‘I Spent All Day At The Meeting’ by Olga Berggolts

I spent all day at the meeting,

either lying or voting.

I’m surprised I didn’t go grey

or die of shame.

I wandered about the streets,

where I could be myself again.

I had a smoke with a yardman –

then a drink in a cheap kiosk

along with two amputees,

who had fought at Krasny Bor.

Their complaints were something else –

their conversation was real.

One memory led to abother,

as we stirred the ash in our hearts:

penal battalions sent on reconnaissance

straight across minefields.

One man would return bemedalled;

others would lie down for ever,

their trumped-up sins now redeemed

with daredevil blood.

And I said in a drunken rage,

barely able to string thoughts together,

‘Oh how I hate our righteous ones,

Oh how I love our sinners!’

 

by Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)

a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz

(1948-9)

translated by Robert Chandler


Fun fact: The reference to Kransy Bor refers to the military action during the Seige of Leningrad of the Second World War (or ‘Great Patriotic War’ to Russians): “The Battle of Krasny Bor was part of the Soviet offensive Operation Polyarnaya Zvezda. It called for a pincer attack near Leningrad, to build on the success of Operation Iskra and completely lift the Siege of Leningrad, encircling a substantial part of the German 18th Army. The offensive near Krasny Bor, formed the western arm of the pincer. The Soviet offensive began on Wednesday, 10 February 1943. It produced noticeable gains on the first day, but rapidly turned into a stalemate. The strong defense of the 250th (Spanish) Infantry Division led by General Emilio Esteban Infantes and the 4th SS Police Division gave the German forces time to reinforce their positions. By February 13, the Soviet forces had stopped their offensive in this sector. In Spain, February 10 became known as “Black Wednesday”, due to the heavy losses of the Spanish Division, which lost over 70% of the men engaged in the action. It was the most costly battle for the Spanish volunteers during their time on the Eastern Front.”

To put the poem in context: remember that the men served in a penal battallion during the Stalinist era and therefore were probably falsely accussed of something or other by the authorities of the time. As the two men were in a penal battallion they were made to take part in more risky military manoeuvres in, what we would call, a suicide squad. Hence Olga’s reaction, after attending a Party meeting, where she had to lie about her real opinions or voted the entire time, drunkenly decrying the ‘righteous’, who were corrupt bureaucrats and staunch members of the Party, abusing their authoritive power to crush anything but complete compliance to their will, instead of practising any humanity towards their fellow man and those left behind broken by their leadership.

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People Speaking Over Each Other During Conversation

What is the point in doing this in day to day interaction?

One side wants themselves to be heard over all else so we get the following varying results:

  • One speaks over the other and one side stops – One side is dominant. It’s all about dominance and thus indicating your view is the superior one. Maybe not correct but attempting to assert a dominant air. Alpha and omega personalities in action. Dominant alpha male/female versus a submissive.
  • Try to speak over each other simultaneously – Neither side hears what the other is saying and so there is just noise. Alpha personalities clash! Or if not leaders then people trying to rise in the pecking order of their group.
  • Each stops to let the other speak – An awkward silence followed by each side attempting to reignite the rapport.
    Overly concerned about etiquette to a fault where communication falters. In that way you see in romantic comedies and comedies of manner often. Both submissive to a fault.

You are brought up to take turns in speaking but it seems more and more people are just talking at each other not with each other. It marks people out though I have never consciously taken note of when it happens. I tend to just let the other continue speaking but by that point they do not stop for breath and move from one topic to the next without pause thus leaving just a wall of sound emanating from them.

There is a time and place for such behaviour of course but more often than not if you are doing it then you are trying to assert dominance needlessly. Talking is a dialogue not a monologue. Leaders monologue when giving instructions and as everyone is encouraged to compete for a leading role in life and work it is seen as something that should be adopted at all times to excel.

But then of course I would say that. I’m typing a blog rather than talking over other people and becoming that sort of person. Blogging lets you express views that no one cares to hear. A rabid wolf howling at the moon it can never embrace.

Looking at the above video depending on whose voice you are focusing on you hear either Valjean’s oft repeated morality or if you focus on the designated antagonist Javert you hear the quasi-Freudian reason for why he is such a dogged adherent of the word, above the spirit, of the law. You only hear him declare this once in what is meant to be a scene two men shouting at each other showing his near loss of control. Neither, in the original novel, is ‘correct’ but both are equally ‘les miserables’ i.e. ‘the wretched’ as they are caught up in the shifting morality of society. Valjean is morally right but committed a crime and ran away while on parole. Javert upholds the word of the law while ignoring what is morally right in the circumstances such as the revolution. Both in their way fail to fulfil their true potential for fear of the consequences. Valjean wastes his life forever running from responsibility until he takes Cosette as his daughter. Javert shrouds himself in legal dogma to rise above his origins at least in the eyes of society. Neither lives for themself in the end. Neither hears what the other is saying and thus ignores the different point of view they are presented with by speaking over each other determined to assert that their way is the only true right way to exist in the world.

Everyone is a slave to their communities’ whims. We are all being shouted over and shouting over others in turn. In the end we are all wretched uncivilised beasts dressed in finery and speaking with veiled venom to each other.


Ranty, ranty, rant.
It is easier to write things off the top of my head than prepare them. It is as they say ‘in an argument you will make the greatest speech you will ever regret’.

Comment, Like, Follow – All are Welcome 🙂

Overheard Conversation: A Man With A Weird Routine

A man walks into the room looking for help with something. He leaves without anything being said save that there can be no help for him here. Then, without missing a beat, one person turns to another and a conversation begins about the departed man.

Mademoiselle Blancmange: “You know that guy?”
An intruding Yorkshire man: “I’ve seen him about. Why?”
Mademoiselle Blancmange: “He’s weird.”
An intruding Yorkshire man: “Is he?”
Mademoiselle Blancmange: “Every day, at exactly 12 o’ clock he has his lunch. He’s really weird. He always eats at the exact same time every day no matter what.”

She continues this way until it is revealed a few moments later that the man has diabetes and has to eat at regular intervals during the day to avoid the inevitable repercussions.

Apparently this strict routine alone was enough to consider him ‘weird’ in her eyes. I then reflect does this make people with any kind of maintained routine strange? Do we not all have a morning routine at the very least? It is no irony that these same people on a later day complain of someone ‘stinking’ implying that a regular bathing had been missed for whatever reason thus routine is both ‘weird’ but a necessary evil to them then I assume. The mindset of the lazy armchair critic who has the answers but takes no action to better the world they find themselves in.

Certainly, I believe we can all agree someone with OCD (Obsessive compulsive disorder) has developed a routine of actions which interfere with their lives, and there is no questioning this. However at what point does a routine become ‘weird’? Using the toilet regularly? Are regular bowel movements therefore ‘weird’ – certainly I imagine there any number of ill or elderly people who would envy such a display of routine? I remember reading in Primo Levi’s ‘If This Is Man’ that one WW2 prison camp inmate who could evacuate his bowels on command was the envy of all the others there it was such an extrodinary skill. Is having a regular job ‘weird’ when it provides a reliable source of income? What would be achieved without routine when it can be put off until tomorrow?

Maybe we should look at what that word ‘weird’ means then:

Weird (wɪəd/): adjective weird; comparative adjective: weirder; superlative adjective: weirdest
1. Suggesting something supernatural; unearthly.
synonyms: uncanny, eerie, unnatural, preternatural, supernatural, unearthly, other-worldly, unreal, ghostly, mysterious, mystifying, strange, abnormal, unusual; eldritch;
Informal: creepy, spooky, freaky;
Antonyms: normal, ordinary
Informal: very strange; bizarre.
synonyms: bizarre, offbeat, quirky, outlandish, eccentric, unconventional, unorthodox, idiosyncratic, surreal, crazy, absurd, grotesque, peculiar, odd, curious, strange, queer, cranky, freakish, insane, zany, madcap, off-centre, far out, alternative; outré;
Informal: wacky, freaky, way-out, rum;
Informal: wacko, off the wall, in left field, bizarro
Antonyms: conventional
2. Archaic: connected with fate.

So we come to the following conclusions:

  • Not normal – Well he had diabetes not that it was anyone else’s business. Diabetes is more common than it should be but he shouldn’t be judged for that.
  • Connected to a person’s destiny – Yes I can imagine the critical person developing diabetes. That person is far too judgemental of others. As it says in the Bible in Matthew 7:3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” The same lesson exists in many other forms too in other places. Put simply: Don’t criticise others for their minor failings when you yourself have far more obvious ones.

People are people. Some are cruel. Some are odd. Some just want to live a life without needless cruelty. Sadly some people thrive on cruelty when they know there will be no repercussions. There are bad people in the world but there are also good people. You just have to find the good ones and ignore the bad ones who only seek harm to others through whatever means they have to hand. It is the only way they themselves can feel ‘normal’ in whatever way they believe that is achieved.

The world is a better place for people with weird routines. Nothing would get done without routines and everything would be the same without the ‘weird’ ones contributing towards a more diverse world.


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