Christmas Eve is a mere three sleeps away and Thomas Holton’s meat cleaver has never been busier. For last year goose was all the rage but this year it is turkey, and Holton’s farm breeds these in prodigious quantities. Polished and sharpened to within an inch of it’s life, the sliver thin edge of Holton farm’s meat cleaver sparkles joyously, and in readiness, for that ceremonious occasion which is yet to come. “Mrs ‘Olton! I says Mrs ‘Olton! Is you ready ma’am?” Mr Holton cries out for today is a big occasion, the offering up of the Holton Farm prize turkey, to be slaughtered and bled out; plucked fastidiously and proffered at great expense to the royal kitchens and no lesser. Mrs Holton shuffles forward, clad in her Sunday best (a silken black worsted gown), with a leather apron fastened tightly around her waist, “Mr ‘Olton I says Mr ‘Olton sir! There’s no need to take on so! The turkey shall in due course be plucked, and singed, and scrubbed, and then sent on it’s way to ‘er Majesty’s kitchens! Only don’t take on so sir! T’will make you ill! T’will never do sir!”
“T’will never do? T’will never do? Why t’is the Queen, ma’am, we serve! And if we serves er well and serves it up well we may be rich ma’am! Acknowidged as a farm of ‘igh repute and with the monies we makes we may does as we wish!” cleaver in hand Mr Holton marches briskly out of his parlour through the kitchen and into the backyard, immense wealth is to be his! He espies it hung around the neck of Holton Farm’s prize turkey!T’is but a short walk to the barn but oh! Horror of horrors! Upon entering that dark and foul smelling place Mr Holton and Mrs Holton observe a most disturbing thing! The turkey has fled! For in the farthest corner of that damp slaughter quarter lies an empty nest. Mr and Mrs Holton marshall the servants; the servants search both far and wide, but the much prized bird is in no place they can find. Oh tragedy! Oh ignominy! But, dear reader, let us become airborne with the turkey, as in prophetic anticipation of its imminent demise it takes flight and wings it’s way over field, and dale, and hill, till it comes to rest, at last, on the roof top of a certain house, overlooking a little scene, being played out on the corner of Ponsonby Street in the heart of London.
“Bonjour Monsieur, l’argent ‘sil vous plait!” a begrimed old lady holds out a shaking hand, Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe glancing down at the hand, grasps it gently in his gloved one and examines it in minute detail. Although decidely filthy, it is a soft hand, unused to hard work, in fact unused to work of any kind, Mr Ethelbert-Smythe sighs, “Parlez Anglais?” she nods, “My Anglaise” she whispers clasping her flimsy, ragged, shawl to her painfully thin chest, “It iz not very good” Mr Smythe nods, he smiles brightly. A French speaking gentlewoman fallen into disrepute no doubt, he knows exactly the palliative that would cure her of her ills. “Connais vous le workhouse? Vous tournez a gauche et allez tout droit, eh voila! Le workhouse!” stooping forward and tipping his hat towards the horrified woman he wishs her a hearty “Good day!” he places his hat back on his head and strides off.
“Madre de Dieu! As ‘e no shame?” whispers the shocked petitioner for alms (who incidentally hadn’t eaten a thing in two weeks), “A curse on ‘im!” mutters the elderly gent across the road from her who has had the great misfortune of being privy to this cheerfully conducted verbal exchange, “Such as ‘im wouldn’t give you the scrapings orffa ‘is quill pen! The work ‘ouse?! I’m waitin on the day of judgement as it says in them revelatiunns orff of King James! For then such as ‘e will be toasted broww’ner than an overdone turkey twizzler!!”
Unaware of the ire he has provoked Mr Ethelbert-Smythe continues merrily on his way to the Spitalfield’s Workhouse, wherein lies the greater part of his business for the day for he is senior guardian there. First, however, he must stop at the the pie shop on Petticoat Lane, there he orders a a game pie such as Messrs Hobson & Flynd are held in renown for, to be delivered to his house in Sloane Square, freshly baked on Christmas Eve. Then to the butchers, Tarquin and Pettership, to order the Christmas goose and finally to Master Redwood’s toyshop whereat he purchases a cherrywood rocking horse for his son, Thomas Ethelbert-Smythe and a Georgian doll’s house for Edwina Ethelbert-Smythe (his daughter).