All Systems Down

Woman in red dress and Santa hat, at desk with red phone and several wrapped gifts, staring glumly at computer screen

Debbie shows her colleagues that the best Christmas gifts don’t always come wrapped

Ian handed me a steaming mug and a mince pie. “A strong coffee, Debbie, plus something sweet to perk you up.”

Five a.m. on Christmas Day and we were into the last few hours of night shift.

The TV in the corner of the office was showing the early morning news – our MP doing his annual visits to the emergency services, shaking hands with firemen, patting the police on the back, joking with ambulance crews, and bouquets for nurses on an intensive care ward.

My mobile rang. It was Amy.

“Santa’s been, Mummy! We tried to wait for you to come home but it was too hard. He brought me a doll with three different outfits and a feeding bottle.”

Tears pricked as my six-year-old chattered about chocolate reindeer and colouring books she’d unwrapped in my absence. Silently I mourned what I’d missed while on duty. I didn’t even have the satisfaction of being a life-saver. I was just an absent mummy and nobody’s hero.

“Daddy says he’ll open his presents when you get home – and he loves you.”

“I love you, too,” I whispered.

“Never comes here, does he?” Ian pointed at the TV. “More people rely on us over the holiday season than will end up in A&E or have their houses burned down.”

“Thankfully.” I didn’t begrudge them, but I did mind the lack of appreciation for my own Christmas sacrifice.

“Imagine the uproar if our main computer server went down,” Ian went on.

I nodded. No sooner are the presents bought and wrapped than the online sales start and people are filling virtual baskets while checking the turkey – but websites don’t look after themselves. We have staff here 24/7 to fix glitches and keep things running smoothly.

Suddenly a crimson warning message flashed up on the screen in front of us.

“The website traffic’s increasing. Check capacity, please,” Ian demanded.


He gave me a look. I ate my mince pie. Ian is on the same career grade as me but acts like he’s my superior.

“Debbie, the website will crash.”

I shrugged. “Let it.”

“What’s got into you? The sale’s started. Thousands of people want to shop.”

“It’s Christmas morning! No one will die if they can’t order a new sofa.”

Another message flashed up. Ian’s hand reached for the keyboard. I pulled it back.

“I want people to know we exist.”

A series of flashing messages rolled up the screen. The website had crashed.

“Leave it ten minutes,” I instructed. “Then check the company’s Twitter feed.”

“Senior management will find out.”

“That’s exactly what I’m hoping.”

Soon came tweets from irate customers, then the phone rang. I grabbed the receiver before Ian. The sales director was seriously panicky.

“Yes, we are aware and we’re working on it,” I reassured him calmly. “The crash couldn’t have been foreseen. It was due to the massive popularity of the sale.”

Replacing the receiver, I nodded to Ian that he could now put things right.

“Take your time. Make them sweat a little first.”

The sales director tweeted: Furniture Chest website crash: Our wonderful tech guys & girls are on the case. Problem fixed soon by our own Christmas HEROES!

Being a hero didn’t compensate for missing Amy’s Christmas morning but it did make me feel better – and Ian was looking at me with new respect.

We’re sharing another festive short story from our archives every Monday and Thursday throughout December. Don’t miss the final one on Monday!