The room was cold. Or, to put it another way, the room was as cold as it always was. Times were hard at Old Mr Sega's wooden toy company, calling for desperate measures to be taken. Already the staff had been given harsh word -- work over Christmas Day or lose your job -- and morale amongst the men of Old London Town unfortunate enough to be working for the suffering outfit was at a humbling low.
Timmy Crotchings knew this would be his last year of work. His hours had been cut, the toy machines now lay idle for days on end, and although Old Mr Sega tried to boost staff morale with his rousing tales of the victories and robust sales of old, time was indeed running out for the toy factory. It was whispered by the staff in hushed tones that this could be the last year spent in the employment of Old Mr Sega, for the company was shortly to close.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------How different times were at Young Mr Sony's Sweet Shop. Business had been brisk, more so in the run up to the festive season, leading to something of a carnival atmosphere amongst those rosy-cheeked ruffians lucky enough to be employed on the good side of the tracks.
"Morning Mr Sony!" shouted young Christpher, barely able to contain his excitiement on the busy morning of Christmas Eve.
"Ahhh! Early as usual, Mr Christopher!"
"And no doubt you'll be among the last to leave too, I'll wager!" the sprightly company boss added, as he noted with pleasure the enthusiasm of his young worker.
"Oh yes sir! For 'tis Christmas Eve, the happiest day of all to work!"
It was Christpoher's job to shovel sugar into the mouth of the funnel. An important job too, for without sugar there would be no sweets, and without a healthy supply of sweets available freely in the shops, there would be no treats for the children on Christmas Day!
Orders were high -- Young Mr Sony, so confident of his sales, had taken bookings from seemigly all the parents in the land for his sweets. Oh yes, he was to be a very rich man when the seasonal takings had been tallied up.
But something was wrong today. The sugar was mounting up, not sliding through the chute with its customary ease, and Christopher was thinking about bringing the matter to the notice of his superiors.
But he had no time to think further -- the machine ground to a halt with a spine-tingling judder. In all the five years he had been working at the Sony sweet factory, never had Christopher seen the machines stop. The factory was silent, save for the stunned murmurs of workers also experiencing the machine's silence for the first time.
Within minutes, men in work clothes were busying themselves with the internal parts of the great machine. Christopher was not in range to hear their words, but their body language was broadcasting their concern to the entire factory -- shakes of heads, sighs, confused pointing and shrugs aplenty -- something big was clearly up with the equipment.
After one hour of shrugging and apportioning of blame, Mr Sony walked solemnly to the top of the walkway which straddled the entire work floor. A silence, even quieter than before, fell across the factory to hear his chilling words echo out:
"I fear the machine is broken for good. There will be no sweets for the children this Christmas. We must pack up and go home. "
Then surely, thought Christopher, this is to be the worst Christmas ever.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------News of the accident at the sweet factory was sweeping through the village, quicker than gossip spreads through an office after a particularly incident-packed Christmas party.
"But they promised I would get sweets! And more importantly, I promised my son! What am I to do?" said Mrs Millworthy, close to the point of tears to the butcher.
The butcher in turn complained to his next customer that his three children were also to go without sweets this Christmas, the customer in turn bothering the candlestick maker with his personal tale of woe. It seemed the whole town had been depending on Old Mr Sony to deliver ample supplies of confection.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------Timmy Crotchings was on his way home. It was only lunch-time upon Christmas Eve -- he had been expecting to work until at least five or six that evening, and for the next day too, but orders were so low that most of the staff of Old Mr Sega's wooden toy factory had been sent home early.
He noticed, in the distance, a sound of wailing, as if a gaggle of hounds were excitedly baying for food. After concentrating upon the sound for some moments, Timmy decided it was instead the sound of people -- people obviously in a state of distress! What could upset the merry townsfolk so on Christmas Eve? He followed the distressing noise to its source to investigate.
"We want sweets! We want sweets!" chanted the crowd, becoming visibly angrier by the second. Women were in tears, their husbands puffing out their chests and becoming angry as a primeval response to their mates' growning upset. Timmy feared for his safety, but had to speak up at the madness he saw:
"But I don't understand. Old Mr Sega has been manufacturing fantastic wooden toys all year -- why do you people all want sweets and nothing but sweets?"
"Shut up, boy! We were promised sweets, and we'll damn well get sweets if we must break into the factory and cook them with our own hands!"
Timmy shook his head. He was a young boy, but even he knew that living on a diet of sweets, sweets and nothing but sweets was not good for a person. He turned to leave... but suddenly had an idea!
"Hey! You! What did you have for Christmas last year?" shouted Timmy to the ringleader, a particularly large and red-faced gentleman. The crowd went silent. The man hesitated to think, then answered:
"Sweets. I had sweets last year. We all had sweets last year. We like sweets."
Timmy shrugged. "And what did you have the year before?" he asked casually, stroking the ground with the toe of his worn shoe.
"We had... sweets. But they came in different wrappers."
"But were they not the same sweets underneath?" ventured Timmy to the now uneasy crowd.
"Well yes, yes they were. They were the very same! And the year before the same, and the year before too! My God! People! We're being sold the same sweets year after year only in different packaging and at vastly inflated prices!"
Timmy smiled. Finally the people had seen sense. He turned once more to leave.
"Boy! Wait! WAIT" shouted the man. "Do you know of a place that sells anything but these infernal sweets? It is late on Christmas Eve, and I am yet to buy gifts for my young family."
"Well..." pondered Timmy, pausing for a second to enjoy the expectation of the now utterly silent crowd. "There's always Old Mr Sega's toy factory. The toys are of a simple nature, but they at least work and are available to buy in large enough quantities to satisfy even the most well-to-do and fertile of famillies. And if you..."
But no more words were needed. A sea of people leapt into action -- seemingly the whole town was running from the gates of the once-popular factory, heading out across town towards the welcoming gates of Old Mr Sega's humble wooden toy world.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------Timmy knew of a shortcut, and managed to beat them all, arriving just as Old Mr Sega was locking the rusty gates.
"Ah Timmy, go home now to your family. I fear this is the last day we shall open. No one wants our old toys any more, we might as well give up and..."
"Wait!" shouted Timmy. "Look!"
And he pointed to the road. There was nothing. But it was possible to hear something, distant shouting, roars, cheers, growing ever louder. After nigh-on one minute the first people rounded the corner, running hard.
"Great Scott! There must be ten, no twenty people there!" remarked Old Mr Sega. But how wrong he was. The quickest runners, the fittest men had just rounded that corner, there were crowds of hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands following at a slower pace who would soon appear.
"Look now! Look now!" Timmy gasped, continuing to point as the few gave way to the many. A sea of people, waving money, cheering and heading -- heavens! -- heading straight to the main gates of Old Mr Sega's toy factory!
Timmy explained quickly about the to do at the Sweet Factory, the disappointment at the failure of the sweet machine and the anger of the crowd. Old Mr Sega knew what to do.
"Timmy!" shouted Old Mr Sega, "Get the machines fired up! We must save Christmas for the children of Old London Town!"
And so they began to work. The old toy factory had not been witness to such excitement for many a year. A crowd began to gather at the gates outside, amazed by the signs of life coming from within the dusty old place. Usually, remarked one observer, only one of the chimneys would smoke and but a handful of windows would show any light. But now! All five chimneys spewed thick black smoke! Windows blazed with light the whole length of the factory, and the whirring of machinery filled the air!
Inside was madder still. Men with their coats and hats readying to leave were stopped, turned around and instructed to work like they had never worked before! The tea lady was seconded, a visiting party of tax inspectors were given hair nets and set to business, and even Old Mr Sega turned to the lathe for the first time in twenty years -- how they worked!
The crowd outside was growing, waiting, hoping that something would emerge. They were silent, then chanting would start, followed by a return to expectant quiet -- it was growing late, and late on Christmas Eve too.
Then came seven o'clock. A gate swang open, followed by one -- no, two, three, four and, yes! five massive crates! A cheer went up from the crowd so loud Timmy for a moment had to cover his young ears, the gates were bending under the weight of the crowd pressure -- seemingly all of London was shouting and waving pound notes to ensure their place in the queue was recognised.
Old Mr Sega began handing the wooden toys around the desperate crowd. "Be patient! There are more than enough to go around!" he beamed, as parents who had given up hope of the sweet factory delivering realised there WOULD be presents for their children this year after all.
"What I have to offer is simple," said Mr Sega humbly, "but surely it is better to give a simple gift than no gift at all!"
Then, many hours later, after the hubbub had declined and the people had returned home safe with their gifts, one final lone figure walked up to the factory gates. It was Young Mr Sony, looking, it was later decided, rather worse for wear and a far cry from his usual confident self.
"Sir," he said in a voice attempting to sound firm and authoratitive, but one which under closer examination was clearly masking more than a little waver: "I believe you have... some toys in this factory which are for sale. I wish to purchase five."
Mr Sega looked over the rim of his glasses at the humble form of the once-proud Sony man. "Well, let's see... one... two... three... four... ah, I appear to only have four left. Will four suffice?"
"Well, I... I have need of five. My five children pre-ordered sweets from my very own factory, and paid a handsome sum for the priviledge too, but sadly I was unable to deliver. If you could find a fifth I... I would be very grateful."
Mr Sega paused to think. He did have one toy left, but that was being saved for his own child, an orphan he adopted. "Well... no, sorry, I only have the..."
"Wait!" -- it was Timmy Crotchings. "You can have mine, Mr Sony. I have no need of material toys, for I have received a much better gift this year, the gift of bringing joy to people at this generous time of year."
Young Mr Sony hesitated, before walking forward, his head bowed, and taking the gift from young Timmy. "It is not much, but I thank you for saving Christmas from my own stupidity, boy. Surely you and Mr Sega are the better men, and although I'm sure more people will buy my sweets over the next few years, your generousity of spirit and hard effort will be remembered.
"If you have need of my sweets in the future let me know, I shall arrange as many as you desire to be delivered when you want some," said My Sony as he hurried away with his toys.
Timmy winked at Old Mr Sega: "I don't think we will. I don't think we'll EVER want them!" he whispered. They both smiled.
"No Timmy, you're quite right," said Old Mr Sega. "I don't believe we shall."
Truly the man who gives most is never in need of a gift at Christmas, for the gift of kindness and compassion outweighs even the most expensive of electrical goods. Apart from 32" widescreen TVs, truly they do outweight just about everything.