Pilgrimage to Orwell
2. VISITING ORWELL'S BARNHILL
Saturday, August 7, 2004
From the top of the hill we saw a tall man walking toward the house from the field and as we continued watching he went inside. When we came down the hill and turned into the driveway to Barnhill we saw a Landrover parked in the back which confirmed that someone was there. We took a picture of me standing at the gate and then I built up the courage to go and knock on the door.
When the man answered my knock I said, "Dr Livingstone I presume" and the ice was somewhat broken. I introduced myself as an Orwell researcher and he invited us in to meet his wife Demaris and talk about George Orwell. He is Jamie Fletcher, the present owner of Barnhill.
We followed him down the hallway to the kitchen and sat down at the table with them while they were eating lunch. They said it was okay if we pulled our bagged lunches out of our packs and ate with them.
Framed photographs of George Orwell looked at me from the wall behind the stove. In my mind I pretended he was in the room with us. Jamie has a bit of an Orwell look about him in his features and his height. He's the son of Robin Fletcher who was the laird of the Ardlussa estate when Orwell lived here. I'd written a story about Robin Fletcher on the website and I told him about it. He agreed that it is possible that Orwell could have put aspects of what he learned from his father into 1984. I also told him that I'd read his mother's REMINISCES OF GEORGE ORWELL on the ferry and found it very interesting. It rounded out the rough edges of my understanding of Orwell's life at Barnhill. Jamie was alive when Orwell used to visit them at Ardlussa but he was too young to remember him.
To me the most exciting thing about sitting in Orwell's kitchen was that it was below the bedrooms where he'd written and typed 1984 and where his handwritten manuscript had lain undisturbed for thirteen months after he left. His wife Sonia had found it among his papers when she came to Barnhill in February 1950, a month after his death. I was born in February 1950, the very same month Orwell's manuscript was found in his bedroom upstairs. I told them about the miracle of my coming across a copy of the manuscript in Wales last summer and they agreed that it was a real treasure-find.
Demaris keeps a scrapbook of articles about George Orwell and I enjoyed looking through it. On one page there was a handwritten letter done in fancy calligraphy that I enquired about. She said it was sent by a group of their son's friends who had stayed at Barnhill on a break from University and had gone on a traditional house-crawl to residences on Jura whereby they have a drink at one house and then leave to go on to the next house for a drink. On that particular occasion they'd taken the picture of Orwell down from the wall and taken it with them to each house where they stood it on the table every time they sat and had a drink. In other words, they were figuratively taking Orwell along with them for their night out. At some point along the way the frame was broken and their letter was to apologise for breaking the frame and it was accompanied by a new frame for "George". I thought that was hilarious and told them that no doubt Orwell had enjoyed being included.
Demaris also showed us another photo that is framed and on the wall. It's of the PLAZA DE GEORGE ORWELL in Barcelona, Spain, that was taken by the neighbour who lives two miles north at Kinuachdrach. That inspired a discussion about how there is no plaza or monument or museum to Orwell in England whereas there is a statue of Karl Marx and a Charles Dickens museum. Demaris conjectured that maybe it's because Orwell isn't a "dead author". I asked what she meant by that and she said words to the effect that "Orwell isn't dead because his name is mentioned every day and his words are quoted to such an extent that it seems like he's still here talking to us". I thought that was a brilliant explanation for why there isn't a monument to Orwell and after discussing it with a friend since coming home she added that "there IS a momument to Orwell, it's just not made of brick and mortar. It's the living, breathing presence of his words that is his monument". I thought that was so true.
When Jamie showed me the living room I asked how much of it resembled what it was like when Orwell lived here. He said it would have been more sparsely furnished but that the structure was the same.
The pictures of birds on the fireplace wall would have impressed Orwell. He used to frustrate his intellectual friends by expounding monotonously about the birds he had spotted on his hikes. I didn't notice until I got home that there's a framed photo of Orwell on the mantle.
After leaving the living room Jamie headed toward the stairs and asked if I'd like to see the room where Orwell wrote 1984. I can't remember giving a coherent answer but I must have answered in the affirmative because before I realized it we were up the stairs and walking down the hallway.
I was snapping pictures as we went along, not really registering what I was seeing. But a picture says a thousand words and so there's really not much need for explanation.
The first room we came to was the bathroom and Jamie said "Orwell's bathtub" pointing at the big old fashoned claw-footed relic that most of the homes I've been to in England still use. I wish we had bathtubs like that in Canada.
Then down to the end of the hall we walked and Jamie non-chalantly said, "Orwell's bedroom".
I just about had a heart attack imagining Orwell in here crawling from bed to chair and from chair to desk and then from desk to chair and bed again as he desperately slaved to finish his final masterpiece. It was in this room, in that very bed (well, not really but symbolically) that much of the most important book of the 20th century was created. How appropriate that it be in a bed which is where most progeny are conceived. 1984 is Orwell's progeny.
To bring me back down to earth Jamie told me that Orwell's sister Avril said, "So much for George being sacrosanct. Sacrostank would be more like it". She used to complain that his Black Shag tobacco stunk the house to high heaven.
For the 'piece de resistance' Jamie pointed to the open door on our right as we walked back down the hall from Orwell's bedroom. There in front of me was the little bedroom above the kitchen from where visitors to Barnhill used to hear Orwell "pounding away at his typewriter". And there, on a desk beneath the very window through which he gazed, sat that typewriter, his typewriter (symbolically).
I thought of Orwell's words about a window pane. In an essay written not long before he died he said that "prose should be as clear as a window pane" so that people would understand what the author was trying to tell them. He said he'd tried all his life to become as good a writer as he could be. The spotless Barnhill window above, with Orwell's typewriter reflected in its glass, is symbolic of him achieving that goal beyond even his imagination.
Back downstairs Demaris and my husband had finished 'washing up' and Jamie said he had to get back to spraying bracken. So we grabbed our backpacks off the kitchen chairs and went outside for a tour of the yard.
In the photo above I'm standing in front of the kitchen where everyone could hear Orwell's constant typing from the bedrooms up above. The window to my right is the pantry next to the kitchen and the window above that is Orwell's bedroom. The window high above my head is the little bedroom with the typewriter.
Then I sat on the bench in front of the living room window and changed film in my camera.
The upstairs window above me is a guest room and there are two more at the back. You can see the rocky ridge in the far right which is the hill we'd walked down to get here.
Next I strolled down to almost the end of the front yard and snapped a distance shot of Barnhill:
The two windows on each side of the house belong to the two big barns and are doubtless the origin of the name, ie "barn" by the "hill" is "Barnhill". Notice the big green bush in front of the pantry window. Jamie says it's an azalea bush planted by Orwell 58 years ago when he lived at Barnhill. It's the only flower, fruit tree or vegetable that the deer haven't eaten.
Finally it was time to go. Jamie had bracken to spray and Demaris had whitewashing to do at the back of the house. We wanted one last photo for the road and asked them to stand with Barnhill Bay and the Sound of Jura behind them.
That's the Scottish mainland you see in the distance and their calm black dog beside them.
As a parting gift we gave them an ORWELL TODAY T-SHIRT and a copy of my last summer's book HOMAGE TO ORWELL to add to their Barnhill memorabilia. They said it was okay to share the Barnhill photos with "Orwell Today" readers and tell them how to rent Barnhill for short periods of time. Contact Jamie & Demaris Fletcher by email at email@example.com
As we left through the gate and up the path to the road we argued about whether or not to walk three more miles to the Corryvreckan whirlpool. My husband was adament that we wouldn't be doing it, saying that "three plus three equals six" and his soccer-injured heels couldn't take it. I had sympathy and relented and reluctantly we turned around. But by that time we were at a perfect vantage point for a picture of the view looking north toward Kinuachdrach, Orwell's nearest neighbour, and beyond that the Corryvreckan Channel and the island of Sarba.
And also from there we took a picture looking south toward Barnhill and Orwell's view as he walked back home from Kinuachdrach after fetching eggs and milk.
go next to 1. JOUURNEYING TO ORWELL'S JURA and 3. ORWELL'S CORRYVRECKAN WHIRLPOOL or back to index at PILGRIMAGE TO ORWELL
ORWELL'S TYPEWRITER MY GRANDFATHER'S and ORWELL'S TYPEWRITER A REMINGTON
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