Friday, January 07, 2011


All That for Sixpence

George Orwell, "As I Please," Tribune (January 21, 1944):
A correspondent reproaches me with being ‘negative’ and ‘always attacking things’. The fact is that we live in a time when causes for rejoicing are not numerous. But I like praising things, when there is anything to praise, and I would like here to write a few lines—they have to be retrospective, unfortunately—in praise of the Woolworth’s Rose.

In the good days when nothing in Woolworth’s cost over sixpence, one of their best lines was their rose bushes. They were always very young plants, but they came into bloom in their second year, and I don’t think I ever had one die on me. Their chief interest was that they were never, or very seldom, what they claimed to be on their labels. One that I bought for a Dorothy Perkins turned out to be a beautiful little white rose with a yellow heart, one of the finest ramblers I have ever seen. A polyantha rose labelled yellow turned out to be deep red. Another, bought for an Abertine, was like an Abertine, but more double, and gave astonishing masses of blossom. These roses had all the interest of a surprise packet, and there was always the chance that you might happen upon a new variety which you would have the right to name John Smith or something of that kind.

Last summer I passed the cottage where I used to live before the war. The little white rose, no bigger than a boy’s catapult when I put it in, had grown into a huge vigorous bush, the Abertine or near-Abertine was smothering half the fence in a cloud of pink blossom. I had planted both of those in 1936. And I thought, ‘All that for sixpence!’ I do not know how long a rose bush lives; I suppose ten years might be an average life. And throughout that time a rambler will be in full bloom for a month or six weeks each year, while a bush rose will be blooming, on and off, for at least four months. All that for sixpence—the price, before the war, of ten Players, or a pint and a half of mild, or a week’s subscription to the Daily Mail, or about twenty minutes of twice-breathed air in the movies!
Hat tip: Buce of Palookaville, author of Underbelly.

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