10 Jul Chapter 9: The Cricketers & Chapter 10: The Christmas Party
Chapter 9 opens with the men bewailing the shoddy, rushed quality of the work they have been forced to do on the house, which is nearly finished. They yearn to work more thoroughly and slowly, both to stave off redundancy and also to allow them to take pride in their tradecraft. Owen’s artwork in the drawing room is an extraordinary contrast, but Hunter only sees the cost inefficiency of such detail and splendour.
We see the men queue for their pay and then spend it. Most dive straight into The Cricketers for a celebratory pint, whilst Slyme puts some aside in a savings bank and takes small gifts home to sweeten Ruth Easton, his landlady. Slyme draws quite a contrast with her husband, who is drunk and unhelpful, under the influence of the site foreman Crass. Ruth Easton’s unwilling visit to The Cricketers was a scene familiar us. It’s very hard for drinkers to understand those who don’t want to join in, and for drunk people to read the signs when one of their number is not having fun. Self-restraint, moderation, thought for the future and social-distancing all seem to get a bit less important after one’s second drink, as scenes this week have shown. Anyway, poor Ruth is not used to it, and leaves after an argument with her inattentive husband.
Slyme, of course, is on hand to ‘rescue’ her, and sow the seed that will become a crisis in Chapter 21. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is known for the enlightenment of the working man through his exposure to the capitalist system and the ways it robs him. Tressell left no stone unturned, including things that we know poverty engenders, hides and nurtures: violence, sexual assault and substance misuse.
Chapter 10 is a blessed relief from the horrors of Ruth’s predicament, as it shows little Frankie Owen’s Christmas Party. But first we see how little work there is to do, as the unemployed march through the town asking for support. The tradesmen find them despicable, but Owen suggests a Keynsian idea – wouldn’t it be better value for the community to put them to work, than pay for their keep in the poor house? Apparently it would cost less to send a young offender to Eton for a year than to incarcerate them, and I’m keen to try that too.
Newman has been imprisoned for bad debt, leaving his family to starve. Philpot and Owen collect pennies from their friends (who have little to spare) to help them get through. This is an example of the well known phenomenon of working class generosity. The rich are often bountiful when it comes to public acts of charity, but as a proportion of their assets the poor give far more. Perhaps it’s being close to the edge oneself that helps translate empathy into action.
Christmas shopping can be a miserable experience for parents with little to spare, and we feel for Owen as he watches Sweater carry off the toy train Frankie loved so much. The Owens’ hard-won modest hospitality is so warmly appreciated by their friends, and they get so much enjoyment from so little. The hand-made entertainment provided by Bert’s shoebox theatre centres on civil rights and economic anxiety, belying the education he has been receiving from Owen while they worked on the drawing room together.