A Child's Christmas In Wales Lyrics

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years
around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound
except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes
hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember
whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I
was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and
twelve nights when I was six.

All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued
sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the
sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of
the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my
hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In
goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of
holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea,
and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.

It was on the afternoon of the Christmas Eve, and I was
in Mrs. Prothero's garden, waiting for cats, with her
son Jim. It was snowing. It was always snowing at
Christmas. December, in my memory, is white as Lapland,
though there were no reindeers. But there were cats.
Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks,
we waited to snowball the cats. Sleek and long as
jaguars and horrible-whiskered, spitting and snarling,
they would slink and sidle over the white back-garden
walls, and the lynx-eyed hunters, Jim and I, fur-capped
and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off Mumbles
Road, would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of
their eyes. The wise cats never appeared.

We were so still, Eskimo-footed arctic marksmen in the
muffling silence of the eternal snows - eternal, ever
since Wednesday - that we never heard Mrs. Prothero's
first cry from her igloo at the bottom of the garden.
Or, if we heard it at all, it was, to us, like the far-
off challenge of our enemy and prey, the neighbor's
polar cat. But soon the voice grew louder. "Fire!"
cried Mrs. Prothero, and she beat the dinner-gong.

And we ran down the garden, with the snowballs in our
arms, toward the house; and smoke, indeed, was pouring
out of the dining-room, and the gong was bombilating,
and Mrs. Prothero was announcing ruin like a town crier
in Pompeii. This was better than all the cats in Wales
standing on the wall in a row. We bounded into the
house, laden with snowballs, and stopped at the open
door of the smoke-filled room.

Something was burning all right; perhaps it was Mr.
Prothero, who always slept there after midday dinner
with a newspaper over his face. But he was standing in
the middle of the room, saying, "A fine Christmas!" and
smacking at the smoke with a slipper.

"Call the fire brigade," cried Mrs. Prothero as she
beat the gong. "There won't be there," said Mr.
Prothero, "it's Christmas." There was no fire to be
seen, only clouds of smoke and Mr. Prothero standing in
the middle of them, waving his slipper as though he
were conducting. "Do something," he said. And we threw
all our snowballs into the smoke - I think we missed
Mr. Prothero - and ran out of the house to the
telephone box. "Let's call the police as well," Jim
said. "And the ambulance." "And Ernie Jenkins, he likes

But we only called the fire brigade, and soon the fire
engine came and three tall men in helmets brought a
hose into the house and Mr. Prothero got out just in
time before they turned it on. Nobody could have had a
noisier Christmas Eve. And when the firemen turned off
the hose and were standing in the wet, smoky room,
Jim's Aunt, Miss. Prothero, came downstairs and peered
in at them. Jim and I waited, very quietly, to hear
what she would say to them. She said the right thing,
always. She looked at the three tall firemen in their
shining helmets, standing among the smoke and cinders
and dissolving snowballs, and she said, "Would you like
anything to read?"

Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were
wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel
petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we
sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt
like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors,
and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the
English and the bears, before the motor car, before the
wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the
daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed.
But here a small boy says: "It snowed last year, too. I
made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I
knocked my brother down and then we had tea."

"But that was not the same snow," I say. "Our snow was
not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky,
it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted
out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow
grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure
and grandfather moss, minutely -ivied the walls and
settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb,
numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas cards."

"Were there postmen then, too?" "With sprinkling eyes
and wind-cherried noses, on spread, frozen feet they
crunched up to the doors and mittened on them manfully.
But all that the children could hear was a ringing of
bells." "You mean that the postman went rat-a-tat-tat
and the doors rang?" "I mean that the bells the
children could hear were inside them." "I only hear
thunder sometimes, never bells." "There were church
bells, too." "Inside them?" "No, no, no, in the bat-
black, snow-white belfries, tugged by bishops and
storks. And they rang their tidings over the bandaged
town, over the frozen foam of the powder and ice-cream
hills, over the crackling sea. It seemed that all the
churches boomed for joy under my window; and the
weathercocks crew for Christmas, on our fence."

"Get back to the postmen" "They were just ordinary
postmen, found of walking and dogs and Christmas and
the snow. They knocked on the doors with blue knuckles
...." "Ours has got a black knocker...." "And then they
stood on the white Welcome mat in the little, drifted
porches and huffed and puffed, making ghosts with their
breath, and jogged from foot to foot like small boys
wanting to go out." "And then the presents?" "And then
the Presents, after the Christmas box. And the cold
postman, with a rose on his button-nose, tingled down
the tea-tray-slithered run of the chilly glinting hill.
He went in his ice-bound boots like a man on
fishmonger's slabs. "He wagged his bag like a frozen
camel's hump, dizzily turned the corner on one foot,
and, by God, he was gone."

"Get back to the Presents." "There were the Useful
Presents: engulfing mufflers of the old coach days, and
mittens made for giant sloths; zebra scarfs of a
substance like silky gum that could be tug-o'-warred
down to the galoshes; blinding tam-o'-shanters like
patchwork tea cozies and bunny-suited busbies and
balaclavas for victims of head-shrinking tribes; from
aunts who always wore wool next to the skin there were
mustached and rasping vests that made you wonder why
the aunts had any skin left at all; and once I had a
little crocheted nose bag from an aunt now, alas, no
longer whinnying with us. And pictureless books in
which small boys, though warned with quotations not to,
would skate on Farmer Giles' pond and did and drowned;
and books that told me everything about the wasp,
except why."

"Go on the Useless Presents." "Bags of moist and many-
colored jelly babies and a folded flag and a false nose
and a tram-conductor's cap and a machine that punched
tickets and rang a bell; never a catapult; once, by
mistake that no one could explain, a little hatchet;
and a celluloid duck that made, when you pressed it, a
most unducklike sound, a mewing moo that an ambitious
cat might make who wished to be a cow; and a painting
book in which I could make the grass, the trees, the
sea and the animals any colour I pleased, and still the
dazzling sky-blue sheep are grazing in the red field
under the rainbow-billed and pea-green birds.
Hardboileds, toffee, fudge and allsorts, crunches,
cracknels, humbugs, glaciers, marzipan, and butterwelsh
for the Welsh. And troops of bright tin soldiers who,
if they could not fight, could always run. And Snakes-
and-Families and Happy Ladders. And Easy Hobbi-Games
for Little Engineers, complete with instructions. Oh,
easy for Leonardo! And a whistle to make the dogs bark
to wake up the old man next door to make him beat on
the wall with his stick to shake our picture off the
wall. And a packet of cigarettes: you put one in your
mouth and you stood at the corner of the street and you
waited for hours, in vain, for an old lady to scold you
for smoking a cigarette, and then with a smirk you ate
it. And then it was breakfast under the balloons."

"Were there Uncles like in our house?" "There are
always Uncles at Christmas. The same Uncles. And on
Christmas morning, with dog-disturbing whistle and
sugar fags, I would scour the swatched town for the
news of the little world, and find always a dead bird
by the Post Office or by the white deserted swings;
perhaps a robin, all but one of his fires out. Men and
women wading or scooping back from chapel, with taproom
noses and wind-bussed cheeks, all albinos, huddles
their stiff black jarring feathers against the
irreligious snow. Mistletoe hung from the gas brackets
in all the front parlors; there was sherry and walnuts
and bottled beer and crackers by the dessertspoons; and
cats in their fur-abouts watched the fires; and the
high-heaped fire spat, all ready for the chestnuts and
the mulling pokers. Some few large men sat in the front
parlors, without their collars, Uncles almost
certainly, trying their new cigars, holding them out
judiciously at arms' length, returning them to their
mouths, coughing, then holding them out again as though
waiting for the explosion; and some few small aunts,
not wanted in the kitchen, nor anywhere else for that
matter, sat on the very edge of their chairs, poised
and brittle, afraid to break, like faded cups and

Not many those mornings trod the piling streets: an old
man always, fawn-bowlered, yellow-gloved and, at this
time of year, with spats of snow, would take his
constitutional to the white bowling green and back, as
he would take it wet or fire on Christmas Day or
Doomsday; sometimes two hale young men, with big pipes
blazing, no overcoats and wind blown scarfs, would
trudge, unspeaking, down to the forlorn sea, to work up
an appetite, to blow away the fumes, who knows, to walk
into the waves until nothing of them was left but the
two furling smoke clouds of their inextinguishable
briars. Then I would be slap-dashing home, the gravy
smell of the dinners of others, the bird smell, the
brandy, the pudding and mince, coiling up to my
nostrils, when out of a snow-clogged side lane would
come a boy the spit of myself, with a pink-tipped
cigarette and the violet past of a black eye, cocky as
a bullfinch, leering all to himself.

I hated him on sight and sound, and would be about to
put my dog whistle to my lips and blow him off the face
of Christmas when suddenly he, with a violet wink, put
his whistle to his lips and blew so stridently, so
high, so exquisitely loud, that gobbling faces, their
cheeks bulged with goose, would press against their
tinsled windows, the whole length of the white echoing
street. For dinner we had turkey and blazing pudding,
and after dinner the Uncles sat in front of the fire,
loosened all buttons, put their large moist hands over
their watch chains, groaned a little and slept.
Mothers, aunts and sisters scuttled to and fro, bearing
tureens. Auntie Bessie, who had already been
frightened, twice, by a clock-work mouse, whimpered at
the sideboard and had some elderberry wine. The dog was
sick. Auntie Dosie had to have three aspirins, but
Auntie Hannah, who liked port, stood in the middle of
the snowbound back yard, singing like a big-bosomed
thrush. I would blow up balloons to see how big they
would blow up to; and, when they burst, which they all
did, the Uncles jumped and rumbled. In the rich and
heavy afternoon, the Uncles breathing like dolphins and
the snow descending, I would sit among festoons and
Chinese lanterns and nibble dates and try to make a
model man-o'-war, following the Instructions for Little
Engineers, and produce what might be mistaken for a
sea-going tramcar.

Or I would go out, my bright new boots squeaking, into
the white world, on to the seaward hill, to call on Jim
and Dan and Jack and to pad through the still streets,
leaving huge footprints on the hidden pavements. "I bet
people will think there's been hippos." "What would you
do if you saw a hippo coming down our street?" "I'd go
like this, bang! I'd throw him over the railings and
roll him down the hill and then I'd tickle him under
the ear and he'd wag his tail." "What would you do if
you saw two hippos?"

Iron-flanked and bellowing he-hippos clanked and
battered through the scudding snow toward us as we
passed Mr. Daniel's house. "Let's post Mr. Daniel a
snow-ball through his letter box." "Let's write things
in the snow." "Let's write, 'Mr. Daniel looks like a
spaniel' all over his lawn." Or we walked on the white
shore. "Can the fishes see it's snowing?"

The silent one-clouded heavens drifted on to the sea.
Now we were snow-blind travelers lost on the north
hills, and vast dewlapped dogs, with flasks round their
necks, ambled and shambled up to us, baying
"Excelsior." We returned home through the poor streets
where only a few children fumbled with bare red fingers
in the wheel-rutted snow and cat-called after us, their
voices fading away, as we trudged uphill, into the
cries of the dock birds and the hooting of ships out in
the whirling bay. And then, at tea the recovered Uncles
would be jolly; and the ice cake loomed in the center
of the table like a marble grave. Auntie Hannah laced
her tea with rum, because it was only once a year.

Bring out the tall tales now that we told by the fire
as the gaslight bubbled like a diver. Ghosts whooed
like owls in the long nights when I dared not look over
my shoulder; animals lurked in the cubbyhole under the
stairs and the gas meter ticked. And I remember that we
went singing carols once, when there wasn't the shaving
of a moon to light the flying streets. At the end of a
long road was a drive that led to a large house, and we
stumbled up the darkness of the drive that night, each
one of us afraid, each one holding a stone in his hand
in case, and all of us too brave to say a word. The
wind through the trees made noises as of old and
unpleasant and maybe webfooted men wheezing in caves.
We reached the black bulk of the house. "What shall we
give them? Hark the Herald?" "No," Jack said, "Good
King Wencelas. I'll count three." One, two three, and
we began to sing, our voices high and seemingly distant
in the snow-felted darkness round the house that was
occupied by nobody we knew. We stood close together,
near the dark door. Good King Wencelas looked out On
the Feast of Stephen ... And then a small, dry voice,
like the voice of someone who has not spoken for a long
time, joined our singing: a small, dry, eggshell voice
from the other side of the door: a small dry voice
through the keyhole. And when we stopped running we
were outside our house; the front room was lovely;
balloons floated under the hot-water-bottle-gulping
gas; everything was good again and shone over the town.
"Perhaps it was a ghost," Jim said. " Perhaps it was
trolls," Dan said, who was always reading. "Let's go in
and see if there's any jelly left," Jack said. And we
did that.

Always on Christmas night there was music. An uncle
played the fiddle, a cousin sang "Cherry Ripe," and
another uncle sang "Drake's Drum." It was very warm in
the little house. Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the
parsnip wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and
Death, and then another in which she said her heart was
like a Bird's Nest; and then everybody laughed again;
and then I went to bed. Looking through my bedroom
window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-
colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of
all the other houses on our hill and hear the music
rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I
turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words
to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.

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