Already several of Mr. Dammann's contributions have appeared in our columns. This time, writing of Peter Grimes on Aldeburgh Beach (about three weeks ago, chilling the audience's bones), he says "I've attended opera performances in pubs, castle courtyards, country houses, derelict buildings, fields, and all manner of 'reclaimed' former industrial spaces both over- and under-ground. But this was the first time I've seen one staged on a beach. Probably the last time too, for beaches, particularly those on England's windswept east coast, are not well suited to presenting opera. . . . Staging any piece of music theatre on an exposed shoreline remains a magnificently absurd idea . . ."
What a situation! "Only legless chairs may be used. Entry to the beach £75." Did any among our membership attend? And whether they did or not what do they think of the idea? Magnificently absurd or not?
I did not attend this particular performance, Sydney Grew, but as my eldest sister lives on the Suffolk coast, I am often there. In particular, I commend Aldeburgh Fish and Chip Shop to everyone reading 'The Third'.
My sister's husband does not really like Britten, but I can never really work out why? In the winter of 2004/5, for various reasons, Sydney Grew, kleines c sailed out of the Thames Estuary and up the Suffolk coast to Southwold, the archetypal English seaside resort, a few miles to the north of Aldeburgh. Perhaps it was ultimately to say good bye to all that, as it also marked a time of rapid change in my own life! George Orwell is closely associated with this charming coastal resort, as this is where his parents retired. His real name, of course, was Eric Blair.
Peter C, who has lived in East Anglia all his life and knew the real Eric Blair as a young man, was once in a pub with him, and Eric gave him a lecture saying, "The thing is, Peter, you will never be accepted by the working classes if you speak in that way and wear that tie."
I guess that the old Etonian had much to live down. His accent betrayed his class. He was a tall, gaunt figure who used to walk around town with his hands in his pockets and a cigarette in his mouth, at least until he wanted to kiss someone. Then he would stub it out and do his stuff. The manager at "The Swan" immediately referred to Eric Blair as Sir and called Peter C, Peter:
"He was a toff and there was no way he could get away from it."
Eric was a bit of a ladies' man, or rather, "a pursuer of Southwold girlhood". I once met an old lady who had been handed a poem by Orwell when she was sixteen. I did not think that much of it, but it was sweet enough. A certain George Summers actually came to blows with Eric over his girl friend on Southwold Common in the 1931. Eric simply would not leave her alone.
The c take would be that one of the most penetrating political writers of the twentieth century struggled to fit into such a conservative place. Yet his social failures with the locals probably made him excel all the more in his novels. Eric last visited Southwold in 1939. It was a marvellous Orwellian moment. His father died that year, but they were reconciled before the end as his father had just read a favourable 'Sunday Times' review of his book 'Coming Up For Air'. In the fashion of the time, they put a couple of copper pennies on his father's eyelids. After the funeral it didn't seem right just to put the coins in his pocket, so Eric walked down to the front at Southwold and just chucked them into the sea. I cannot say I found any Orwellian coppers on the beach, but I understand why he did it. So I did a little rain dance on the beach instead, ran into the crashing waves and turned back the tide. King c~nut, eat your heart out! In the spirit of Dylan Thomas, who was living on the west rather than the east coast of Britain at the time, do not go gentle into that good night:
" ... Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
Eric himself was as sharp an observer of the English as Dylan was of the Welsh. He saw the English as a mild-mannered if slightly insular people, characterised by an aversion to extremism and a general faith in 'common sense' over abstract philosophical ideas, which tend to be associated more with thinkers from the continental mainland. He was critical, however, of any romantic notion of England as a nation that was in some way united, as was often said of the British people, especially during periods of national crisis such as wartime:
"England is the most class-ridden country under the sun... It is a land of snobbery and privilege, ruled largely by the old and silly."
Eric was therefore an intriguing, rather paradoxical individual; an upper-middle-class 'man of the people' who tried, through the course of his life, to overcome the prejudices that his upbringing had educated him into. Although traces of Orwell's England can still be seen today in places like Southwold, half a century later, England appears to be a more open, multicultural society, and it would be fair to say that the passing of the more old-fashioned notion of 'Englishness' is largely unmourned. He is perhaps best studied today from a historical perspective, as someone who was on the scene with his own idiosyncratic insights to offer on many of the key turning points in twentieth century history. Yet in his repudiation of totalitarianism in his great novels, 'Animal Farm[/io]' and '[io]1984', he arguably did more than any other writer to advance the cause of freedom. As children of the great ideological battles of the twentieth century, which he fought so passionately on an intellectual level, we owe him much. I suspect that were he to reappear right now, I would like him very much indeed. Despite his obvious difficulties with class, he was always something of a romantic. I commend him to everyone reading 'The Third' today.