Encountering Orwell

A terrified Ten-year-old - Hugh Morrison

Edward CraneComment

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My first encounter with Orwell was in 1981, as a ten year old schoolboy. I remember my teacher reading out the first chapter of '1984' in class, as an example of 'grown up' writing that some of us might like to try, and the bit about the clocks striking thirteen stuck in my mind.

Intrigued, I borrowed my father's Penguin paperback copy of the book, and started to read it. My mother thought it was unsuitable and that I was too young to appreciate it, which I realise now was probably true.

I remember the abiding sense of horror I felt at the idea of a world completely cut off from its own past; its inhabitants totally subject to the will of an almighty dictator. I somehow got the idea that the Thought Police could actually read one's thoughts, which was also a terrifying idea.

I also began to worry that the whole prophesy might come true in the following three years, until my sister (who had also read the book) pointed out that in the book, Big Brother had arisen in the 1960s. This reassured me a little, but I read on with great trepidation...

Wigan Pier and the 'Bedroom Tax' - Robert Price

Edward CraneComment

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I have recently read Animal Farm and The Road to Wigan Pier. What struck me overall was just how relevant his writing remains today.

Animal Farm is a cautionary tale that stays with me. The reason it does so is not only the relevance but the art within it. Because the art of the message is so unique, it allows for easy recall of the same events that are so relevant today. North Korea, Zimbabwe, Syria, to name but a few. The book illustrates the transition from well intentioned communism to the destructiveness of totalitarianism. The greed of man has ever been thus.

I was drawn to The Road to Wigan Pier very recently, when it was referred to in an article in The Guardian, that addressed inequality today. I found the split into two parts very interesting. The first part evidence based, the second more political opinion, it is a masterpiece of literature combined with politics. The descriptions of difficult lives in the 1930s led me to read Walter Greenwood's Love On The Dole, a work referred to here by Orwell. It is, put very simply, heart-wrenching.

Earlier in the book, Orwell refers to the 'evil' of a benefit removal whereby an elderly parent and his or her sibling/s cannot each claim benefit under one roof, therefore the parent has to move to lodgings, where all his retained benefit is taken by the landlord and he is left half starved. I could not help draw a comparison with this and today's 'bedroom tax'.

Orwell balances the sometimes atrocious lives of those in the urban communities with the touching understanding of the need of the inhabitants to remain. A sense of belonging that failed to materialise in the new outer suburb council housing.

I do not profess to be well read or any expert in literature whatsoever. All that I can say is that, through his unique literary style, Orwell made me think, very hard, about what fairness, justice and equality REALLY means. I salute him.

The Ministry of Information - Charles Cawley

Edward CraneComment

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I have an odd perspective.

My Great Uncle, Sir Kenneth Lee was, for a short time, head of the Ministry of Information in the early '40s. After several months, according to his sister Vivienne, he found he could not stomach the job.

I was unaware of this when I first read 1984. It informed the rest of my life and led to some quite unpleasant exchanges as an undergraduate philosophy student in the latter part of the 1970s. The words the lecturers used appeared to be determining the outcome of all their arguments. If you accepted that double speak, there was no freedom of thought.

All the time, Orwell was looking over my shoulder. He is a hero. Due to him learnt more from my university days leaving as well educated as my degree was poor. I am told it was the lowest second class degree ever awarded by that, now, disbanded department.

The influence of Orwell continued throughout my working life and my present day campaigns against bad management and 'leadership correctness' in the business world are a continuation of the influence of those few hours of reading 1984 in the early '70s.

If you let double speak into your mind it can determine how you think because the connotations and hidden implications of words can spread like a virus destroying common sense, reducing decency to callous indifference.

I suspect my Great Uncle who, ironically, left about £1m to that university in the late 1960s, would have been pleased, had he known what I was up to. Thank you George Orwell.