Friday, May 28, 2010

Vox populi

I'd sort of lost touch with the Orwell diaries blog (which tracks George Orwell's diary from seventy years ago, day by day), since, well, the guy did have a thing for the minutiae of his garden.

Exhibit A, the last entry before the most recent one:

I think a little rain in the night. All day overcast, with sometimes fine mist almost amounting to rain, but not exactly cold. Mended the fence, which cannot be done completely as there are not enough stakes. Planted out 1 doz. largish lettuces got from T. (2d dozen). Uncovered the little ones. Let the tadpoles go, as not certain how many days I shall be away. Gave the grass a quick cut. Leeks are just showing. Some apple blossom showing in some gardens. Find it is held locally that there is always a frost at the full moon (ie. in May) & people sow their runners with reference to this.

15 eggs.

Don't get me wrong: this is all interesting in many ways, and I can see why one might want to keep such information for posterity. And, indeed, it provides a fascinating insight into the more everyday interests of someone we tend to associate with mere Big Ideas.

And I feel a special sympathy for this kind of thing at a time when the world outside the pages of the diary in question are falling apart.

I have a very fond memory (and a video somewhere) of my mother reading through her own wartime diary for 6 June 1944 (at which time she was 17 years old and living in Newton Abbot, near Britain's south coast, an area that had until that day been swarming with American soldiers--among them the man who would later become her husband).

Her entry for that fateful day went, as I recall, something like this:

Washed hair. Bought a new dress. The invasion has begun.

In that order. I mean: priorities are, I suppose, priorities.

So I can see where Orwell was coming from with his tadpole, lettuce, leek and bean fixation.

But, you know, day after day, it becomes a bit...wearing.

So, it was a pleasure to find the most recent entry beginning to have a bit of action and an insight into history in the wider sense as it was lived (the spring of 1940 being one with, you know, rather a lot going on beyond the garden wall).

Such as:

This is the first day on which newspaper posters are definitely discontinued… Half of the front page of the early Star[1] devoted to news of the Belgian surrender, the other half to news to the effect that the Belgians are holding out and the King is with them. This is presumably due to paper shortage. Nevertheless of the early Star’s eight pages, six are devoted to racing.


People talk a little more of the war, but very little. As always hitherto, it is impossible to overhear any comments on it in the pubs, etc. Last night, E.[3] and I went to the pub to hear the 9 o’c news. The barmaid was not going to have it on if we had not asked her, and to all appearances nobody listened.

Indeed. I tend to think that if D-Day happened tomorrow, the following day's edition of the Sun would still feature a topless page 3 girl being quoted as saying how exciting she finds a day at the beaches.

It's that kind of country world.


mikeovswinton said...

15 eggs? He hadn't eaten that many had he?

John Carter Wood said...

He seems to have been more interested in selling them.

mikeovswinton said...

He wasn't involved in the -ahem - informal economy, was he?

KB Player said...

Orwell's entries point out the indifference of the Great British Public to what was happening and was aghast, but later he thought it might have been a sign of sanity. They couldn't do much about it, so why not go on with normal life as far as possible?

John Carter Wood said...

That's interesting: I'd be interested in seeing those comments. Where/when did he write that?

Oh, yes, there's much to be said for not getting too wrapped up in the news. I notice that my own level of news obsession has been waning recently, partly because of a need to focus on some things closer to home, partly, perhaps, because of what we might call middle-aged disillusionment.

Although 'sanity' sounds much better, I think.

Still, there's a difference between carrying on as normal and not even managing a basic interest in things (rather important things) going on not all that far away, isn't there?

Or may I just slip further into Not Caring with a clean conscience.

Sure would make things easier.

John Carter Wood said...


Sounds like he was: although in wartime different rules apply, don't they?

Those were Victory Eggs.

Our George was just doing his bit for democracy.

mikeovswinton, slightly shocked said...

Sorry John. The glory that is Wikipedia has Mr Blair bang to rights. Rationing of Heggs was introduced in January 1940. Mr Eric "George Orwell" Blair was a -drum roll, cymbal crash - spiv. Victory eggs or whatever, he was no better than that Private Walker on Dad's Army.