Down there where coal is dug is a sort of world apart which one can quite easily go through life without ever hearing about. At a pitch I could be a tolerable road-sweeper or an inefficient gardener or even a tenth-rate farm hand.
Nevertheless booksellers generally find that it pays them better to have a certain number of books stolen we used to lose about a dozen a month than to frighten customers away by demanding a deposit. Ducking the beams becomes more and more of an effort, and sometimes you forget to duck.
You try walking head down as the miners do, and then you bang your backbone.
Most of the things one imagines in hell are if there—heat, noise, confusion, darkness, foul air, and, above all, unbearably cramped space. As always happens in the spike, I had at last managed to fall comfortably asleep when it was time to get up.
But I had got to act quickly. The paupers told me that they always gorged to the bursting point on Sundays, and went hungry six days of the week. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd—seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind.
There were no bugs, and we had bedsteads and straw palliasses, rare luxuries both. But the beauty or ugliness of industrialism hardly matters.
Their lamp-lit world down there is as necessary to the daylight world above as the root is to the flower. One is the decayed person smelling of old bread-crusts who comes every day, sometimes several times a day, and tries to sell you worthless books.
We also sold sixpenny horoscopes compiled by somebody who claimed to have foretold the Japanese earthquake. And once, in spite of the men who gripped him by each shoulder, he stepped slightly aside to avoid a puddle on the path.
Incidentally it makes one of the most awful noises I have ever heard, and sends forth clouds of coal dust which make it impossible to see more than two to three feet and almost impossible to breathe.
The crowd would laugh at me. It seemed to me that it would be murder to shoot him. A man with an electric drill, like a rather small version of the drills used in street-mending, bores holes at intervals in the coal, inserts blasting powder, plugs it with clay, goes round the corner if there is one handy he is supposed to retire to twenty-five yards distance and touches off the charge with an electric current.
Suddenly the superintendent made up his mind. A person who is the protagonist, Winson Smith an ordinary guy from a minority class turns out to be a social activist. The touts from the Christmas card firms used to come round with their catalogues as early as June.
May had begun, and in honour of the season—a little sacrifice to the gods of spring, perhaps—the authorities had cut off the steam from the hot pipes.
Afterwards, of course, there were endless discussions about the shooting of the elephant.
As I started forward practically the whole population of the quarter flocked out of the houses and followed me. From the boxwallah, two rupees eight annas. I believe, though, that the writers are more to blame here than the readers.
It all depends on the architectural tradition of the period. I have never travelled much more than a mile to the coal face; but often it is three miles, in which case I and most people other than coal-miners would never get there at all.
This was Scotty, a little hairy tramp with a bastard accent sired by cockney out of Glasgow. But is an unwritten law that even the sternest Tramp Majors do not search below the knee, and in the end only one man was caught. How bright everything looked, and how sweet the winds did blow, after the gloomy, reeking spike!
I remember a winter afternoon in the dreadful environs of Wigan.Eric Arthur Blair (25 June – 21 January ), known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English novelist and journalist. His work is marked by clarity, intelligence and wit, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism, and commitment to democratic socialism.
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