Monday, October 17, 2011

Modern Mudlarks

George Orwell wrote the following in his “As I Please” column of December 1944:
A few years ago I was walking across Hungerford Bridge with a lady aged about sixty or perhaps less. The tide was out, and as we looked down at the beds of filthy, almost liquid mud, she remarked:

“When I was a little girl we used to throw pennies to the mudlarks down there.”

I was intrigued and asked what mudlarks were. She explained that in those days professional beggars, known as mudlarks, used to sit under the bridge waiting for people to throw them pennies. The pennies would bury themselves deep in the mud, and the mudlarks would plunge in head first and recover them. This was considered a most amusing spectacle.

I never witnessed it myself when I was there, but a friend of mine told me he saw a group of American tourists in Mexico pitching change into a fountain so they could watch poor children go splashing after it. It made him uneasy, but he justified it on the grounds that the kids were laughing and seemed to be having fun, and at the end of the day they each had a little money. Maybe so, but if concern for their well-being was the main motive, why not just give them a few bucks and let them go have fun on their own, rather than making them degrade themselves for the shallow amusement of boorish, overfed gringos?

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