There’s a novel in that bus garage somewhere

April 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’ve been reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. The following passage reminds me of my time working as an admin temp in a bus garage in North London in January. In this scene the hero has just entered the office that serves the power-station construction site which he and other prisoners are working on:

The heat in the office was like in the bath-house, it seemed to him. The sun, shining through the melting frost on the windows, played on the wall opposite not angrily as it did on top of the power-station, but cheerfully. And the smoke from Tsesar’s pipe drifted across the broad sunbeam like incense in church. And the stove glowed red-hot, it had been so well fed – the brutes! The pipes were red-hot, too.

In such warmth, you had only to sit down for a moment, and you’d be fast asleep.

There were two rooms in the office. The second, the Chief Work-Superintendant’s, had its door half-open, and from it thundered the voice of its occupant:

“We’ve been spending too much on labour, and we’ve been spending too much on building materials. The prisoners have been chopping up expensive boards, not to speak of prefab panels, and burning them in their shelters, and you notice nothing. And the other day they were unloading cement near the stores in a strong wind, and then carrying it in barrows for up to ten yards, with the result that the whole area around the stores ankle-deep in cement, and the prisoners covered with the stuff. What a waste!”

The Chief Work-Superintendant must have been having a conference – with the foremen.

The orderly was sitting dreamily on a stool in the corner by the entrance. Beyond was Shkuropatenko, B-219, looking like a bent pole, staring wall-eyed through the window, even now looking to see if anybody tried to get away with his prefabs.

(Alexander Solzhenitsyn, 1970 Sphere Books London edition, trans Gillon Aitken, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich pages 74-5)

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