As part of the Orwell Society’s participation in London Bridge Live 2017
we invited responses from travellers. Here is one.
George Orwell and Me
I have always been an avid reader so when, aged 11, I was searching for some more challenging material, my Dad handed me George Orwell’s Animal Farm to read. At that age, I read it on a superficial level but enjoyed it none the less. My Dad was born the year that Orwell published Nineteen Eighty-Four, and that and Animal Farm are books he often quotes from. I haven’t read Orwell since that age; however, my interest was re-awoken by the readings of his work at London Bridge station in October.
As part of improving the customer experience, Network Rail have been organising a series of artistic events at London Bridge to showcase the marvellous concourse which is emerging as part of the Thameslink project. Working within the communications team, I was lucky enough to be invited along.
Richard Blair, George Orwell’s son, explained that London Bridge was significant to his father, as he lived in a doss house on Tooley Street while he immersed himself in life as a tramp for three weeks as research for his book Down and Out in Paris and London. I admire the dedication this showed to write accurately about a subject he was so passionate about.
Richard read aloud one of Orwell’s essays, entitled ‘Hop-picking’, which was published in 1931. This was selected because London Bridge was one of the main stations that people from London’s East End used to travel, down to Kent to pick the hops. There was also a reading by Quentin Kopp, son of Orwell’s commander in the Spanish Civil War, who read an excerpt from Orwell in Spain.
Quentin Kopp, reading. Richard Blair to his left.
Following the event, I was inspired to research Orwell’s life and works further. Growing up in an age where people couldn’t wait to sit down and watch ‘Big Brother’, I was astounded to learn that it was a term Orwell coined in his book Nineteen Eighty-Four, along with ‘Room 101’ and ‘Thought Police’. This shows just how relevant his work remains today.
What I found particularly of interest, being a writer myself, were George’s tips for writing:
(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech you are used to seeing in print.
(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.
(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
While these rules are not intended for literary use of the language, they are advisable to follow if you wish to communicate something clearly and objectively; a must in my role on the communications team.
Richard has limited memories of his father, because he was little more than a toddler when he died of tuberculosis, aged just 46, but he has set up the Orwell Society so that everyone can understand and appreciate Orwell’s work. I asked Richard what he thought his father would think of the world today and he said that in many fundamental ways, little has changed since Orwell was writing in terms of people reporting on things that suit their own agendas.
I’ll leave it there as I am off to immerse myself in Nineteen Eighty-Four. I hope to meet other Orwell fans at the unveiling of a life-sized bronze statue of Orwell outside Broadcasting House next month.
Many thanks to Richard and Quentin for reintroducing me to one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century.
Uploaded 5th November 2017.