Off to Islington’s Almeida Theatre for a matinee of the fringe play Treatment. Upper Street very much a main road in my Highbury childhood is now one of the trendiest streets in all London. Here New Labour was born and died, here you can buy fifty types of bread, the food of five continents, here gays and lesbians of all colours frolic,here there are not one but two fringe theatres, here the Happy Hour beckons in thirty bars.
But first lunch at the lovely Estorick Collection in darling Canonbury Square. Italian speaking waiters,Grazie,ciao,prego,serve the most delicious but minute portion of lasagne. Here I see the works of Giacomo Balla(no relation!),here I feel at best part of London’s intelligentsia, at worst a flaneur.
Not least because one of my heroes, George Orwell lived from 1944-8 in Canonbury Square. And doing some research for this blog I find there is a Putney connection.
In 1944 Hitler had great hopes that his secret weapon would somehow turn the tide of war in his favour. Every day in June ,50 V1s were launched in the direction of London. One hit buildings on the corner of Upper Richmond Road and Charlwood Road causing three dead and 15 seriously injured. Across the city another hit George Orwell’s flat in Mortimer Crescent, Kilburn. Among the damage was the typescript of Animal Farm still struggling to find a publisher. He found it “crumpled but still readable”,as well it is.
This forced our hero to move to the fourth floor flat in the Georgian square in Canonbury. Then run down but now eminently fashionable. It was while he was in the flat he started 1984. Although there are some well described scenes of family life, high teas, Orwell found city life depressing.
In the memories of the Canonbury flat ,kippers and Gentleman’s Relish on toast feature. His adopted son Richard would play with the char lady’s boy. The very hard working writer got an assignment as a war correspondent, while in Germany his wife Eileen died while having a hysterectomy.
He eventually decamped to Jura to finish his masterpiece,within two years had met Sonia(the model for 1984’s Julia), and on his death bed married again. His last years were dogged with chest infections, not helped by a life time of rolling his own.
Fellow Etonian Cyril Connelly would write” The tragedy of Orwell’s life is that when he achieved fame and success he was a dying man and he knew it. He had fame and was too ill to leave his room, money and nothing to spend it on, love in which he could not participate, he tasted the bitterness of dying”.
TB was first diagnosed in 1946, 1984 was published in 1948, he married in hospital(UCH) and died in l950.