Saturday, 12 December 2015

Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On

I am more than half way through George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier (I know, I know, not your usual, jolly, Christmas reading, but there you have it, I am not your usual season-themed reader either) and I am loving it. One of the reasons is the manner in which Orwell educates me on British culture and history without intending to. The following passage is a good example. Here he is referring to the coal mines in the industrial north, the type of hard work that was done in them and the impact that back-breaking labour had on the society of the time:


Working-class heroes. Their descendants work now at Sports Direct. Photograph: Kurt Hutton/Getty Images 
It is so with all types of manual work; it keeps us alive, and we are oblivious of its existence. More than anyone else, perhaps, the miner can stand as the type of manual worker, not only because his work is so exaggeratedly awful, but also because it is so vitally necessary and yet so remote from our experience, so invisible, as it were, that we are capable of forgetting it as we forget the blood in our veins. In a way it is even humiliating to watch coal-miners working. It raises in you a momentary doubt about your own status as an “intellectual” and a superior person generally. For it is brought home to you, at least while you are watching, that it is only because miners sweat their guts out that superior persons can remain superior. You and I and the editor of the Times Lit. Supp. and the Nancy poets and the Archbishop of Canterbury and Comrade X, author of Marxism for Infants – all of us really owe the comparative decency of our lives to poor drudges underground, blackened to the eyes, with their throat full of coal dust, driving their shovels forward with arms and belly muscles of steel.

That remoteness did not stop in the post-war years when Orwell penned this non-fiction book based on his travels around the north of England. It continues today even if our economy is no longer coal-dependent. It is hard to fathom that at one point, not just a whole nation, but also the majority of the fast-developing, industrial nations of the West relied on coal. If you ever read The Road to Wigan Pier (and I strongly recommend it) you will begin to understand a bit more the class system in British society and the subtle ways in which it works. As I mentioned before, even if I was made aware of how classist the UK still is many years ago, I was still surprised to find it spelled out in such a blunt and no-holds-barred language as it appears in this book.

Perhaps the timing to read one of Orwell’s most famous non-fiction pieces is not that bad. After all, 'tis the season when we want to gather round the tree, so to speak, and spend time with those we love and care for. We also tend to think of those who make a positive difference in our lives and who have an impact on them. I wonder if someone in Hampstead or Surrey, back in ’37 or ’38 ever thought fondly of John Smith, coal miner in Lancashire, who ensured the fire was always burning down south. I wonder if we ever think of their modern surrogates: the zero-hour contract workers, the back-of-the-van, cash-in-hand, newly-arrived immigrants, the recent graduates manning tills at Tesco’s and other supermarkets on Christmas Eve and the below-the-minimum-wage workers grafting at billionaire-controlled retail chains. They do not make things and they do not make our fires burn, especially because most of us enjoy central heating these days. And yet, where would our modern consumerist-minded society be without their contribution? They might not walk underground for hours on end at the mercy of rocks falling and gas explosions as the miners in Orwell's book did, but they are still an essential part of our economic – "unfair", I would add, before that “economic” – cycle. This last post of 2015 is for them, for those unsung heroes that ensure our children are taught well, our hospitals are kept clean, our shops and supermarkets are open at all hours and our brand-new mobiles are delivered before Christmas. To all of you, thank you, I hope you manage to get some time off to spend with the people you love and care for.

See you all in January 2016. Until then, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!


© 2015

45 comments:

  1. You have a blessed attitude!







    Warm ALOHA,
    ComfortSpiral

    (\__/)
    (='.'=)
    (")_('')

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  2. Yes. Forgotten heroes.
    Thank you - and I hope you too spend time with those you love.

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  3. They sure keep the world going round indeed. Hope you have a great Christmas and new year too at your zoo!

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  4. It's never the "wrong time of the year" to read a book that raises awareness, and it's always the right time to remember and appreciate all of the unknown and unsung heroes upon whose backs society depends. I well remember the coal bins of my youth, and members of my mother-in-law's family worked in the coal mines, and ended up dying from black lung. They did what they had to do to get by, and they rarely complained about it.

    I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas, and all the best to you... to all of us... in the new year.

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  5. Well said. My Mom was always one to leave cookies for the garbage collectors, offer cold drinks to the tree cutters in summer - she was always one to notice those who worked "in the background". I did my own stints working in factories and cleaning homes. So thank you for this post, and have a Happy Christmas. I wish you and yours a New Year filled with peace and joy.

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  6. I hope you have a wonderful holiday and I look forward to more of your writing in 2016. Take care.

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  7. The concept/history of social strata and social classes is repugnant by its nature and, in theory, should be lessening as technology advances. I have never understood why people accept social divides, but, then again, I do know people who are afraid of their own shadow. I think there are fewer social barricades and more equality here in the United States than some both here and aboard would have others believe. Anyway, if George Orwell were to write his book today, it would be somewhat of a different story, which is good.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family, CiL. See you next year ....

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  8. Wishing you a wonderful break from blogging and a lovely festive season.

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  9. Hi ACIL - too many work unsocial hours at desperate wages. We all need to help and give them some upliftment. I saw the Lowry exhibition at the Tate and it had some commentary on Lowry's works ... and I bought some books I need to read ... which give a commentary on the social and class systems in situ ... noting that social reform was needed. I also need to read The Road to Wigan Pier ... thanks for reminding us of his time in the Industrial north.

    You too have a very happy season and all the best for 2016 - cheers Hilary

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  10. It's years since I read Wigan Pier - I remember reading Lawrence at about the same time, and both, in their different ways, highlight the brutality and necessity of work down the pits.

    And you're right - there are too many who are too up themselves to be aware of those who really keep the show on the road. I saw a clip of Victoria Coren Mitchell on Question Time suggesting that all those who can no longer afford to live in London should move north - and then those still housed in the city would have no postmen, no cleaners, no bin men, no plumbers or electricians, no gardeners, no painters and decorators, and probably no teachers or nurses. Only then would they realise that their wealth is built on the hard work of others.

    Enjoy your Christmas and New Year.

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  11. I should read Wigan Pier, I've read several of Orwell's other books.



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  12. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your family :)

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  13. Pues que tengas unas felices fiestas navideñas con tu familia y que sean buenas llenas de amor y amistades.
    Un buen libro para acompañar estas vacaciones sin duda nos comentarás en tus próximas publicaciones.
    Un abrazo.

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  14. I used to be a waitress in a grubby Jazz joint, so I love your reminder...the pillars of society, all around us, we own them so much.
    I've recently began a book called "Fall of Giants" by Ken Follett, suggested by a friend. Only got a short way into it because it got called back to the library, but the beginning chapter is about British miner's in the late 19th & early 20th century. Perfectly depicts a moment of total darkness when a young miner's light goes out far, far beneath the earth. So well written that you could feel the sudden terror. They did an incredible thing for us, as you say.
    Wigan Pier goes on the list, thanks for that.
    I'll look forward to your next post, 2016.
    Have a warm London Christmas with those you love and care for.

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  15. Sounds fascinating! To tell you the truth, I had never heard of that Orwell book! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, too, Cuban. See you soon --

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  16. Hey Cubano--Orwell a great writer--I have not read that but will look into it. Thank you for your thoughtful post and ever thoughtfulness, and kindness too. Have a great holiday! k.

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  17. Hi Cuban, I thought you should know that every time I click on your blog I get a warning that 'there may be trouble on this site'. I copied the warning which is pasted below. In the end I clicked a button that said 'ignore warning'.

    Whoa!
    Are you sure you want to go there?
    http://cubaninlondon.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/saturd... may be risky to visit.

    Why are you seeing this?
    When we visited this site, we found it exhibited one or more risky behaviors

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the shoutout. I will contact Google to see what the problem is. Am I in some kind of blacklist for writing about Orwell? :-)

      Greetings from London.

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  18. Hope you have a wonderful holiday season!

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  19. Hello Cubano. What a thoughtful post to end the year. I was unaware of this book, but can see from the passage that you quoted that it is well worth reading.
    For the record, I do not ever see the warning mentioned by Valerie. I suppose, though, that could be triggered by the video links usually included.

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  20. I've only read George Orwell's fiction. You are a true intellect to track down his nonfiction too. That was a fascinating excerpt that makes me want to read more...if I didn't have such a tall stack already of new books. Stand by Me always puts me in a good mood, one of may favorite songs. Thanks for this relaxing respite from the pre-holiday rush.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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  21. Great end of year post.. and a fabulous song. I love how they come together from all over the world to make these productions.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours.. and have a wonderful New Year.

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  22. THANK YOU for visiting my blog! For how else might I have yours? What an articulate expression of an issue we too often ignore.

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  23. orwell orwell do I have his book on my shelf, hola Cubano, coming from a blog that talks about writing it was really interesting to read how a writer writes, we do forget blood in our veins

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  24. Thanks for stopping by. You're in one of my favorite cities. Enjoy! Back later to read your post -- off to a holiday party. (Didn't see any warning when I clicked open.)

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  25. It's always a pleasure to read you ... wonderful one here, as always!

    Thanks for the visit and kind words!

    Have a wonderful Christmas and best wishes for a very happy New year!

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  26. What a very kind heart you have. Very fitting sentiments for Christmas. And I hope yours is very happy. :o)

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  27. I have respect for them.
    Happy Christmas! :)

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  28. yes, a post for the working class. it is them that keeps the economy going.
    and thanks for the video.

    a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you too, Cuban. :)

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  29. Definitely food for thought. Happy Holidays to you too!

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  30. Merry Christmas to YOU too!! See you in the new year.

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  31. George Orwell is a very good writer!

    Wish you and family a merry christmas♥

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  32. I am a big fan of Orwell and can read him at any time of year. I wish he was alive today to add his commentary to the current political scene. thank goodness we don't need to be thinking of that today, though - I wish you a happy festive season!!

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  33. I am a big fan of Orwell and can read him at any time of year. I wish he was alive today to add his commentary to the current political scene. thank goodness we don't need to be thinking of that today, though - I wish you a happy festive season!!

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  34. Que pases una bella Navidad hermano.

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  35. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Brother!

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  36. I hope you had a Merry Christmas and thanks for your recent visit to my blog. I do hope you'll return when I resume writing at the new year. I intend to look further here as well.

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  37. I have read a number of Orwell's book (4 plus many of his essays), but have not read this book--it sounds interesting. Have a wonderful New Year!

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  38. Happy New Year! May it bring only good things to you and your loved ones!

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  39. Happy new year to you! Looking forward to your next post.

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  40. Interesting post. There is a great flaw in democracy and that is rich people become richer and poor people become poorer. The government works overtime for the rich people and extorts money from the poor in the form of taxes. No democratic system has helped the poor from uplifting themselves from the morass of poverty. Will a situation like the French revolution take place? We have to wait and see. How long the rich people will continue to exploit the poor? Surely the vast majority of the poor will revolt at some time


    Another thought that comes to my mind is that the advanced countries have used immense coal reserves to enrich themselves and now they don't want the developing countries to use their coal reserves to advance themselves. You can see how selfish developed countries are.

    Wish you and your family a wonderful new year.

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  41. Feliz Navidad Cubano! A very astute observation. Yes, class structures were very apparent back then but they never really fade, even in the " no class lines" U.S. Profession and income still dictate so much. By the way, we still have coal shoots in our almost 100 year-old home.

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  42. Happy New Year to you ! Cheers for a wonderful 2016!!!!

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  43. Great post and wonderful song. Happy New Year!

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  44. Oh I so enjoyed reading this fabulous post, CiL...I have missed you so much!
    I haven't read this book yet, but now I certainly will. At one time I thought differently...but these days I can quite clearly see that the old class system is still alive and kicking - if heavily disguised behind a new facade of "political correctness"!

    Wishing you and your family a Wonderful New Year...may all your hopes and dreams be realised! :))

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