August 22, 1938

Warmish day, with showers. Nights are getting colder & more like autumn. A few oaks beginning to yellow very slightly. After the rain enormous slugs crawling about, one measuring about 3” long. Large holes, presumably ear-holes, some distance behind head. They were of two distinct colours, some light fawn & others white, but both have a band of bright orange round the edge of the belly, which makes one think they are of the same species & vary individually in colour. On the tip of their tails they had blobs of gelatinous stuff like the casing of water-snail’s eggs.
A large beetle, about the size of a female stag-beetle but not the same, extruding from her hindquarters a yellow tube about the length of herself. Possibly some sort of tube through which eggs are laid?

[NEWSPAPER CUTTING]

Sloe Gin
The origin of this recipe is buried deep in the traditional lore of the New Forest gypsies. A friend of Lady Muriel wrote it down in the gipsy’s own words. Her people were friends with Romany folk, and a bottle of the liquer was always brought at Christmas as a gift to her mother. The gypsies expected no payment for it, and in addition used to sing some ancient songs which they called carols, but seemed to have no Christian significance.
“Pick your sloes when they be fine and ripe, with dry air, and warm with the sun. Prick each one with a needle three times. Take half a bottle of unsweetened gin and put in a fistful of sugar-candy, firm and strong, the taste of a crushed bitter almond, or the kernels of ripe apricots, crushed. Fill the bottle with the sloes and press them down.
“If you be not on the road, lay beneath the floor of your tent where you be sleeping, for they slags (sloes) dunnot like the cold. Let ‘em bide till Christmas come, when take out the fruit and let ‘em bide till you need ‘em.”

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36 Responses to August 22, 1938

  1. Zamboge says:

    Is there an indication of which newspaper the cuttings are coming from? Just interested what newspaper he took.

  2. Jamie says:

    Is there any possibility of adding a link to (Google) maps, that show where Orwell was when he was writing the entry?

    Some additional meta data, to complement the tags.

  3. Nick Thompson says:

    What he mistook for the slugs ear was presumably the pneumostome through which it breathes.

  4. Serena says:

    Yes Nick, that is what I thought when I first read this entry.

    His entries seem to show a general interest in the natural world. I like that.
    Was everybody like that back then? If so why did we lose that interest?

    When I talk about slugs or snails (which are frickin’ awesome BTW (or awful if you prefer)) I am usually met with blank looks and uncomfortable smiles.

  5. andyroberts says:

    I was watching a slug just like the one Orwell describes only yesterday and I wished I knew the Welsh word for each of the different types of slug. The English language is poor by comparison having only the generic word “slug” for all the different colours and sizes.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    I think a lot of people journaled about the natural world around them because it was their livelihood and, in a way, their entertainment. Climate scientists can now go back through these old journals and note changes in plant and animal lifecycles over the decades.

    This is probably a habit we’d do well to take up again!

  7. How do you know that you were watching “a slug just like the one Orwell describes” since he did not describe it in detail in the infinitely superior language of the Welsh?

  8. Amir says:

    Serena,

    I have a friend who’s a bug biologist. she’s been spending the last five years or so cataloging the entire sub-species of the wasp (sorry, don’t know the latin term for the family name of the wasps).

    My point… Bugs can be fun too. I used to love to play with earthworms, but then I grew older, and suddenly it became socially unacceptable to lift up an earthworm. Now people look at me funny if I don’t kill a spider that’s accidentally fallen on me or something… God – sometimes I want to strangle society…

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  10. Dave Taylor says:

    Amir, I know what you mean when people visit and there’s a spider in the corner of the room and so many ask me to kill it but I don’t see why when they’re harmless enough (house-spiders at-least) and best of all the more there are of them the less fly’s there are which is a service for me.

    I am quite enjoying the series, its a pitty so many who don’t, have to tell the world rather than just stop reading, maybe they are trolling to get attention.

  11. William says:

    So “autumn” is the impending disaster of World War II, and “rain” is Hitler’s series of threats concerning the Czechoslovakia, right? And the “slugs” must be the craven English diplomats, with the “holes” signifying that they are making dumb choices. So then the “gelatinous blobs” would be diplomatic documents. Is Churchill the beetle? It’s so hard to figure out what these allegories mean.

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  13. Bonnie says:

    two gin-scented tears trickle down the sides of my nose…victory gin

  14. Fearless Frank says:

    What’s brought that on, Bonnie? Sun isn’t yet over the yard-arm in these parts!

  15. Nick Thompson says:

    If you read children’s books (such as Boys’ and Girls’ Own Annuals) from the late 19th and early 20th centuries — and even Baden Powell’s “Scouting for Boys” — it seems pretty clear that kids were encouraged to take a close interest in nature, and I wonder whether Orwell’s interest in recording these things is simply a reflection of something that was prevalent as he was growing up.

    That said, if Orwell thought slugs had ears, or that the remains of barrows were druidic altars, he clearly hadn’t taken *that* close an interest in such childhood knowledge!

  16. danielearwicker says:

    Amir Says: My point… Bugs can be fun too.

    Six legs good?

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  18. The more the merrier?

  19. soniarose says:

    Six legs good. Eight legs bad! ;)

  20. In the early 20th century, “entertainment” was not the unremitting, pulsing, pounding inundation of every sense with inanities that is so prevalent today.

    Why, even in the second half of the last century, I often entertained myself! by pouring table salt on whatever species of Gastropoda was available (usually a Marsh Slug, I believe) and watching them squirm in agonized death-throes. However, I admit that I did not know they were hermaphrodites at the time.

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  22. Serena says:

    I like bugs too Amir!

    Really I like anything that has to do with the natural world.

    I have two much younger brothers and I try to always encourage them to have a very active interest in exploring the world, even if it is only as far away as the back yard.

    I notice that this is something that kids take to almost immediatly and with little encouragement.

    I am not sure why some of us seem to lose that as we get older. As someone who gets great enjoyment from “finding interesting things in nature” (my little brothers phrase), I find it a bit sad that other people don’t share my excitement.

    It’s not for everybody I suppose.

    JamesonLewis3rd

    I am appalled! Absolutely appalled! And guilty of the same morbid curiosity…… *blushes*

  23. Over under the old oak tree, George is on all fours, seeking insects which ooze and extrude, occasionally laughing like a madman when he discovers yet another grotesque specimen, holding it up for all to glom, sometimes jumping up to execute a non-traditional dance move known as The Hip Shake.

    The lame townsfolk don’t pay him much mind, though; as they are still too busy hunting for and gleefully torturing “stinging” snakes.

  24. Jordi Fibla says:

    Those colours and sizes of slugs are really impressive. I didn’t know a slug can be fawn coloured or white and with an orange band along the belly. All the slugs strolling at night around the dog feeder in my garden, by the north-east Mediterranean shore, are as black as cockroaches and never more than a couple of inches long.
    I find interesting the comments from two participants here, one mentioning the wealth of words in the Welsh language to name slugs and the comparative “poorness” of the English language, which have to make do with a single word, and another’s retort about the “infinitely superior language of the Welsh”. Perhaps all countries with a big, national tongue and several regional tongues know this kind of linguistic contest that can on occasion be as entertaining as playing with earthworms.

  25. andyroberts says:

    Maybe some of our Americans guests could instead go and find a Mark Twain blog to play around in.

  26. Klank Kiki says:

    Okay, the only size mentioned in this post is an inch, but still… please please convert into metrics the units in the post so people from SI dominated territories reading this won’t have to go googling it up.
    You do it like this: write in google’s search bar:

    3 inches into meter

    and it will convert it automagically for you.

  27. Tim May says:

    Based on the size, and the orange band mentioned, I suspect the slugs Orwell is describing are the light-coloured variants of the Great Black Slug, Arion ater.

    The “earhole” is called a pneumostone & is part of the the slug’s respiratory system.

  28. andyroberts says:

    Look, he’s writing in England in the year 1938 and there is no such unit as a “meter”. In any case, inches are a very good rule of thumb for use when measuring things like slugs and inchworms.

  29. I will not submit–not an inch.

  30. Fearless Frank says:

    Klank Kiki:

    Look on it as a useful opportunity for mental arithmetic.
    It’s easy enough to convert inches to meters. Just remember that 1 inch= 2.5 centimetres.
    What could be simpler!

  31. LindaH says:

    Not sure about Orwell’s but the darker ones Tim links to do look very like the ones Andy and I were watching. Please don’t add metric measurements, it is 1938 after all.

  32. Metric is superior.

  33. duncancumming says:

    ‘bide’ is a Doric word meaning to stay or to live. e.g. ‘I bide in Aberdeen’, ‘just bide there while I prick these sloes’ etc. It’s also used in Shetland and perhaps elsewhere.

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  35. Ivana K. says:

    and maybe apples are superior to blueberries and reveal the utmost poverty of their character. not to mention the poverty of the symbolic system blueberries use as means of communication.
    ;)

  36. Pingback: 5.12.39 « THE ORWELL PRIZE

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