George Orwell is, these days, remembered as a secular saint, a voice of rationalism in a world gone mad. He was a wonderful, shrewd and perceptive writer, but his belief in a rather primitive form of socialist economics was always difficult to reconcile with the notion of his much vaunted commonsense. Well, here’s another blow to that image. Black magic?
Steven Runciman, the source of this story, was by all accounts a fascinating individual. A friend of mine was at a dinner party a few years ago where the then aged Runciman presided. An evening of uninhibited namedropping (he knew everybody, my dear) and hours of tawdry, but fascinating gossip about the vaguely famous of half a century ago (King Carol of Roumania! Max Beerbohm!) then followed. In particular, after hearing some tales of this evening, I’ve never been able to listen to anything written by Sibelius without bursting into laughter. That’s a response that tends to shock Finns. They are a rather solemn people and Sibelius is a revered figure up North, but when I explain my reasons they laugh too. Finns laughing? Yes really (definition of a Finnish extrovert – someone who looks at your shoes when he’s talking to you), they do. This is a family-oriented web-site, so, alas, I cannot say why.