With apologies to the late James W. Best for appropriating his image (from his 1935 Forest Life in India)

Monday, 17 June 2013

Old at Heart

I’ve loved ‘Brother Blair’ – aka George Orwell – since I was in short trousers, but there’s no denying he was a bit of a doom merchant; as he himself wrote of T. S. Eliot – in Inside the Whale (1940) – he achieves ‘the difficult feat of making modern life out to be worse than it is.’ My favourite Orwell – one of my all-time favourite books, indeed – is Coming Up For Air (1939), from which I briefly quoted in a previous post ('Gold from the Forties'). I must re-read it on average every couple of years, and I’ve owned the same copy since 1977:


Orwell wrote it while convalescing in Morocco, and in essence it is a lament for a lost England, his childhood England of 1913. If you’ve read it you’ll know it’s full of lovingly detailed descriptions of fishing on the Thames and in farm ponds. But here’s the thing. Orwell decries the state of the country’s rivers and streams, wondering if there are any fish in them anymore, and bemoans the filling in and building over of farm ponds. And yet every generation utters the same cry. In the 1970s, in his column in Angling Times, Dick Walker regularly harked back to the 1930s as a time when England’s rivers and streams were full of thumping great roach and dace and chub and there was a rudd-packed pond on every farm. I guess that at a certain age we all look back on the past with misty eyes. It’s just that it seems Orwell reached that age rather earlier than most.