6 April 2013

We are the dead

April 4th, 1984.

About five years ago, I joined a design studio which had a policy of featuring the staff on their website. I filled in the questionnaire, the usual stuff: three likes and dislikes; football team; hobbies; etc. My description was something like: Reading pretentious 19th Century Russian novels and rereading 1984 once a year, usually in April. My profile picture had me with a copy of 1984 stuffed into my back pocket.

There was some exaggeration. I have read and reread 1984 more than any other book, but not every year, and not necessarily in April. I have at least three copies around the house, not including the Kindle version (although my original 70s paperback has long gone, I hope it has found a good home) and last year I read chapters at home from a hardback and continued on the daily commute from a paperback. This year I've started my reread on the 4th of April on my Kindle, I haven’t decided whether reading Orwell on an electronic device is ironic or not

I first read it in the 1970s, whether I was at school or Art College, I can’t remember, it certainly wasn’t a set text at school. In our final year at Art College we were to produce a dissertation on any subject. Now I imagine that as it was an art school and I was on a graphic design course they were expecting a thesis on Art in general or Advertising in particular. My dissertation was entitled ‘The Orwellian Future’.

It was 1981, 1984 was on the horizon, I decided to examine 1984 in context with the times; Big Brother; Winston Smith; Ministry of Truth; etc. I spent many hours in the college or town libraries, with back issues of New Statesman reading Duncan Campbell’s investigations. I read of Milgram’s psychological experiments of the 1960s. I read biographies of StalinHitler and Churchill.

I compiled my thesis detailing the similarities of the real 1980s to Orwell’s fictional version. The more I researched, the more paranoid I became, this was a time when I would be stopped and searched by the police, on a fairly regular basis, for being in possession of short hair and an RAF great coat. Irish terrorists were the bogeymen de jour, and reading an MI5 profile of the next generation of terrorists and discovering a description of my brothers and me, first generation sons of a Northern Irish immigrant, did nothing to allay my fears.

‘The Orwellian Future’ still exists, it’s on a bookshelf somewhere and maybe I’ll dust it off in the near future and give it an appraisal 30 years on. I had wrote it out in long-hand and paid a friend on a secretarial course to type it up. We’d meet up in a pub and proof-read it and then she would take away pages to retype. The halycon days before personal computers. The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

30 years on and our civil liberties are still under attack; we have not been able to take liquids onto airplanes for the past six or seven years, although it was a temporary ban and ID cards raise their ugly heads every now and again, but in general the oppressive regime that Orwell describes has failed to materialise in this country, other parts of the world have not been so fortunate, it seems to be Hate Week in North Korea at the moment.

If ‘they’ wanted to listen in on our calls, a trip on public transport would provide them with enough material, albeit of one-sided vacuous conversations. We all have flat telescreens on our walls that are rarely turned off, with which we increasingly interact. We carry computers in our pockets with GPS that, if programmes such as CSI or Hawaii Five-0 are to be believed, can give the authorities pinpoint accuracy as to our location at any time.

We willingly sign-up to social media sites, allowing our lives to be accessed by all and sundry. We’ve made The Ministry of Love’s job a whole lot easier.

Orwell and in particular my research into 1984 coloured my view of the world I lived in, I presumed that I was in a file somewhere and when you get stopped by the police (again) at two in the morning and they know your address as soon as you say your name, you do get a little suspicious.

Nowadays I rarely sign petitions, this Blog and my Twitter and GoodReads profiles are under a pseudonym, and I’m not on Facebook (although I am on Linkedin) as I try to keep my digital footprint as small as possible, in fact until I joined that design company a Google search would not find me. I still have a paper driving licence.

In the back of my mind I believe Big Brother is still watching.

Anyway, back to the Kindle as Amazon must be wondering why I haven’t finished reading 1984 yet and they’ve compiled a list of suggested books they want to send me.


  1. Have you heard this quote?...

    "Just because you are paranoid does not mean they are not out to get you."

    Our own awareness of civil liberties and long gone rights is not nearly as scary as the fact that my children don't understand why I get angry...

  2. I was going to sign off with that.

    It's a different time now, with Facebook etc it just seems normal to sign your rights away. Both daughters have driving licences although neither had a single lesson, they use them as ID. Whereas I refuse to go somewhere that insists on photo ID, they think it's normal.

    We're sleep walking into a Police State.