The title is from the diaries of the Soviet poet Alexander Tvardovsky, as quoted (and translated) by Helen Szamuely. It’s from a passage describing an incident in the winter of 1955 when he saw young girls attempting to dig ditches in frozen ground.
The girls earn 10-15 roubles a day and their food is terrible. Today I joked a little as I went past: “Why not wait till spring? It will be easier to dig.” A pleasant young girl replied with sad determination: “We have to do it.”
How much there is that we prefer not to notice.
That was just how life was in the USSR. Now, this is not the Soviet Union. It’s not even close. But still, we go along with things for the sake of an easy life. We accept things we’d rather not until they become the “new normal”. There is much, even for us, that we prefer not to notice. “Asian” men abusing young girls in Rotherham, for example.
Once someone did notice, that shocked us all. But sometimes you have to step back a little, and look at what you’ve come to accept in a different light before you realise there’s something to notice in the first place.
I can’t recall exactly who it was – it may have been Helen’s “boss”, Richard North, or his associate Christopher Booker – who when writing about the European Union, asked a Norwegian politician prominent in that country’s campaign against membership exactly why it was that his countrymen voted against it, and received the answer, “It’s the lack of democracy in your system that we don’t like”. It struck whoever it was – and myself, reading it – deeply. “Your system”: we may rant about Brussels ordering around, and still, even now, persist on reporting it as “Foreign news”, but we are a part of this system. It’s ours, it’s governing us, and it’s rotten. We prefer not to notice.