By Denis Frize
Being The Life and Times of
With particular regard to his struggle
With telling the truth.
Or Pukka But Poor.
In the 1980’s, I worked at a school in the outskirts of Buenos Aires.
In those days I affected the smoking of cheroots, so maybe twice a week I had to make my way along a street lined with lime trees until I reached the tobacconist’s in the centre of town, where stood graffiti-covered public monuments.
It had been the custom in Buenos Aires to paint a white band round the trees and lop the branches in spring but this was ‘more honoured in the breach than the observance’ and I made a comment to that effect to the tobacconist.
‘Ah, senor,’ he sighed, ‘and look at all this graffiti. Now in the old days, under the military, none of this would have happened. All the trees were tidy with their white bands, All the monuments were clean. What we need is the military government back!’
Suddenly, a small quotation crackled across my brain. ‘All tobacconists are Fascists.’
And with them came a whole quiz competition of aphorisms…………
‘By the age of 50, everyone has the face he deserves.’
‘International sport is merely war minus the shooting.’
‘Who controls the past controls the future.’
‘An intelligent man can convince himself of anything.’
‘Freedom…. is the freedom to say that two plus two equals four.’
All of these are aphorisms. An aphorism convinces us of its truth by very quickly getting to A truth, but not necessarily the whole truth, by verbal brilliance. They tells us a lot about the aphorist, who may seek to convince you of the total truth of what he is saying by in the pithy way in which he says it.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, to learn that all the above aphorisms were coined by Eric Arthur Blair, or, to use his pseudonym, George Orwell. And are not pseudonyms sometimes symptomatic of an inner struggle within the author’s self to establish the truth about who he or she really is?
Like a Venetian Carnival mask, the pseudonym is an inherently untruthful, deceitful tool. It both hides who the person is and gives that person the chance to escape to the person he’d rather be. And George Orwell felt he needed one – certainly in the 1930’s. And this introduces our task – to track the life of George – aka Eric – and chart the course of his varying relationship with truth.
Eric Arthur Blair was born on 25th June 1903 at Motihari, near the Bengali border, in what was then British India.
From the very beginning his roots were ambivalent.
His father was one of the small pillars upon whom the mighty Raj rested.
He was a civil servant, fourth grade, in the Opium Department. He never rose to more than fifth grade.
Nowadays we would assume ‘Opium Department’ to mean drug enforcement agency, but in a completely Orwellian way, the name of the Government Department was precisely the opposite of what its title proclaimed. British India’s Opium Department was concerned with the sale and quality control of opium to be smoked by coolies in dens in China.
The Blairs were of absolutely true-blue British establishment stock. But with ONE quirk.
Most families strive to be upwardly mobile. The Blairs contrived to be downwardly mobile.
Baby Eric’s grandfather had been married to a daughter of the Earl of Westmorland.
The son of that union became a vicar, was for many years an Army chaplain in India and retired as a Dean in Dorset.
Richard Walmsley Blair, Eric’s father, was, therefore, a clergyman’s son, a fourth grade clerk in the Indian Opium Department. Could his son contrive to go down any further?
If baby Eric’s father was absolutely conventional, the woman he married definitely verged into the exotic.
Ida Mabel Blair’s maiden name was Limouzin. Although born in Surrey, of an English mother, the main family connection was French. The Limouzin family were in the teak trade. And where do you get teak? In Burma. All the time Eric was in Burma, his uncle was in Rangoon managing the family firm. All the time he claimed he was living in abject poverty in Paris, his aunt was only a few quarters away.
Said aunt was exotic. She had moved to Paris to be with her Esperantist lover. Ida’s sisters were rich enough to dabble in Socialism and Fabianism and Ida herself appeared to be a sort of anti-man feminist of her day. She took the children away from India when Eric was three and he never saw his father for another six years. This was common enough in Raj families, but Ida Blair seemed to take it one step further – men were ‘brutes’ who forced themselves on women. Certainly she would have none of this and when Eric’s father came back finally after 38 years’ service in India, she immediately banished him to a separate bedroom. No wonder he volunteered at age 60 for the First World War.
With this Janus-like parentage – the ‘progressive’, exotic mother/ the staid Empire loyalist, Henley Golf Club father, what better hothouse could there be to produce a Tory Anarchist? Certainly this title, given to the first great satirist to use animals – Dean Swift – could equally be applied to Orwell.
And through this dialectic – the Eton scholar who shirked learning, the Imperial policeman who despised the chota peg drinkers in the British Club, the middle-class boy brought up to despise the ‘smelling’ working class but who bums round dosshouses – through that continual Janus-like struggle to express one view of the truth, we eventually arrive at someone which both sides of him can enthusiastically embrace as the whole truth – the truth about Stalinism, the truth about dictatorship of any description, political or religious.
Eric’s first encounter with dictatorship, at least that how his biographer Eric Bowker sees it, came when the first unfortunate teachers were given the task of educating the infant Prometheus.
All Blair’s sisters were sent to be educated by the Ursuline Sisters in France. According to Bowker, Eric’s early learning was entrusted to a group of nuns who ran a school in Henley-on-Thames. Bowker adduces Blair’s undoubted lifelong detestation of the Catholic Church to the certainties hammered into the children by the Good Sisters.
In those days, the Catholic catechism contained the long Act of Faith and the phrase ‘and I furthermore believe anything the Catholic Church proposes to be believed, as it is the sovereign truth which can neither deceive nor be deceived.’
Now let’s cut to room 101. The Inquisitor, O’Brien, described as having ‘the air of a priest’ speaks to Winston.
‘You are here because you have failed in humility … You would not make the act of submission WHATEVER THE PARTY HOLDS TO BE THE TRUTH IS THE TRUTH’.
Orwell’s next encounter with truth came also through the medium of school.
Last year I was driving up the A9 beyond Perth with my wife. As we passed through grouse moor country, fishing rivers and shooting estates, I turned to my wife and said, ‘This area turned George Orwell into a Socialist.’
Well, at the age of eight, young Eric was sent to St Cyprian’s, a preparatory school, now demolished, at Eastbourne. Eric’s parents were pukka but poor and so Eric was accepted on an arrangement whereby his brains would pay for his education. St Cyprian’s prided itself on cramming a certain number of boys every year into the greatest public schools, certainly Eton, and Eric was one of the geese chosen to be fattened for entrance examinations.
On the one hand there were the rich boys ‘who seemed to drip money from their pores’, ‘the snobbish chatter about Switzerland and Scotland with its ghillies and grouse moors and ‘my uncle’s yacht’ and ‘my pony’ and ‘my pater’s touring car.’
On the other hand there was the hapless Eric being flogged up the straight like a Derby horse to the winning post of Common Entrance. Here he is, in trouble with the headmaster, Sambo, and his redoubtable wife, Flip, who is speaking:
‘I don’t think it’s awfully decent of you to behave like this, is it? Do you think it’s quite playing the game by your mother and father to go on idling your time away, week after week, month after month? Do you want to throw all your chances away? You know your people aren’t rich, don’t you? You know they can’t afford the same things as other boys’ parents. How are they to send you to a public school if you don’t win a scholarship? I know how proud your mother is of you. Do you want to let her down?’
‘I don’t think he wants to go to a public school any longer.’ Sambo would say, addressing himself to Flip with a pretence that I was not there. ‘I think he’s given up that idea. He wants to be a little office boy at forty pounds a year,’
‘And do you think it’s quite fair to us, the way you’re behaving? After all we’ve done for you. You do know what we’ve done for you, don’t you. Her eyes would pierce deep into me and though she never said it straight out, I did know. ‘We’ve had you here all these years – we even got you here for a week in the holidays so that Mr Batchelor could coach you. We don’t want to have to send you away, you know, but we can’t keep a boy here just to eat up our food, term after term, I don’t think it’s very straight, the way you’re behaving. Do you?’
Sambo, who did not aspire to be loved by his pupils, put it more brutally, though as was usual with him in pompous language. ‘You are living on my bounty’ was his favourite phrase in this context. At least once I listened to these words between blows of the cane.
The above quotes are from ‘Such, Such Were the Joys’ George Orwell’s account, written in 1947, of his prep school days. No depth of Dickensian detail is not plumbed in this superior Dotheboys Hall. There were the beatings by the headmaster, Sambo, an educational martinet who, when one cane broke during a flogging, simply fetched a new one.
There were the pewter bowls out of which we had our porridge. They had overhanging rims, and under the rims were accumulations of sour porridge which could be flaked off in long strips. The porridge, itself, too, contained more lumps, hairs and unexplained black things than one would have thought possible, unless someone were putting them there on purpose.’
There was the cult of Scotland which made Orwell detest the Scots gentry as much as he did the Catholic religion.
‘The school laws pervaded by a curious cult of Scotland, which brought out the fundamental contradiction in our standard of values. Flip claimed Scottish ancestry and she favoured the Scottish boys, encouraging them to wear kilts in their ancestral tartan instead of the school uniform and even christened her youngest child by a Gaelic name. Ostensibly we were supposed to admire the Scots because they were ‘grim’ and ‘dour’ (stern was perhaps the key word) and irresistible on the field of battle. In the big schoolroom there was a steel engraving of the charge of the Scots Greys at Waterloo, all looking as though they enjoyed every moment of it. Our picture of Scotland was made up of burns, braes, kilts, sporrans, claymores, bagpipes and the like, all somehow mixed up with the invigorating effects of porridge, Protestantism and a cold climate. But underlying this was something quite different. The real reason for the cult of Scotland was that only very rich people could spend their summers there. And the pretended belief in Scottish superiority was a cover for the bad conscience of the occupying English who had pushed the Highland peasantry off their farms to make way for the deer forests, and then compensated them by turning them into servants. Flip’s face always beamed with innocent snobbishness when she spoke of Scotland, Occasionally she even attempted a trace of Scottish accent, Scotland was a private paradise which a few initiates could talk about and make outsiders feel small.
‘You going to Scotland this hols?’
‘Rather! We go every year.’
‘My pater’s got three miles of river.’
‘My pater’s giving me a new gun for the twelfth. There’s jolly good black game where we go. Get out, Smith! What are you listening for? You’ve never been to Scotland, I bet you don’t know what a blackcock looks like.’
Following on this, imitations of the cry of a blackcock, of the roaring of a stag, of the accent of ‘our ghillies’, etc, etc.’
But let’s keep our eye on our stated title.
Was any of the above true?
Are there any witnesses?
Well one was Gavin Maxwell, who described life there ten years after Blair had left as ‘a prison sentence that ended in escape, however ignominious.’
On the other hand there was Henry Longhurst. ‘I conclude that St Cyprian’s was a very good school indeed’ and he wondered whether its detractors were writing of the same institution.
And on both sides of the fence there was the celebrated Cyril Connolly. We no doubt all remember Cyril Connolly. The Dean of literary journalism, the arbiter of taste, ‘the mirror and the glass of (literary) fashion’.
In his earlier life Connolly bitterly attacked the school where he was ‘blue with cold, haunting the radiators and the lavatories and waking up every morning with the accumulated misery of the morning before.’ Yet the mature Connolly took severe remorse of conscience and actually attended the funeral of Mrs Wilkes, the maligned wife of the Headmaster, Sambo.
Andrew Gow, Blair’s tutor at Eton, wrote: ‘I know the Wilkeses and the school quite well …… and the essay is monstrously unfair.’
So what do we see George Orwell developing into?
1 His reportage raises questions about his veracity.
2 That, whether he was telling the objective truth or simply selective with the facts, he emerged a superb writer of polemic, a word that would feature in his later life. Once Orwell got his knife into you, he certainly knew how to twist it to draw blood.
Eric Arthur Blair did justify the methods used by the Wilkeses. He won a scholarship to Eton College. Here again he was different from the majority of the boys. Blair was a King’s Scholar, a group of seventy boys who fulfilled the original purpose of the school. These boys are therefore called foundationers, as opposed to oppidans, or ‘town-dwellers’ originally, who are there because of their money or social eminence.
Can you see the same dichotomy confirming itself in the teenage Orwell? He had to earn his keep at Eton by the sweat of his brain, while others could lord it over him. Suffice it to say, he never fulfilled his promise. Even in a system so replete with old-boy contacts as the Oxbridge entry system, he failed to gain entrance to either Oxford or Cambridge. His tutor, Andrew Gow, couldn’t find it in himself to write the necessary recommendation.
He became a rebel, one incident being over his being confirmed in the Anglican Church. Notably, he had as a teacher for a short time Aldous Huxley, the author of ‘Brave New World’ a dystopia, which like the Russian Zamyatin’s ‘We’, must have been one of the tributaries to the rivers of ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘1984’.
So far we have seen Orwell as the guy who didn’t fit in, either at prep school or at Eton.
But now he really surpassed himself in self-flagellatory exotica. He joined the Imperial Burma Police.
Now it is true that the Colonies had as one of their main purposes the provision of homes and jobs for the failures, misfits and independent thinkers born within Great Britain.
The Scots-Canadian poet Robert Service told us about this type of guy in his poem ‘The Men That Don’t Fit In’.
This poem could have been written for Orwell.
There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
An they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don’t know how to rest.
What hopes did Orwell entertain as he left England, rejected by his first love, Jacintha Buddicombe? Is this the Tory part of the Tory Anarchist coming to the fore. The Empire Loyalist who set about Burmese school students with his rattan (policeman’s cane) on a railway platform for their irreverent jibes and grins, the man who fantasised over bayoneting rebellious Buddhist monks?
If so, it didn’t last.
According to Roger Beadon, a fellow rookie, Blair never fitted in right from the basic training course at Fort Dufferin. I quote from ‘George Orwell’ by Gordon Bowker: ‘He brought his Eton aloofness with him.’
Old ghosts of being pukka but poor re-surfaced. The Gymkhana Club, to which he had a right to belong, was brilliantly equipped but expensive. He began to withdraw within himself, reading D. H. Lawrence in his room. Eric may well have met that other scourge of the Colonial classes, Somerset Maugham, on his contemporaneous travels through Burma. Depression set in. He wrote to Jacintha Buddicombe saying he had made ‘a huge mistake’ and she advised him to quit, but he couldn’t – yet – face failure in the eyes of his family.
He came to hate his job. The daily particularities of marching behind his men: ‘The steam of these hundred sweating bodies in front made my stomach turn …… All I knew was that it was lower-class sweat that I was smelling and the thought of it made me sick’ becomes, of course, intellectualised in Blair into a generalised hatred of the Raj as ‘a racket’ and produced such well-known subversive writings as ‘Shooting An Elephant’ and ‘A Hanging’.
He out-Maughams Maugham in ‘Burmese Days’. The character Ellis speaks:
‘The only possible policy is to treat ‘em (the Burmese), like the dirt they are. We’ve got to hang together and say we are the masters and you beggars …..’
And yet, and yet.
Blair himself wrote: ‘With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down in saecula saecalorum, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest’s guts.’
Tory anarchist? Dichotomised personality? Who was the true Mr Blair?
Whatever the answer, Eric Arthur Blair could not live with the dichotomy. After five years in Burma, he was due a home furlough. And during that furlough, he wrote his resignation from the Imperial Police.
So we can use three metaphors regarding Orwell’s ‘Road to Mandalay.’
1 The road proved a dead end as far as a career was concerned.
2 It proved to be the way ahead. Blair perversely stuck to his view of the truth about the Raj despite the fury of received opinion around him. The Chief of Police called him ‘a dammed disgrace to Eton College.’ But sticking grimly to one’s guns in spite of the powerful and influential, sticking to the truth no matter how much it might cost him in terms of financial and career security, is a trend we shall have to watch in Mr Blair.
3 And third, to release you from this wretched road metaphor, the Road to Mandalay proved also to be a u-turn. Eric Blair was now back in England and would thereafter commit his life to shaping the soul of English Socialism, or Ingsoc, as we might call it.
The Road To Barcelona.
The England he returned to was not the one he had left. Like prancing showground horses pivoting round the central drum of the Recession, the bright young intellectuals, who might in the twenties have espoused homosexuality OR Catholicism now espoused both homosexuality AND Communism.
Waiting in the wings to capitalise on the mood of the country, the notion that to be any sort of an intellectual you had to be left-wing, was a man called Victor Gollancz. Gollancz’s list of publications included a monthly book club called the Left Book Club which, in the days before the TV documentary, purveyed a view of Britain through red-tinted spectacles.
One of Gollancz’s readers picked up a manuscript which a young writer called George Orwell had tried unsuccessfully to hawk to various publishing houses including Jonathon Cape. Significantly for our quest for the truth and Mr Blair, the reader, Gerald Gould, found the manuscript ‘embroidered a little here and there’, but ‘substantially true’. The book had various titles: ‘A Scullion’s Diary’, ‘Days in Paris and London’ etc., but finally Gollancz prevailed upon the author to hit the bookshops with the title ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’.
So who was this new author and what were his credentials to write?
Well it was the same Eric Blair we left on his return from Burma. The same outsider we first met at St Cyprian’s. The same under-achiever at Eton. The same rower against any current he happened to find himself in. This time it was the middle-class respectability of his parents which he was determined to let down. The trim, shiny-booted officer we see in the Rangoon photos had become a stubbly down-and-out in a slouch hat which shaded his eyes, a hirsute antique tweed jacket and positively insanitary flannels.
He was diving down a bottomless well and first made his way to Paris where he deliberately sought self-degradation, living in the filthiest flea-pits, consorting with prostitutes, attending a hospital which was more like a torture chamber and working in filth and squalor as a plongeur – a dishwasher – in reputedly the Hotel George V. You are spared NO nauseating detail.
‘It was amusing to look round the filthy little scullery and think that only a double door was between us and the dining-room. There sat the customers in all their splendour – spotless table-cloths, bowls of flowers, mirrors and gilt cornices and painted cherubim; and here, just a few feet away, we in our disgusting filth. For it really was disgusting filth. There was no time to sweep the floor until evening, and we slithered about in a compound of soapy water, lettuce-leaves, torn paper and trampled food. A dozen waiters with their coats off, showing their sweaty armpits, sat at the table mixing salads and sticking their thumbs into the cream pots. The room had a dirty mixed smell of food and sweat. Everywhere in the cupboards behind the piles of crockery, were squalid stores of food that the waiters had stolen. There were only two sinks, and no washing basin, and it was nothing unusual for a waiter to wash his face in the water in which clean crockery was rinsing. But the customers saw nothing of this.’
Yet the description of his life as a tramp didn’t fool the people who really knew him. Of his English adventures, his girlfriend, Brenda Salkeld, told him he was a fraud. – ‘He knew he could always go home, so he could never experience what a real tramp feels like.’
Similarly in Paris. His aunt lived in a not-too-far- distant arrondissement where she was the partner of the leading French Esperantist. It’s actually the Esperantist who was the more important figure. He was a lapsed Communist. He had actually seen the future and knew it didn’t work. And here we hear the opening notes of an overture. The difference between appearance and reality. A revolution betrayed. The difference between Lies and Truth.
But we are looking too far into the future. George Orwell now proceeded to oil the predilections of his left-wing readers with a grand guignol of fantasy which out-Dickensed Dickens. In fact, it was all too bad to be true.
Many years ago, I used ‘Down and Out’ for the non-fiction writing section of Higher English, Scotland’s pre-university school leaving certificate..
But the more you examined it as documentary, the more fictional it became.
Take, for example, the part where he teams up with an Irish tramp in Kent. They are looking in a bookshop window when suddenly the Irishman explodes with rage and calls for the bookshop to be closed down for blasphemous obscenity.
When Orwell enquires why, he is told to ‘look at that book there! Sure what do they want to go imitatin’ him for?’
The object of the Irishman’s wrath is a copy of the ‘The Imitation of Christ.’
This is such a trite Irishman story that one is almost tempted to preface it with the words, ‘There was this Kerry man…..’
Back in Paris, we are definitely in the world of O. Henry stories. So neatly constructed! Such perfect denouement! Let me take the story of the starving couple. The man finds that if the woman goes to a hospital and says she is pregnant, she gets a meal. She goes to the hospital every day and gets a meal. A year later, they are walking near the same hospital and they meet the nurse who was in charge of the maternity hospital.
‘Mon Dieu’ Yvonne cried……… ‘I am ruined’
‘”I hope you are well, ma petite?” the nurse, said kindly. “And your baby, is he well too? Was it a boy as you were hoping?”’
‘Yvonne had begun trembling so hard I had to grip her arm. “No” she said at last.
“Ah, then evidement, it was a girl?”
Thereupon Yvonne, the idiot, lost her head completely. “No” she actually said again!
‘The nurse was taken aback. “Comment!” she exclaimed, “neither a boy nor a girl! But how can that be?”
‘Figure to yourselves, messieurs et mesdames, it was a dangerous moment. Yvonne had turned the colour of a beetroot and looked ready to burst into tears; another second and she would have confessed everything. Heaven knows what might have happened. But as for me, I had kept my head; I stepped in and saved the situation.
‘”It was twins,” I said calmly.
‘”Twins!” exclaimed the nurse. And she was so pleased that she took Yvonne by the shoulders and embraced her on both cheeks, publicly.
Or let’s read just the beginning of Charlie and the prostitute.
He is talking about his favourite subject.
Ah, l’amour, l’amour! Ah, que les femmes m’ont tue! Alas, messieurs et mesdames, women have been my ruin, beyond all hope my ruin. At 22 I am utterly worn out and finished. But what things I have learned, what abysses of wisdom have I not plumbed! How great a thing it is to have acquired the true wisdom, to have become in the highest sense of the word a civilised man, to have become raffine, vicieux, etc etc,
Messieurs et dames, I perceive that you are sad. A mais la vie est belle – you must not be sad. Be more gay, I beseech you
All it needs is Maurice Chevalier!
Orwell’s own sense of humour otherwise was quite risqué and anti-respectable. He became a great fan of the double entendre, as exemplified in the work of Donald McGill. Here we enter the world of saucy seaside postcards. A world of landladies with huge bay windows on the front, vicars with small stipends and lovers’ lanes with courting couples on the verge.
What was Orwell’s favourite McGill postcard?
Picture a newsagent’s shop with a pretty young girl behind the counter.
A man comes in and asks, ‘Excuse me, miss, do you keep stationery?’
And she answers, ‘Well, sometimes I wiggle about a bit.’
It may surprise you to learn in today’s Britain that Donald McGill actually was arrested and appeared in court in the 1950’s for this sort of pre-Kenneth Horne rudeness. But that was after Orwell was dead and no longer there to speak up for him publicly, as he did for P.G. Wodehouse, Nazi broadcasts and all.
So the rebel with several causes seems by the mid-1930’s to have found his true niche.
He can exorcise the rebellious side of his nature and earn a comfortable living by being ERIC THE FAMOUS AUTHOR, as, before the First World War, he promised his sister he would be. He doesn’t need to be always strictly truthful about it as he shocks the progressive bourgeoisie with scabrous tales of the underground world which was just below their level of vision.
And so it was that he went on to write ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’, a reportage on life among the working-class. ‘Up North’!
At first we see the by-now predictable Orwellian fare.
Let’s go into the living room of the Brookers’ tripe shop and lodging house where Orwell chooses to put up.
‘In front of the fire there was almost always a line of damp washing, and in the middle of the room was the big kitchen table at which the family and all the lodgers ate. I never saw this table completely uncovered, but I saw its various wrappings at different times. At the bottom there was a layer of old newspapers stained by Worcester Sauce; above that a sheet of sticky white oil-cloth; above that a green serge cloth above that a coarse linen cloth, never changed and seldom taken off. Generally the crumbs from breakfast were still on the table at supper. I used to get to know individual crumbs by sight and watch their progress up and down the table from day to day.’
This is the Hotel George V in Paris re-visited. Orwell chooses to present such squalor as typical of the working class. A gross distortion of the truth. He is depicting the underclass, not the respectable working class.
It was over such a distorted view that Eric Blair had his first run-in with the leadership of the Communist Party. In the ‘Daily Worker’ of 17th March 1937, Harry Pollitt, General Secretary of the British Communist Party, dismissed Orwell as ‘a disillusioned little middle class boy…….and late imperial policeman’.
Mind you, this may have had something to do with the fact that Orwell already had been interviewed by Pollitt with a view to going to Spain. To Pollitt’s question if he was going to join the International Brigade, Orwell suddenly blurted out the straight truth. ‘I’ll see when I get there.’ Pollitt then refused to help him, categorising him as ‘politically unreliable’.
But this flash of honesty in front of a figure such as Pollitt, as powerful in his own world as any Blimp colonel in Burma or Eton toff, showed the course Blair’s mind and character was now taking.
In ‘Wigan Pier’ he delivers one of the most honest pieces of reportage ever in his description of the work of the coalminer.
‘At the start to walk stooping is rather a joke, but it is a joke that soon wears off. I am handicapped by being exceptionally tall, but when the roof falls to four feet or less it is a tough job for anybody except a dwarf or a child. You have not only got to bend double, you have also got to keep your head up all the while so as to see the beams and girders and dodge them when they come. You have, therefore, a constant crick in the neck, but this is nothing to the pain in your knees and thighs. After half a mile it becomes (I am not exaggerating) an unbearable agony. You begin to wonder whether you will ever get to the end – still more how on earth you will ever get back. Your pace grows slower and slower. You come to a stretch of a couple of hundred yards where it is all exceptionally low and you have to work yourself along in a squatting position. Then suddenly the roof opens out to a mysterious height – scene of an old fall of rock, probably – and for twenty whole yards you can stand upright. The relief is overwhelming. But after this there is another low stretch of a hundred yards and then a succession of beams which you have to crawl under. You go down on all fours; even this is a relief after the squatting business. But when you come to the end of the beams and try to get up again, you find that your knees have temporarily struck work and refuse to lift you.’
But then comes the conclusion that Orwell reaches from this scene.
How about this for having a go at every orthodoxy then existing in Britain?
‘It raises in you a momentary doubt about your own status as an ‘intellectual’ and superior person generally. For it is brought home to you that it is only because miners sweat their guts out that superior persons can remain superior. You and I and the Editor of the Times Literary Supplement and the Nancy poets and the Archbishop of Canterbury and Comrade X, author of ‘Marxism for Infants’ – all of us really owe the comparative decency of our lives to poor drudges underground, blackened to the eyes, with their throats full of coal dust, driving their shovels forward with arms and belly muscles of steel.’
Could a man with such opinions and such a voice long remain the literary lapdog of the comfortably-off left-wing?
On the 18th July 1936, a Civil War broke out in Spain.
It is not the purpose of Literature, rather than History, to delve into the causes of that conflict. Whether it was caused by the anomalies thrown up by proportional representation, whether it was caused by a left-liberal government suddenly going too far too fast, or whether it was simply caused by one disgruntled general with as many chips on his shoulder as he had stars, is not our job to figure out.
Suffice it to say, within a month, Spain had split into two camps, Nationalist and Republican.
Here I turn to Antony Beevor’s ‘The Battle for Spain’ which is actually the short cut to where we will find Orwell.
The Republican side in 1936, consisted of Liberals (the majority), the PSOE (the Spanish equivalent of the British Labour Party), the Anarchists, whose strength was more outside Parliament than in it and a small, insignificant Communist Party. In Spring 1936, the Communist Party had 38,000 members. By March 1937, it had 300,000. How? Well nobody else would help the republican side. The democracies stayed neutral, indeed Britain was almost tacitly on Franco’s side. Here Uncle Joe Stalin saw his opportunity. If he supplied the weapons, he could build the Communist Party into a power way beyond its actual strength in the affections of the people.
Thus Beevor writes:
‘The main barrier to achieving the best use of all this materiel came from the sectarianism of the Communists, who jealously kept it for the use of their own forces. Regimental commanders were sometimes forced to become members of the Communist Party to ensure that their men received ammunition and medical care. The advisers, especially the tank commander General Pavlov (‘Pablito’) and the air force adviser Smushkevich, took all the decisions, often without consulting their Spanish colleagues. Prieto, the minister for air, found that the Soviet advisers and the senior Spanish air force officer, Colonel Hidalgo de Cisneros y Lopez de Montenegro, an aristocrat with strong Communist leanings, would not even tell him which airfields were being used, or how many aircraft were serviceable. Prieto’s fellow socialist, Luis Araquisain, said that the real minister of air was the Russian general.
This was no exaggeration.
One of the most important issues of the Spanish Civil War is the payment of Soviet aid with the gold reserves of the Banco de Espana. Spain at the time had the fourth largest gold reserves in the world, due mainly to the commercial boom during the First World War. It would appear that Artur Stashevsky, a Russian economist, was the one who suggested to the minister of finance, Dr Juan Negrin, the idea of keeping ‘a current account in gold, in Moscow’. Madrid was threatened by the advance of the Army of Africa and this arrangement could be used to buy arms and raw materials. The gold would be converted into foreign exchange through the Banque Commerciale pour l’Europe du Nord, or Eurobank in Paris (both part of the Kremlin’s financial organization in France).
So the Republican government became effectively the dog being wagged by the Communist tail.
Into this situation came our hero. And given his propensity to go against the grain, to reject the received establishment, with whom do you think he threw in his lot in Spain? Not the Government, or the might of the Communist International Brigade. Not even the Anarchists, which you might have expected.
Instead, he threw in his lot with the P.O.U.M., the Partido Obrero Unificado Marxisto. This was not of Orwell’s choosing, it must be said. He was sent out to Spain as a correspondent under the auspices of those seekers after the Holy Grail of Socialism, the Independent Labour Party, a party particularly strong on Clydeside, a party with more than its fair share of Scottish cussedness, determined to show that it had more principles than Ramsay MacDonald but was not Moscow’s lapdog either.
After training at the Lenin Barracks in Barcelona, Orwell was sent to the Huesca front, where he joined the 26th (P.O.U.M.) Battalion of the Popular Front Army.
And there, one spring morning, he put his head above the parapet and was shot clean through the neck.
You would think a bullet through the neck would be fairly final. Especially centimetres to the left of the carotid artery. Had that been punctured, nothing could have saved him. But what happened was truly strange. As you may know, a bullet spins in flight. And as the bullet spun through Orwell’s neck, it cauterised the wound, leaving it infection -free. I find it one of the great ironies of literary history that a bullet from the Army of the great anti-Communist crusader, Franco, would nearly prove fatal to a far more successful anti-Communist, George Orwell.
Orwell was then evacuated, first to a hospital near Zaragoza, and then back to Barcelona. There to receive a hero’s welcome? Not a bit of it. Let Orwell tell the story himself, in what was his pivotal piece of writing ‘Homage to Catalonia’.
‘That afternoon, between three and four, I was half-way down the Ramblas when I heard several rifle shots behind me. I turned round and saw some youths, with rifles in their hands and the red and black handkerchiefs of the Anarchists round their throats, edging up a side-street that ran off the Ramblas northward. They were evidently exchanging shots with someone in a tall octagonal tower – a church, I think – that commanded the side-street. I thought instantly: ‘It’s started!’ But I thought it without any great feeling of surprise – for days past everyone had been expecting ‘it’ to start at any moment. I realized that I must get back to the hotel at once and see if my wife was all right. But the knot of anarchists round the opening of the side-street were motioning the people back and shouting to them not to cross the line of fire. More shots rang out. The bullets from the tower were flying across the street and a crowd of panic-stricken people was rushing down the Ramblas. Away from the firing; up and down the street you could hear the snap – snap – snap as the shopkeepers slammed the steel shutters over their windows. I saw two Popular Army officers retreating cautiously from tree to tree with their hands on their revolvers. In front of me the crowd was surging into the Metro station in the middle of the Ramblas to take cover. I immediately decided not to follow them. It might mean being trapped underground for hours.
The fighting went on for days, with Orwell lying on the roof of the telephone exchange, ready to open fire on members of the Guardia Civil on the roof of the cinema opposite.
The cause of this civil war within a civil war was the decision of the Valencia government to disarm all groups. To enforce this they would use the Guardia and the Communist -controlled P.S.U.C. militia. Obviously, to the Anarchists and the P.O.U.M. this looked like a coming genocide and fighting broke out all over Barcelona between one side and the other. The matter was finally settled by 6,000 Assault Guards arriving from Valencia and restoring order, but what is absolutely seminal to Orwell’s work was the aftermath.
‘I have tried to write objectively about the Barcelona fighting, though, obviously no one can be completely objective on a question of this kind. One is practically obliged to take sides, and it must be clear enough which side I am on. Again, I must inevitably have made mistakes of fact, not only here but in other parts of this narrative. It is very difficult to write accurately about the Spanish war, because of the lack of non-propagandist documents. I warn everyone against my bias, and I warn everyone against my mistakes. Still, I have done my best to be honest. But it will be seen that the account I have given is completely different from that which appeared in the foreign and especially the Communist press. It is necessary to examine the Communist version, because it was published all over the world, has been supplemented at short intervals ever since, and is probably the most widely accepted one.
In the Communist and pro-Communist press the entire blame for the Barcelona fighting was laid upon the P.O.U.M. The affair was represented not as a spontaneous outbreak, but as a deliberate, planned insurrection against the Government, engineered solely by the P.O.U.M. with the aid of a few misguided ‘uncontrollables’. More than this, it was definitely a Fascist plot, carried out under Fascist orders with the idea of starting civil war in the rear and thus paralysing the Government. The P.O.U.M. was ‘Franco’s fifth Column’ – a ‘Trotskyist’ organization working in league with the Fascists. According to the Daily Worker (11 May):
In other words, what was being prepared was a situation in which the German and Italian Governments could land troops or marines quite openly on the Catalan coasts, declaring that they were doing so ‘in order to preserve order’…….
The instrument for all this lay ready to hand for the Germans and Italians in the shape of the Trotskyist organization known as the P.O.U.M.
The P.O.U.M., acting in cooperation with well-known criminal elements, and with certain other deluded persons in the Anarchist organizations, planned, organized, and led the attack in the rear-guard, accurately timed to coincide with the attack on the front at Bilbao, etc etc.
The last sentence was light blue touch paper and retire immediately as far as Orwell’s subsequent life and career were concerned.
I could quote a great deal more, but this is clear enough. The P.O.U.M. was wholly responsible and the P.O.U.M. was acting under Fascist orders.
If you want corroboration of this, then the best authority on the Spanish Civil War is Antony Beevor. Here he is describing what was going on in the upper levels of the Spanish Republican Government.
‘On 9 May just after the ceasefire in Barcelona, Jose Diaz of the Party’s central committee advanced their strategy of deposing Largo Caballero and dealing ruthlessly with the P.O.U.M.. ‘The fifth column has been unmasked,’ he declaimed, ‘we need to destroy it ….. Some call themselves Trotskyists, which is the name used by many disguised Fascists who use revolutionary language in order to sow confusion. I therefore ask: If everyone knows this, if the government knows it, then why does it not treat them like Fascists and exterminate them pitilessly? It was Trotsky himself who directed the gang of criminals that derailed trains in the Soviet Union, carried out acts of sabotage in the large factories, and did everything possible to discover military secrets with the object of handing them over to Hitler and the Japanese imperialists.’
At a cabinet meeting on 15 May the Communist minister, Uribe, demanded on Moscow’s orders that the P.O.U.M. be suppressed and its leaders arrested.’
In the rest of ‘Homage to Catalonia’ Orwell launches into a fierce and detailed attack on the lies of the Communist press, asking for example if they believed an ILP stalwart such as Jimmy Maxton was ‘objectively a Fascist’.
The dilettante, work-shy, time-serving hack writer of uncertain honesty, had found his cause at last – THE TRUTH.
Not the ‘Road to Wigan Pier’ but the Road to Barcelona was his Road to Damascus.
The events in Barcelona had profound effects on Orwell, both immediate and long-term. The first was that the effective head of the P.O.U.M., Georges Kopp, had been arrested and a general round-up of P.O.U.M. members was in progress on generalised charges of suspicion of Trotskyism and assisting the Fascists by creating a revolt in the Republican rear.
The P.O.U.M. was regarded as a sister party by the ILP, who were Orwell’s sponsors, but not even a visit to Spain by Jimmy Maxton, the redoubtable M.P. for Glasgow Bridgeton, could secure the release of either Kopp or the ILP’s Barcelona representative, John McNair.
After sleeping rough at nights in bombed-out churches, Orwell, his wife Eileen, and other ILP-ers managed to make their way across the French border, not a day too late.
“What a show.” Wrote Orwell to Scottish Socialist Charlie Doran. “To think that we started off as heroic defenders of democracy and only six months later were Trotsky-Fascists, sneaking over the border with the police at our heels.”
But professionally, worse was to follow. On his return to London he was summoned to the Head Office of Victor Gollancz and told by a deputy that they would not want to publish anything whatever he produced.
All was gone now. The comfortable living peddling left-wing social tourism to the progressive middle-class, the childhood goal of the Eric, the Famous Writer, everything had been snuffed out. And Orwell had no doubt that Gollancz’s connections with Communist Party headquarters in King Street were the reason.
So let’s just pause a minute.
How would any of us have reacted in those circumstances? The hammer blows Orwell had received, both physical and metaphysical since he had veered from Gollancz’s idea of orthodoxy, might have been enough to make a dazed Orwell seek an obscure life as a village grocer.
But not a bit of it. The sun was about to rise for Eric Arthur Blair and make him one of the most influential writers of the 20th Century.
‘……said jesting Pilate’.
Keeping his ear to the ground was the owner of a publishing house which had had little success. This man was called Fred Warburg. He had contacts within the ILP. He knew of Orwell’s sacking by Gollancz. So the day after the sacking, Warburg wrote to Orwell asking if he would like to write about his Spanish experiences for him.
Now all the traits we have traced in Orwell came together in one volcanic outburst. His hatred for the new Communist orthodoxy was just as strong as for the orthodoxies of the Burma Police, Eton College and St Cyprian’s School. The anarchist could throw off the shackles of writing left-wing propaganda and write absolutely fearlessly about what he had observed – a revolution betrayed.
He had nothing to lose by kicking out cant and hypocrisy and going for the truth.
He wanted to call the book ‘Spilling the Spanish Beans’. But Warburg persuaded him to call it ‘Homage to Catalonia’.
Needless to say, his expose of the Communist role in subverting the cause of the Spanish Republic to further the ends of Stalin received absolute obloquy both from the usual direction of the ‘Daily Worker’ and also its sympathisers on other organs, such as the dear old harmless ‘The Listener’, which resurrected the claim that the P.O.U.M. was a Fascist fifth column. After representations by Orwell, the writer of that review was publicly rebuked by his Editor.
Perhaps because of the savaging by the literary establishment, perhaps because of the glut of books published about the Spanish War, ‘Homage to Catalonia’ did not sell spectacularly – only 700 copies – but what it did do was establish Orwell’s relationship with an alternative publisher who fell in with Orwell’s general philosophy during the coming Second World War – ‘neither supported the Government uncritically, nor opposed the war, nor swallowed the Russian myth’, as he explained in ‘Tribune’, the Socialist magazine of which he became editor during the War.
In the meantime he continued to use his not inconsiderable polemical skills to give his Communist opponents as much as they had dished out to him. Here he is in the essay ‘The Prevention of Literature’ describing the back-and-forth antics of the committed Communist writer in the period 1938-1941.
Consider, for example, the various attitudes, completely incompatible with one another, which an English Communist or ‘fellow-traveller’ had to adopt towards the war between Britain and Germany. For years before September 1939 he was expected to be in a continuous stew about ‘the horrors of Nazism’ and to twist everything he wrote into a denunciation of Hitler after September 1939, for 20 months, he had to believe that Germany was more sinned against than sinning, and the word ‘Nazi’, at least so far as print went, had to drop right out of his vocabulary. Immediately after hearing the 8 o’clock news bulletin on the morning of 22 June 1941, he had to start believing once again that Nazism was the most hideous evil the world had ever seen…… Political writing in our time consists almost entirely of pre-fabricated phrases bolted together like the pieces of a child’s Meccano set. It is the unavoidable result of self-censorship. To write in plain, vigorous language one has to think fearlessly, and if one thinks fearlessly, on cannot be politically orthodox.’
Clearly we have here a prototype for not only Squealer in ‘Animal Farm’, but also Doublethink and Newspeak in ‘1984’.
During the War, Orwell could not be called up due to the wound he had received in Spain. He did, however, become an enthusiastic Home Guard and there exists BBC archive footage of the Home Guard drilling with staves in Hyde Park, among whom is the tall, languid old Etonian.
In the early part of the War, Orwell earned his living in a building not far from Hyde Park, namely Broadcasting House. Some, indeed, see Broadcasting House’s architecture as the prototype for the Ministry of Truth in ‘1984’.
Certainly the all-pervading surrealism of Minitrue was reflected in Orwell’s job. He was Director of Literature Talks. Not on the Home Service. Not on the Third Programme, but on the Indian Empire Service of the BBC. Here he would rope in sundry literati – William Empson, or anybody with an Indian name – to address an audience in India which Orwell himself recognised probably only amounted to about two.
Among those Orwell managed to rope in to keep India on our side during the world conflict by panel discussions on ambiguity in the novels of Henry James, was on Thomas Stearnes Eliott. We will see shortly how Eliot repaid this.
I don’t want to go into all the possible roots that led to the flowering of ‘Animal Farm’, one of two great political satires written in prose by an Englishman.
You can go back to Aesop’s Fables.
You can go back to the Hooynyms in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’.
You can go back to the late 1930’s and the Spanish War veteran and unemployed writer Eric Blair running his smallholding with goats and other animals while running the village shop.
You can even bring in Darwin.
Suffice it to say that after all the batterings from Stalin’s literary henchmen, Truth finally spoke back to Power and delivered one almighty knock-out blow.
It is difficult to underestimate the power this book has had in combating Communism and indeed dictatorships of every kind. ‘Animal Farm’, I believe, was more effective in destroying Bolshevism than all Hitler’s armies put together – proof indeed that the pen is mightier than the sword.
Orwell’s marvellous bull’s eye gift for satire rained repeated blows on the betrayal of a revolution. I’m only going to take two examples to show how Orwell’s genius worked:
First let’s look at the flag of the new utopia:
‘On Sundays there was no work. Breakfast was an hour later than usual, and after breakfast there was a ceremony which was observed every week without fail. First came the hoisting of the flag. Snowball had found in the harness-room and old green tablecloth of Mrs Jones’s and had painted on it a hoof and a horn in white. This was run up the flagstaff in the farmhouse garden every Sunday morning. The flag was green, Snowball explained, to represent the green fields of England, while the hoof and horn signified the future Republic of the Animals which would arise when the human race had been finally overthrown.’
Now do you remember what I said right at the beginning about Orwell’s being the master of aphorism? ‘Animal Farm’ contains an aphorism which, like a lot of quotes from Shakespeare, has passed ineradicably into the English language: it epitomises the mourning for a lost revolution, the two-facedness of all Stalin’s apologists and asks the question whether it is possible to change society, let alone human beings, into something different from our ordinary human nature.
ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL
BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE
EQUAL THAN OTHERS
And of course there is the immortal ending, at the dinner given for Mr Pilkington by Comrade Napoleon.
‘No question now as to what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pigs to man and from man to pig, but already it was impossible to say which was which.’
But if Orwell thought he was going to get away with it without a fight, he was mistaken.
The long arm of Uncle Joe’s influence had lined up the usual suspects in order to stifle the book. Orwell let T S Eliot – remember the guy that Orwell got onto the talk show at the BBC – see the book. Eliot dismissed the book as ‘an amusing little squib’.
Orwell had to take the book to 13 publishers before eventually Frederick Warburg managed to get enough paper together to publish it.
To the chagrin of the literary establishment,’ Animal Farm’ proved an instant success. Reputedly, Queen Elizabeth sent her footman to get a copy. It spread like wildfire across the Atlantic.
It made Orwell a rich man in United States dollars. If we leave out the jibberings of various dictators, it became one of the best-selling books of the 20th Century. Its basic message – ‘a revolution betrayed’ – made – and continues to make – Orwell’s name famous throughout the world. It also made him rich. But would he live to enjoy those riches? Certainly after 1945 as his Literary success waxed, so his personal luck waned.
His wife, Eileen O’Shaughnessy, herself the sister of a top-class surgeon, went in for what was thought a routine operation in a Newcastle hospital and died without coming out of the anaesthetic. This left Eric Blair with the son they had adopted.
But his own health was on the wane…. His lungs were diseased by years of chain-smoking and in September 1946 he would take up the tenancy of Barnhill Farm on the Isle of Jura.
He had in fact planned years before with Eileen to move out into the country as other writers in his circle had and now on Jura he would have much cleaner air as the TB in his lungs worsened.
But not only his personal world, but the world at large was worsening around Orwell.
His sequel to ‘Animal Farm’ was ‘1984’ – and I think if we simply look at the title and the first page, we shall see its main features.
In the first place, the title ‘1984’ is a numerical palindrome. Yes, it does forecast what the world would be like in 1984. It picks up and projects trends Orwell had noticed and projects them into the future. But it is also 1948 – when the book was written – reversed.
It centres the book squarely in what was happening in the contemporary world. Stalin was busy destroying democracy and annexing Eastern Europe, his thugs throwing the Czech Prime Minister out of a prison window. Mao Tse Tung had seized China with the same ideology. And Orwell’s old foe, Franco, was still the reign in Spain.
Now let’s go to the first page: ‘And the clocks were striking thirteen.’ The world is meant to be a Utopia where the Goddess of Reason rules supreme. But it is dystopia, as we see from the contradictory details.
‘The hallway smelled of boiled cabbage and old rag mats. At one end of it a coloured poster, too large for indoor display, had been tacked to the wall. It depicted simply an enormous face, more than a metre wide: the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black moustache and ruggedly handsome features. Winston made for the stairs. It was no use trying the lift. Even at the best of times it was seldom working, and at present the electric current was cut off during daylight hours. It was part of the economy drive in preparation for Hate Week. The flat was seven flights up, and Winston, who was thirty-nine and had a varicose ulcer above his right ankle, went slowly, resting several times on the way. On each landing, opposite the lift shaft, the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran.’
And this is Orwell’s technique. He talks about the present. But he also predicts the future.
We could ask how even in a comparatively free country such as our own, his predictions are or could come true. Examples:
The telescreen CCTV
Newspeak Computer language / PC language
The division of the world into three great powers – Oceania (with Britain as Airstrip One), Eurasia and Eastasia.
But Orwell’s abilities as a prophet are not what we set out to discuss. The subject – I hope – we have pursued is the Truth and Mr Blair. For it was in the belief in Truth as an end in itself as a CONSTANT not a RELATIVE value that George Orwell continues to send out revelations into the world, a tall radio transmitter of a man still sending out the same message through all the phoney elections, mendacious propaganda and manipulators’ spin that we have had to listen to in my lifetime.
And if we don’t stand by that truth, Orwell makes the alternative very clear. Here, at the end of ‘1984’ is the conversation between Winston Smith and his inquisitor, O’Brien.
‘Do you remember,’ he went on, ‘writing in your diary, “Freedom is he freedom to say that two plus two makes four”?
‘Yes,’ said Winston.
‘O’Brien held up his left hand, its back towards Winston, with the thumb hidden and the four fingers extended.
‘How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?’
‘And if the Party says that it is not four but five – then how many?’
The word ended in a gasp of pain. The needle of the dial had shot up to fifty-five. The sweat had sprung out all over Winston’s body. The air tore into his lungs and issued again in deep groans which even by clenching his teeth he could not stop. O’Brien watched him, the four fingers still extended. He drew back the lever. This time the pain was only slightly eased.
‘How many fingers, Winston?’
The needle went up to sixty.
‘How many fingers, Winston?’
‘Four! Four! What else can I say? Four!’
The needle must have risen again, but he did not look at it. The heavy, stern face and the four fingers filled his vision. The fingers stood up before his eyes like pillars, enormous, blurry and seeming to vibrate, but unmistakably four.
‘How many fingers, Winston?’
‘Four! Stop it, stop it! How can you go on? Four! Four!’
‘How many fingers, Winston?’
‘Five! Five! Five!’
No Winston, that is no use. You are lying. You still think thee are four. How many fingers, please?’
‘Four! Five! Four! Anything you like. Only stop it, stop the pain!’
Fortunately, the pain has stopped in some regimes, only to spring eternal in others.
But now tuberculosis was getting the better of Eric Arthur Blair.
He left Jura for Hairmyres Hospital in East Kilbride.
He became a gaunt and lonely figure. He would propose marriage to almost any woman he met.
Eventually he met Sonia Brownell, a young woman who circulated in the literary world, and they were married in University College Hospital, London with the groom in a deep crimson smoking jacket, propped up in bed, with beside him his friend Malcolm Muggeridge as best man. The groom was 46, the bride 31.
Eric Blair’s lung haemorrhaged on the night of 21st January 1950 and he died at once and alone. He had asked to be buried according to the rites of the Church of England.
Some years ago I visited Orwell’s grave in Sutton Courtenay churchyard in Oxfordshire,
I didn’t know if a prayer was appropriate. But what I did say was this:
They’re all gone now – Stalin and Hitler, Franco and all their isms that proclaimed their own immortality. They didn’t win. You did.