I’s only a littl’un, Sir. I been in the workhouse yonder since I was a wee nipper but it ain’t that bad at that.
I gets to sweep the crossin’ down by the Spread Eagle most Wednesday afternoons – me an’ Hobb’lin’ Herbert an’ Peg-leg Tom and Consumptive Charlie – you know, the other Phantom Waifs, Sir, we shares the priv-lige and occasional-like a real Greenwich gent gives us a tanner which I slips back to me dear old Mam back in the Union.
1884′s going to be a good Christmas this year though and no mistake, Sir. That Rev. Bullock, God bless his soul, you know, the vicar that wrote them poems in the Fireside News way back before I was born, Sir. No, I ain’t read ‘em, Sir, but they stirred up a right old hollerin’ among the toffs who like to do a bit of good this time of year.
They say he got one of them new-fangled ‘Christmas cards’, with a cock robin on it, all red-breast and chirpy-cheep, wishin’ him a Merry One, Sir. He wrote these verses, and I’m tellin’ yer, Mister, they must have been right pretty because next thing you know they’re startin’ these ‘Robin Dinners’ for the likes of me an’ Herbert and Tom and Charlie.
We gets a right slap up nosh, Sir and no mistake. They gives us tickets an’ we can eat and drink as much as we can. ‘Course, there’s a downside – we ‘ave to do prayers and sing hymns and listen to the vicar preachin’ on about the Baby Jesus, but fair’s fair – that’s what the people in big houses like.
Indeed, Sir. All over, they are. Up and down the country. Like wildfire it is, all that doin’ good at Christmas malarky. But last year the toffs up the hill in the big houses in West Greenwich, they had a bright idea – you know – to go one better – be a bit different, like. They come up with a new thing that no one else in the whole country come up with – Robin Breakfasts!
Last year there was about 600 of us waifs, Sir. This year old Toothless Albert reckons there’s going to be eighteen hundred!
We gets to go in a big room all decorated by the ladies and gentlemen, with long tables and plates and cups and garlands made of paper and ribbons. And they’re all dressed up too and the ladies are cooing and saying how sweet we look which I reckon’s rich, given they sees us most days on the crossing and don’t take no notice at all.
A buttered roll at every place, Sir! Imagine that! An’ there’s dishes of oranges an’ buns an’ cakes an’ mugs of coffee – with milk! As much as we can drink, Sir! And there’s soup, though you don’t want to get there after Scabby Bob’s been up there with his dish. But then you don’t want to be many places at all when Scabby Bob’s been around.
‘Course ‘Robin’ himself can’t come – you know, the Rev. Bullock, God bless his soul, but he sends another gent, ‘Robin’s Friend’ to give us a sermon about how lucky we are and then we gets entertainment. Last year we had Professor Bentley Green who showed us ‘sleight of hand’ tricks, though I reckons he could learn a thing or two from Swift-Hand George who swiped the Prof’s pocket handkerchief out of his tail coat as he was pretending to take a coin out of George’s partner Harry One-Eye’s ear.
Then it’s back to the speeches again, Sir, which we tolerates well enough, given we’ve just eaten our fill and when it comes to the end we all hollers “Three cheers for the Robin Committee and Her Majesty” at the tops of our lungs. Well, all of us except little TB Tim, the Weakest Waif in the Workhouse, who can’t holler on account of his not having much in the way of lungs.
As we all files out, we all gets given a little bag, all decorated by the ladies and pretty as a picture they are too. Fetch a good price if you’re quick enough. Last year mine had an orange, a bun, some sweets and a book. I ate the orange and the sweets and the bun but I took the bag down to the Uncle on Turnpin Lane on account of the fact as I can’t read.
Trouble was, I got waylaid by Percy Rickets and Nit-Noggin Wilf wanting my slot on the crossing which meant by the time I got to the brokers he told me to sling me hook on account of his already having 247 identical little books that morning and he’d kick the next snot-nosed kid who tried to sell him any more I-won’t-say-the-word-he-used, Sir, “religious books”.
If you don’t mind me asking, Sir, why do you ask all these questions? The Daily Chronicle Sir? Yes, I know it. Scurfy Sam sells it down on Stockwell Street. So – am I going to be famous then, Sir?