I’ve been catching up on my reading lately, George Orwell in particular. I’d read Animal Farm at school and hadn’t thought much of it until years later when I reread it and started to understand what was going on. I know exactly when I read 1984 it was in 1984, due mostly to the film starring John Hurt as Winston Smith which was released that year. Nearly forty years have elapsed and I’d never touched another Orwellian offering until this year.
I’d started off with the first volume of his essays, moved onto Down and out in Paris and London, and then Homage to Catalonia. I can’t say his essays were an easy read, but the other two were gripping. I found Orwell a difficult man to get a handle on, anti Imperialist, committed socialist, anti BBC and a member of the Home Guard. His was a sort of left wing patriotism which at times is hard to reconcile.
The other thing I learnt was that he was a committed champion of the local pub and all they stood for. He actually wrote an article in the Evening Standard on this very subject, listing the “must haves” that the ideal pub should contain. He even gave his fantasy pub a name, The Moon Under Water, now the ubiquitous name of Wetherspoons establishment without a history of their own.
It’s true to say that Orwell was a bit of a barfly, one who flitted from one pub to another, but it is known that he had a real fondness for the Dog and Duck on the corner of Bateman and Frith Street in Soho. It was here in 1945 that he celebrated Animal Farm winning a literary prize in America with a bottle of 135% proof Absinth. He seems to have been a real regular and shared the bar with other renowned writer and drinker Dylan Thomas. In his fantasy pub Orwell listed good conversation, no music, a Victorian décor and creamy stout, which all can be found at the Dog & Duck.
The pub was established in 1734 in the reign of George II when Bateman Street was known as Queen Street. The pub was rebuilt in 1887 to what we can see today. One of it’s earliest celebratory punters was the landscape painter John Constable who lived just round the corner and presumably would pop in for a pint between painting Hay Wains.
Back in the early 18th century Soho was on the fringes of the expanding city and from the pub it was only a short walk to the open land surrounding Tottenham Court. There were several large ponds in the area, so it’s easy to imagine that the pub takes its name from the hunting of wildfowl and the dogs used to retrieve them after they had been shot.
Looking into Orwell’s time in London it seems to be split into two parts as far a favourite drinking locations are concerned. In the early 1930s Soho seemed to be his area of choice. At the time he was living at 50 Lawford Road, Kentish Town, about two miles away. Later, after his return from The Spanish Civil War he lived in Greenwich, but was drawn to the very Bohemian lifestyle of Fitzrovia which is separated from Soho by Oxford Street.
I like to think that if he were to walk into the Duck & Dog today he would find little had changed, except the prices. He would probably think Soho a tame version of its former self and I would imagine he would loath and be unwilling to use much of the modern technology we take for granted. I can see him hunched over one of the small tables in the Dog and Duck, pint of stout in one hand while making notes with the other as he worked out a way to weave the Wetherspoons table service App into the narrative of 1984, because as we all know “Big Brother is watching you“.