Tag Archives: Homage to Catalonia

Thought Crimes

Today, Wednesday 25 June, was George Orwell’s birthday. While always unlikely that someone with a love of such strong tobacco would make it to the age of 100 – never mind 111 – we at ten minutes hate see no reason not to mark the occasion.

Make an incredibly intense pot of tea, or pour out a dram or three of Jura and join us in saying, ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. Orwell!’

TokyoRich:

1. What do you admire about George Orwell?

I feel the same way about George Orwell as I do about Tony Benn. Both are posh gits done well. They really set an example for anyone that has a conscience. A lot of the time, class conflict, north vs south, developed world vs. emerging economies and the like are painted as issues that have rigid boundaries, which creates unnecessary prejudices. Going back to Marx, one of the cheapest shots at him is that he was funded by Engels who enjoyed the fruits of capitalism because of his businesses. What Orwell, Benn and Engels show though, is that if you have the right attitude — a conscience about global injustices — and are willing to take the time to create a critical framework through which to view the world, your background doesn’t, and shouldn’t, matter.

2. What is your favourite Orwell book?

In nonfiction, Homage to Catalonia really tore away the romanticism of the Spanish Civil War for me, which was important.

Keep the Aspidistra Flying was a great piece of fiction. Perhaps it isn’t a masterpiece, but the way it deals with armchair socialism is entertaining and still makes me feel guilty.

3. Do you have a favourite image of Orwell?

No favourite image.

4. What is your favourite quote from Orwell?

My desk at work.

public relations

Our Man in Abiko:

1. What do you admire about George Orwell?

I can’t remember now whether it was Orwell or Mark Twain that turned me on to the possibilities of writing, I often confuse the two. Both were at heart journalists, both armed with a keen eye for hypocrisy and a matter-of-fact style that targeted pretension as much as injustice. When I read Orwell, I think “I want to write like this.” And yet I can’t, at least not as well. But that doesn’t stop me from trying.

2. What is your favourite Orwell book?

I like his essays the most. Why I Write should be required reading for anyone with an interest in the written word and adding a few of their own.

3. Do you have a favourite image of Orwell?

He wasn’t the most photogenic. When I try to picture his face, all I can see are the tea-ring stained white and orange covers of the ’60s Penguin paperback editions on my Dad’s shelf. That’s what he looks like to me.

4. What is your favourite quote from Orwell?

“As I write, highly civilised human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.” (The opening line of The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius.)

John Maguire:

1. What do you admire about George Orwell?

I admire the fact that Orwell was a master craftsman who loved his work. He wrote with conviction, passion and authenticity. His writing questions, provokes and encourages the reader to think.

2. What is your favourite Orwell book?

Keep the Aspidistra Flying, a socially critical exploration of opting out of the system. I think this really resonated with me because at the time I was working in a bookstore and writing poetry like the main protagonist Gordon Comstock. I also had a somewhat romantic vision of the writing life, I still have rose-tinted glasses but prefer contact lenses these days.

3. Do you have a favourite image of Orwell?

A photograph taken in 1946 by Veina Richards. I love the way he is looking at his son with such pride.

George Orwell

4. What is your favourite quote from Orwell?

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

J. C. Greenway:

1. What do you admire about George Orwell?

I think, following on from what Rich said above, it is the way he broke free of his upbringing. Men of Orwell’s class weren’t meant to speak out about the injustices of the world and give the unheard a voice, they were bred to do a job and to keep quiet about any unsavory aspects of it. He recalls in his essays being quite taken with Kipling’s tales of Empire-building as a child and in The Lion and The Unicorn muses that in more peaceful times he might have been a vicar.

Yet he was transformed by Burma, Wigan and Spain into something far beyond the imaginings of the average Old Etonian. He actively sought out situations and people that he wasn’t familiar or comfortable with to broaden his view of the world and to inform his writing. I think that is why he has remained so relevant today.

2. What is your favourite Orwell book?

The Road to Wigan Pier. Although they were a few miles up the road from Wigan, the book echoes the stories my family told of the ‘Hungry Thirties’: terrified of the sack, hiding from the rent man, unable to afford the doctor for anything that wasn’t imminently life-threatening. My own grandfather and his brother walked from Liverpool to London and the South Coast to find work. And yet theirs was a world unknown to most outside the Northern industrial centres.

Orwell’s gift is to take the myths created to keep the system running – miners keeping coal in their baths, the Dole being so high it encouraged the poor to marry – and destroy them with calm analysis and journalistic style, while never losing his compassion for those trapped within.

3. Do you have a favourite image of Orwell?

Having attempted to make tea according to the steps laid down in ‘A Nice Cup of Tea’, it has to be this one.

george-orwell-drinking-tea

4. What is your favourite quote from Orwell?

“Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Mark Woff:

1. What do you admire about George Orwell?

Orwell taking a bullet in the neck for anti-fascism is a source of inspiration. I also admire his understated, dry humour.

For balance,  I am not so keen on the ex-policeman’s liking for lists of wrongdoers. I suppose I can understand where he was coming from, but still.

2. What is your favourite Orwell book?

Inside the Whale and other essays… tied with 1984, of course!

3. Do you have a favourite image of Orwell?

orwellcigtea

4. What is your favourite quote from Orwell?

“Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style.” (Politics and the English Language)

 

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Victory Cigarettes for all!

Marine putting health in danger

Marine putting health in danger

US Forces in war zones are not going to be banned from smoking, as the Pentagon is worried that to do so might add to their stress.   Smoking rates are ‘thought to be as high as 50%’ among those returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.  I’m amazed they are that low.

There is a telling quote from the photographer who took the Pulitzer Prize-winning picture above, here:

I flashed back to the chaos of combat in Falluja. In the tight spaces, we were scared mindless. Everybody dragged deeply on cigarettes.

Managing to quit the demon weed earlier in the year might allow me to feel a little smug about a ban, however I would imagine that if I were to find myself in either ‘theatre’ of war with a lack of vital equipment and a vague sense of not knowing what the heck I was doing there, my replacement vice of nail-biting might not be enough to keep me from going AWOL or blowing a hole in my own foot to get sent home.

What the IOM are missing is that the logic of protecting a soldier’s health from things that might kill them in later years is redundant if not part of a package of measures designed to protect them from the elements that are trying to kill them on a daily basis.  Most would probably rather play the odds on emphysema and lung cancer while remaining really quite fundamentally against IEDs, snipers and suicide bombers.

Plus, the killjoys are failing to grasp another essential truth: war is hell, but war without cigarettes is a dismal pit of despair.  War and cigarettes go together like strawberries and cream.  Even having your legs blown off is something that a good Woodbine can assist with:

Crippled for life at seventeen,
His great eyes seem to question why:
With both legs smashed it might have been
Better in that grim trench to die
Than drag maimed years out helplessly.

A child – so wasted and so white,
He told a lie to get his way,
To march, a man with men, and fight
While other boys are still at play.
A gallant lie your heart will say.

So broke with pain, he shrinks in dread
To see the ‘dresser’ drawing near;
And winds the clothes about his head
That none may see his heart-sick fear.
His shaking, strangled sobs you hear.

But when the dreaded moment’s there
He’ll face us all, a soldier yet,
Watch his bared wounds with unmoved air,
(Though tell-tale lashes still are wet),
And smoke his woodbine cigarette.

‘Pluck’ by Eva Dobell

Those First World War generals might have been murderous bastards who thought nothing of sending half a generation of men to their deaths before breakfast, but even they would have balked at stopping the tobacco rations.  It is likely that the non-smoking soldiers would also complain, as my Grandad’s tales of bargaining his ration in the Second one for everything from extra days leave to a new pair of boots can attest to.  Stop the smoking and the entire unofficial economy of the army collapses, and with it morale.

A final word, as ever, to Mr Orwell, who in Homage to Catalonia proclaimed tobacco to be one of the five essential needs of a soldier at the front.  (The other four being firewood, food, candles and the enemy).  I hope the IOM take note:

The use of tobacco in field hospitals is to be recommended … on account of its sedative qualities. No one can doubt that it has a soothing effect on men suffering from the pain of wounds, and produces a state of calm which is very beneficial under the circumstances … Perhaps none of the presents from aid societies as in time of war have been so much appreciated in hospitals as the presents of tobacco …

 

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Bastards

You can look back to the thirties and forties and think how much easier it was then, when the bad guys wore the hooked cross so lusted over by the toffs and the good guys were the ones who were against those guys, by whatever means were available to them.

Yet a look beneath the surface shows a time that was as conflicted as our own.  For instance, Orwell thought he could tell the difference between friend and foe when he headed to the front in  Spain – by the time he made the return journey in an ambulance he had been taught by events not to assume that his own ‘side’ were any less dangerous than the nominal enemy across the valley.  Naturally sympathetic to the causes of the left after his experiences in the pits around Wigan and the kitchens of Paris, he came to despise both the be sandalled socialists and the jackbooted communists who suppressed with enthusiastic ruthlessness the anarchist militias he fought with against the fascists.  He was no respecter of the adage that the enemy of your enemy is your friend, recognising that the enemy of your enemy is just the next arsehole on the list to be dealt with once you have finished kicking the main pig.

‘He may be a bastard, but he’s OUR bastard’

is not a thought that ever crossed Orwell’s mind, or so I think.  Nor would he have enjoyed the sight of tracksuit wearing secret police on our streets, imported from China like knock off Gucci handbags.  Or the vision of the Labour party walking around on two legs trying to convince us that they are the autocratic masters, while the Tories trot around on four, snuggling up to hoodies, trees, Shami Chakrabati and anything else that looks like it needs a hug.

What the people of this land should realise is that if we stop shooting, knifing, cheating and dragging each other onto the Jeremy Kyle show for a good shout, stop paying any attention whatsoever to Kerry Katona and the latest skid in her car crash of a life and instead, say, started taking out Cabinet Ministers in hand-to-hand combat, we would pathetically quickly gain the upper hand.  Those Kevlar vests they wear still leave a few major arteries open to the imagination.  Imagine Harriet Harman taking a Hummer trip around her constituency because she cannot be protected from us any other way.  Imagine Ed Balls fleeing from the kids’ playground because those same kids are chasing him off their turf, intent on pounding him with baseball bats.  I wonder if you can?

Let’s make them fear us for a change, Britain.
Let’s give them sleepless nights instead

Don’t lie there worrying about your mortgage payments; ponder which one of Brown’s bull-shitting bastards you would like to take out first.  Let them see that power brings consequences other than a shed-load of free John Lewis furnishings, great responsibility other than making sure your kids have a job for life.  Well, you can keep the £4,000 a-roll wallpaper, Lord Chancellor, but with it comes a free Battle Royale style death match involving both Houses on Canvey Island. Last wo/man standing gets to rule.  Perhaps it would also follow that seeing their backbench colleagues brutally massacred by feral teens would make them less keen on creating carnage in other people’s backyards?

Instead of Gladiators, let’s see Brown and Cameron really battle it out: just how bad do you want it, fella?  Dave, want to see a wind turbine on every roof so much that you will gouge out Gordon’s other eye to triumph?  Come on, Ken, now that there’s nothing to lose, let’s see how much of a class warrior you really are. I hear the argument that the landed gentry fight dirty and have been doing so for generations, but have always felt that in a street fight Red Ken would be naturally adept at the no-holds-barred style – after all, you can’t be that close to Stalin and Castro without picking up a few tricks.  Boris pleading, claiming to be a lover not a fighter, while the newt-fancier stomps on the usurper’s crown jewels might be the best, most crowd pleasing way to decide a future Mayoral contest since Dick Whittington started talking to his cat.

I for one am sick of a no-choice vote deciding between competing mediocrities

I think it is possible that you, my fellow electors, are with me on this.  Dwindling turnouts cannot only be blamed on a clash with a crucial episode of Eastenders.  What is the point of getting off the couch to mark an X if all it serves to do is duck out of taking responsibility for another few years?  Where is the incentive when 862,415 Irish voters can say they don’t want something and their rulers decide that actually, in fact, they do?  Whaaat? is never happy advocating violence and I am sure there will be a lengthy editorial disclaimer somewhere about leaving minister’s arteries alone (Eh?  Oh, yes.  Very bad.  Absolutely – Ed) but perhaps, just this once, it is time to act with aggression.  Our marching taught them nothing.  They need to be shown that they can no longer rely on the passivity of our implied goodwill.

Four hundred years after the last one, Britain needs to reclaim the brand of civil war she has been exporting in recent years and set it free to run amok on her own streets.  Violence is a game we are playing from Basra to Kandahar – why should Basingstoke and Kensington miss out?  Except that we are not going to turn brother against brother, putting fellow victims up against the wall: it is going to be strictly US v. THEM – the ones who presume to rule us based on flimsy margins, taken out by an electorate that have taken enough.  They have squandered the peace our grandparents bought for them and in return given us nothing but penury, cronyism and state interference.

We have been complacent for too long; it is time to discover if there is sand underneath the cobble stones after all…

First published September 2008 in issue two of whaaat?

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