Pilgrimage to Orwell
Friday, August 13, 2004
6. VISITING ORWELL'S ANIMAL FARM
Halfway up the hill that leads to the church we turned around and took another picture of the old pub at the bottom which marks the spot where Wallington's roads intersect.
Orwell's house is next door to the left (unseen) and the Village Hall is to the right (unseen). Notice the old red mail box where Orwell would have "posted" his letters. It hasn't been replaced since King George VI of Orwell's day died. It still says "G-R" which means "George's Reign" (as in George ORWELL I say) instead of "E-R" for "Elizabeth's Reign".
Just a few steps beyond where we stopped to take the picture we were surprised to see on our left a huge farmyard.
On closer inspection we saw that the name on the barn next to the big open gate was "Manor Farm" which, of course, is only appropriate for 'Orwell in Wonderland' but even so it was quite an amazing thing to see. Orwell's books are all auto-biographical and he doesn't even stray very far from true names. As everyone who has read Animal Farm knows, the name of the farm when Mr. Jones was in charge was "Manor Farm". Obviously we couldn't resist the temptation to take a stroll into the farmyard, afterall, the gate WAS open. In the above photos you can see the magnitude of the enterprise. There are dozens of farm buildings and not a soul in sight. Just to get an idea of the size, take a look at the photo below.
This must surely be what Orwell had in mind when he described the "Big Barn" in the opening paragraphs of Animal Farm:
"...As soon as the light in the bedroom went out there was a stirring and a fluttering all through the farm buildings. Word had gone round during the day that old Major, the prize Middle White boar, had had a strange dream on the previous night and wished to communicate it to the other animals. It had been agreed that they should all meet in the big barn as soon as Mr. Jones was safely out of the way. Old Major (so he was always called, though the name under which he had been exhibited was Willingdon Beauty) was so highly regarded on the farm that everyone was quite ready to lose an hour’s sleep in order to hear what he had to say. At one end of the big barn, on a sort of raised platform, Major was already ensconced on his bed of straw, under a lantern which hung from a beam...."
Recalling the passage I could almost SEE the animals Orwell described in that fateful Big Barn meeting when Major inspired the animals to rebel:
"...The three dogs, Bluebell, Jessie, and Pincher, and then the pigs, who settled down in the straw immediately in front of the platform. The hens perched themselves on the window-sills, the pigeons fluttered up to the rafters, the sheep and cows lay down behind the pigs and began to chew the cud. The two cart-horses, Boxer and Clover, came in together, walking very slowly and setting down their vast hairy hoofs with great care lest there should be some small animal concealed in the straw...After the horses came Muriel, the white goat, and Benjamin, the donkey. Benjamin was the oldest animal on the farm, and the worst tempered. He seldom talked, and when he did, it was usually to make some cynical remark—for instance, he would say that God had given him a tail to keep the flies off, but that he would sooner have had no tail and no flies. Alone among the animals on the farm he never laughed. If asked why, he would say that he saw nothing to laugh at. Nevertheless, without openly admitting it, he was devoted to Boxer; the two of them usually spent their Sundays together in the small paddock beyond the orchard, grazing side by side and never speaking. The two horses had just lain down when a brood of ducklings, which had lost their mother, filed into the barn, cheeping feebly and wandering from side to side to find some place where they would not be trodden on...Mollie, the foolish, pretty white mare who drew Mr. Jones’s trap, came mincing daintily in, chewing at a lump of sugar. Last of all came the cat...All the animals were now present except Moses, the tame raven, who slept on a perch behind the back door...."
In the above photo of the Big Barn notice the road on the left. We walked down to see where it went and it brought us to a pasture that very much looked like the place where Boxer the workhorse was planning to spend his retirement years with his friend Benjamin the donkey at his side to keep him company:
"...Boxer looked forward to the peaceful days that he would spend in the corner of the big pasture. It would be the first time that he had had leisure to study and improve his mind. He intended, he said, to devote the rest of his life to learning the remaining twenty-two letters of the alphabet...."
But, as we all know, Boxer never was sent to pasture. One day, a month before his 12th birthday and retirement day, he collapsed between the shafts of the cart and two days later he was hauled off to "the knackers". I still cry whenever I think of Boxer's last day:
"...It was in the middle of the day when the van came to take him away. The animals were all at work weeding turnips under the supervision of a pig, when they were astonished to see Benjamin come galloping from the direction of the farm buildings, braying at the top of his voice. It was the first time that they had ever seen Benjamin excited — indeed, it was the first time that anyone had ever seen him gallop. 'Quick, quick!' he shouted. 'Come at once! They're taking Boxer away!' Without waiting for orders from the pig, the animals broke off work and raced back to the farm buildings. Sure enough, there in the yard was a large closed van, drawn by two horses, with lettering on its side and a sly-looking man in a low-crowned bowler hat sitting on the driver's seat. And Boxer's stall was empty. The animals crowded round the van. 'Good-bye, Boxer!' they chorused, 'good-bye!' 'Fools! Fools!' shouted Benjamin, prancing round them and stamping the earth with his small hoofs. 'Fools! Do you not see what is written on the side of that van?'...'Alfred Simmonds, Horse Slaughterer and Glue Boiler, Willingdon. Dealer in Hides and Bone-Meal. Kennels Supplied.' Do you not understand what that means? They are taking Boxer to the knacker's!'....A cry of horror burst from all the animals. At this moment the man on the box whipped up his horses and the van moved out of the yard at a smart trot. All the animals followed, crying out at the tops of their voices....And just at this moment, as though he had heard the uproar outside, Boxer’s face, with the white stripe down his nose, appeared at the small window at the back of the van....But a moment later his face disappeared from the window and there was the sound of a tremendous drumming of hoofs inside the van. He was trying to kick his way out. The time had been when a few kicks from Boxer’s hoofs would have smashed the van to matchwood. But alas! his strength had left him; and in a few moments the sound of drumming hoofs grew fainter and died away....Boxer’s face did not reappear at the window. Too late, someone thought of racing ahead and shutting the five-barred gate; but in another moment the van was through it and rapidly disappearing down the road. Boxer was never seen again...."
After gazing at the cows contentedly grazing in Boxer's pasture I turned to go and came face to face with the back of the Big Barn:
I visualized in my mind the "Seven Commandments of Animal Farm" that the animals had so innocently believed in, until their eyes were opened to the true nature of the pigs, the day they saw them walking on two legs, instead of four, a few years after Boxer had died. I remembered the touching scene where Clover the cart-horse had come running to Benjamin the donkey (the only animal besides the pigs who could read) and asked him to come look at the writing on the back of the Big Barn because to her it looked different:
"...Benjamin felt a nose nuzzling at his shoulder. He looked round. It was Clover. Her old eyes looked dimmer than ever. Without saying anything, she tugged gently at his mane and led him round to the end of the big barn, where the Seven Commandments were written. For a minute or two they stood gazing at the tatted wall with its white lettering. 'My sight is failing,' she said finally. 'Even when I was young I could not have read what was written there. But it appears to me that that wall looks different. Are the Seven Commandments the same as they used to be, Benjamin?' For once Benjamin consented to break his rule, and he read out to her what was written on the wall. There was nothing there now except a single Commandment. It ran:
"ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL
BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL
Luckily there wasn't a ladder, paint and brush nearby or I'd have used it to write those very same words on the empty back of the present-day barn. Explaining all this to my husband we made our way back to the farmyard. We turned left at the Big Barn and came upon a farm truck half full of hay and a pitchfork in a pile on the ground.
My husband couldn't resist getting a rare picture of me "pitching in" to do some work! Notice in the upper far left of the photo there's a window nestled behind the tree beside the orange piece of farm equipment. That must have been Mr. Jones' house.
Turning the corner after pitching the hay I heard a donkey braying at the top of its lungs. I told my husband it must be Benjamin and went looking for where it was coming from. My husband followed anxiously behind whispering that we better get out of here. The closer I got to a small barn the louder the braying got. Obviously the donkey was inside there and wanted out. I had no intention of LETTING him out but I thought the least I could do was open the top half of the door so he could LOOK out. The lower half was bolted but the window part was just pressed closed, not latched. My husband started shouting at me not to do it but I couldn't resist. But when I pulled the window open I still couldn't see the donkey. He was so small that all that poked out were its ears.
But at least it had stopped braying. I told my husband to take a picture of me patting it on its head and then another one of the donkey up close, which he refused to do. So I grabbed the camera out of his hands and stepped back to snap it myself. I stretched my arms up over my head and pointed the camera downward into the stall, hoping the camera would see what I couldn't. Just then the donkey popped its nose up and started braying again, startling me out of my skin. I stumbled backwards and almost fell into the mud.
But as you can see, the picture I got was well worth the risk. Those two holes at the very top of the photo are his nostrils. Below those, on each side, are his black eyes, shining like marbles. You can just barely see the beginning of his ears at the top of his nostrils. In the lower left side of the photo you can see his black stripe running along the top of his brown-haired back.
By this time my husband wasn't waiting for me any longer but was making a bee-line for the exit as fast as his legs could carry him. I thanked the donkey for letting me take his picture and apologised for having to close the window again. Then I ran and caught up to my husband - telling him that the donkey was probably Benjamin's great grandson - but he didn't want to hear it.
After leaving the farmyard through the same way we'd come in we turned left and proceeded up the road a few yards until we came to a duck pond on our right. My heart was still beating fast from the excitement of the donkey (which by this time I'd recognized as Benjamin AND a personifcation of Orwell) so we stopped there for a moment to rest.
A. Horse, Not Dog, Man's Best Friend
go next to 7. ORWELL'S WEDDING CHURCH or back to index at PILGRIMAGE TO ORWELL
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