Category: London


Orwell –  a dystopian writer or a socio-realist?

Down and Out in Paris and London” was the first book Orwell ever wrote and therefore it demands some special attention. He wrote it in 1933.

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Who was George Orwell? He was born Eric Arthur Blair 110 years ago, on June 25th 1903. He died on January 21st, 1950, some 46 years later. To me, Orwell has always been an important touchstone, a true pleasure to read since he is different in as much as he combines some traits I find important for any writers: will for social and political justice, very clear language, intelligence, sharp observation, wit and accuracy in the depiction of social realities.

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I’ve read him ever since I was little and funnily enough, at school, we read 1984, just in the year of 1984, when I was 13. Yes, it did make a huge impact on me. I cannot say anything else. We discussed the book. We wrote essays on it. We saw the movie 1984. It was a blatant attack against totalitarianism. That much was clear. And for a classroom with a lot of rebellious hormones flying around, Orwell was just right in showing us what society would be if we allowed ourselves to be let astray. Everyone in class including the teacher was sure that there would never be any similar surrounding, that everything depicted in the book, was pretty much a dark pessimistic fantasy, way out, and that basically this was a dystopia which would never happen.

Now about 30 years later, I am not so sure anymore. I find that Orwell had the unusual talent of absorbing very slight historical tendencies and thinking them till the bitter end and turning it into fiction. Orwell’s fiction is never just fiction. It is a moral signpost that says “Don’t go there. It might happen if you don’t watch out.” On the other hand, he wrote a lot about what happened in real life. He was in no way a writer in his ivory tower. He was pretty much connected and set in the real life of his time and confronted with real-life problems. “His work is marked by clarity, intelligence and wit, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism, and commitment to democratic socialism.” That’s what Wikipedia says, and I solidly agree with that.

Orwell. The dystopian writer, the social critic

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There are many books by George Orwell, well worthwhile reading which are hard to come by because of course, 1984 and Animal Farm are the evergreens and the bestsellers that cannot be surpassed.

Retracing his steps, we find that he was basically a middle upper lower middle class son, who was born in India, grew up in Burma, living a privileged life within a well bred family. But as he grew older, and after having returned to Europe, he seemed to have been a wandering spirit. He tried out multiple ways in order to live, he had something inside him, a search of something else, a weariness of everyday life about him. Something that made him seek out adventures. He led an unusual life. Orwell wrote his first book with the title “Down and out in Paris and London” (1933) which I would like to recommend today with all my heart.

In a nutshell, it is a desolate depiction of what the social reality for poor people, for people out of a regular existence, jobless, homeless, sometimes vagabonds and basically impoverished people must have been like. The daily search to get by on a minimum of money is shown with a pinch of salt. It is not someone who is crying into his bowl of water-soup at the workhouse. There is nothing that resembles rage or an accusation against the state or the state of things in there. It just shows the reality of what things were like. Without commenting as much on it. That is Orwell’s English side. And this is what made me have goose pimples all over when I first read the book at 20. It was hair-raising. The cruelty and the sometimes really very harsh if not brutal realities are depicted in a very formal and sometimes offhand manner. It is something hard to digest at first. But that way, the reader gets to the bottom of things, to the places where Orwell leads him, to the darkest corners in pre-war Paris and pre-war London. The reader must ask himself what made Orwell endure all of this. He wanted to be a first-hand narrator. He did not want to narrate the hell of others, of vagabonds, he first wanted to endure it so he could write his books with a totally different stance. Today, we might call him an investigative journalist. Yes, but Orwell was more than that. He was a critic in his way not to criticize anything but depicting every cruel detail of what happens to poor people and what happens if you get to the point where you lose your job, you home and your social framework. Something which in the nineteen-thirties must have been something not so easy to endure.

Another very good book by Orwell is “Burmese Days” where Orwell actually lets us in on the secrets of his upbringing in the colonies. It is an eye opener. Truly recommended.

All in all, I can only recommend George Orwell again and again. I know, that 1984 is a must read for many classes (at school as well at university) but it rightly is so. As well as Animal Farm has become a total classic. However, Down and Out in Paris and London, as well as Burmese Days and his collected Essays should find more readers, the way I see it.

Orwell was a bright man, with a vision.

Ending this post, I would like to point out that in fact, the more I think about it, the more I feel that Orwell is a more than a modern classic, he is a post-modern writer, someone to foresee something sinister that was about to happen. Let’s us all see to it that we can make this dystopia stop before Big Brother and the thought police become reality.

I wonder what Orwell would write if he was alive today.

This is going to be a tough one.

I wanted to be blogging a couple of days ago while passing my days on the couch, getting better from the flu which I got immediately after coming back from my Scotland trip. But it did not happen like that. It is a universally accepted truth and acknowledged fact that life is difficult at times. I was stressing. I had all reasons to do so. Now, I am trying to make ends meet, trying to get things back on track. So, in order to keep my promises incurred by previous statements, this blog post will be different inasmuch I will have to subdivide it into four blog parts. It does not work for me otherwise and I need to get stuff done so basically, that’s why the title is a bit confusing. Since time is moving forward this would be a good idea to get a clear desk.

These topics are all different ones but that’s simply a makeshift solution.

slavery

1. Freedom and slavery – I know it is a big title. Triggered through some talks with friends and acquaintances I recently had, I wanted to shortly discuss this topic. Of course, the two items in questions are diametrically opposite and the existence of the one would be impossible without the other. So what is there that could be interesting enough as to put it into a blog thread?

It is a very known dichotomy that often gets in the way. Freedom is something we all aspire whereas slavery is something we mean to free ourselves from. Have we achieved this goal so far?

I don’t want to sound dogmatic but I think that nowadays people have made themselves slaves to so many things, concepts, fellowmen, without even noticing that it is precisely that what is happening, this subconscious thing that we (the species man) are undermined in our natural way of being a free spirit and therefore, we lose touch with our essential necessities. The subjugation of spirit and the abandonment of freedom narcotizes us and it soothes our desire for experience in many weird ways, that brings us far away from who we are …What is it that we gain from falling prey to these surrogate gods, come on, what is it exactly? What is it that we gain by being slave to wage, slave to love, slave to success, slave to image, slave to food, slave to drugs, slave to whatever it is that we subjugate our lives to…

I know this is kind of provocative and I can almost hear people say “no, way, I am super free”, and “what a lot of bollocks”… I decide what I do and not the company that has the biggest marketing budget or the brand that my neighbour buys and I feel envious because of it. Let me tell you this. It is all very human and it basically happens to everyone. I won’t except myself from being a slave from time to time, but what I do about this, is that I try to become aware into which traps I am falling and thus trying to avoid these traps for the future.

Let me give you a brief overview:

robinson-crusoe

This may sound like I am some kind of female Robinson Crusoe but I am really not. It just strikes me that in spite of having achieved so much technological pioneering as a species, most people today are not really free in what they achieve in their lifetime, feel extremely pressurized time wise and therefore unhappy and stressed. And why is that? Because we (as a species) are very prone to be sidetracked. That is the bottom line. It is true. And here we can easily see that we, Homo sapiens sapiens, are not so far away from the Australopithecus.

Wanna hear an example?

Let’s start with the slavery/freedom pitfall of KEEPING UP. I have two children, aged 11 and almost (a week) 8 now, both girls. I constantly hear them mention tech things their classmates have, the modern amenities let’s call it: Nintendo DS, mobile phones, tablets, laptops and what not. Of course, every parent knows exactly what I am talking about. I get sick and tired of this. Call me old-fashioned if you like, but I think it is such a contagious and stupid thing to “keep up with the Jones” and so not needed, neither by me as a mother, nor by my kids. No-one is actually considering of whether kids are old enough to use, and to treasure these things, to maintain them properly and whether, let’s draw a line in the sand here, whether they in fact NEED all these tech-age gadgets.

I know, some of my readers will now smile because they know that I tend to be one of the first ones to KNOW about technological advance and will be the first one to READ UP ON STUFF like that, but the difference is. I am old enough to differentiate between a leap in technology and decide whether it is worth my while or just skip it. Kids often don’t have the means to differentiate between an important and not so important thing. That’s why we, the parents, need to be very good in our understanding and be wise. What do my children learn when I tell them, “No, honey, I won’t buy you a Nintendo DS. First of all, it is money we don’t have. But secondly, and this argument really cuts the cheese here, you don’t need it. It is techno trash. (which it is) Get out. Take the dog and have a walk out there in nature.” Ok. This probably will work another four years if I am lucky, maybe five, but some day in the not so far away future my kids will ask me to give them the money to buy this and that. What am I supposed to do?

I guess it is a good thing that parents don’t get 12 or 13 year-olds straight away, but that we start out with the beginner’s model, the baby. Only shits its pants, cries, feeds and sleeps, sometimes burps and vomits. After the first four weeks, a smile is the reward for having completed the first level safely. But that’s basically it. Right. Let’s not get sidetracked here. Back to topic.

My main point is that we need to start early with educating the right kind of choices in our children. We are the ones who they look up to, we are the ones who hopefully make them aware that they in fact will see with their very own class-mates that the Nintendo DS or whatever fad it might be is a thing for eight weeks or maybe twelve and afterwards, the novelty wears off, it will be another gadget sitting there, polluting the planet with no significant help in terms of education or well-being.

Another slavery pitfall? What about being permanent available in BEING ONLINE 24/7? I used to be in favor of this. I admit it. I thought I would miss so much if I hadn’t been online one day. I thought that internet and all the social networks I had, the newsletters, the new mail I minute by minute I received was really important. But slowly but surely, I noticed that this was not such a good, not such a healthy way, it just was not right for me because it basically used to eat up so many hours of my working day that I felt the need to find a better way of handling computer time. I needed to do computer time, but also decided that I would limit my online time, control this behaviour until it fitted in with my working, personal and also social life. I was rewarded. My life now feels more real. More like myself anyway. I won’t ban the social networks, I just want to avoid falling into the pitfall of being online each and every minute of my day. Let’s face it.

Social networks are the reality of present day, we need to accept it, whether we like it or not. It would be stupid to ignore it and there is still room for improvement, room and imaginative ways that we can form this amorphous mass. Learn to use it as a tool. Like a chimpanzee will use a wooden branch to get his bananas off the tree. Yes. That is what it is.

We come to the next topic where slavery/freedom can occur: SHOPPING/HAVING INSTEAD OF BEING

What about the constant need for new cars, new tv sets, the newest fad gadget that will clutter so many households all over the planet until one day we will even find this gadget watered down even in a favela of Rio de Janeiro… See what I mean? How can it be that today it is all so immensely concerned with owning things, it is also about the consumption of the right products, the right food, the right clothes, and not about key traits like beauty, truth, knowledge and wisdom anymore?

Ok, don’t get wrong. I am not some sort of TV preacher, I don’t sing gospels, I am not even religious although I try to believe in God (I am agnostic basically, but I would wish there was a god), and I have done a fair share of stupidities in my time, but it strikes me (especially now after having come back from a trip that lasted almost one whole month) that everyone is mostly around with one or two shopping bags, and neither one really goes to the city anymore to see friends, to meet up, to share a laugh, to see a theatre play, play some sports or do something just for fun’s sake, but mostly people go out to buy stuff these days. Or they are out on business. What a strange and sad life that our so-called reality imposes on us. The main motivation seems to be “keeping up with the Joneses”. And that is so sad. Sant Miquel (the tiny village where I live) is in a pretty rural area. But even so, kids start using nintendo DS, they run around with a tablet pc and I keep asking myself why on earth these kids would do with these gadgets. I am not starting on the merchandising that follows every tv series like Hannah Montana, Angry Birds or whatever. Maybe, my thinking is a wee bit too orthodox here, but I read a couple of years ago this book “Affluenza – the All-Consuming Epidemic” by John de Graaf and I must say, there is so much in this book that comes to haunt me when I open my eyes. I used to be one of them. The people who are deeply unhappy. Who have a job, a good and proper income, but when it came to feeling my life, I know I had to change. So I did. I threw all precautions overboard and started out the adventure Ibiza. Well, it was not an adventure as such, we knew the island fairly well but basically that was an objective we had for 13 years and see the way so many people are oriented to consume, to buy stuff they don’t need, to impress people they don’t even like… Come to think of it.

To me, I found that my life became less painful and less of a drag when I rearranged my priorities and became more aware of what it is I am effectively doing:

Consume less – less air condition, less aerosols, less food you will throw away anyway, less petrol. Avoid to always cool down a room full throttle, rather try to create a draft. Summer is summer. Why use an aerosol, try to get the product with a pump spray instead. Think what you need, eat it, consume it but not excessively so you need to throw away only a minimum. Don’t make too many unnecessary trips with the car. Walk instead. It is helpful in so many ways, it helps reduce stress, it brings you back in touch with nature and it helps your health in general because it is a free cardio.

Help reduce garbage – don’t have everything double packaged, wrapped and re-use stuff. I am quite sensitive with this issue cause I used to work for a company in recycling and I think people should think so much more about the necessity of packaging and use things that have less and re-usable packaging. We only have one world, one planet. Let’s try to keep it in habitable shape for our kids and grandchildren and generations to come.

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Downshift your working hours – I have been trying to that lately. I have been glued to the screen so many months in the past 12 months that I seriously felt the need to really take a break. I have bought the book the “4-Hour Work Week” by Timothy Ferriss and I haven’t got round to read it but I am so interested in the argument that goes with it. I will keep you posted on this one.

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Spend at least time each and every day and say something nice to a friend, partner or a child / children. – this is a karma option. Do what you want others to do to you. I wish I would remember that one every day. I am absorbed so many times that I really need to work on that one.

All in all, I would like to finish this mini article (hahaha, this much for avoiding clutter) with the idea that freedom and slavery is a pair. One of them is yin and the other is yang. Try to integrate both of them to get the best results. We are all slaves in one way or the other. Sometimes, we are free but we chose the way of making us unfree, because we e.g, fall for the wrong type of friend, get contracted by a company that might exploit us, or we submit ourselves to a treatment that we don’t really need. One thing I learnt in the past is that the best remedy for a growing sense of slavery is to step back and take a look at the greater picture. If you see that something is kind of lopsided, imbalanced, then get rid of it. I am not even speaking of good or bad here, I am merely speaking of balance. When something is making you feel uneasy, then it is sure as hell time for a change. Whether it is material or immaterial.

For some people, this might be a really difficult exercise. But you decide to whom and to what you bind yourself, each and every day. The most important thing is to evaluate options safely and make the right decisions, based on facts and on feeling

womens day

2. women’s day – Each and every year, this day reminds me that we ought to have overcome women’s day. My main message here is I really think that this day stinks. It really should not be there at all. But if truth be told: man is perfect in celebrating the oppressed gender. And yes, I believe that women are still oppressed in many ways.

What bugged me a little though was that my loving and wonderful husband actually told me that these days it should be the other way around and that women had the long end of the stick. I don’t quite agree here. But that’s stuff for another blog post I guess. 😉

scotland

3. Scotland – wonderful country. We started out our journey in Edinburgh. We were a little outside in Linlithgow and were in a sweet little cottage. Weather was ok, it snowed a little and my little daughter was amazed to see snow for the very first time in her life, she is almost 8 now! The amount of snow was quite scarce, yet they still tried to build a snowman, but that seems so implanted genetically. So which sites did we visit? We went to see Edinburgh castle, we also went to see the Writer’s Museum, National Gallery of Edinburgh and a couple of smaller museums. I must say that I very much liked the Writer’s Museum and also the National Gallery. Edinburgh Castle of course is a must and we were even lucky enough to be there on the day that was dedicated to Elisabeth II. (I cannot remember what was the occasion) but they had a super long parade, plus salute with many cannon-shot during the usual 12:00h hour. That day, we were really frozen to the marrow as it was extremely chilly and very windy. It felt like well below zero degrees. So used to Ibiza sun, that was quite some different climate to experience.

Writer’s museum is dedicated to Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. It is quite small but very lively and shows many interesting exhibits.

Edinburgh National Museum of Scotland  is also very recommended, especially for families with kids. There are so many things that kids can do in this museum, it is a bit like the Deutsches Museum in Munich for anyone who knows this museum. It has historic traits but also is very much linked to the present day. It is an absolute treat and there is no way to get bored in this museum.

The National Gallery is also wonderful and shows the most beautiful pieces of art. An absolute must-see.

The other museums are nice like the People’s museum or the museum of childhood but they are maybe not as important if you are there with a limited schedule.

Check this site here for more information on Edinburgh museums: http://www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/

After one week in and around Edinburgh, we travelled up north to Inverness. Here we were again a bit outside and on a farmhouse cottage. For the kids, this was fantastic cause they could see highland cattle grazing right at our doorstep, the thickly clad Scottish sheep, and other farm animals. Inverness was not as exciting, but it was still a very nice town to visit. Also here, we tried to make as much as we could of our time.

Stirling Castle, Urquhart Castle, Elgin Cathedral and Fort William were also visited by us.

If you are a family and plan to visit Scotland, try to get the Explorer Pass issued by Historic Scotland. You can get it for different either 3, 5 or 7 days depending on the length of your stay. You will receive many benefits and it is very much worth your while. Also visit at least one distillery. We did so at Glen Moray and had a wonderful time there. The guide was very competent and friendly.

The only downside of visiting Scotland in winter was of course the weather. It was pretty cold, but we were in fact quite lucky in terms of rain and snow.

The last week, we spent on the isle of Skye, after visiting Eilean Donan Castle (the castle featured in the “Highlander” movie). The weather on Skye was sensational. It actually reminded me a bit of Ibiza as the skies were wiped clean and the sun came out, and it felt like spring in fact. Even though it was cold, the air was beautiful and it was super sunny. Skye is surely one of the best kept secrets about Scotland. Portree is the biggest town on the island. We visited it twice as there is not so much to see in the winter. There is a big port, a couple of tourist shops and some restaurants and fish and chips shops.

The wonderful walks we did while on Skye are the thing I will cherish for a very long time after coming back. We really packed backpacks and took a flask of tea, some chocolate for strength and went up to the Old Man of Storr, the Kilt Rock and its waterfall (an absolute amazing view!!!)

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and the summit walk of Quiraing. There is still so much more we would have done but our Scotland journey basically ended here and, after driving from Skye again back to Edinburgh by car and taking the train to London, which was very beautiful because you have a nice impression of where you are going and the landscapes are also really breathtaking.

In London, we had another three days before boarding our flight back to Ibiza. All in all, we had 25 days on the road. This is apart from the Australia trip we did back in 1998 the longest journey that we as a couple / a family took.

Obviously, this being a holiday of one of a kind, I am very happy that we all came back safe and sane. It  always is a good sign when at the end of a holiday you start to wish for your own bed and for your usual surroundings. I really had the feeling that we had a very special time in Scotland and in London.

london

London has always been one of my favorite cities but I must admit I had not seen it in quite a while and so it felt a bit like “la-la-land” it just did not seem real enough. It is a bit like falling into Disney world commercial. Too many tv screens all around. There are things where you ask yourself, what for??? Like the Starbucks coffee shops at every damn corner, there are tv screens on every garbage bin in Westminster which I found pretty monstrous. Who on earth needs that? It is so silly.

Well, but on the upside, we managed to visit the Tower of London which to us historians is quite a milestone. I had been visiting the Tower in the early nineties already while in Dublin. The Tower I saw in 2013 had nothing to do with the Tower I saw in 1992. The way in which it is presented is totally amazing and really quite pedagogical. Absolute thumbs up, even though also here, the prices are pretty hefty. For a family ticket, you fork out 55 British pounds. Plus the little guide-book and that is 60 quid without the eating and the drinking which you will need since the Tower is a thing where you can virtually spend a whole day or the best part of a day. But it is definitely worth it.

London is still the most expensive city I know. It is too damn expensive.

Summarizing, this journey has been amazing and wonderful plus I think and I hope that my children will remember all the beautiful things for ever and ever.

PS: Why didn’t I post in between? Because I simply was not online. First of all, it was unintentional as wi-fi was so hard to come by and my provider is quite costly to roam in UK, so after fraying a couple of days, I decided against it. I wanted to focus on the journey and not on the fact that internet is basically everywhere nowadays. On one day, I think the 6th of February, I was shortly online, but other than that, I really and truly disconnected the whole month of February. I came down and learnt to unwind. I don’t need to be online each and every day anymore. Some days I feel more like going online than others. I know that the internet today is a necessity but again here, the question of finding the right kind of dosage, is crucial and also a question of awareness.

PPS: I won’t promise to upload pictures. If I get around to do it, I will do it. If not, don’t be sad. Scotland is worth the trouble, even in winter. And London, even though it is getting closer to become a local branch of Disneyworld is a unique capital with many facets and a very bubbly character.

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