We Are Men


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.


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


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


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


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


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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For Your Eyes Only


This is what I believe in;

The power of alcohol to solve whatever is it that ails you.

The first five seconds of meeting a person will tell me everything about them.

And only twenty per cent of communication is verbal.

The rest is made up of a of a series of visual and paralinguistic cogs, springs and counterweights, intricate, silent pieces of message mechanism. Encoded in our facial muscles, our posture, is a pure truth. Take a man cheating on his wife; his excessive absence of blinking when detailing how his day went sends the unspoken message – I’m sleeping with the florist.

This brings me to the Poles and their curiously annoying habit of avoiding eye-contact. Curious, in that there’s no obvious philosophy behind it other than putting the recipient on edge for no better reason than if they’re not relaxed then why the hell should you be?

Am I referring here to my own direct experiences? No. Throwing me into the equation would excuse this socially demoralising habit as a means of deferring to foreigners or avoiding awkward language encounters. This is Poles interacting with other Poles, a national characteristic, a collective non-verbal communication methodology, as habitual as cheating in exams or applauding when an airplane lands. It’s a full-time practice, done between friends and family with such remarkable consistency, it’s a wonder they recognise each other at all.

I suppose all countries have their own unique customs governing interaction.There’s the Finnish habit of marking conversations with huge swathes of silence. The Finns don’t do small talk. They place an importance on listening and will regularly interrupt the flow of verbal interaction by shutting up and processing what’s just been said. This is strange, especially when you consider the Finns have the highest rate of coffee consumption in the world per person. What do they do with all that caffeine energy? It used to be for killing Russians, but now?

Stranger still is the habit in Columbia and the Philippines to point to something with your lips. They consider it rude to use the index finger, so they make a kissy-face and aim it at what they’re directing you towards. Nice.

Even nicer is the way Brazilians mark most conversations with hugs. When they meet, they embrace as if they’ve just been released from solitary confinement. When men are talking to other men, they maintain physical contact, going as far as to pull their shoulders if one of them gazes off in a different direction.

Compare that to the Poles who are constantly giving the impression there is something more interesting going on three centimeters to the right of whoever they’re talking to. It’s staggering how accepted it is – I’ve seen members of the same family arrange themselves side-by-side, intently discussing how much they hate doctors, both staring at an imaginary third person in front of them.

This shouldn’t be confused with the Japanese custom where it’s impolite to make eye-contact, as it turns out they only observe this practice during formal occasions, or when they’re making an apology.

This inability to look their neighbour in the eye is uniquely Polish. I know a few Ukrainian-Polish couples and it’s always the Lviv or Kiev natives who make a point of looking you directly in the face, while their shifty-eyed partners are forever finding something amazingly important happening in the sky.

It doesn’t have to be the sky. Sometimes it’s the hills. I was at a dinner in Warsaw with the former Minister for Health, and for the better part of the night he kept his eyes firmly glued to my PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE’S chest.

Fascinating as this region is, her eyes are more interesting. This is where the real action takes place when anthropoids are exchanging messages. The eyes are the window to the soul? For me, they’re the soul’s voice. Look into them and you’ll hear a person’s needs, their hopes and desires. They eyes speak. They tell you who is naughty and who is nice and at some base level, I think the Poles know this. The eyes speak the truth and for the Poles the truth is something the rest of the world can’t know. It could be used against them. It’s private. Top secret.

For your eyes only.

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A Tale Of Two Cafés


I was in the new shopping mall in Katowice last week. Went to Starbucks and decided to try their produce for the sole reason of being able to compare it with the locally-owned, hipster places I normally frequent.

The American mega-corporation has loads of flavours and sizes to chose from – ginormous-bucket latte, vanilla-fudge decaf and all at big gorilla-sized prices. Ten zloty, twelve zloty, sixteen zloty – that’s four euro to guys like me, or a weeks wages for a skilled Polish worker.

I went for their ‘classic’ option. Now there’s a description that’s pushing the boundaries. Classic? Oh, it was classic all right. The first sip landed in my gut like a poison harpoon and I made that face people make when they see a fat German tourist sunbathing.

The place was packed though, so what do I know. Starbucks patrons don’t seem to mind that there isn’t even a toilet on the premises. No toilet. Can you believe it? They sell you putrid coffee, but there’s no way they’re taking it back in any form. I predict great profits for Starbucks in Katowice. The Poles are a conservative nation. They love big foreign companies. They don’t like their own.

A few days later, I was in a small café and the female owner was telling me her business wasn’t going to survive the winter. Inner-city renovation and road works have been dragging on now for two years, killing her passing trade. The city authorities don’t have any time to be sympathetic to her plight. They’re too busy. It’s taken them over six-hundred days to fix the footpaths. That’s a hundred times longer than it took the Japanese to rebuild the Great Kanto highway after the earthquake in 2011.

Rather than give up, the café proprietress decided to fight. She planned to start producing food on-site. Sandwiches, cakes, something to tweak the profit margins and keep the dream alive. Poland loves a never-say-die-spirit, right? Wrong. Health and Sanitation, that beacon of entrepreneurial assistance, told her that making food on the premises was impossible, it couldn’t be done…and in accordance with the Food Preparation Act 1852, paragraph seventy-two, sub-section K, clause eighty five, it states that ‘any irregularity or minor deviance is an opportunity to be seized upon to stop a Pole achieving success…’

This is Poland. They don’t like their own.

Two days ago her café was robbed. An old trick – a girl was working there on her own and a customer alerted her to a mess in the toilet that she absolutely, positively had to clean up straight away because someone could hurt themselves if she didn’t…

The girl took the hook and when she came back from cleaning up the mess, the register was three hundred zloty lighter. Bad as this was, the thief was the lesser of the three evils besetting the café – unlike Local government and Health and Sanitation, thieves don’t purport to facilitate local business. They steal. There is an honesty to their intentions.

But isn’t it awful? Here you have this locally-owned café who, in accordance with Health and Sanitation requirements, are providing adequate provision of toilets on their premises only to have it used against them in a robbery. Lucky Starbucks eh? No danger of anyone pulling the toilet trick there. Their coffee is three times as expensive, and when you’re finished drinking it, hold on to the cup – you’ll need it.

This is Poland. They don’t like their own.

This is just one of the many stories unfolding in Silesia at the moment. There are other local businesses feeling the pinch. Some will close and no doubt their location will be taken over by a bank, or a mobile phone shop, you know, one of those institutions that really looks out for people.

Categories: Poland, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Goodbye England, We Never Really Liked You Anyway


You think it’s fun being Irish, don’t you? A big summer-camp jamboree of singing, dancing and fidgety bonhomie washed down with lashings of alcohol related products in a carnival of inebriated self-expression.

You watch our football fans at the Euros in France, and excluding the bearded, tattooed ones with eye-patches and interesting teeth, we do come across as an amiable bunch of boisterous losers, a mass outing of bi-polar sufferers who would stop and and change a wheel for you at the side of the road. Not that you would trust them to do it right, but it would be funny and there would be lots of shouting and dancing.

Truth is, it’s not that great being Irish at all. For many of reasons, foremost being our location; we’re beside England. Yes, the English are also boozy losers with car-crash teeth, but aside from that, our shared history is one of suffering, shackled together by fate in a messy marriage of inconvenience.

This isn’t about the Irish Famine or eight hundred years of oppression or Margaret Thatcher and her insane clown posse of Conservative henchmen. Nor is it about us blowing up the Queen’s cousin in a boat in Sligo or me writing BRITS OUT on a wall in Galway when Prince Charles came to visit with Camilla Parker-Bowles and the Royal vet.

No this is about the Tyranny of Small Differences, the true foundation of all geopolitical relationships which are subsumed by hate.

Small differences like, Rules; the English make them and we break them. And Daniel Day-Lewis, born in England, but come on – we all know he wants to be Irish.

Then there’s sports – both our national sports are stick and ball games. The Irish play Hurling. Fast, frenetic, it is thirty men in a field, each holding a stick and chasing an imaginary ball. It’s organized thuggery exquisitely disguised as athletic, passionate ballet. Dangerous and exciting, the life expectancy of most players is n-n-n-n-nineteen.

The English have cricket. One man has a bat and the rest of the players form committees so they can draft legislation on how best to annex Kenya.

Then there’s the oh so English habit of having a beer at lunchtime. This is what they do. I know. Crazy. Just the one and then they go back to driving forklifts or writing parrot sketches. I remember first witnessing it in London, this enduring bit of post-colonial eccentricity. I was angry, shocked and ultimately ravenous for my own lunchtime tipple, knowing I couldn’t because as an Irishman you can’t have one beer without having a second. And as we all know two beers is the Golden Path, the promise of a ski lift to Shangri-la, which inevitably leads to ten more beers and ends with me doing donuts in a supermarket trolley outside my mother-in-law’s house.

Then there’s Europe. We like it. They don’t. The Irish want to be the French while the English simply want to beat them. This is how England interacted with the Continent. By waging war against anything that didn’t look like a bulldog. And now they’re sore, because they got outgunned by a Swabian housewife who had done what no other German leader has ever done: made Germany friendly.

So you get it. We’re the same but we’re not the same. It’s the tiny differences that brings the hate. Okay, not really hate. A mild dislike. Or an un-liking. I really don’t know how to put it. I have so many English friends and family I’m reluctant to wed myself to a really horrible insult.

So, goodbye then England, only you’re not really gone are you? I’ve looked at the map and you’re still there, peering over Ireland’s shoulder like a wicked step-father, the kind who visits your bedroom late at night.

Still, it could be worse. We could be trapped between Russia and Germany.

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Raise Your Arm If You’re A Racist


So Brexit has uncorked the Djinn of racism and we hear of a spike in racist attacks all over the UK. The BBC featured a news report on a neo-Nazi in Leeds who is relieved at being able to take his country back from the Poles. In Huntington, cards were pushed into the houses of Poles saying, NO MORE POLISH VERMIN, while abusive graffiti was sprayed on the Polish Cultural Center in London.

And I suppose it behooves me to say a few appropriate things about this, offer a few dull-as-ditchwater platitudes on the tremendous suffering Poles are facing in England right now, the eye of the hurricane and all that, and I may even call up my good buddy Bono so he can sing his famous line from the Band-Aid song; tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you.

But I won’t.

Because tonight, no thanks to anyone, it is me.

As an Irishman living in Poland, you learn that racism is a vest a lot of people here wear under their shirts, be they hipster plaid or industrious white collar.

The landscape is racist. Most of you are inured to it but I’ve counted three swastikas sprayed on buildings in my neighbourhood. White Power slogans when I go on cycles through the country. How the swastika became popular in Poland is beyond ridiculous. What next? A lung cancer patient becoming a spokesman for a cigarette company?

Children are racist. During a theatrical workshop in a private, international school in Katowice, I witnessed a blonde, blue-eyed twelve year old call his Indian classmate a monkey. And then the blonde Pole laughed so hard he resembled a pig. I’m sure Orwell would have been please at how Animal Farm it all was.

I’ve listened to neighbours on my street complain about a fabled Jewish man who ‘owned too many apartments’. It didn’t matter that this Jew had been dead in the ground for the last fifty years, that he had the temerity to own property was something they weren’t going to forget in a hurry.

Being Caucasian and having a saintly face such as I do is no guarantee you won’t be set upon. I was verbally harassed outside my house for singing in English – does this qualify as a racist attack – the two thugs were park boozers, who looked liked they had died and been dug up again. The only thing worse than these two walking piss-stains and their screaming fury was when I was harassed and threatened by a Warsaw film crew for mistakenly walking down a street they were filming on. No low-life, sunburnt drunks these, but four middle-class, trendy guys well-versed in the English language, with a full compliment of useful phrases, foremost among them being, ”go back to Ireland you fuck”.

They must have picked up such salty words in the Leni Riefenstahl School of Master Race Film.

Friends in Silesia tell me I shouldn’t count that as a racist attack. This is how certain people from Warsaw talk to everyone.

And racism is a casual thing here, part of Poland’s great menu, as normal and accepted as pollution and road traffic fatalities and what is interesting for an outsider, is how closely it links aspects of Poland’s society to that of Russia and the Dark Lord who rules there.

Can you feel it? Because I can, a gathering, murky energy. War in Ukraine. Europe and its union which preserved peace, coming apart. Coalitions forming. There is a generation here who don’t know what war is. They think it’s a Castle Wolfenstein commuter game. Hate is being fed in Poland by the new lords of misrule, mini-Putins, those who bought the country and its soul for a paltry 500 zloty. Hate against the imaginary threat of Jews and anyone with dark skin.

But the time will come when the hate rises, when its appetite increases, when it will call for a real enemy, those who aren’t Polish enough, those who don’t kneel before the cross or those who don’t raise their right arm to salute The Leader.

When that time comes, we will consider the Poles in England as the lucky ones.

Categories: Poland, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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