The PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE gets all the fun and when she had to go to Warsaw for a medical conference, I braced myself for a week alone with Lilly and Malina. There’s some kind of shining, heroic feeling when you got to raise children by yourself, even if it is only for a couple of days. Those who do it full-time should automatically have their salaries quadrupled and be given a summer-house on Lake Como or have a mountain named after them in Connemara.
And everyone knows girls are the worst to look after. Boys may destroy your house, but girls will destroy you mind. Lilly and Malina; one is good, the other is evil. Trouble is, they alternate and by the time I’ve figured it out, it’s too late and the couch is already engulfed in maple syrup.
We’d planned for the four of us to reconnect in Berlin, me driving the girls from Gliwice and the PSW coming from Warsaw. I was excited. I get Berlin. I click with that city the way a teenager clicks with superheroes. Berlin marches to its own beat. Its history tugs you on the shoulder and not just black and white Hitler-history either; this is the city of Bowie’s golden period, U2’s second last great album, Achtung Baby, Cabaret and Marlene Dietrich.
But it didn’t seem like we were going to make it there; a virus got into the house. Malina woke at midnight, emptying the contents of her stomach all over her bed. She was crying and panicked and I had to wash her. Then I had to wash the bedclothes, even the floor, pouring cologne over it like a demented gay exorcist.
Sometime around four am Malina replays the whole incident again. At this stage, I don’t know if I’m coming or going. Running into the room, I slip in the fresh vomit the way it’s all up the right side of my body. And there’s no hot water, so Malina’s screaming the paint off the walls from the cold shower. I’ve no bedclothes for her either, so I improvise with towels and table-cloths. I throw ten pairs of football socks in a sack and hope this works as a pillow.
By five am I’ve got her to sleep so I go to the basement and throw a wash on. I hear a scream upstairs in our groundfloor apartment. I leg it up and this time it’s Lilly shouting out the words no father should ever have to hear at five am;
I HAVE DIARRHOEA!
Not only is it great when you’re kids can self-diagnose, but it’s also pretty helpful when they can keep a lid on their eruptions until you hustle them onto a toilet. Just in the nick of time. Lilly, my darling, for this, I will always be grateful.
I wait with her for forty shivering minutes, giving her sips of water, giving myself sips of brandy, wondering if Berlin is ever going to happen? The next few days sees me running an ad hoc medical unit gratefully assisted by various nurses and specialists who shall be known as The Iron Giant, Spirited Away, The Secret of Kells, Finding Nemo, My Neighbour Totoro, all the Toy Stories, The Incredibles,and seasons 1-3 of Futurama.
The girls got better. The power of animation, eh? Berlin looked on. Until the virus latched on to me. By this stage it had mutated into an all-encompassing malignancy, a super-villain, the Professor Moriarty of stomach bugs, leaving me in the toilet so long and in so much gastro-pain that I abandoned all my philosophies and beliefs and contemplated becoming a Hermit. This was Thursday morning and Friday was supposed to be Berlin. No way. Game over.
But we made it there, thanks to two heroes.
Two Silesian women rescued me. Both named Iwonka.
Iwonka number one is my daughters’ great grandmother. She’s in her eighties. She drives a Toyota and calls everyone on the road Dupa! There’s a lot of Dupas on Polish roads apparently. Iwonka also makes soup. When she heard I was carrying a belly-load of pain she whipped up a chicken broth and ferried it over. The other Iwonka is a pharmacist who called me when she heard I was ailing. Her English isn’t good, but she’s got that Silesian mentality where if there’s a broken man lying around, she’s going to be the one to fix him.
‘I will come and save you,’ she said. Honestly, this is how she phrased it.
‘I’m taking tablets but they’re not working,’ I whined.
‘I have secret weapon!’ exclaimed Iwonka.
Iwonka came over with the Coke. She even played with the girls who were by this stage calling themselves Fry and Bender. 500mls of cola later, I went to bed.
Things were different when I woke up. I wasn’t going to be playing any impromptu games of Twister, but driving was plausible.
I got Fry and Bender in the car and drove north. It’s a pretty straightforward ride from Gliwice to Berlin, even for me. It took me five hours and two bottles of Coke to make the journey.
We did it. And when I met the PSW in Berlin we kissed as though nothing could fall.