When George Orwell sold his scarf for two bob

Geoffrey Shryhane
Geoffrey Shryhane
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My World with Geoffrey Shryhane...

But for stubbing my big toe on the meat safe, I would certainly have gone on the walking tour to see the buildings Orwell came face to face with on his only visit to Manchester way back in 1936.

At the time he was a struggling writer researching what would become The Road to Wigan Pier.

In Manchester, he stopped off at St John’s House which at the time also housed the YMCA and the local HQ of the Youth Hostel Association.

Orwell wanted to cash a cheque but he was turned down. He had just three old pence in his pocket.

Next stop was Bootle Street Police Station where he asked the officer in charge to find a solicitor who would vouch for him. The policeman refused.

So the author who would later be world famous found himself penniless in the city.

George then found a pawnbroker in Chester Street.

The owner refused to take his overcoat but gave him 1/11 (10p) for his scarf which at least allowed him to him to spend a night at a doss house. Before leaving the city, Orwell admired the Shakespeare window in the Central Library.

He wrote in his diary: “Frightfully cold. Street encrusted with mounds of dreadful black stuff which is really snow frozen hard and blackened by smoke.”

Leaving Manchester, he headed straight for Wigan. And the rest, as they say, is history.

On the subject of Orwell, it’s fact that when he left to travel north to write his book, he hadn’t much idea of his destination. And it was in Manchester that a trade union official suggested that Wigan might fit his bill.

:: You only have to linger awhile in the Market Hall or sit on those stone seats at the top of town to realise that our unique dialect is in fine fettle.

I overhead this chat between two old chaps - I’ll call them Bert and Joe – just last week.

Bert: “Mi wife could do wi a good talkin’ to. Er’s that unreasonable.”

Joe: “Wot does ‘er do?”

Bert: “Wot does ‘er do? I’ll tell thi. ‘Er expects too much. After 50 yer wed, ‘er says it’s time I washed up.

“I towd ‘er that were women’s work. In’t it Joe? There’s jobs that wimen does and jobs that us chaps does. In’t that right?”

Joe: “Well Bert, these is different days. Do yer not remember that time when women burnt their bras.”

Bert: “Wot. Wot yer sayin’ Joe. Mi missus still wears one…I think.”

Joe: “No. I mean womin are not like in’t thowd days. There’s more, what’s the word, equalisation now. I’ve washed up for years.”

Bert: “Well, Joe, I never knowed that. What else dust do?”

Joe: “I ‘elps wit washing and I mops kitchen. What else? Oh I goes round wit polish spray every Sunday.”

Bert: “I con’t speak. I never known you was domestic-fied. I don’t know wot think.”

Joe: “Well Bert, it’s time you give ‘er in doors a bit of ‘elp. She’s not gerrin any younger.”

Bert: “Looks as if I’ll av-fot alter mi ways. Anyroad wile I’m washing up, I’ll ask Gladys mow lawn. Furs fur.”

:: Many terrible tragedies took place in Edwardian Wigan. Here is just one.

On a Wednesday morning in a sand pit two young men, Lambert Highton, 18, of Boyswell Lane and Robert Doran, 17, of Whelley, were suffocated by a terrible fall of sand while William Winnard, the son of the proprietor, has a miraculous escape.

The sandpit was worked by Winnards and on the morning of the tragedy, the three young men were bagging it and carting it away.

Suddenly a very heavy fall of sand took place. Higham and Doran were completely buried but Winnard was only covered to the waist and was able to call for assistance.

Great difficulty was experienced in reaching the two men as a tremendous heap of sand had to be removed and when discovered about an hour later their bodies were found lying together.

The calamity caused a great sensation in the district and people remarked that there had been sand falls previously.

At the inquests, the Coroner, Mr Milligan, heard that on the morning of the tragedy, there had been a small fall of sand, followed by a fall of seven or eight tons. People rushed to the scene.

The Coroner asked William Winnard why the sand kept falling, and was told that there were ‘slips’ in the sand strata.

He said: “Sand is dangerous wherever it is. There’s nothing we can do to make it stable.”

Mr Winnard said it was also impossible to prevent children from entering the yard to play in the sand.

Accidental verdicts were recorded.

:: Last week I accused some Wiganers of being miseries. Of seeing the negative rather than the positive in every situation.

Well it looks as though I might have to eat my words.

And you’ll understand why when I tell you my eye was caught by a headline in a regional newspaper revealing that Wigan was one of the happiest places in Greater Manchester.

After a big survey by the Office of National Statistics, they revealed that along with Trafford, Wiganers are jumping with joy.

It turns out that the people in the two areas rated their happiness levels at an average of 7.7 out of 10 during the last year.

In comparison people in Manchester were the least happy, giving an average of 7.1 out of 10. The report revealed that Wigan has seen the biggest improvement in happiness levels, up from 7.3 in 2014/15 while Bury is down from 7.6. to 7.3.

One of the lowest UK scores for happiness was Oldham. The people rated their satisfaction with life between 0 to four out of ten.

Interestingly, the people in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland emerged as the happiest with a score of 8.2 out of ten.

To see the full national report, tap into the website of the Office of National Statistics.

:: She’s 55 and according to one national newspaper, our very own Kay Burley is “gorgeous.”

The former Wigan reporter, who comes from Beech Hill, was ambitious even as a young hack. And she didn’t tap typewriters for very long sitting opposite me before she went to pastures new. First to radio and then TV.

She’s been one of Sky News presenters for yonks.

So why did the Daily Mail include her in its chatty Ephraim Hardscastle column? Simple. They say Kay was “cruelly satirised” in the TV show Newsoids – a kind of watered-down Spitting Image. In the spoof, a bobbing-about image of Kay sings: “I made Peter Andre cry and I love it when people die.”

A puppet of her boss Rupert Murdoch croons: “Go on Burley, you’re my girlie. Be a bitch and make me richer.”

Kay says she wasn’t warned in advance of the Newsoids item.

The TV show tweeted that they loved Kay.

And Kay retorted: “Yeah. Like an errant child in a supermarket clutching a family bag of Haribos.”

Sadly our Wigan newsroom hasn’t been the same since Kay left. She was always in early to have a brew ready for us senior reporters. And her toast was to die for.