BY JAMES BEMBRIDGE
Sad to say that during my school years I never did have the chance to read 1984, nor its sister novel Animal Farm. My teacher opting instead to impose the illiterate, misandrist filth that is ‘The Colour Purple’ upon our impressionable eyes and tender ears – well, I say impressionable, there was a video circulating amongst the boys at that time of a girl performing a manage a moi. An act that proved too tough for our Maths teacher to ever follow; how many 10’s go into 21 never did have the same draw as how many digits go into Julia.
So school was far from uneventful, but as I say: no Orwell.
I did think an opportunity to read 1984 would present itself last week when, after finding myself forced out of my home by overzealous builders, I sought refuge in the local library. The library is a curious specimen. Evidently there had been some attempt to blend the building in with the surrounding Georgian architecture of my Derbyshire town by way of using a similar shade of stone. But as one draws closer to the building, one sees that behind its traditionalist mask stare two garish 60’s brutalist style windows. Little did I know that these windows into the soul of socialism would foreshadow the horrors that were awaiting me inside.
Like so many council-run libraries, it appears to double as a sort of day care centre for the mentally impaired. I thus felt quite at home. Once past the row of computer-entranced dribblers, the building opened out into a foyer, in the middle of which lay the main desk. Guarding the desk was something that conformed to every stereotype one might have about a librarian – an austere-looking crow of a woman, so painfully thin and etiolated on her diet of dust that she was surely either close to death or had indeed resurrected. To my surprise, I was received with a smile which caused her leathered cheeks to press against her eyes, changing their shape into something altogether more pleasing. It only took my inquiring about Orwell’s 1984 for those cheek pads to sink back beneath her chin. ‘We don’t have it’, she rasped. I asked if she could search the database to be sure, which of course awarded me an indignant stare. ‘We did have it’, she paused, her eyes looking up, half hidden behind her bulbous brow, ‘but it would appear that it was never returned’. With the weather miserable and nowhere else to turn, I asked her to point me in the direction of the politics section. It was slight, but I distinctly saw the corner of her mouth twitch upwards as if she were warding off a smile.
The politics section had been relegated to a part of the library that housed local history and feminist literature – that is to say, I had the place to myself. I had hopes of reading something from either of the Hitchens brothers; the Godfather of the Gay Mafia, Prof. Starkey or its consigliere, Douglas Murray; all the while being sheltered from the lashing rain. Such comforting thoughts soon abandoned me as what I was greeted with in the politics section was enough to turn any man’s blood cold: Labour activist Owen Jones’ book ‘Chavs: The demonization of the working class’, Afua Hirsh’s ‘Brit(ish)’, Nikesh Shukla’s ‘The Good Immigrant’, a book simply titled ‘Vagina’ and a luridly decorated one on the history of Arabs – no wonder the bitch wanted to smile.
Last year, an American veteran friend of mine insisted that I read Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ as so many of his teachings can be applied to any aspect of one’s life. One I often find myself using is ‘know your enemy’. With that in mind, I picked up Jones’ first literary effort. Displayed on the front cover was a quote from his employer, The Guardian, which promised something ‘superb and angry’, which I assumed to be merely what Orwell would have called doublespeak for ‘trite and petulant’. It appeared that I was blessed not with the standard edition of the book, which is often erroneously placed in WH Smith’s ‘smart thinking’ section, but with an updated 2016 version expanded with a punishingly long introduction from the boy himself. In it, we get an insight into his warped imaginings as he recounts a dinner party – ‘Sitting around the table were people from more than one ethnic group. The gender split was fifty-fifty and not everyone was straight’. Who demands a bloody quota system for a dinner party? It makes Orwell’s predictions seem positively conservative. As it happens, the titular year 1984 is also Jones’ year of birth – if there is a God, then one has to admire the dryness of his humour.
Once the book actually began, I was shocked by how much of Jones’ writing I found to be measured and agreeable; it didn’t sound at all like the voice of Owen Jones as we know him today. Speaking on the disparity of coverage between Madeline McCann and Shannon Mathews, he writes: ‘Shannon’s background was just too far removed from the experience of journalists who covered such stories. You don’t need to indulge in psychobabble to understand why those who write and broadcast our news are so transfixed with ‘Maddie’ while displaying scant interest in a missing girl from a northern backwater.’ What irony that Jones has since turned into the very monster that his book was conceived to challenge. I look forward to volume II ‘Gammon: The Demonization of the Working Class’.
My attention was then stolen by a breathless cough emanating not ten feet from behind me. I turned in time to catch a glimpse of a cadaverous figure slither behind one of the walls of literature – that hag of a librarian admiring her handiwork no doubt. I did take a look at Afua Hirsh’s book but as it opened by telling us how, until as recently as the 70’s, gollywogs were featured on the BBC, I think I had the measure of it. By the way, if anyone is at all worried about the future of journalism and its divisive nature, then it may please you to know Afua is teaching the subject to lucky students in California.
Before I left, one book caught my attention that had somehow previously eluded it. Perhaps there was hope yet, surely that Marxist witch must have put at least one book in the section representative of conservative thought? I warily reached for it as one does when checking their lottery ticket. ‘Come on, come on, please no more lefty drivel.’ And… ‘Attack of the 50ft Women: How Gender Equality Can Save the World.’
Suffice to say, I left the library somewhat dejected – worried at the narrowness of political opinion on offer in our state-run libraries if our local one is anything to go by. Then I reminded myself that, mercifully, most of Derbyshire’s youth can’t read the instructions on a Durex packet, let alone literature.
I’m pleased to report that I now have a copy of Orwell’s 1984 (ordered from that beacon of capitalism Amazon as no nearby book shops stock it). Once finished, I’m inclined to nail it to the classic fiction section of that library so that it may never get ‘lost’ again, and I suppose as a vain attempt to ensure that its ideas of ‘unpersoning’ and ‘thought crime’ remain firmly contained in the fiction section.