Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

Who Is This Who Comes?

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In honour of M.R James, Provost of King’s College, Cambridge, nine years before the start of the First World War and, Provost of Eton, three years after the Great War’s end.

The Right Honourable Ethelbert-Smythe is a-bed, nightcap firmly fixed a-top his flaxen pate. His has been a long and eventful day, what with the escape of Raven Industrial School’s former Headmaster from Bethel Asylum, and as if that were not bad enough he had taken the niece of Lord Montaperti with him. The reading of her father’s will was to take place three days from hence and if the girl were not retrieved by then…but she would be found he was certain.

Snugly a-bed beneath his goose feather quilt (and the astrakhan fur trimmed singlet thrown on for extra warmth), Hardy reflects smugly on the near empty state of the Spitalfield’s Workhouse. Other workhouses are brimming over with whey faced miscreants wholly disinclined to work for a living. Why at St Martins in the Fields nigh on half a million had been fed and clothed at extensive cost to the government purse. Not so Spitalfields, where no discordant note of inebriation, nor of slovenliness or slothfulness can be permitted. And where more modest amounts of food and clothing are permitted as will fuel and warm the body for purposeful work.

Propped up in bed, the Testimonies of Gove perched snugly on his lap, Ethelbert-Smythe soon falls asleep. Only to be rudely awakened by the sound of something he knows not what, something moving about in the hall beyond the sanctuary of his bedchamber. “Have I not thrice instructed Parkin to lock the servants in their rooms when they are done for the night?”. As tired as he is his sense of outrage requires that he don his dressing gown and venture out of the bedchamber. Silence. His abrupt appearance in the dimly lit hallway occasions no abrupt movements in the opposite direction by furtive, frightened servants. There is no one there, it is merely a figment of his imagination. And so he clambers back into bed and having at once snuffed out his candle falls fast asleep.

The sensation of a cold and clammy hand tenderly stroking his brow awoke him once more for accompanying it, was the pungent sweet aroma of Opium smoke. His eyes flew open at once and the sight which greeted them propelled him out of his bed and onto the floor. “What’s wrong with him Skinner? What’s wrong with him?” the face is greying and hollow around the eye sockets, the ragged clothes half burn’t and the hands? Oh horror of horrors! The hands once fleshed out and delicate, have become mere withered singed claws the end result of being set a-flame in a chimney fire.” What ails thee Mr Ethelbert-Smythe? Art thou burning in the fires of hell as I am? Art thou burning in the everlasting fires?”. Hemphill Skinner chuckles as he reclines upon that selfsame spot where Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe had until that very minute lain.”Nay Lad, he is not set a-flame where we are, he is very much alive enjoying hearth and home and family!”.

Crawling across the Astrakhan fur singlette (pipe in hand) Hemphill Skinner chuckles and grins and that sight terrifies Ethelbert-Smythe more than any other. “You can’t be here! You can’t be! You can’t be! You’re dead! Dead! I was at your funeral!”. Now Skinner crawls across the floor toward the rapidly retreating Smythe who has scuttled up across his dressing table and now sits crouched upon the windowsill. “Oh?” smirks Skinner pausing to inhale a puff of opium smoke through the gash in his neck,”Was you at hers?”.

And now fear, cold and clammy as the night shirt that clings to his back, snakes it’s way around his heart. Panic,bewilderment and mounting terrror sweep over him and then he sees it, hovering in a corner of the room and creeping slowly, ever closer, ever closer to where he crouches. A stark white linen bedsheet twisted around some sub-human form he cannot clearly see. And, oh horror of horrors! It is stained with clots of some putrid substance, he knows not what. ” I waited for hours to see yeah” it whispered, “waited, and waited. The little ones was so cold for waiting, but we’re not cold no more! We’re not cold no more!” scuttling slowly towards him on its haunches it growls and then springs towards him suddenly, knocking him off the windowsill and back onto the floor. “Help!Help help!Help!”  scrambling to his feet he lurches towards the door opens it and is about to hurl himself through it but alas! Too late! Hands grabbing hold of the tail-end of his nightshirt tug him violently back into the room, and he is once more left rolling to and fro upon the velvety carpetted floor.

“We can bide here no more!” whispers Hemphill Skinner his Opium pipe firmly tucked away. “We can bide here no more, but we’ll not go empty handed!” gripping Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe firmly by the throat, whilst Dommy Woodbine grabs tight hold of one leg, he tugs him back onto the bed and towards the back wall. Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe espies first a crack and then a fissure in the plaster. Opening, slowly widening, until his face is lit up with the belching flames and suphurous smoke of some hellish netherworld. “Oh God! NO! Not me! Not me! Sweet Gove! Save me!” nought but silence greets his pleas for his (as many a pauper would agree) has never been a merciful God. “Help me!” but t’is too late and as Hemphill Skinner tugs him feet first through the fissure his last words are,”Think of my children!”.

Fanny Ethelbert-Smythe is up with the larks, first having breakfast (Kippers and scrambled eggs).Then she  quietly descends to the drawing room where the servants await her for morning prayers. The household has not always been run this way, but of late the master of the house has not been himself. And so it has fallen to her until he recovers himself sufficiently, to see to it that things go on as they should, indeed as they always have. Sweeping her skirts behind her with one elegant hand, her ladyship descends to her knees and with a stern eye exhorts all the servants to join her. “Dear Lord, we beseech thee, aid us in serving our fellow man and soften our hearts towards those who abide enduringly in dire misfortune, amen”. A resounding amen is uttered by all present and so the servant’s work day has begun.

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Academies, ACCESSIBILITY, Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

Calliope, Colluden & Mary Anne

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“We have a sick man on our hands, the eminent politician lies on his death bed and I am come to negotiate in his stead”. Lord Palmerston coughs nervously, it cannot be easy for him to appear relaxed in the presence of men as grim faced as these are,”and so we must come to some arrangement”. The Union Rep squats on the window sill, pipe in his mouth and Carbine in his hand,”Oh must we?” he quietly replies, leaning the Carbine against the sill and taking the pipe in his hand. His eyes flicker briefly down towards the butt of the Carbine on which lies engraved on a small brass plate the name of the manufacturers of the gun. Lord Palmerston’s eyes also flicker towards the brassplate for a brief minute and then, startled, dart just as quickly back to the bemused face of the Union Rep. Neither man says a word for a moment, though both know why settling the silk mill workers’ dispute has suddenly become an issue of the utmost importance.

“You know our terms, indeed you knew them ere we was imprisoned and transported!”. The men that surround him more grim faced than he, wave their guns and sticks of gelignite in the air. Lord Palmerston feels decidely nervous and the Union Rep would not have him otherwise.”Eight hour days, serious negotiations over pay and working conditions. The immediate release from prison of all as took part in the strike and riots and the pardoning of all as are due to be hanged”.

Whispering briefly into the ear of the indomitable Mr Bass, M’Lord Palmerston inclines his head.”You do know of course that two of Lord Monataperti’s factories have been all but burned to the ground and, that Lord Grid-Iron is missing? It is believed his life was most wickedly taken by an as yet unidentified rioter. In light of these unfortunate facst it is unlikely that any of your conditions will be met”. Snorting derisively the Union Rep casts a meaningful glance at the Carbine and then at a certain dapper looking, bewhiskered young man.”Lord Grid-Iron is missing you say?” he casts a glance round his men all of whose eyes gleam with malevolence at the very mention of the rapscallion’s name.”Well, we only have your word for it!” he inclines his head towards the bewhiskered young man. “I am told by this gentleman,that Lord Aberdeen may yet have cause to regret his venture into the Crimean. I am told by others that the Battle of Balaclava did not go well, and that a wealth of fathers, brothers and sons, of good men, may ne’er return from the battlefield”.

Lord Palmerston’s face pales, his small, hard eyes glitter and for an instant he looks like a cornered rat might,”T’is always darkest they say before the dawn and the conflict may yet turn in our favour” he replies smoothly. The Union Rep feels inclined to agree with him,”It might. It would be less than patriotic to say otherwise, but it might not. All the journalists and their War Photographers have said as much”. Now Lord Palmerston’s face starts to take on a most sickly hue,”War Photographers you say?” smiling wickedly the Union Rep nods.”I am told that once one secures a good vantage point amongst English sharpshooters, one may photograph almost anything. As I’ve said our workers are willing to lay down their arms and return to work, for an eight hour day and serious negotiations over pay and improved working conditions.  We will also require the immediate release from prison of all as took part in the strike and riots and the pardoning of all as are due to be hanged”.

M’lord Palmerston is dismayed but Mr Bass is confused, to be sure he had anticipated a struggle of wills betwixt his Lordship and the tradesman. But this? This was instant capitulation to a bunch of gnarl fingered, iniquitous felons who had incited their own kith and kin to attempt several acts of arson. One darest not bargain with fanatics such as these!”I shall take your demands to Lord Aberdeen who doubtless, once he is in possession of all the facts” he glared coldly at the young man who scrupulously refused to acknowledge his presence,”will grant all you have requested”.

Clambering to his feet and grasping Lord Palmerston’s gloved hand the Union Rep shook it heartily, as did all the men who were with him (once they had lain their guns and gelignite to one side). Escorting the gentleman and their entourage (two terrified Bow Street officers and one bemused Hussar) to the Newgate Prison gates was a lengthy process. For there were many hands to be shook, smiles to be returned and, back slaps to be endured as the party of politicians and guards made their way toward the relative safety of street and Brougham Carriage. “Well, and what was that?” inquired the Right Honourable Mr Bass once they were safely away from the prison. For, it seemed to him, that the Union Rep had more insight into the obscure workings of government than he did. “Don’t ask!” cried Lord Palmerston shrilly. Climbing into the plushly upholstered carriage he screeched “Driver! Montpelier House please, we must pay a visit to Lord Tennyson!”.

“Well and what was that?!” asked Nathan watching the carriage shoot down the road and careen left into Greville Street. It had been his experience that in any skirmish with the bosses the workers always came off worst. “That?” said the Union Rep with a twinkle in his eye “That is the end of our starvation and ill-paid slavery!” .

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Academies, Academy status, Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire

Of Ionian Enchantments

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“Obsculta! O fili, praecepta magistri,et inclina aurem cordis tui,et admonitiem pii patris libenter excipe et efficaiter comple!”

“Listen! O my son, to the teachings of your master, and turn to them with the ear of your heart, willingly accept the advice of a devoted father, indeed act upon it!”

“ut ad eum per oboedientiae laborum redeas a quo per inoboedientiae decidiam recesseras! “

“Thus you will return by the labour of obedience to the one from whom you drifted through the inertia of disobedience, St. Gove be praised!”

“Sweet Gove!”

T’is Spring and Father Anacletus thinks that the vast metropolis that is London, seems so much darker, pungent and, putrid,so much more depraved than is normally the case. The Brotherhood of St Gove Imperator Angelorum, has convened for the service of Compline, at the newly annexed parish church of St Tobias-in-the-North. A new Chaplain has been installed,and with the aid and succour of members of the order of St. Gove,they have funded the construction of  another Imperator Angelorum Industrial School. Five hundred supplicants alone are immersed in the testimonies of Gove and the virtues of labour for labour’s sake. And their numbers are growing, soon, all of London will embrace the Industrial School revolution, the beneficent gift of the Goveen Brotherhood.

Lifting up his work worn hands and raising his heavy lids towards the rafters of the humble chapel, Father Anacletus offers up the following prayer.”Sanctify, oh sanctify us, to thy purposes Lord Gove. As we restore unto this empire the very days of thy perfection, when man frolicked midst the gardens of paradise, wherein all knew their place in the scheme of things. Oh Lord Gove, in thy flawless altruism, grant us an unblemished revelation of thy ways. And grant us, pray grant us fresh and bounteous visions of thy intent. Hear this, my prayer St.Gove!”

Father Anacletus slowly lowers his hands to his sides and turning his palms downwards proffers a blessing on the gathered congregation. He scrutinises the monks and priests who stand before him, all deep in prayer and all with their eyes upturned toward the statue of St.Gove. All except the Reverend Arthur Farquar who is looking deeply troubled. Turning his palm upwards Father Anacletus catches his eye and beckons him forward. The Reverend Farquar pales, but since none dare decline an order of the sainted Father, he tiptoes hesitantly down the aisle.”Go my brothers” the sainted father chants in a sing-song voice.”Go my brothers! And may joy surround you, as you teach the testimonies of sweet Gove!”

The humble chapel like most places graced by the presence of the Goveen Brotherhood has taken on a much lighter aspect. The marble altar sparkles and glitters in the cold morning light. The new installed stained glass windows shower the grey stone columns with a kaleidoscope of bright colours. There is an air of freshness, of newness which that place has not seen in centuries. And yet even Arthur is disturbed by what has most recently transpired.”Speak my son speak” urges the gentle father once the very last of his supplicants has departed the chapel,”What ails you?”.

“T’is the appointment of the Reverend Farthengrodden Father, I am most perturbed by it”.

“Why pray tell?” asks the sainted father with a smile,

“T’is not my place to vaunt corrupting gossip, but, he has been suspected  of murder Father!”

“But, he has been acquitted Reverend” replies the sainted father calmly.

“I know father, but he has been most recently brought before the Bow Street Magistrate, for the embezzlement of work house funds”.

Father Anacletes smiles benignly and makes his reply,”He was acquitted of that also my son. Do you doubt the wisdom of the Goveen Brotherhood in appointing him Principal of the new industrial school?” placing a warm hand on the sleeve of Arthur Farquar’s robes he looks up into his face wise owl that he is and smiles.” My dear child, his family have been great benefactors to our cause for many, many, years. Pray tell, is thy old headmaster still resident at Bethlem Asylum?”

The Reverend Farquar blushes and nods, Father Anacletes continues,”And Master Parnham, how is he?” now Arthur’s face grows pale for t’is well known that since the burning down of Ravens Industrial School and the murder of his daughter, Master Parnham has fallen (direly) to drink.

“Whereas you dear Arthur go from strength to strength a giant amongst maggots! The Reverend Farthengrodden has fallen down before the feet of the brotherhood, confessed his sins and bitterly repented of them. He has left off all profane associations and now resides at the Imperatur Angelorum Monastery. He is a brand plucked from the burning, you need have no worries so far as he is concerned.”

Arthur Farquar is mortified, is the burning stench of Raven’s Industrial School never to leave him? “Tell me how goes it with your congregation? I’ve heard tell they struggle to embrace the ways of Gove”. Heard tell? Who could possibly have tiptoed off and told him? Reverend Farquar pales even further, he looks as though he might faint,”I am told that you have had considerable difficulty reining in Master Liquorish’s taste for the old religion“.

“M-m-my lord!” still smiling the sainted father waves a be-ringed hand before him dismissively.”No matter,Master Liquorish has fallen ill”

“Indeed?” Reverend Farquar strives desperately to affect an air of outward serenity. “T’is feared he may never leave his bed, in fact it is rumoured that he has had the last rites read over him, by the former priest of this parish naturally”.  

Having his competency queried the Reverend Farquar lacks the confidence to suggest a replacement for the dying man and so he asks timidly,”Who is to take his place as church warden and treasurer?”

“Why who else?” responds the sainted father with a triumphant smile,”Reverend Farthengrodden!”

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Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

Persons of Immediate Interest & the Others

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The honourable Robert Farthengrodden, defended in an appalling admirable manner by the Kinsella QC (and so, acquitted of the murder of sweet, Mary Parnham, upon the defence of sonambulistic wanderings). Estranged from Lady Bedelia Farthengrodden, mother of his six children, who, as a consequence of the scandal entered holy orders as a novitiate of the Goveen Sisterhood. Having gained his freedom he took up a position as a work house guardian that he might atone all the better for his past sins. And once he had won the favour of Miss Peepy, he took over the onerous duties of auditing the Workhouse accounts. Well, she said, he said iz duties was ‘onerous’ and indeed they must have been, for six months into the job, he disappears and a hundred pound of charitable contributions disappears with ‘im!

T’was a tragedy dear reader! T’was a horror that such as once graced the corridors of power should have stooped to such immoral depths. That a gentleman of such good breeding should willingly have plunged into such swirling, suppurating deeps as these! Why sirs! I know not what to comment! Except, that in the words of St. Gove that translucent effervescence, sic transit gloria mundi, so passes away earthly glory. And furthermore,non teneas aurum totum quod splendet ut aurum (self explanatory).

And so, from Monday to Sunday (and back again) I lay in wait for Robert Farthengrodden, whom, I heard told, had taken lodgings at the East India Club. As a rule, once a man has succoured himself extensively (and in public), upon the bosom of iniquity, the upper echelons keep their distance. Not so with Farthengrodden and, once I had ascertained that he would be in residence for some time,I was able to avail myself of a lunch invite in the company of Alf (the fence)De Quincey.

“Well” says I, “This is a pretty pass, twenty minutes sat here drinking turtle soup and still no sign of him”

“Oh he’ll be in to dine right enough, he’s taken to one of them gels what lives in the cupboard.”

“What cupboard?” says I,

That cupboard.” says he, lifting one delicately manicured thumb and jabbing it towards a large ebony wood grandfather clock wot lay behind him. Well as I turns me head I see’s the most peculiar sight. There’s a door at the base of the clock and as it opens slowly I see first a pale hand and then a foot wriggle itself out of the compartment, followed by a reed like neck and two blinking peepers! “Well, well,” I says, “This is a most peculiar practice, a most peculiar practice, stashing one’s servants in a grandfather clock! What will the ruling classes think of next?”

“Tis the necessities of the Crimean” says Alf with an air of mystery.

“The necessities of what?” says I flummoxed by the pale, reedy looking gent quickly clearing away our soup dishes. “The Crimean, they’re refugees and since they ain’t got regular papers” (the reedy gent proffers a soiled gloved hand for a tip which Alf won’t give, on principle), “They works ‘ere for board and lodgings” well, my eyes narrows  at that and I asks,”Whose idea was that?”.

“Ask ‘im” he replies jabbing his thumb once more behind him where I espies none other than the once honourable Farthengrodden squeezing hisself into the Grandfather clock lodgings. He has half disappeared into the cupboard already, but with all speed I leap towards him and grabbing ‘im by the scruff of the neck I declares,”Not so fast my lad! You’ve charges to answer!”

“Charges?” says he all innocent and such,

“Of Larceny!” Says I, not put off in the slightest by his gentlemanly appearance, for t’was upon my breast that the elderly Miss Peepy cried her poor Christian heart out! “Larceny!” I exclaims once more, tugging on the collar of his dinner jacket. “Look lively my lad! Come to it! For my name is Sergeant Qwinty sir, and you are to attend the the Magistrate’s pleasure!”

“Magistrates pleasure?” says he looking suitably puzzled for our conversation has drawn the attention of other gentleman, and are they bemused by the sight of refugees wriggling out of their hiding places? Not at all! They look prodigious perplexed that such a gentleman as this should have fallen once more into scandal in the midst of their club. “Magistrates pleasure!” I repeat the words casting my eyes around the gentlemanly gathering in a meaningful sort of way, whereupon they draws themselves up indignantly and pointedly resumes their dining. “Come along peaceably won’t you?” and eventually he does for there’s no evading justice once it has you in its grip. And so, dear reader, I carried the depredatory gent off to Bow Streets Magistrates. And once there, in due course, the rascal charmed the Magistrate into letting him off.

T’was nigh on a week later when I spotted the ‘Spitalfield’s Workhouse Robber” strolling back to the East India Club, he was arm in arm with a pallid, wan looking creature, a Crimean lass no doubt. I had little time to reflect upon this as I was headed toward Bow Streets Magistrates, this time with a pickpocket in tow. But later in the day, over a glass of Sherry at the Nags Head Tavern, the following words sprang to mind,

It’s the same the whole world over,
It’s the poor what gets the blame,
It’s the rich what gets the pleasure,
Isn’t it a blooming shame?

-Billy Bennett

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