Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass by Theodore Dalrymple

You see. I’ve had a Dalrymple experience and it was like this. My doctor has his rooms in a Dalrymple part of town. Everybody who goes in looks like they’ve either just come out of a stretch, or they’ve just been sentenced to one…or might even on the run from one. The older women clearly all have sons whom they might even be visiting that very afternoon in the slammer. I’m the only one, I deduce, who has never set foot in gaol. Oh. There is that time I was put in gaol in Slovakia, but I’m not counting that because I wuz innocent. Whereas these people are clearly all guilty. Of something.

So a few visits ago I’m sitting, waiting and Jad comes in and sits down next to me. He lopes in, bum half out of jeans and – is that a strangely placed piece of metal…

I don’t know Jad. He tells us all he’s Jad as he rather pathetically attempts to wave his hand at us. His wrist is broken. As he explains ‘This guy on the street outside, he calls Lola a slag. I had to defend her onnah.’

Proffered this information I steal a glance at Lola, sitting the other side of him. Hard-bitten, wiry, eyeliner for eyebrows, thin black lips, hair that looks like two rats have had a dispute about string theory in it. Possibly, upon closer examination, one has died in there. Oh, and a piercing through her eyeball. Yep, I think to myself. It’s hard to look tough these days. And I’m with the guy who’s been thumped. An apt choice of word indeed.

Evidently Jad is a chivalrous gentleman. One can see that. But I do feel like saying ‘Jad, mate. Mate. See Lola, there? Your beloved? Slag, mate. Pure 100% slag. God gave us the word for a reason and your good woman is it.’ Only Jad still has one arm working and I don’t want to be thumped with it. And for all I know he does kick boxing too.


Dalrymple is a doctor who works at the bottom of England. As he describes and explains its brutal scummy nature he somehow never misplaces his sense of humour or his ability to care.

His understanding of the world is both crystal clear and not without hope. He should be in charge of sorting it all out.

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