CHRISTMAS DAY IN THE WORKHOUSE
George R. Sims
It is Christmas Day in the workhouse,
And the cold, bare walls are bright
With garlands of green and holly,
And the place is a pleasant sight;
For with clean-washed hands and faces,
In a long and hungry line
The paupers sit at the table,
For this is the hour they dine.
And the guardians and their ladies,
Although the wind is east,
Have come in their furs and wrappers,
To watch their charges feast;
To smile and be condescending,
Put pudding on pauper plates.
To be hosts at the workhouse banquet
They've paid for ó with the rates.
Oh, the paupers are meek and lowly
With their "Thank'ee kindly, mum's!'"
So long as they fill their stomachs,
What matter it whence it comes!
But one of the old men mutters,
And pushes his plate aside:
"Great God!" he cries, "but it chokes me!
For this is the day she died!"
The guardians gazed in horror,
The master's face went white;
"Did a pauper refuse the pudding?"
"Could their ears believe aright?"
Then the ladies clutched their husbands,
Thinking the man would die,
Struck by a bolt, or something,
By the outraged One on high.
But the pauper sat for a moment,
Then rose 'mid silence grim,
For the others had ceased to chatter
And trembled in every limb.
He looked at the guardians' ladies,
Then, eyeing their lords, he said,
"I eat not the food of villains
Whose hands are foul and red:
"Whose victims cry for vengeance
From their dark, unhallowed graves."
"He's drunk!" said the workhouse master,
"Or else he's mad and raves."
"Not drunk or mad," cried the pauper,
"But only a haunted beast,
Who, torn by the hounds and mangled,
Declines the vulture's feast.
"I care not a curse for the guardians,
And I won't be dragged away;
Just let me have the fit out,
It's only on Christmas Day
That the black past comes to goad me,
And prey on my burning brain;
I'll tell you the rest in a whisper ó
I swear I won't shout again.
"Keep your hands off me, curse you!
Hear me right out to the end.
You come here to see how paupers
The season of Christmas spend;.
You come here to watch us feeding,
As they watched the captured beast.
Here's why a penniless pauper
Spits on your paltry feast.
"Do you think I will take your bounty,
And let you smile and think
You're doing a noble action
With the parish's meat and drink?
Where is my wife, you traitors ó
The poor old wife you slew?
Yes, by the God above me,
My Nance was killed by you!
'Last winter my wife lay dying,
Starved in a filthy den;
I had never been to the parish ó
I came to the parish then.
I swallowed my pride in coming,
For ere the ruin came,
I held up my head as a trader,
And I bore a spotless name.
"I came to the parish, craving
Bread for a starving wife,
Bread for the woman who'd loved me
Through fifty years of life;
And what do you think they told me,
Mocking my awful grief,
That 'the House' was open to us,
But they wouldn't give 'out relief'.
"I slunk to the filthy alley ó
'Twas a cold, raw Christmas Eve ó
And the bakers' shops were open,
Tempting a man to thieve;
But I clenched my fists together,
Holding my head awry,
So I came to her empty-handed
And mournfully told her why.
"Then I told her the house was open;
She had heard of the ways of that,
For her bloodless cheeks went crimson,
and up in her rags she sat,
Crying, 'Bide the Christmas here, John,
We've never had one apart;
I think I can bear the hunger ó
The other would break my heart.'
"All through that eve I watched her,
Holding her hand in mine,
Praying the Lord and weeping,
Till my lips were salt as brine;
I asked her once if she hungered,
And as she answered 'No' ,
T'he moon shone in at the window,
Set in a wreath of snow.
"Then the room was bathed in glory,
And I saw in my darling's eyes
The faraway look of wonder
That comes when the spirit flies;
And her lips were parched and parted,
And her reason came and went.
For she raved of our home in Devon,
Where our happiest years were spent.
"And the accents, long forgotten,
Came back to the tongue once more.
For she talked like the country lassie
I woo'd by the Devon shore;
Then she rose to her feet and trembled,
And fell on the rags and moaned,
And, 'Give me a crust ó I'm famished ó
For the love of God!' she groaned.
"I rushed from the room like a madman
And flew to the workhouse gate,
Crying, 'Food for a dying woman!'
And the answer came, 'Too late.'
They drove me away with curses;
Then I fought with a dog in the street
And tore from the mongrel's clutches
A crust he was trying to eat.
"Back through the filthy byways!
Back through the trampled slush!
Up to the crazy garret,
Wrapped in an awful hush;
My heart sank down at the threshold,
And I paused with a sudden thrill.
For there, in the silv'ry moonlight,
My Nance lay, cold and still.
"Up to the blackened ceiling,
The sunken eyes were cast ó
I knew on those lips, all bloodless,
My name had been the last;
She called for her absent husband ó
O God! had I but known! ó
Had called in vain, and, in anguish,
Had died in that den ó alone.
"Yes, there, in a land of plenty,
Lay a loving woman dead,
Cruelly starved and murdered
for a loaf of the parish bread;
At yonder gate, last Christmas,
I craved for a human life,
You, who would feed us paupers,
What of my murdered wife!"
'There, get ye gone to your dinners,
Don't mind me in the least,
Think of the happy paupers
Eating your Christmas feast;
And when you recount their blessings
In your smug parochial way,
Say what you did for me, too,
Only last Christmas Day."
CHRISTMAS DAY AT THE IN-LAWS
(The Naked Runner - A Chilly Epiphany!)
It was Christmas Day at the in-laws
For Murray, his wife and five kids,
With the usual frosty atmosphere
(Festive cheer? Heaven forbid!)
His in-laws never had liked him,
They'd made it clear at the start,
To Murray they gave the cold shoulder,
To their daughter and grandkids, their heart.
The household that moment was chaos,
Young Lenny banged his kiddy-drum,
Henry was playing a trumpet
And Penny was smacking his bum.
Eddy was screaming the house down,
His twin sister doing the same,
Then amid the din, there came a voice,
It was calling Murray's name.
"You've got no job, have you even tried?"
Raged pa-in-law from where he sat,
"You really are an idle sod,
You're lazy, pathetic and fat!"
"Save your breath, Dad," said Murray's wife Pat,
All he knows about is getting fat,
And how to put me up the duff,
He certainly is good at that!"
"I told you to marry that Harold,"
Said Pat's mum with a big sigh,
"He's boss of a local garage,
His prospects are really high!"
Etcetera, etcetera, on and on,
The sniping continued non-stop,
Then, between the turkey and Christmas pud,
Murray finally blew his top...
"Enough!" he shouted, "Oh, Lord! Enough!..."
The room went suddenly silent,
Even the TV paused between ads,
Yes, the shock was that violent.
He drew himself to his full five-foot-three,
And studied the group in the room,
He had to break the shackles to
Be truly free from the gloom.
Off came his vest and then the shirt,
Goodbye to a humdrum life,
Then came the trousers, shoes and socks,
Goodbye to the kids and wife,
His face was steely, hard as stone
When he turned to his parents-in-law,
"And here's to you grumpy sods!" he cried...
As his Y-Fronts fell to the floor.
He fled the room with a yell of "Free!"
Then bounded out the front door,
Although the streets were deep in snow
And the temperature really raw.
With droopy tum and floppy bum,
He doggedly started to run,
And Murray felt a heady thrill,
God, naked was such fun!
All around him the cars were tooting,
But he didn't care because
Murray was on a mission,
Though he didn't quite know what it was!
Mile upon mile he continued,
Until town became countryside,
And the sounds of traffic and people,
Gently began to subside.
He came upon rural woodland,
And ran through the snow-covered trees,
All he could hear was the birdsong
And the crunch of his feet on the leaves.
Then he came to a stile and leaped over,
And landed thigh deep in a field
Of snow but still Murray plunged on,
Determined that he'd never yield...
Cherry Gardner was wealthy and powerful,
A feisty and tough CEO,
She'd blazed to the top of the Company tree,
And now there was nowhere to go.
She was trapped in an unhappy marriage
And money deals had been her life,
But now all she wanted was children,
And simply to be a housewife.
Her husband laughed, "Cherry, you're kidding!
You hate me and I don't like you,
As partners we're good, we make money,
But have kids? That's a thing I'll not do!
You're stuck with me, I can't divorce you,
For that wouldn't make business sense,
We made an empire together,
I declare, sometimes Cherry you're dense!"
At a board meeting one Thursday morning,
Cherry Gardner at last saw the light,
As the money men droned about profits,
She got up and cried, "It's not right!
It's Christmas Day, why are we working?
I know it's what we always do,
Hell, life is about being happy,
And not who is richer than who!
"I know that it gives an advantage,
To work while the rest are at home,
But wouldn't you rather be there with your kids?"
In shock, all the others cried... "No!"
"Right, I've had enough!" cried Cherry,
All this company talk is just trash
Then she ripped off her blouse and she yelled:
"It's freedom I yearn for, not cash!"
Then off came her bra, her pencil skirt,
Her knickers and tights followed soon,
Her shoes went out of the window,
Then Cherry fled from the boardroom.
Cars screeched to a halt as she ran through
The street where she'd worked many years,
And a snowflake landed on her face,
And melted into her tears.
They were tears of happiness rather than gloom,
Happiness at being free,
She'd cast off her shackles along with her clothes,
And was crying with unhampered glee.
As the fading footsteps of her past,
Were covered by thick falling snow,
She left the grimy city behind
To venture into the unknown.
Though physically tired, she ran for miles,
Her spirits were on a high,
Through snow-capped forest into a field,
As the moon rose in a dark sky.
Through sleet-peppered eyes she peered ahead,
As something came into her view;
'Is that a person I can see?
And is that person nude?'
They stopped and regarded each other,
In open-mouthed, icy surprise,
Neither one had a stitch on,
And neither believed their eyes!
"Hello, I'm Murray," said the man,
I'm broke and have no ambition.
The only thing that I can do
Is make babies in any position.
"I've cast off the shackles of drudgery
And all my garments are gone,
I'm small and dumpy, I know that,
But I'm cuddly and I am fun."
"Hello," she said, "I'm Cherry Gardner,
And I am as wealthy as Trump,
I've had enough of material things,
All I crave is my own baby-bump.
"Murray," she said, "it has to be Fate,
That brought us together tonight.
We each have what the other needs
To rescue us from our plight.
Let's go and make a baby now,
Come, follow me and I shall lead."
And in a barn in a starlit field,
A new life was conceived.