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The two pounds that B. had given me lasted about ten days. That it
lasted so long was due to Paddy, who had learned parsimony on the road and
considered even one sound meal a day a wild extravagance. Food, to him, had
come to mean simply bread and margarine--the eternal tea-and-two-slices,
which will cheat hunger for an hour or two. He taught me how to live, food,
bed, tobacco, and all, at the rate of half a crown a day. And he managed to
earn a few extra shillings by 'glimming' in the evenings. It was a
precarious job, because illegal, but it brought in a little and eked out
One morning we tried for a job as sandwich men. We went at five to an
alley-way behind some offices, but there was already a queue of thirty or
forty men waiting, and after two hours we were told that there was no work
for us. We had not missed much, for sandwich men have an unenviable job.
They are paid about three shillings a day for ten hours' work--it is hard
work, especially in windy weather, and there is no skulking, for an
inspector comes round frequently to see that the men are on their beat. To
add to their troubles, they are only engaged by the day, or sometimes for
three days, never weekly, so that they have to wait hours for their job
every morning. The number of unemployed men who are ready to do the work
makes them powerless to fight for better treatment. The job all sandwich
men covet is distributing handbills, which is paid for at the same rate.
When you see a man distributing handbills you can do him a good turn by
taking one, for he goes off duty when he has distributed all his bills.
Meanwhile we went on with the lodging-house life--a squalid,
eventless life of crushing boredom. For days together there was nothing to
do but sit in the underground kitchen, reading yesterday's newspaper, or,
when one could get hold of it, a back number of the UNION JACK. It rained a
great deal at this time, and everyone who came in Steamed, so that the
kitchen stank horribly. One's only excitement was the periodical
tea-and-two-slices. I do not know how many men are living this life in
London--it must be thousands at the least. As to Paddy, it was actually
the best life he had known for two years past. His interludes from
tramping, the times when he had somehow laid hands on a few shillings, had
all been like this; the tramping itself had been slightly worse. Listening
to his whimpering voice--he was always whimpering when he was not eating
--one realized what torture unemployment must be to him. People are wrong
when they think that an unemployed man only worries about losing his wages;
on the contrary, an illiterate man, with the work habit in his bones, needs
work even more than he needs money. An educated man can put up with
enforced idleness, which is one of the worst evils of poverty. But a man
like Paddy, with no means of filling up time, is as miserable out of work
as a dog on the chain. That is why it is such nonsense to pretend that
those who have 'come down in the world' are to be pitied above all others.
The man who really merits pity is the man who has been down from the start,
and faces poverty with a blank, resourceless mind.
It was a dull rime, and little of it stays in my mind, except for
talks with Bozo. Once the lodging-house was invaded by a slumming-party.
Paddy and I had been out, and, coming back in the afternoon, we heard
sounds of music downstairs. We went down to find three gentle-people,
sleekly dressed, holding a religious service in our kitchen. They Were a
grave and reverend seignior in a frock coat, a lady sitting at a portable
harmonium, and a chinless youth toying with a crucifix. It appeared that
they had marched in and started to hold the service, without any kind of
It was a pleasure to see how the lodgers met this intrusion. They did
not offer the smallest rudeness to the slummers; they just ignored them. By
common consent everyone in the kitchen--a hundred men, perhaps--behaved
as though the slummers had not existed. There they stood patiently singing
and exhorting, and no more notice was taken of them than if they had been
earwigs. The gentleman in the frock coat preached a sermon, but not a word
of it was audible; it was drowned in the usual din of songs, oaths, and the
clattering of pans. Men sat at their meals and card games three feet away
from the harmonium, peaceably ignoring it. Presently the slummers gave it
up and cleared out, not insulted in any way, but merely disregarded. No
doubt they consoled themselves by thinking how brave they had been, 'freely
venturing into the lowest dens,' etc. etc.
Bozo said that these people came to the lodging-house several times a
month. They had influence with the police, and the 'deputy' could not
exclude them. It is curious how people take it for granted that they have a
right to preach at you and pray over you as soon as your income falls below
a certain level.
After nine days B.'s two pounds was reduced to one and ninepence.
Paddy and I set aside eighteenpence for our beds, and spent threepence on
the usual tea-and-two-slices, which we shared--an appetizer rather than a
meal. By the afternoon we were damnably hungry and Paddy remembered a
church near King's Cross Station where a free tea was given once a week to
tramps. This was the day, and we decided to go there. Bozo, though it was
rainy weather and he was almost penniless, would not come, saying that
churches were not his style.
Outside the church quite a hundred men were waiting, dirty types who
had gathered from far and wide at the news of a free tea, like kites round
a dead buffalo. Presently the doors opened and a clergyman and some girls
shepherded us into a gallery at the top of the church. It was an
evangelical church, gaunt and wilfully ugly, with texts about blood and
fire blazoned on the walls, and a hymn-book containing twelve hundred and
fifty-one hymns; reading some of the hymns, I concluded that the book would
do as it stood for an anthology of bad verse. There was to be a service
after the tea, and the regular congregation were sitting in the well of the
church below. It was a week-day, and there were only a few dozen of them,
mostly stringy old women who reminded one of boiling-fowls. We ranged
ourselves in the gallery pews and were given our tea; it was a one-pound
jam-jar of tea each, with six slices of bread and margarine. As soon as tea
was over, a dozen tramps who had stationed themselves near the door bolted
to avoid the service; the rest stayed, less from gratitude than lacking the
cheek to go.
The organ let out a few preliminary hoots and the service began. And
instantly, as though at a signal, the tramps began to misbehave in the most
outrageous way. One would not have thought such scenes possible in a
church. All round the gallery men lolled in their pews, laughed, chattered,
leaned over and flicked pellets of bread among the congregation; I had to
restrain the man next to me, more or less by force, from lighting a
cigarette. The tramps treated the service as a purely comic spectacle. It
was, indeed, a sufficiently ludicrous service--the kind where there are
sudden yells of 'Hallelujah!' and endless extempore prayers--but their
behaviour passed all bounds. There was one old fellow in the congregation
--Brother Bootle or some such name--who was often called on to lead us
in prayer, and whenever he stood up the tramps would begin stamping as
though in a theatre; they said that on a previous occasion he had kept up
an extempore prayer for twenty-five minutes, until the minister had
interrupted him. Once when Brother Bootle stood up a tramp called out, 'Two
to one 'e don't beat seven minutes!' so loud that the whole church must
hear. It was not long before we were making far more noise than the
minister. Sometimes somebody below would send up an indignant 'Hush!' but
it made no impression. We had set ourselves to guy the service, and there
was no stopping us.
It was a queer, rather disgusting scene. Below were the handful of
simple, well-meaning people, trying hard to worship; and above were the
hundred men whom they had fed, deliberately making worship impossible. A
ring of dirty, hairy faces grinned down from the gallery, openly jeering.
What could a few women and old men do against a hundred hostile tramps?
They were afraid of us, and we were frankly bullying them. It was our
revenge upon them for having humiliated us by feeding us.
The minister was a brave man. He thundered steadily through a long
sermon on Joshua, and managed almost to ignore the sniggers and chattering
from above. But in the end, perhaps goaded beyond endurance, he announced
'I shall address the last five minutes of my sermon to the UNSAVED
Having said which, he turned his face to the gallery and kept it so
for five minutes, lest there should be any doubt about who were saved and
who unsaved. But much we cared! Even while the minister was threatening
hell fire, we were rolling cigarettes, and at the last amen we clattered
down the stairs with a yell, many agreeing to come back for another free
tea next week.
The scene had interested me. It was so different from the ordinary
demeanour of tramps--from the abject worm-like gratitude with which they
normally accept charity. The explanation, of course, was that we
outnumbered the congregation and so were not afraid of them. A man
receiving charity practically always hates his benefactor--it is a fixed
characteristic of human nature; and, when he has fifty or a hundred others
to back him, he will show it.
In the evening, after the free tea, Paddy unexpectedly earned another
eighteenpence at 'glimming'. It was exactly enough for another night's
lodging, and we put it aside and went hungry till nine the next evening.
Bozo, who might have given us some food, was away all day. The pavements
were wet, and he had gone to the Elephant and Castle, where he knew of a
pitch under shelter. Luckily I still had some tobacco, so that the day
might have been worse.
At half past eight Paddy took me to the Embankment, where a clergyman
was known to distribute meal tickets once a week. Under Charing Cross
Bridge fifty men were waiting, mirrored in the shivering puddles. Some of
them were truly appalling specimens--they were Embankment sleepers, and
the Embankment dredges up worse types than the spike. One of them, I
remember, was dressed in an overcoat without buttons, laced up with rope, a
pair of ragged trousers, and boots exposing his toes--not a rag else. He
was bearded like a fakir, and he had managed to streak his chest and
shoulders with some horrible black filth resembling train oil. What one
could see of his face under the dirt and hair was bleached white as paper
by some malignant disease. I heard him speak, and he had a goodish accent,
as of a clerk or shopwalker.
Presently the clergyman appeared and the men ranged themselves in a
queue in the order in which they had arrived. The clergyman was a nice,
chubby, youngish man, and, curiously enough, very like Charlie, my friend
in Paris. He was shy and embarrassed, and did not speak except for a brief
good evening; he simply hurried down the line of men, thrusting a ticket
upon each, and not waiting to be thanked. The consequence was that, for
once, there was genuine gratitude, and everyone said that the clergyman was
a--good feller. Someone (in his hearing, I believe) called out: 'Well,
HE'LL never be a--bishop!'--this, of course, intended as a warm
The tickets were worth sixpence each, and were directed to an
eating-house not far away. When we got there we found that the proprietor,
knowing that the tramps could not go elsewhere, was cheating by only giving
four pennyworth of food for each ticket. Paddy and I pooled our tickets,
and received food which we could have got for sevenpence or eightpence at
most coffee-shops. The clergyman had distributed well over a pound in
tickets, so that the proprietor was evidently swindling the tramps to the
tune of seven shillings or more a week. This kind of victimization is a
regular part of a tramp's life, and it will go on as long as people
continue to give meal tickets instead of money.
Paddy and I went back to the lodging-house and, still hungry, loafed
in the kitchen, making the warmth of the fire a substitute for food. At
half-past ten Bozo arrived, tired out and haggard, for his mangled leg made
walking an agony. He had not earned a penny at screeving, all the pitches
under shelter being taken, and for several hours he had begged outright,
with one eye on the policemen. He had amassed eightpence--a penny short
of his kip. It was long past the hour for paying, and he had only managed
to slip indoors when the deputy was not looking; at any moment he might be
caught and turned out, to sleep on the Embankment. Bozo took the things out
of his pockets and looked them over, debating what to sell. He decided on
his razor, took it round the kitchen, and in a few minutes he had sold it
for threepence--enough to pay his kip, buy a basin of tea, and leave a
Bozo got his basin of tea and sat down by the fire to dry his clothes.
As he drank the tea I saw that he was laughing to himself, as though at
some good joke. Surprised, I asked him what he had to laugh at.
'It's bloody funny!' he said. 'It's funny enough for PUNCH. What do
you think I been and done?'
'Sold my razor without having a shave first: Of all the--fools!'
He had not eaten since the morning, had walked several miles with a
twisted leg, his clothes were drenched, and he had a halfpenny between
himself and starvation. With all this, he could laugh over the loss of his
razor. One could not help admiring him.