Room 101

Christopher Hitchens suggests that Orwell’s Room 101 in 1984 is derived from his experiences in Room 101 at the BBC’s Portland Place headquarters in London.It also occurs to me that room 101 may be the most common hotel room number. If you think about it.

Everytown – A Journey into the English Mind – Julian Baggini

I’ve read Baggini’s work in a number of places: the Butterflies and Wheels blog, and Prospect magazine, to name two. In particular, an essay in Prospect criticising casual dismissal of English “folk politics” as knee-jerk and snobbish, raised the tantalising thesis that the politics of the Daily Mail, the Sun and the man down the the pub are consistent if viewed in terms of communitarian, rather than liberal, philosophy. This wasn’t a distinction I was familiar with, but was keen to learn more and Everytown seemed like a good place to start.

Everytown is Baggini’s Wigan Pier, in that Baggini decided that understand the English mind, he had to locate the most English place possible, live in the most English house, talk to the most English people, and do the most English things. He acquired a bunch of statistics about England (for example, average income, average population density, average racial mix), and then tried to find a location in England which matched these most closely. And he came up with postcode S66, on the outskirts of Rotherham. He moves into a little rented box-house there, starts mingling with the locals down the pub, eats at Morrisons, buys a crappy little car, goes to the bookies, listens to Radio 2 and starts reading the Sun and the Daily Mail.

Aside from the chapters on communitarianism, and invective about the Daily Mail (of which I can never tire, and in relation to which I therefore have very low critical standards), the book is, perhaps predictably, a journey more into the mind of Baggini. If I want to know the thought processes of University-educated liberal English white atheist freethinker with a bourgeouis guilt complex and a suspicion the the youth of today are getting a lot more sex than was on offer in the 1980s, then I can, er, interrogate my own brain.

To be fair, Baggini does quote Wigan Pier, but doesn’t pretend to suggest that his book should in any way be compared to it. Orwell was trying painting a picture of something truly appalling, in a way that was trying to force fundamental and much needed change. Baggini is merely trying to say that the English aren’t too bad, on the whole. And, if that is the extent of his ambition, he succeeds.