August 25, 1938, Preston Hall

Everything in Suffolk is much more dried-up than in Kent. Until the day we arrived there had been no rain for many weeks & various crops had failed. Near S’wold saw several fields of oats & barley being harvested which had grown only 1’ or 18” high. Ears nevertheless seemed normal. Wheat crop all over the world said to be heavy.
A bedstraw hawk-moth found in our back garden & mounted by Dr Collings¹. Evidently a straggler from the continent. Said to be the first seen in that locality for 50 years.
Little owl very common round here. Brown owl does not seem to exist.
Dr C. says the snake I caught was the “smooth snake”, non-poisonous & not very common.
Today hot again.
Gipsies beginning to arrive for the hop-picking. As soon as they have pitched their caravans the chickens are let loose & apparently can be depended on not to stray. The strips of tin for cloth-pegs are cut of biscuit boxes. Three people were on the job, one shaping the sticks, one cutting out the tin & another nailing it on. I should say one person doing all these jobs (also splitting the pegs after nailing) could make 10-15 pegs an hour.
Another white owl this evening.

¹The Blairs’ family doctor at Southwold from 1921. His son, Dennis, was a friend of Orwell’s; see 109, n. 1. Peter Davison

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29 Responses to August 25, 1938, Preston Hall

  1. Harry says:

    Again: there is almost no chance at all that Orwell saw Snowy Owl in August in southern England; and if he did he would surely have remarked on it, since it’s at least as rare a visitor as a bedstraw hawkmoth. Rarer, in fact.

    The ‘white owl’ would certainly have been a Barn Owl.

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  3. LindaH says:

    The ‘white owl’ is just an auto-generated WordPress tag and does not form part of the entry. I was interested in the ‘smooth snake’ as I didn’t know they were resident in that area. As to the moth, it looks very like one we saw on the jasmine by our pond the other day. I think they must be more common these days.

  4. And here I thought George was enjoying an American cigar.

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  6. Alex says:

    Barley and hops… That’s beer. Just yesterday we were touring Fort Henry in Ontario and were told by the guide that low-alcohol beer was given to recruits all over the Empire as a way to combat scurvy. Their diet was bread and potatoes, plus 3/4 lb of low-quality meat.
    Interesting how attuned people were, as late as 1938, to the technicalities of growing crops. Most city people, say after the 1940s, would not be able to note anything interesting about oats & barley.
    By the way, there is an error in one of the footnotes to the linked article on hop picking (which is extremely interesting). A shilling is 12 pence, not five.

  7. Ed Webb says:

    Alex – a shilling was indeed 12 pennies prior to the currency change over, but equivalent to 5 new pence, hence the footnote, which attempts to translate for a modern audience.

  8. eric:p says:

    I assume you’ve seen the coverage in the New York Times?


  9. Sunny says:

    I wish the reference to cloth pegs had been explained. I’ve reread it a number of times and now I’m headed to google to see what I can find. Otherwise, this is my first visit to the site and I’m thrilled. I’m going to try to get my sons (19 and 21) to start reading. Orwell is so apt to today’s world.

  10. Jason Anton says:

    If the Weather Channel existed during Orwell’s time would he have been able to write? It seems he’s obsessed, so I think he would’ve been parked in front of the tube all day everyday watching the Weather Channel. Instead of 1984 he would’ve written a blog about how the weather was, and what the Weather Channel said.

  11. Frank says:

    George, nice to meet you again. Sometimes I miss the Gipsies…

  12. he did seem quite obsessed. Not sure what that’s all about.

  13. Juliet says:

    I wonder if the “cloth pegs” should be “clothes pegs” (which is what the British call clothes pins). Could it be a typo?

  14. George~~
    Is it true that you have viewed Metropolis on a daily basis for the last decade?

  15. Fearless Frank says:

    Juliet –
    clothes pegs (or pins) it surely is. Tradtionally associated with gypsies, though I always thought of them as being made of of wood, not metal

  16. @Alex: Yes, the linked article on hop-picking is quite good – I especially liked the evocation of “a wind blowing from oceans of cool beer,” which I imagine is a very refreshing scent in late summer. Orwell’s hop-picking diary (collected in volume 1 of the Collected Essays, AN AGE LIKE THIS) is also worth reading.

  17. Bonnie says:

    Fearless Frank, Sunny, Juliet – it is a typo, clothes-pegs is what Orwell wrote.

    David Nichols – A lot about hop-picking in O’s *A Clergyman’s Daughter* (1935) too, with descriptions like that – “When the wind stirred [the hops], they shook forth a fresh, bitter scent of sulphur and cool beer.” (Orwell did not did not want it reprinted – but it’s not a bad book!)

  18. What a find! I’ll make reading George’s entry for the day a daily part of MY day. Can’t wait ’til he gets to the political stuff.

  19. Serg Riva says:

    my new favorite blog…

  20. dave says:

    For a good description of hop picking see “Of Human Bondage”…

  21. Bonnie says:

    dave – ah you are right – and a doubly fitting reference, as Orwell acknowledged Maugham as the writer who influenced him the most.

  22. Juliet says:

    Bonnie – thanks for the clarification.
    I love this blog, I have been a fan of George Orwell’s for a very long time, and have long since read all of his works. I did not know about Somerset Maugham’s influence, and was interested to hear that. Will now try to find a copy of “Of Human Bondage”

  23. Aprilben says:

    Just to say to non-UK posters that Orwell’s description of the weather is absolutely normal for the UK and would in no way be thought of as an obsession here. Everyone discusses the weather in great detail because it’s so changeable and unpredictable.

  24. Andrew says:

    I used to love going out in the woods to catch snakes; little brownsnakes under leaves, big ratsnakes and cornsnakes around the barn, found garter snakes and racers under the house and in the garage.

  25. Polymander says:

    Lots of weather talk is normal here in Minnesota too. Weather is boring only to those who lead indoor lives.

  26. Mark Preston says:

    I should be intersted in details – and perhaps photographs – of the hall since it appears to be a family site that I am not aware of.

  27. Mathcadd says:

    People don’t really talk about weather here in Southern California, except to say every now and then: “God, it’s a beautiful day.”

  28. Benny Ruo says:

    Orwell seems to be an ardent lover of the species around him, he is well versed to know that Little owls are present in kent than the brown owl. Might be he has watched the nightlife more and expressed it

  29. If the weather channel existed during this time, Orwell would watch it all day.

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