Ascriptions

by Nigel Tasane


"Don’t dance in the catfood," Daddy pleaded. "Let’s go find out about art." Babby looked up and laughed, stamped like a magyar in the Best-Ever Rabbit-and-Salmon Supameat and held out her arms to be lifted and hugged.

Forty five pence per tin; three and a half tins per week, or seven per fortnight, seven that is per girocheque: three pounds and fifteen pence; as a percentage of one hundred and twenty seven pounds and sixty four pence, two - to three decimal places - point four six eight. Remarkable, thought Daddy, fitting the raincover to Babby’s buggy, the purrings of puss cost us all even digits.

 

The deportation of anti-Soviet elements from the Baltic States is a task of great political importance. Its successful execution depends upon the extent to which the county triumvirates and operative headquarters are capable of carefully working out a plan for carrying out the operations and of foreseeing in advance all indispensable factors. Moreover, the basic premise is that the operations should be conducted without provoking undue attention, noise and panic, so as not to permit any demonstrations or other excesses, not only by the deportees, but also by a certain part of the population inimically inclined toward the Soviet administration.

-- NKVD Secret Order No. 001223, "Deportation of Anti-Soviet Elements from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia," 1941.

 

While they waited for the uptown train Babby squinted through the plastic at the platform clock, which clicked the passing seconds and double clicked every tenth, and at the raindrops which fell from its casing at less regular, apparently random, intervals, and she kicked her legs each with an independent beat, at ease apparently with a February morning. The train arrived and they had a carriage to themselves. Daddy rearranged the contents of his shoulderbag to make space for his newspaper: babybottle full of milk, swaddled in kitchen roll, a banana, nappy, nappy cream, nappy bag, soother, spare babygro, and tissues and wallet and more tissues.

South London felt like Dante’s Purgatory, hugely populous but vacuous, tower blocks casting no shadows, glass broken and whole reflecting no light, its contumaceous like bipedal sheep in a weird market. Daddy unstrapped Babby from her buggy and stood her on his lap so her nose could press the windowpane. Little children skipped in puddles, below. Canary Wharf thrust upwards.

 

"I ventured through that parish this day, to ascertain the condition of the inhabitants, and although a man not easily moved, I confess myself unmanned by the extent and intensity of suffering I witnessed, more especially among the women and little children, crowds of whom were to be seen scattered over the turnip fields, like a flock of famished crows, devouring the raw turnips, and mostly half naked, shivering in the snow and sleet, uttering exclamations of despair, whilst their children were screaming with hunger. I am a match for anything else I may meet with here, but this I cannot stand."

Captain Wynne, Inspecting Officer, West Clare, Ireland 1846.

 

Six pounds ninety five pence for thirty six nappies, or nineteen point three pence each; at three a day, fifty seven point nine pence, or eight pounds ten point six pence per fortnight, that is, per giro; as a percentage of one hundred and twenty seven pounds and sixty four pence, six - to three decimal places - point three four six.

 

The instructing of the operative groups should be done by the county triumvurate within as short a time as possible, on the day preceding the beginning of the operations, taking into consideration the time needed for arriving at the place of operations. Premises in which the instructing is done must be carefully prepared in advance. Their holding capacity, exits, entrances and the chances of strangers entering them must be taken into consideration. During the time of the issuance of the instructions the building must be securely guarded by trusted administrative workers. The triumvirate, through one of its representatives, must notify the officials whom it has gathered of the decision of the government to deport a certain recorded contingent of anti-soviet elements from the territory of the respective republic or region. In addition to that a brief explanation should be given as to what the deportees represent.

 

But of course you might crap yourself more than thrice daily - a little moisture we can ignore, with the modern nappy - and what would become of our sums? They would matter less than the motion of a baby’s bowel of course. But just suppose four times a day six times per fortnight, and five times a day three times: that’s another twelve at nineteen point three pence each, that’s two pounds thirty one point six pence on top of the original eight pounds ten point six pence (both are point six) and we are speaking of a fortune beyond the dreams of avarice. But how many per day is the true rate, how many per day is fact? And there’s Bing Bong and the Howls of Lords and the House of Comings. London looks splendid in the weather it was made for. Babby remembers. She’s been here before. I think she knows that for a fact.

 

Yes, Sir, a poor fellow, named Courtney, after working a few days on the public road, badly fed and worse clothed, caught cold. Little though his earnings were, 10d. a day, doled out with a niggard hand, still it kept him alive till sickness prevented his being able to work, and, horrid to relate, he was obliged in his pitiable state to depend for several days on cabbage to support existence, till death, more merciful than our rulers, came to the rescue, and took him to himself. He has left a wife and six children in a most miserable state. How else could they be? The lowest price of meal and flour here is 2s. 8d. per stone. Good God! how could any man with 10d. per day support a wife and six children on this paltry stipend?-- eight persons depending for support on 5s. for seven days, not minding any wet days on which they may not be able to work; --1 1/14th pence per day, equivalent to 7 1/2 ounces of flour! Think of a working man-- yes, or even an idle man-- living on 71/2 ounces of flour every twenty-four hours. It is absurd-- it is horrifying-- it is more than dreadful to contemplate; but why pursue it further? It is dark enough before.

The Cork Examiner, 1847

 

The journey by Underground from Charing Cross to Pimlico would be too painful for me to imagine and describe; but on leaving the station you see bad versions of pictures by Gauguin or suchlike - perhaps not Gauguin, Degas, I think, and Mondrian - that look almost like graffiti. Daddy did not think this the best way to introduce Babby to the wonders of modern art. Then you walk through a bit of Pimlico.

 

...as to what the deportees represent. Special attention of the party and government workers gathered for instruction should be drawn to the fact that the deportees are enemies of the Soviet people and that, because of this, the possibility of armed resistance on the part of the deportees may not be excluded.

It is also necessary to take care for providing places where military units could be held in reserve, in preparation for an emergency of their employment for the suppression of possible excesses. The entire operative personnel must be checked to ascertain that they all possess arms and ammunition. Arms must be made ready for use, they should be loaded, but the cartridge not held in the barrel.

 

At the art gallery Daddy hauled her buggy backwards up the stairs. They would be impossible in a wheelchair. Perhaps there was wheelchair access elsewhere, round a corner perhaps. Jacob and the Angel, by Epstein, stands just inside the building, two enormous stone figures united in a wrestling embrace. "And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day." But the man is in fact God. In fact? The sculptor has made Jacob and God equally physical, equally of the earth. But why then has God got wings, huge great alabaster slabs of them? Epstein thinks He’s an angel - which the Bible doesn’t specify, not in my version, thought Daddy, Genesis chapter 31 verses 25 forwards - but why give a chthonian angel wings?

Properly inside, the atrium, vast even to Daddy, seemed to have been stripped bare. There was pale beige stone, enlarging the space it enclosed, sanctifying it, clarifying.

There were three sculptures. Two of them were very long, no higher than a buggy handle, no wider than a crocodile. They filled the whole length, a full day’s crawling. The third was tall, and twisted upwards in a variety of materials to the dome, at the circle, in the centre, to the top.

What is the word for the people who wear uniforms in museums and galleries? They stood at various points - janitors or is it something else? Not curators, quite definitely not. Daddy liked janitors, the word provided an apposite link to Classical religion, to the gods of the triumvirate. They stood in their janiforms.

"Look at the captions," said Daddy. "Look at the writing on the wall giving a brief explanation as to what the sculptures represent." Why, he thought, am I speaking to her in the imperative? Perhaps the syntax is a tyranny, the intended outcome liberation. But my tone is benign; only in the unnatural habitat of an e-mail or an examination paper could the bare syntax of such a statement constitute an act of oppression. Syntax is often ambiguous and tyranny is not. There was surely no oppression in the temple.

 

How can the labourer work? He has a wife, perhaps an old father or bed-ridden mother, and three or four children in his cabin; he strains and toils for them-- for the sickly wife, and the youngest darling, whose once round cheeks are now pale and shrivelled, resting on the mother's fleshless breast; he thinks of them, and toils on-- but every blow he gives is at his heart-strings-- he is sounding his funeral knell-- every effort of that starving man, who hides the hunger that is gnawing at his entrails, that he might spare a morsel for those he loves, is hurrying him to the coffinless grave and the shroud of rags. And this in a Christian country!-- this under the proud banner of British sway!-- this in a land united to England by a union, considered as sacred as a holy covenant, so much so that the thought of severing it is regarded as a profanation, a sacrilege! Will no sound of woe penetrate the Cabinet, or reach the heart of the Minister! Is he determined to look on until Presentments are not for coffins-- but churchyards? or until the Rev. Mr. FITZPATRICK's calculation be realised-- when one-third of the population shall be swept away?

The Cork Examiner, 1847.

 

And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.

 

Weeping Woman, 1937 (Portrait of Dora Maar). Does this picture, as has been argued, protest too much, with its angular sickliness, its colours of luminous vomit and its fashionable hairstyle and hat? It certainly seems to make Babby uneasy. Perhaps it’s the way the figure appears to be biting her fingernails, thought Daddy. This was painted at the same time as Guernica. Was it a natural reaction to a massacre, biting one’s nails? Babby kicked her legs violently and jerked away her head.

 

In view of the fact that a large number of the deportees is marked for arrest and detainment in special camps, in difference to their families which are ordained to settlement in certain places in distant regions, it is necessary to carry out the seizing of both the deportee and members of his family in one simultaneously executed operation without letting them know of the impending separation from each other. It is only at the railway station that the head of the family should be placed separately from his dependents in a car, specially intended for family heads.

 

There seemed to be little light in the room. There were three or four visitors particularly hushed, and the janitor stood pious and humble. There were five or six canvasses, each of them purple and black, different purples, different blacks. Babby wore purples. They are pictures of Nothing, or nothing, or they are nothing. And she is not; that is, not of nothing and nothing to Nothing, she is. But in the paintings Nothingess, also, is. Then they could be pictures of God, in fact. Daddy supposed that they might be God, if God is a relationship between observer and observed. It hardly bears thinking about. It is tissue with no mass. Babby wore purples. Daddy wore denims.

 

 

 

Years How ascertained Number Increase per cent Decrease per cent
1831 Census Act of 1831 7,943,940 2 --
1841 Census Act of 1841 8,747,588 10 --
1851 Census Act of 1851 6,515,794 -- 20

Now the increase of population in Ireland between 1831 and 1841 as appears from the census return, was 407,723, in spite of an emigration amounting during the same years to 455,239, thus making the real increase to be 802,959, or 86,295 a year. Assuming the increase to have been at the same rate since 1841, when the population was returned at 8,175,238, it would give for the eight years to the close of 1849, 707,480 souls, or 88,435 per annum. At this rate, therefore, the population would be decreased in about in about eight years in about eight years by 1,000,000 souls by emigration alone...but where, in so small a a geographical space, is there to be found an example of so vast and so rapid a decrease in a population which at the common rate of progress, should have amounted to nearly nine millions?

Extracted from the Dublin University Magazine, 1851

 

The detachments of guards must exercise particular care in conducting the convoys of deportees through inhabited places and in meeting the passers by. The guards must see to it that there should be made no attempt for escape nor any exchange of words attempted between deportees and passers by.

 

No-one spoke. There was barely movement. A figure rotated a quarter turn, a silhouette shifted slightly. The janitor was completely still.

 

Embarkation stations should be guarded by soldiers of the escorting units of the People’s Secretariat of State Security. After loading the car with the possible maximum number of deportees, it should be safely locked.

 

No one left and no one came in the bare warmth. Babby gazed quietly. Daddy turned the buggy gently away and left the room into a more austere light.

 

Having placed the deportees in the transportation trains and submitted reports on the results of the performed operations, members of the operative groups shall be considered free and they shall act in accordance with the instructions of the chief of the county branch of the People’s Commissariat of State Security.

 

The Census Commissioners of 1851 have yet much to tell us. We can ascertain, as we have already stated, with accuracy, the amount of annual emigration; and so far we shall be enable to account for a portion of the great decrease; but will the authorities be enabled to show what became of the rest of the population?

 

The deportations...are estimated to have involved a total of some 140,000 Estonians.

The Estonian World Council, memo to European Conference on Security and Cooperation.

 

Estonian Census 1941 1,017,811.

 

Daddy took a seat inside the two main doors at the front of the building, out of the way, neither conspicuous or inconspicuous, if such a state of affairs is possible. He cradled Babby in his arm on his lap and took out her bottle and pulled off its top. The teat was already between her lips when a janitor approached and intimated that it might be wiser not to do this here. Daddy looked up at him blankly, wondering why the votary thought the drinking of milk unwise - if he did, in fact believe it unwise. Possibly, thought Daddy, the unwisdom applied only to the location. But why unwise? He was perhaps an amateur nutritionist and believed not only that breast is best , but that bottle milk is positively harmful. In such a context the word unwisdom was not inappropriate. Having thought this through, Daddy was about to say, to the janitor who had decided to rephrase his statement, that he lacked breasts, when their loud silence was broken by the voice of a female janitor, a votaress, Daddy supposed.

She said to the male janitor that she thought it was quite all right. She smiled at them and they were left alone, out of the wind and rain still. Daddy thought how many deaths had gone into that moment, how many corpses, how much luck. Not that you could count them, or work out the probabilities, unless you were wicked and probably, also, unwise.

 


N. W. Tasane July 1997

 

I am grateful to George Kuhar for providing me with the text of the Secret Order 001223 and with the Memorandum of the Estonian World Council.

 

I am also grateful to the many Irish Famine sites on the internet. Thanks to them all.

 

"The internet is an elitist thing. Ninety nine percent of humanity hasn’t even made a phone call." Noam Chomsky (ascribed).



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