Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell – Book Review

Summary

I review Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell, his sixth published book and a commercial failure. An historically important account of the Spanish Civil War and featuring the seeds of some themes which were developed on in 1984. 

The Spanish Civil War

Eric Arthur Blair (George Orwell) volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War on the side of the Republicans. The Republicans were made up of left leaning groups such as socialists, communists and anarchists. They were at war against the Nationalists, a more conservative right leaning group which was ultimately led by Franco.

The above description of the war sounds rather straightforward. However, the reality of the war was much more complex. Amongst the many varied groups fighting on the side of the Republicans were many differences of political opinions. As a result there was a large amount of fighting between them. The only thing that they seemingly could all agree on was their opposition to Franco and the Nationalists.

Reader feel free to skip!

Orwell acknowledges in the book that the political background to the war is a rather dry topic. Consequently he invites the reader to feel free to skip a couple of the chapters where he explains this. I must admit that with all the various acronyms, it is rather difficult to follow. The couple of chapters dedicated to this clearly convey the confusion that must have existed. People fighting on the same side ultimately began fighting against each other. The group that Orwell joined to fight with was the POUM. The POUM were actually outlawed as the war progressed. POUM soldiers returning from the front were arrested or even worse shot. They were shot for being a member of a political group that was now illegal.

Trench Warfare

Orwell is very readable and brings alive what could have been a very dry subject. Trench warfare is described in vivid detail. As you read the book you feel that you experience the trenches of the Spanish Civil War.

Interestingly there is a complete lack of action in the trenches. Soldiers were ill equipped with a lack of guns and bombs. Equipment that was provided to soldiers was often dangerous and very old. Next to no training was provided to the soldiers. As a result a very hopeless picture is painted.

The trenches were too far apart for any real fighting to take place. Soldiers were wounded mostly be stray bullets or a lucky shot landing. Orwell himself was shot in the trenches. His description of this is very powerful and he also discusses the mental effects that this had on him.

Rumble on La Rambla

La Rambla is the lovely main street that runs through the city of Barcelona. It is a wide avenue with beautiful old buildings, flowers sellers and newsagents. Upon arriving in Barcelona, Orwell finds a city owned and run by the people. A city where tipping is outlawed and everyone is a comrade.

Orwell describes how La Rambla is transformed into a battle ground. As a result of the fighting amongst the republican groups, street fighting broke out. Orwell details his experience of this and also the many differences in the reported versions.

La Rambla Barcelona, scene of street fighting in Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
La Rambla – Barcelona

A very understanding Mrs Blair

As you read this book, Orwell happens to mention that his wife is with him! He occasionally mentions that she is in a hotel in Barcelona whilst he is at the front fighting the forces of Franco! Mrs Blair’s account of the whole experience would have been very interesting too. As the book draws to a close, we see Mr and Mrs Blair trying to escape Spain. Orwell is wanted by the police for having been a member of a now outlawed political party. It is quite clear how lucky they were to escape and that Orwell lived to write his future masterpieces.

The Truth is what we say it is – origins of 1984

In Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell, the writer states from the outset that he is describing his personal experiences of the Spanish Civil War. He makes this clear because his account differs to some of the widely accepted accounts or facts of the war.

Orwell discusses how every event that took place was subject to propaganda and spin. We often hear the phrase that the victor of a war writes the history. In this situation we become aware of how printed propaganda just serves to confuse historians. Just because something is written down does not make it true. The irony of this is not lost on Orwell as he is writing his own version of events. His version of events that will be flavoured with his own political opinion and leanings.

Let us remember that we are also talking about propaganda amongst the forces fighting Franco. During the street fighting in Barcelona amongst the Republican forces there were many differing accounts of events. For each event that took place there was at least the Government’s official version, the anarchist version and the Communist version.

Orwell reflects on the in-fighting and war in general;

Everyone believes in the atrocities of the enemy and disbelieves in those of his own side, without ever bothering to examine the evidence.

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

As the war progressed, Orwell states that it became evident that some form of dictatorship would result. He reflects on the political leaders who he saw as having power to say that 2 + 2 = 5 and for it to be held as true. These themes of propaganda and control of truth are explored and developed in 1984.

La Sagrada Familia

Barcelona is a beautiful city and has wonderful architecture. La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s cathedral, is a huge tourist draw. The cathedral is completely unique and is unlike any other in the world. The way it is constructed allows for a beautiful and magical dance of colours inside from its stained glassed windows. Orwell describes it as “one of the most hideous buildings in the world.” Sorry Eric but I must disagree with you there!

La Sagrada Familia described as hideous in Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
La Sagrada Familia interior

In Summary

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell is an interesting book from a number of perspectives. It is a first hand experience of trench warfare in the Spanish Civil war and also of the Barcelona street fighting.

The book also explores themes that Orwell developed later in 1984. Themes of totalitarianism and government controlled rewriting of history.

I knew very little about the Spanish Civil War before reading this book. As a result this is what attracted me to the book. Following the yogic concept of self-study, svadhyaya, I set out to learn!

Find out more about George Orwell here: https://www.orwellfoundation.com/the-orwell-foundation/about/about-george-orwell/

Eric Arthur Blair aka George Orwell

Check out our other book reviews here: https://yogasmiths.org/category/book-review/

World Book Day 2020

World Book Day 2020 – Svadhyaya (self-study)

Today is World Book Day 2020 and we are going to look at how it links with the 8 limbs of yoga.

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali one of the 8 limbs of Yoga are the Niyama (limb number 2). These are five virtuous behaviours that Patanjali recommends that we cultivate in ourselves. The 4th Niyama is Svadhyaya. This translates as self-study. How does this fit in with World Book Day 2020?

There are two elements to this idea of self-study. There is the study of the self and there is self directed study. As today is World Book Day I am going to discuss the later.

Svadhyaya as self-directed study is the reading of books that will enrich our lives. Books that allow us to develop in a positive way. This is very much in line with what we would call “life-long learning’.

It is the study and reading of texts / films or documentaries that will enrich our lives. Material that will result in increase our knowledge of ourselves. Modern research has shown that continuing to learn new things late into life can in some cases help to fend off dementia and cognitive decline.

In his book Samadhi, Gregor Maehle interprets Svadhyaya as prioritising the desire to answer the following questions;

  • Who are we?
  • What is our true identity?
  • What is the purpose of our life?

Applying svadhyaya to life

Svadhyaya has quite a life changing implication here around our consumption of such things as newspapers and television. Are we watching television programmes that inspire us and enrich our lives? Or do we use television as “chewing gum for the eyes”? Are we reading newspapers that educate us? Or do they instil us with fear of the world? Svadhyaya is mindful consumption of television and media. Being aware of how such things make you feel.

Over the years I have reduced my consumption of television dramatically. As a result only choosing to occasionally watch documentaries and films. This has had a positive effect for me, I became aware that often certain television programmes left me feeling annoyed, frustrated or down. Removing this source of negativity can have an uplifting effect on your general mood. This all comes down to mindfulness and having a greater awareness of how such things make you feel. I have found more time to read books and to undertake study. I have always found books to be a rich source of inspiration not just philosophical books or yoga books but also biographies. Biographies can give us a good insight into other peoples experience of life, this can help us foster feelings of empathy and compassion allowing us to put ourselves in the place of the author.

My own love of books and reading

I have always enjoyed reading and this is something that my parents encouraged in me as a little boy. Growing up we didn’t have a lot of money but my parents always bought me a new book when I had read my current one. As a result this was encouragement to read! Mum would take me down to Chapter One bookshop in West Kirby and I would pick a Willard Price adventure book. These books transported me to exotic lands and exciting adventures and gave me a desire to travel when I was older.

I also loved Enid Blyton. Newton Post Office had a selection of children books and I would love looking at the selection of Famous Five titles. I read some of the Secret Seven books but my favourites were the Famous Five. The escapades of the five and Timmy the dog had me enthralled. Their adventures on Kirin Island felt almost possible for me with Hilbre Island sitting in the estuary. I remember my Dad telling me that smugglers used to use Hilbre Island and this made it all the more exciting and real!

When I was 7 years old we got a lovely little dog called Sandy and she was my “Timmy the dog” from the Famous Five stories. We would have lots of adventures in the fields around Newton, finding dens and watching foxes, rabbits and hares. This sense of exploration and interest in life and nature came directly from the books that I read.

This interest in books and knowledge stayed with me into adulthood and is a continuing gift that my parents gave to me by providing me with books as a child and by taking me for walks in nature.

World Book Day 2020

Today is World Book Day, Thursday 5th March 2020. The impact that reading and access to books can have on a child and the subsequent adult is great. I feel that encouraging reading is as important as ever in this age of modern technology. The purpose and aims of world book day from their website are below;

World Book Day is a registered charity on a mission to give every child and young person a book of their own. It’s also a celebration of authors, illustrators, books and (most importantly) it’s a celebration of reading. In fact, it’s the biggest celebration of its kind, designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, and marked in over 100 countries all over the world.


This is the 23rd year there’s been a World Book Day, and on 5th March 2020, children of all ages will come together to appreciate reading. Very loudly and very happily. The main aim of World Book Day in the UK and Ireland is to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity to have a book of their own. That’s why we will be sending schools (including those nurseries and secondary schools that have specially registered to participate), packs of Book Tokens and age-ranged World Book Day Resource Packs (age-ranged into Nursery/Pre-School, Primary and Secondary) full of ideas and activities, display material and more information about how to get involved in World Book Day.

From http://www.worldbookday.com

Support World Book Day in any way that you can, it is a fantastic initiative!

Here is a link to the World Book Day website where there are lots of great resources; https://www.worldbookday.com

Check out our Book Review blogs at : https://yogasmiths.org/category/book-review/

Worlds oldest Yoga teacher passes away at 101

Tao Porchon-Lynch, the worlds oldest Yoga teacher passed away peacefully on 21st February 2020 aged 101

Tao Porchon-Lynch was a living legend. She was born in August 1918 towards the end of the First World War and lived through some amazing historic times and events. Tai was recognised by the Guinness book of world records as being the Oldest Yoga Teacher in 2012 and was still going strong at age 101. We went to a Yoga retreat with her in Massachusetts which she led at age 100!

Dancing Light by Tao Porchon-Lynch

Tao’s auto-biography is a fascinating historical record of a life fully lived! She was born in the middle of the English Channel two month premature as her mother made her journey from Pondicherry in India to be with her husband who was stationed in England. Tao’s mother died in child birth and she returned to Indian to be brought up by her Uncle in Pondicherry. Tao’s journey from these beginnings to her final home in New York state is truly inspirational.

Tao Porchon Lynch autobiography Dancing Light
Tao’s autobiography Dancing Light

During her life Tao marched with Gandhi, helped the French Resistance in World War 2, preformed cabaret during bombing raids and was a French Couture model. She also marched with Martin Luther King Jr. She moved to America as a model and got some acting work in Hollywood movies. After marrying for the second time, she published a wine appreciation magazine and in her later life took up ball room dancing.

Tao first became aware of Yoga aged 8 in India. She saw some boys practicing on the beach and was told by her Aunt that she could not participate as it was for men only. This was like a red rag to a bull and Tao was determined to join in and did! Her professional journey into yoga came a little later in her life after she was married for the second time. She began teaching after having studied under Sri Aurobindo, Indra Devi, B K S Iyengar, Sri K Pattabhi Jois and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Tao went on to receive many awards and accolades in the field of yoga.

On a Yoga retreat with Tao

Tao Porchon-Lynch with Yogasmiths at Kripalu Retreat Centre
Paul, Steve and Lisa with Tao Porchon-Lynch

We met Tao on a yoga retreat in Massachusetts at Kripalu retreat centre (https://kripalu.org/). The retreat was called The Eternal Energy of Yoga. Tao exuded warmth and friendliness. Her yoga practice at the age of 101 was graceful and effortless. We were lucky enough to have a nice chat with her and she spontaneously began to massage my foot, which was very pleasant by the way! In between yoga sessions Tao could be seen walking around wearing her trademark high heels!

Tao Porchon-Lynch with Yogasmiths at Kripalu Retreat Centre
Tao Porchon-Lynch giving Paul a foot massage!

When we spoke to her she said that she never drink water only tea and wine and that this was her secret to longevity! Along side Yoga and dancing! Tao told us that every morning she would awake and tell herself that today is going to be the best day of her life. She lived and breathed mindfulness and living in the present moment.

Spending time with Tao on the retreat was truly inspirational. She taught us a lovely flowing sequence of movements that we teach to our students in our weekly classes (https://yogasmiths.org/classes/) After we had finished chatting to her, she popped up into a shoulder stand!

Tao Porchon-Lynch in shoulder stand at Kripalu Retreat Centre
Tao Porchon-Lynch age 100 in Shoulder Stand. This is what 100 years old can look like!

Tao loved animals and had a dog called Maharani Roodle Doodle Lovebug Lynch! What a wonderful name!

Tao was a wonderful inspirational teacher who exuded inclusivity and warmth. She lived a wonderful life, the people she met reads like a whose who of the golden era of Hollywood and history in general! She lived her mantra that there is nothing you cannot do!

Thank you Tao for your inspiration and teachings.

You can purchase Tao’s autobiography here http://thetaoexperience.com/ and visit her official website here https://www.taoporchonlynch.net/

You can also follow her on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/taoporchonlynch100/

Self Compassion by Kristen Neff – Book review

Summary

A very interesting book looking at self compassion and how to foster and approach it. A book that I have filled with page markers and annotations for referring back to.

Self Compassion by Kristen Neff
A heavily tabbed Self Compassion book!

Review

Ahimsa / Compassion or non-violence is the first of the Yama (restraints) in the first limb of the eight limbs of yoga as described by Patanjali. When we talk of compassion we tend to think of this as an outwards thing towards other people. We often find it more difficult directing compassion towards ourselves. It is important that we practice compassion towards ourselves in order that we can be compassionate to others.

The full title of this book is Self Compassion – stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. So, consequently the book sets out the three core components to self compassion; Self Kindness, Common Humanity and Mindfulness. Most importantly this book sets out how to limit self-criticism and its harmful effects.

The Self Critic

One of the most insightful aspects of this book for me personally was understanding the patterns of your inner self critic and where they come from. As a result of this, one can then begin to see that it is not your fault that you have a self critic. In fact, Neff wonderfully points out, we are all just human. We are not perfect and make mistakes, after all we are only human! It is this element of seeing the bigger picture that was also a moment where I sat and reflected. Neff describes this as the greater human experience, being part of the greater humanity. This has parallels to the concept of Ishvara pranidhana in Yoga, surrender to the divine. I often describe this concept as feeling a part of something greater than your individual self. We are all part of the common human experience.

The book nicely explains how the self-critic that we all have is a survival instinct. It originates from the fight or flight response and the associated negativity basis that we have. Our species survived because we were always on the look out for danger. We were able to pre-empt danger. We were able to criticise ourselves for doing things wrongly or for making mistakes. However, this is where the problem now lies. We are not in any immediate survival related danger in our western societies. So the self critic does not serve us well. Consequently the self critic is a source of stress and depression.

The Illusion of Perfection

A further part of this book that was quite insightful was the discussion around the illusion of perfection. The idea that we need to be “perfect.”

All too often , however, our minds fool us into thinking that we can, and in fact should, be other than we are.

Neff, Self Compassion p70

The above quote summarises a common theme in our self critic. It relates to any aspect of life. The book puts this in to context by stating that it is not possible for everyone to be “perfect.” If that was the case there would be no reference point from which to measure. One element of practicing self compassion is allowing yourself to realise that you are only human. Humans make mistakes and in all likelihood many people have made very similar mistakes to you time and time again. Rather than beat yourself up, allow yourself to acknowledge that making mistakes is part of being human.

This approach is therefore absolutely mindfulness. It is about seeing things for how they really are rather than through the skewed view of the self critic. It is about learning to respond to mistakes and challenges with self compassion. This is in contrast to reacting with the same old internal self critical voice.

The book concludes nicely with a chapter on self appreciation. Actually allowing yourself to appreciate yourself! Trying to adopt this as a habit.

In Summary

Self Compassion by Kristen Neff sets out an approach to allow you to be aware of your self critic and to approach it with self compassion. An approach that encourages you to console yourself and acknowledge your feelings and responses to any given stimuli. And to then move forward with self compassion, letting go of the self critic and the associated insecurities.

Further resources

You can find out more about Kristen Neff on her website; https://self-compassion.org/

Here is a previous blog relating to tips for dealing with stress; https://yogasmiths.org/2018/05/19/mental-health-awareness-week-helpful-tips-to-deal-with-stress/

Brightening our Inner Skies Yin and Yoga by Norman Blair – Book Review

Brightening our Inner Skies – Yin and Yoga by Normal Blair is a wonderful personal reflection on a journey through yoga. It is also a guide to Yin Yoga and a commentary on how Yoga and social responsibility are more relevant than ever.

What’s it all about?

I bought this book at the beginning of 2018 after we had booked to attend some training with Norman. Therefore, I wanted to get a feel for what Norman was about before the course. What I find most refreshing and appealing about this book is that Norman is very real. He writes openly and honestly about his journey through yoga and the shifting and changing challenges that life throws at us. As a result this book resonated with me and made it feel reassuring and life affirming.

The book is presented with lots of inspiring quotes and references. It pulls together lots of information from an array of sources. Those who have been taught by Norman will know of his ability to quote and recite interesting and thought provoking pieces, weaving them through his sessions. This book takes the pressure off you having to remember them! Norman has kindly compiled them here for us!

Norman passionately relates and reflects on the relevance of Yin Yoga as an antidote to modern society and life. My own personal experience of Yin helped me through a challenging transitionary period of my life.

What Yin Yoga has meant to me

After 15 1/2 years working at a desk, I took redundancy to become a Yoga Teacher. As a result I left a busy middle management job in the Civil Service which had required me to travel all over the country pretty much on a weekly basis. Consequently transitioning to being at home and taking time to adjust was a challenge. As a result I was drawn instinctively to a Yin Yoga practice, a calming nurturing practice that I had been introduced to via a workshop. This had been with the wonderful British Wheel of Yoga teacher Paul Wooding in Liverpool. Paul has a very real and nurturing approach. I travelled to his Wednesday morning Yin classes as often as I could and they helped with my transition from such a busy “doing” office lifestyle to a new chapter in my life.

You can read a bio for both of us and details of the training we have undertaken here: https://yogasmiths.org/about/

Training with Norman

We were lucky enough to undertake Yin Yoga teacher training with Norman Blair at Yoga Campus in Manchester back in June 2018. We As a result of spending time with Norman it really brought to life the content of his book and it was great to meet him and train with him.

At the Yoga Campus training in Yin Yoga with Norman Blair

As a Yoga teacher, Brightening our Inner Skies is a great resource and reference guide. Hence, it happily sits alongside my Bernie Clark Yin Yoga book. For me, a great yoga book is one that I read with a pencil, a highlighter and some sticky page markers. This is one of those books, a book that you want to make sure you can easily find a quote or a phrase in, a book that you want to dip in and out of for some time to come.

Brightening Our Inner Skies Yin and Yoga – with plenty of tabs to refer back to!

In Summary

Brightening our Inner Skies Yin and Yoga is both a guide to Yin, teaching Yin and also a way finder for the modern world. Thank you to Norman for realising this book, I highly recommend it.

You can find out more about Norman Blair here;

https://www.yogawithnorman.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/Yoga-with-Norman-183652105002257/
https://www.instagram.com/yogawithnorman/
https://twitter.com/yogawithnorman