Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Almost Slippery with Saliva

Let me too accept his invitation to indulge in reveries on the past. We first came to live in London when I was only some four years old, and first went to a house in London somewhere in Balham or Tooting or that neighbourhood. There one of my earliest recollections is concerned with hygiene in the narrower sense. Twice duiring the one year we were there, high tides or perhaps heavy rains backed the water of the sewers, and we had several feet of sewage flooding our basement. I can definitely remember being taken a few steps down the kitchen stairs and seeing chairs floating in and beetles on that filthy flood. We then went to live in Bayswater. To think of those days seems to take me into almost a different world.
    The mostly macadaniized streets were thick with mud in wet weather, and every profitable crossing had its crossing-sweeper. Where are the crossing-sweepers now, and where the corresponding number of beggars? Crossing-sweepers and beggars were naturally clothed raggedly and filthily, but it seems to me, at least in memory, that one might almost have said the same of the working classes in those days. Travelling on the Underground about the time that men came from their work, in the dirty jackets and corduroys in which they had been working, was anything but pleasant. The cigarette was then no smoke for the working man; he smoked a short clay pipe. With a short clay pipe spitting is inevitable, and the floors of the Underground railway carriages were almost slippery with saliva. In the evenings there were then practically no counter attractions to the public house; the sight of drunken men and women, a free fight, or even of a man lying in the gutter, does not seem to have been very rare.
    As regards another matter-vermin - I think the improvement has been almost as striking. Giving unintended hospitality to a hungry flea picked up in some growler or hansom cab, or on the Underground Railway, was not exceedingly rare. Keating's Powder was an invaluable item in the outfit for the summer holidays, and I have dreadful recollections of our taking a house at the seaside - accordinig to my recollection it was a doctor's house - out of which we fled the next morning, hopelessly routed by its hoards of saltatory inhabitants. In spite of their respective dates, my memories of these early years always seem to call up pictures much more reminiscent of Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor rather than the later work of Charles Booth.

Mr. Udny Yule (born 1871) speaking at a meeting of Royal Statistical Society, recorded in its Journal, Vol. 99, No. 4 (1936), p.708

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