In 1949 George Orwell published one of his best known novels, “Nineteen Eighty Four”. It is a story set in the future about a society that is in perpetual war, that is controlled by the state, with constant government surveillance and where those who even think (“thought crimes”) negatively about the country in which they live are arrested. The “Inner Party” control everything and their leader, “Big Brother”, has a fearsome reputation, even though, as the novel develops it is clear that he does not really exist.
Those who try to rebel against the Inner Party are arrested and ”interrogated”, ultimately being sent to “Room 101”. Those of you who have read this far and are not familiar with the book will doubtless have picked up the titles of two very popular television shows that have come from this extraordinary book, in Room 101 and Big Brother. In “Nineteen Eighty Four”, Room 101 is the place that contains your worst nightmares and obviously this varies from one person to the next. To that extent, Frank Skinner’s television show is very aptly named.
For Winston Smith, the main character in the book, Room 101 contains rats and this is something that he and I have in common. Even touching a dead rat is something I would struggle to do without gloves, but earlier this term I had the opportunity to go into my own Room 101 when George and Billy brought their pet rats into school for the children to see.
I am wholeheartedly in favour of animals in school. It is generally accepted that they have a calming effect on the children and add something to the community. Looking after animals can help children who feel unhappy or troubled, they do not judge us as humans do and in the Second World War they used to give puppies to airmen who had been terribly burnt and disfigured to help them learn to live with the trauma of their injuries and give them something to focus on as they convalesced.
Steeling myself somewhat, I went into George’s classroom when his mother had the rats out and picked up a white one (a black or brown one would have been a step too far!) and had a cuddle. It wasn’t too bad really and while I don’t think the experience will have taken me out of my Room 101, it was most certainly a step in the right direction and something I was pleased to do.
I fully accept that this is an irrational fear. Many of us have these – spiders, heights, enclosed spaces, open spaces, dogs, and aeroplanes. Whatever yours may be, perhaps it is worth at least starting to look for the key that will open the door to take you out of your “Room 101!