Friday, February 23, 2007

Blair made me a capitalist

That's Eric, not Tony. Tony made me a cynic. No, Eric Blair, writing under his pseudonym George Orwell, was the one who turned me into a capitalist by imbuing me through his writing with a mortal fear of poverty. Sadly, I doubt if that was the intention of the lanky, Old Etonian socialist.

Between the ages of fifteen and sixteen I greedily devoured more or less Orwell's whole oeuvre. Books like The Road To Wigan Pier, Down And Out In Paris And London and, above all Keep The Aspidistra Flying depicted poverty so graphically that I determined that once I grew up I would do all in my power to make enough money to live comfortably for the rest of my life. Which probably explains why, when I left University without a degree, I eventually started my own business and spent the next thirty years trying to accumulate enough capital to leave me with a pension big enough to keep me out of the poor house. Even now, incidentally, thanks to Brown, I'm by no means sure I have achieved my Blairite goal.

To be fair to Orwell he did point out in, I think, Down and Out that if you have absolutely no money and no possessions, and no hope of obtaining either, you cease to worry about poverty because you have no farther to fall. In other words, things can't get any worse. I wasn't convinced by this argument. However, I did share Orwell's view that the working class were the salt of the earth, honest artisans who held an almost total monopoly on a strange kind of deep, natural wisdom. If I was ever going to find The Truth, or the Secret Of Life that would enable me to become a Great Novelist, that's where I needed to start looking. Although I had been born into a working class family I was now, through education, interests and outlook, firmly (very) lower middle class. That summer, before I went up to University, I determined to reacquaint myself with my roots.

These were the days before the Gap Year was invented (although as it turned out, I actually spent my Gap Years while I was at university, since during most of the time I was there I was permanently pissed) so I formulated a different plan. During the long interregnum between school and university I would go and work on a building site as a brickie's labourer. Quite why I thought bricklayers were the philosopher kings of the working class I cannot now remember. Nevertheless, that summer I trudged round various building sites in Edinburgh looking for employment. Most of them seemed to be shut for the long vacations that bricklayers apparently took. I guess they needed lots of time to re-charge their brains with Plato and Kant, and maybe Russell too.

Running short of money I eventually gave up on building sites and looked for any kind of employment that would keep me out of the poverty trap which was about to spring shut. In the end I applied for a job in a large department store on Princess Street. I explained to the rather daunting Personnel Manager who interviewed me that it had to be a dead end job (I was only going to be there for a short time before I resumed my nascent literary career), and that it was imperative that I had contact with working class people. So it was no good putting me in parfumerie or haberdashery, for example.

Amazingly, I was offered a job. In the Bedding Department. Considering the rampant state of my hormones at that age, it seemed like a suitably apt Orwellian title and I accepted gratefully.


  1. He made me a dishwasher. After D&OIP&L, you couldn't tell me it wasn't the way to go...

    Good eats, though.

  2. I took the lesson that one must sleep with some money under the mattress. What we sow (lay) we reap. :)

  3. Hello Pundy,
    Hope you're well. :-)

    This below:

    ...Orwell he did point out in, I think, Down and Out that if you have absolutely no money and no possessions, and no hope of obtaining either, you cease to worry about poverty because you have no farther to fall...

    Perhaps Orwell meant that a person in this situation would never have tasted the feel of money always in his pocket or the real ownership of a few precious possessions? Because then it seems entirely credible never to worry what one cannot know.

    But had a person once known comfort however slight and was then forced by circumstances to slump into poverty however temporal, then the situation would be simply too painful for words. And unless a gripping survival power takes over to conquer the problem, it is possible to keep slipping mentally and emotionally.