George Orwell Always in the News Number 11

In The Independent of April 19th, 2015, Orwell biographer D J Taylor had a look at the work of Dave Hax, who has found a new way to peel potatoes.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/you-should-judge-a-person-by-how-they-peel-a-potato-10187016.html

‘…he offers advice on the best way to peel a potato… it reminded me of something else. It took a second or two’s thought to establish that the thing it so strongly recalled to mind was not another online video but an essay entitled “A Nice Cup of Tea”, which George Orwell contributed to the London Evening Standard in January 1946.’

Does D J Taylor’s language sound familiar? I think it does, as Orwell used a very similar recollection in ‘Benefit of Clergy’, his essay on Salvador Dali. “When I read the passage I quoted at the beginning, about the kicking of the little sister’s head, I was aware of another phantom resemblance. What was it? Of course! Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes, by Harry Graham.  Such rhymes were very popular round about 1912…”

Pretty clever: not only is Taylor able to link Orwell and potato peeling, he is also able to do it in the style of Orwell, using not only the memory but also the use of dates. An ability such as D J Taylor’s to use Orwell’s voice in so good a pastiche is not common. Some Orwell Society members think that they found it in US historian Thurston Clarke’s only novel, “Thirteen o’clock: A novel about George Orwell and ‘1984’” (which recreates the strange meeting of Orwell and Ernest Hemingway in wartime Paris), but we are not aware of many others.

Meanwhile, a note of caution. Richard Blair, OS patron, says of the potato peeling advice: “It only works on the old fashioned varieties, ones with thick skins, such as Golden Wonder and those that were developed in N. Ireland and Arran, which were main crop. The early variants are too thin in the skin. Asbestos fingers also help!”

By LJH

 

The Orwell Society Annual Birthday visit to Sutton Courtenay

Blair 1

Richard Blair at the graveside with members of the OS and the congregation of All Saint’s, who have tended the roses to such magnificent effect.

18 members came to Sutton Courtenay on Sunday 21st June 2015. We met at the pub beside the church and had a typical Orwell Society lunch. New members made new friends and returning members found old friends from previous events, with the result being very lively conversation.

Helen Kendrick, The Priest in Charge at All Saints and her congregation made us all very welcome again and joined us at the graveside, where Richard read from “Coming up for Air” about a childhood in the area before the First World War.

We enjoyed hearing about the plans for the inside of the Church, which will include space for material from the Orwell Society and their £80,000 extension for the Sunday School, which will also include Orwell Memorabilia as part of a multi function room.

The cream teas were enjoyed in the warmth outside in the Church Yard, where the lively conversations continued.

We have agreed to return in 2016 on the 19th June.

Next Events. 2pm 18th July the unveiling of the Plaque at South End Green on the former Booklovers store. All welcome. 26th September 11am Goode St Tube for the London Walk.

Homage to Catalonia Visit Report

“To anyone who had been there since the beginning it probably seemed in December or January that the revolutionary period was ending; but when one came straight from England the aspect of Barcelona was something startling and overwhelming.” -George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia

As we stood on the Rambla and listened to this passage, I tried to imagine the scene as Orwell encountered it in 1936. The throngs of tourists were not quite the revolutionaries and anarchists he described, but just a short while earlier a protest march for Catalan independence had blocked our crossing, giving us a glimpse of the spirit of ‘36. (We wondered whether our tour guide had planned this.) It was our first full day together and we were touring the old centre of Barcelona with Nick Lloyd, local British ex-pat, historian, and guide. Nick had greeted us the previous evening at one of his recommended restaurants, where we enjoyed the first of many feasts together. Now he was teaching us the context for understanding Orwell’s story.

1

Nick Lloyd in full flow with Richard Blair and Tim and Laysrin Thorpe

The tour began in the Plaza Cataluña, where workers and police successfully put down a military coup early in the morning of July 19th, 1936. We were fascinated to learn that they were joined by the first international volunteers, who were in Barcelona for the anti-Nazi People’s Olympics, memorialized in posters advertisements but fated never to occur. Athletes and French families on their first state-sponsored holidays were caught in the uprising, and many supported the Republicans. During the months that followed, workers collectivized many industries and created the revolutionary atmosphere that greeted Orwell when he arrived in December 1936. Nick took us to the Ramblas to see the Hotel Continental, where Orwell and Eileen first stayed. We wandered through the Gothic Quarter of the city and saw evidence of the war: an old sign dedicating a plaza to the “Unknown Militiaman” and a shrapnel-scarred wall nearby where schoolchildren died from a Fascist bomb. We looked terribly out of place when we ventured into the Stradivarius fashion store, where Georges Kopp spent 18 months in a makeshift Communist prison in the basement. The blaring pop music clashed with the sombre sense I felt while looking at the old stone arches and imagining the suffering that had happened there.

Before going to the Science Academy, popularly known as the Poliorama, we had a well earned break from the heat and humidity with beers and a slideshow at an old Republican cafe in the Raval. The efforts of the Republican armies, plagued by disagreement regarding revolution and suffering from a lack of international support, were not enough to fend off the fascist forces. Orwell left Spain in June 1937, after having returned to the Aragon front with the POUM but being shot in the neck and forced to recuperate back in Barcelona just as the POUM were officially banned. POUM members and fighters like Georges Kopp were thus arrested and Orwell was lucky to escape. In the end, Barcelona fell in January 1939 and hundreds of thousands of Spanish Republican refugees ended up in makeshift camps in soon-to-be-Vichy France. Nick ended his presentation with the story of a local guy who joined the militia, fled to France, was sent to Mauthausen, took photographs for the Nazis, smuggled the photographs out, and finally used them to convict those responsible at the Nuremberg Trials. Sadly, Francesc Boix did not live much longer, dying from ill health at age 30 in 1951.

2

Richard Blair and Quentin Kopp with the President of the Academy of Science on the roof of the “Poliorama”

The highlight of the tour was the Science Academy, across the Ramblas from the POUM headquarters, where Orwell spent three days on duty in the fight against the local government and Communist party. Access to the roof was unusually granted, and we were joined by reporters for the occasion and the view. Nick summarized the “May Days” fighting and made sure that we understood the different Republican factions and their goals. On the left, favouring a socialist revolution, were the anarchist trade unions and the POUM, an anti-Stalinist Marxist party. On the right, dedicated to fighting the fascist coup and definitely not supporting revolution were the Catalan government and the Communist party. (While this may seem counterintuitive, the Communists, under Stalin, were keen to build an alliance with Britain and France in the European fight against fascism, and therefore would suppress any attempts at revolution from the Spanish left.) Orwell belonged to the POUM militia, due to his affiliation with the socialist Independent Labour Party of Britain. He came to Barcelona in late April 1937 for some R&R and to try to join the Communist International Brigades, whose superiorly-armed fighters saw more action on the front near Madrid. The infighting between the right and left in Barcelona led Orwell to defend the POUM, and the propaganda from the Communists against the POUM and other revolutionaries led Orwell to rethink his plan to join the International Brigades. His disgust with the Stalinist Communist party also led to his general mistrust of abuse of power which in turn led to his most famous novels: Animal Farm and 1984 .

That evening we toured the former Sanatori Maurin, currently the administration building for the Benjamin Franklin International School. Our guide was unsure which room Orwell would have recuperated from his gunshot wound in, perhaps this computer lab or maybe the finance office? The view from the roof included the whole city of Barcelona and Mediterranean beyond- was this a comfort to the men who once rested here?

3

The rooftop view through the haze towards the sea

Richard and Quentin gave a presentation and answered questions from students and community members in the school library. A fascinating discussion of Orwell’s life and opinions ensued. (As a teacher at the school, I can say that the students who attended were thrilled and likely won’t forget the experience!) The next day we piled into two hired vans and began the long drive out to Aragon.

Quentin and Neil battled fierce winds to take us east, roughly following parts of Orwell’s journey with the POUM militia. Stopping for lunch near Lleida, we enjoyed artichokes, sausages, and snails (local seasonal specialties). Our next stop was Alcubierre, where Orwell’s militia stayed in the barracks before trekking to the nearby front. Standing in a field next to an old building, we listened to Richard read of his arrival and description of the town.

These readings brought the story to life as we imagined the scene on the road in front of us. We drove on over the Sierra de Alcubierre mountains to the Nationalist side, where we encountered our amazing hotel looming on the hillside.

4

The Albergue Santuario Monegros and some of the views

The Albergue Santuario Monegros served as a barracks for fascist soldiers during the war. The owner showed us graffiti from that era, as well as 16th-century graffiti in a hall upstairs. The church and hostel had been restored since it was largely destroyed during the 1808 War of Independence from Napoleon. (There was some confusion as to which war the owner was referring to when he said, “La Guerra,” as opposed to “La Guerra Civil.”) We spent most of our time at the hotel admiring the surrounding scenery (better on day two when the wind died down a bit) or socialising at the hotel bar. Spanish gin and tonics never fail to impress! Meals at the hotel were fantastic and the company even better.

On Saturday morning we crossed back into previously Republican-held territory to tour the trenches on the Ruta de Orwell. Victor, our guide, explained that the local conservative government did not prioritize upkeep of the POUM trenches, and seemed a bit surprised to see fresh sandbags piled up on the recreated trenches. Clearly they expected us.

5

The view through a firing position towards the Nationalist trenches

Richard gave another reading describing his experience near that spot. The warm sunshine was not quite the winter weather of January, but the wind gave the place a desolate feel nonetheless. Next we crossed to the opposite ridge to see the restored Nationalist trenches. A huge battalion of Falange faithful and unfortunate conscripts camped in the valley beneath the ridge, with better supplies and sheltered dugouts to protect them. The freshly-painted Nationalist monument at the top represented the freshness of the debate between right and left in today’s Spain.

Huge platters of roast lamb and potatoes awaited us in Alcubierre. We wined and dined and then walked it off with a short amble up to the Moorish-style church nearby.

Next we were off to Robres to visit the new museum of the war in Aragon. Victor and his wonderful translator Elena explained each exhibit, full of photos and propaganda from the war. At the end we sat down to watch a film on the subject, but quickly ran out to the street when we heard there was a local bagpipe festival parade marching by.

About six men with instruments clad in frilly dresses walked by, rather out of tune but seemingly enjoying themselves. Apparently that was the whole of the Robres Bagpipe Festival.

After a final wonderful evening of gin and tonics and Spanish food, we arose the next morning and packed to leave Lecinena. Several people took the opportunity for one more hike or run in the hills around the building. Ruined shells of buildings dotted the hilltops, perhaps destroyed in 1808, perhaps 1937. Gorgeous tiles could still be seen on the weed-covered floors. A memorable place to spend the weekend, indeed.

We crossed back into Republican territory and drove north to where Orwell was transferred in February. Our first stop was La Granja, a farm near Huesca where Orwell and POUM militiamen endured the “rats as a big as cats” and desecrated the small chapel.

6

Richard presenting a bottle of Jura in thanks to Pedro the owner of La Granja with Anne and Victor our guide in the background

The current owner, who confessed he never thought he’d own a church, had done a good job restoring the building. A few more readings from Richard enlightened our group as to Orwell’s time on the farm. From there it was on to the village of Monflorite, where Orwell had a hand wound bandaged at a makeshift hospital. Eileen visited him here and was appalled by the sanitary conditions and practices of the “doctor.” We likely doubled the population of the hamlet and made the local cafe happy when we stopped for a mid-morning break.

The POUM militia and others encircled the city of Huesca that winter and hoped to take it in due time. That April Orwell left the front for Barcelona, but due to his May Days experience (described above) he decided to return to the Aragon front. It was there, somewhere in the hills above the city, that he was hit by a bullet in the neck on May 20th, thus ending his stint as a soldier. The exact location of the sniper attack is unknown, but Victor took us up to the impressive ruins of a medieval castle on Mount Aragon, where Richard read to us of the experience of being shot and we looked out across the city and wondered if this could have been the hill where it happened.

7

A view of the ridge with the Tierz trenches just below from the Castle of Mont Aragon

Our final stop was Huesca, a city which Orwell never visited, though he said he’d hoped to one day enjoy a coffee there (as a Republican commander had once promised his troops). Richard and Quentin were the stars of a gathering in a very crowded independent bookstore. Local news media and Orwell fans asked them questions of their fathers and of our tour. Spanish copies of Homage to Catalonia sold out before any of us could purchase one, but we were thrilled to be gifted little notebooks full of Orwell quotes. The bookstore owner and some friends then joined us for our last lunch at a wonderful asador (Spanish grill) restaurant near the bookstore. The food and wine induced drowsy naps on the long bus ride back to Barcelona.

As a historian and teacher of the Spanish Civil War, and of course a fan of Orwell’s, I was thrilled to participate in this Homage to Catalonia tour of Barcelona and Aragon. Seeing the places where he went and meeting Richard, Quentin, and a wonderful group of knowledgeable people was an incredibly worthwhile experience.

8

 

“Coffee in Huesca”

This report was written by Ali Jessie one of the Tour Members.

George Orwell Always in the News Number 10

Peeling Potatoes and Making Tea

In The Independent of April 19th, 2015, Orwell biographer D J Taylor had a look at the work of Dave Hax, who has found a new way to peel potatoes.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/you-should-judge-a-person-by-how-they-peel-a-potato-10187016.html

‘…he offers advice on the best way to peel a potato… it reminded me of something else. It took a second or two’s thought to establish that the thing it so strongly recalled to mind was not another online video but an essay entitled “A Nice Cup of Tea”, which George Orwell contributed to the London Evening Standard in January 1946.’

Does D J Taylor’s language sound familiar? I think it does, as Orwell used a very similar recollection in ‘Benefit of Clergy’, his essay on Salvador Dali. “When I read the passage I quoted at the beginning, about the kicking of the little sister’s head, I was aware of another phantom resemblance. What was it? Of course! Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes, by Harry Graham. Such rhymes were very popular round about 1912…”

Pretty clever: not only is Taylor able to link Orwell and potato peeling, he is also able to do it in the style of Orwell, using not only the memory but also the use of dates. An ability such as D J Taylor’s to use Orwell’s voice in so good a pastiche is not common. Some Orwell Society members think that they found it in US historian Thurston Clarke’s only novel, “Thirteen o’clock: A novel about George Orwell and ‘1984’” (which recreates the strange meeting of Orwell and Ernest Hemingway in wartime Paris), but we are not aware of many others.

Meanwhile, a note of caution. Richard Blair, OS patron, says of the potato peeling advice: “It only works on the old fashioned varieties, ones with thick skins, such as Golden Wonder and those that were developed in N. Ireland and Arran, which were main crop. The early variants are too thin in the skin. Asbestos fingers also help!”

By LJH

George Orwell Always in the News Number 9

J B Pick – The Man Who Let Orwell Explain Why He Wrote

John Pick who died in January 2015 at the age of 93 may have been the last surviving editor to have worked with George Orwell:-

‘His degree studies were interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1939. As an 18-year-old conscientious objector, he joined the Friends’ Ambulance Service, training in life-saving and hospital work in London during the Blitz. In 1943 he met and married Gene Atkinson. Later in the war he volunteered to work in the coal mines, sharing the miners’ lives for 18 months..

‘After the war he edited a short-lived journal, Gangrel, which published pieces by George Orwell and Henry Miller…He wrote poetry, and Under the Crust (1946) is a sympathetic record of conditions at the coalface from the point of view of a middle-class volunteer, full of memorable vignettes of his fellow miners.

‘A novel of social realism, The Lonely Aren’t Alone (1952), followed, then a satirical one, Land Fit for [‘]Eros (1957), written in partnership with a friend, John Atkins. (Daily Telegraph obituary 1st April 2015)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/11509419/John-Pick-man-of-letters-obituary.html

In fact, despite its short life, Gangrel was responsible for giving the world one of Orwell’s most signficant works, his essay ‘Why I Write’ (Gangrel Number 4, 1946). It can be read on The Orwell Prize website:

http://theorwellprize.co.uk/george-orwell/by-orwell/essays-and-other-works/why-i-write/

It was in ‘Why I Write’ that Orwell explained ‘The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it’.

And Orwell ended ‘one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed.’

Pick’s friend, John Atkins, wrote 1954’s George Orwell: A Literary Study, which was described on the cover of the American edition as ‘An appraisal from personal knowledge of the author’. His obituary, which quotes both Orwell and Pick, can be read here:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/may/18/obituary-john-atkins

Pick, the conscientious objector, worked as volunteer coal miner in the War after having already served as an ambulance driver. Orwell, who had been down the mines himself, must have known the strength of character it took to volunteer (conscriptees who were sent to the mines rather than the forces, even the submarine service, regarded the ballot as a ‘disaster’, Orwell wrote in 1944).

BBC Radio 4 program on the Bevin Boy miners (27th May 2015):                                                     http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05vzzyr

From his published criticisms of John Middleton Murray, Alex Comfort and others active in the war-time peace movement, some of whom he called ‘fascifists’, it may seem that Orwell rejected all such men, but given his continued association with Pick and with others such as Reginald Reynolds, who was also a volunteer driver though a C.O., that clearly was not true.

George Orwell Always in the News: Number 8

J B Pick – The Man Who Let Orwell Explain Why He Wrote

John Pick who died in January 2015 at the age of 93 may have been the last surviving editor to have worked with George Orwell:-

‘His degree studies were interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1939. As an 18-year-old conscientious objector, he joined the Friends’ Ambulance Service, training in life-saving and hospital work in London during the Blitz. In 1943 he met and married Gene Atkinson. Later in the war he volunteered to work in the coal mines, sharing the miners’ lives for 18 months..

‘After the war he edited a short-lived journal, Gangrel, which published pieces by George Orwell and Henry Miller…He wrote poetry, and Under the Crust (1946) is a sympathetic record of conditions at the coalface from the point of view of a middle-class volunteer, full of memorable vignettes of his fellow miners.

‘A novel of social realism, The Lonely Aren’t Alone (1952), followed, then a satirical one, Land Fit for [‘]Eros (1957), written in partnership with a friend, John Atkins. (Daily Telegraph obituary 1st April 2015)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/11509419/John-Pick-man-of-letters-obituary.html

In fact, despite its short life, Gangrel was responsible for giving the world one of Orwell’s most signficant works, his essay ‘Why I Write’ (Gangrel Number 4, 1946). It can be read on The Orwell Prize website:

http://theorwellprize.co.uk/george-orwell/by-orwell/essays-and-other-works/why-i-write/

It was in ‘Why I Write’ that Orwell explained ‘The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it’.

And Orwell ended ‘one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed.’

Pick’s friend, John Atkins, wrote 1954’s George Orwell: A Literary Study, which was described on the cover of the American edition as ‘An appraisal from personal knowledge of the author’. His obituary, which quotes both Orwell and Pick, can be read here:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/may/18/obituary-john-atkins

Pick, the conscientious objector, worked as volunteer coal miner in the War after having already served as an ambulance driver. Orwell, who had been down the mines himself, must have known the strength of character it took to volunteer (conscriptees who were sent to the mines rather than the forces, even the submarine service, regarded the ballot as a ‘disaster’, Orwell wrote in 1944).

BBC Radio 4 program on the Bevin Boy miners (27th May 2015):                                                      http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05vzzyr

From his published criticisms of John Middleton Murray, Alex Comfort and others active in the war-time peace movement, some of whom he called ‘fascifists’, it may seem that Orwell rejected all such men, but given his continued association with Pick and with others such as Reginald Reynolds, who was also a volunteer driver though a C.O., that clearly was not true.

Gangrel 4 1946 (2)

By LJH

Message by Richard Blair, Patron of The Orwell Society

Dear Member,

Thirteen members of the Society have just returned from a memorable trip to Spain.  We will be posting a full report and pictures on the website and Facebook pages soon but suffice to say it was a wonderful experience, with time spent in Barcelona and at the front line in Aragon.  We made many new friends including at a book shop in Huesca where we were greeted by around 30 locals for a talk and book signing.  We also received coverage from a Barcelona newspaper and had a Times journalist accompanying us.  You may have seen the resulting coverage in yesterday’s Times by Graham Keeley which I would like to comment on.

You will see that the Times article states that I “demanded” that the trenches be restored. This is rather overstating my wishes. I have no desire to start a war with the Spanish Government, but only to express a view that I hoped the good work that Victor Pardo has done over so many years, the museum and the restoration of the trenches that Orwell fought from (the Ruta de Orwell in the Aragon area) would continue to be maintained, and that people from all nationalities might come and visit. That the present Government has withdrawn funding for such projects is disappointing but, should there be a change of power, perhaps funding might one day be restored. Meanwhile, I don’t think the small voice of the Patron of the Orwell Society will make a great deal of difference one way or another to the way Spain is governed and how it views the preservation of its historic sites.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Blair

Patron

The Orwell Society

George Orwell Always in the News: Number 7

Intelligent Life Magazine on Orwell’s World 

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, January/February 2015: ‘Orwell’s World’

http://moreintelligentlife.com/content/features/robert-butler/orwells-world

‘After the collapse of communism, neo-cons and libertarians would use Orwell as an argument against Big Brother and the nanny state. Yet he had categorically stated that everything he had written since his return from the Spanish civil war had democratic socialism at its very heart. It was possible to spot Orwellian scenarios on both sides of the Iron Curtain’.

Spotted by Orwell Society Chairman, Richard Lance Keeble.

 

The official society for the author Eric Arthur Blair known as George Orwell