Posts Tagged With: Poland

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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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?

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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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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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How To Be Boring

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I’m trying to figure out what’s wrong with the Poles? What is their problem? What is their major malfunction when it comes to pubs and how to behave in them? There’s a strong streak of Teutonic conformity in Silesia and perhaps this is why every pub I walk into resembles a finishing school for neutered Japanese robots.

You see, in the Land of Po no-one stands in the pub. They all sit. And talk. Quietly. Everyone perfectly placed at their tables, all right angles, elbows off the table in true Prussian fashion, conversing, using certified vowel sounds to establish their likes/dislikes on whatever method of carbon extraction is currently in vogue.

Worse than that, they plan their night out to the pub.

A friend of mine, Agata, asked me to go and watch Arsenal have their bottoms spanked by Barcelona in the Champions League. Then she called back to say she couldn’t go to the pub in question as they were showing Bayern V Juventus.

‘How did you know?’ I asked her.

‘Oh, I called to reserve us a table.’

Reserve? What? Reserve a table? In a pub?

But here is the mortuary-slab  upon which the whole strangled and molested corpse of Poland lies.

Of course, Agata was able to save herself a journey and the crushing disappointment of having to watch the Bavarian pig farmers battle the sneaky gigolos of Turin, and I’m sure sixty years from now she’ll die happy knowing she saved ten precious minutes, which she no doubt put to better use by removing dead relatives from under the floorboards or buying skinny jeans for her partner Marcin.

Good for her, but I couldn’t dedicate such precision to going on the piss. I have enough strategies and deadlines as it is, what with having to pick up kids, pay bills, and avoid MI6 assassins. Can I imagine phoning a pub in Ireland and asking them to reserve a table? No. I can’t. My brain won’t allow it. It’s actually easier for me to imagine David Cameron getting a blowjob off a pig than incurring the wrath of the bar staff at Sheridan’s pub on Clybaun Road, Galway. Jesus, the next time I went in, they’d turn me into a table, a ping-pong table only with rocks instead of ping-pong balls.

‘But if I don’t reserve a table I’ll have to stand,’ cry the Poles reading this.

Is sitting such a precious commodity for you? Most pub-going Poles are healthy and strong, with well-sprung thighs from riding wild boars through the grunwald. Okay, perhaps, forty years ago, after nineteen hours crouched in a mine, lungs rotting in your chest and some Communist party overlord limiting the air supply, then, yes, I’ll allow you to sit in a pub. But now? Just what have you been doing for most of the day in front of your computer? Unless you’re an exotic dancer or a circus tightrope walker, then sitting should not be that important.

But we know standing isn’t the issue. The problem is the Polish desire to control. They need to sit at the pub table, because if only for an hour or two, nothing unexpected can happen with the two most common thought processes being; ‘If I stay at my table, then the Germans won’t invade’, or ‘If I stay at my table, I won’t meet anyone new and then I can go home and feel bad about myself for another week and eventually rely on an dating-site algorithm to maximise my mating potential.’

Great. Sit. Next time bring your slippers and it’ll be like you never left home. Get your grandmother to come too, spitting out her false teeth every time she does a kashanka burb.

And I wouldn’t mind, but the last time I was out with Agata, watching Marcin’s band, Penelope Cruz Fanclub, we had a great night standing at the back, bumping into people, making new friends, you know, not being boring.

Note:

I know the photo has nothing to do with the article, but my old laptop got bandjaxed and I’ve only a few photos on the new machine. Still, it’s a nice photo of me and the kids up at the great Polish lakes.

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How Two Little Girls In Poland Can Be Irish

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While canoeing the great lakes of Mazury, my eldest daughter turned to me and said she would like to learn Irish. Come, come Lilly, I said. There are many other languages for you to master, tongues useful for travelling such as Spanish or Russian. Or why not German where unlike Irish, the laws of grammar can actually be applied coherently and logically? I even offered Italian as an alternative. Not really a language at all, more a catalogue of food names. It is well known that 90% of all Italian is gesticulation, the world’s noisiest body-language, its value essential, no more so when shrugging your way through Rome or grimacing whilst being robbed at knifepoint by Camorra street urchins in Casal di Principe.

But no, with true donkey stubbornness, she insisted on Irish, Ireland’s majority language. Or it was, at least until the mid 19th century when it was purposefully and wilfully thwarted by the rulers of Britain who engineered ‘The Famine’ of 1845-52, killing a million and forcing another million on death-boats to America. Those who remained were evicted from the land and relocated to cities where English became the essential tool of survival.

This is how Irish became a minority language in its own country. Of course, ‘The Famine’ wasn’t really a famine at all, the name is erroneous. Its correct historical title is ‘The Great Hunger’ as there was more food in the country then than there ever has been. But it was guarded from an impoverished Irish peasantry when the potato blight killed their staple food source.

I often wonder what would have happened if a similar scenario befell Poland in the 19th century? Go on, be honest. A quarter of your population aggressively and horrifically removed? Then, simultaneously, your culture and traditions systematically erradicated with an exactitude and diligence that only the world’s greatest Empire can enforce? Tell me, what language would you be speaking now?

Or in the 20th century, if Hitler hadn’t made his Halt Order at Dunkirk, a folly that cost him the war, would there be a Polish language? Imagine the possible resulting scenario; growing up in Poland with German as your first language, the means by which you interact with entertainment and culture, and perversely, the means by which you engage in your Polish traditions and values. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? And the only thing which would make it worse would be if your German rulers fostered an extreme hatred in you towards your native Polish to the extent where it was seen as a backward, idiotic practice. But this is the schizophrenic sensibility we Irish are trapped within, this boisterous little nation who have influenced the culture of the world in the language of our once greatest enemy.

At present both Lilly and Malina speak English and Polish and are learning French. I have negated Irish from my life and that of my daughters based on the qualification that it isn’t useful. Only 3% of Ireland’s population speak Irish as an everyday practicality despite it being a compulsory subject in all secondary schools. It is a dying language that when spoken has all the charm of a crow eating itself in a chimney… And yet somehow it seems important that I acquiesce to my daughter’s wishes.

Sure, perhaps her commitment to the Irish language will be a folly, a laborious luxury which her still childish mind does not fully comprehend. But in the face of accepted bland corporate subservience, it could be a mighty declaration of her heritage, who she is and who I forgot I am. As parents, we are keepers of a flame. We guard it and we pass it on.

To not do so would be negligent. It would limit the intangible mysteries which govern our journey. I speak of course about the imagination, the soul and the values of our antecedents. My daughters would not be here if it weren’t for those who came before them, those lucky ones who survived ‘The Great Hunger.’ They never met their grandfather Peadar Mór, he who taught me Irish when I was four. They never met their great-grandmother Kathleen who left the side of a Kerry mountain at seventeen to nurse in London. They never met their great-grandfather Peter who had a ticket for the Titanic and thanks to the great de Búrca trait of being late, missed the liner’s last stop at Cobh in County Cork.

But through the Irish language and my teaching of it, there is a chance they can meet something of their ancestor’s spirit, their soul, their flame and these two little girls living in Poland, can be Irish.

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How To Laugh At An Atomic Bomb

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By the end of this column I will have you laughing at the holocaust of Hiroshima. Or I will have offended you. It’s your decision really. But did you know that aside from the two atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese, US strategic firebombing during the last seven months of the war, resulted in 500,000 dead civilians and the destruction of 30 – 80% of all their cities?

Intercepted cable communications from Japan tell us that Emperor Hirohito was trying to negotiate a surrender during July 1945, but no, the Americans had a new toy to test. One that would send a message to Uncle Joe Stalin and thus the atomic age was unleashed without warning on an already defeated country. Be in no doubt, Japan was an abattoir, the Dresden experience writ large on an entire country. And more; the extermination of almost a quarter of a million people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki a war crime ignored by the greater part of world society.

Can you imagine the self-pity, bitterness and injustice that the Japanese must feel? No? Neither can the Japanese. They don’t do self-pity. They don’t waste time blaming. They move forward. They rebuild. Why is it then, that Poland is in the state it is currently in? Yes, the Poles also suffered horrendously during WW2. And like the Japanese you are a talented people, with great natural resources, located geographically at the most advantageous point in Europe. So why in 2015, do parts of Warsaw look like they have been hit by a plutonium core nuclear bomb? Why does the city of Zabzre with a population of 190,000, look like the epicentre of the world’s largest zombie conflict? Why do certain media outlets and politicians regurgitate the events of Katyn, the Warsaw Uprising and Smolensk as a celebration of Poland’s perpetual victimhood? And why, as I write this, is there a grown man, outside my window pissing into a bin in the park where my children play?

Truth be told this man is no worse than those who concocted Poland’s indolent health system that promotes corruption, or those who refuse to do anything about six of Poland’s cities being the most polluted in Europe. Believe me, it’s true, I’m surrounded by four of them and there are days when you have to chew the air and spit it out just before you can breathe it again properly. 

Japan’s schoolteachers doubled as Civil Defence volunteers in light of the country’s reaction to the tsunami and Fukushima nuclear plant explosion. On March11, 2011 the Tokiwa Prefectural Road outside of Tokyo was an untraversable disaster zone. On March15, 2011 repair teams had rebuilt a six-lane highway. That’s four days. Compare it to the length of time it took to build the A1 motorway in Poland. Then again, the Japanese construction workers weren’t constructing the road with substandard underfill while selling the good stuff on the black market.

The Cheat Culture is everywhere in Poland and it travels from the top down. It’s a tragedy that it is devouring modern day Poland. Thank God we have the Japanese and Tsutomo Yamaguchi to make us laugh. A truly lucky man, Tsutomo was minding his own business when the Enola Gay dropped her payload on Hiroshima. As the city was coping with the carnage, he was one of the injured few put on a train to another city where he could receive better treatment. The destination of his train?

Nagasaki. Three days later, he survived the second attack and lived to the ripe old age of 93. But ask yourself, what is the truly amazing thing about that story? Think hard. What is it?

What’s really amazing is that Hiroshima was hit by an atomic bomb and the train system was still working. And on time too, I’ll bet.

Okay, did I make you laugh? Or smile? Did I?

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I Know What You Did Last Summer

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Still touring the Polish/Czech border and between cycling and guzzling beer like a tramp, there have been visits to ‘resorts’ – camping sites with pools, tents and Polish people furiously arguing with their children. Or perhaps they’re playing with them. It’s hard to tell.

Ever the Sherlock Holmes, my PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE believes you can distinguish an affluent resort as there are pistachio shells under the benches instead of cigarette butts. Where I’m currently writing this is full of the latter, sticking to my feet, making me imagine I’ll get toe-cancer if I don’t move.

The unforgiving, bastard, summer-sun, places me under a giant umbrella, between the bar and two medium sized swimming pools. It’s 9.30am and already families are up and about. One is having a breakfast which comprises of a basket of chips, except for the father who’s chain-smoking huge, bent cigarettes. In common with the other ‘resort-men’, he has morphed into a pregnant, middle-aged Korean woman; his eyes narrow, his large belly easily carrying twins, and his man-boobs drooping and sad as if they know they’ll never be caressed by a secret lover under a Tahitian moonlight. He and his wife are taking turns to berate their child, shouting the word ‘smeerch’ at him, which in Polish could either mean ‘stink’ or ‘die’.

Beyond them, three other Korean She-Men are holding court at the Bar, smoking, coughing and laughing, in that order. There are four pints of grey-coloured beer in front of them – ah, the breakfast of champions! One man attempts to blow up an inflatable swimming aid, this brings him two millimetres off a coronary, which his friend instantly cures by thumping him hard across the kidneys. It’s nice to know such medical expertise is close at hand.

By 10am the pool area starts to fill up with women and children. The Polish women are in the main, lithe and attractive, each marked with tattoos seemingly designed to bring attention to their reproductive or waste disposal zones. Most are ferrying large inflatable animals – there’s a giant tortoise being inflated right in front of me, the woman working the foot-pump with manic intensity, giving the impression her right leg is possessed by a Parkinson’s-afflicted demon. Of course being Polish, she’s multi-tasking, simultaneously shouting ‘smeerch’ at her children and killing a wasp with a pink imitation Croc shoe.

Throughout all this, a giant She-Man has been lumbering around the resort calling out the name ‘Magda’ over and over. Flip-flops on his feet, basically two slices of yellow bread with a plastic thong asphyxiating his big toe. He’s wearing a t-shirt that says ‘Pussy Patrol’ and I know that the tiny, tiny, part of me which admires his t-shirt must be crushed without mercy.

‘Magdaaaaa!’ He sounds so forlorn, I feel it behoves me to offer help.

‘Are you looking for your daughter?’

‘Sorry?’

‘Your daughter -she’s lost?’

Suddenly a little dog runs from behind a caravan and jumps into his arms – Madga – whom the man starts kissing with a little too much intensity. Well why not? French-kissing a pet terrier is what holidays are all about.

Next and last, a father and son start playing table tennis. The father is on a mission to crush his son’s spirit, playing with the fury of an adult who came last in every sporting competition of his youth. Somehow my laptop has become their net and I give them a rueful smile – this is how dehydrated Irishmen do confrontation – the father stares back. His unspoken message is imparted, one I imagine in the voice of Ivan Drago from Rocky 5;

‘I must break you…’

The heat, the wasps, the passive smoke – these I can just about handle. But Ivan Drago with a table-tennis bat?

Time to go.

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