Orwell and the Left Book Club: Some of his selections 1

lbc_ssgfGeorge Orwell, in his seminal essay ‘What Is Science?’, published in Tribune in October 1945, refers to Robert Brady’s Spirit and Structure of German Fascism as if he expected his readers to be well aware of it, if not of the conclusions he was to draw.

Philip Bounds, in Orwell and Marxism: The Political and Cultural Thinking of George Orwell, describes Orwell’s argument: “Drawing his evidence from Robert Brady’s The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism (a publication of the Left Book Club [1937]) he noted that German scientists had proved especially susceptible to the appeal of Hitler, and ‘the ability to withstand nationalism’ was likely to be stronger in ordinary people than in the scientific elite. Whereas Bernal had blamed the insularity of modern science on competition between capitalist states, Orwell seemed to regard is a sort of professional deformation arising from scientific activity itself.”

Orwell’s own words were “… the number of German scientists — Jews apart — who voluntarily exiled themselves or were persecuted by the règime was much smaller than the number of writers and journalists. More sinister than this, a number of German scientists swallowed the monstrosity of ‘racial science’. You can find some of the statements to which they set their names in Professor Brady’s The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism.”

More information about the Left Book Club can be found on the Spartacus Educational website.


Keep The Aspidistra Flying (1936 -2016)

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Keep The Aspidistra Flying (1936 -2016)

In April 2016 the Orwell Society sponsored a series of original articles to mark the 80th anniversary of George Orwell’s novel Keep The Aspidistra Flying.

Here is an index to the articles and their authors, available on this website.

First Full Biography of Orwell’s School Friend Steven Runciman


The London Review of Books has a full review by Rosemary Hill of Minoo Dinshaw’s Outlandish Knight (Penguin Books):

‘… to Eton, where he was a contemporary and friend of Eric Blair. In later life he was much irritated by questions from the compilers of the ‘Orwelliad’, as he called them, asking him for his impressions of a person who, as he pointed out, he had not by then seen for 77 years. This didn’t stop him from supplying anecdotes. One of the more striking was an account of the schoolboy Blair defending Aldous Huxley, who was brought in to Eton as a temporary master during the First World War when qualified teachers were scarce. By then nearly blind, Huxley was tormented by the boys until Blair intervened. It is, as Dinshaw remarks, ‘a neat image: the prophet of Brave New World shielded by the creator of [Nineteen Eighty-Four] – perhaps a little too neat.’ Thus, early on, he identifies a problem that he never resolves. ‘

Herberts & Herbertinas (Link to LRB)

The Byzantine Life of Steven Runciman (Penguin Books)


The Road To Wigan Pier – Stourbridge to Clent – Anniversary Walk

80th Anniversary Commemorative Walk Repeats George Orwell Journey


On February 1st 1936 George Orwell ended his second day of journeying by walking from Stourbridge to Clent, where he spent the night in a Youth Hostel.

‘…bus to Stourbridge. Walked 4 – 5 miles to Clent Youth Hostel. Red soil everywhere. Birds courting a little, cock chaffinches and bullfinches very bright and cock partridge making a mating call.’

Orwell’s diary entry on the Orwell Prize website

On September 10th 2016, 80 years after Orwell’s journey, his son Richard Blair (Left in photograph) led a party of Orwell Society members and friends on a commemorative walk along the same route.

‘Raining all day, on and off’, Orwell wrote, and the Society were able to repeat the same experience. Umbrellas were lowered for the photographer.

At the end of the day’s journey and exploration, organiser Dr David Craik (Right in photograph) was pleased to make contact with the Clent History Society.

Photograph by Neil Smith shows the party at the site of the Clent Youth Hostel, now Clent Community Centre

The Re-Dedication of “Booklovers Corner” Plaque Hampstead 2015

The re-dedication of the plaque on “Booklovers Corner” South End Green (Hampstead)

18th July 2015


David Kitchen, of the South End Green Association in Hampstead, hosted a re-dedication of the plaque to George Orwell, which was attended by a good crowd of members from the Association and the Orwell Society. We were able to enjoy the event in warm sunshine.

[Photographs to follow]

The Former Booklovers Corner           The Plaque


The plaque has had a difficult life and after the restoration, which was made with the active involvement of the Orwell Society and Committee Member Phil Robertson and the skills of his Father, Richard Blair re-dedicated it for what was its 3rd unveiling.


After a witty speech of welcome by David Kitchen, in which he re-imagined the daily routine of Orwell around the Green, including fetching his French Newspaper from the local News Agent, which still sells a host of international titles, Richard spoke about his Father and his time in the area.

[Photographs to follow]

David Kitchen and Richard Blair by the Fountain on the Green and the News Agent


We were pleased to also hear from our local member, Lorcan Greene, who has written a comprehensive paper on Orwell in Hampstead, which will be published in November in the Historical journal for this area.

[Photographs to follow]

David Kitchen and Lorcan Greene                 The Re-dedication


Once the formal re-dedication was completed, members of SEGA and the OS went to 77 Parliament Hill, where George Orwell had a flat and where he met Eileen.


A stimulating event, in which we had enjoyed the hospitality of David Kitchen and SEGA, ended suitably with a drink and relaxed conversation in one of the pubs on South End Green, which George Orwell frequented.


[Photographs to follow]

A view of the Green from the pub, looking towards the bookshop. In the foreground on the green is a young elm tree. When the previous tree died, SEGA conducted research to establish, which type of tree was George Orwell’s favourite. The Local Authority agreed to plant an elm, and to progressively create an elm grove around the fountain on the Green as trees need replacing.


Quentin Kopp   www.orwellsociety.com



Photographs From The Re-Dedication of the ILP Plaque

80th Anniversary of the Spanish Civil War Commemoration
‘Remembering Orwell and his fellow British and Irish Volunteers who fought Fascism in Spain’

Held Saturday September 24th September at the Working Class Movement Library, Salford.

On september 24th at the Working Class Movement Library, in Salford near manchester England and ceremony was held to rededicate a plaque to the volunteers who formed the Independent Labour Party group who fought Fascism as part of the POUM militia in Spain in 1936/37. Songs by the Clarion Choir and speeches about the ILP and the Aragon Front. Also unveiled were relief sculptures by Frank Casey to John Cornford and Bob Smillie - both of whom died in Spain. Amongst those present Richard Blair (George Orwell's son), Quentin Kopp (son of POUM commander Georges Kopp), Dolores Long (daughter of Sam Wild Commander of the British Battalion), Barry Winter of the ILP and Chris Hall (author of the 'In Spain with Orwell). Also rpesnt were relatives of ILP volunteers including three generations of ILP volunteer Bob Edwrads family.
On September 24th at the Working Class Movement Library, in Salford, Manchester, England a ceremony was held to re-dedicate a plaque to the volunteers who formed the Independent Labour Party group who fought Fascism as part of the POUM militia in Spain in 1936/37. Songs by the Clarion Choir and speeches about the ILP and the Aragon Front were heard. Also unveiled were relief sculptures by Frank Casey to John Cornford and Bob Smillie – both of whom died in Spain. Amongst those present: Richard Blair (George Orwell’s son: 3rd Left), Quentin Kopp (son of POUM commander Georges Kopp: Left), Dolores Long (daughter of Sam Wild Commander of the British Battalion), Barry Winter of the ILP and Chris Hall (author of the ‘In Spain with Orwell). Also present were relatives of ILP volunteers including three generations of ILP volunteer Bob Edwards’ family.


On september 24th at the Working Class Movement Library, in Salford near manchester England and ceremony was held to rededicate a plaque to the volunteers who formed the Independent Labour Party group who fought Fascism as part of the POUM militia in Spain in 1936/37. Songs by the Clarion Choir and speeches about the ILP and the Aragon Front. Also unveiled were relief sculptures by Frank Casey to John Cornford and Bob Smillie - both of whom died in Spain. Amongst those present Richard Blair (George Orwell's son), Quentin Kopp (son of POUM commander Georges Kopp), Dolores Long (daughter of Sam Wild Commander of the British Battalion), Barry Winter of the ILP and Chris Hall (author of the 'In Spain with Orwell). Also rpesnt were relatives of ILP volunteers including three generations of ILP volunteer Bob Edwrads family.
Also unveiled were relief sculptures by Frank Casey to John Cornford and Bob Smillie – both of whom died in Spain.

Bottom photograph: Dolores Long nee Wilde and Quentin Kopp

Thanks to Marshall Mateer for the photographs

Out and About in Paris and London October 2016: Day One London

Day 1: London

Damp and drizzle didn’t deter a party of 13 from the Orwell Society on the first day of October as we set out to explore the author’s London haunts in Hampstead and Canonbury, and then Paris on the Sunday. Our guide Michael King almost fell at the first fence, falling flat on his back a mere five minutes into the Canonbury stage of the walk after slipping on a conker shell. But being made of stern stuff, he gamely continued with the walk, albeit sporting a slight limp for the rest of the weekend.

Michael took us first to the bookshop Booklovers’ Corner at 1 South End Green in Hampstead, which provided Orwell with employment, accommodation and inspiration for his writing, most notably as the model for Gordon Comstock’s bookshop in the novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying (this year marking the 80th anniversary of is publication). After a short cut across the bottom of Hampstead Health, we then came to 77 Parliament Hill, which is notable for being the lodging from where he met his wife-to-be Eileen O’Shaughnessy.

Booklovers Corner
Michael King and party outside outside “Booklovers’ Corner” South End Green Hampstead. Orwell plaque to left of window.

Being something of an expert on the 20th century English novel, Michael took delight in placing Orwell amongst his peers, many of whom lived and worked in the same locality. A few doors down from Orwell at 68 Parliament Hill was the home of the poet Anna Wickham, which provided a literary venue (and source of food and alcohol) for the likes of Dylan Thomas and Malcolm Lowry (author of Under the Volcano). Anna’s life was peppered with personal tragedy and tragically she took her life in the same house in 1947.

Next stop (and jumping a decade in Orwell’s life) was 27b Canonbury Square, Islington. This flat brought back some distant memories from Orwell’s adopted son Richard Blair who accompanied us on the tour. Though a very small boy, Richard remembers the flat as being very dark and dingy, although his Father was completely indifferent to the state of his surroundings, as long as he could write. Canonbury witnessed a turn in Orwell’s financial fortunes, which had been a constant worry, until after the publication of Animal Farm. On a darker note, it was during his time here that his wife Eileen died, although Orwell was travelling as a war correspondent on the continent at the time. Canonbury also saw the birth of his novel Nineteen Eight-Four, although his most famous work was completed on the island of Jura in Scotland.

Michael also took us around to 17 Canonbury Square, where Evelyn Waugh once lived and worked. This happened to have also been the home of the parents of another member of our tour: Quentin Kopp. The tour ended with lunch at the Canonbury Tavern, which recognizes its famous literary patrons Orwell and Waugh with some lovely framed book covers decorating the walls. In Orwell’s case, the connection with this pub goes beyond a quick pint, as the pub’s garden is reputedly one of the models for the Chestnut Tree café in Nineteen Eighty-Four. This was where the regime of Big Brother would park its dissidents after they had been physically and mentally broken.

Report by Justin Bowles

Out and About in Paris and London October 2016: Day Two Paris

Day Two: Paris

After taking the Eurostar and lodging near the Gare du Nord, the group gathered on Sunday morning near Port-Royal metro station, at which Michael passed on the baton of tour guide to Paris resident and Orwell expert Richard Hallmark.

In a nice continuation from the previous day, we were first presented with another candidate for Nineteen Eighty-Four’s Chestnut Tree café: La Closerie des Lilas on the Boulevard du Montparnasse. Orwell frequented it in his twenties and supposedly a Russian waiter at this cafe was the character Boris in Down and Out in Paris and London.

We then moved on to the Hopital Cochin, where Orwell was admitted with bronchitis in 1929. In front of the hospital, the two Richards (Hallmark and Blair) gave moving readings from Orwell’s essay ‘How the Poor Die’, including the description of the death of ‘Numero 57’. This essay was born out of the author’s personal experiences during his stay at this hospital and his discussion of what he termed a ‘natural’ death is just as relevant today.

Walking onward, the group was taken to the bottom of the wonderful Rue Mouffetard. This narrow street, which predates Haussmann’s grand boulevards, was at the centre of the slum land beautifully described in Down and Out. Nowadays, Mouffetard assaults the senses with an array of upmarket food. But if you glance upward, the buildings are still twisted and bent, reflecting their modest origins and not modern gentrification.

Near the top of Mouffetard, we came to one of the highlights of the tour: the site of the bug-ridden hotel described in Down and Out. Ever fearful of a libel suit, Orwell described the hotel as being located on Rue de Coq d’Or, which in reality is Rue du Pot de Fer. Number 6, the hotel’s address, is now a rather nondescript restaurant. Consequently, the diners on the table outside where rather perplexed when a gaggle of English speaking tourists flocked in front of the building. Once they learned, however, that Orwell’s son was amongst us, out came the mobile phones to take a photo.

OS in Paris 2016
« Rue de Coq d’Or » or actually Rue Pot de Fer, with Number 6 in the background

The day ended with a wonderfully traditional French meal at a restaurant called Au Doux Raisin. No quinoa or kale visible here. As always much of the joy in participating in tours with the Orwell Society is the conversation and company over meals and while travelling. We all came from diverse backgrounds but were linked by the same intellectual curiosity that Orwell’s work embodies. It is also a thrill to travel with Richard Blair and Quentin Kopp, as they gave us a direct family connection to Orwell’s life and times.

A final thank you to our guides Michael King and Richard Hallmark for placing Orwell so well within his milieu. And for Quentin Kopp and his wife Liz for organising the whole trip and getting us so deftly from A to B, an operation that can best be compared to herding cats. Lastly, a big thank you to Richard Blair for helping to make the Orwell Society so special. See you all in Spain in 2017.

Report by Justin Bowles

2016 Dystopian fiction prize challenge for university students

To celebrate George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Orwell Society is organising a competition for students (both BA and MA) at British universities. Dystopian narratives of 3,000 words should be sent to Professor Richard Lance Keeble, chair of the Orwell Society, via dystopianfictioncompetition@orwellsociety.com, by 17 February 2017. A fee of £5 will be charged for each entry.

The judging panel comprises Richard Blair, the son of George Orwell and Patron of the Orwell Society, Dr Julie Wheelwright, programme director of the Creative Writing (narrative non-fiction/creative writing and publishing) MA at City University London, Dr Luke Seaber, tutor in Modern European Culture at University College London, and Professor Keeble. The prize of £500 will be announced on 17 March and comes with a trophy which is a bust of Orwell (to be kept for one year). They will be handed over by Richard Blair at the Society’s AGM later in the year.

The judges will be looking for the narrative which best follows in the tradition set by Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four and which Orwell is most likely to have admired. The winning entry will be published in the Society’s Journal and (along with the two runners-up) on the Society’s website, www.orwellsociety.com.

Entries can be submitted by paying £5 by one of the following means, referencing your name and the prize:

  • Via Paypal: The PayPal account is paypal@orwellsociety.com.
  • Sterling bank transfer: Make a sterling payment to the Society’s bank account (account name: ‘The Orwell Society’; sort code 601035; account number 13166417).
  • UK sterling cheque: Please send your cheque, payable to The Orwell Society, to The Orwell Society, Marie Cottage, Bickenhill Lane, Catherine-de-Barnes, Solihull B92 0DE.

All submissions should be in a Word file (not PDF) and begin with a cover page providing title of story, name of author, name of university, name of programme studying on, and full contact details (address, telephone etc). The story should be presented in 12 pt Times Roman double spaced – with each page numbered, and it should end with a word count.

JURA 2016

By Jean Seaton

In 1948 George Orwell’s instructions for getting to Jura were off-putting. It took two days from Glasgow. The description of the alternative trains, buses, ferries, boats which ended, once you had got to Jura, with taxis, walking 8 miles or a boat (and walking) to get to his house, Barnhill, took 19 lines. Frankly, I am surprised it did not take longer. Now it is all much faster but Jura is still remote, drifting off mainland Argyle, down a long grey loch. Just getting to Jura, let alone on again to Barnhill, as we did with the Orwell Societies’ wonderful recent trip is thought provoking.

Of course we all knew that Barnhill was remote – but measuring it out, pacing the distance is different. It makes the psychological stretch Orwell put between himself and the world – perhaps to escape the drum beat of grief for the death of his wife Eileen, certainly to put writing 1984 and Richard at the centre of his life – tangible. It made the imperative discipline of writing, difficult to comprehend from outside, starker. It was a social distance as well as a physical one. It may have been accidental (his friend, patron and editor David Astor had suggested it – he had land there) but it was extreme.

Orwell built a busy, daily, intimate world there with Richard – Susan Watson, Richard’s nanny and then Avril his sister. There was potato growing, raspberry cane planting, snake and toad watching, (and killing) hen-hutch making, rabbit catching, cow milking, fishing – and Richard tending. Richard recalls the freedom of pottering about outside as a tiny child (he also remembers eating all the peas). Shops, post, modern things like flour and sugar were 2 hours away over a rough track by motorbike. Orwell’s diary records Richard stamping on two cauliflowers, and that Avril and he made a bottle of brandy last a week. Fuel and water were a problem. But this little, complete, world (perhaps glimpsed in 1984 – as a nirvana – when Winston and Julia go out into the country) was maintained at a distance from everything else. In the year before he went to Jura, David Taylor his biographer calculated Orwell wrote 130 pieces of journalism, including several substantial essays, while also campaigning and lobbying. He was astonishingly productive, rattling on, driving himself. In Barnhill he wrote 1984. Everything he had left, (because he was so ill) he gathered and spent for the book – and Richard.

We happy band of Orwell pilgrims went the easy modern way. Many of us efficiently corralled at Glasgow station by Justin Bowles (one of our number) on to a bus, well fed at a lovely restaurant on the way, we were welcomed by Richard and Eleanor Blair and Quentin and Liz Kopp at what was apparently a harbour. But then two fine boats driven by two fine chaps roared in and scooped us up. We sped out down the long loch to Jura. Foam and clouds scudding alongside – it was full of expectation and exciting. At Craighouse, the tiny Jura harbour we walked up to at the friendly and comfortable Jura Hotel. We had rooms that overlooked the harbour and the outlying islands – which looked serenely mysterious and almost eastern across the bay they enclose.

Jura is beautiful and peaceful. It seems familiar, small neat houses, a village hall, a restrained little church, a poignant church yard with tomb-stones rather like Nordic Sagas listing the long lineage of the people buried there: yet also strange. Partly because it is remote and must have been more remote in the late 1940s (though busier) and because now only 180 people live scattered over it. Now visitors come in to sail, walk, bike and watch birds. The climate is mild because of the Gulf Stream. There are banks of yellow flag irises everywhere and spikes of purple spotted heath orchids grow in mounds. It is dominated by three mountains, the ‘Paps’ whose tops were always covered in cloud. So Jura is a puzzle: supposedly wild but rather well mannered, distant and northern but temperate.

Who were we? Congenial, informed, united by an interest in Orwell, everybody contributed to the collective pool of knowledge. People who like Orwell are a likable lot. We gathered (like the Canterbury pilgrims) from all over the world. What Orwell would have made of becoming a secular saint with relics much prized is any-body’s guess. But it was fun and we all had a different angle on ‘George’. There was Jennifer Custer (from the literary agency A.M Heath which manages the Orwell estate who is in charge of all the foreign translations of Orwell) originally from America – full of contemporary literary knowledge and tremendous fun, Chen Yong from China, a visiting fellow at St Anthony’s’ Oxford (sponsored by the Orwell Prize-winning Timothy Garton-Ash) who was working on the reception of Orwell (and who wanted us to be more critical). A lively American academic Carol Biederstadt who is doing a PhD on Burmese Days (she is certainly going to be more critical) and her delightful husband Bill – a Burmese with his own terrible story of politics and dispossession. But there were people with a life long interest in Orwell too like George Wojcik and Anne Drysdale from Canada. Paul and Michelle Lam and Mairi Morrison (mother of 5) also from America were all keen on literary expeditions.

From nearer at hand there was Desmond Avery, and ex-aid worker (who wrote a smashing paper on Orwell at the BBC), David Ryan, a journalist in the last stages of a great project and book on screen adaptions of Orwell – who had really interviewed everyone. Les Hurst whose encyclopaedic knowledge of Orwell was a constant resource, Keith and Christine Lloyd, again with a passion and interest in Orwell. Janice Moss (who had bookshops in her blood) and Justin Bowles, who had been a banker and manager in Asia and who was returning with a sceptical curiosity to Orwell who he had discovered as a teenager. There was Stephanie La Lievre, the Programmes Manager for the Orwell Prize – set up in Orwell’s name to reward the best political writing, now about to move into UCL with the Orwell Archive, but as much a project as a prize, with a Youth Prize unrolling all over the country, lectures (last year Rowan Williams in 2015, Ian Hislop in 2016, next year novelist AL Kennedy and Josie O’Ruarke who runs the Donmar ) events, the founder of workshops in Wigan and the Unreported Britain project I am the Director of the Prize. Which I took over from Bernard Crick who was Orwell’s first biographer.

The real privilege was to be on Jura with Richard where he was in part formed, and with Eleanor who has shared the long after history of Orwell. Beside their busy lives there has always been this public role. But it was also fascinating to share the experience with Quentin, son of Orwell’s complex friend George Kopp – who also died unexpectedly young and Quent’s wife Liz. The whole trip was brilliantly choreographed and we were looked after so thoughtfully by Richard and Eleanor, Quentin and Liz. They had planned everything – and it all worked. Liz worked tirelessly to keep us going (and always made sure we had our tea!). Then we were especially lucky as well to be there with Catherine O’Shaughnessy as was, (Catherine Moncure now) the daughter of Gwen O’Shaughnessy – the wife of Orwell’s brother in law (and doctor) Lawrence. Catherine lives in America after a distinguished life as a midwife all over the world. Richard, Quentin and Catherine had grown up together and their lives been shaped by Orwell and his circle: or indeed by the early deaths of all their fathers. We were there with what the biographer and historian Ben Pimlott called the ‘pooled brood’ of children Kopp and Orwell left to be brought up by formidable women in their wake. Pimlott had as a child shared holidays with Richard, the O’Shaungessys and Kopps in Norfolk and wrote ‘ I remember George as a ghostly presence: a difficult, often exasperating, yet beloved spectre, whose name conjured up muddy boots and dirty finger-nails, adventures in foreign parts, and a stubbornly masculine failure to be practical. For me, Orwell’s stern whimsicality has ever since been bound up with a pre-affluent world that no longer exists – of long-faced, heavy-smoking, New Statesman & Nation-reading men (and a few women), who treated the well-to-do with tolerant condescension, and regarded a commitment to history, literature and the public service as taken-for-granted attributes of any civilized human being.’ Like anthropologists we inspected the way of life Orwell had led with those who had shared it on Jura. How lucky we were.

We literary groupies talked in the bar, talked over very nice breakfasts and smashing dinners and talked as we pottered about the harbour. The next day some of us went to the distillery, (where 1984 Whisky – produced in a limited edition now costs £1,000 a bottle but more modest purchases can be made). In the afternoon we watched, Gary Wilkinson’s revealing film about Eileen O’Shaugnessy – Orwell’s first wife, Wildflower. It was about her background in the North East of England, and her radical politics at Oxford, it made her even more intriguing. It was a gem. But we also saw a wonderful 1984 BBC film The Crystal Spirit: Orwell on Jura. It was sparely and beautifully written by Alan Platter – who knew Orwell – and shot evocatively by David Glenister at Barnhill. Ronald Pickup, who David Ryan (of course) had interviewed, played Orwell. He looked like Orwell, (though was a small man) but more movingly he communicated a convincing and indeed sweet version of the spirit – a tremendous performance in a really fine film.

The highlight next day was the boat trip around the island to Barnhill. We saw sea eagles in great untidy nests and the ancient and unique Jura raised beaches, we saw seals basking (and perhaps we saw them swimming), we saw abandoned cottages, cormorants and fishes, we saw a herd of deer scampering up a beach – descended, it is said, from the deer the Vikings left on the islands as a larder store for when they came visiting again. We also saw the vulgar new buildings for a ‘golf course’. Half the island has been bought by a rich Australian, and Jura (which unlike the other Hebridean islands did not suffer the forced evictions of the clearances) maybe is now about to become a rich man’s plaything. The famous Jura garden lush in the warm climate has been shut to the public since he bought it in 2011.

Thrillingly we sallied out through the Corryvreckan Whirlpool. The name comes from the Gaelic – meaning the ‘cauldron of speckled seas’, which is just what it looks like. It is caused by a sudden dip on the ocean floor combined with the funnelling of water between two islands. It is huge and menacing. Tiny wicked little whirlpools bubble up around the circumference of bigger swirling pools and the whole is a boiling expanse. Not perhaps as terrifying when you are safe in a powerful motorboat as it would have been in a small boat in the late 1940s. But epic-ally dangerous. It was here that Orwell took Richard and his nieces and nephews and as the engine broke off nearly drowned all of them. We saw the tiny island Orwell managed to bundle everyone onto where they were saved by a passing fisherman. It was, (I thought), interestingly reckless of Orwell to go out towards it in boat crammed with children – it spoke of a risk-taking streak that verged on the un-reasonable. Of course, it all ended well, Richard fished out of the sea by the seat of his trousers.

Then finally at the end of the island we got out and walked up a winding hill to Barnhill itself. The house sits commandingly on the saddle of the island buffeted by winds. It is an austere, assured house, not grand but nevertheless imposing. But it provides perspective – you see things from the windows. Inside it is more or less as I imagine it was when Orwell had it. White painted, comfortable but not ‘comfy’ and upstairs where we (a bit lugubriously) inspected the window where Orwell had his desk and the place where he had his paraffin fire, perishingly chilly in winter. Jamie and Damaris Fletcher– the son and daughter in law of the Fletchers who let the house to Orwell – had extremely kindly come to open it up for us and let us wander about it, (and had baked a very fine fruit cake for us). Later over dinner we also met Kate Fletcher who lives much of the year on Jura. It was very kind of them and it was memorable. They too had had their lives inflected by this odd episode.

Best of all however, was Richard reading a perfectly selected piece from his father’s diary. Orwell treated himself, and his illness, with the curiosity, detachment and observant eye he treated others. It was poignant, magnificent, and in an odd way funny: the worst a writer can imagine is not being able to summon the words to shape reality originally. So in the sun, on the hill overlooking the loch we gathered round to hear Richard read his father’s words:

“When you are acutely ill, or recovering from an acute illness, your brain frankly strikes works and you are only equal to picture papers, easy crossword puzzles etc. But when it is a case of a long illness, where you are weak and without appetite but not actually feverish or in pain, you have the impression that your brain is quite normal. Your thoughts are just as active as ever, you are interested in the same things, you seem to be able to talk normally, and you can read anything that you would read at any other time. It is only when you attempt to write, even to write the simplest and stupidest newspaper article, that you realise what a deterioration has happened inside your skull. At the start is it impossible to get anything on to paper at all. Your mind turns away to anything conceivable subject rather than the one you are trying to deal with, and even the physical act of writing is unbearably irksome. Then, perhaps, you begin to be able to to write a little, but whatever you write, once it is set down on paper, turns out to be stupid and obvious. You have also no command of language, or rather you can think of nothing except flat, obvious expressions: a good, likely phrase never occurs to you…It would seem natural enough if the effect of illness were simply to stop you thinking, but that is not what happens. What happens is that your mind is just as active as usual, perhaps more so, but always to no purpose. You can use words, but always inappropriate words, and you can have ideas, but you cannot fit them together.”