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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For Your Eyes Only

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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

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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.

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Goodbye England, We Never Really Liked You Anyway

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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

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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.

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I Am Curious

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Today’s column title is not a reference to the 1967 Swedish new-wave movie where a woman dreams of cutting her lover’s penis off and then kisses it – no, it is rather a declaration; I’d like to know what the Silesians and Poles think of the Catholic Church.

Most of you are used to newspaper columns informing you of their opinion. I’ve been doing it for years, with sledgehammer-like delicacy, and today will be no exception: it’s my belief that the Catholic Church is as much use to society as a turd in a field, beneficial to a few bloated flies, yet detrimental and disgusting to its immediate environment.

But what about you, the 5% who read my Gazeta Wyborcza column? After all my time here, I should have a fix on your opinion regarding this wealthy organisation who have done a terrible job carrying out the teachings of Jesus. But I don’t. I know there are lots of atheists around – hell, I live with one of them, but my bet is Poles would rather confess to being chicken molesters than to speak of a faith in the absence of a god.

I have a firm belief in a benign higher power because it fits in with my worldview and makes me happy. Trust me, when your father has been imprisoned and your mother can’t walk, you have to believe in something. I tried believing in Rock and Roll until I found out how much money Bono had hidden down the back of his couch and while many Irish have turned against the once saint-like U2 frontman, few in Poland, in social situations at least, are willing to serve up tough questions on the Catholic Church.

I know, I know, who wants to ruin a family occasion like a birthday or a party to celebrate a promotion, by asking how a country can commit itself to a male-dominated, authoritarian institution which suppresses dissent and attempts to control what its members may even discuss? A question like that kind of pisses all over your comfortable, cosy, cheesecake buzz. But if it makes it any better, that statement of curiosity didn’t originate from me. It’s a direct quote from Father Peter McVerry, a social justice campaigner.

He’s the founder of a the Peter McVerry Trust, a homeless organisation, and if the Poles want to take a peep at what organised religion should really be like, then turn off the Radio Maria documentary about the man who made it his life’s mission to sniff every single seat that Pope John ever sat on, and throw this Jesuit priest’s name into the googlebox.

If you do, you’ll find out how he devoted the last thirty years to helping the destitute and indigent of Ballymun. Ballymun is a Dublin ghetto and when the city was the heroin capital of Europe in the 1980’s, Ballymun was its putrefying black heart. Not only does Peter McVerry work in the shelter he established, but he lives there in a small flat with four other priests. He counts his friends as the homeless people he works with. His phone is on 24hours. If you called in tomorrow, you’d get to meet him and he’d tell you that the church established by Jesus was to be a community of brothers and sisters, free of all domination and Jesus warned against replicating the relationships of power that existed in the wider society.

And if you told him you were Polish, he’d probably tell you that the thing that angered him the most during his thirty years in the trenches was related to Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1979.

He was to stop off in our small church but was behind schedule and he passed us by on the way to meet the bishops and dignitaries in Dublin Castle. That really pissed me off.”

Father Peter McVerry, this man who questions the direction of the Catholic Church was recently made a Freeman of Dublin. Most of us in Ireland are in awe of him because he’s the real deal, a Christian in actions rather than words.

Are there people like this in Poland? I am genuinely curious about this. Do you think the Church here influences people to be good and help others?

Or do you think their time is up and through systematic appropriation we should flush their greedy asses down the drain to the sea?

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Don’t Die Without Scars

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Get busy living or get busy dying. Some of you will recognise these words of advice from The Shawshank Redemption, the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s novella and with this in mind, I took up an offer to go Wakeboarding. A mistake of gargantuan proportions I can tell you, most of which I will enumerate below.

I was joined by my friend Michal, his wife and 16 year old godson and we went to one of those great man-made lakes so plentiful in Silesia and which never fail to inspire me when I’m writing about serial killers and abductions. Michal knows his way around a wakeboard and along with the two dudes who ran the operation, explained how it works; you place your feet inside what is essentially a snowboard and try and keep upright as you are dragged across a mass of water while dangling from a motorized wire.

Most of you know how it works. But for me, who comes from a country where badger-throwing is a pastime for males between the ages of 4 and 70, it’s the height of sophistication. Michal went first and in that typically Polish way, was great, tracing his way across the lake in a manner reminiscent of Timothy Dalton in Licence To Kill, his wife, every inch the languid Bond-girl, watching her husband attempt a dazzling array of 360 degree spins, a glint in her eye as she imagined him slaughtering swathes of Putin’s elite water-cossacks.

His god-son then gave a good account of himself, before I was lowered into the water, where I contrived to get the waterboard and by association half of my body, stuck underneath the jetty from which we were launching ourselves. No Bond I, more like a crash-test dummy who has been magicked to life by a mad-scientist, albeit with the brain of one of the aforementioned Irish badgers who has been thrown way too many times.

They got me out from under the jetty and the motorized wire pulled me a good twenty metres across the lake before the inevitable happened and I splashed down with all the grace of a horse jumping from a plane. A wonderful moment, marked by naked panic, camouflaged by my unerring ability to consume mouthfuls of pure lake-water and convert it into concentrated snot which was then funneled out my nose and ears.

I repeated this trick on three more ocassions before my PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE turned up. Just off a 24h duty and reluctant to take part as she never wakeboarded before, but you where this is going, don’t you? She reluctantly decided to give it a go and in true Silesian wife style, was everything I wasn’t. There you go. When the Russians come, she’ll be the one fighting them off, holding a flame thrower while standing on the wings of a glider. I’ll be stuck in some Siberian POW camp, reciting pornographic monologues for the masturbatory benefit of my Legia Warsaw cellmate.

We said goodbye to Michal and his family and so they are still unaware of how, in cinematic terms, my wakeboarding experience went from Woody Allen to The Passion of the Christ. I woke that night at 2am with the worst case of muscle cramps known to an Irishman, even those who have consecutively thrown over 500 badgers. My bed wasn’t a bed, but a landscape of discord and agony and my entire right arm was awash with pain.

Pain. It flowered in my arm as a giant, angry scorpion, a queen who gave birth to millions of scurrying scorpions whose fate was to excrete venomous shards of broken glass down the right side of my body.

Four days later and physiotherapy from my neighbour Ola has helped. My PSW has lovingly administered therapeutic beatings so I’ve got to the stage where I’m crying only every other hour. But I am at one with my pain. I have grown into it. Perhaps this is why I can say what I have to say next;

The pain is good. Good in that at the age of forty-two, I am still getting hurt as a result of trying new things. Sure, there’s plenty of war-stories from my twenties and thirties, but there’s always a risk when you enter your forties, that life will get, you know, flat. Not in Poland, the land of unpredictability, where you never know what’s going to happen next. While this isn’t always a good thing, it’s never boring. I came here and subsequently choose to remain here because I have a fondness for the road less traveled. A rough road with thorns and you will get cut. The price you pay for adventure.

Get busy with life and collect your scars.

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Don’t Be Afraid Of The Irish

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By the time you read this, I’ll be on my way back to Poland, stopping off at Amsterdam, standing by a canal, watching fresh batches of pornography being delivered to the good Dutch citizens. The Polski Eire festival is over, my holiday in Ireland is over and I’m in the wonderfully contradictory position of leaving home, whilst simultaneously returning home. The diametrically opposed emotions of the emigrant; sad but happy, anxious yet relieved, waving goodbye while saying hello.

I have mixed feelings about returning to Silesia and I’ll tell you why; this visit to Ireland brought a few things into focus, most notably the extent with which my PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE has fallen in love with the west of Ireland. She swam constantly in 9.6 degree waters off the Connemara coast and climbed the Middle-Earth mountains by Killary Fjord. Sometimes both in the same day. I’d come back from the pub and find her watching documentaries on the depopulated island of Inishark and baking bread with my mother, trading stories about their respective evil neighbours whom they hate like rat poison.

And while it’s nice that she has found a home from home, it throws up questions about our family’s future in Poland, especially when Ireland is promising to stuff money into the pockets of any medic who knows the difference between a hip replacement and a Chinaman’s Liver.

Ireland being financially more attractive isn’t a new development, but what is new is my PSW’s attitude. When she first came to Ireland, she erroneously got it into her head that the Irish were somehow…superior. Subsequent visits have shown her just how submental we really are. Half the Irish teenagers you meet suffer from ADHD, jacked up to the eyeballs on Ritalin just to stop them fidgeting and eating their own kneecaps, while their parents are waiting for the banks to evict them so they can sell their houses to Donald Trump and his cronies.

Despite this, all anyone can talk about in Ireland is how ‘house prices are on the up’ and you just know we’ll run headlong into another financial catastrophe because we still haven’t realised that the key to a good economy is Research and Development. We don’t innovate. We don’t create. We just dance and drink and fight and gamble on property.

It’s a top-down phenomenon and I can’t see it changing anytime soon. There’s a cretin I know, he works in a petrol station rinsing mop-heads under his armpit and he towers like Einstein over our current Minister for Finance who got his maths wrong by 2 billion euro when he calculated this year’s national budget.

The Polish community in Ireland, those long-termers who’ve been in Ireland for seven or eight years and who come from disciplined backgrounds of innovation and creation are starting to realise their value. Similarly, my PSW, with her training and her Silesian attention to detail, knows there is no reason for her to feel ‘less’ in Ireland.

But with the Poles, you’ll always have someone whose sense of inferiority is still holding them back. One woman I know, we’ll call her ‘Marta’ – may she rest in peace, but later, after she dies – is a maths genius, only she can’t find work because she told me, ‘Polish families can’t afford a private maths tutor’. ‘Ah’, I told her, ‘but Irish families can. Put an ad up in an Irish school and see what happens.’

And guess what? Once I convinced her that the Irish weren’t the masters of the universe she had thought them to be, she put up her ad and got inundated with offers to educate hordes of Irish teenage golems.

Now if only the Minister for Finance would take a few lessons off of her, we might be able to build an extra hospital or two. I’m sure my PSW would like that.

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The Party

13407013_1298133946867849_2928177225907372084_nI was invited to a party by a friend called Michal Stangel and if I ever had an idea of myself as an intelligent individual, vibrating with sparkling wit and an ability to inspire others with valuable and cognizant insights, well, it died a fucking dog’s death at this party.

Not from any malicious activity arising from Michal’s guests. Let’s be clear on that. The University’s new Vice-Dean gathered a cheery, good-hearted bunch around him, some of whom I knew, others I got to know in that great way that only half a bottle of brandy and miniature cream cheese vol-au-vents can actualise.

But meeting them, one after another, this concentration of talented Silesians, left me gibbering in a viscous pool of my own dull-as-dirt deficiencies.

To be honest it started long before the party. My PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE’S sister called around with cake, a delicious chocolate confection and I got to thinking how in a million years I could never create anything as appetizing. I don’t have the ability to make things, you know, with my hands. Basically, I’m as self-sufficient as one of those horror-movie brains floating in a jar of formaldehyde.

The Wrodarczyks came to take me to the party and this only compounded my despair. Marcin has a complex job, but still finds time to make bikes. His wife is an architect who designs and makes toys and interiors. With her hands. Jesus, what’s wrong with me? Once in school, I tried to make a matchstick house, but I ended up supergluing my nose to the floor and my friend Baz pissed on me because he read somewhere that’s how you free a person from superglue. Somehow it worked, one of those rare cases where urine triumphs over intellect.

The party was a parade of erudite and entertaining Silesians, architects, urban planners, the people who shape the world we live in and who are trying to make Silesia friendly and functional. There was one lady, Agata I think, but it’s hard to remember because I was knocking back brandy like a medieval drunkard, my go-to place when I’m intellectually out of my depth. Agata had a tattoo of a bicycle (a Dutch bike according to M. Wrodarczyk) and she was passionate about turning Gliwice into a two-wheeled wonderland and not the giant lung-cancer factory it currently is. Fuck. She’s actually trying to change things. Not just writing about stuff, but doing it, like my other sister-in-law Ewa, chosen to be one of the last five women in the running for the Diana Award.

It wasn’t all elfish architects and urban planning wizards. There was a surgeon there, and not just your regular surgeon but an emergency surgeon, as rare as Dutch Mountain dogs. This is the guy they call when there’s a ten-car pile up on the motorway – he saves lives and what am I doing? Writing a few chuckles for the paper? His wife was a landscape gardener, and in that quiet, polite way of people who know things, she explained the difference between a slug and a snail and how the former are alien to Poland’s ecology. Oh to be clever just once, to know things, to be good at something, anything…!

Some of you will say, ‘oh, but you write…’ So what. Because deep down, each writer believes they’re a fraud. We believe the nail of ineptitude has been hammered into us since we could crawl and we have arrived at the occupation of letters because it’s a refuge for bunglers. We move words around a page, which is another way of saying we shovel shit from a sitting down position.

Is there a point to today’s column? Not really, but let’s find one. We all have our doubts. We all feel inadequate. Everyday is a fight to believe in yourself and what you are meant to do. Some days it drags you down. But if you keep getting back up, and take the example of those you meet at Silesian parties, those who persisted with their passions, then there will be days when you’re king of the world.

I left the party at 2am and went home, stumbling across a review from some portal giving my column book five and a half stars out of six. I celebrated by eating the rest of Mary’s cake and passing out on the sofa.

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Accelerate Onwards In Absolute Silence

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9.6 I tell you. 9.6. There’s a number for you to masticate over for the next few minutes, but until then let me give the secret to surviving a car-trip across the continent of Europe.

Since my last post, we’ve been in Jutland, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France and England. Geographically. Metaphysically, we’ve been to Oz, via Carcosa, eventually arriving at our ultimate destination of the west coast of Ireland. In between the petrol station stops, the whining and bitching from the backseat, the lack of faith in the GPS, the refugees at Calais, and the herds of freakshow people who travel via the ferry boats, here’s what happened;

I messed up in Brussels. We stayed there for an evening just off the Palace of Justice. We soaked up the ghost-town atmosphere and the next morning we made a beeline for the ferry to Dover. It’s a 168 km trip from Brussels to Dunkirk, the road was straight, the sky was blue. We arrived with thirty minutes to spare and that’s when I realised I’d left my jacket back in Brussels. Jacket. Wallet. Credit cards.

The PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE was cool about it. She knows shit happens. I however spent the next four hours locked in a maelstrom of self-loathing and teeth-grinding funk as we drove back to Brussels to get my belongings and then back again to Dunkirk.

Just in time to miss the last ferry.

At this stage, my lower left molars had been eroded to a fine powdery substance and my knuckles gripping the steering wheel were the same size and colour of ostrich eggs. Sensing disaster, the PSW stepped in and Accelerated Onwards In Absolute Silence, for our family’s survival depended on it. There was another sailing at Calais, but we only had 25 minutes to get there.

She did it though and we got the boat to Dover. We made it to London. Hurray.

Hurray for two reasons; my collection of aunts, uncles and cousin in London got to meet my family for the first time and also because our car narrowly avoided being blown up.

We rented a studio flat via AirBnB with an outdoor carpark beside the building. And for three days our time was good. We visited the Natural History Museum, Cleopatra’s Needle, the South Bank, Spitafields Market, and Shoreditch where my girls searched for traces of street art by their hero King Robbo.

We rose early on Thursday morning to drive to North Wales and I went to load up the car. What I saw made my bowels drop three inches – the carpark was gone and replaced by a scene from Apocalypse Now. Our car was obscured by smoke and debris. Holes were burnt into the tarmacadam ground. I counted at least fifty, six-packs of unopened Guinness cans and two large barrels with fires still smoldering in them.

And somehow my car was…okay, despite there being evidence of a naked flame less than a meter from the petrol tank. I was clearing the broken glass away from the tyres when I heard a voice;

‘I’m sorry…so sorry…but we were having a wake…do you know what a wake is, do you?’

I recognised the accent. It was laced with alcohol and tears and therefore Irish. It came from a man who had a white vest and a tattoo on his chest. ‘A wake,’ he repeated. ‘You know, like Finnegans Wake…‘ Ah, I thought. A Joycean scholar. He came over and shook my hand. ‘My mother died last night and we had to give her a good send-off. We didn’t make too much noise, did we?’

‘No, not at all and I’m very sorry for your trouble, but do you think you can help me move the broken glass from my car?’ Of course, he said, but he didn’t. He just gathered up the unopened cans of booze. ‘Here, do you want some Guinness?’ I declined. There are times when you just accept there is a higher power and your only response is to Accelerate Onwards In Absolute Silence.

We arrived in Galway eight hours later and my PSW and I went into the Atlantic for a swim. The water temperature was 9.6 degrees Celsius. There is only one response to this:

Accelerate Onwards In Absolute Silence.

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