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‘Vague; indistinct, not clearly expressed or identified, of uncertain or ill-defined
meaning or character, as returned only a vague answer, has some vague idea
of doing something, have not the vaguest notion of his reasons, yield to vague
terrors, heard a vague rumour to that effect, hence vaguely,
vagueness. Vagary; whimsical or extravagant notion,
caprice, freak, unaccountable proceeding.

‘Vagrant; a person of no settled abode, income or job, tramp, on tramp, wandering idly, roaming, roving, strolling itinerant, as a vagrant musician, indulging in vagrant speculations, wanderer, idle rover, vagabond, idle and disorderly person of any of 3 grades liable to various terms of imprisonment, hence vagrancy, continually changing especially as from one abode or occupation to another, a drifting double-dealer, the floating population, vagrant hippies of the 60s. Vagabond; having no fixed habitation, wandering, driven, drifting, to and fro; wanderer, vagrant, especially idle and worthless one.’

‘Ragged and usually filthy, the rural vagrant did not necessarily present the physically collapsed appearance that a later age came to associate with tramps. Indeed the number of young, sturdy men, confirmed in a life of wandering idleness and fully prepared to resist attempts at coercion was in official eyes a most disturbing feature of the vagrancy problem.’ Kellow Chesney The Victorian Underworld 1970

‘In the 16th and 17th centuries in England a vagrant was a person who could work but preferred not to. Vagrancy was illegal, punishable by branding, whipping, conscription into the military or transportation to penal colonies. Vagrants were different from impotent poor who were unable to support themselves because of advanced age or sickness. However the English laws usually did not distinguish between the impotent poor and the criminals, so both received the same harsh punishments. In some east Asian countries vagrants are still revered and feared, as they are believed to possess semi-religious powers.

‘In America if a person wandered into town and did not find work, he/she was told to leave or be prosecuted. US vagrancy laws were vague and covered a wide range of activities and crimes associated with vagrants, such as loitering, prostitution, drunkenness and associating with known criminals. After the US Civil War homeless unemployed black Americans were arrested and fined as vagrants. Usually the person could not afford the fine and so was sent to county labour or hired out. In the US of the 1960s vagrancy laws were found to be too broad and vague. England eventually changed its poor laws and today vagrancy is legal.’ Wikipedia

1349 After the Black Death in the reign of Edward III acts were passed to force able-bodied men to work. 1388 During the reign of Richard II measures were introduced restricting the movement of vagrants and labourers. 1601 The Act for the Relief of the Poor (the Old Poor Law) was passed at the end of the reign of Elizabeth I, making parishes responsible for poor relief and unemployed people who refused to work liable to be sent to a House of Correction or prison. 1662 The Act for the Better Relief of the Poor was passed at the beginning of the reign of Charles II, enforcing the removal of vagrants from parishes if they were thought ‘likely to be chargeable’ to the parish poor rates.

1697 The Act for supplying some Defects in the Laws for the Relief of the Poor in the reign of William III introduced proto-concentration camp ‘badging of the poor’. 1723 The Workhouse Test Act came into force. The test principle being the harsh regime of workhouses should act as a deterrent, so only the most desperate would resort to them. Under the 1774 Vagrant Act, ‘beggars, vagrants and idle persons’ were classified into categories for sentencing; ‘idle and disorderly persons’ got a month in the Bridewell; ‘rogues and vagabonds’, a whipping and 6 months; ‘incorrigible rogues’, a whipping and 2 years.

The Vagrancy Act ‘for the punishment of idle and disorderly persons, rogues and vagabonds’ was introduced in 1824, to deal with Napoleonic war veterans and Scottish and Irish economic migrants who resorted to sleeping on the streets and begging; effectively making it a crime to be homeless or beg for subsistence. The act also legislated against ‘exposing indecent prints in a street or highway.’ The Whigs’ 1838 Vagrancy Act amendment added more public order offences including ‘exposing indecent prints in a shop or house.’ In 1929 paintings by DH Lawrence were seized by police from a gallery under this part of the act. The last successful prosecution under the amendment was of the artist Stass Paraskos in 1966.

‘Notting Dale workhouse on the site of what is now Avondale Park Gardens was supposed to be the cruellest in London. To it were sent the difficult cases from all other workhouses and the threat to send inmates to it was an effective method of discipline to others. The cruel prison discipline, with its task work and starvation diet, drove the inmates from its doors almost as soon as they had entered it. These unhappy vagrants drifted into a number of the common lodging-houses which had sprung up in the 2 streets of Rag Fair.’ North Kensington Citizen 1939

Barbara Denny wrote of the Westway in Notting Hill and Holland Park Past: ‘The area where the road crossed Notting Hill was already one of dereliction, fly-tipping, vagrants and travellers.’ Roger Matland, the director of the North Kensington Amenity Trust (now the Westway Development Trust), recalled: “Early impressions of the Trust land were of its emptiness. It was eerie walking past a boarded-up bay in the evening and seeing 30 or 40 vagrants there round a bonfire.”

The 1824 Vagrancy Act was used to enact the notorious sus laws, by which mostly West Indian youths were frequently stopped by police under suspicion of committing a crime; the major cause of the late 70s and 80s Notting Hill Carnival riots. The act was also used in the unsuccessful prosecution of the Virgin Records boss Richard Branson for ‘wilfully exposing to view in a public place an obscene exhibition’; the Sex Pistols’ ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ album sleeve; in the case of the Boy King’s Road punk shop window display; and 10 years later it was cited regarding the Beastie Boys’ tour.

In 1979 Vague fanzine was named as a DIY post-punk spoof of Vogue magazine, and was closely linked to the principals of vagrancy and vagary in its production. The same year Club International featured a Vogue spoof Vague magazine cover and the VAG typeface was designed for Volkswagen. The fanzine featured a ‘Vagrants’ cartoon group strip (and ‘Vagrunts’ Apocalypse Now spoof) by Perry Harris written by Tom Vague. There has been a short-lived Vague fashion company and a Vague nightclub in Leeds, unrelated to Vague fanzine. Vague is a real surname found in Cornwall, and the Vagrants were a real mid-60s rock and soul group from Long Island, New York, who reformed in the 90s as the New Vagrants to record a ‘21st Century Vagrants’ album.

After the demise of flower power Steve Peregrin Took, the original Tyrannosaurus Rex bongo drummer, took on the cosmic/acid-punk rock role of ‘Shagrat the Vagrant’; a malign orc ‘dark lord of the black land’ in Lord of the Rings. In Days in the Life Steve Mann from International Times explained the White Panthers party (set up in solidarity with the Black Panthers) thus: “The party line was very, very vague: we had to overthrow western civilisation as soon as possible – before lunchtime preferably, although that wasn’t too easy because we didn’t get up very early.”

In Henry James’ Wings of the Dove novel, the house of Pearl Craigie, 56 Lancaster Gate, ‘had figured to her, through childhood, as the remotest limit of her vague world.’ Colin MacInnes cited the “bland air of ingratiating vagueness” of the Absolute Beginners photographer Roger Mayne as the key to his acceptance on the streets of North Kensington.

Jessica Lange as the Hollywood rebel actress Frances Farmer tells the cops: “Put me down as a Vague”; meaning a vagrant. Vera Vague starred in the 1945 film SNAFU. David Lynch has said: “It would be the greatest thing if you could be left with some vagueness, some imagination at the end of the film, when so often you’re robbed of the magic, that vagueness makes me dream, and I love it, and it opens a window on sort of an infinite thing.”

‘Clarity rules out vague concepts’, ‘King vague on army rules of engagement’, ‘Vague rules cast a shadow’, ‘Vague promises frustrate hopes of Green activists’, ‘Vagrants under fire for boozy assaults’, ‘Vague is still in vogue’, ‘Young vagrants dying for a home’, ‘So vague, Tories who want to follow Hague’, ‘Anti-vagrant sprinklers to be turned on homeless’, ‘It’s the vaguest war we’ve been involved in’, ‘Dying vagrant is hailed as extraordinary artistic talent’, ‘Feeling vague, Hague?’, ‘Rabbit saved from vagrant’, ‘Auditor condemns vague rules’.

‘If you keep removing single grains of sand from a heap, when is it no longer a heap? This question and many others like it will eventually lead us to the problem of vagueness. Timothy Williamson traces the history of the problem discussions of the heap paradox in classical Greece to modern formal approaches such as fuzzy logic. He shows the problem with views which have taken the position that standard logic and formal semantics do not apply to vague languages and defends the controversial realist view that vagueness is a kind of ignorance – there really is a grain of sand whose removal turns a heap into a non-heap, but we cannot know which one it is.’ Vagueness Timothy Williamson 1994

‘Vagueness provides a complete illumination and lucid account of one of the hottest topics in the philosophy of language and the philosophy of logic… His effort drives epistemicism to a new level of depth and distinction.’ Ray Sorensen, New York University

editor Tom Vague website editor Mucous Membrane cartoonist Perry Harris

co-founding editors Jane Austin, Sharon Clarkson, Chris Johnson, Christine Nugent, Iggy Zevenbergen

contributors Annie Anxiety, Animal, Adam Ant, John Apostle, Ian Astbury, Joe Banks, Bee, Sandra Belgrave, Bob Black, Kierra Box, Boxhead, Maria Burton, Martin Butler, Margi Clarke, Paula Clarke, Simon Collins, Nigel Collis, Andy Conio, Crass, Mark Cross, Chris Donald, Mark Downham, Tony D, Simon Dwyer, Mike Dyer, Sue Donne, Fanny, Fritz, Bari Goddard, Caroline Grimshaw, Raul Harding, Derek Harris, Graham Harwood, Dave Hicks, Stewart Home, Malcolm Hopkins, Richard Howell, Mark Jackson, Jaws, Mary and Sylvia Johnson, Nick Jones, Andy Kelford, Shaun Kerr, Steve Kingston, Alison Kimber, Alistair Livingstone, Pete and Richard Longbourne, Klaus Maeck, Jamie Maisey, Joe McKoy-Jones, John Mead, Malcolm Mellows, Mick Mercer, Simon Morrissey, Brian and Lindy Nevill, Si Ord, Genesis P Orridge, Poff, Pete Polyanic, Puddle, Dragan Radosavlyevic, Jamie Reid, Robbo, George Robertson, Steve Rudell, Ralph Rumney, Jon Savage, Scarecrow, Anna Scheer, Pete Scott, Skunk, Spike, Ivan Stang, Mark and Paul Stewart, Frank Stocker, Stokey Dave, Stringy, Steve Studd, Mayo Thompson, Dee Thorne, Toko, Pete Vague, Paul Vtrippier, Johnny Waller, Sarah West.