Mike Tyson - William Shakespeare - Dolly Parton - Walt Whitman - Alan Bleasdale TV - Thomas Hardy - George Orwell - Chaplin: The Birth of the Tramp TV - Play for Today: Edna the Inebriate Woman TV - Rebel Without a Cause TV -
Sometimes I put on a ski mask and dress in old clothes, go out on the streets and beg for quarters. Mike Tyson
No, rather I abjure all roofs, and choose
To be a comrade with the wolf and owl,
To wage against the enmity of the air
Necessity’s sharp pinch. William Shakespeare, The History of King Lear II ii @366, Lear
Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life is cheap as beast’s. ibid. II ii @423, Lear
I modelled my looks on the town tramp. Dolly Parton
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose. Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road, 1871
Leave my disinfectant alone. Alan Bleasdale, Boys from the Blackstuff: Yosser’s Story, tramp to Yosser, BBC 1982
Are you after my body? ibid.
I wish I was dead. ibid. Yosser to tramp
I’m dead but you smell. ibid.
From Wynyards Gap the livelong day,
The livelong day,
We beat afoot the northward way
We had travelled times before.
The sun-blaze burning on our backs,
Our shoulders sticking to our packs,
By fosseway, fields, and turnpike tracks
We skirted sad Sege-Moor ... Thomas Hardy, A Trampwoman’s Tragedy
You discover boredom and mean complications and the beginnings of hunger, but you also discover the great redeeming feature of poverty: the face that it annihilates the future …
And there is another feeling that is a great consolation in poverty. I believe everyone who has been hard up has experienced it. It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London
It gives one a strange feeling to be wearing such clothes. I had worn bad enough things before, but nothing at all like these; they were not merely dirty and shapeless they had – how to express it? – a gracelessness, a patina of antique filth, quite different from mere shabbiness. They were the sort of clothes you see on a bootlace seller, or a tramp. An hour later, in Lambeth, I saw a hang-dog man, obviously a tramp, coming towards me, and when I looked again it was myself, reflected in a shop window. The dirt was plastering my face already. Dirt is a great respecter of persons; it lets you alone when you are well dressed, but as soon as your collar is gone it flies towards you from all directions. ibid.
For the first time I noticed, too, how the attitude of women varies with a man’s clothes. When a badly dressed man passed them they shudder away from him with a quite frank movement of disgust, as though he were a dead cat. Clothes are powerful things. Dressed in a tramp’s clothes it is very difficult at any rate on the first day, not to feel that you are genuinely degraded. ibid.
On his crown, which was bald, he had eczema; he was shortsighted and had no glasses; he had chronic bronchitis; he had some undiagnosed pain in the back; he had dyspepsia; he had urethritis; he had varicose veins, bunions and flat feet. With this assemblage of diseases he had tramped the roads for fifteen years. ibid.
The spike consisted simply of a bathroom and lavatory and, for the rest, long double rows of stone cells, perhaps a hundred cells in all. It was a bare, gloomy place of stone and whitewash, unwillingly clean, with a smell which, somehow, I had foreseen from its appearance; a smell of soft soap, Jeyes’ fluid and latrines – a cold, discouraging, prisonish smell. ibid.
Naked and shivering, we lined up in the passage. You cannot conceive what ruinous, degenerate curs we looked standing there in the merciless morning light. A tramp’s clothes are bad, but they conceal far worse things; to see him as he really is, unmitigated, you must see him naked. Flat feet, pot bellies, hollow chests, sagging muscles – every kind of physical rottenness was there. ibid.
Nevertheless, one would have known him for a tramp a hundred yards away. There was something in his drifting style of walk, and the way he had of hunching his shoulders forward, essentially abject. Seeing him walk, you felt instinctively that he would sooner take a blow than give one. ibid.
He had the regular character of a tramp – abject, envious, a jackal’s character. ibid.
To my eye these Salvation Army shelters, though clean, are far drearier than the worst of the common lodging-houses. There is such a hopelessness about some of the people there – decent, broken-down types who have pawned their collars but are still trying for office jobs. Coming to a Salvation Army shelter, where it is at least clean, is their last clutch at respectability. ibid.
The dormitory was a great attic like a barrack room, with sixty or seventy beds in it. There were clean and tolerably comfortable, but very narrow and very close together, so that one breathed straight into one’s neighbour’s face. Two officers slept in the room, to see that there was no smoking and no talking after lights-out … He was the kind of thing that prevents one from ever getting enough sleep when men are herded as they are in these lodging rooms. ibid.
The fact is that the Salvation Army are so in the habit of thinking themselves a charitable body that they cannot even run a lodging-house without making it stink of charity. ibid.
The dormitory was dark and close, fifteen beds in it. There was a horrible hot reek of urine, so beastly that at first one tried to breathe in small, shallow puffs not filling one’s lungs to the bottom. ibid.
With all this, he had neither fear, nor regret, nor shame, nor self-pity. He had paced his position, and made a philosophy for himself. Being a beggar, he said, was not his fault, and he refused either to have any compunction about it or to let it trouble him. ibid.
He had a gift for phrases. He had managed to keep his brain intact and alert, and so nothing could make him succumb to poverty. He might be ragged and cold, or even starving, but so long as he could read, think, and watch for meteors, he was, as he said, free in his own mind. ibid.
While I was with Bozo he taught me something about the technique of London begging. There is more in it that one might suppose. Beggars vary greatly, and there is a sharp social line between those who merely cadge and those who attempt to give some value for money. ibid.
The most prosperous beggars are street acrobats and street photographers. On a good pitch – a theatre queue, for instance – a street acrobat will often earn five pounds a week. Street photographers can earn about the same, but they are dependent on fine weather. ibid.
Below screevers come the people who sing hymns, or sell matches, or bootlaces, or envelopes containing a few grains of lavender – called, euphemistically, perfume. All these people are frankly beggars, exploiting an appearance of misery, and none of them takes on an average more than half a crown a day. ibid.
It is worth saying something about the social position of beggars, for when one has consorted with them, and found that they are ordinary human beings, one cannot help being struck by the curious attitude that society takes towards them. People seem to feel that there is some essential difference between beggars and ordinary ‘working’ men. They are a race apart – outlaws, like criminals and prostitutes. ibid.
There was a woman among us, the first woman tramp I had ever seen. She was a fattish, battered, very dirty woman of sixty, in a long, trailing black skirt. She put on great airs of dignity, and if anyone sat down near her she sniffed and moved further off. ibid.
By seven we had wolfed our bread and tea and were in our cells. We slept one in a cell, and there were bedsteads and straw palliasses, so that one ought to have had a good night’s sleep. But no spike is perfect, and the peculiar shortcoming at Lower Binfield was the cold. The hot pipes were not working, and the two blankets we had been given were thin cotton things and almost useless. It was only autumn, but the cold was bitter. ibid.
The paupers talked interestingly about workhouse life. They told me, among other things, that the thing they really hated in the workhouse, as a stigma of charity, is the uniform; if the men could wear their own clothes, or even their own caps and scarves, they would not mind being paupers. ibid.
Our dormitory was a barn-like room with thirty beds close together, and a tub to serve as a common chamber-pot. It stank abominably, and the older men coughed and got up all night. But being so many together kept their room warm, and we had some sleep. ibid.
It is queer that a tribe of men, tens of thousands in number, should be marching up and down England like so many Wandering Jews. ibid.
Why do tramps exist at all? It is a curious thing, but very few people know what makes a tramp take to the road. And, because of the belief in the tramp-monster, the most fantastic reasons are suggested. ibid.