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A collection of fifty-one essays and articles written by English author George Orwell. Includes the following works: The Spike; A hanging; Bookshop memories; Shooting an elephant; Down the mine; North and south; Spilling the Spanish beans; Marrakech; Boys’ weeklies and Frank Richards’s reply; Charles Dickens; Charles Reade; Inside the whale; The art of Donald Mcgill; The lion and the unicorn: Socialism and the English genius; Wells, Hitler and the world state; Looking back on the Spanish war; Rudyard Kipling; Mark Twain—the licensed jester; Poetry and the microphone; W B Yeats; Arthur Koestler; Benefit of clergy: Some notes on Salvador Dali; Raffles and Miss Blandish; Antisemitism in Britain; Freedom of the park; Future of a ruined Germany; Good bad books; In defence of P. G. Wodehouse; Nonsense poetry; Notes on nationalism; Revenge is sour; The sporting spirit; You and the atomic bomb; A good word for the Vicar of Bray; A nice cup of tea; Books vs. Cigarettes; Confessions of a book reviewer; Decline of the English murder; How the poor die; James Burnham and the managerial revolution; Pleasure spots; Politics and the English language; Politics vs. Literature: An examination of Gulliver’s Travels; Riding down from Bangor; Some thoughts on the common toad; The prevention of literature; Why I write; Lear, Tolstoy and the fool; Such, such were the joys; Writers and Leviathan; and, Reflections on Gandhi.
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Production notes: This edition of Collected Essays was published by Global Grey ebooks on the 18th March 2021. The artwork used for the cover is 'Cliff Dwellers' by George Bellows.
Thoughts whilst doing this book: I have no idea why, but I always read George Orwell's works in a Northern accent.
It was late-afternoon. Forty-nine of us, forty-eight men and one woman, lay on the green waiting for the spike to open. We were too tired to talk much. We just sprawled about exhaustedly, with home-made cigarettes sticking out of our scrubby faces. Overhead the chestnut branches were covered with blossom, and beyond that great woolly clouds floated almost motionless in a clear sky. Littered on the grass, we seemed dingy, urban riff-raff. We defiled the scene, like sardine-tins and paper bags on the seashore.
What talk there was ran on the Tramp Major of this spike. He was a devil, everyone agreed, a tartar, a tyrant, a bawling. blasphemous, uncharitable dog. You couldn’t call your soul your own when he was about, and many a tramp had he kicked out in the middle of the night for giving a back answer. When you came to be searched, he fair held you upside down and shook you. If you were caught with tobacco there was hell to pay, and if you went in with money (which is against the law) God help you.
I had eightpence on me. ‘For the love of Christ, mate,’ the old hands advised me, ‘don’t you take it in. You’d get seven days for going into the spike with eightpence!’
So I buried my money in a hole under the hedge, marking the spot with a lump of flint. Then we set about smuggling our matches and tobacco, for it is forbidden to take these into nearly all spikes, and one is supposed to surrender them at the gate. We hid them in our socks, except for the twenty or so per cent who had no socks, and had to carry the tobacco in their boots, even under their very toes. We stuffed our ankles with contraband until anyone seeing us might have imagined an outbreak of elephantiasis. But it is an unwritten law that even the sternest Tramp Majors do not search below the knee, and in the end only one man was caught. This was Scotty, a little hairy tramp with a bastard accent sired by cockney out of Glasgow. His tin of cigarette ends fell out of his sock at the wrong moment, and was impounded.
At six, the gates swung open and we shuffled in. An official at the gate entered our names and other particulars in the register and took our bundles away from us. The woman was sent off to the workhouse, and we others into the spike. It was a gloomy, chilly, limewashed place, consisting only of a bathroom and dining-room and about a hundred narrow stone cells. The terrible Tramp Major met us at the door and herded us into the bathroom to be stripped and searched. He was a gruff, soldierly man of forty who gave the tramps no more ceremony than sheep at the dipping-pond, shoving them this way and that and shouting oaths in their faces. But when he came to myself he looked hard at me, and said:
‘You are a gentleman?’
‘I suppose so,’ I said.
He gave me another long look. ‘Well, that’s bloody bad luck, guv’nor,’ he said, ‘that’s bloody bad luck, that is.’ And thereafter he took it into his head to treat me with compassion, even with a kind of respect.
It was a disgusting sight, that bathroom. All the indecent secrets of our underwear were exposed; the grime, the rents and patches, the bits of string doing duty for buttons, the layers upon layers of fragmentary garments, some of them mere collections of holes, held together by dirt. The room became a press of steaming nudity, the sweaty odours of the tramps competing with the sickly, sub-faecal stench native to the spike. Some of the men refused the bath, and washed only their ‘toe-rags’, the horrid, greasy little clouts which tramps bind round their feet. Each of us had three minutes in which to bathe himself. Six greasy, slippery roller towels had to serve for the lot of us.
When we had bathed our own clothes were taken away from us, and we were dressed in the workhouse shirts, grey cotton things like nightshirts, reaching to the middle of the thigh. Then we were sent into the dining room, where supper was set out on the deal tables. It was the invariable spike meal, always the same, whether breakfast, dinner or supper—half a pound of bread, a bit of margarine, and a pint of so-called tea. It took us five minutes to gulp down the cheap, noxious food. Then the Tramp Major served us with three cotton blankets each, and drove us off to our cells for the night. The doors were locked on the outside a little before seven in the evening, and would stay locked for the next twelve hours.
The cells measured eight feet by five, and, had no lighting apparatus except a tiny barred window high up in the wall, and a spyhole in the door. There were no bugs, and we had bedsteads and straw palliasses, rare luxuries both. In many spikes one sleeps on a wooden shelf, and in some on the bare floor, with a rolled-up coat for pillow. With a cell to myself, and a bed, I was hoping for a sound night’s rest. But I did not get it, for there is always something wrong in the spike, and the peculiar shortcoming here, as I discovered immediately, was the cold. May had begun, and in honour of the season—a little sacrifice to the gods of spring, perhaps—the authorities had cut off the steam from the hot pipes. The cotton blankets were almost useless. One spent the night in turning from side to side, falling asleep for ten minutes and waking half frozen, and watching for dawn.
As always happens in the spike, I had at last managed to fall comfortably asleep when it was time to get up. The Tramp Major came marching down the passage with his heavy tread, unlocking the doors and yelling to us to show a leg. Promptly the passage was full of squalid shirt-clad figures rushing for the bathroom, for there was Only One tub full of water between us all in the morning, and it was first come first served. When I arrived twenty tramps had already washed their faces. I gave one glance at the black scum on top of the water, and decided to go dirty for the day.
We hurried into our clothes, and then went to the dining room to bolt our breakfast. The bread was much worse than usual, because the military-minded idiot of a Tramp Major had cut it into slices overnight, so that it was as hard as ship’s biscuit. But we were glad of our tea after the cold, restless night. I do not know what tramps would do without tea, or rather the stuff they miscall tea. It is their food, their medicine, their panacea for all evils. Without the half goon or so of it that they suck down a day, I truly believe they could not face their existence.