Like Syria's President Assad, George Orwell created hell in paradise

Dom Joly
Saturday 31 August 2013 18:42 BST

My dog, Huxley, is an 11-year-old Labrador, and fortunately in peak physical condition as he survived a leap from a first-floor window last week with nothing more than some bruising. Far worse off was the startled farmer who was driving the pick-up truck that Huxley dive-bombed like some hairy Stuka. He won't be back soon. He'll be in the pub downing pints and muttering to anyone who'll listen: "He's only got bloody flying dogs up there. We should burn him, I tell you: chase him out of the county...."

I fled this excitement and headed up to Argyll for a quick family break. As a huge George Orwell fan I had decided to do a pilgrimage to Barnhill, the isolated house on the northern tip of Jura where he spent most of his last years and wrote Nineteen Eight-Four.

I had got the owner's name from someone on Twitter and had emailed to see if I could look around. She told me that it was rented out but that she would contact the tenants to see if they would mind. To reach Orwell's hideaway you need to take the ferry over to the south of the island, drive up what passes for a road until it turns into an almost impassable track and then walk the remaining five miles or so. Orwell could often be seen by the side of the track trying to fix his dilapidated motorcycle.

As I was taking my family with me, I opted for a slightly easier option. I chartered a boat on the mainland and got the captain to drop us off in a bay about half a mile from the house. The walk up to Barnhill was one of the most beautiful in the whole of the UK. It was truly magical scenery and even my kids didn't complain as they took in their awe-inspiring surroundings. We walked up through a moss-covered forest and then along a track that wound its way over a hill to reveal the house, nestled in a shallow valley with a spectacular view over the sea.

You could see why a man would come here to get away from all distractions and write. On this gloriously sunny day however, it seemed like the last place on earth where somebody might write a dystopian classic. I'm guessing however, that on a cold winter's day in 1948, things might have been a little different both geopolitically and temperature-wise.

The tenants kindly invited us in and we spent 10 minutes wandering about the shabby interior. Upstairs was Orwell's bedroom with a desk at the window looking out to sea. I sat there for as long as I could, soaking up the atmosphere while my children stood around awkwardly.

On the walk back to the boat we joked about bumping into David Cameron, who had been holidaying on the island the week before. What would Orwell, a fellow old Etonian, have made of the PM's bungled attempts to do something about the situation in Syria? Assad runs a regime very familiar to readers of Nineteen Eighty-Four and yet the opposition, the Syrian Winston Smiths, seem hardly more palatable. As Orwell put it: "The choice before human beings, is not, as a rule, between good and evil but between two evils."

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