Orwell’s Writing

Orwell in Wallington (1939)
I have finally accepted that there’s no chance of me getting a job with only six weeks of the summer holiday remaining, even though my swollen foot is much better. So, I’ve resolved to use the remaining time to devote myself to writing. Now, I have to manage this, as I also have my home-life obligations. However, George Orwell managed to write Animal Farm and 1984 while running a sizeable small-holding (growing vegetables, and tending goats and pigs) AND while suffering from the effects of advanced tuberculosis.

Orwell and Trusty Remington
Orwell wrote on an old Remington portable typewriter, and would get down to work at different times during the day. There are many obvious disadvantages to using a typewriter (compared with using a Macbook for instance), but one major advantage is that the racket made by 1930s Remington could be heard by everyone in Orwell’s household. So they knew when he was writing, and left him alone!

Now, in my own busy household, that would be truly wonderful!

The Source of the River Don

A few views of the Pennine moors above Sheffield at the location of the source of the River Don.
The Source of the River Don The river emerges from the peat in the gulley to the right of the image.

Winscar Reservoir
Winscar Reservoir
Within two kilometres of the River Don’s source, the river is dammed to create what you see here—Winscar Reservoir, which provides water for the city of Sheffield. Winscar is the first of many interruptions to the flow of the Don even before it reaches Sheffield. There are many ancient weirs dotted along the river where the energetic flow of the river was harnessed to power water wheels for the fledgeling cutlery industry during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Old Ways – Penguin’s ‘Wayfarer’ Competition

"The Wayfarer' by Stanley Donwood
"The Wayfarer' by Stanley Donwood
It’s rather late in the day, but rather fortuitously, a couple of weeks ago I received an email from my tutor at UEA (where I’m a mature undergraduate) informing me of the opportunity to take part in a competition being run by Penguin Books.

Entrants to the competition, called ‘The Penguin Wayfarer’, are required to submit a two minute film highlighting their favourite walks. I decided to enter, using my ‘River Don Project’ as material, and lo and behold, I have made it onto the long-list of twenty ‘best’ films. These twenty are now subject to online voting, and the ten most popular will be shortlisted for selection by Robert Macfarlane, the author of last year’s bestselling book on walking ‘The Old Ways’.

The winner will receive the wonderful prize of being paid to walk around England, writing, filming, and blogging about the various journeys. The winner also receives several thousand pounds worth of camping equipment, cameras, etc., with which to complete the assignment.

My film can be viewed at http://www.ajourneyonfoot.com.

I’m currently in eighth place, and would benefit from a little help to hopefully boost my personal ballot. THAT, my dear friends, is what I’m asking, most respectfully, from you. Would you please take a couple of minutes to click on the link and give me your vote? Voting ends at midnight on 24th June.

I would be most grateful for any help (and votes), and if I win, I’ll be blogging with a first hand account of my ‘Wayfarer’ exploits as I experience them.

The Plot Thickens!

And so the plot thickens! Now I find that it was the Romans who created the Don’s duality when they cut the Tunbridge Dyke from Thorne to join the Don to the River Aire. Until that time, it seems, the Don had veered eastwards at Thorne to join the Trent. This is confusing the hell out of me, as my Roman map of Britain shows only the route from Thorne to the River Aire. Maybe, by that time the route to the Trent had silted up, but why does it appear on later maps?

To who(m) do I ask the question…what is the definitive, original route of the River Don north-east of Doncaster?

The River Don – Clear As Mud!

So, the latest information gleaned from the (excellent) UEA library is that, similar to its vague source, the lower River Don originally did not have a direct confluence with the Yorkshire Ouse. The Don still springs out of the peat in several places on Grains Moss above Sheffield. However, what I had not realised was that, prior to Cornelius Vermuyden’s disastrous diverting of the river during the late 17th century, the Don split naturally at Hatfield Chase into two separate streams. One stream flowed into the River Aire, and the other into the Trent.

It seems then, that the Don has always been an ambiguous river, even well before human intervention. It remains even now nigh on impossible to determine exactly where it rises, and having flowed its seventy mile course, originally just meandered almost aimlessly into its ultimate objective of the North Sea.

I like the thought of the river having a character similar to most South Yorkshire folk. Or should I say, of course, the opposite, that the river is the pre-determinate influence. Sheffielders, particularly, maintain a strangely insouciant attitude regarding their origins, likewise with where they’re going to. But in the melange of river and city, in that seven or so miles of intimacy, the Don, fortunately, is loved. Neither above Sheffield, or downstream of it, is the river regarded with such affection. ‘In’t Don’ remains the colloquial means of explaining the disappearance of any valued possession. ‘It’s probably in’t Don’, where everything ends up, one way or another.

The uniquely murky Don, unlike many other similarly polluted water-flows throughout the industrial north, never becomes a torpid stream. It maintains an energetic flow from end to end, despite Vermuyden’s attempt to control it. In fact it is reasonably safe to say, that it is doubtful even in its current, relative unpollutedness, that anyone ever swims in the Don. Some may wade into it in its upper reaches, and others may travel upon it further downstream, but few ever swim in it. It is just too dangerous.

The river’s murky brown colour is explained in its name, Don, originally ‘Dun’. Dun, the ancient English word for brown, has always been the colour of the river, from its source to its end. The several tiny streams that ultimately converge to form the river high on the peat bog of Grains Moss, are all the same deep brown of the peat itself. Even the damming of the river to form the huge Winscar reservoir has failed to remove the peat colour from the water. The brown hue remains strikingly evident below Winscar, and in ancient times it is probable that the river was brown throughout its entire course. In fact, the river was known even in Roman times as the Dun.

The River Don At Goole, a.k.a. Dutch River

In preparation for my whole river odyssey, I have begun my survey of the of the River Don (a.k.a. Vermuyden’s Channel, or the Dutch River) at Goole in East Yorkshire. The Dutch River is a deeply unsettling, insidious course of water. It resembles a canal in its straightness, but the flow of water is totally unlike a canal in its tidal forcefulness. So much so, that one gets an instinctive feeling to stay well away from it. Fortunately, it is very difficult to approach the river, as it is well protected from human trespass. In fact, the tidal flow is also unfavourable to shipping. So, despite it being navigable for even sizeable vessels, few use it, preferring the River Aire navigation as an alternative, less risky route inland to South Yorkshire.

However, after a little exploration, I found an area alongside the Vermuyden Hotel, in Old Goole, where access to the river was possible. Against my better judgement, I made my way through the chest high vegetation towards the water, keeping in mind the warning of the manageress of the hotel, who told me to be very careful of the treacherous silt that builds up on both banks. Despite her warning, I almost lost my balance as I neared the edge of the river bank when my leg disappeared into a hidden hollow, almost pitching me over the bank side.

My heart was racing, and I halted there and then, deciding to take my photographs and a short film of the swirling brown torrent from a safe distance. As soon as I had what I wanted, I got out of there and made my way back to the hotel, where the manageress showing obvious relief at my safe return, told me that she had planned to phone the emergency services if I had not returned after an hour. That revelation did nothing to ease my already fragile nerves.

As I drove back to Sheffield I pondered on the experience. I realised that, for the first time in years, I had been properly frightened by that malignant flow of water. The River Don flows energetically along its whole course, but Vermuyden’s channel is an unnatural adulteration of what is, despite its swift flow, a relatively benign river. Vermuyden transformed it into a chilling and lethal flow of water, which is now additionally hazardous through being polluted to the extent that it seems devoid of any biological life. I likened the feeling of edging close to it as being similar to edging towards the precipice of hundred foot cliff. All right, as long as you maintain a distance, but getting too close and falling over means certain death. I know that had I lost my footing and fallen into Vermuyden’s channel, I would not be writing this account.

A surprising revelation was from the manageress of the Vermuyden Hotel, who despite living within sight of the Dutch River all her life, had no idea that it was the really the River Don.

Today Is Mrs Thatcher’s Funeral!

So, today’s the day then, and all will be revealed. We will see if the overwhelming police presence (which is already deployed on the streets of London as I write) is enough to cow any protesters. It probably will, as the police have had lots of practice in recent years in suppressing any form of protest that doesn’t fit with the requirements of the establishment. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not yearning for a violent demonstration, but there would be no harm in allowing protesters to voice their opinion within reasonable proximity to the coffin as it passes. As it is, protest may be allowed, but well out of sight and earshot of the media.

One final thought. Mrs Thatcher will be cremated later today. Its fortunate that crematoria run on gas and not coal!

Thatcher’s Funeral – An Impending Disaster!

That’s it! The period of respect has gone on long enough. Does the government realise what a mistake it is making in deciding to proceed with Thatcher’s state funeral? Though it’s supposedly not a real state funeral, it is in everything but name. It shows that the Conservatives are completely out of touch with what millions of ordinary folk think. The use of tax money to pay for the ceremony is a massive slap in the face, and William Hague’s justification for it was…well. Let’s just say that I bet he’s been nowhere near his birthplace (South Yorkshire) for quite a while, and I doubt he’d dare go back there now!

As I wrote in my previous post (22 December, 2012), there will undoubtedly be demonstrations during the funeral procession. Hundreds of police will suppress it, and there will be cracked heads and many arrests. The upshot will be Cameron, Hague, et al, pontificating about the disgrace that the televised scenes have brought upon the country. They know that this will happen, yet they’re still going ahead with it. Even the Queen has been brought to bear to add some legitimacy. She’s only ever previously attended the funeral of one other prime minister, Churchill. She didn’t even attend Clement Attlee’s funeral. What message does that put across?

This is going to be a disaster, I can see it, and I’m glad I’ll be well clear of London on the day.

Thatcher In Heaven, or Hell?


Steve Bell’s brilliant cartoon in today’s Guardian surely raises the question, certainly among those of a religious inclination, where exactly will the ‘Iron Lady’ be now? Opinion will almost certainly be divided, as it was when she was the Tory leader, along political lines. Therefore, the majority will be plumping for Heaven, though I personally doubt that she’ll be there, somehow. But whatever the case, whether ‘up’, or ‘down’, I expect she’ll be getting a seriously hard time before they let her in!

Demise of Thatcher

I’m sorry to say that my most recent post was all too prophetic. Mrs. Thatcher is dead, and her funeral has been arranged. Thankfully, it will not be the ‘State Funeral’ that I expected, but it is not far short (something like Princess Diana’s). I hope it passes peacefully, but I’m not confident that it will. Today has been rightly respectful, but by the time of the funeral, opinion might (as Diana’s death demonstrated) change significantly. Unsightly demonstrations, in the glare of the world’s media would not be good for anyone, and a private funeral, it seems, would almost certainly have been the preference of the Thatcher family. I hope that there is no wringing of hands after a disrupted public ceremony next week. However, I’m not holding my breath.