6 – 10.2.36

Staying with the Meades at 49 Brynton Rd., Longsight, Manchester. Brynton Rd. is in one of the new building estates. Very decent houses with bathrooms and electric light, rent I suppose about 12/- or 14/-. Meade is some kind of Trade Union Official and has something to do with the editing of Labour’s Northern Voice – these are the people who do the publishing side of the Adelphi. The M.s have been very decent to me. Both are working-class people, speak with Lancashire accents and have worn the clogs in their childhood, but the atmosphere in a place like this is entirely middle-class. Both the M.s were faintly scandalised to hear I had been in the common lodging house in Manchester. I am struck again by the fact that as soon as a working man gets an official post in the Trade Union or goes into Labour politics, he becomes middle-class whether he will or no. ie. by fighting against the bourgeoisie he becomes a bourgeois. The fact is that you cannot help living in the manner appropriate and developing the ideology appropriate to your income (in M’s case I suppose about £4 a week.) The only quarrel I have with the M.s is that they call me “comrade.” Mrs M., as usual, does not understand much about politics but has adopted her husband’s views as a wife ought to; she pronounces the word “comrade” with manifest discomfort. Am struck by the difference of manners even as far north as this. Mrs M. is surprised and not altogether approving when I get up when she enters the room, offer to help with the washing-up etc. She says, “Lads up here expect to be waited on.”

M. sent me across to Wigan to see Joe Kennan, [1] an electrician who takes a prominent part in the Socialist movement. Kennan also lives in a decent Corporation house (Beech Hill Building Estate) but is more definitely a working man. A very short, stout, powerful man with an extraordinarily gentle, hospitable manner and very anxious to help. His elder child was upstairs in bed (scarlet fever suspected) the younger on the floor playing with soldiers and a toy cannon. Kennan smiles and says, “You see – and I’m supposed to be a pacifist.” He sent me to the N. U. W. M. [2] shelter with a letter to the secretary asking him to find me a lodging in Wigan. The shelter is a dreadful ramshackle little place but a godsend to these unemployed men as it is warm and there are newspapers etc. there. The secretary, Paddy Grady, an unemployed miner. A tall lean man about 35, intelligent and well-informed and very anxious to help. He is a single man getting 17/- bob° [= shillings] a week and is in a dreadful state physically from the years of underfeeding and idleness. His front teeth are almost entirely rotted away. All the men at the N. U. W. M. very friendly and anxious to supply me with information as soon as they heard I was a writer and collecting facts about working-class conditions. I cannot get them to treat me precisely as an equal, however. They call me either “Sir” or “Comrade.”

[1] Joe Kennan: at the time an unemployed coal miner an activist in the Independent Labour Party. He found Orwell lodgings with John and Lily Anderton (Mr and Mrs Hornby in this diary). For a valuable interview with Joe Kennan, see Orwell Remembered (pp. 130-3).

[2] N. U. W. M.: National Unemployed Workers Movement.

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2 Responses to 6 – 10.2.36

  1. max says:

    It’s fascinating to see how smoothly Orwell slides from simple diary keeping to stylish reportage. It brings out all is decency and warmth, especially towards the underdog. And it’s amusing to note his remark about how a good wife ought to adopt her husband’s views. With his posthumous reputation as a mysogenist it’s just possible that he was being serious; on the other hand, of course, he is a great ironist. Can anyone out there read minds?

  2. Pingback: 16.2.36 | The Road to Wigan Pier

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