Friday, January 6, 2017

George Orwell Camps in Quartzsite

Rereading some essays of George Orwell, I really appreciate how much the world lost when he died so young. Why has it been so enjoyable to read him?  It isn't just for his opinions.

Much of the credit goes to his adventuresome life of poverty, suffering, war, and wide travel. He is like Jack London in that sense. There is a manliness to a writer who hasn't spent all of his life in a parlor, drinking tea with dowagers and maiden aunts; in the bubble of a college town, writing research grants to the Ministry of Culture; or at a desk job, stamping paper with "Approved!" Such a life is necessary in order to write about life instead of books, and things (processes and actions) instead of words.

The refreshment that the reader feels may result from the healthy balance in Orwell's writing. Although he aims his pen at interesting experiences in the real world, he never drowns in the minutiae of concreteness. Each observation seems well-chosen and pregnant with a wider significance. His writing is at its best when he holds back from explicitly pounding at this wider significance, but instead, unselfishly allows the reader to finish the job. 
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Let's take an apparent digression from Orwell, before returning to him. Currently I am camping in a lightly regulated area. All in all, I love this feature. But of course it means the accretion of an unsavory clientele.



At such a place once, a fellow camper and I had a laugh at how prejudiced a camper can be against a rig different from their own. The prejudice works in both directions, but it is especially aimed at a less expensive rig. 

For instance, I feel "creepie" every time I drive by two car-campers in my area, despite them being quiet and unobtrusive. Seldom does it occur to me that people in expensive motorhomes feel the same when they see my converted cargo trailer!
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Orwell wrote about an experience he had as a young man, staying at a Salvation Army-like mission with a bunch of smelly bums. ("The Spike", 1931.)

To occupy the time I talked with a rather superior tramp, a young carpenter who wore a collar and tie, and was on the road, he said, for lack of a set of tools. He kept a little aloof from the other tramps, and held himself more like a free man than a casual. He had literary tastes, too, and carried one of Scott's novels on all his wanderings. He told me he never entered a spike [a shelter for the bums] unless driven there by hunger, sleeping under hedges and behind ricks in preference.
This is exactly what I was experiencing, so it gave me a good laugh. It also brought to mind the odd rigs and 'rubber tramps' who hang out in Quartzsite at this time of year.
We talked of life on the road. He criticized the system which makes a tramp spend fourteen hours a day in the spike, and the other ten in walking and dodging the police...

...and at that he changed his tune immediately. I saw that I had awakened the pew-renter who sleeps in every English workman. Though he had been famished, along with the rest, he at once saw reasons why the food should have been thrown away rather than given to the tramps. He admonished me quite severely.
'You don't want to have any pity on these tramps--scum, they are. You don't want to judge them by the same standards as men like you and me. They're scum, just scum.'

It was interesting to see how subtly he disassociated himself from his fellow tramps. He has been on the road six months, but in the sight of God, he seemed to imply, he was not a tramp. His body might be in the spike, but his spirit soared far away, in the pure aether of the middle classes.
I cackled with glee when I read this. Here I was, a genteel tramp living in a converted cargo trailer, turning up his nose at 'van tramps' and car-campers! It is delightful to read a classic book and then get lucky at applying it to my own life. 

4 comments:

  1. Orwell. With the new administration, this might be a good time to reread 1984. It should be required reading starting in high school.



    “You are a slow learner, Winston."
    "How can I help it? How can I help but see what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four."
    "Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”
    ― George Orwell, 1984

    Ed


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    1. I haven't reread "1984" for a long time. "Brave New World" by Huxley always seemed more pertinent to the USA.

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  2. Those "people in expensive motorhomes", what I call - Class 'A' people sporting Montana license plates - feel the same way about my Class C as they do your converted cargo trailer. I think they feel the same way about any RV other than a peer to the one they are driving.

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    1. There certainly is that tendency to judge people by their rigs. We are all guilty of it, to some degree. But we can also laugh at ourselves when we spot it.

      But you might be an exception with that spiffy paint job!

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