Thursday, November 05, 2009
Transplanted the gooseberry bushes. Trust I haven’t damaged them. One or two still had green or greenish leaves, & others were so deep in the ground I had to damage their roots considerably getting them up. The soil there (this end of the garden) is in places pure clay at only 1 foot below the surface. Dug some of this out & lightened the ground as well as possible with sand & turf-mould. Then limed the ground between the bushes & dug in, also pruned the bushes a little. Hope this wind will not blow them all loose again. Added another sack of leaves. [Total on facing page: 31/2.]
9 eggs (probably some of these laid yesterday). Sold 30 @ 4/- a score."
The above quote is George Orwell's diary entry on November 5th, 1939. The Orwell Prize has been posting Orwell's diary entries a day at a time. Each day he writes of nothing but the weather, his gardening and the eggs his hens produce. Soil, fertilizer, rain and eggs -- mundane things that would seem to be of little interest to today's reader.
November 5th, 1939 was in the midst of the Phony War. Germany had invaded and overran Poland and was preparing its attack on France, Belgium and Holland. In fact, while Orwell tended to his garden in England, General von Brauchitsch was reporting to Hitler on the state of the Germany Army as the Fuhrer considered the starting date for his planned Western Offensive.
During those days Orwell must have felt dread over what he saw on the horizon. With hindsight we know his dread was not misplaced. However, the diary gives no sense of what he thought as he read the day's paper or listened to the news on the radio. He gives no sample of the discussions, fears and hopes that people would have expressed as war loomed ever nearer. Instead, in that diary, he narrowed his world to his garden. It must have been a therapy to him, a quiet corner of his world, a bit of peace to hold onto during the steady drip of disheartening news.
Eleven soldiers dead today in Fort Hood. The killer was likely just a lunatic. It is just as likely that he wrapped his lunacy in jihadist politics. Is the violence in Fort Hood today a fragment of war brought to our soil, or is it just another side of the pathology that drives serial killers? I don't know, but I have a deepening pessimism, a deepening unease that these times may also be a time of Phony War.
Many years ago I read a translation of a fragment of a Sumerian inscription. It has stuck in my head ever since. Today it seems appropriate: "Look thou about thee and see that all men are fools."