In A Polish Graveyard

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A hell of a depressing column for your weekend? Could be. Then again, there’s something peaceful about graveyards. Sitting there, listening to the church bells toiling their gentle thunder, comparing your situation to those bodies huddled in the earth, your own worn out life can take on a strange kind of gleam. I’ve taken to visiting a certain graveyard, sometimes as part of my jog, but often just on a walk, with no other companion than a book. I’ll sit there and read aloud, stopping now and then to inspect the headstones. The names… Janowska…Scibor…Kapla… and their dates shouting out, ‘We existed! We were here! We loved! We cried! We danced! We were here!’

The funny thing is, this graveyard (and I’m sure you’ve noticed it in others), is calm, ordered, neat, dignified. So it should be. Only in death do the Poles get it right. Walk into any Polish conurbation and you’ll search hard for dignity and calm. Each and every residential area, even the nice ones, have a touch of the frantic about them, the manic, the desperate. One Irish friend who spent a day driving around Silesia, asked me, ‘where is the plan?’ Good question. More, where is the grace, the calm, the honour, or indeed the strength of character for modern, living, breathing Poles? Janowska… Scibor… Kapla… Debniak…Gorajek… Was it there for them?

Today, the people of this country are in desperately in need of a design for life. By that I mean, a form of philosophical guidance. Catholicism? Yes, it helped in your time of crisis. A Catholic friend described his faith as the rope that protected him on the mountain of life – something to keep you safe when you lose your footing. A faith must stabilize and guide you. I was in Gdansk recently and studied photos from the ’88 strike. The church was prominent in supporting the people. Good for them, even though I’ve a theory that if the Soviet regime were pro-religon, the church would have turned their back on the people. Okay, that’s an argument for a different day. But in our modern times, what organisation inspires you to achieve better? To help others? To improve your surroundings? Who is offering a set of ideals to make Poland a calm, organized place you can be proud of?

While you’re thinking about that, let’s take a look at the Quaker religion – their members believe they have a duty to make the world a better place. For them, faith is not the rope or safe ledge on the mountain of life, but the foothold to climb higher. Quakers thrive in fields of business and science. This isn’t a religious contest. This is about a collective way of thinking. For a brief time, the rhetoric of JFK made Americans want to be better. Kennedy was a playboy who had his speeches written for him by Ted Sorensen. It was he who exhorted listeners at the President’s inauguration, to ‘ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ A selfless call to service that with the aid of a young, photogenic Leader, galvanized and inspired a continent. Judaism too. A faith of action and Jews judge themselves by how they live their faith, by how much they contribute to the overall holiness of the world. They believe that whatever their profession they should aspire to be the best in that chosen field. You can debate the merits of Jews, JFK and Quakers forever and you’ll find flaws in my chosen trinity, but remember, this isn’t a competition, it’s a quest. Finding out how to put meaning and order into a country accustomed to chaos. It’s about reaching a state of tranquillity and harmony long before you’re lowered six feet under and covered in soil… Janowska… Scibor…Kapla…Debniak…Gorajek… Wloch… Melech… Pilarski…Flak…

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Bambi and Thumper

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We were coming back from visiting our friends’ parents’ farm and my two girls were discussing the bull they had been within a metre of. Lilly, who likes making her younger sister feel like a sack of shit said, ”When a bull climbs up on a cow, that’s how they make a baby cow. You didn’t know that, did you Malina?” To which Malina responded, ”Well, you didn’t know that 7 + 3 is 10, so ha, ha.”

I laughed. Which was nice. Because eight hours earlier I had my 19th catastrophic heart-attack of the week when I was teaching them how to read. Let’s go back, and zero in on the exact moment Lilly broke her father by not knowing how to read the word ”Know”-

”THE ‘K’ IS SILENT. IT’S SILENT. I’VE TOLD YOU THIS A HUNDRED TIMES, NO, FIVE HUNDRED – WHY CAN’T YOU REMEMBER IT? WHY? WHY?”

Hold on, let’s go back earlier, as in a month earlier when my cousin visited from London with his five-year old daughter Caitlin. She pulled out a book the size of a brick and started reading it by herself. A kid’s book, yes, but nothing simplistic, definitely not Horrid Henry which is basically a virus in pulp form and only read by kids who are strung-out on Ritalin. Honestly, it’s seventy per cent bad drawings to the point where Horrid Henry’s parents are so ragged and straggly that by the end of the book they resemble HIV+ patients circa 1989. The remaining thirty per cent of Horrid Henry is made up of giant words written sideways and zero-dimensional characters the author essayed whilst overhearing a drunken conversation about The Simpsons. Sorry, where was I? Yes, Caitlin – so she’s reading like a prodigy, like she’s this miniature Salman Rushdie who got a sex-change and whitened his skin and somehow ended up on holidays in southern Poland.

And my daughters are listening to this, freaking out because they can’t read. They can speak two languages, but they can’t read in any of them. My daughters’ panic is nothing compared to mine, owing to the original sin of all parents in that I think the walking, talking, anthropoidal form of my semen has got to be blessed by genius. I’ve been showing them educational stuff on youtube for the last five years and this is how they repay me? By not being geniuses? By having my cousin’s child read like a Kashmiri Indian, Fatwa-suffering, world famous novelist while they sit there, shoulders hunched, breathing through their mouths – not my daughters any more, but a combination of Woody from Cheers and Dr. Zoidberg from Futurama.

In the following weeks, I decided to go hardcore. I decided to get all Roald Dahl on their asses – Fantastic Mr Fucking Fox – and each day we hunkered down to read a new page. I did this with the manic persuasion of a man who wants to make his children clever so by association he will appear clever and have something to boast about at cocktail parties other than he once burped the entire alphabet backwards.

This was a mistake of gargantuan proportions. Reading Fantastic Mr Fox has been the most anhedonistic period of my entire life.

My daughters, those two shining beacons of joy, my Butch and Sundance, my Mick and Keith, my Bambi and Thumper well, I want to fucking kill them. Why? Because they can’t tell a ‘b’ from a ‘d’. Because it takes them thirty minutes to read a sentence. Because they get confused by ”where” and ”were”, ”they” and ”the”. Because the English language is as sneaky as a serpent hiding in witch’s hat, home to stupid words like ”know” with its silent ”k” and its retarded silent ”w” that everyone forgets about – but my daughters shouldn’t forget about it, they shouldn’t.

And I scream at them, and threaten them because I’m not like Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, no, I’m the evil thunderbastard music teacher from Whiplash, I’m a complete asshole of a teacher and after I want to kill them, I am awash with self-loathing and guilt, a tsunami of remorse floods the ventricles of my asshole heart and my kids are hating me, hating reading and it shouldn’t be like this, it shouldn’t, I just want them to be smart and happy and relaxed, but they won’t be unless I’m like that.

So I put the book away, we spent the day with our friends, we ate nice food and met a bull. I watch them. I can see they’re smart kids. It’s not them who has to learn. It’s me.

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Cunt. Retard. Faggot.

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I was doing a stand-up comedy show in Krakow recently where I used the word ”cunt”. Actually, I called a woman in the audience a cunt, repeatedly, using a tone of genuine annoyance. For those of you who think this is unjustifiable and have immediately cancelled their subscription to Notes from Middle-Earth, well, give me a minute and maybe I can make you see it from another angle.

Let’s take these three words – cunt, faggot, retard – regardless what you believe, a child in China doesn’t die every time such words are said in public.

But there is a current belief that the word ”retard” inspires hate and discrimination, especially against weaker minorities whose lives are tough enough as it is. To people in the Down Syndrome world, it is the equivalent of calling a black person a ”nigger”.

No-one should have words of hate directed at them, especially if those words are referring to a difficulty suffered by that person. My mother used to be labelled a ”cripple” owing to her left leg being pretty much useless. The term hurts her. It brings up painful memories and in my opinion it misrepresents her as someone who can’t move, drive, travel, or raise a family. She has and continues to do all of these things because her parents did not shield her from words or situations that would make her uncomfortable.

I think the word ”retard” should be available to use, no more so than when describing a healthy, able-bodied person acting in an irritating and stupid way, designed to offend or endanger others. For example; ”Donald Trump is such a retard!” Or if you can imagine President Duda drinking fourteen beers and then trying to drive his car, then you would call him a ”retard”. Not that he would ever do such a retarded thing.

If you consider the etymology of faggot, you might wonder what all the fuss is about – the term is used to describe a bundle of sticks but was given a derogatory value when directed at old ladies whose job it was to gather firewood. So a ”faggot” became anyone who could find no better life path than those old women. It took on its current form as a homosexual slur from English public schools where the younger boys would be used sexually by the older boys – what is known as ”fagging”. For me, faggot is a good word to use when describing a feckless, over-sensitive person either straight or gay and a lot more applicable than”bitch” which is the currently acceptable term used for this purpose. Perhaps ”faggot” should be reclaimed in a similar way to the word ”Queer”? Offensive for such a long time, it is now used positively by the LGBT community.

But what of ”cunt”? Considered by many to be the most offensive term in the English language, reducing women to their reproductive organs. Yet I have never ever heard ”cunt” being used to promote a woman’s sex organs at the expense of her other attributes. I have heard it used to describe people on the sliding scale of being intentionally very annoying or being extremely awful. Go to Glasgow or London and you’ll hear it all the time, usually by men to other men.

Cunt. I don’t see any difference from it and ”Prick”. Have I been called a prick by a woman? Many, many times, either because I was being very annoying or extremely awful. Of course they could have said, ”Peadar, you’re being extremely awful!” But they didn’t. They called me a ”prick”, because like cunt, the word is euphonic and directs an energy to the recipient that sanitized words cannot.

When Magda (the woman I called a cunt) took out her phone during my show and started reading from it, she was very annoying. She was being a cunt. Yesterday, I was reversing into a parking space and a guy drove up behind me and took it. He was being a cunt. The day before that, it was raining and I had to pay bills – it was a cunt of a day. So please, let’s stop being faggots about this and realize the word cunt isn’t such a bad thing.

But the big question is, would I apply the term ”cunt” to my daughters? No. They have never been intentionally very annoying. They have been unintentionally very annoying, and so I have often called them ”Polish”

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First Day Of School

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I’m writing this on what is the morning of my eldest daughter’s first day of school. Lilly-lola is six and there’s a look on her face similar to that of a parachutist who has been given an anvil instead of a parachute. The size of her new backpack and she could actually be a parachutist. It’s huge, bigger than our apartment, less a backpack and more of a giant Panic Room. I think this is the idea, if school starts to get too rough, if an unforeseen event takes place such as her teacher going loco and taking out an M16 assault rifle, Lilly climbs into the backpack and sits the ordeal out.

Christ knows she’s got enough stuff in there to survive a nuclear fallout. Tytka? Where parents supply their child with a huge cone full of candy – our entire household food budget has been spent on chocolate monkeys and strawberry bubblegum. We don’t have the Tytka tradition in Ireland. On my first day of school no-one gave me anything. Sorry, I lie. My mother warned me that she’d slap the taste out of my mouth if I did anything wrong and I subsequently gave myself a crotch-full of urine. She must have given the same warning to my classmates. They all reeked of piss too. It was catastrophic. So it was no surprise when the teacher put the whole class in a sealed plastic bag full of uncooked rice.

What. A. Day. Later on, I met a bully from the class above, a guy called The Onion on account of how he made you cry. And also because he slept with eight other smelly siblings in a net bag. I’m not really sure The Onion did anything bad to me, despite my defective childhood memory insisting he must have maimed me by, I don’t know, sticking clothes pegs to my nipples or slipping a hedgehog into my whitebread and sugar sandwich. I do remember him (his real name was Paul) being the one who broke the Facts of Life to me. Not on my first day of school, but years later when I was nine or ten, the age a boy starts to feel ”sensations” south of the border and subsequently, albeit at an unconscious, sub-atomic level, knows that the outlandish premise of a man putting his thing into a woman’s thing, is horribly true.

None of that for my daughter. She gets a metre long cone filled with enough treats to feed a starving Polish family for a month. She gets a class packed with her buddies, highly-motivated, intelligent kids.

As long as it isn’t the boy from the park that I hate. I know, I’m a grown man. I shouldn’t feel hate towards a six-year old boy, but I do. I don’t know his name, but for months we’ve been meeting him in the playground in the park beside where we live and I hate him. I hate him for several reasons. Because he’s got more hair than me. His is really thick and shiny and my hair is falling out so fast I’m looking like Gollum. What does that kid need great hair for? What a waste. It’s not like he’s going to be going on dates. Neither am I, but like all married men I cling to the illusion that I could go on a date if I wanted to.

The main reason I hate this boy is he’s great at climbing and jumping off things. My daughter is good at these too but he’s better. I do question my behavior. You’d swear that a proficiency in jumping and climbing was going to have this big bearing on Lilly’s life, that when she’s at the job interview at Apple she’ll be put in front of this massive climbing wall and the ghost of Steve Jobs is there with a stopwatch shouting, ‘go!’

I suppose I really hate him because I’m reliving my childhood through my daughter and he reminds me how everyone was better than me at everything. And isn’t this why we become parents, to right the wrongs of a cruel and unjust childhood? Having said that, one of these kids in Lilly’s class is also going to break the news to her how babies get made. This is it. The first day of school is the end of the beginning. The first phase of raising kids is over. They start to learn from other people than us their parents. Their friends start to get more important. You and me and every parent have entered a new era;

We’re not their heroes anymore.

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We Are Men

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Did you hear the one about the Irishman, the Ukrainian and the two Polish men? It’s no joke though. We cycled to Czech where my father-in-law hosted us on a 230km round trip. A weekend like that, on the road, tired, hungry, the road stretching out before you, punishing yet inviting, and well, you’re going to get to know the men you’re with. What makes them tick. What makes a man.

And what is a man? The question intrigues me as the answer is never a fixed thing. Used to be a pair of testicles would suffice. But the definition evolves with knowledge and experience.

Being a man goes way beyond the celebrity endorsed entertainment model currently positing men as Superheroes and so seeks to infantalize us by denying our knowledge and experience. It creates a longing in us for the impossibility of…superpowers – invisibility, turning green, or in the case of Spiderman, the ability to shoot a sticky substance out his body over great distances and onto walls. Eugh.

Or else we’re told to follow the James Bond model which looks like fun until you realise it really entails being an alcoholic, state-sponsored executioner with 42 different kinds of venereal disease.

Mykola, Marcin and Adam are scientists and engineers and I think if a man can be anything he is a creator, a builder, a healer. Any fool can burn a barn, destroy a headstone or bully a black man off a train, but it takes talent to create. To conjure something from nothing – this being the act of magic.

To be a man is to create anything beneficial, be it a picture, a happy human, or a home. To be a man is to be a multifaceted thing, embracing his family while seeking solitude, a bon viveur who knows when to let the sadness in. Contradictory? Of course. A man should be. To simplify man is to reduce him. A man should embrace failure if he is to achieve success, be it in relationships or whatever he is striving for. Show me a man who hasn’t had his heart broken or loved the wrong woman and you’re not showing me a man. You’re showing me a picture in a magazine, a pretty-boy pin up for adolescent girls to cry salty tears over.

As Irish dramatist, Samuel Beckett says in Krapp’s Last Tape, ”Clear to me at last that the dark I have always struggled to keep under is in reality my most…precious ally”. Poverty, failure, exile, loss, these all build man into a wondrous creation. To die without scars would be a truly awful thing. To fall off the bike, means you have gotten up on the bike and challenged the punishing road that is the future. To die without scars is to die without courage and this loyal readers is the essence of man.

We are all possessed by quiet acts of fortitude. Our lives are defined by them. Marcin Mykola and Adam are no different. For Marcin, the zenith of his courage was being present at the birth of his firstborn, a truly scary time when a man contributes nothing yet everything. For Mykola it was deciding to become a doctor, a career where you perpetually have to re-examine your levels of bravery. When I came to my father-in-law, his answer was the humble one I expected; he said he has never done anything courageous in his life – this from a man who acted in the face of Poland’s historical oppression and made his way out of Kuwait during the first Gulf War. Both however pale in comparison to his most courageous act; raising five children, four of them being daughters. Jesus, I’m raising two girls and if I don’t get my parade I’m going to be pissed.

Man.

He cooks. He cleans. A man finds poetry in the dirt beneath his feet. He lends his lungs to those whose are collapsing. A man fights his corner. He kicks up and kisses down. He shouts at the devil and finds god in the little things. A man hugs. Sings. He doesn’t whistle in the dark, he finds the light. He digs in the earth to create life and to bury the dead. He seeks heaven and he raises hell, he burns the candle down, he gambles, he gets sunburned and he has a stack of quips written on the cuffs of his shirt just in case.

He gets up on the bike, fights the pain and he gets there.

A Man is there.

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Poland, More Western Than You Think

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In America, they have a choice between a man with nylon hair and a strange woman who can’t tell the truth. In England, three men pulled the rug out from under the whole country and somehow got away with it. And in Poland, we are still waiting for someone who will make the state exist practically as well as theoretically. Three different countries, but as we will see, they all want the same thing.

1 America

In November this year, Americans will have to chose between two extremely unpopular candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The grand part of America’s voting franchise has narrowed its focus towards mounting one of these two people as a figurehead.

Unusually, the American primaries threw up an alternative; a proportion of the electorate were dissatisfied with the bi-party system, upon which the illusion of democracy camouflages a sinister political class (the Bushes, the Clintons) who serve either corporate interests or their own financial gain. This proportion translated into just over twelve million votes for Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist – the only declared socialist ever to be elected to the US Senate. His values would run in tandem to those of Sweden’s Olaf Palme, Chavez of Venezuela, Gorbachev, with Mitterand and Mandela other notables.

When asked about Trump’s success, Sanders responded, ”his supporters are working class and they’re angry because they’re working longer hours for lower wages, they’re angry because their jobs have left this country and gone to China, they’re angry because they can’t afford to send their kids to college so they can’t retire with dignity.” Real fears which Sanders agrees with, but he believes that Trump has converted them into anger against Mexicans and Muslims rather than facing the real issue the American people have to confront, ”the greed of corporate America”.

It must be noted that Trump wants more tax breaks for the wealthy and is opposed to an increase in the minimum wage. Yet the illusion of democracy is never more transparent when you break down the campaign values of Trump’s ‘rival’ Hillary Clinton. I’ll let Bernie Sanders take you through it;

”I want to break up the Wall Street banks, she doesn’t. I want to raise the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour. She wants 12. I voted against the War in Iraq. She voted for it. I believe we should ban fracking. She does not. I believe we should have a tax on carbon and deal aggressively with climate change. That’s not her position.”

It is public knowledge that Hillary Clinton, a millionaire, is funded by Wall Street. Sanders has stood on picket lines with striking Verizon workers and has been unflinching in his support for the labor movement. Verizon, a communications company who own the Huffington Post paid Hillary Clinton $225,000 for making a single speech. They are vehemently opposed to unions but consider themselves a ”proud partner with the Clinton Foundation”.

Salon.com noted that while Sanders works with grassroots organisations like unions and stands with the workers themselves, the Clintons rub shoulders with big business.

But by virtue of three million more votes than Sanders, Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee for the 2016 Presidential Election. Liberal Americans want jobs and money but they don’t want socialism.

2 The United Kingdom

So if the American public has chosen a competition between a billionaire protector of the 1% and a woman who is impressively funded by the same billionaires, who have the British public put their faith in?

For one of the most important decisions in their history, Brexit, 17.4 million turned to former newspaper columnists Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, two Conservatives whose habit was to use broad, quick-fix statements in both their journalism and politics. They were the middle-class face of Brexit, representing those who felt their communities were being eroded by immigration.

It is now clear that Gove and Johnson didn’t have a plan or proper solutions for the problems the UK would face post Brexit. The benefits they promised from Brexit were lies. Theirs is the politics of entertainment, not expertise, indeed Gove is on record as saying, ”This country is tired of experts!” Johnson was fired by The Times for lying to its readers. He was subsequently fired by the then leader of the Conservative party, Michael Howard for lying to him. All politicians lie, but never before has a nation had its fate decided by two men whose campaign was built on a set of blatant, incontrovertible falsehoods designed to further their respective careers.

And yet over half of the electorate sided with them.

In part, this is because of the ineffectual leadership of David Cameron. A lifelong Eurosceptic, he had no answer to the hardliners on Europe once the issue had become turbocharged by austerity and immigration. His language leading up to the referendum, talking of ”swarms of migrants” was suspiciously close to that of the Leave campaigners. It is questionable where his loyalties and moral compass lie. Examples of this can be seen in Cameron’s college days when he campaigned to have Nelson Mandela hanged as a terrorist and more recently when his strong links with News International have led the Conservative party to tailor its policies to assist Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

It’s hard to be a leader when you are being led by someone else.

The leader of the Labour Party is Jeremy Corbyn, a politician along the lines of Sanders in that he endeavours to put people before politics. Several right-wing news organisations and a significant Blairist membership of his own party blamed him for Brexit and are currently trying to oust him from his position. A well-intentioned man, who is anti-austerity, but in the UK they don’t want a man whose policies of equality are inclusive of refugees.

3 Poland

The triumvirate of right-wing agony is completed by Poland, a country minimally populated by minorities, but reacting to concepts of non-Polishness in a disproportionately negatively manner. It is a country which experienced a calamitous Law and Justice experiment from 2005-7 and whose patient trust of the centre-right Civic Platform was taken advantage of by this two-term government who manipulated Poles with a giant Ponzi scheme and a modern-day colony system draining Poland of its natural resources and exploiting a talented workforce. The liberal media failed to highlight the merits of any emerging socialist alternative and last year the electorate were given a choice between two failed political entities. Both perpetrate cronyism and the short-term policy of division and settling scores.

Unlike America and the UK, there isn’t even the slightest chance of a socialist Third Way.

In Poland, the media is unable to look outside the political identikits of Right/Centre Right. Perhaps it is a question of democracy? Currently there is a catastrophic pollution problem, a crumbling health system, a witch-hunt of doctors, a lack of investment in Polish technology and Research and Development. There has been no change in the redistribution of wealth. The government of Law and Justice is unable or unwilling to provide a solution to these problems. But what is truly shocking to this Irishman living here, is how there is no demand for it.

It would seem the Polish electorate can’t see beyond Right/Centre Right either. It is the world they know and they are happy to live in it. Soon there will be an abortion issue and Poland’s left wingers, Partia Razem, will find their broader message drowned out by the ‘choice’ that particular debate throws up.

Dispiriting and predictable, it has been said, that Trump’s America would be what Poland is now. The Poles don’t have a Sanders or a Corbyn and they don’t want one. And if a Mandela-figure appeared on the political horizon here, just like Cameron, you can easily imagine a campaign to have him hanged.

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If I Could Change Just One Thing About The Poles

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What is the most self-destructive Polish characteristic? Is it the perpetual re-imagining of yourselves as victims of cataclysmic history? It certainly doesn’t help. If you live too much in the past, the future dries up. But there’s worse. Your propensity to follow to the death any shiny-suited seat-sniffing politician who’ll whore you out to the highest bidder, for a potful of dollars or yen? An Irish friend visiting here remarked on there being an absence of sheep. I wouldn’t be so sure on that I told him, but as bad as your docile subservience is, the worst trait among certain Poles I have met is Fuck You Economics.

Fuck You Economics comes in many forms. It is most obviously evident during business interactions when one side chooses to make a once-off profit over the other. They con, they scam, they take any advantage they can find, even if it means the other party will never do business with them again.

I’ve been on the receiving end of Fuck You Economics a few times here. Years ago, a theatre manager in Poznan told me I could only do a show at his venue if I paid him two thousand zloty up front. I say ‘theatre manager’; the guy was so shifty you could have put a hat on him and called him a weasel. Most theatres divide the takings, the performer gets 70%, the venue gets 30%. It’s called A Split and it happens after the show when the money is all counted. It’s very fair and it puts the onus on the venue to properly market the touring show/performance. This theatre manager in Poznan convinced me that’s not how they do business in Poland. I believed him, he got his easy money and a few weeks later I got an empty theatre.
Fuck You Economics, spiraling through Poland’s DNA, dictates that having found a sucker, you squeeze one big egg out of him, grab it and run. I doubt any alternative crossed the theatre manager’s mind. Build up a relationship with a foreign performer and have him coming with his show five or six times over a few years? Charge him an honest rate and help him put on an entertaining show, so everyone comes out feeling golden? No. Fuck You Economics means one side gets easy money, the other is left with shit on their bib.

It’s happened a few times since, albeit in smaller ways. It’s so prevalent here that no matter how vigilant you are, you’re guaranteed to get pinched at least once a year.

Fuck You Economics has many faces, some less overt, less surreptitiously bludgeoning, like the smiley face of the antique shop owner I used to go to. Threw a lot of business his way, I was what you might call ‘a loyal customer’ and coming from Ireland where such small businesses regularly reward good clients with discounts I felt confident enough to ask for a discount. A deal. You might be familiar with this concept. It’s when both parties come away from the transaction feeling good. Their heels click the pavement and buy themselves an ice-cream.

I gave the smiley-faced owner an offer on some furniture – ‘I’ll pay full price for the two most expensive pieces, but can you knock a few zloty off the third piece?’

His smile slipped through the cracks appearing in his face. He said No. The way an executioner says No. ‘Aww come on,’ I said. ‘I could go to other antique shops, but I always come here to you…’ It didn’t matter. He closed his eyes in such an awful way, as if to say, ‘how could you Mr Irish? How could you ruin the trust we had with your petty haggling?’

There is no haggling in Poland. There are no deals. There are winners and losers, gods and monsters and everyone’s looking to get their retaliation in first.

In Ireland we have a saying; ‘nobody wins unless everybody wins’ and sometimes I really miss that.

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Teach Your Children Well

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Who am I? Have you ever asked this question? The way I figure it, it’s another way of asking, ‘what do I believe in?’

I was having a beer (okay, a few beers) with a surgeon friend of mine and I asked him the same question and he said to me, ‘we’ve got to stick together Peadar.’ He was referring to our respective older daughters, aged six, who will start school in September. Both girls will be in the same class and both come from families who have issues regarding the primacy of Catholicism in Poland’s primary school education.

I’m a spiritual person who believes that every human being is entitled to make peace with the Universe in a manner that suits them. We’re all different, emotionally, physically, intellectually, so why not spiritually? I have problems with the word ‘religion’ which comes from the same root word as ‘ligature’ and ‘ligament’ and it means to be bound together in one belief.

The very concept of this is incredibly creepy and ultimately dangerous when you have Catholic Fundamentalists who have very little in common with the actual teachings of Christianity, subverting science and influencing political decisions affecting us all. I would hope our daughters’ school won’t discriminate or isolate anyone, whether they believe in a man from Bethlehem who fed a lot of people with a loaf of bread or the Sheela-na-Gig Irish fertility goddess flashing her vulva to ward off evil.

When I’m clearing a spiritual path for my girls, I like to aim towards actions rather than words. So when we recently came across a pigeon near our house who couldn’t fly, my daughters and I protected it from interested dogs, packed it in a box and took it to the animal sanctuary. All of this of course, was coordinated by my PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE. It took us three hours and during that time I questioned my sanity, basically helping a flying rat who didn’t look like it was going to survive the morning.

But you can’t give up. Especially on those who need help. My girls will hopefully inherit this belief from their mother regardless. But from me, I hope they learn to believe in themselves. I remind them everyday how amazing they are by the simple expedient of spending time with them. We draw, we cycle, we learn poems, we create crazy stories as we wander through our park. You do it too and take it from me, the minute you pull out a boardgame to play with your children, you are saying to them, ‘hey, I love you spending time with you because you are so cool.’

But you know what else I believe in? I believe in localism. My girls have traveled and boy do they know there is a world out there for them to explore. But more important is their neighbourhood. Their environment is not defined by graffiti and neglect and dirty buildings. It is defined by the people; the elderly woman who used to be a doctor and a cured people for free, the old man who walks his dogs and spent six years a Siberian labour camp. It is our park designed by a German architect. It is the Soviet Cemetary. It is the ancient oak trees we talk to. Our neighbourhood is epic and we are heroes moving through momentous history, no more so than when they had to go to the local shop on their own for the first time to buy Kefir. Now there’s a practical lesson – no parents to watch them! Holding money in their hands! Having to address the shop-lady themselves! We teach our children by showing them they are masters of their own destiny and not victims of negligent overlords their mouths full of bibles.

The life I have chosen (living in Poland, writing) means I have very little money even by Polish standards. But I have daughters to teach and this makes me rich.

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Why Do Things Take So Long In Poland?

Polish Poster

I’m writing this on my phone waiting to get a train ticket in Katowice. When I first got into the queue there were five people ahead of me. Now there are ten. My heart is pumping pure steaming anger out my sweat glands. How is the queue multiplying? Cell division? Or is it that the queuing system is such a fall-of-Hanoi, fucking free-for-all, that every unscrupulous cowboy queue-jumper can take advantage? I don’t believe in the death penalty, except for queue-jumpers. And for ticket sellers who force me to sweat popcorn pellets of anger out the crack of my ass because they take so long to punch a ticket and hand it out.

At least you can’t blame their charisma for slowing them down. Their people-skills are so creepy that I usually go to the automated ticket-machine. But the one in Katowice train station has gone all HAL 9000 on me – DAISY, DAISY GIVE ME YOUR ANSWER DOOOOOOO – and there’s a sign on it that they plan to fix it when the repairman comes back from Jupiter.

Nothing goes fast in Poland. Forget fast. At this stage I’ll settle for average speed. My standards have been lowered. I’ll even take below-average. After crawling around the multi-level hell that is your legal system, I know there is no ”fast” in this country. We won a court case here that lasted six-years. Six time-sucking years. What was our case about? Convoluted Family Law? A murder? A Constitutional challenge? No. A chimney. I took the legal action because it was such an open-and-shut case, I couldn’t see it going beyond six months. But no. Living in Poland automatically locks you into a Gravitational Time Dilation where everything takes 12 times longer.

It could be worse. Relations of ours in Warsaw spent 12 years going through a Restitution of Property rights case. 12 years a slave to Poland. They should make a film about it. Or what about the dismantling of the tramlines in Gliwice? For some obscure reason all tram services were stopped 7 years ago, but the local government hasn’t got around to removing the tracks and wiring. Kind of like a dentist taking out your tooth but leaving in the bit that hurts. Bravo, oh glorious General Secretary of Gliwice. No trams but we have roads that look like Keith Richards’ face.

But even cars and pollution, two of the General Secretary’s favourite things, have to wait years too. Decades actually. The idea for the construction of a motorway running across the centre of Gliwice originated in the 1960’s. Then Polish Gravitational Time Dilation kicked in, meaning construction didn’t start until 1979 and was finally completed in 2016. 37 years to bring much needed pollution into the centre of the city and give us the magnificent above-ground structure we have today, essentially a carpark with weeds growing out of it. 37 years. I heard of a man who went to work on that road, fell asleep for lunch and when he woke up all his friends were old or dead and his wife had long since run away with a pigeon-tamer. Poor bastard tried to commit suicide when he realised – nothing to do with his wife – he hated her and she always she stunk of pigeon. No, it was because he realized he was living in a city which still used 50 year old ideas. Luckily his chosen method of suicide was to sit on the tramline with his eyes closed.

Poland has a mental block when it comes to transport and construction. Didn’t the government decide to build an Underground system in Warsaw in 1950? They started. Then they stopped. And started again in 1983. Lunch breaks were longer back in Communist times. The first line was 23 kms long. They finished it in 2008. There’s a word for that; momentum. Then there’s the plane crash, sorry, THE PLANE CRASH and Kaczynski mourning his brother since 2010. When is that going to end? He’s dead. Get over it. People have real problems. Like getting a ticket so they can go home. Only I can’t. Because my train has gone. I phone my PRACTIAL SILESIAN WIFE asking if she’ll pick me up. Of course. But I need to wait a few hours. She’s busy.

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The Day I Was Accused Of Robbing Bono’s House

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I’ve never met anyone famous. I don’t want to meet anyone famous. I’ve met lots of semi-famous people most of whom are beset with multiple personality disorders and would strangle twenty kittens in a row if it would get them a five-minute interview on prime-time television.

I am removed from fame and those who have it by many degrees of separation, but of course when I’m shitfaced drunk and trying to impress people I’ll delete as many degrees as I can. This means that the true story of my mother being helped by Mick Jagger’s brother when she fell in a hotel in Dublin, gets abbreviated to DID YOU KNOW I HELPED MICK JAGGER WHEN HE FELL IN A HOTEL IN DUBLIN? Similarly, I once knew a guy who dated a girl who had a friend who sat on a seat in a pub that Colin Farrell once sat on. After three whiskeys this becomes COLIN FARRELL SAT ON ME – and then I’ll fart out my nose and add that he wasn’t heavy.

Polish people often ask about U2 or Bono and are surprised when I say I’ve never met him. I have however met the security team who guard his house in Dublin. Ah, what a morning that was. Gather around my friends and let your resident Irish columnist tell you a tale…

It began with a friend of mine, calling and inviting me to her new home in Dublin. I hadn’t seen her in years but heard she had married a very wealthy man. Her invite coincided with an interview I had to give on The Gerry Ryan Show on Irish national radio. I was excited, more so when her driver, picking me up from the train station took me to her house in Killiney and commented that Bono was her next-door neighbour. I imagined Bono calling in for a cup of tea, complaining about the trouble with Lear jets and how to get your bass player in the recovery position when he’s overdosing on Afghan brown heroin. Maybe my Polish neighbours have similar problems, but seeing as they never call in for random chats, I’ll never know.

Anyway, I met my friend and her ludicrously rich husband. I told them a taxi was coming to pick me up very early for the radio show, and could they give me the code to open their three-metre high gate so I wouldn’t have to disturb them? Of course. And several hours later, at six am, I was at the end of their driveway, typing in the code. Nothing happened. The gate wouldn’t open. The taxi was going to arrive, but it wouldn’t see me behind the huge wall and I was going to miss my interview.

This is what would have happened if my monkey genes didn’t kick in. We Irish are great climbers, which is weird considering the English stole all our trees 800 years ago. Nevertheless, I scaled the gate with all the vitality of a frisky teenage macaque, only somehow I managed to get disastrously stuck. My foot. It was wedged firm. There I was on top of the gate, balancing lest I impale myself on the gate’s razorsharp points. I gazed down into the neighbouring gardens. Bono’s garden. Inside it was a smaller house and two men were coming out with walkie-talkies. ‘What are you doing up there?’ they asked as I suddenly started to realise what they were seeing. ‘It’s okay,’ I told them, ‘I’m staying with…’

Ah shit. I blanked on my friend’s name. And her husband’s too. ‘Yes?’ they asked again. More security men were appearing, probably one of them in the trees, lining me up in his crosshairs.

‘We’re calling the police,’ they said. Ah brilliant. Now I’m going to be famous like Mark David Chapman is famous. Like Charlie Manson. Travis Bickle… Speaking of which…

The taxi appeared. The driver jumped out, trying to compute the sweating man on top of a gate. ‘Are you robbing Bono’s house?’ he said in that subtle way Dublin taxi-drivers are known for. ‘No…I’m the guy you’re meant to take to the radio interview…’ And I told him the only name I could remember. Mine. ‘Now help me get off this gate.’ And he did, even if my pants got ripped in the process. He drove me out of there, stopping only to give way to the police cars speeding in the opposite direction.

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