Songs of Christmas Past

One damp, December afternoon,
I biked out through Stroud’s featureless streets,
Out along the Slad Valley to Bull’s Cross:
Past pollarded willow trees all along the road,
Past well wrapped farmers stacking logs in a dripping coppice,
Past chapels turned to guesthouses,
Their graveyards full of cars,
Past families cutting mistletoe from high, tall branches,
Long handled secateurs silhouetted
Against a setting sun’s cloudscape,
Past rooks, copse-calling in the gathering dusk,
Until, all was silent and still,
As twilight turned to darkness,
That moment,
When all life seems suspended,
A brief moment of seeming equipoise;
I listened to the silence
And then turned for home –
And when I got back to Stroud,
Nocturnal winter-spring had sprung,
Every window was now ablaze
With lights and trees and candles,
Doors were hung with stars and wreaths
Of holly and mistletoe:
Christmas has come!
Mum and dad are singing again!
Cold season’s magic!

This note below is from my brother, ten years ago, when mum still used to perform this song (she would have been a hundred this year):

‘My mother told me that she bought this play as a sixpenny publication in Woolworths. The family may well have put a strong West Country influence on the rendition which shows in my recollection.’


In our village, Christmas Eve,
I sez to zeveral mates:
“Now look ‘ere, mates”, I sez,
Sez I,
“Now ‘ow about some Waits?”
We gets zum carols, lairns ‘em up, and on an evenin’ wintry,
We muffles up and zallies forth to try it on the Gintry.
“Good King Wenceslas looked out,”
We zings we with splendid power,
Zeveral neighbours looked out too,
To see what all the row were,
We zings forte (sounded like an ‘underd),
Even in the soft bits ‘ow we thundered,
Bill, our bass, ‘e ‘urt ‘is face, we thought that it was torn,
Yet all agree there were none like we, to ‘ail thee, ‘appy morn.
Perkins took the treble line (a lovely voice ‘e’s got),
I were tenor, Bill were bass, and Fred sang all the lot,
‘E wandered up and down the scale,
And though ‘e rather marred it
Cuz ‘e never knewed the words, and so ‘e “lah-lah-lahed” it,
“Lah-lah-lah-lah looked out”, ‘e sings with splendid power,
Zeveral neighbours looked out, too,
To see what all the row were,
We zings forte (sounded like an ‘undered),
Even in the soft bits ‘ow we thundered,
Every verse got worse and worse,
And though we all felt worn,
Yet all agree there were none like we, to ‘ail thee, ‘appy morn.
Still we never got no cash, which didn’t seem quite just,

Zeein’ we’d stood there for hours, a-singin’ fit to bust,

Then our policeman, old Bob Bates, comes down, a-scowlin’ proper,

“Good old Bob”, young Perkins cries, “At last we’ve got a copper!”

Good King Wenceslas last looked out, we zings with splendid power,
Zeveral neighbours looked out too, to zee what all the row were,

Then a change came on the situation,
Bob got nasty and took us to the station.
“Look ‘ere, Bates, we’re Christmas Waits,”
I says to him with scorn.
He said, with a sneer,
“Now wait in here
And ‘ail thee ‘appy morn.”

The piece below was mum and dad’s Christmas special – they used to perform this in fancy dress as a duo and remembered the lines perfectly, almost to the end of their lives.

Little Nell

It was a dark and stormy night
When my Nelly went away
And I’ll never forget her
Till my dying day
She was just 16
And the village queen
and the prettiest trick
That the valley ever seen
The farm ain’t the same since me Nelly went away
The rooster died and the hen won’t lay
But in this window I’ll put a light
40 below zero, gosh what a night
Who’s that a knocking at the door?

It’s your own Little Nell
Don’t you know me anymore?

What happened to the actor guy,
Who used to call you Honey
Did he leave you all alone when you hadn’t any money?

Oh, he’s a slick town guy and he lies with ease
And he’s got more money that a dog has fleas
But he left me alone when I was most forlorn
The very night that my little Dumbell was born.

Is that there Dummy?

Well it ain’t no other
The gosh-darned image 
Of his gosh-darned mother.

Hoity Toity my fair beauty
Or you’ll come to harm
Cos I hold the mortgage
On your gash-darned farm.

Give me back my Dummy.

Your Dummy?

My Dummy.

Your Dummy?

My Dummy.

Who’s this a comin’?
It sounds like a mule.

I ain’t no mule you gash-darned fool
Can’t you tell by me badge
I’m the constibule
Now what’s the harm?
Do please tell.

Well he ain’t done right by my Little Nell.

Yes I have.

You have not.

Yes I have.

You have not.
Well he’s spoilt me farm and ruined me daughter.

Well I guess I’ll have to fine him a dollar and a quarter.

Which all goes to prove the price of sin –
And tomorrow night we play East Lynn.