In the eleventh part of Feet of Clay, Vimes visits where he grew up and learns something terrible, just as Angua and Carrot put it together, too. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For extensive talk of poverty and classism.
It is so very expensive to be poor. That’s something we’ve learned from Vimes before, but the way that this theme manifests in the Cockbill Street sequence is heartbreaking. I don’t know what it is about Pratchett’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. There’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 I’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 brother’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 wasn’t until I got to junior high – and really, high school was where my eyes were truly opened – 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 didn’t know how poor they were. If you asked them they would probably say something like “mustn’t grumble” or “there’s far worse off than us” or “we’ve always kept uz heads above water and we don’t owe no-body nowt.”
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. I’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 wouldn’t have accepted things in my life so easily. There’s a power in the experience you’ll see in the video for this part: it is invaluable to read words that validate something you never had the words for. Again, I don’t know why Pratchett is just so good at writing about class and being poor. He could have lived it, or he could just be that good of a writer. But y’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 Gimlet’s deli. Now, I don’t want to ignore just how hilarious it is that Pratchett subverts the way one normally talks of food and hygienics. It’s a great part of the scene at Gimlet’s. (I particularly loved the hand-washing joke.) That’s a normal part of the Discworld 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 of all the crimes that the Watch is investigating? Because y’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 because… well, I thought that Vetinari’s food was tested. How could that be what poisoned him? Yet it’s killing other people, and we can’t deny that either.
I’m so confused. (NOT SURPRISING.) Thus, it was a wonderful thing to have a respite from the mystery in Cheery. Look, I don’t think it’s hard to read a totally unintended story into Cheery, who is learning how to present herself as she wants to be seen and who is eager to choose a name that best represents her. At the same time, I realize that’s more of my own reading/headcanon more than anything, so it’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. He’s so funny and determined and is unlike practically anyone we’ve ever met in these books. I love that Pratchett doesn’t actually bother to explain why he’s so small. He just is, you know? And he’s well-suited to rat catching in the sewers below Ankh-Morpork, so he’s just known for it. He also doesn’t seem the type to poison his rats, you know?
SO I STILL DON’T GET IT.
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