Sunday, February 4, 2018

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Coming Up For Air, excerpt four)

from Coming Up For Air by George Orwell:

Father had already spoken to old Grimmett, the grocer, who wanted a smart lad and was willing to take me into the shop immediately. Meanwhile Father was going to get rid of the errand boy, and Joe was to come home and help with the shop till he got a regular job. Joe had left school some time back and had been more or less loafing ever since. Father had sometimes talked of “getting him into” the accounts department at the brewery, and earlier had even had thoughts of making him into an auctioneer. Both were completely hopeless because Joe, at seventeen, wrote a hand like a ploughboy and couldn’t repeat the multiplication table. At present he was supposed to be “learning the trade” at a big bicycle shop on the outskirts of Walton. Tinkering with bicycles suited Joe, who, like most half-wits, had a slight mechanical turn, but he was quite incapable of working steadily and spent all his time loafing about in greasy overalls, smoking Woodbines, getting into fights, drinking (he’d started that already), getting “talked of” with one girl after another and sticking Father for money. Father was worried, puzzled and vaguely resentful. I can see him yet, with the meal on his bald head, and the bit of grey hair over his ears, and his spectacles and his grey moustache. He couldn’t understand what was happening to him. For years his profits had gone up, slowly and steadily, ten pounds this year, twenty pounds that year, and now suddenly they’d gone down with a bump. He couldn’t understand it. He’d inherited the business from his father, he’d done an honest trade, worked hard, sold sound goods, swindled nobody—and his profits were going down. He said a number of times, between sucking at his teeth to get the crumb out, that times were very bad, trade seemed very slack, he couldn’t think what had come over people, it wasn’t as if the horses didn’t have to eat. Perhaps it was these here motors, he decided finally. “Nasty smelly things!” Mother put in. She was a little worried, and knew that she ought to be more so. Once or twice while Father was talking there was a far-away look in her eyes and I could see her lips moving. She was trying to decide whether it should be a round of beef and carrots tomorrow or another leg of mutton. Except when there was something in her own line that needed foresight, such as buying linen or saucepans, she wasn’t really capable of thinking beyond tomorrow’s meals. The shop was giving trouble and Father was worried—that was about as far as she saw into it. None of us had any grasp of what was happening. Father had had a bad year and lost money, but was he really frightened by the future? I don’t think so. This was 1909, remember. He didn’t know what was happening to him, he wasn’t capable of foreseeing that these Sarazin people would systematically under-sell him, ruin him and eat him up. How could he? Things hadn’t happened like that when he was a young man. All he knew was that times were bad, trade was very “slack,” very “slow” (he kept repeating these phrases), but probably things would “look up presently.”

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