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Christmas Ham – An Urchin’s Delight!

In the cellar of the old warehouse there had been more activity that the usual rats for the past few weeks, activity that was now reaching a productive climax. A hole, some four feet high and two foot wide had been carefully dug and shored up using the old shelving that had been left behind by the previous tenants, heading directly west. At the end of the ten foot shaft, huddled together, were three small figures. They examined the exposed wooden wall in front of them carefully, then quietly sawed through the battens holding the planking in place.

There was a pause, and the trio looked between themselves, then placed small shoulders to the planks and pushed. The whole section moved inwards and there were frantic efforts to prevent it falling forward, as the noise could have been… inconvenient. The first two slipped inside and taking the wall from their companion’s grasp, they moved it to one side, leaning it against the still solid wall. Then they turned, and the dark lantern they had placed inside the tunnel revealed the wonders before them.

The large, cool and dry cellar before them had whole hams hanging like ripe fruit ready for the picking from the rafters. There were racks of sausages and other meats, barrels of salted pork and beef, in one corner there was a large table, metal covered, with massive ice blocks below it, covered with intricately decorated pates and terrines, and on the far side were shelves and shelves of pies! The boys stood and gazed around, this was truly Nirvana.

“Right,” said one, a young lad in a military cap and trousers that were far too large for him, “we gotta be careful bout this, no good gettin carried away…, don’t touch nuffin till we got it worked out!”
His companions nodded, still awed by their presence in such an august place as the cellar of Bogis, Bogis and Clout, Purveyors of Chacuterie to the Gentry. They gently passed through the rows of succulent meat, finally reaching the Christmas Hams. These wonderful creations, studded with cloves, had been soaked in a mixture of salt, treacle and spices for months, then dried, the surface fat now a glistening, crystallised golden brown. Selecting the one at the end of the row nearest the door, the boys hoisted the smallest up onto their shoulders and he quickly unhooked the large joint, holding it tight as they set him back on the floor.
“Nip that back next door, then get back sharpish, we’s still got work ter do!”

While their co-conspirator was gone, the others examined the effect of their work.
“Well, you can see the gap, cus of them other hams, Tep… errr… sorry.” the boy said, looking sheepish at the end realising he had almost named his friend.
“Yeah, we’s gonna have ter take one from this row too, or they’s gonna notice…”

It had been a longer night than they had anticipated, the dawn’s early light was breaking through above them as they carefully pulled the wall back into place behind them, lashing the cut ends of the battens firmly together. They had eventually taken one ham from each row to even it up, rearranged the pies and sausages to have a fraction more space between them, covering up the gaps their depredations had made. The finger marks made by the smallest in a pate were a worry, till the leader nipped back into the other cellar and brought back a dead rat. Careful positioning covered the damage, and had the added advantage that it would create a diversion of attention. Not only would that be the first thing noticed, which merchant would make a fuss when it might bring to light that there was a rat died when eating their pate!

It would take a few days to stash the loot safely away, but now the feast was beginning to look more promising, now what was next on the list…..?

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