Forty-nine of us, forty-eight men and one woman, lay on the green waiting for the spike to open. We just sprawled about exhaustedly, with home-made cigarettes sticking out of our scrubby faces.Overhead the chestnut branches were covered with blossom, and beyond that great woolly clouds floated almost motionless in a clear sky.The woman was sent off to the workhouse, and we others into the spike.
Littered on the grass, we seemed dingy, urban riff-raff.
We defiled the scene, like sardine-tins and paper bags on the seashore.
Then we set about smuggling our matches and tobacco, for it is forbidden to take these into nearly all spikes, and one is supposed to surrender them at the gate.
We hid them in our socks, except for the twenty or so per cent who had no socks, and had to carry the tobacco in their boots, even under their very toes.
All essays in this collection were first published during George Orwell's lifetime, and have appeared in a number of Orwell essay collections published both before and after his death.
Details are provided on the George Orwell page Project Gutenberg of Australia e Books are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included.Then the Tramp Major served us with three cotton blankets each, and drove us off to our cells for the night.The doors were locked on the outside a little before seven in the evening, and would stay locked for the next twelve hours.You couldn't call your soul your own when he was about, and many a tramp had he kicked out in the middle of the night for giving a back answer.When You, came to be searched, he fair held you upside down and shook you. Pay, and if you went in with money (which is against the law) God help you. 'For the love of Christ, mate,' the old hands advised me, 'don't you take it in.The terrible Tramp Major met us at the door and herded us into the bathroom to be stripped and searched.He was a gruff, soldierly man of forty, who gave the tramps no more ceremony than sheep at the dipping-pond, shoving them this way and that and shouting oaths in their faces. 'Well, that's bloody bad luck, guv'nor,' he said, 'that's bloody bad luck, that is.' And thereafter he took it into his head to treat me with compassion, even with a kind of respect. All the indecent secrets of our underwear were exposed; the grime, the rents and patches, the bits of string doing duty for buttons, the layers upon layers of fragmentary garments, some of them mere collections of holes, held together by dirt.What talk there was ran on the Tramp Major of this spike.He was a devil, everyone agreed, a tartar, a tyrant, a bawling, blasphemous, uncharitable dog.But when he came to myself, he looked hard at me, and said: 'You are a gentleman? The room became a press of steaming nudity, the sweaty odours of the tramps competing with the sickly, sub-faecal stench native to the spike.Some of the men refused the bath, and washed only their 'toe-rags', the horrid, greasy little clouts which tramps bind round their feet.