George Orwell to Steven Runciman, August 1920

Grove Terrace        Polperro RSO[1]    Cornwall.

My dear Runciman[2],

I have a little spare time, and I feel I must tell you about my first adventure as an amateur tramp. Like most tramps I was driven to it. When I got to a wretched little place in Devonshire, – Seaton Junction, Mynors[3], who had to change there, came to my carriage & said that a beastly Oppidan who had been perpetually plaguing me to travel in the same compartment as him was asking for me. As I was among strangers, I got out to go to him whereupon the train started off. You need two hands to enter a moving train, & I, what with kit-bag, belt etc had only one. To be brief, I was left behind. I despatched a telegram to say I would be late (it arrived next day), & about 2½ hours later got a train: at Plymouth, North Rd, I found there were no more trains to Looe that night. It was too late to telephone, as the post offices were shut. I then made a consultation of my financial position. I had enough for my remaining fare & 7 ½d over. I could therefore either sleep at the Y.M.C.A. place, price 6d, & starve, or have something to eat but nowhere to sleep. I chose the latter, I put my kit-bag in the cloak-room & got 12 buns for 6d: half-past-nine found me sneaking into some farmer’s field, – there were a few fields wedged in among rows of slummy houses. In that light I of course looked like a soldier strolling round, – on my way I had been asked whether I was demobilized yet, & I finally came to anchor in the corner of a field near some allotments. I then began to remember that people frequently got fourteen days for sleeping in somebody else’s field & “having no visible means of support”, particularly as every dog in the neighbourhood barked if I ever so much as moved. The corner had a large tree for shelter, & bushes for concealment, but it was unendurably cold; I had no covering, my cap was my pillow, I lay “with my martial cloak (rolled cape) around me”.[4] I only dozed & shivered till about 1oc, when I readjusted my puttees, & managed to sleep long enough to miss the first train, at 4.20. by about an hour, & to have to wait till 7.45 for another. My teeth were still chattering when I awoke. When I got to Looe I was forced to walk 4 miles in the hot sun; I am very proud of this adventure, but I would not repeat it.

Yours sincerely,
E. A. Blair.

[1] Railway Sorting Office, which acted as poste restante. Polperro has, and had, no station. The nearest is at Looe, three miles to the east. The Blair family spent most of its summer holidays in Cornwall at either Looe or Polperro. On this particular journey Orwell was returning from an Eton Officers’ Training Corps exercise and was therefore in uniform.
[2] Steven Runciman (1903-2000; Kt., 1958) was a King’s Scholar in the same Election as Orwell, and later a distinguished historian whose works include
A History of the Crusades, The Sicilian Vespers, and The Fall of Constantinople.
[3] Roger Mynors was a member of Orwell’s Election.
[4] From stanza 3 of ‘The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna’ (Charles Wolfe, 1791-1823), the poem parodied in
College Days, Number 5 (CW, 50, as ‘The Photographer’): ‘But he lay like a warrior taking his rest/With his martial cloak around him.’ Most secondary-school (and probably all public-school) boys were required to learn the poem before World War II. Peter Davison

From the Complete Works, X, 56, p. 76