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Archive for the ‘personal’ Category

I’m back baby!

The passport control officer responded to my cheery “Dzień dobry” with a perfectly impassive blank stare and I knew I was back. Seven days home in the curry nation and I had become accustomed to those odd quirks of British culture such as responding to greetings and occasionally smiling. Never mind, I know the score, it’s a culture thing and I even found it oddly comforting. By the way, and this is not leading to a rant I promise, I’ve discovered an ever more benighted and extreme species of official Polish rudeness than Post Office workers. Not possible? Try dropping into your local kantor (currency exchange). I’ve been in scores of these places over the years and I can wholeheartedly say that I’ve never come across a more morose, taciturn and robotic form of human being anywhere else. I’ve never experienced a ‘hello,’ a smile, a ‘thank you’ or any other kind of human communication from these people. In fact I’m not convinced I’ve ever seen one of them open their mouths at all. Perhaps they’re some kind of specially bred mute species. I tell I lie, one of them did speak to me once. He was an an absurdly orange victim of excessive solarium use and he told me that he couldn’t exchange my money because it wasn’t clean enough. My, how I laughed.

Me and the lady A went to East Grinstead, Lindfield, and Bath. I ate about four pigs worth of bacon and pork sausages in the form of English breakfasts. I bathed in fine local ales (learn to make proper beer in Poland for god’s sake!). We glided about the place in pristine trains (my god trains have improved in the UK recently), we fell in love just that little irrevocable bit more, played with nieces, hung around in ancient church yards, and generally had a fine old time.

I genuinely loath looking at other people’s holiday pictures but am completely incapable of resisting the temptation of inflicting the same thing on other people. Weird bots people.

The author seriously considering how much trouble he would be in for diving into the ancient Roman baths of Bath.

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English sky, English city

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A house on the Kennet and Avon Canal. I was going to buy it, until I remembered my fear of swans.

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A grave in an English church yard. The inscription read “Sacred to the memory of Mr Charles Hawkins who was overtaken by the inevitable fate of mortals and released from pain and affliction on the 26th day of May 1789 aged 60 years.” Good luck to him.

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A wonders why we can’t build straight buildings in England

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Never fear. I will return to rock-hard social commentary soon. Yawn.

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I feel I’m getting close to the central mystery of the Polish character. I’m probably completely wrong in this belief but it makes me feel better so humour me. I’ve written recently about the strange behaviour of Polish people on pavements and on the road. I’ve written that I’m very confused by the way that Polish people seem to wander around in a daze without any awareness of the people around them and about the way that they drive as if they were the only person on the road. I’m starting to get the feeling that both of these things point to a fundamental feature of the Polish psyche.

Walking down an average Polish street I observe Polish people trying to walk through each other. It’s almost as if they literally cannot see the people around them, or if they can see them they treat them as ghosts of some kind. When people look into your eyes it’s with an expression of suspicion. For a long time I thought it was just me they were looking at this way, that my foreigness was somehow obvious from my appearance, but I don’t believe that any more. Polish people look at other Polish people with just the same latent suspicion they look at me with. Nobody trusts anybody. Everybody expects everybody else to be a bastard. I got a cold feeling down my spine when I finally saw this.

I remember some wise person making a comment on one of my posts somewhere that said something like “all Polish people believe that all other Polish people are idiots, anti-semites, drunks, thieves, or religious maniacs APART FROM the ones they know.” In other words the average Pole wouldn’t trust another Pole as far as he could throw him unless he was part of his extended family or clique of friends. If I meet an Englishman I’ve never met before my default position is positive; I’m expecting him to be a decent honest bloke. When a Pole meets a Pole he’s never met before it seems the default assumption is precisely the opposite. I find that kind of scary.

It explains a lot. People who work in shops are rude because they assume you’re an idiot or a thief. People fail to get out of each other’s way on the pavement because they assume the other person is a rude and uncivilized person and they are damned if they are going to give way to a rude and uncivilized person. People drive as if they were blind because they literally have no respect for the lives or limbs of the inferior people around them.

It can’t be that simple… can it?

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DVD Folly

Friday night is DVD night for me and the lady. I guess we should be out raving at the local chav pit but I’m far too old and the lady A is far too polite to mention the fact. Besides, there’s nothing better than a Friday evening in with a bottle or two of vino and a couple of randomly selected movies from the local DVD shop.

Months ago we accidentally and fortunately stumbled upon the Piracki Video shop on Ul. Lea. It’s about 10 minutes walk from where I live, has a pretty good selection of movies, and foreigners are treated as fellow human beings (even if they can’t say “I’m returning this” in Polish). There’s none of this tedious messing about with laminated membership cards and whatnot; they take a note of your name and address (on trust) and that’s it. It’s like being in the Cosa Nostra. No questions asked. You come in, choose a dvd, give a nod and a wave to the lass behind the desk, and that’s it. Admittedly, if you bring a DVD back late, they send ‘Big Stefan’ round to break your legs, but it’s a small price to pay for the day-to-day level of service.

We were very happy there for six months or so. Then, one fateful day, we wandered down a different street and were hypnotized by the pull of a Mega-Hit Nowy-DVD shop called Beverly Hills Video!! Can you imagine getting away with a name like ‘Beverly Hills Video” in the UK? Conjures images of three Armenian cousins renting slightly-worn Chinese-copied DVDs on Kentish Town Road to me. In Poland it’s the acme of cool and trendy weekend entertainment. There are dozens of them across the country, kind of similar to what Blockbuster used to be in the UK. The place is nicely laid out, professionally decorated, well-stocked and, in the final analysis, absolutely awful. We joined.

For three or four weeks we went there every Friday and wandered around its isles and isles of cruddy movies. We tried hard to believe that we were having a good time trawling through the acres and acres of meaningless titles involving ninjas, commandos, strike force 9s, and phat chicks but, in the end, we had to come to terms with the fact that they they didn’t actually have any Woody Allen movies at all. Not to mention the fact that we just didn’t like the place, on any level, despite it’s cooler-full of blue energy drinks and the opportunity to buy ‘chilled wine.’

This week the full horror of our error finally broke upon us and we resolved to return to Piracki Video to face the music. I won’t say we weren’t afraid, because we were. Would they accept us back into the fold? Could we fool them by casually mentioning an imaginary month-long holiday to the Caribbean despite our pasty Polish-winter complexions? Would they smell the evil scent of Beverly Hills Video on our clothes and cast us forever into the outer darkness? These and other questions troubled us and quelled conversation as we made our way up ul. Lea last Friday evening.

At precisely 18:17 we swept into the place with breath held and barely daring to glance in the direction of the rental desk…

The lass behind the desk rose… and broke into a massive grin. She spread her arms and more-or-less embraced us with a kiss on each cheek. Waves of relief and nostalgia swept over us. We spent an hour wandering around the 50 square meter shop grinning like fools and reveling in the sensation of familiarity. “I feel like I came home” said the lady A and I, for one, knew exactly what she meant.

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Shiny sparkly things

My landlord just installed The World’s Most Absurd Shower in my flat. My landlord is a top bloke and I won’t hear a word said against him, but he does have a terrible weakness for shiny sparkly gadgets. His wife doesn’t let him play with them at home so he’s constantly installing wildly impractical thingamajigs in my place. Many of them are of questionable taste and all of them are made of cheap plastic and go ‘beep’ a lot. The World’s Most Absurd Shower is, so far, the peak of this trend. I wouldn’t mind if he insisted on foisting a 42-inch plasma screen on me but no, I get a remote-controlled shower that plays Radio Maria at you and allows you to answer the phone whilst soaping your armpits. I’m not kidding, this thing is incredible. It has three different lights in it, including a bank of blinking blue LEDs (very tasteful), a radio that seemed to be permanently tuned to Christian talk shows, and a dozen different nozzles that can spurt water in unexpected places without warning. I have all of these things turned off all of the time. Apart from when I’m showing off it’s absurdity to visitors.

Pan Landlord loves all this stuff and is immensely proud of The World’s Most Absurd Shower. He insists on looking in on it whenever he comes round. Sometimes he invents reasons to come round just so that he can have a peak at it. He’s also immensely proud of the fact that it’s ‘Made in Poland,’ a characteristic that fills me with vague uneasiness in the context of a water-filled device plugged into the electrical main. Perhaps I’m being unfair.

Poland is full of these immensely tasteless and tacky bits of gimcrack. Lamps that play Chopin when you turn them on, clocks adorned with illuminated cuckoos, rotating plastic statuettes of Jesus, and a million other products of the fevered neo-capitalist mind. You can understand their appeal for a generation that grew up in the grey and non-shiny era of the 60s and 70s, but the tide of new money has fueled an alarming explosion of these things. One day they’ll be worth a fortune as examples of early 21st century kitsch.

Have to go now, my doorbell is playing number 3 of 16 random melodies and if I don’t get to it within 30 seconds I may be compelled to blow my brains out.

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It’s my birthday!

Yes, the day after Valentine’s. That’s a lot of years of receiving cards in the mail and wondering if they are one or the other. They’re always the other.

Anyway.

It’s my birthday! You may now heap adulation upon me.

Me; thirty something *mumble* *mumble* years ago. Yes I am wearing a handkerchief on my head. And yes I do still wear the outfit occasionally.

Me

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Born yesterday

My second niece was born a short while ago! In fact it was yesterday, since I’m writing this a few minutes past midnight. This is her first day. Or rather yesterday is her first day since I’m one time zone to the east of her at the moment. It got me thinking, how many days have I had so far? One swift Google later and I found this handy application. The shocking answer: 13,782 days! Apparently it will be my 20-millionth-minute birthday late in February next year. A sobering thought. I have to try and remember not to be sober at the time.

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It’s my Dad’s birthday today, and I completely forgot. I feel slightly smaller and more ashamed than a six year old who has just spilled Ribena all over the carpet. Not only is it a completely unforgivable thing to do, I was actually speaking to him on Skype and still failed to realize. I am currently hiding in a small box in the corner of my flat dictating this to my secretary in a thin and reedy voice. A is coming over later to give me a well-deserved tongue lashing and to point out that I’m a pathetic excuse for a son.

A lot of people are extremely cavalier about birthdays, claiming that they matter not a jot and generally scoffing at the whole idea. This has never been the case in my family, largely thanks to my Mum who is inclined to come down on such attitudes like a ton of bricks, and quite rightly so. There should be a day at least once a year on which everybody sits back and says ‘you know what, my brother/sister/uncle/mother/father is actually a pretty nifty guy and we should give him presents or a card or a phone call to make it clear that we feel this way.’ Well, I failed on all three counts so I’m writing this instead. Poor substitute I know, but I’m out of options at this point.

So, I think it’s important that I point out to the planet that my Dad is indeed one of the world’s finest fellows. I’m not just saying that, he really is an unusually admirable guy. When I was about seven I remember thinking that he was the nicest, funniest, cleverest, most generous, and, above all, the coolest person I knew. Thirty years later, I find that my opinion hasn’t changed in the slightest. As a Dad he’s pretty much perfect. If I ever do manage to grow up I hope I turn out something like him. Pretty much everything that I know about being a good man I owe to his influence, although I often fail miserably to put it into practice. If it wasn’t for my Dad I would never have heard of the Goons, or Hancock, or how to behave like a civilized human being. I wouldn’t know about tobogganing, or snow ball fights, or Bentley Continentals, or James Bond, or what conkers are for, or why it’s a good idea to travel across the world in a train, or how to use a screwhammer, or how to treat everybody, no matter who, as a valuable and unique human being. My entire philosophical and moral approach to life is based on the strong but subtle attitudes of my Dad. I honestly believe that if we could put my Dad in charge of the world universal peace and sensible attitudes would have prevailed by teatime. I can’t think of anyone I would rather have on my side, and I’m immensely lucky that he is. Looking back I can’t think of a single occasion on which he has let me down – there just aren’t any. That’s one hell of an achievement on it’s own. He has never failed to encourage me when I needed it and has always restrained from pointing out that I was behaving like a complete arse, even when I richly deserved it. I shudder with embarrassment when I think of the number of times he has gone out of his way to help me move, avoid bankruptcy, recover from setbacks, or just have a laugh in difficult circumstances. I consider myself to be almost supernaturally fortunate to have such a Dad.

By the way, my Mum is also a hell of a person, but she will have to wait until I forget her birthday for a similar post – except I will be buried under a ton of bricks at the time.

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