Tag Archives: Wigan Pier

George Orwell – English Rebel

George Orwell English Rebel

George Orwell – English Rebel
By Robert Colls
Oxford University Press – £25.00

In ‘Last of England,’ the penultimate chapter of this refreshingly vibrant and all round excellent new book, George Orwell – English Rebel, its author Robert Colls writes: ”[…] Orwell’s best hope is a woman, and his England begins to look increasingly feminine after 1940. Being inside a whale (and what a whale) is like being inside a womb.”

To what extent the reader will emphatically agree or perhaps disagree with such a double-edged thought process – is surely open to debate. For like many an Orwellianism (and there were many), there’s no denying its translucent sentiment and quintessential complex clarification. What’s more, it’s just a tiny tip of a literary iceberg that readily brims with the ”crystal spirit” of Orwell’s idiosyncratic writing(s) and complicated, if not sanguine, personal life – a life delicately reflected upon throughout (”Their wedding menu was splendidly English: Roast Aylesbury Duckling and Sherry Cream Trifle. In 1938 they submitted photographs to the British Consulate prior to their trip to Marrakech. He looks handsome and she looks pretty, both in an an English film-star sort of way”).

Indeed, from his early frustrating days at Eton to the eye-opening five years in Burma; from his overtly influential Wigan period through to Barcelona and Catalonia; from the Luftwaffe filled skies of London during the Blitz to the twentieth century classic that is Nineteen Eighty Four, these eight chapters make for nigh mesmerising reading. And they’re so dense yet compact. So pivotal yet simultaneously objective.

Admittedly, I haven’t read every book on Orwell – who has? But English Rebel is as much a stimulating read as it is inspiring. Although more importantly, it’s acutely informative.

According to Melvyn Bragg: ”Rob Colls has taken on the man’s Englishness, his personality, warts and all, and the elusive notion that he was a rebel in his own land.”

I can’t help but agree, as from the very first chapter ‘Angry Old Etonian,’ the author immediately leans towards said rebellious notion wherein he most adroitly writes: ”He loathed nationalism, but defined Englishness for a generation. He was an enemy of the right, but had little to say in favour of the left. He was no friend of the left, but tried to work within it. He was violently opposed to totalitarianism, but had little interest in political parties. He didn’t write well about women but tried, in one novel at least, to write about being a woman, and in his last novel he invested his best hope, such as it was, in one woman and (almost) all women. He did not trust intellectuals, but mixed with them, was one himself, and never tried to pretend otherwise, though sometimes he conveniently forgot the fact.”

The final line here, does suggest that Colls isn’t afraid to shoot from the hip so to speak, although one cannot help but commend the ever so deft consideration of the above. As it’s all true.

George Orwell was, and to a certain degree, remains, all that which the author has written – and a whole lot more besides; which, in a round-a-bout sort of way, is re-confirmed a little later in ‘Angry Old Etonian’: ”Orwell was against all the major world systems of his day, including nationalism and Catholicism. Apart from an early gut attraction to a sort of folk Marxism where ‘the oppressed are always right and the oppressors are always wrong,’ he did not believe in political ideologies either.”

The latter is perhaps a little ironic, especially given that Orwell is still considered (by many) to be ”the most significant British political writer of the twentieth century.” In and of itself, this continues to be re-substantiated in countless ways. One of which is the simple fact that he has an entire square named after him in Barcelona – a wonderful, yet inexorable/political/contentious hotspot in Catalonia/Spain if ever there was one.

Replete with eighteen black and white plates in the middle of the book, these 235 pages are, to once again quote Bragg: ”full of zesty prose, fine insights, and a freshness of interpretation which made it a pleasure to read. It’s a major achievement and a major work on George Orwell.”

That, it most definitely is.

To say George Orwell – English Rebel packs a mighty mean punch to the political solar plexus of both naïve distraction and myopic conformity, is a colossal understatement. Then again, as a publication, it is helped along its way by the simple fact that it’s subject ”believed that telling the truth was a revolutionary act.”

David Marx


The North (And Almost Everything In It)


The North

(And Almost Everything In It)

By Paul Morley

Bloomsbury Publishing – £20.00

I remember meeting Paul Morley at a magazine launch in London a number of years back, and even then, I always remember him as being extremely serious. The sort of person to whom laughter wasn’t second nature, who wouldn’t suffer fools gladly; whose high-octane, social observational antenna, sliced through the room; as if on a mission of some sort of sought after reprisal.

All of which I have to say, sometimes bubbles to the surface of this partially poignant, yet relentlessly powerful, and at times, perplexing book.

In truth, The North (And Almost Everything In It) is all things one has come to expect from Morley the cultural commentator, seasoned broadcaster and all-round, shimmering pop svangali.

For a start, it’s poignant because he writes of his childhood in such a way that on more than several occasions, reminds us of our own. For instance, in Part Two: ‘Through No Fault Of My Own,’ he writes: ”I did not have a fighting mentality, tended to be bullied rather than the bullier, and so never developed any strutting, threatening northern hard-man qualities and the sense that surviving in the world could be done through demonstrating toughness in the way you walked, talked, smoked, drank and, if necessary, hit someone. I was not cut out to be any sort of warrior or even any sort of niggly, annoying local hooligan, let alone an off-colour unblushing pub poet who did all his gruff rhyming, considering and slagging-off over a hard-earned pint.”

The slight juxtaposition between honesty and observation herein, hits the mark to such a nigh blatant degree, that it is no longer a juxtaposition. But rather, literary bed-partners, of the all confessional persuasion – that just happens to be one thread of contemplative thought throughout the entire book. As equally aligned with that of all confessional persuasion, is an astute journalistic portrayal of The North and (literally) almost everything in it.

To be sure, think of The North and everything that that conjures up, and you can bet your worst and most profound of pitiful of northern accents, that Morley will have mentioned it herein. From Eccles Cakes to Echo and The Bunneymen, the author has left absolutely no Mancunianesque stone unturned.

As already mentioned, these 559 pages are just as equally powerful as they are perhaps perplexing. Powerful, because the information laid forth is so dense, if not seemingly didactic. Perplexing, simply because of the colourful variance and the trajectory of the subject mattter.

Not to mention the varying twists and shouts thereof.

Said variance is somewhat substantiated in Part Three, ’13 June 1963,’ where Morley actually embarks upon a minor dissertation of the aforementioned Eccles Cake; which not only touches upon northern history, but the economic influence as well as the ideology behind its history: ”It is thought that the original Eccles cake recipe came from the remarkable and highly accomplished Doncaster-born Mrs Elizabeth Raffald’s (nee Whitaker) influential The experienced English housekeeper – for the use and ease of ladies, housekeepers and cooks, one of the most successful cookery books of the eighteenth century, published in 1769. Written in robust direct language that still seems clear and useful today, it included advice about how to spin sugar and thoughts about wine […]. She was a shrewd and enterprising living metaphor for how Manchester and surrounding districts accelerated into the nineteenth century and beyond, anticipating how there would be demand for new sorts of trades, services and financial exchanges, and how people with new money would crave novel tastes, pleasures, opportunities and venues. Business – and people being busy – would require new forms of finding, inventing and enjoying leisure pursuits […]. Elizabeth Raffald had incredible will power and the imagination and desire to inspire change. She was an early participant in and an inspiration to the spiritual, cultural and commercial transformation of northern life. It is fitting that something of her fortitude and vivacity has survived (a memorial plaque near Marks & Spencer in Manchester’s Shambles Square was destroyed in the IRA bomb attack of 1996) even if it is nothing more than a pastry that is often made so badly it might have been baked during her lifetime. A theatrical reverberation of her confidence, knowledge and power also lingers in the women of Coronation Street.”

From the overt saturation of the personal, to the journalistic/jingoistic clout of nigh every northern notion possible – be it George Formby, Fred Perry or football; Harold Wilson, Wigan Pier or workhouses; Crewe, Coronation Street or A Clockwork Orange; The Beatles, The Buzzcocks or Blackpool; Peter Sutcliffe, The Swinging Blue Jeans or The Smiths – The North (And Almost Everything In It) balances upon the poetic precipice betwixt that of northern induced eulogy and eccentricity.

It’s a terrific read and dare I say it, almost magical, if not momentous in execution.

David Marx