September 5, 1938

Last night much fog, syren° sounding continually. This morning the sea much smoother, grey & oily, about the colour of lead. Later in the day very hot, & the sea bright blue. Passed Cape Roca about 10 am, but invisible in mist. Passed Cape St. Vincent quite close in, about 2-3 miles, at 6pm. Run of ship (noon to noon) 342 miles. Due at Tangier early tomorrow.
Gulls here of a breed I do not know, dark brown or black on top, white below, hawking over the water only a few inches above the surface, just like an owl over grass. Clumps of sea weed° as we got nearer land. Some swallows or martin (different from the English) following the ship when still far from land. Two whales said to have been seen yesterday, but I missed them.
This is not, as I had thought, a steam turbine ship, but an oil turbine. Crew thought to be about 600. The tourist class (really midway between 2nd & 3rd class) has three small lounges apart from the dining saloon, two decks where games are played, a small swimming bath & a rather primitive cinematograph. R. C. mass & Anglican H. C. held every day. Tourist fare London – Gibraltar £ 6 – 10.¹
Later. Number of crew 543. Ship carries 8 or 9 thousand tons cargo.


¹ Six pounds ten shillings – not £6 to £10. Peter Davison

*For Orwell’s location, see Google Map.

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25 Responses to September 5, 1938

  1. GO’s constant musings about the weather and nature tells us a lot about the constant storm of thoughts, the moral crisis, the pangs of conscience which he suffered from. His seemingly simple-minded talk about the weather is layered, a sheath, as if he’s trying to run away from certain bitter truths. Reading Aspidistra and his diaries, I see the dichotomy which has plagued his consciousness – he wanted to escape and run away from the bitter existential reality of the world around him but the poverty, the lack of love, the lack of ignorance and above all, the burning need of self-realization always forced him to venture into the darker truths of human sufferings and weaknesses. In Aspidistra, he has expressed longing for simple things like drinking beer in a pub, having a lover, bathing daily, being warm and cozy. But he very well knows the fact these are not the things he’s looking for, that it’s all temporal, and so he goes on with his life and struggles. I guess, this is a compromise of the duality which every great thinker has to make in order to come close to the absolute nature of everything. And that’s what GO did and died for.

  2. kamelda says:

    I think someone — multipli-city — pointed out on the last entry that a lot of British people do this (if you read diaries of other Britishers from that and previous eras, it holds true). I can’t believe they’re all in a constant moral crisis. It’s a habit some people have of noticing and enjoying the natural world. I really don’t think it’s all that complicated, and am becoming more and more confused about why so many modern people think it is. Why does his appreciation of birds have to tell us that he was troubled in conscience? Why can’t it tell us that he just liked to notice birds?

  3. art brennan says:

    I find that the interpretations offered by PS and k (and others) are so valuable! What was GO really thinking and experiencing as he wrote those words? We cannot know, but by means of our own experience (which includes the thoughts of others) we may find an answer that helps us learn some important things.

  4. kamelda says:

    But that’s just the part that I’m not sure about: that we should try to find out what he was thinking and feeling behind his observations, by means of what we would be thinking and feeling. I don’t believe he was like me. I can tell, reading his journal, that he was very different. I might deliberately maneuver from moral crisis with the weather, and if I look at the sky or the animals it is often beauty and not the simple fact of presence that I want to record. I wouldn’t record beauty in words so bland as ‘fine and fairly warm’. If he were all that much like many of us, he would have recorded the moral crisis (even enjoyed recording it) rather than noticing and making little notes about ships and birds. I think that was part of the way he was different than me, and part of why he was the great man who wrote not only Animal Farm, but A Clergyman’s Daughter. I would be more interested in psychoanalyzing why we have lost touch with that to the point of having no frame of reference for it at face value; why we have to try to look behind it and explain it by something else. I enjoy his journal not because I find it so very fascinating of itself, but to find out what such a person wrote down that he noticed and took pleasure in. I’m getting overly confused by the reactions though and think I will probably stop reading comments: it seems like maybe I have missed the point: that I ought to be reading rather to find out what he was *really* interested in that he *isn’t* telling us? I’m not qualified to do that: and it seems a guessing game that winds up in as many false as true assumptions.

  5. dave says:

    I don’t think theirs more to it than George, (and a lot of people), were born in the era AD PP (pre Prozac)

    That is not to take any thing away from him as a writer..

    “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” was the gloomiest novel I read as a teenager…

    G was a “glass half empty” kinda guy…I find some of these comments about his “depth” maybe a bit too “legend reverent””’ Having said that his journal is a great daily read

    (excuse all the quotation marks…)

  6. dave says:


    A good “Aspidistra” antidote; Kingsly Amis- Lucky Jim…

    PSS I hope all GO fans do not take umbrage @ my comment on his mood issues..I just wonder what others think.

  7. I am unable, from reading these few blog entries, to conclude that George Orwell constantly mused about the weather. Nor am I able to deduce from the above how the few sporadic factoids constitute evidence of the alleged “compromise of the duality which every great thinker has to make in order to come close to the absolute nature of everything.” Great Thinkers, in my opinion, do not compromise (as if to point out some perceived or, even, contrived equivalence) this duality, they delineate it; they put it out there.

    My observations tell me that if Orwell mused at all—if not constantly perhaps consistently—it was on human nature as expressed by individual behavior and that he did so with cynicism, to say the least. Please, note: Orwell is not alone in his apparent misanthropic attitude—observe what has happened and what is going on in the world across the entire spectrum of fine art circa 1938.

    I recently began reading The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), by the way.

    I contend that George dissected his immediate environment only as necessary to fill the gaps between suitable human specimens.

  8. Sir Alphonso says:

    The dude liked writing in his journal about the weather.
    It’s a hobby, pass-time, interest. We all have them.

  9. Roving Thundercloud says:

    I’m with Kamelda and JamesonLewis3rd on this. I don’t see any deep issues being indicated or worked out in this diary.

    There are different kinds of diaries, written for different purposes. Some *are* for working out issues or ideas. But for a lot of people it’s a pleasant habit, a moment at the end of the day with a cup of tea to take a breath and simply discharge some basic notes about the day.

    Few of us mod types have spent serious downtime convalescing, or sitting around on a ship. That kind of not-much-to-do-really-and-it’ll-be-the-same-tomorrow langour is pretty foreign to us these days. In that situtation I’d be writing too, yet probably wouldn’t have much to actually say. Just scratching an itch and exhaling a bit.

    Finally, as a writer I can tell you that when I have kept this type of diary, I disliked developing ideas in it. It seemed out of keeping with the diary itself, and more annoyingly, they would have to be re-copied elsewhere if I wanted to pursue them.

  10. sara r says:

    freedom of knowledge we the people of the planet earth are being denied are freedom of knowledge by our goverments true its best to protect said knowledge but not to denie people the right to learn and understand it for instance the vatican or the library of congress have books that are off limits to almost anyone and these books are part of our history these books were created to be read and to pass on their knowledge to the people not to collect dust in some locked room never to be viewed by anyone and even if the let us the people view anything from their its a heavly cencered version of it

  11. old.frt says:

    “I would be more interested in psychoanalyzing why we have lost touch with that to the point of having no frame of reference for it at face value; why we have to try to look behind it and explain it by something else.”

    Even Freud observed that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

    GO wrote for himself in this diary–there should be no puzzling over that.

  12. MarcelP says:

    I think what we’re seeing so far in this journal is the difference between just writing down whatever comes to mind and writing a publishable work. I’m with Kamelda. I don’t think you can delve into his psyche because he jotted down a note about a bird he saw. That’s why I’m not writing a blog. If I ever write a masterpiece, I don’t want future generations trying to deconstruct my thoughts about today’s slow internet connection or . . . hold on, there’s a beetle I’ve never seen before. It’s blackish, with two pinchers, the right one larger. OK, What was I saying?

  13. Bonnie says:

    To me, Orwell’s diary illustrates what he said about himself later on,”So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue…to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information.” (Why I write, 1946)

  14. George~~

    Having delved (just this morning [CDT]) into a coal mine with you, I can see even more plainly the need to jot down a pointer to a detail that might otherwise be overwhelmed by the contextual–quasi-pseudo-primal–memory itself which is more-or-less indelible but vague from without. I’m glad that I know that this blog does not constitute a complete log of your thoughts nor your entire output for the time frame…..Anyway, I’ve said that enough times now…..On with the show…..

    I see you’ve noticed the Fog Syren°.
    Can you see the faces of any of your fellow passengers? Who are they? How would you characterize them?

    I ain’t lookin’ to block you up
    Shock or knock or lock you up,
    Analyze you, categorize you,
    Finalize you or advertise you.
    All I really want to do
    Is, baby, be friends with you.

    ~~~from All I Really Want To Do by Bob Dylan on Another side of Bob Dylan (1964)

  15. Fearless Frank says:

    ‘Number of crew 543’

    Bearing in mind the ship had berths for just over 1,000 passengers, I find that a very high figure. Can it really be true? Maybe a stray keystroke in the transcription, perhaps – 43 sounds more like it.

    Maybe someone familiar with maritime matters can expand on this?

  16. Johnny Dias says:

    Bem, teria que escrever em português, por ser brasileiro, mas como os comentários estão em inglês, seguirei a norma.
    Well,Geroge Orwell is fantastic. He’s book read I was young.
    Animal farm, 1945, is new stily the look for the world, of course.
    I the outher side, I think: Arm farm will be eternal sunshineof the spotless mind.

  17. Fog would indeed be perilous even beyond John Carpenter’s wildest imagination, would it not, if a crew of 43 had been working continuous shifts of 24 hours for days if not weeks?

    On the bridge, in the galley, in the engine room, tending bar, they toil relentlessly as, all the while, hundreds of passengers mill about in zero-visibility, trance-like, Karloff-like with their moist arms extended before them, the Fog Syren° pounding them down inch by inch. Some almost yearn for an echo, only to hear the occasional [ominous] splash coming from over one side or the other.

  18. Derek says:

    Why do the little symbols look like swastikas?

  19. Lizzy says:

    This is absolutely lovely. Regardless of whether his interest in the birds and weather is because of an underlying social plight or mere boredom its still lovely to be able to read his diary entries.

  20. art brennan says:

    “GO wrote for himself in this diary–there should be no puzzling over that.” But don’t you think (assuming he wrote for himself) that “puzzling over that” is exactly why we are reading the words that he wrote?

  21. M.Serapis says:

    I must wholeheartedly agree with the thoughts of Kameld Sir Alphonso on this matter. It is our current state of “reason” and the way we are taught to see the world that is amiss, not Mr. Orwell’s. We modern folk would do well to observe the differences and learn instead of dismissal or reading into them. A famous scientist once said that when he had a particularly hard problem he went to the movies. Soon a solution would come to him. Furthermore a recent study (I forget by whom) has shown that “zoning out” i.e. sitting and daydreaming/staring blankly for a bit can increase mental acuity. If you read anything by the psychiatrist, Victor Frankl you will see that his time in the Nazi camps was survivable only by the acknowledgment of the beauty of nature, even just the sunrise and set. It is something greater than us and no matter how we are doing today, it is always their, always beautiful always alive.

  22. Conner says:

    So fascinating.

  23. Gilles Mioni says:

    September 6, 2008.
    No news from Orwell. Yesterday, ship was flying on foggy sea.
    Is he among us living more by thoughts created by reading his words?
    A diary is a part of intimacy revealed, if we read it. So, if I hope to know a little bit more about Eileen O’Shaughnessy, am I too much meddler ?
    She was really living in the past but something of her has built various personages of woman in writings of George Orwell. For that reason she is someone in litterature. A subjective but efficient way to know about conditions of women in those passed days.
    For family reasons which are not interesting to know, I have a debt towards mister Blair. Would this make me a species of fan ?

  24. Bonnie says:

    Derek – well, it’s a sort of Rorschach test…

  25. Wally says:

    I wonder if those were African or European swallows… Were any of them carrying coconuts?

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