King John’s Christmas

The worn and yellowed pages of my childhood copy of When We Are Six. Many was the time my dad read the poems in it to me, in particular King John's Christmas.

The worn and yellowed pages of my childhood copy of When We Are Six, and in particular my favourite poem, and my dad’s: King John’s Christmas.

Raymond and I were driving home to Montreal from Queensborough the other night, through the dark and the freezing rain, the car radio tuned to CBC 2 as usual. And mention was made of A.A. Milne‘s delightful poem King John’s Christmas, and what a flood of memories that suddenly brought back!

I think I’ve mentioned that my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, had an enormous capacity for remembering and reciting poetry (not to mention composing his own à l’improviste, in full rhyme and metre, as fast as the words could come out of his mouth).

My well-worn and much-loved copy of Now We Are Six. When I hold it in my hands, I think of Dad holding it isn his hands as he read to us.

My well-worn and much-loved copy of Now We Are Six. When I hold it in my hands, I think of Dad holding it in his hands as he read to us.

The poems for children of A.A. Milne – who is most famous for Winnie-the-Pooh – were published in the volumes When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six in the 1920s, and Dad was born in 1931. Whether he knew these poems, or was read them, when he was a child I do not know. But he most certainly had the books, and read and recited them to us, when we – my siblings Melanie, John and Kenneth – were children growing up in the Manse in Queensborough.

Dad’s favourite by far, I would say, was King John’s Christmas, from Now We Are Six. He would recite it at the drop of a hat, and he did it so well – all the pathos of poor (though bad, one mustn’t forget) King John never getting any Christmas cards or presents, and how much he wished he would at least get one thing one time, and how the thing he most longed for was a big red India rubber ball, and how – well, you’re going to have to read to the end of the poem to discover how things turn out.

The CBC announcer reminded us that another CBC announcer, Bob Oxley*, was famous for his annual reading of the poem on the air, but try as I might I have failed to find a link to that. Meanwhile, this particular CBC announcer thought he would try it himself, which he did. And it was fine, but it wasn’t like Dad. And in looking online I’ve found lots of other people who think they do King John’s Christmas splendidly, and doubtless they do.

But they don’t do it like Dad.

Many were the times Dad would recite it at Sunday School concerts and the like at the churches and church halls of the Queensborough Pastoral Charge of the United Church of Canada. In my mind’s eye I can still see him doing it in the hall/basement of Eldorado United Church (now, sadly, closed and sold), probably in about 1972 or ’73. I remember enjoying it mightily even though I’d heard him do it so many times before (often in the kitchen of the Manse), and I remember how it was greeted with wild applause from the Eldorado adults and children. Those were simple and happy times, and that is a memory to treasure.

Anyway, in honour of Christmas, and A.A. Milne, and the return to Queensborough of Raymond and me, and most especially of my dad, here is King John’s Christmas:

King John’s Christmas

King John was not a good man –
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.
And men who came across him,
When walking in the town
Gave him a supercilious stare,
Or passed with noses in the air –
And bad King John stood dumbly there,
Blushing beneath his crown.

King John was not a good man,
And no good friends had he.
He stayed in every afternoon …
But no one came to tea.
And, round about December,
The cards upon his shelf
Which wished him lots of Christmas cheer,
And happiness in the coming year,
Were never from his near and dear,
But only from himself.

King John was not a good man,
Yet had his hopes and fears
They’d given him no presents now
For years and years and years.
But every year at Christmas,
While minstrels stood about,
Collecting tribute from the young
For all the songs they might have sung,
He stole away upstairs and hung
A hopeful stocking out.

King John chimneyKing John was not a good man,
He lived his life aloof;
Alone he thought a message out
While climbing up the roof.
He wrote it down and propped it
Against the chimney stack;
“TO ALL AND SUNDRY – NEAR AND FAR –
F. CHRISTMAS IN PARTICULAR.”
And signed it not “Johannes R.”
But very humbly, “JACK.”

“I want some crackers,
And I want some candy;
I think a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I don’t mind oranges,
I do like nuts!
And I SHOULD like a pocket-knife
That really cuts.
And, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John was not a good man –
He wrote this message out,
And gat him to his room again,
Descending by the spout.
And all that night he lay there,
A prey to hopes and fears.
“I think that’s him a-coming now,”
(Anxiety bedewed his brow.)
“He’ll bring one present, anyhow –
The first I’ve had for years.”

“Forget about the crackers,
And forget about the candy;
I’m sure a box of chocolates
Would never come in handy:
I don’t like oranges,
I don’t want nuts,
And I HAVE got a pocket-knife
That almost cuts.
But oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John was not a good man –
Next morning when the sun
Rose up to tell a waiting world
That Christmas had begun,
And people seized their stockings,
And opened them with glee,
And crackers, toys and games appeared,
And lips with sticky sweets were smeared,
King John said grimly: “As I feared,
Nothing again for me!”

“I did want crackers,
And I did want candy;
I know a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I do love oranges,
I did want nuts.
I haven’t got a pocket-knife –
Not one that cuts.
And, oh! if Father Christmas had loved me at all,
He would have brought a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John stood by the window,
And frowned to see below
The happy bands of boys and girls
All playing in the snow.
A while he stood there watching,
And envying them all …
When through the window big and red
There hurtled by his royal head,
And bounced and fell upon the bed,
An india-rubber ball!

King John ballAND, OH, FATHER CHRISTMAS,
MY BLESSINGS ON YOU FALL
FOR BRINGING HIM
A BIG, RED,
INDIA-RUBBER
BALL!

 

 

 

 

*Correction: My original version of this post described longtime and much-respected CBC-Radio announcer and newsman Bob Oxley as “the late Bob Oxley.” Bob’s son-in-law was kind enough to post a comment on the About page here at Meanwhile, at the Manse on March 18, 2015, pointing out that his father-in-law is very much alive and well. Bob and family – I am so sorry for my error! Now, Bob’s son-in-law, Bill, also said he thought that the CBC personality who read King John’s Christmas each year must have been the late Alan Maitland, wearing his Fireside Al hat. That sounds very probable. I am as sure as I can reasonably be that the CBC person I heard making reference to the reading said it was a Bob Oxley tradition, but it is very possible that he was mistaken and I unhelpfully repeated the mistake. Fireside Al was known for his readings at Christmas, but I can find no online link or reference to him doing King John’s Christmas. It’s a bit of a Christmas muddle! But I hope you’ve enjoyed the poem nonetheless.

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