It’s #orwellday today. The first ever. Thanks to my good friend Katriona Lewis at the Orwell Prize, I received these four splendid editions of George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language, published recently by Penguin. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of the essay. It’s certainly the single most useful piece of writing I’ve ever read. It offers general advice on good writing, laying down helpful rules, and then explains, with some choice metaphors, why good writing leads to more responsible politics (and bad writing to some very dangerous thinking). Four copies in my possession, if you would like one, please leave a good reason why and one is heading your way.
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In 1946, George Orwell was commissioned by the British Council to write about British cooking. His defence of our national cuisine has been much celebrated (here is his advice about how to make a perfect cup of tea but his recipes are largely unknown. Here’s his recipe for Christmas pudding. You can read the full text over at the Orwell Prize.
1 lb each of currants, sultanas & raisins
2 ounces sweet almonds
1 ounces bitter almonds
4 ounces mixed peel
½ lb brown sugar
½ lb flour
¼ lb breadcrumbs
½ teaspoonful salt
½ teaspoonful grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoonful powdered cinnamon
6 ounces suet
The rind and juice of 1 lemon
A little milk
1/8 of a pint of brandy, or a little beer
Method. Wash the fruit. Chop the suet, shred and chop the peel, stone and chop the raisins, blanch and chop the almonds. Prepare the breadcrumbs. Sift the spices and salt into the flour. Mix all the dry ingredients into a basin. Heat the eggs, mix them with the lemon juice and the other liquids. Add to the dry ingredients and stir well. If the mixture is too stiff, add a little more milk. Allow the mixture to stand for a few hours in a covered basin. Then mix well again and place in well-greased basins of about 8 inches diameter. Cover with rounds of greased paper. Then tie the tops of the basins over the floured cloths if the puddings are to be boiled, or with thick greased paper if they are to be steamed. Boil or steam for 5 or 6 hours. On the day when the pudding is to be eaten, re-heat it by steaming it for 3 hours. When serving, pour a large spoonful of warm brandy over it and set fire to it.
In Britain it is unusual to mix into each pudding one or two small coins, tiny china dolls or silver charms which are supposed to bring luck.
Few days away from the internet, so I missed the announcement of the Orwell Prize. Just to say congratulations to Graeme Archer of Conservative Home for winning the gong for political blogging. You can judge his work for yourself by reading his posts here.
The Orwell Prize for political writing announced its longlist for the 2011 prize in London last night. Of particular interest to me was the category for political blogging. I haven’t had time to digest all the blogs just yet but the most obvious thing to note how many entries from big, traditional media organisations, like the Telegraph and the BBC, now occupy the list. The longlist includes Politics Live from Andrew Sparrow of the Guardian; Fact Check from Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News (both excellent); Paul Mason’s Idle Scrawl (which has been longlisted before); Daniel Hannan of the Torygraph and Laurie Penny of the New Statesmen. That is nearly a quarter of the final 22.
Now all these blogs are far better than my efforts, lazy and half-baked as they usually are, but should they be there at all?. The Orwell Prize was established to award the writers that came closest to Orwell’s ability to “transform political writing into art”. So, for example, Andrew Sparrow’s daily missive’s are necessary reading, and helping to evolve a new form of journalism indeed, but such blogs are the polaroids of political writing, rather than the more detailed portraiture that I’ve always assumed the prize was their to promote. Paul Mason, bless him, admits as much today when he writes “good luck to all the real bloggers who don’t have a mainstream media pension, salary and self-censorship training to fall back on.” He’s right.
Luckily, the self-censored media don’t dominate the list and there’s a wealth of intelligent, independent blogging to pick over and help promote plurality in the public-blog-o-sphere. Anton Vowel’s Enemies of Reason writes about the media, mostly newspapers, picking on their inherent contradictions and biases and deploying some heavy sarcasm to great effect. Osama Diab’s The Chronikler seems pretty good, inherently strong on how it links technological issues to the upheavals in Arab world. While Prisoner Ben is an interesting addition because it’s the only blog being written (via the postal service) from inside a British prison. It’s got it’s fascination, although he lacks the eloquence of Peter Wayne.
Is anyone on the list raising political writing to an artform? I’m not sure, but I haven’t read everyone on the list. Even if not, who am I to complain as my idle thoughts wouldn’t even make the very longlist. It’s still a useful list and a meaningful prize, but political blogging is not yet the art form Orwell would have had in mind.
Glad to see that the Orwell Prize for political writing has been extended to included blogging. Heard Jean Seaton on the Today Programme this morning saying that if Orwell were alive today, he would have been a blogger. She added: “He was always absolutely avid about whatever was the contemporary form of media.”
“He would have been interested in the democratic possibilities of it – anyone can do it as long as they’ve got access to a machine,” said DJ Taylor, Orwell’s biographer. “[But], the misuses to which blogging has been put … would have appalled him. There would, in all probability, have been an essay on Blogging and the English Language.”