The room had awakened in him
a sort of nostalgia, a sort of ancestral memory...
nobody watching you, no voice pursuing you...

29. Risking Renting Room

His feet had brought him back of their own accord to the junk-shop where he had bought the diary. Feeling he would be less conspicuous inside than hanging about on the pavement, he stepped through the doorway. If questioned, he could plausibly say that he was trying to buy razor blades.

The proprietor was a man of perhaps sixty, frail and bowed, with a long, benevolent nose, and mild eyes distorted by thick spectacles. His hair was almost white, but his eyebrows were bushy and still black . He had a vague air of intellectuality, as though he had been some kind of literary man, or perhaps a musician. His voice was soft, as though faded, and his accent less debased than that of the majority of proles. "You see how it is; an empty shop, you might say. Between you and me, the antique trade's just about finished. No demand any longer, and no stock either. Furniture, china, glass - it's all been broken up by degrees. And of course the metal stuff's mostly been melted down. I haven't seen a brass candlestick in years."

The tiny interior of the shop was in fact uncomfortably full, but there was almost nothing in it of the slightest value.

Only on a small table in the corner was there a litter of odds and ends — lacquered snuffboxes, agate brooches, and the like — which looked as though they might include something interesting. As Winston wandered towards the table his eye was caught by a round, smooth thing that gleamed softly in the lamplight, and he picked it up. It was a heavy lump of glass, curved on one side, flat on the other, making almost a hemisphere. There was a peculiar softness, as of rainwater, in both the colour and the texture of the glass. At the heart of it there was a strange, pink, convoluted object that recalled a rose or a sea anemone.

"What is it?" said Winston, fascinated.

"That’s coral, that is," said the old man. "It must have come from the Indian Ocean. They used to kind of embed it in the glass. That wasn't made less than a hundred years ago. More, by the look of it."

"It's a beautiful thing," said Winston.

"It is a beautiful thing," said the other appreciatively. "But there's not many that'd say so nowadays."

Winston immediately paid over the four dollars and slid the coveted thing into his pocket. What appealed to him about it was not so much its beauty as the air it seemed to possess of belonging to an age quite different from the present one. The soft, rain-watery glass was not like any glass that he had ever seen. The thing was doubly attractive because of its apparent uselessness, though he could guess that it must once have been intended as a paperweight. It was very heavy in his pocket, but fortunately it did not make much of a bulge. It was a queer thing, even a compromising thing, for a Party member to have in his possession. Anything old, and for that matter anything beautiful, was always vaguely suspect.

There's another room upstairs that you might care to take a look at," he said. He led the way up the steep and worn stairs and along a tiny passage, into a room which did not give on the street but looked out on a cobbled yard and a forest of chimney-pots. Winston noticed that the furniture was still arranged as though the room were meant to be lived in. There was a strip of carpet on the floor, a picture or two on the walls, and a deep, slatternly arm-chair drawn up to the fireplace. And old-fashioned glass clock with a twelve-hour face was ticking away on the mantlepiece. Under the window, and occupying nearly a quarter of the room, was an enormous bed with the mattress still on it... the place looked curiously inviting. The thought flitted through Winston's mind that it would probably be quite easy to rent the room for a few dollars a week, if he dared to take the risk. The room had awakened in him a sort of nostalgia, a sort of ancestral memory. It seemed to him that he knew exactly what it felt like to sit in a room like this, in an arm-chair beside an open fire with your feet in the fender and a kettle on the hob: utterly alone, utterly secure, with nobody watching you, no voice pursuing you, no sound except the singing of the kettle and the friendly ticking of the clock.

"There's no telescreen!" he could not help murmuring.

"Ah," said the old man, "I never had one of those things. Too expensive. And I never seemed to feel the need of it, somehow. Now that's a nice gateleg table in the corner there."

There was a small bookcase in the other corner, and Winston had already gravitated towards it. It contained nothing but rubbish. The old man was standing in front of a picture in a rosewood frame which hung on the other side of the fireplace, opposite the bed. Winston came across to examine the picture. It was steel engraving of an oval building with rectangular windows, and small tower in front. It seemed vaguely familiar.

"The frame's fixed to the wall," said the old man, "but I could unscrew it for you, I dare say."

"I know that building," said Winston finally. "It's a ruin now. It's in the middle of the street outside the Palace of Justice."

"That's right. Outside the Law Courts. It was bombed in - oh many years ago. It was a church at one time. St Clement Danes, its name was. "Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clement's!"

"What's that?" said Winston.

"Oh, that was a rhyme we had when I was a little boy. How it goes on I don't remember, but I do know it ended up, 'Here comes a candle to light you to bed , Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.' It was a kind of a dance. They held out their arms for you to pass under, and when they came to 'Here comes a chopper to chop off you head' they brought their arms down and caught you. It was just names of churches. All the London churchers were in it - all the principal ones, that is."

Winston wondered vaguely to what century the church belonged. It was always difficult to determine the age of a London building.... One could not learn history from architecture any more than one could learn it from books. Statues, inscriptions, memorial stones, the names of streets -- anything that might throw light upon the past had been systematically altered.

"I never knew it had been a church," he said.

"There's a lot of them left, really," said the old man, "though they've been put to other uses. Now, how did that rhyme go? Ah! I've got it! 'Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clement's, You owe me three farthings, say the bells of St Martin's--' There, now, that's as far as I can get. A farthing, that was a small copper coin, looked something like a cent."

"Where was St Martin's?" said Winston.

"St Martin's? That's still standing. It's in VICTORY SQUARE, alongside the picture gallery. A building with a kind of a triangular porch and pillars in front, and a big flight of steps.

Winston lingered for some minutes more, talking to the old man, whose name was Charrington. All the while they were talking the half-remembered rhyme kept running through Winston's head. 'Oranges and lemons say the bells of St Clement's, You owe me three farthings, say the bells of St Martin's!' It was curious, but when you said it to yourself you had the illusion of actually hearing bells, the bells of a lost London that still existed somewhere or other, disguised and forgotten...yet so far as he could remember he had never in real life heard church bells ringing.

He got away from Mr Charrington and went down the stairs alone. He had already made up his mind that after a suitable interval - a month, say - he would take the risk of visiting the shop again. Yes, he thought, he would come back. He would buy further scraps of beautiful rubbish. He would buy the engraving of St Clement Danes, take it out of its frame, and carry it home. He would drag the rest of that poem out of Mr Charrington's memory. Even the lunatic project of renting the room upstairs flashed momentarily through his mind again.


Church bells silenced by EU (chimed on 1/4 hour since 1887). London Telegraph, Oct 17, 2002. Go to 29.Renting The Room





26.Julia & Rebellion and 31.Love Nest and 32.Enemies Of The Party and 37.We Are The Dead

Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~