The Wigan Pier Diaries: 14.3.36
This is what I was fishing for
Much talk last night with Mr G. about his War experiences. Especially about the malingering he saw going on when he was invalided with some injury to his leg, and the astute ways the doctors had of detecting it. One man feigned complete deafness and successfully kept it up during tests lasting two hours. Finally he was told by signs that he would be discharged and could go, and just as he was passing through the door the doctor said casually “Shut that door after you, would you?” the man turned and shut it, and was passed for active service. Another man feigned insanity and got away with it. For days he was going round with a bent pin on a bit of string, pretending to be catching fish. Finally he was discharged, and on parting with G. he held up his discharge papers and said “This is what I was fishing for.” I was reminded of the malingering I saw in the Hôpital Cochinin Paris, where unemployed men used to remain for months together on pretence of being ill.
Beastly cold again. Sleet this morning. But yesterday as I came on the train they were ploughing and the earth looked much more spring-like; especially in one field where the earth was very black, not like the usual clay soil hereabouts, and as the ploughshare turned it over it looked like chocolate fudge being sliced up with a knife.
I am very comfortable in this house but do not think I shall pick up much of interest in Barnsley. I know no one here except Wilde, who is thoroughly vague. Cannot discover whether there is a branch of the N.U.W.M. here. The public library is no good. There is no proper reference library and it seems no separate directory of Barnsley is published.
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.
Hôpital Cochin: Orwell was admitted for ‘une grippe’ to this Parisian hospital from 7th to 22nd March 1929. He wrote about the experience in ‘How the Poor Die’, 6 November 1946.