One of my other stops on Valentine’s Day was to our conference centre at Skangaļi. Ilona (not to be confused with the Ilona at Sarkaņi!) who leads the work with children and youth in the Region was holding a weekend of activities for young people in their early teens. They were drawn from various parts of the Region and it was good to see them sharing together and getting to know each other.

It was not really an environment where they wanted someone as old as their grandmother to be around for very long, but it was just nice to be part of what was going on for a short time and to support the people who had worked hard to make the weekend possible.

I joined them when they were having a quiz. I didn’t really understand what the point of the game was which, I fear, had as much to do with my age as it did about my not understanding the Latvian instructions.  It all seemed a bit beyond me. What I also couldn’t quite understand was why, every few minutes this ‘voice’ interrupted what was going on.  At first I thought it was part of the game, but I then realised that various of the young people were having a conversation with the ‘voice’, and the ‘voice’ was answering them. The ‘voice’ even acknowledged the fact that I had arrived. It was all a bit unnerving, to be honest. It felt very much as if Big Brother was watching us, and I afterwards discovered that this was precisely the reaction the ‘voice’ was meant to evoke – Ilona and her team were, in fact, replicating the kind of Reality Show which is watched all over the world.

After tea I was able to meet the ‘voice’, or ‘Balstiņa’ as it was called.  It turned out to be Artūrs, a member of the staff here at RHQ, who by some wizardry using modern technology had managed to fix up the means of making the ‘voice’ a reality.  So seriously did the team take this venture that none of the young people were to find out his identity, which meant that Artūrs spent the whole weekend on his own, with food being smuggled into his room at meal times! I was sworn to secrecy about the identity of ‘Balstiņa’ until the weekend was over, which is why the photo was taken in shadow with the intention of hiding Artūrs’ real identity.

Even though the whole thing was really an elaborate device for getting home the message of the weekend, and was a bit of harmless fun for the young people, I did find it a bit sinister, if I’m honest. It was a reminder of how relatively easy it is to mount surveillance in our society and how easily we are prey to unknown and unseen voices which subtly influence us. They were thoughts which I found a bit too uncomfortable to dwell on, and maybe as you read this it will trigger  similar trains of thought for you.

As I write, I find an old hymn coming to mind …..

O,  let me hear thee speaking
In accents clear and still,
Above the storms of passion,
The murmurs of self-will.
O speak to reassure me,
To chasten or control;
O, speak to make me listen,
Thou Guardian of my soul

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