Ernie and Theo were lying under their favourite lamp post. It was a bitingly cold, late Autumn evening. They both had their winter coats on to keep the chill at bay.
If they were honest, they’d rather have been wrapped up at home but Theo had called a meeting the week before and it couldn’t be put off.
Over the previous few weeks, Ernie and Theo had been busier than they could ever remember. It felt like the Xmas season had been going on since Summer.
The humans worked hard to churn out as many bandanas and bowties as they could. Possibly too hard. Discontented mutterings were heard on the factory floor.
The humans hadn't mentioned the threat of strike action. However, Theo was worried enough about the risk to take pre-emptive action. He decided to take on extra staff for the Christmas period.
He told Ernie about his plan. Ernie agreed with - but only after Theo explained “industrial action” was not what it sounded like.
Theo wasted no time. He recruited a gnome to help with the sewing. The new employee had been working with Ernie’s human for over a week now. They were meeting to see how he was performing.
“Well Ernie, how’s the new lad doing,” Theo asked, “is he producing the goods?”
There was a pause whilst Ernie thought about how to reply diplomatically.
“Did you say he’d done a lot of stitching in his previous roles?” Ernie asked.
“He said so. We didn’t have time to do a practical exercise, but he seemed to know his stuff,” Theo replied in a suspicious tone, “why are you asking?”.
“And where did you say he worked before?” Ernie asked.
“He'd worked in retail,” Theo explained. “Ernie I’ll say it again, why all the questions?” he asked impatiently.
“Well, it turns out that Norman’s main experience is in hand-stitching sacks of presents for Santa at Debenhams,” Ernie explained. “He’s never done the sort of detailed sewing needed to make our products,” he added.
“Who's Norman?” Theo asked.
“That’s our new employee's first name Theo, he’s called Norman Gnome,” Ernie replied, wondering why Theo didn’t know, or couldn’t remember, the name of the man he’d employed.
“Oh yes, of course, I have been so busy I quite forgot,” Theo said, “well, he seemed like a bright lad. I am sure he'll quickly pick up how to sew bandanas.”
“If only,” Ernie said, “my human spent lots of time showing him how to sew them but when he sewed one to his beard, she decided it was too risky to go on.”
“There’s so much to do, I am sure we could use his other skills,” Theo said. “It takes ages to cut out bandanas and bowties, surely he could help there?”
“We thought of that Theo,” Ernie replied. “The thing is he can't get to grips with the big scissors we use. At one point we thought he was going to cut more of himself than fabric” he added glumly.
“Well, can’t we get him some smaller scissors?” Theo asked, the frustration growing in his voice.
“Well, we tried that but he was taking too long and the edges he cut weren’t very straight,” Ernie explained.
“Well, what about modelling our products,” Theo asked, “I was talking to the humans the other day and they were saying they want to put some shots of their Xmas products on the website. He can do that,” Theo added, a hint of desperation entering his voice.
“He was very keen on having his photo taken…” Ernie said.
“…Makes two of you then…” Theo interrupted, getting increasingly edgy.
Ernie tried to ignore Theo’s little, and most uncharacteristic, dig at him.
“…So," Ernie went on in a slightly hurt tone, "we decided to see how he was modelling bowties and our collars and leads”.
“And?” Theo said, trying hard to take the anger out of his voice.
“Well, he’s not quite the same shape as us,” Ernie explained, “we found he hasn’t got the neck for modelling our bowties and collars. In fact, he hasn’t really got a neck. After the photoshoot, we decided I’ll carry on doing the modelling.”
“I see,” Theo said, “surely there is something he can help with, we won’t find a replacement for him before Christmas.”
“We can’t put him out of work, he’s part of the family,” Ernie said in shocked voice.
“Well, what are we going to do with him? We can’t pay him for doing nothing!” Theo said agitatedly. He knew he couldn’t afford to have an unproductive gnome on the books cutting into their marginal profit – even with small scissors.
“Well, as you know, we're carrying a lot of Christmas stock just now,” Ernie explained, “so we thought he could be our security guard. It’s getting very cold but we thought, as he's from Scandinavia, Norman wouldn’t mind doing that.”
“Great thinking Ernie,” Theo said, his voice brightening, “if we tell the insurers we’ve got our own security man they’ll cut our premiums.”
“Didn’t work, Theo,” Ernie replied glumly, “Norman wasn’t having it, he said it was too cold”
“TOO COLD, you just said yourself he comes from Scandinavia,” Theo almost screamed.
“I know but Norman said with global warming and ice caps melting, he’s not as used to the cold as his nana and grandad,” Ernie explained. “He said if we forced him to stand guard outside in sub-zero temperatures, he would report us to the ‘Elf and Safety Executive’”
Theo finally lost his patience.
“This is too much Ernie, he has to go. He’ll soon find out what it’s like to be out in the cold - and there won’t be a thing his mates at the Elf and Safety Executive can do about it. I'm running a business not a charity for unemployable gnomes”
“Well, if you’d calm down and let me go on, Theo,” Ernie said patiently, “we don’t need to leave Norman Gnome without work this Christmas. We have found just the job for him.”
“What else can he do??” Theo asked in a despairing voice searching for hope.
“Well, as you know, our sniffle balls are very popular at the moment,” Ernie began.
“Yes, I know, I am very familiar with our sales figures Ernie,” Theo snapped, “but what have they got to do with finding Norman a job?”
“Well, we've never really done proper quality checks on our sniffle balls after my brother Erik tested one, got carried away and shredded it,” Ernie explained.
“I hardly need reminding of what your daft brother did,” Theo said, “I had to approve the write-off in the accounts.”
“Yes well,” Ernie went on, “Norman won’t mind me saying this, but he has got a rather prominent, but very soft, nose and he likes sitting in the warm. So, I’ve made him our Sniffle Ball Quality Manager. He also said he’d like to help at the markets if we give him feet and hand warmers,” Erne added.
Theo was speechless. Only Ernie could come up with such a mad cap scheme.
He was about to say this when he recalled he’d not involved Ernie in choosing Norman. He didn't because Ernie had been flying the flag at their Xmas markets. But also, deep down, he didn’t think Ernie would be a good talent spotter.
Theo knew he’d been wrong. Rather than saying Norman was a problem of Theo’s making, Ernie had discovered Norman’s talents and was making the best of them at a busy time.
After the few moments it took to have these thoughts, Theo finally spoke.
“Well done Ernie, you’ve managed to make the best of a tricky situation at a very busy time,” he said.
“That’s what good teams do Theo,” Ernie replied, “and, besides, with his big beard and funny hat, Norman does make it feel very Christmassy!”
“Well, let’s hope our sniffle ball sales soar and Norman attracts the customers!” Theo said laughing.
“Now, onto other matters," he went on, "I’ve been studying our costs. Whilst you're here, I want to run through my new plan to make efficiency savings”.
As Theo was speaking, Ernie had spotted a squirrel that had appeared on a nearby wall. He reared his head and galloped in pursuit of his prey.
“Yeo Theo, gotta go,” he shouted back.
"It won't take long," Theo shouted, "I'll explain my efficiency plans very efficiently."
“Oh, did I tell you?” Ernie yelled back. “Norman is a great cook. He’s doing Swedish meatballs for tea and I want to get back before the humans eat them all,” he added, looking round for the squirrel which had long since run to safety.
‘Ah, so that’s the real reason we are keeping Norman on’ Theo thought to himself, ‘to satisfy Ernie’s insatiable appetite’.
But for once, Theo’s stomach got the better of his brain. ‘Save one for me Ernie,” he shouted back as he wheeled around and headed home.
Very quickly though, Theo’s business brain took back control...
‘So, Norman can make Swedish meatballs, can he?’ he thought to himself, ‘I wonder if it's too late to get a food licence for our Christmas stalls.’
He'd written the email to the the market owners in his head before he got home.‘It’s lonely, relentless work running a business,’ he thought to himself. ‘Even at Christmas…but someone's got to do it’.