The Ballad of Dives the Rich

A howl hit the Charing Cross canopy

as Sir Gerald Ashwarlingham-Buckleby

swore at the man on the ticket gate

whilst the barrier hung on tight to his coat.

Two officers moved up to attend

but the Monday commotion was soon at an end.

He dashed for the exit and crossed the Strand,

 the Big-Issue seller standing ground

 and bidding him good day as he forced past,

his bulk catching the seller’s arm

so he tripped and fell into a puddle

and the magazines were trampled and mashed to a pulp.

Sir Gerald turned and laughed at the man

sitting on the pavement, head in hands,

and took Leicester Square, then Piccadilly

before turning into a marbled foyer;

eight floors to reach his glass panorama:

one journey into the week’s drama.


On Tuesday he was two trains late:

his son broke his nose in a school fight.

So he’d shouted at him and blew up on his wife

but left when she went for the carving knife.

The seller wasn’t there, and he marched past Eros,

drooling at the yachts in the chandlers windows,

and comparing them to his, which was moored in the docks:

he used it to oil the funding locks.

Swivelling in a chair as his PA brought coffee,

the deal on Bond Street was looking rocky;

he eyed her out and woke up from a dream

to the surprise that the finances of the scheme

didn’t stack up, the risks were high

and the yield would make his partners cry

with derision. He had a pounding chest,

drank more coffee and had ten minutes’ rest.


The following morning the FT was beset

with European crisis and nation-state debt.

The Big-Issue seller was sat on a stool,

selling two copies at once to a fool

who Sir Gerald thought must be a socialist,

and caught the man’s leg with a swing of his case.

He lost his balance and fell on the seller,

and the two toppled over into the gutter.

The seller smashed his head on a pavement grate,

whilst Sir Gerald sped off into the sleet,

arriving in the office breathless and damp

where he had to be calmed with croissant and jam.

Lending rates hit a ten-year high:

Bond Street was shelved and Marble Arch dying;

his developments axed and seed funds mown,

he gasped at the speed his fortune had flown.

That evening he tramped down St Martin’s Path

and around Oscar Wilde, who seemed to

laugh at him from his tortured bust

as he stepped out in front of a van

which stopped.  And he arrived home to find

the lights all out and his family gone.


Thursday started miserably.

He’d spent the night on the phone

trying to track his dependents down:

their cars, clothes and wallets gone.

No-one answered, not even her mother,

but then he hadn’t spoken to her since Easter.

Even the dog had run off with its bowl.

So he locked the house and caught the train.

He passed the spot where the seller sold

and a thousand flowers were neatly posed,

and he rubbed a palm on his throbbing head

as he brushed with a bike on Charing Cross Road.

He was met at the door by his partners, seething,

and torn apart in the morning meeting:

they ripped open his case and scattered his papers

until they found the foreclosure notice;

the administrator came for a good business lunch

and they charged it to his private account;

his PA left in a flood of tears

and the chairman kicked him out with a gratuitous sneer.


He spent the night in a rough hotel

down Wardour Street, and rose unwell

with pains in his arms and no-where to go.

So he wandered round Trafalgar Square

and came to the church, where the doors were open

and climbed the white steps to listen to singing:

a service full of Big-Issue sellers

and tramps and vagabonds wishing him well

who died two days since on the pavement grate,

and the vicar said it wasn’t too late:

all were welcome, he knew that because

of Lazarus the beggar, whoever he was.

Sir Gerald Ashwarlingham-Buckleby

sat quietly in a pew and dropped to his knees;

then, with a stack of Big-Issues wrapped in his coat,

made for the place where the flowers were laid.