Homage to Orwell
Monday, July 14, 2003


After leaving Orwell's flat in Canonbury Square we were introduced to Peter Powell who lives in the flat next door. He, like myself, considers himself a bit of an Orwell connoisseur. He conducts Sunday strolls to places in Islington that George Orwell frequented. We arranged to meet in half-an hour at Orwell's local pub.

Being somewhat in a state of shock and amazement from the experience of being overwhelmed with Orwell's ambience, I don't remember the address of the pub or even its name, although I think it was called the Compton Arms. While walking there Zoe and I got kind of lost in a labyrinth of little streets that kept bringing us back to the same place. But finally we asked directions from a man who, as he approached us, had a bearing amazingly similar to Orwell's. But maybe at this point I was imagining it, feeling as I was that I was walking on Cloud Nine.

In any event we finally got there and hurried inside without even taking a picture. We were both in need of a drink at this point, it being the end of a very long and eventful day. We sat in a room in the back of the main pub, but still connected to the front part by a serving window to the bar area. We'd been shown this room when we'd asked the bartender if it was true that this was Orwell's local. He assured us it was.

While we waited for Peter Powell to arrive I eavesdropped on a boisterous conversation I could overhear from people sitting on stools and leaning against the bar. I commented to Zoe that the accent of the person doing most of the talking reminded me of 1984 and the conversation Winston overheard the time he went into the prole bar looking for someone to talk to about the past:

"The old man whom he had followed into the pub was standing at the bar, having some kind of altercation with the barman, a large, stout, hook-nosed young man with enormous forearms. A knot of others, standing round with glasses in their hands, were watching the scene.

'I arst you civil enough, didn't I?' said the old man, straightening his shoulders pugnaciously. 'You telling me you ain't got a pint mug in the 'ole bleeding boozer?'

'And what in hell's name is a pint?' said the barman, leaning forward with the tips of his fingers on the counter.

' 'Ark at 'im! Calls 'isself a barman and don't know what a pint is! Why, a pint's the 'alf of a quart, and there's four quarts to the gallon. 'Ave to teach you the A, B, C next.'

'Never heard of 'em,' said the barman shortly. 'Litre and half litres - that's all we serve. There's the glasses on the shelf in front of you.'

'I likes a pint,' persisted the old man. 'You could 'a drawed me off a pint easy enough. We didn't 'ave these bleeding litres when I was a young man.'

'When you were a young man we were all living in the tree-tops,' said the barman, with a glance at the other customers.

There was a shout of laughter, and the uneasiness caused by Winston's entry seemed to disappear. The old man's white-stubbed face had flushed pink. He turned away, muttering to himself, and bumped into Winston. Winston caught him gently by the arm.

'May I offer you a drink?' he said.

'You're a gent,' said the other, straightening his shoulders again. He appeared not to have noticed Winston's blue overalls. 'Pint! he added aggressively to the barman. 'Pint of wallop.'"

A short time later Peter Powell and his friend John Dunne arrived. They'd just come from the Community Centre where they'd been rehearsing a play John had written and in which Peter had a major role. Peter is an actor and a singer who lived in Liverpool when the Beatles were first getting together. Ringo Star had played drums for him one time. Peter is a walking encyclopedia of information about the literary history of London and specifically the Islington area. He has lived in this area for thirty-two years and has been giving Sunday Walks for the past eighteen years. He calls them ANGEL WALKS.

He had many stories to tell us about George Orwell, the kind of stuff you don't hear about anywhere else. He has personally met many of Orwell's friends and sat in this very pub, at this very table, listening to them tell stories about Orwell.

Orwell's Local Pub

Above is a photo of Zoe and me with Peter on her left and John on my left. Peter told me an amazing thing about where I was sitting. I'd asked him the same question I'd asked the barman, ie "Is this REALLY Orwell's local pub...the place where he used to come all the time?" He assured me that it was and said that as a matter of fact I was sitting in Orwell's favourite seat! John then interjected with the comment that "Orwell had many enemies and liked to have his back against the wall". We all had a great laugh about that, and of course, I was thrilled to be sitting where Orwell had sat.

Peter told us that after one of his Sunday Orwell Walks a man came up and introduced himself as Henry Dakin. He was Orwell's nephew, the son of Orwell's sister Marjorie. Henry had actually saved Orwell's life - and thus 1984 for posterity - when their small boat got sucked into the Corryvrecken whirlpool at the top of the island of Jura.

Another interesting fact that Peter told us was that "Room 101" from 1984 got its name from Room 101 in the BBC building where Orwell's Department used to hold its weekly meetings.

Peter also told us that a little old lady who lived in a block of flats facing Orwell's building had died recently at the age of one hundred. But she never tired of telling the story of how she used to see the writer, George Orwell, pushing his baby in a pram around the neighbourhood. The image was etched in her mind because in those days you didn't usually see men pushing babies in prams. That was something women did.

We would loved to have stayed sharing stories with Peter and John until closing time but, like Cinderella leaving to catch her pumpkin, we had to get to Victoria Station to catch the last train out of London. With their hurried directions ringing in our ears we rushed out the door turning right, right, left and right and then "down, down, down" into the tube and up, up, up onto the train and onward, onward home. The Man in the Moon was with us all the way.

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PETER POWELL IN MEMORY (www.angelwalks.co.uk)


Peter Powell of Orwell's Islington dies (conducted literary historical strolls). Angel Walks, Feb 28, 2008

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