George Orwell: the originator of Big Brother, Double-Speak and the Thought Police, author of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, numerous non-fiction books and journalism, one-time BBC producer, soldier and socialist. One of the greats, no doubt about it. But like many creative sorts, Orwell had his idiosyncrasies…
Time for tea
While he hated lager, George Orwell loved a cup of tea—so much so that he published a guide to the making of that most British of beverages (‘A Nice Cup Of Tea’, in the Evening Standard, 1946) and, when he was posted to Catalonia, he had Fortnum and Mason’s tea delivered to him. Top tip: he says army tea tastes of ‘grease and whitewash’, and cups should be cylindrical, not flat and shallow. You’ve been warned!
Orwell wasn’t a committed city-slicker: in fact, he lived on the Scottish Isle of Jura intermittently during 1946 and 1948, after the death of his first wife, Eileen (and after several unsuccessful marriage proposals to various young women in London). Jura is one of the Inner Hebrides, and while today it plays host to a famous Whiskey Festival and is something of a popular holiday destination for hardy tourists, back in Orwell’s time, it was much more of an isolated outpost. Its inclement weather and pretty basic housing (he lived in an otherwise abandoned farmhouse) did nothing to improve Orwell’s already bad health, however much he liked the isolation, and he finally had to abandon it in 1949, when he went to a sanatorium in Gloustershire, severely ill with tubercolosis. Jura was the place where Orwell completed the manuscript of Nineteen Eighty-Four.
A brush with poetry
It’s not a funny habit per se, but it’s not a well-known fact that Orwell, world-famous for his fiction, his politics, his journalism and even his drama, was also an occasional poet. One of his verses was inspired by an advertisement for toothpaste and opens with the couplet, ‘Brush your teeth up and down, brother,/ Oh, brush them up and down!’ Wise words, sir, wise words.
Orwell was a hugely proficient linguist, speaking eight languages, living and dead, aside from English: Greek, Latin, Burmese, Hindustan, Shaw-Karen (a Tibeto-Burman tonal language), French, Spanish and Catalan. Beat that, oh authors (and BBC producers) of the twenty-first century!
A goatee bard
When he lived in Wallington, Hertfordshire, in the late 1930s, he grew very interested in self-sufficiency, and he owned several goats, the first of which, Muriel, was a particular favourite of Orwell’s and went on to star in Animal Farm (1945). The real Muriel features in Orwell’s diaries, and the fictional Muriel is one of the good guys, a literate and compassionate animal.