A Nightly Scene in London: 1855

An observation on homelessness and poverty from Charles Dickens titled “A Nightly Scene in London”

On the fifth of last November, I, the Conductor of this journal, accompanied by a friend well-known to the public, accidentally strayed into Whitechapel. It was a miserable evening; very dark, very muddy, and raining hard.

There are many woful sights in that part of London, and it has been well-known to me in most of its aspects for many years. We had forgotten the mud and rain in slowly walking along and looking about us, when we found ourselves, at eight o’clock, before the Workhouse.

Crouched against the wall of the Workhouse, in the dark street, on the muddy pavement-stones, with the rain raining upon them, were five bundles of rags. They were motionless, and had no resemblance to the human form. Five great beehives, covered with rags— five dead bodies taken out of graves, tied neck and heels, and covered with rags— would have looked like those five bundles upon which the rain rained down in the public street.

“What is this! ” said my companion. “What is this!”

“Some miserable people shut out of the Casual Ward, I think,” said I.

We had stopped before the five ragged mounds, and were quite rooted to the spot by their horrible appearance. Five awful Sphinxes by the wayside, crying to every passer-by, ” Stop and guess! What is to be the end of a state of society that leaves us here!”

As we stood looking at them, a decent working-man, having the appearance of a stone-mason, touched me on the shoulder.

“This is an awful sight, sir,” said he, “in a Christian country!”

“GOD knows it is, my friend,” said I.

“I have often seen it much worse than this, as I have been going home from my work. I have counted fifteen, twenty, five-and-twenty, many a time. It’s a shocking thing to see.”

“A shocking thing, indeed,” said I and my companion together. The man lingered near
us a little while, wished us good-night, and went on.

We should have felt it brutal in us who had a better chance of being heard than the working-man, to leave the thing as it was, so we knocked at the Workhouse Gate. I undertook to be spokesman. The moment the gate was opened by an old pauper, I went in, followed close by my companion. I lost no time in passing the old porter, for I saw in his watery eye a disposition to shut us out.

“Be so good as to give that card to the master of the Workhouse, and say I shall be glad to speak to him for a moment.”

We were in a kind of covered gateway, and the old porter went across it with the card. Before he had got to a door on our left, a man in a cloak and hat bounced out of it very sharply, as if he were in the nightly habit of being bullied and of returning the compliment.

“Now, gentlemen,” said he in a loud voice, “what do you want here?”

“First,” said I, ” will you do me the favor to look at that card in your hand. Perhaps you may know my name.”

“Yes,” says he, looking at it. ” I know this name.”

“Good. I only want to ask you a plain question in a civil manner, and there is not the least occasion for either of us to be angry. It would be very foolish in me to blame you, and I don’t blame you. I may find fault with the system you administer, but pray understand that I know you are here to do a duty pointed out to you, and that I have no doubt you do it. Now, I hope you won’t object to tell me what I want to know.”

“No,” said he, quite mollified, and very reasonable, ” not at all. What is it?”

“Do you know that there are five wretched creatures outside?”

“I haven’t seen them, but I dare say there are.”

“Do you doubt that there are?”

“No, not at all. There might be many more.”

”Are they men? Or women?”

“Women, I suppose. Very likely one or two of them were there last night, and the night before last.”

“There all night, do you mean?”

“Very likely.”

My companion and I looked at one another, and the master of the Workhouse added quickly, “Why, Lord bless my soul, what am I to do? What can I do ? The place is full. The place is always full—every night. I must give the preference to women with children, mustn’t I? You wouldn’t have me not do that?”

“Surely not,” said I. “It is a very humane principle, and quite right; and I am glad to hear of it. Don’t forget that I don’t blame you.”

“Well!” said he. And subdued himself again. …

“Just so. I wanted to know no more. You have answered my question civilly and readily, and I am much obliged to you. I have nothing to say against you, but quite the contrary. Good night!”

“Good night, gentlemen!” And out we came again.

We went to the ragged bundle nearest to the Workhouse-door, and I touched it. No movement replying, I gently shook it. The rags began to be slowly stirred within, and by little and little a head was unshrouded. The head of a young woman of three or four and twenty, as I should judge; gaunt with want, and foul with dirt; but not naturally ugly.

“Tell us,” said I, stooping down. “Why are you lying here?”

“Because I can’t get into the Workhouse.”

She spoke in a faint dull way, and had no curiosity or interest left. She looked dreamily at the black sky and the falling rain, but never looked at me or my companion.

“Were you here last night?”

“Yes, All last night. And the night afore too.”

“Do you know any of these others?”

“I know her next but one. She was here last night, and she told me she come out of Essex. I don’t know no more of her.”

“You were here all last night, but you have not been here all day?”

“No. Not all day.”

“Where have you been all day?”

“About the streets.”

”What have you had to eat?”

“Nothing.”

“Come!” said I. “Think a little. You are tired and have been asleep, and don’t quite consider what you are saying to us. You have had something to eat to-day. Come! Think of it!”

“No I haven’t. Nothing but such bits as I could pick up about the market. Why, look at me!”

She bared her neck, and I covered it up again.

“If you had a shilling to get some supper and a lodging, should you know where to get it?”

“Yes. I could do that.”

“For GOD’S sake get it then!”

I put the money into her hand, and she feebly rose up and went away. She never thanked me, never looked at me— melted away into the miserable night, in the strangest manner I ever saw. I have seen many strange things, but not one that has left a deeper impression on my memory than the dull impassive way in which that worn-out heap of misery took that piece of money, and was lost.

One by one I spoke to all the five. In every one, interest and curiosity were as extinct as in the first. They were all dull and languid. No one made any sort of profession or complaint; no one cared to look at me; no one thanked me. When I came to the third, I suppose she saw that my companion and I glanced, with a new horror upon us, at the two last, who had dropped against each other in their sleep, and were lying like broken images. She said, she believed they were young sisters. These were the only words that were originated among the five.

And now let me close this terrible account with a redeeming and beautiful trait of the poorest of the poor. When we came out of the Workhouse, we had gone across the road to a public house, finding ourselves without silver, to get change for a sovereign. I held the money in my hand while I was speaking to the five apparitions. Our being so engaged, attracted the attention of many people of the very poor sort usual to that place; as we leaned over the mounds of rags, they eagerly leaned over us to see and hear; what I had in my hand, and what I said, and what I did, must have been plain to nearly all the concourse. When the last of the five had got up and faded away, the spectators opened to let us pass; and not one of them, by word, or look, or gesture, begged of us.

Many of the observant faces were quick enough to know that it would have been a relief to us to have got rid of the rest of the money with any hope of doing good with it. But, there was a feeling among them all, that their necessities were not to be placed by the side of such a spectacle; and they opened a way for us in profound silence, and let us go.

My companion wrote to me, next day, that the five ragged bundles had been upon his bed all night. I debated how to add our testimony to that of many other persons who from time to time are impelled to write to the newspapers, by having come upon some shameful and shocking sight of this description. I resolved to write in these pages an exact account of what we had seen, but to wait until after Christmas, in order that there might be no heat or haste. I know that the unreasonable disciples of a reasonable school, demented disciples who push arithmetic and political economy beyond all bounds of sense (not to speak of such a weakness as humanity), and hold them to be all-sufficient for every case, can easily prove that such things ought to be, and that no man has any business to mind them. Without disparaging those indispensable sciences in their sanity, I utterly renounce and abominate them in their insanity; and I address people with a respect for the spirit of the New Testament, who do mind such things, and who think them infamous in our streets.

jhw-v13-p0025

Black Pete: A Christmas story

One of my holiday memories from Belgium was when I took my boss, who was visiting from New York, out to dinner in a swank Brussels restaurant and a guy in holiday costume and blackface came in and asked for donations for children.

It was Black Pete, and the restaurant was cool with it.

So, here I am explaining to my boss that as weird as this all was, and how, if we were in the states all hell would have broken loose, this was part of the Christmas tradition in Belgium. The guy was Santa’s friend (although the way I put it, he used to be Santa’s slave but instead of kicking Santa’s ass when he got his freedom, he decided to stick around and help out for the holiday).

Now, I could have presented the story in the drab, ominous way this guy does for Vox:

But I think David Sedaris explained it much better:

A woman’s work is never done

The political conventions in the U.S. are over. The choices are clear.

And right now it looks like as of Jan. 20, 2017, the Western world is going to be governed by these three people:

stream_img

England’s prime minister

Angela Merkel Austerity Europe Germany

Germany’s chancellor

ct-hillary-clinton-speeches-0209-jm-20160208-001

The next president of the United States

 

Welcome to the 21st century. We’ve shattered the glass ceiling and the sky’s the limit.

John Oliver on Brexit

And boy, is he pissed [not in the British definition of pissed (drunk) but in the American definition of pissed (pissed)]:

And he also had something to say about the tiny fingered, Cheetos-faced, ferret wearing shitgibbon:

Now, I don’t want to kick a country when it’s down, but I have to lace up my football cleats for this:

It’s one of the greatest upsets in sporting history. On Monday, Iceland defeated England in the second round of the Euro 2016 soccer tournament, 2-1, to progress to a quarter-final match against host nation France.

So, why is this one of the greatest upsets in sporting history?

This is Iceland’s first appearance in any major tournament. Their country’s population (just a bit over 300,000 people) could fit into one midsized English city. Some estimates suggest that almost 10 percent of the nation was following the team around in France. Their players include a part-time filmmaker and itinerant farmers.

Iceland was going up against one of the most recognized teams in the world, whose players are all lavishly paid stars in the English Premier League. But an incredible, gusty performance by the Icelanders, some of whom are journeymen who ply their trade in England’s lower leagues, won the day.

It is so bad that a chart has been made to account for everyone in the country:

Cl-4-15WYAAn3ao

What can you say? That’s everybody in Iceland!

I think it’s time to quote Shakespeare:

This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England …

… Is totally fucked.

Brits voted to leave the European Union

This is why it is an enormously bad idea:

And to put this into context: That “world’s Ringo” reference at the very beginning? This now makes the United Kingdom the world’s Pete Best. (You kids under 40 don’t get the joke, but your grandparents are laughing their asses off.)

The slogan for the anti-E.U., British exit (or Brexit) supporters was something you hear from the right wing in America:

BN-OO616_gv2bre_P_20160621072753

Does that sound like a certain piece of moldy Cheetos lodged in the single tooth of the American heartland?

Hold on a sec, Donald Trump’s mouth is moving. I have to do something:

trump_is_electrified

What happened, essentially, was a victory for the Donald Trump message in the U.K. The nativist, anti-immigrant, ethnic-purity language that has gotten Trump within footsteps of the White House has led to what is going to be the official end of the British Empire.

Within hours of the conclusion of the Brexit vote, this happened:

As Britain absorbed the earth-shaking news, the political fallout reached to the highest level with Prime Minister David Cameron saying he would step down after championing the campaign to remain in the European Union.

Just hours later, the leader in heavily pro-E.U. Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, said she will push for their own referendum to break with England and the other two partners in the United Kingdom, Wales and Northern Ireland.

A second independence referendum, following a defeated vote in 2014, is “highly likely,” said Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister. Calls to break away were echoed by nationalists in Northern Ireland.

Here’s a map of the U.K.

uk_colour_map

Scotland is definitely leaving. It had it’s own Brexit vote in 2014, but that vote was to leave the U.K. not the E.U. The Scots overwhelmingly supported remaining in the European Union in yesterday’s vote. They’re definitely gone.

And independence for Northern Ireland was a cause that led to “The Troubles,” a barrage of murder and terrorism that surged throughout the U.K. from 1968 to 1998. Now that they’re countrymen have said, “Hey, it’s OK to leave a place you don’t like,” expect rumblings of a departure there. Hopefully, it doesn’t lead to another civil war.

The British equivalent of the Republican party and its supporters have just not only pulled out of the E.U., they have destroyed their country. I’d say “God, save the Queen,” but in a couple of years, that’s only going to apply to that tiny portion of yellow and purple on the map above.