George Orwell, Down and out in Paris and London

by B Thornton- Harwood

The whole business of swearing, especially English swearing, is mysterious. Of its very nature swearing is as irrational as magic — indeed, it is a species of magic.


I read this on account of it being one of my housemate’s favourite books. He’s a bit of a cunt but we have very similar tastes in film and literature so I gave it a go.

My two brief brushes with Orwell previously were studying Animal Farm in year 9 at school. It was put upon us by a teacher named Ms Bell- she was my schoolboy crush for years- and she was always banging on about the animals being a metaphor for communists and stuff. I didn’t really get it, although I was about 14 and by A-levels still believed in symbolism in literature to be a complete myth.

I later started on 1984 but found it so bloody depressing that I didn’t want to wreck the rest of my holiday with it.

ANYWAY. Down and Out, follows Orwell as he lives on the poverty line in Paris, desperately trying to find work with his Russian mate Boris. They gain work in a restaurant and he portrays in awesome detail the goings on of this shitty Parisian hotel where he works as a plonguer – that’s a kitchen porter or pot wash to you and I.

After working in the hospitality industry for the entirety of my final year of uni I absolutely adored the first half of this book. Orwell manages to capture the grime, fury and camaraderie of a professional kitchen beautifully (although for legal reasons I wish to point out that my former place of work was 10/10 for cleanliness).

The second half is Orwell living as a tramp in London for a month or so before he has a job scheduled to start. I must say I found this a lot less compelling to read, although the tedium of the second half is probably meant to mirror the boredom and monotony of life as a tramp.

It also has a great chapter on colloquial language, rhyming slang and the use of “fuck” which I thought was great.

Might have to give 1984 another go ya’ know?