George Orwell, in The Spike:
“Also, I had my dinner from the workhouse table, and it was one of the
biggest meals I have ever eaten. A tramp does not see such a meal twice
in the year, in the spike or out of it. The paupers told me that they
always gorged to the bursting point on Sundays, and went hungry six days
of the week. When the meal was over the cook set me to do the washing-up,
and told me to throw away. the food that remained. The wastage was
astonishing; great dishes of beef, and bucketfuls of broad and
vegetables, were pitched away. like rubbish, and then defiled with
tea-leaves. I filled five dustbins to overflowing with good food. And
while I did so my follow tramps were sitting two hundred yards away in
the spike, their bellies half filled with the spike dinner of the
everlasting bread and tea, and perhaps two cold boiled potatoes each in
honour of Sunday. It appeared that the food was thrown away from
deliberate policy, rather than that it should be given to the tramps.
At three I left the workhouse kitchen and went back to the spike. The,
boredom in that crowded, comfortless room was now unbearable. Even
smoking had ceased, for a tramp’s only tobacco is picked-up cigarette
ends, and, like a browsing beast, he starves if he is long away from the
pavement-pasture. To occupy the time I talked with a rather superior
tramp, a young carpenter who wore a collar and tie, and was on the road,
he said. for lack of a set of tools. He kept a little aloof from the
other tramps, and held himself more like a free man than a casual. He had
literary tastes, too, and carried one of Scott’s novels on all his
wanderings. He told me he never entered a spike unless driven there by
hunger, sleeping under hedges and behind ricks in preference. Along the
south coast he had begged by day and slept in bathing-machines for weeks
at a time.
We talked of life on the road. He criticized the system which makes a
tramp spend fourteen hours a day in the spike, and the other ten in
walking and dodging the police. He spoke of his own case–six months at
the public charge for want of three pounds’ worth of tools. It was
idiotic, he said.
Then I told him about the wastage of food in the workhouse kitchen, and
what I thought of it. And at that he changed his tune immediately. I saw
that I had awakened the pew-renter who sleeps in every English workman.
Though he had been famished. along with the rest, he at once saw reasons
why the food should have been thrown away rather than given to the tramps.
He admonished me quite severely.
‘They have to do it,’ he said. ‘If they made these places too pleasant
you’d have all the scum of the country flocking into them. It’s only the
bad food as keeps all that scum away. These tramps are too lazy to work,
that’s all that’s wrong with them. You don’t want to go encouraging of
them. They’re scum.’
I produced arguments to prove him wrong, but he would not listen. He kept
‘You don’t want to have any pity on these tramps–scum, they are. You
don’t want to judge them by the same standards as men like you and me.
They’re scum, just scum.’
It was interesting to see how subtly he disassociated himself from his
fellow tramps. He has been on the road six months. but in the sight of
God, he seemed to imply, he was not a tramp. His body might be in the
spike, but his spirit soared far away, in the pure aether of the middle