The Wigan Pier Diaries: 11.3.36
The most appalling contradictions
On the last two evenings to “discussion groups” – societies of people who meet once a week, listen-in to some talk on the radio and then discuss it. Those at the one on Monday were chiefly unemployed men and I believe these “discussion groups” were started or at any rate suggested by the Social Welfare people who run the unemployed occupational centres. That on Monday was decorous and rather dull. Thirteen people including ourselves (one woman besides M[arjorie]), and we met in a room adjoining a public library. The talk was on Galsworthy’s play The Skin Game and the discussion kept to the subject until most of us adjoined° to a pub for bread and cheese and beer afterwards. Two people dominated the assembly, one a huge bull-headed man named Rowe who contradicted whatever the last speaker had said and involved himself in the most appalling contradictions, the other a youngish, very intelligent and extremely well-informed man named Creed. From his refined accent, quiet voice and apparent omniscience, I took him for a librarian. I find he keeps a tobacconist’s shop and was previously a commercial traveller. During the War he was imprisoned as a conscientious objector. The other meeting was at a pub and the people were of higher standing. The arrangement is that M and H[umphrey] go there taking the portable radio, and the publican, who is a member of the group, lets them have a room for the evening. On this occasion the talk was called “If Plato lived Today,” but actually no one listened-in except M. and myself – H. has gone to Bedford. When the talk was over the publican, a Canadian with a very bald head, a market gardener who was already the worse for drink, and another man, rolled in and there began an orgy of drinking from which we escaped with difficulty about an hour later. Much talk on both nights about the European situation and most people saying (some of them with ill-dissembled hope) that war is certain. With two exceptions all pro-German.
Today to Barnsley to fix up about a place to stay. Wilde, secretary of the South Yorkshire Branch of the Working Men’s Club & Institute Union, has fixed it all up for me. The address is 4 Agnes Avenue. The usual 2 up 2 down house, with sink in living room, as at Sheffield. The husband is a miner and was away at work when we got there. House very disorganised as it was washing day, but seemed clean. Wilde, though kind and helpful, was a very vague person. He was a working miner till 1924 but as usual has been bourgeois-ified. Smartly dressed with gloves and umbrella and very little accent – I would have taken him for a solicitor from his appearance.
Barnsley is slightly smaller than Wigan – about 70,000 inhabitants – but distinctly less poverty-stricken, at any rate in appearance. Much better shops and more appearance of business being done. Many miners coming home from the morning shift. Mostly wearing clogs but of a square-toed pattern different from the Lancashire ones.
George Orwell travelled to the north of England in January 1936 to report on living conditions in the wake of the Great Depression. The result was The Road to Wigan Pier, published in 1937 while Orwell was in Spain.
In addition to a great deal of research, the book was based on Orwell’s diaries, which begin in Coventry and end in March 1936, near Barnsley. Orwell Daily is serialising that diary in real-time, eighty-seven years to the day since it was written.
Orwell Daily is a project from the Orwell Foundation, an independent charity promoting George Orwell’s remarkable legacy.
For me the joy of reading The Wigan Pier Diaries is hearing Orwell's voice. The words are from his diaries but you can still HEAR his voice, see his face and eyes, that haircut, and wonder how often he trims his moustache. How on earth was he never interviewed on air?! Where was the radio journalism, at the very least? Is there an explanation? And that voice is so straight-forward, unlike any other voice today. Perhaps we need an extremely talented actor, following brilliant wide-spread research, to create an Orwell voice we can all share on TocTic or wherever. But no, nay, never. Read his books and essays and diaries, and you'll hear his voice all right. And it'll stay there for ever in head and heart.
I was amazed to read that, with war brewing in 1936, all but two of the people who attended the discussion groups Orwell writes about here were pro-German.