chance of infecting anybody else with the disease eating away at his lungs, and he would
have the peace to write.
Yet he came here with a family of sorts, was involved in the local community and the
seasonal tasks of farming life, and had various guests to stay. They were never as many
visitors as he and they had hoped and planned for due to the sheer difficulty of getting
to Jura, and especially this part of it, but even so it was a fuller and less doom-shadowed
life than I'd imagined. A presentiment of death - and a desire to cling to life - informed
Orwell's choice of the place nevertheless; even in those very early post-war, post-atomic
days, he was aware of the possibility of a nuclear holocaust, and saw that Jura might offer
a greater chance of survival than most places in Britain if the Bomb did drop.
Orwell spent most of his last two years in hospital, and died in London.
Peering through the windows at Barnhill, I wonder if he turned his chair and whatever
desk or table he wrote on away from that beguiling, ever-changing view to the south, but
Orwell seems like the sort of writer, the sort of man, who might have kept the view there
to be looked at, and yet still never let himself be distracted by it. Anyway, apparently by
this stage he was so ill he was mostly writing in bed.
We return from Jura to Islay, for an evening of stories and laughter and lots of tears. The
tears were mine; Belinda had made this wonderful lasagne and Toby had produced a big
bag of green chillis to spice it up, leaving the bag on the table where I could reach it
too, so that we sat there, tearing these fiery little chillis up and scattering them across the
lasagne before wolfing it down (everybody else was sensible and stuck with the lasagne
as it was). The chillis were very strong and I tore up so many I swear my fingers turned
green. The resulting dish was utterly delicious, but then - laughing so much at one point I
had to wipe the tears away - I used my chilli-tearing fingers to do the wiping, which was
a major mistake.
I am convinced that the effect was so intense my eyeballs developed a sense of taste;
I could taste green. My eyes streamed, my nose did too, I washed my hands, kept dabbing
with a napkin, and thought of dousing my eyes with yoghurt (capsiacin, the hot stuff in
chillis, is soluble in fat but not in water, so this might have worked … Complicity readers
know this stuff already), but I opted for just keeping on eating even though I could hardly
see for the wash of tears, and waiting for the symptoms to pass, which they did after a
quarter of an hour or so.
I think it was around here, people having been primed for how daft I can be, that the
Toby's Party/The Balcony Scene story got told.
The Toby's Party/The Balcony Scene story .