Continuing the theme of neglecting my work in favour of running off into the countryside, I spent a surprisingly sunny afternoon in Wallington, Hertfordshire (admittedly only just down the road from where I live) to follow in the footsteps of my favourite political author, George Orwell. Orwell and I have a long history. To this day, I remain haunted by the memory of having to talk for 15 minutes about Orwell's life to my apathetic secondary school classmates. Second only to realising that your love of 'Animal Farm' and '1984' makes you a bit of a teenage reject, is the embarrassment brought on by trying to communicate that love to a group of disinterested students and their barely-concealed yawns. Fortunately, I'm not one to be easily deterred. And from the seeds of that particular humiliation (one among many, I assure you) has sprung a love for dystopian fiction that only continues to grow.
So needless to say, I was excited to finally take advantage of having a piece of Orwellian history so close by and set out on an adventure to see what Wallington has to offer. Orwell moved to the village in 1936 (following a stint in a London bookshop), taking up residence in The Stores cottage, despite never having seen the place. In a letter to his friend Richard Rees, on 29 February 1936, Orwell describes himself (absolutely highlighting his literary genius) as "rather a pig in a poke because I have never seen [the cottage]." While I'm not sure exactly how it feels to be a pig in a poke, I would hope that Orwell's fears disappeared upon actually seeing The Stores.
The Stores - named because it was originally the village shop.
Literally the closest shot I managed to get - but the plaque is definitely dedicated to George Orwell.
After moving to The Stores, Orwell married his sweetheart Eileen O'Shaughnessy in the parish Church of St. Mary's on 9 June 1936. Their marriage certificate is actually still housed in the church. While it's not out on display, the Church is well worth a look for the Orwell display and seriously informative leaflets/booklets that it has on offer. Plus, who doesn't just love a good village Church?!
St. Mary's Church. But, more importantly, is that some blue sky I see?!
Super cool display.
Now, obviously this is all very exciting. Particularly since the facts of Orwell's life are practically seared on my memory following my aforementioned school experience. So seeing these various sites of interest was great. But there was one thing in particular that I wanted to see...
Yes. A barn. But not just any old barn.
Me pointing at Manor Barn, to remove any confusion.
The 'Animal Farm' barn! So exciting. 'Animal Farm' is easily one of my favourite books. Not only is it quite possibly the greatest work of satire ever written but it seems that, no matter how many times I read it, the level of insight that it offers never dims. Combined with '1984', it is difficult to see Orwell as anything other than one of the greatest British political and literary minds. While this is obviously not a book review post, I will say that no allegorical work I've read has ever come close to 'Animal Farm' in terms of its genius and foresight. Telling the story of farm animals that organise and revolt against their human owners, the book traces the dissent of attempts to establish communal rule into a power struggle of corruption and greed. Through 'Animal Farm', Orwell offers one of the most damning critiques of Communist government. Whatever your political sympathies, his allegory is remarkable. Also, it must be said that I have a real affection for banned books. To me, they represent exactly what literature has the power to do. So the fact that 'Animal Farm' and '1984' were banned from the Soviet bloc until the fall of Communism means that I was always going to be inclined to give them a thumbs-up.
So, bringing this post back to its original purpose, Wallington is absolutely a must-see for any die-hard Orwell fan. The sites of interest are really only enough for an hour's occupation and, admittedly, the village is a little out-of-the-way. But add on a visit to the family-friendly farm down the road (pet some lambs and pigs!!) and a stop in the tea shop (obviously), and you have a fabulous afternoon out.
On that note, I'll leave you all to search out your old battered and note-ridden copies of 'Animal Farm' and spend the evening reliving the exploits of Boxer, Napoleon and friends (read enemies). Just remember "Four legs good, two legs bad" (is it just me, or has PETA missed a trick in not taking the Orwellian line??).