THE VAR check was quickly done, confirming the penalty, and the Newcastle faithful roared with delight.
As Shelvey placed the ball on the spot, Workington Man was on the edge of his armchair. Then the screen went blank as yet another spirit materialised in the room.
‘For Pete’s sake – not again!’ yelled Workington Man. ‘Who the hell are you? Unless you’re the Ghost of Scoring Penalties, you can b****r off.’
A hearty laugh rumbled from the phantom – a podgy figure with blond hair like a burst mattress, exuding the essence of a recently-imbibed, quite decent Chardonnay. He was wrapped head to toe in a duvet and sitting on a squashy seat from which strange, groan-like noises emanated.
‘Sorry about my, er, blanket bodice,’ said the spirit. ‘I had something of a heavy night last night and overslept. Couldn’t find my green fur-collared cloak, so I’m using this duvet to cover my modesty.
‘By the way, I’m the Ghost of Brexit Present. That’s present as in contemporary, not as in gift. I’m here to show you the benefits to Britain if my renegotiated deal with the EU is finally implemented.’
‘Can’t you just leave me a leaflet or something?’ asked Workington Man. ‘I really want to watch the game.’
‘Oh, tosh and piffle!’ said the spectre. ‘I’m sure you’d much rather see my achievements for yourself. It’ll be worth the effort – plena doloris, plena voluptatis, as my old Latin master would say before giving me six of the best for dithering with my declensions. Now, volare mecum . . . come fly with me!’
As the phantom stood up, Workington Man noticed he had been sitting on Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.
Off they flew and landed in a hospital. ‘Here we are,’ said the ghost. ‘I’ve pumped billions into the NHS, as promised.’
Workington Man looked around. ‘Quite impressive,’ he said. ‘But I notice the doctors on the Dunkin’ Donuts Ward are wearing stetsons and the radiology department is called Fedex-Ray. The nurses are putting Coca-Cola instead of water in the saline drips and using Big Mac containers as bedpans. Have you sold the NHS to the Americans?’
‘Er, well, I kept my pledge not to allow the US Big Pharma companies into the NHS,’ said the phantom. ‘As for all this other stuff here, well, I had to give something to the Yanks so I could get a trade deal. Anyhow, let’s go and see more of freebooting, entrepreneurial Britain!’
In an instant they were in the London Stock Exchange, where rows of bored-looking traders sat in front of blank computer screens.
‘It’s not very busy,’ said Workington Man.
‘Well, I realise a lot of firms have decamped to the Continent,’ said the spectre. ‘But swashbuckling, forward-looking, innovative investment enterprises are springing up here all the time, such as the Perpetual Motion Machine Manufacturing Corporation.
‘Then there’s the South Sea Company, founded in 1711 and now operating again. Investors are said to be bubbling with excitement about that one.
‘Another famous old firm being revived is The Company For Carrying On An Undertaking Of Great Advantage, But Nobody To Know What It Is.’
Next, they were walking near Euston Station. ‘Watch that little pothole in the pavement,’ Workington Man warned the ghost.
‘Er, that’s no pothole,’ came the reply. ‘That’s the first dig for the new £100billion-ish HS2 railway line that’s going to help boost the Northern Powerhouse. It’ll go from London to Birmingham, on to Manchester and reach Leeds by 2040-ish.’
– ‘When will it reach Workington?’
‘Er, let’s see. Around 2090, at a cost of a further £100billion.’
– ‘Are you kidding? It’d be cheaper to move Workington to Leeds.’
Next stop was the immigration desk at Heathrow. ‘As you know, we’re operating a points-based system, allowing in only highly-skilled workers,’ said the spirit. ‘Look, there’s someone being turned back because he failed.’
They caught up with the rejected migrant as he was being led away for deportation.
‘What’s your profession?’ asked Workington Man.
– ‘I’m a brain surgeon.’
‘A brain surgeon? Why the hell are you being turned away?’
– ‘Well, I have all the skills qualifications. But in the section testing our knowledge of modern Britain, I failed because I couldn’t answer Question 12.’
‘What’s Question 12?’
– ‘It’s How many children does Boris Johnson have?’
The phantom’s face fell and he looked nervously at his watch. ‘Er, well, tempus fugit – I must dash!’ he said. Then he faded away.
The failed migrant, a learned man, looked at the vanishing spectre and muttered: ‘Buffoonus maximus.’