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How to Rid Yourself of a Victorian Street Urchin (Next Time You Time Travel)
By Luna Lark
Few things are as difficult to rid yourself of as an insistent child—especially a gap-toothed one with a coal-smudged face, wearing rags. But in Victorian London, warding off street urchins was a part of everyday life. These poor, neglected, often orphaned children, relied upon the kindness of strangers and their own resourcefulness in order to survive. Some of them begged, some of them stole, some of them conned, and some of them did all three. If you weren't watching the little ones, they were probably watching you, waiting to grab your pocket watch or convince you to give them a few shillings.
At some point, getting hassled by needy children becomes a burden, particularly if you're needy yourself. (It's estimated that during this era over 30% of Londoners lived in poverty.) The next time you travel through time and find yourself in Victorian London, here's how to relieve yourself of street urchins:
• Always carry a loaf of decoy bread. Street urchins eye all food hungrily and greedily. As soon as a street urchin sees your fake bread, the child will think of nothing but how to obtain said bread. When the street urchin starts to scamper toward you, throw the fake loaf as far as you can. The child will run after it like a dog runs after a stick. The difference between the child and the dog is that the child won't come back—and you're free.
• Dress in tattered clothes. Street urchins know a rich person when they see one, or at least they think they do. No matter what, always throw on a ragged overcoat before you head out the door. And voila! When you seem as wretched as them, the street urchins will ignore you. It doesn't matter what you have under the coat, as long as the street urchins can't see it. Once you're in good company again, remove the coat and party with your favorite wealthy, socially unware Londoners.
• Take a coach whenever possible. When you're in a coach, you might as well be on a different planet, light years away from the street urchins. They're too short to really see you and you're too high up to really see them. Make sure that your driver speeds up the horses on rainy days to splash and sully the street urchins even more. You might occasionally have the horses run over one, too. After all, that means one fewer street urchin in London.
• Never make eye contact. Of course, you might not have a coach. You might have to walk through the streets and pass by street urchins no matter what. If this is the case, never make eye contact. Street urchins are masters of the “puppy face.” Once you lock eyes, you'll succumb to their sad, lonesome, and absolutely desperate expressions. Street urchins know well the power of their natural cuteness.
• Pretend you're a prostitute. Granted, this is not the most favorable means of warding off street urchins, but it's definitely effective. They'll see you as competition, since so many street urchins are prostitutes or prostitues-in-training themselves. They'll also assume that you're an older, wiser version of them. And nothing scares off a street urchin more than superior street smarts.
Remember: Just because street urchins are children doesn't mean they're harmless! Keep in mind the phrase that Herbert Spencer would later publish in 1869: “Survival of the fittest.”