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GRAND Insights: Another Look at Orwell’s London

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Recently I took a trip down to London. After the long journey I stepped out into Euston Station and took a taxi to Piccadilly Circus. Through the windows of the black cab I began to soak in the British-ness of the thing. Living in a small village in which a stone’s throw away to Blackpool is the closest thing to glimmering lights and fast cars, I was eager to drink in all of the Union Jacks and mini Big Bens I could find.

As a once-avid science fiction fan, and a reader of the cracked dystopian, I was keen to see London un-flipped: in its normal state, happy and content with its own everyday-ness. The truth is that on any day London looks like a carnival of itself, a mash-up of British iconography and big, big things.

One of my favourite examples of London ‘flipped’ in fiction is George Orwell’s 1984. The novel focuses on Winston Smith, a character living in a broken London, now know more widely as a small part of the continent of Oceania.

A large part of 1984 is the idea of identity within a crowded, dirty society, a society in which free speech is dangerous and thought-crimes are dealt with using violence and terror. ‘Orwellian’ has become a common phrase to denote the dystopian, and more specifically a corrupt example of government.

Names are important, especially within fiction; usually one of the first things we learn about a character is their name. Orwell knew this and purposefully gave his every-man protagonist in 1984 the most British sounding name he could think of. What Orwell came up with was an amalgamation of a huge political figure and supposedly one of the most common surnames in Britain; Winston Smith.

I continued along my way, drinking as much London as I could find. Gradually I attempted to find things that would point to history, and yes – I found plenty of little blue plaques and old, old buildings. But I somehow found it difficult to find my Mary Poppins, my 1984 before Big Brother took over.

It was at the point where I found ‘M&M World’ where I gave up hope of finding a bronze bald man watching over us whilst shouting something about beaches. By the way, if you’re wondering, ‘M&M World’ is pretty good, but I wouldn’t call it a ‘world’ as such; it’s three floors of brightly coloured plastic – three floors yet I couldn’t find a lone packet of ‘M&Ms’.

What would Winston have thought? He did after all harbour a completely understandable obsession about the ever-diminishing rations of chocolate in 1984. To be honest, he’d probably have been glad to be able to get his mitts on some actual chocolate – the kind that melts and doesn’t just crumble, as he puts it. But back in 2014, I had to wait till Euston Station – the perimeters of Orwell’s city – to find a packet that wasn’t just peanuts and pay over the odds for two minutes worth of chocolaty goodness.

By Kieran Wyatt
1984 plays at the Grand Theatre, Blackpool from Tuesday 30 September – Saturday 4 October 2014.
For more information and tickets click here

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