George Orwell, Richard Nixon, and me

How I learned to distrust government

“It was a bright day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Many of my fellow-students thought that the opening line to Orwell’s 1984 strange; those of us raised in military families immediately knew it meant 1 p.m. No big deal.

My own takeaway from the novel was a deep distrust of any government. A couple of years later Richard Nixon confirmed my suspicions.

Today, in 2018, it’s easy to see how the pigs from Animal Farm have taken over the government. How else can you explain what’s happening in Washington DC, other than saying the UFO conspirators are correct and aliens have taken over?

But that’s not really the point

George Orwell, like me, was a tea drinker. If you’re interested, you can read his thoughts on the beverage here.

I was brought up on tea, which, given my Irish-Scots-English heritage should be no surprise. And we drank it in the traditional Irish manner: with milk and sugar.

A cup of tea and two slices of cinnamon toast were my mother’s panacea whenever one of us kids were sick. That was something she learned from her mother, and something I passed on to my own daughters.

Dad’s mother was a little different. Nana also drank her tea Irish-style, but she also believed that a proper cup of tea must be so strong “that a wee mousie might trot along the top.”

My father and uncles used to joke that when you stirred Nana’s tea, if the spoon stood upright when you let it go, the tea was perfect.

In the essay I referenced above, Orwell frequently mentions his preference for strong tea. Tea with no sugar. His reasoning?

“Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.”

It took me many years, but I have finally come around to this wisdom. After a lifetime of drinking tea with both milk and sugar (Orwell also cautions against the use of cream), I stated my morning with a cup of strong black tea, with no milk or sugar.

No milk, because only barbarians and phillistines add milk to their Earl Grey, and no sugar because I wanted the pure, unadulterated flavor of tea.

Tomorrow I’ll repeat the experiment with plain, unflavored Assam leaves.


Yes, I know: I’ve written about tea and Orwell before. What? I’m not allowed to change my feelings over time? Besides, this is Medium. One of the best things about Medium is how it enables us to write and improve our skills as writers.

And that’s just what I’m doing. Just don’t get me started on Tricky Dick Nixon!