During the final years of my high school from about 1974 to 1977, I became an avid reader. I was well and truly hooked on all sorts of pulp adventure novels. I discovered Sven Hassel and Leo Kessler pulp war stories. I then began to drift into sci-fi and fantasy. Some of these writers were Andre Norton and Edgar Rice Burrows. There were, of course, many more. After a while, I got snooty and decided that these things were pulp and I should be reading more acclaimed written works. This was very wrong of me. I hold my hands up. It was just me being the very young me.
During our English literature classes, at school we had a teacher who managed to fuel us with enthusiasm for reading. She was not too strict yet was able to control a classroom of adolescent boys very well. Every one of us would be reading the same book during the English literature lesson. Even those who read slowly. None of us mocked our fellow student because the teacher had managed to instil a belief and confidence that the only way to improve one’s voice and confidence was to go through the ordeal of reading in class in front of all. It worked. Gradually the slow and less confident readers became less inhibited and the reading began to flow to an extent that all of us lads were chomping at the bit to read. We were doing it for ourselves.
Our school English teacher was named Mrs Foster and she had a flowing way of speaking. Sometimes she would stop us mid-way through reading and ask us questions concerning characterisation or what we thought might be the author’s aim of a certain type of narrative or dialogue. She began to draw our attention to metaphors, personification and things like onomatopoeia. She highlighted points that were so obvious, yet I could never see the wood for the trees.
We read many classics like Charles Dickens, John Wyndham, George Orwell, Anne Frank, and John Steinbeck. The list, of course went far beyond. I name but a few. For me this was a very happy time because I felt as though I was being brought alive. It was like a grand coming of age. I had never had the time to indulge myself and read such books. It seemed like a laborious thing to do. Really I was too blooming lazy.
However, these English lessons became an absolute joy to me. We had to do, at least one lesson of English, and one of Maths, every school day. Our class all began to look forward to English. Especially the days when we would be reading our latest novels.
I particularly enjoyed John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids and The Chrysalides. We also enjoyed Great Expectations and The Diary of Anne Frank. However, Animal Farm by George Orwell was like the heavens of literature opening up before us all. It was as though we were inside the author’s head as he got a wonderful point of view across in the most simplistic way. I was most impressed by him then. Sometimes we put writers upon platforms and believe everything they say is correct.
After these classroom reads, we were given a list of titles that we could choose and then review in our own written way. The list was mouth-watering. I chose another George Orwell title called; 1984. My mind was blown away as I once again enjoyed the idea of being inside the author’s head. The horrid idea of Britain in a dystopian future on par of North Korea. In many ways I found Orwell so negative yet utterly compelling. I have since read so many of his works. Animal Farm and 1984 were his last labours of pen and upon reflection it seems the man started his journey in life full of optimism and in search of some sort of ideology were the down trodden should have some sort of equal voice. He wrote essays that were riveting, yet as this great man journeyed through life, I get the impression that he failed to find what he was searching for. Some sort of Utopia where everyone was equal. He certainly witnessed the squalor of destitution in; Down and Out in London and Paris. The abandonment of people in; The Road to Wigan Pier. Everything seemed so negative, yet I could absorb everything he wrote as though I was a sponge for his writing. He was so negative and very depressing yet I admire him so much. I don’t believe his particular negative views concerning societies today because everything is just too negative in one direction. Yet he asked so many questions that remained unanswered. In Animal Farm I get the impression that he gave us a mini Utopia for a brief period of time, but then the cream of the society surfaced and the whole process of being down trodden started all over again. The sheep remained sheep. The pigs did what pigs always do. At the time I thought the simplistic presentation was wonderful and very true. I still think the novel is fabulous, but I think more nowadays. Why did the sheep not become lazy and rely on the chickens to lay eggs for them? It is another variable in the equation of society. Why not have the sheep always pretending to be victims? It is another variable in our society. Why not have the chickens complaining that they work and don’t get a decent shed to live in because the sheep need it? It is another variable in our society.
I don’t believe all sheep (in Orwell’s Animal farm sense = plebiscite) are the same, but I think I would be one of his sheep or chickens in society. We don’t all go around being stupid or hoodwinked. We put up with a lot and the pigs are not all taking. Many try to balance the important things that can be done against staggering costs of such political undertakings. Today, I don’t want to believe some of the things Orwell said. I realise how simplistic it all is. The map is too rough. There are no contours or rivers. It’s a basic map of a nation perimeter. Nothing more. It’s too simplistic and misses too many problems when trying to make good rough contours.
Though when I was younger and more impressionable, I believed the black and white portrayal of pigs over sheep and chickens. I now feel sure he searched in the wrong places when journeying through his life where his nation was a declining empire and did not know it. He perhaps knew, but started off in blind faith that all people would help each other and build some sort of all caring society. I hope we humans are more optimistic about following our different futures. Even if such things are forged by clever pigs (Orwell’s Animal Farm sense of political leaders.) The world of people (each an individual) is full of variable personal aims in life. The so called pigs do their best, if elected, to make sure each individual’s liberty is protected to follow such pursuits. The pigs are not all good and some are definitely harsh, but we are lucky in my country. That is what I believe despite the complaining we do. The complaints are justified and we must never relent. It keeps the politicians from becoming too complacent or pigs in the Orwellian sense.
I think Orwell gave up on all his hopes concerning sheep and chickens when he wrote; Homage to Catalonia. I believe once he saw the futile ways of the anarchists, socialists and Communists up against Fascism; he realised that things could not be organised from his idea that all giving a voice and all lending an ear. When everyone in the team had a voice and had to be allowed to speak. It caused nothing but confusion despite how well intentioned everyone was trying to be. Nothing functioned because there were too many debating different points of view and they spent more time fighting each other than the fascist party.
Today, in the UK, we have a slightly right of centre ground government that is trying to introduce certain types of austerity in our society little by little and very often. They realise that the National Health is something that must be protected (One very good thing from the more left leaning governments.) and are trying to maintain this. They also know that national welfare benefits are spiralling out of control. Workers are footing enormous tax bills to maintain vast amounts of unemployed people living in rented houses that these ‘out of work people’ can’t afford to pay rent on. Those people in work, who could pay the rents and put money into local government councils, can’t get council houses because their incoming wages put them at the bottom of the priority list for people in need. This causes resentment because people from abroad that have not contributed to the system turn up and get accommodation and benefits. Not all, but a sizable amount. It also causes resentment with home-grown fellow Britons who are unemployed, yet have children because it puts them top of the priority list for entitlements – i.e. Government council houses. Unemployed are more in need. Therefore, when employed people are forced to go to more unscrupulous private landlords; the government must be losing huge sums of money from rents that could be paid to them.
Therefore, young employed people who could pay rent are left to the mercy of more unscrupulous private landlords. This fuels further resentment. The unemployed living in council accommodation can’t afford to work because welfare entitlement gives them more than the people employed. It is ridiculous, but the problems of Britain today are far different from what Orwell envisaged. I wonder how George Orwell would have viewed the well-meant entitlement that has gone ridiculously out of control. What I think I’m trying to say is that we have advanced and tried to cure many of the problems Orwell highlighted and it has created more unforeseen ones.
God! I’m really getting started now. I better take a chill pill and calm down.
I can’t grasp how we got ourselves into this ridiculous situation, but our world is a lot better than Orwell’s one and the new problems are so different. He is wrong but could have been right because such things happen in other countries, I suppose. Anyway! Back to my rant and what I’m trying to say concerning not believing in Orwell’s sheep and pigs.
During the UKs general election, we had a political party that was promising to end some of the austerity. They were the ones who brought in much of the well-meant entitlements and inadvertently created the problems of mass uncontrolled immigration of unskilled labour and also the situation of people not being able to get housing accommodation unless out of work and destitute. They contributed to the UK having council estates, in many areas of the nation, where vast swathes of people are unemployed. Many are unemployed because they get more from national welfare entitlement then workers who pay their taxes to fund such entitlements. These people can’t afford to go to work in low paid jobs where austerity is causing low wages due to uncontrolled and very irresponsible mass migration of more unskilled labour and more people in need of accommodation. If you are from abroad, surely you can see how utterly ridiculous this is?
It has got to such an extent that a centre right political party, which is deeply unpopular, is offering nothing but more austerity with particular focus of welfare payments being capped and gradually reduced. None of their policies are liked but voters realise there needs to be something done about the financial cost of welfare entitlement payments. These are not Orwellian sheep, but people who can reluctantly see that well-meant entitlements are causing many to drift into a state of apathy. People are thinking for themselves individually, though some prefer to be Orwellian sheep and stay away from work. The only way to encourage and induce unemployed people to work; is to make sure it is more beneficial than relying on hand outs. Not increase wages to such an extent. The reality is; this can’t be afforded and will not happen. I would personally love it to be this way, but we can’t afford it as a nation. Not now!
In the old socialist world unions would have us strike to make it happen and it did in the 60s and 70s. It went too far that way and bankrupted the nation. We need to keep many of the good things of what the left did for Britain, but for Christ’s sake let us not be blind to the bad long term effects of what was done.
I’m a dustman – a working class person who now lives in the Fenlands of England. I earn less than £14,000 per year. People on benefits are having their welfare entitlement reduced to £20,000. I can’t get my head around the left wing parties of our nation that condemn this. Where is the logic in such protest? Why are the benefit’s claimer’s victims? Who is the victim? My taxes are paying for people who can’t afford to work because well intentioned champagne socialists have brought such a circumstance about. I’m lucky because I’m older and have been fortunate enough to have paid my mortgage, but when I go to work, I see young men who work for the same wage and can’t get council accommodation. Even though they can pay the council rent into the government coffers. We empty bins in the area where these young men have lived all their lives. We empty bins of three bedroom houses where fellow unemployed British people live and talk to us like we are pigs because we have not put a bin back properly. (Not all, but some of the welfare claimants) We have people from abroad who can’t speak English yet berate us in foreign languages. (Again not all. Some are kind, but they still get priority over my work mates who are born and bred here.)
These prioritised people live in houses that my young work mates are not entitled to because they have low paid jobs. Some of my friends have children and have lived in the Fenlands all their lives. Born and bred here, but unemployed, none rent payers and destitute people, from home and abroad take the government housing and get benefit payments that work out higher than our wages. What the hell would all these wonderful writers like George Orwell think with, what now seems, cheaply acquired social integrity if they looked at today? Many such well-meaning people have berated low paid workers as racists, fascists and vilified anyone who complained?
I’m terrified of the do good political elitists who offer everything but run out of other working people’s money to borrow. Be they rich or poor. I’m also less admirable, splendid though the written works are, of many writers who were clever to rant against the leaders when they had not had not held such positions of responsibility themselves. It’s easy to complain and it comes free. It’s easy to say what people like. It comes free too. To give all what people want costs? The reality is that we don’t have enough.
The simplistic world of Orwell’s pigs and sheep does not take into account that sheep become devious and play the system, and the pigs have a huge mess to clear up because of unforeseen abuse of a well-intentioned welfare system that is failing.
I think the UK is a great country with a lot of decency. I do believe that many of the sheep in the UK animal farm have learnt how to play the system at the expense of those who continuously contribute to it. Writers present interesting ideas and they must be acclaimed. However, these people of vision, right fiction loosely based on truths. We must never forget that. Clever as George Orwell was, (My absolute hero as a young impressionable man.) he was not correct in the long run about the pigs. It’s the sheep we need to worry about. Too many people play the victims. It clouds thins and real victims get missed.