Read Army

Read Army


Just as salmon return to their home river to spawn so Arsenal fans return to Highbury when there is a Cup Final. For me so much more. Canonbury School where  the boys were smacked  with a ruler on their hands and the  girls on their legs.  The pea souper fog which meant we got lost in the playground. The two hour wait  for the Queen to drive by in Coronation Year.The Boer War statue in Highbury Fields. The Lido where we weren’t allowed to swim because of the polio scare in the  mid 1950s. The all weather pitch where Barbara terrorised me  with her bowling.The church across the road where we went to Sunday School. The clock tower  where the buses turned.The house,made for a happy  family but where none ever lived .

But enough, before watching the  fans fighting and singing  at Highbury Corner and the match a visit to one of London’s most boutique  and  darling galleries. The Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in Canonbury Square. Small but perfectly formed with a to die for garden café.

Canonbury Square is one of  London’s great literary addresses. Most famously Orwell moved there in in 1944,but before him Evelyn Waugh, Bloomsbury’s Grant and Bell, Louis MacNeice had all put pen to paper in this wonderful Georgian Square. Today among others  Keira Knighly has a pad there.

But when Orwell moved there it was a “ run down,seedy part of London, a lower middle class enclave in  a working class part of London”. Growing up in the area in the 50s and 60s I remember it  moving towards its present  elevated status.

And of course its to every journalist’s hero I must  turn ,Eric Blair aka George Orwell. His move to 27b Canonbury Square on the 28June 1944 ,three days after his 40th birthday is a pivotal time. He moves  because his  flat in Mortimer Crescent ,Kilburn is V bombed. The roof fell in  which covered but did not destroy the manuscript of Animal Farm. At that point he  and his wife Eileen having no children  after eight years of marriage were  adopting out of wedlock  baby Richard from Newcastle.

Our hero as always was working hard on his journalism for the Tribune, Manchester Evening News and the Observer. But getting Animal Farm published was proving difficult. In 1944  Uncle Jo Stalin was saving the world. For this reason Gollancz his contracted publisher wouldn’t, Cape similarly had cold feet, TS Eliot at Faber just didn’t get it and that left Warburg’s who took it but dithered so it wasn’t published until the war was over. At one point Orwell  started to make plans to self publish the book as a pamphlet! It has of course sold tens of millions of copies.

Of this self censorship Orwell would write scathingly” Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks his whip, but the really well-trained dog is the one that turns his somersault when there is no whip”

Most of Orwell’s life seems physically unhappy. But one description of life at Canonbury Square by Paul Potts paints a more agreeable picture.

“Nothing could be more pleasant than the sight of his living room in Canonbury Square early on a winter’s evening at high tea time. A huge fire, the table crowded with marvellous things, Gentlemen’, Relish and various jams, kippers, crumpets and toast… I’ll swear he valued tea and roast beef above  the OM and the Nobel Prize… then there was the conversation and the company…There was something  very innocent and terribly simple about him”.

The ghost of Canonbury Square. And as for the footie. Two nil down, three goals up We’re the ones who won the Cup. No house points  gained when I arrived home much later.

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