News from Bree: A visit to Squalor Row

by Vison

News from Bree: A visit with Frodo’s poor relations…..

Dear Readers, while my cher Sauron was off having a lube job and oil change (that tin suit takes a lot of upkeep, let me tell you), I decided to spend a weekend in the Shire, renewing old friendships.

But everyone seemed to be too busy to chat. Samwise was planting taters and Rosie was “turning out” Bag End, giving it a “good bottoming”. Hobbiton was a beehive of activity, to coin a phrase, and I was left at loose ends.

Though I have been in Hobbiton many times, of course, being the intimate chum of the Gamgees and the Cottons, I had never wandered about on my own very much. So I packed myself a wee lunch and set out on a walk of discovery. Imagine my surprise when I rounded the corner by The Ivy Bush and saw before me a street I had never trod.

A broken signpost held a rudely lettered bit of plank: Squalor Row, it said. The day was bright and sunny, but glancing up Squalor Row I was struck with how dark it was. A scrawny cat tore past me, pursued by a dog I am sure was mangy. And hot on the heels of the dog was a young Hobbit, yelling, “Bugsy! Bugsy, leave that dratted cat alone!”

Seeing me, he stopped in his tracks. “Whaddyer want?” he growled.

“Why, hello, my lad,” I said. “Who are you?

“I ain’t yer lad,” the youth replied, scowling. “And yer the stranger, so you oughta say first who YOU are.”

I had to admit he was right, and so I identified myself. “A reporter?” he queried. “Wot in blazes do yer want on Squalor Row?”

“Why, I am just curious,” I said. “But you still haven’t said who you are, dear.”

“Don’t you ‘dear’ me!” he said, glowering at me. “I ain’t yer dear. I’m Louto Baggins, that’s who I am, and yer trespassin’ on my territory!”

I thought I knew the Baggins family tree completely, every twig and branch. I could not recall ever seeing the name Louto Baggins anywhere.

He must have seen my puzzlement. “Yeah,” he said, with another scowl. “You ain’t never heard of no Louto Baggins, ain’t that right? Well, here I am, and there’s more of me at home, too. The posh Bagginses wants to keep us quiet, like. They don’t want anyone to know they’ve got kinfolk here on Squalor Row.”

“You’re related to Those Bagginses? Frodo and Bilbo and all?” I asked, thinking maybe they shared only a name.

“’course we are,” he asserted. “Old Bilbo was me Dad’s fourth cousin six times removed, but of course, those Bagginses out at Bag End, they’d just as soon forget that! Buncha snobs, if yer ask me.”

As we spoke we had been walking up Squalor Row. I glanced about me and saw that here was the “lower” end of the Shire, shabby holes with crooked doors, cracked windows, and beer cans in place of flowerpots. Most of the front yards were decorated with broken washing machines, or tethered Dogs of the Bugsy sort.

“This here’s my house,” Louto said, gesturing to the shabbiest hole of all.

Just then a Hobbit came out, wearing ripped track pants and an undershirt, scratching himself in a most unmentionable part of his anatomy, blinking at the light. “Here, you, Louto!” he said. “Yer Mam is lookin’ for you, it’s tea time, you know.”

Then he saw me and held out his scratching hand. “Slobbo Baggins at yer service, ma’am,” he said. “And who would you be?”

I had no choice but to shake his hand, and tried not to remember where it had just been. “I am a reporter,” I said. Then, improvising, I went on, “I am doing a Human interest story, you know, about the forgotten part of Hobbiton.”

Slobbo snorted. “Forgotten by who? Oh, the toffs, I suppose you mean. Well, to blazes with them, I say. Ain’t that what I says, Louto?”

“Yeah, Dad,” Louto answered. “You keep saying it and saying it, too.”

“Tell you what,” Slobbo said, “why don’t you come in and have yer tea wiv us, and meet the wife and all? It ain’t often we get visitors from away.”

Remembering to duck my head, I followed Slobbo and Louto into their home. “The wife” was apparently cooking cabbage and garlic, by the smells that smote my nose. Several little Hobbits in droopy underpants were rolling about on the rug, snarling like puppies. Slobbo smacked each bottom with a stern warning to “stop yer bleedin’ scrappin’ you lot!”, and, opening the kitchen door, he said, “Slatterna! We’ve got company fer tea, old girl!”

“Company fer tea!” a shrill voice exclaimed. “Company fer tea! Have you gone completely bonkers, Slobbo?”

Then, seeing me, she wiped her hands on her grubby frock and executed a rough curtsey. “Oh, to be sure, Miss, I never seen you a’standin’ there, like! Do come in, and set yerself down. Here, I’ll just move this..” she shoved a pile of dingy, unfolded laundry onto the “buffet”.

“Thank you,” I said, hoping that as I sat down there was no peanut butter and jelly on the chairseat, as there was on nearly every other surface I could see. “What a - what a charming room!” I lied, wishing to set my hostess at ease.

“Huh!” she grunted. “Charming? Well, maybe yer glasses want fixin’, eh? Here, what do you take in yer tea? Just cream?” She poured some bluish milk into a cracked cup and set it before me, then lifted a massive teapot and filled the cup with the mahogany brew.

The door opened again and two more young Hobbits thundered in, a boy Hobbit pursued by a girl Hobbit. “Yobbo! Yobbo, you creep! Give me back my hair-gel! Ma, Ma, make him give it back!”

“Here, you, Yobbo! Give Samantha her hair-gel!” Slobbo ordered. “Wot the blinkety blank does a lad want wiv hair-gel, anyway?”

“Yeah!” Louto spoke up. “What does he want wiv hair-gel? He thinks he’s gonna do his hair like Beckham, that’s what he wants wiv the hair-gel!”

Samantha grabbed the hair-gel from Yobbo, and held it to her scrawny young bosom, a great deal of which was exposed by her extremely skimpy top. “Ha! As if you could ever look like Beckham!” she sneered. “Never in a million years!”

“Shut yer cakehole!” Yobbo snarled. “Beckham! That’s how much you knows about it. I’m aimin’ for the look of Eminem, if yer must know!”

He sat down across the table from me and scowled at me in a most objectionable way. “Who are you?” he asked.

I went through the explanation again. “Now, tell me, Yobbo,” I said, in my best most friendly manner. “What does it say on your jacket?”

He stood and turned about. Across his black leather jacket was this ominous slogan: Born to Raise Heck.

Slatterna shook her head. “Oh, he’s taken to running around with that gang from Bree, them with the black ponies and all. They call themselves the Black Riders, and go about terrorizing decent folk! I’ve tried and tried to get him to stay home and go to school, Miss, but he wants to live free or die, he says!”

My heart sank. Too well I understood the attractions of racing about on black steeds, watching old ladies scurry away in terror! Was I not now married to Sauron, former Lord of Mordor? Did I not know all I needed to know about black leather jackets, and youths “born to raise heck”?

Samantha giggled. “Black ponies? Yeah, after yer swiped enough Miss Clairol to dye them! The only ponies they could find were them old piebald beasts of Bill Ferny’s! Don’t you take them out in the rain, Yobbo, ‘cause that dye will run!”

“Yeah, well you oughta know!” Yobbo snarled. “And you wantin’ to look like Britney Spears! Yer roots is showin, Sam my girl, yer roots is showin’!”

“And not only yer roots, either,” Slobbo said. “I musta told you a hundred times, Samantha, that top is not Decent! Now go cover yer chest, or yer not goin’ out!”

Slatterna spoke up. “Now, now, Slobbo me luv, I think our Sammy looks nice. Yer only young once, Samantha me lass, so you just go on out and have a good time! But don’t you be hangin’ about at the Odeon, now. That movie ain’t suitable for a lass like you, and if I catches you near it, there’ll be heck to pay.”

“Aw, Ma, all my friends get to go! What’s wrong with The Two Towers anyway?” Samantha whined.

“Why, it’s fulla killin’, and fightin’, an all, that’s why. Mind you, it is a moral tale, they say. Tell you what, luv, you just ignore all the fightin’, and killin’, and orc-talk. Just pay attention to the moral bits, you know, the bits about Frodo and all that.”

“Frodo!” Slobbo expostulated. “Frodo! That wimp! Had to have a stunt man do the hard parts!” Slobbo thumped the table, setting the mugs to jiggling. “Did he ask me to do it for him? No, no, not my posh cousin Frodo! Too refined for Squalor Row!”

Evidently this touched a nerve, for now the whole family was shouting and thumping the table and the language! Heavens above.

I crept out unnoticed and scurried back up the street and past The Ivy Bush. Sam and Rosie were sitting on their front stoop enjoying a cold beer after a hard day’s work and they kindly invited me to join them. I did so, happily, and watched the evening star rise over Hobbiton…….