Friday, January 9, 2015

Orange peel and peppered bread (1987)

From the August 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

When reaching the age of 70 you tend to look back and reflect on your life. I experienced twice going hungry. First as a boy in 1926 during the General Strike when I would pick up orange peel from the gutter to eat on the way to Stratford Market where I went to look for food. Dustbin raking was futile, turning up mainly fishbones. Also difficult, as others also used this method to exist.

The second time was in 1942 when I had to visit the Relieving Office weekly to pick up a bright blue form which said "Rent 12/6d, Food 10/-, Coal 5/-" - a total of £1.38 to keep a family of four.

The pawnshop had our eiderdown, overcoat, marriage rings and much else besides: this avenue of revenue was now exhausted. What else could I do? We were fed up with pouring hot water on dry beard, peppered for flavour. I would be caught stealing, and this would make matters worse. No fines in those, days, only prison.

In desperation I did some work as a film extra; untraceable, as on the wall of the Relieving Office was 'Mr So and So went to work between . . . and . . . He did not declare his earnings and was sentenced to six months' imprisonment". Therefore you could say I owe the capitalist system between four and five years in prison!

Such experiences make you think hard and give you a deep sense of the real values of life. Your dignity and confidence are, alas, gone for ever. To quote Charles Chaplin "Once you have been very poor no amount of money can retrieve the position". I am still waiting to confirm the latter part!

Food was in shops, not for the hungry but to be sold for a profit to those who could pay. Now, on reflection, I can only smile bitterly and try to help organise the overthrowing of this vile system of capitalism. Relating this story of mine while canvassing for The Socialist Party, somebody said "surely the capitalist system has done something for you. There must be something." The door had nearly closed when I said "Yes, there is something; it made me a socialist -  the only hope in this world of chaos".
Cyril Watkinson

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