In the eleventh part ofÂ Feet of Clay, Vimes visits where he grew up and learns something terrible, just as Angua and Carrot put it together, too. Intrigued? Then itâ€™s time for Mark to readÂ Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For extensive talk of poverty and classism.
It is so very expensive to be poor. Thatâ€™s something weâ€™ve learned from Vimes before, but the way that this theme manifests in the Cockbill Street sequence is heartbreaking. I donâ€™t know what it is about Pratchettâ€™s experience or his research that helped him write all this, but it stings in that way where the reader knows something is too real. Something is described too well. Something takes them to a time and a place that felt singular and unique.
I spent about six years or so in a suburb of Boise that felt vacant and rundown. When I returned there in 2013, the entire neighborhood was now quaint, full of renovated homes (including the one I used to live in) and luxury condos. A similar thing happened to my neighborhood in Riverside. I used to be able to watch drug deals out of my living room window; the park across the street was rundown, abandoned, full of dead grass the color of sand. Thereâ€™s a passage in the opening of this section that is honestly too real to me:
But washing lines still criss-crossed the street between the gray, ancient buildings. Antique paint still peeled in the way cheap paint peeled when it had been painted on wood too old and rotten to take paint. Cockbill Street people were usually too penniless to afford decent paint, but always far too proud to use whitewash.
The house we moved into from Boise cost us less than any house Iâ€™ve ever seen on the market in California. There was mold in the bathrooms, and the paint peeled along the blue trim that ran over the home. I remember when I discovered that the wood paneling in my bedroom was in danger of falling out of the wall. We tried super glue and some strategically-placed nails, none of which worked. The same went for the hellish sports-themed wallpaper in my brotherâ€™s room, or for the crumbling brick wall in the backyard. We never could afford renovations, so we found little things to act as temporary stopgaps.
It wasnâ€™t until I got to junior high â€“ and really, high school was where my eyes were truly opened â€“ that I realized that I did not live as most of my friends and peers did:
For Cockbill Street was where people lived who were worse than poor, because they didnâ€™tÂ knowÂ how poor they were. If you asked them they would probably say something like â€œmustnâ€™t grumbleâ€ or â€œthereâ€™s far worse off than usâ€ or â€œweâ€™ve always kept uz heads above water and we donâ€™t owe no-body nowt.â€
One of the reasons I do what I do in terms of honesty is because I grew up isolated. I was urged to keep my head down, to not whine or complain, to not show my emotions. Iâ€™m now realizing that often, this was used as a tactic to prevent me from reaching out to other people. If I knew that things were different for other families and other people, then maybe I wouldnâ€™t have accepted things in my life so easily. Thereâ€™s a power in the experience youâ€™ll see in the video for this part: it is invaluable to read words that validate something you neverÂ hadÂ the words for. Again, I donâ€™t know why Pratchett is just soÂ goodÂ at writing about class and being poor. He could have lived it, or he could just be that good of a writer. But yâ€™all, this stung in the best way possible.
And from this, we get the next major clue. I love that as Vimes realizes how the two members of the Easy family died, Carrot figures out how all the dwarfs got sick at Gimletâ€™s deli. Now, I donâ€™t want to ignore just how hilarious it is that Pratchett subverts the way one normally talks of food and hygienics. Itâ€™s a great part of the scene at Gimletâ€™s. (I particularly loved the hand-washing joke.) Thatâ€™s a normal part of theÂ DiscworldÂ anyway; there can be a serious conversation and a joke happening at the same. The realization that the rats from Wee Mad Arthur were most likely poisoned is a big deal!
So how is it that poisoning is a part ofÂ allÂ the crimes that the Watch is investigating? Because yâ€™all, I was so gutted to find out that the food that Mrs. Easy took home killed two of her family members. What a cruel and tragic thing to happen. And why? For what? Just to get to the Patrician? Of course, the mystery is still complicated as hell becauseâ€¦ well, I thought that Vetinariâ€™s food was tested. How could that be what poisoned him? Yet itâ€™s killing other people, and we canâ€™t deny that either.
Iâ€™m so confused. (NOT SURPRISING.) Thus, it was a wonderful thing to have a respite from the mystery in Cheery. Look, I donâ€™t think itâ€™s hard to read a totally unintended story into Cheery, who is learning how to present herself as she wants to be seenÂ andÂ who is eager to choose a name that best represents her. At the same time, I realize thatâ€™s more of my own reading/headcanon more than anything, so itâ€™s not like I can sit here and call it great representation of trans people or non-binary folks or anything like that. But it was refreshing regardless, you know?
SO IS WEE MAD ARTHUR. My god, WHO THE HELL IS THIS CHARACTER. Heâ€™s so funny and determined and is unlike practically anyone weâ€™ve ever met in these books. I love that Pratchett doesnâ€™t actually bother to explain why heâ€™s so small. He justÂ is, you know? And heâ€™s well-suited to rat catching in the sewers below Ankh-Morpork, so heâ€™s justÂ knownÂ for it. He also doesnâ€™t seem the type to poison his rats, you know?
SO I STILL DONâ€™T GET IT.
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