Posts Tagged With: Practical Silesian Wife

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.

Categories: Family, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.

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

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.

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

The PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE gets asked Out On A Date!

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Like all intelligent women who value their health, my PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE went to the oncology unit here in Gliwice to have her breasts checked. Three hours in the waiting room, chatting away to the other worried and hopeful patients, worried and hopeful herself because no-one knows more than doctors what breed of lurking demons your body can propel against you.

She left with good news, and unlocking her bike by the entrance, she was approached by a man who she’d seen in the waiting room with his mother.

‘Hello,’ he said, his head bowed, slightly nervous on account of what he had to say next. ‘I was wondering if I could have your phone number…and maybe…eh…we could meet? For a coffee?’

My PSW smiled, thanked him for his interest but admitted she was married with kids.

‘This was remarkable,’ she told me later.

‘What’s so remarkable?’ I asked. ‘You’re an attractive woman, in the full bloom of life – don’t be so hard on yourself.’

But like most Polish women, my PSW can’t take a compliment, making a face as if she’d just ingested a tarantula cookie baked by Angelina Jolie.

‘What was remarkable is him asking me out after seeing me in the waiting room – for all he knows, I could be sick, yet he didn’t care – how many Polish men would do this?’

I told her I didn’t know how many Polish men would take a chance and ask out a potentially sick woman. I don’t have these conversations with my male friends here.

But it’s a damn good question. So let me set the scene: you meet a woman in hospital, she’s got a body like a Coke bottle, when she walks she jiggles like jelly on a plate, the top half of her at least, down below she’s got well-sprung thighs like a thrilling, adolescent Impala and every time she looks in your direction your pants snap about two-inches shorter.

You get talking to her and boy oh boy, the sequence of the words coming out her mouth tells you she’s funny and smart and the feeling in your groin dissipates, moves north until your heart is subsumed with an analgesic glow! So what do you do? Ask her out? Yes, by god! But hold on – time-out for a minute. Your emotions are still marching upwards, the warm, chocolate feeling in your chest as been replaced by a cold logic forming like icicles in your brain as you wonder, ‘what is she doing here in hospital? What’s wrong with her?’

You start to look at your dream girl afresh; perhaps you actually mistook her smile for a grimace? Could it be her alluring sallow skin is nothing but a peculiar tint of jaundice and oh my god – she’s just after scratching her nose – isn’t that the first sign of intestinal parasites? Jesus H. Christ! Do I really need to be dating a woman with parasites – if we share the same comb will they get passed on to me?

Would I be wrong in saying that most men would give up on asking her out, put their head down and continue on their way? Hands up, honestly, how many of you would take the chance? How many of you would say, ‘aw fuck it, I don’t care if her rare blood disorder turns her into a vegetable in six months time – I’ll wipe her ass and make her all the chicken soup she needs.’

No, I didn’t think so.

But the guy in the oncology waiting room didn’t mind and my wife admired this man who spoke with a strong Silesian accent. He was no Clooney, she said, a little rough around the edges, but deep down he reaffirmed her belief in the essential decency of Polish men.

Yep, there’s a good guy out there somewhere, either that or he was the one with the rare disease and wanted some sucker to look after him.

Categories: Family, Humorous, Poland | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Live And Let Die

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I’ve been doing a lot of travelling over the last few weeks, but my shortest and most unexpected journey occurred last Friday – the hospital across the road from where I live.

I’d just finished a bit of writing and was geeing myself up to pick the girls from kindergarten. All was good. The Irish Times newspaper had just gotten in touch with me about publishing my travel blog and I expressed my excitement in typical male fashion; I went to the toilet.

Sitting on the throne and feeling a bit wheezy from the summer pollens, I took a quick toot on my alvesco inhaler. That’s when the bathroom started spinning. The midday light grew dim and curtains of grey appeared on either side of my eyes. And when those curtains started closing over I knew something was wrong.

What? I don’t know. My heart felt fine. It was probably the only part of me that did. I stood up but my legs turned to jelly and I gripped the sink like it was my only friend in the world. Still those curtains kept moving shut. Shit, I thought, I can’t let this happen. I don’t want to be found with my pants around my ankles and an inhaler in my hand, like I was involved in some Michael Hutchence sex-game. I slapped myself hard across the face to keep from going under – once, twice – it bought me enough time to phone my PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE. The following is what I remember of that call;

‘Peadar…are you okay…?’

‘The room is spinning…I’m short of breath…what do I do?’

‘You need to find a plastic bag and breathe into it.’ What? A plastic bag? Six years of medical training and this is her advice? I’m having a catastrophic episode and she wants me to hunt down a bin-liner? If I broke my leg would she be asking me to lick a frog?

‘I can’t see any bag…everything’s getting dark…’

‘Then get out of the apartment, go to the neighbours – I’m on my way.’

I struggled to the kitchen and poured water over my face. The grey hue lifts. The apartment stops spinning a little but I’m still feeling like I’ve been catapulted into a bear.

The neighbours. Should I call on their door? They’re good people, but I don’t want to freak them out. I’ve a habit of freaking out neighbours. Back in Ireland, I had a house-party for my nineteenth birthday. This was two days before Christmas and my rowdy cohorts were getting up to all sorts of mischief. My then neighbour, a gruff, regular man, was worried about his property so he had his back door open listening to our crazy antics. Thing is, a terribly nice fellow we’ll call David C. had imbued a glass or two of sherry and didn’t he get a little confused. He climbed into my neighbour’s garden and went to the toilet against the back door, which was open, effectively pissing on my neighbour’s face.

There occurred a brief and frank expression of ideas, with several promises being made regarding David’s mortality.

I thought of all this as I knocked on my Polish neighbour’s door. Their daughter Ola appeared smiling at this man who was struggling to maintain his vertical hold on the world.

‘Ola, can you take me to the hospital? I know this sounds like a joke but there’s something wrong with me…’

‘Oh sure, no problem,’ she said nonchalantly, as if she routinely helped idiot Irishmen in the middle of unexplained disintegrations. She got me to the hospital but for some reason they didn’t want to admit me. I think they heard I was Irish and assumed I was merely drunk. Then my mother-in-law appeared and she’s stopping me from falling over while simultaneously berating the staff for not giving two shits about the father of her grandchildren – then it hits me – the girls! I’ve got to pick them up! Only I can’t as my PSW has arrived and suddenly I’m on a stretcher and a bag of electrolites is being pumped into my arm.

Later than night, at home, lying in bed and trying to make some sense out of what happened to me, I thought about my gruff neighbour. Over twenty years ago, he would have been the same age then as I am now. This is the way it is when you’re forty, be it in Ireland or Poland. Sometimes there’s no reason for it. Sometimes life sneaks up and pisses all over your face.

Categories: Random Incidents | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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