed there was no sign of a stocking. What a relief he thought, as he kissed his wife and wished her a Happy Christmas.