Monday, 31 March 2008


It's the first hot day of spring. Kraków, being quite a pretty city to stroll in, is full of couples holding hands and slobbering all over each other.

What they are neglecting to remember is that over the next five to ten years they'll both become fat, he'll start to lose hair while she starts to gain it, any desire to see each other naked will be totally extinguished, and they'll spend most of their time wondering how on earth to escape from the other's company.

Love is a delusion, caused by physical chemical changes in the body. We cling to it because we mistakenly believe that it will save us from dying alone.

It's all a cruel joke. I intend to re-train as a biochemist, invent an antidote, and empty it into the public water supply...

Sunday, 30 March 2008

I don't think you're ready for this jelly...

The unthinkable has happened.

I've started to like Polish food.

Not all of it, you understand. I can stomach a serving of mixed surówki, but I'm not going to volunteer for a plate of hardcore kapusta kiszone. While I love really dry kabanosy and some kinds of kiełbasa krakowska, I'm not awfully keen on that fat lard stuff you're supposed to spread on bread. And in terms of hot meals, realistically I can only manage about one a month. (as opposed to five in one night: do bear in mind this is about average for a typical Polish holiday/wedding/christening etc.).

On the other hand, when I was home a few weeks ago, something seemed to be wrong with normal UK products. I noticed that the bread was sort of soft. It had a kind of funny nothingy sweet taste (generic, like the American-flavoured sauces you get in Subway). There was none of that satisfying chewiness or slightly sour tang you get in dark bread here where you can really taste the rye/sunflower seeds/pumpkin seeds (there you go, I was about to write 'dynia', hurrah, I'm going native!).

And the yoghurts. My family (or my Dad at least) still nod allegiance to the Weetabix diet from time to time, and as a result there's always a clutch of WeightWatcher's yoghurts in the fridge.

They taste awful.

There's no real fruit flavour. Even the 'bits' are fake. They're runny and not filling. And the taste of aspartame lingers in your mouth all day. Yuck.

Give me Milko jogurt pitny or Jogobella any day. I'd even rather drink Kefir.

When I get a protein craving (which usually happens when I've been overdoing the obwarzanków - yes, more than five), there's nowhere better to be: kabanosy, oscypek, smoked ham... mmm...

In this spirit, the night before last, I went to the chiller at the back of the local shop downstairs and picked out a pot of galaretka.
This is Polish for 'leftovers in jelly' (a very apt translation from one of my former flatmates).
It looks like this:

But in the one I bought, there was more jelly. And some very fibrous turkey.

I must have been on a serious protein mission, or why would I ever have imagined I liked this variety of comestible?

Needless to say, as soon as it was on the plate, I realised how hard it was going to be extract turkey, eggs and peas from jelly. Suddenly there was nothing I wanted to eat less than this rubbery, resisting, globular substance. I had a flashback to 'cold meat and salad' circa 1987 and the action of trying to scrape any possible traces of aspic jelly from clammy day-old chicken breast.

There's a lesson here.
1/ Products which derive from the melted hooves of anything are Strictly Not Edible.
2/ However natural and wholesome Polish food may be, not all of it tastes nice. And much of it loses major points in terms of texture.
3/ Never trust anything you find in the freezer at the back of the sklep spożywczy, particularly if there are green bars on the windows and the checkout girl has more tattoos than your ex-metalhead neighbour back home.

If you are not familiar with this kind of food, report to Polskie Delikatesy,
117 St John's Hill, Sevenoaks, without delay.


Saturday, 29 March 2008


I still miss Car Guy...

... but my aim is improving all the time.

Monday, 24 March 2008

The Modern girl's guide to dealing with emergencies, part II.

Situation 2: Locked out on a Bank Holiday

Our Modern Young Woman, dog-sitting in a friend's flat for the festive season, takes said canine companion out for a pee call and leaves the keys on the kitchen table, picking up instead the keys to her own flat. The door slams shut, with her mobile phone, credit cards and glasses behind it. It is the first day of a double bank holiday and Everything In Poland is closed. What should she do?
Follow the simple steps below, and do not, under any circumstances, panic...

- Alone on Easter Sunday, feel a sudden longing for a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon
- Trek out to the nearest all-night garage (the only thing legally open in Poland on a religious holiday)
- Return to friend's flat, put groceries, keys and mobile phone on kitchen table
- Put lead on dog and pick up keys to own flat
- Leave flat
- Door swings shut
- Put hand in pocket to get keys to lock door

- No keys

- Try to open door

- Door will not open

- Try own keys in door
- Door will not open
- Rattle door a bit
- Door will not open

- Cry
- Remember that bottle of gas-station Spanish plonk is still on kitchen table, and cry a bit harder.

- Ignore whimpering noises coming from now rather desperate dog.
- Resist urge to sink to floor and cry.
- Ring on neighbours' doorbells. No answer.
- Untwist wire from keyring to make amateur lock-picking equipment (you saw this once on McGyver)
- Fiddle with wire in lock
- Wire becomes jammed in lock
- Prick finger on wire and swear loudly

- Hear voices upstairs
- Run upstairs
- Trot out the now well-worn phrase "Czy Pan może mi pomoc?"
- Neighbour descends carrying baby
- Try to explain situation in very garbled Polish
- Neighbour says: "You can speak in English"
- Try to explain situation in very garbled English
- Neighbour: 'So where are the keys?"
- You: "Inside"
- Neighbour: "And the door is locked?"
- You "Yes"
- Neighbour: "Is there a window open?"
- You: "No"

- Neighbour laughs like drain

- Neighbour's wife descends. They discuss and then call other neighbours
- It's becoming quite a party
- You reckon that one of the windows is good for prising open
- Three neighbours, one child, two dogs and you troop outside

- Dog pees, at great length, and with noticeable relief

- Neighbour 2 climbs up onto windowsill
- Attempt to explain (in Polish) to Neighbour 2 that you could probably slide window latch up with a knife (you saw this on McGyver too)
- Window does not open

- Three neighbours, one child, two dogs and you troop inside again
- Neighbour one and family leave to see relatives
- Neighbour 2 goes upstairs to fetch tools

- Sit on floor and try to explain matters to dog

- Neighbour 2 returns, with torch and tools
- Neighbour picks lock with screwdriver
- You are very impressed

- Door does not open

- Neighbour unscrews plate around lock and pokes around in mechanism
- You are even more impressed

- Door does not open

- Neighbour tries to prise door open using screwdriver as lever
- You are slightly nervous

- Door does not open

- Neighbour 1 returns, drives you and dog to your own flat, and lends you some money for food/phonecards.

- You officially love your friend's neighbours

- You and dog settle down for the evening back home with tvn and Marmite sandwiches

- You consider taking a hot shower but decide this would be pushing your luck...

Thursday, 20 March 2008

The modern girl's guide to dealing with emergencies

During the course of her day-to-day life, the modern woman will often be confronted with situations which require urgent action.

Under such circumstances, it is important not to panic.

What, for example, would our grandmothers have done when faced with a gas boiler which refuses to ignite? They would have played the game and pulled it off with pluck and determination. Here is a short guide for the Modern Young Woman on how to keep her chin up and not funk it in minor emergencies.
(also available as a pull-out section in your weekly Bunty or Judy)

Hypothetical Situation no. 1: the Gas Leak

Our modern young woman, alone in the flat for the festive period, goes to the bathroom, attempts to have a shower and finds that the gas boiler does not ignite. What should she do? Follow the simple steps below to remain calm, poised and in control in any situation.

- Turn tap off. Cross fingers. Turn tap on again.
- Thump side of boiler.
- Fiddle with slightly loose knob at bottom of boiler. Pilot light goes out. Knob comes off in hand. Panic a little.
- Fetch oven-lighter from kitchen. Turn knob again. Try to re-ignite pilot light using oven-lighting equipment.
- Pilot light comes back. Feel slight relief.
- Turn on tap. No flames.

- Call flatmate.
- Have scrambled early-morning conversation in Polglais and learn that flatmate (who is younger and blonder) got neighbour to help last time.
- Try tap again. No joy.

- Call landlord. No answer. Leave voice message and texts.

- Dress and try to rouse neighbours. Realise that everyone else starts work earlier than you, you lazy piece of foreign scum.

- Phone rings. Landlord.
- Have second garbled early-morning conversation in Polglais. Landlord tells you to poke a fire-resistant rigid object into the boiler until it works.
- Fetch fork from kitchen.
- Poke fork around in boiler. Nothing.
- Remove fork.
- Accidentally burn fingers on hot end of fork and swear loudly.

- Start to worry about leaking gas.
- Open windows.
- Put jumper on.

- Call boss.
- Leave voicemail message explaining that you may be late for work.

- Begin to feel light-headed.

- Switch on computer to try and find plumber.
- Type 'hydraulik, Kraków, ogrzewanie' into Google. Fail to understand response.
- Notice that ex-boyfriend is on line.
- Call ex-boyfriend.
- Be careful to insist that, while on reflection you would rather talk to said gentleman than be gassed to death in a horrible manner, it's really a very tough one to call.
- Ex-boyfriend tells you to poke fork around in boiler until it works again.
- Burn fingers. Swear.

- Phone rings. Boss.
- Insist that everything is Absolutely Under Control and you will be in the office shortly.

- Hear footsteps and voices on landing
- Run outside to see two strapping young men lifting a washing machine into the flat next door.
- This is perfect. If you can contrive to cry, do so. Get them into your flat At All Costs.
- Test boiler. No luck. Strapping Young Man no 1. tells you to call mechanic.

- Call landlord and tell him you are calling mechanic.
- Landlord tells you he is out of town but please wait for his wife to arrive before doing anything rash.

- Go back to internet and try to decipher plumber's website.
- Call Dad.
- Under no circumstances is it appropriate to cry unless you are in the presence of Men Who May Be Useful (or whom you like the look of).
- Resist urge to pour medicinal shot of Bechorovka.

- Go back to bathroom and try tap again.
- Replace knob and turn. Pilot light goes out again.
- Re-ignite pilot light, poke with fork, and notice tiny blue flame-buds.
- Turn knob in other direction.


- Call landlord and tell him that boiler works.
- Get in shower.
- Doorbell rings.

- Try very hard to be polite to landlord's wife in Polish while wearing a towel.

- Repeat to self: 'It's going to be ok. Everything's going to be ok'.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

An die Freude

(Warning! This post may include political content!)

Last night I switched on the tv and was confronted with the careful tones of Lech Kaczyński (but I had to check the info feed at the bottom of the screen) holding forth against the Lisbon Treaty, against a backdrop of two gay men signing their wedding vows.
Forgive my misinterpretation of his perspective (= treaty >> charter of human rights >> gay marriage >> The Fall of Polish Society): I don't speak heem very good the Polish yet.

'Joyful, Joyful, we adore Thee' is a staple of the Oregon Catholic Hymnal (stay with me). There are several different versions of this particular rejoicing hymn, for each season of the year, and they all fit the same tune (Beethoven's Ode to Joy).

Sitting in the organ loft playing through the hymns for this weekend, I reflected on how many Centre-Right Catholic Poles in our congregation would unwittingly be singing the European Union anthem this Easter Sunday...

Monday, 17 March 2008

I must not tell lies about spaghetti monsters and I must not lose my gloves

N.B. This post is shamelessly lifted from a totally brilliant children's book** whose publishers I hope are not going to sue me...

Day 1

John* Patrick Norman McHennessy set out along the road to learn.

On the way, she couldn't find Waterloo Station. So as not to miss the last train home, she decided to run to Charing Cross station across the river. Suddenly, a freak tidal wave roared down the Thames and threatened to sweep her off the bridge altogether. As fast as she could she dashed towards the riverbank with the tidal wave at her heels. She made it to the last train and flopped down in an empty carriage, but she was late for school and she lost a glove.

- John Patrick Norman McHennessy, you are late, and you have lost your glove.

- Write out, in 5000 words for Monday morning, 'I must not tell lies about tidal waves and I must not lose my gloves'

Day 2

John Patrick Norman McHennessy set out along the road to learn.

On the way, she ducked into the Italian Cultural Institute to watch a film. As she sat in the dark, an Immense Oily Monster made entirely of Spaghetti alle Vongole slid its tentacles out from under her seat and began to entwine them around her neck. In the half-light, she wrestled with the monster in silence, so as not to disrupt the film. Finally, she managed to escape its clutches and she ran, with stray clams still nipping at her ears, while the monster slithered back to the library, brandishing her gloves in its slimy tentacle.

- John Patrick Norman McHennessy, you are late for school, and you have lost another pair of gloves.

- Write out, in 5,500 words by Tuesday morning 'I must not tell lies about spaghetti monsters, and I must not lose my gloves'.

Day 3

John Patrick Norman McHennessy set out along the road to learn.

On the way, a butterfly hiccuped whilst in flight above Wawel Castle. This roused the Kraków dragon from his slumbers under Wawel Hill, and in his fury he swept across town on his powerful wings and flew in through the open window on the ninth floor of the languages building. Without thinking, JPNMcH grabbed hold of the dragon's tail and a mad flight ensued. As they soared out of the window, her hat was knocked off against the window frame.
Afterwards, she went back to the language lab to look for the hat, but it was nowhere to be found.

- John Patrick Norman McHennessy, you are late for school, and you have lost your hat.

- Write out, in 6000 words for Wednesday morning: 'I must not tell lies about dragons, and I must not lose my hat'.

Day 4

John Patrick Norman McHennessy set out along the road to learn.

On the way, she bowled a strike. When she tried to bowl in the next round, her fingers stuck in the small finger-holes on the bowling ball. Before she knew it, she was trundling down the alley towards the skittles, and then, horror of horrors, she was sucked into the bowling alley and returned via the pulley system, still stuck to the ball. Fortunately, she managed to extricate her fingers, but she left behind a second hat.

- John Patrick Norman McHennessy, you are late again and you have lost yet another hat.

- Write out 7000 times: 'I must not tell lies about being sucked into bowling alleys, and I must stop losing hats'.

Day 5:

John Patrick Norman McHennessy set out along the road to learn.

On the way, nothing happened. The sun shone, the trams trundled, people tried to hand her leaflets about credit ratings.

John Patrick Norman McHennessy, I am trapped here in the corner by an over-imaginative Brit with reverse kleptomania who insists on giving me directions in bad Polish. I insist you come to my rescue At Once.

- Sir. There are no such things as over-imaginative Brits with reverse kleptomania who insist on giving directions in bad Polish.

And John Patrick Norman McHennessy set out along the road to learn.

*It should really be Joanna, cos the heroine of the story in this case is clearly a girl, but that would spoil the rhythm.
** John Patrick Norman McHennessy, the Boy who was Always Late, by John Burningham
Interview with John Burningham
Book list, British Council

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Shameless plug

So in case you were looking for something to read at the weekend (switch the PC off, go outside and play in the sunshine! Unless you live in the UK of course. Or Katowice.), and you were wondering why this boring old blogger can't find something daft to do so she has something new to write about, well here's an exciting new collaborative blog about Poland for your perusal:

It's called Polandian, and it's pretty damn cool I can tell you. Full of lots of different and exciting things about Poland, and plenty to keep you occupied in that awkward forty minutes when lunch was too long ago and it's too early for a tea break (and no-one else is on facebook cos they've all got Real Work to do).

I wrote a Whole Post on it once and I'm trying to post a second one but I've lost the draft on Wordpress somewhere. Confusion reigns...

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Moim zdaniem

We're racing ahead now at the language school. To give us a chance to flex our frontal lobes, our teacher has started setting up mini debates in class.

At the moment, for example, we're studying a chapter on professions. There are three of us, so the debate follows a Pro/Con/mediator format, with roles allocated by our all-powerful Polish teacher.

For some reason, I never seem to get the mediator role...

Because Polish is not the easiest idiom in which to express your opinion, we've been equiped with several key phrases to help us structure our debate.

'In my opinion,' I began, 'A doctor is a terrible profession! It is boring and monotonous!'

'I disagree with you!' said my Hungarian classmate, 'Doctors meet lots of different people! They help to solve problems!'

'No- you are wrong!' I continued, 'They always meet the same people. In doctor's surgeries there are always old women in mohair berets. It is not interesting!'

My classmate looked at me and put on a grave pout:

- Wiesz co... she said, wagging a serious finger at me... 'wiesz co...'

The sound of helpless Polish giggles reached us from the front of the classroom...

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

U fryzjera

I know. It's a title that makes you fear the worst.

At the weekend, I had a self-grooming 'accident' with the pair of kitchen scissors that I nicked (inadvertently) from my sister's kitchen on the way back from Edinburgh in August.*

An old friend in St Andrews once expressed his bewilderment at the relationship between female emotions and hairstyles (I remember reading something about this in Massolit but I can't remember which section I found it in):

- You want to change your life... so you change... your hair?

he exclaimed, utterly stupefied by the irrationality of it all.

At a certain point mid-way through the weekend, following several litres of Zywiec and one of those disastrous inadvertent networking incidents where you suddenly realise through a boozy haze that the person you are talking to would potentially be an excellent professional contact if you only had a business card on you and if you weren't a good pint or two beyond the point where you are able to make a decent impression in two different foreign languages damn Pauza and its generous barmen...

... at a certain point mid-way through the weekend I decided to rid myself of cumbersome excess keratin by taking the scissors to the stuff. I've always dreamed of doing this and then running away in disguise. It felt good. Even minus the running away part.

The next morning I woke up racked with a nagging sense of some major infraction committed against conventional sanity and with several hundred little salt-mine gnomes hammering away at the back of my right eyeball. I lurched into the bathroom via a decade or two in reverse until I was confronted with 1987 staring back at me from the mirror. Sudden memories of months spent pinning back a growing fringe with hair slides and that achingly trendy velvet padded alice-band at the age of around seven and a half flashed across my consciousness.

To cut a long story short (a boom-ching) it needed sorting out, and fast. A cunningly-arranged bandanna very rapidly ceases to look cool once you reach the office on a Monday morning. Resisting the urge to curl up and dye (groan), I left the house and, with a hop, a snip (oh for heaven's sake) and a jump, presented myself at Jean Louis David on Monday after work.

Now I know, I know that in these chain places they simply look at the card in the brochure and cut your hair like what it's supposed to be in the picture, but I'm simply not ready for some trendy little student salon on Karmelicka or for babcia-driven terror in a tiny traditional place by Nowy Kleparz. I googled 'fryzjer, Kraków' (Google is the translator's best friend) and stumbled across one or two forums, mostly headed 'Kawiarnia'. The reviews were mixed, and in the end it looked as though a chain salon in the centre of town (ul. Szewska) would be the safest bet.
I couldn't work out why all the contributors to the forum talked about 'maszyny' though. Machines? What was all that about?

Shortly I was sitting facing the mirror.

- So, what can we do for you?
- Uhh... I cut my hair** myself (insert 'when drunk' as required) and I don't like it." I admitted. "It's a mess."

The girl nodded and smiled, knowingly.

I have some problems with spatial awareness in Polish. If it's not 'z', it's 'po' or 'przy' or even 'nad', and I can never remember which is which. So when someone says 'Head back' to me in Polish, chances are I'm going to tilt it forwards, up or down or simply turn and stare out of the window.

We proceeded via a trial-and-error approach, until eventually I simply allowed the hairdresser to manipulate my head until it was facing in the right direction.

I have no intention of risking a bikini wax here.

Oh yes, and the 'maszyny'? Electric clippers. Instead of scissors. My ears have never felt so nervous...

*Funny story actually. My suitcase burst, and, in taping it up (if you've never bought electrical tape go out and get some immediately: you have no idea how useful it is - for both practical and cosmetic purposes- until you've had it once and tried to live without it) I managed to tape her scissors into the lining of the case. They popped out attached to the end of a pair of tights or similar when I unpacked in Kraków.

** Geeky vocab corner!! I'm slightly afraid of the Polish word for 'fringe' - grzywka - because to my phonemically-British mind it's all too close to 'dziwka' (tart - in the non-dessert sense). Incidentally, the Polish for 'a joker' or 'a nut' seems to be 'dziwak'. The plurals appear to be the same.

It was some time before I worked out that Eska Rock (radio station in Kraków) was actually advertising 'jokers on the phone' at breakfast time on a Monday morning.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Desperately seeking ...

Faced with imminent homelessness (don't worry, it's all ok now), I've been surfing the small ads on trying to find the flat of my dreams (see below). Unfortunately it's not as much fun as you'd think, and after the first twenty 'bezkonfliktowany, sympatyczny' flatmate-hunters, at the point when you realise that it's simply not going to be possible to get a room of your own for under 1000PLN any closer than Katowice, your attention starts to wander...

... to the dating section.

I started with 'chłopak szuka dziewczyny' (boy seeks girl- a logical starting point). After a while- apart from the fact that some adverts were compulsively re-posted over a number of days (what was so persistently wrong with these guys??)- a few common themes emerged.
'Guy over thirty seeks long term relationship'; 'looking for the girl of my dreams'; 'are you The One?' and so on.

I've noticed that Poles settle down early. It seems that if you're not paired off and sprogged up by twenty-eight, people start to think there's something wrong with you and concerned members of your extended family start inviting round eligible parties of the relevant sex to obiad in a not-awfully-subtle attempt to make something happen.
No wonder the dating pages are full of desperate men panicking because the right Magda, Ania or Kasia hasn't yet materialized (if she has any sense she's likely to be found drinking pints and snogging her ESOL teacher).
I was also quite surprised by the number of 'age 21/22/23' posting ads. Although I didn't check the content for fear of cradle-snatching. What's the rush, for heaven's sake? And at 21, how hard can it be to get a cuddle behind the bike stands after your Polonistyka lecture?

I also checked out 'dziewczyna szuka chłopaka' (it's wise to keep your options open). Again, lots of 'seeking stable relationship'. But also, sadly: 'looking for a normal guy'. I guess these are thin on the ground here.

Disheartened, I entered the euphemistically-named 'towarzyskie' (socialising) section.
Instead of going straight to the ads, I was faced with an extra screen urging me to search my conscience (and check my ID card) and to look away now if I happened to be under the age of eighteen. Intrigued, I opened the London gumtree site so I could compare the two.

It was somewhat different. Apart from Yann the Austrian computer scientist, seeking perfect girl to fulfil twelve simple criteria for life-long partnership, the ads were a lot more casual. More 'let's go for a drink and see how we get on' than 'I Want To Find The Girl I Can Take Home To My Mum For Nalewki And Cake Immediately'. As for the 'no strings attached' (which I supposed to be loosely equivalent to 'socialising') section, there was no sign of a prudish screen to protect you from 'overweight Tory from Stoke Newington seeking furry love with two Alsatians in a Toyota'.

How ever would the alsatians type the reply?


... a Work of Evil Genius.

Otherwise known as iced coffee from Pożegnanie z Afryką.

Warning. If they offer you chocolate sauce, Just Say No.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

A Dark Tale

In a dark, dark town,

there was a dark, dark street.

On that dark, dark street,

there was a dark, dark gate.

Through the dark, dark gate,

there was a dark, dark block.

In that dark, dark block,

there was a dark, dark stair.

Up the dark, dark stair,

there was a dark, dark hall.

Along the dark, dark hall,

there was a dark, dark door.

Through that dark, dark door,

there was a dark, dark flat.

And in that dark, dark flat...

... were three clueless girls wondering what on earth to do about the fusebox on the landing.

Monday, 3 March 2008



Lovely flat, one bedroom, day room, kitchen corner. Clean bathroom, no u-bend reflux.
Enough room for a (small) upright piano. Deaf neighbours preferred (upstairs, downstairs and on either side).

Flawless fast broadband internet and cable television in four languages.

Hot water in the mornings please, even if everyone else in the building is taking a shower at the same time.
Gas boiler should not be located directly above bath taps, nor should it be within range of the shower.

Preference will be shown for oven door which stays shut without a chair leaning against it and power points which do not produce sparks. Ideally no pigeons exist within two-mile radius.

Intoxicated early-morning strollers will lose voices while walking past building.

Kind acquaintance (with Y chromosome) will live nearby for help with shelves, spiders and the odd wistful evening.*

And there will be big windows with a view of the open sky, for staring.

All for under 900PLN bills included.

Any offers??

*Gosh this is getting sentimental. I'm starting to sound like a Pole.

Delikatesy II and the friendly traffic warden

I think I've mentioned before how much I love walking in Sevenoaks with my Dad because he knows everyone. It's impossible to get anywhere in less than an hour.

On Saturday morning I was overcome by curiosity and finally persuaded him to stroll along to the Polish deli with me so I could get my ogórek fix.

It was a beautiful sunny day (thanks greenhouse gases). Rounding the corner, we saw a man in a green gilet with a PDA marking out long slow strides along the edge of the pavement.

- Oh that chap used to work for the bank

said Dad.

- used to see him on the station in the mornings. Retired and works as a traffic warden.

We waved and he crossed the road to say hello. Before long he was telling us about the quirks of his job: how nice it was to be out in the fresh air all the time, and how annoying it was to get caught by cameras in box junctions and so on.

- I tell them you can always appeal. Usually it works. And you always have to check- it's illegal to issue a ticket unless you're absolutely sure. That's why I was counting out the paces for that one.

He indicated the car stationed precariously on the double yellow line on the corner of a t-junction. A woman had unlocked the rear door and was buckling a child into a safety seat.

- There you go, she's back now. Ah well we'll leave it then.

- Once I found myself booking my own car. I thought: hang on... there's something funny here: my car's in the garage at home. So I called my wife and sure enough...

Entering the deli was brilliant: less cluttered than Kefirek but still like stepping back across the border. On the door were little scraps of paper with small ads scrawled on them:

...'poszukuje pokoju'... 'tlumaczenie angielski-polski'... 'korepeticja' etc. And it was strange seeing St John's school referred to as 'Swietego Jana'...

- Dzien dobry!

said the guy behind the counter, and I was a little taken aback. Was the clientele exclusively Polish then?

Later in the day I realised why he had taken me for a Pole:

- What's that on your coat?

said my friend, pointing;

- some kind of Polish mafia symbol?

I looked down and saw a red heart-shaped sticker... 'Wielka Orkiestra Swietecznej Pomocy'.

Sunday, 2 March 2008


For some reason I prefer sitting at the back of the plane. The Worst-Case Scenario Travel Handbook, in the chapter on 'How to survive a plane crash' says: "The odds of surviving a crash are higher in the middle-to-rear section compared to the middle-to-front section of the cabin".

Also, you can eavesdrop on the cabin crew, which is always a good way to add interest to an otherwise routine and uneventful flight.

Awaiting take-off, one of our orange-clad friends passed me doing a final headcount with the clicky thingy and I heard him exclaim
- No, it's no good, I'm still getting 156
before setting off down the aisle again with the clicker.

I watched him reach the front of the cabin, and a few moments later there was an announcement over the intercom.

- Ladies and gentlemen, we do apologise for the delay to today's take-off, this is due to a discrepancy between the number of passengers in the paperwork and the number of people on the plane and we are unable to take off until this discrepancy has been resolved.

There appeared to be fervent discussion near the front exits.

After a moment, the head of the cabin crew took the mic.

- Ladies and gentlemen, this flight is shortly to depart for London Gatwick. If there is anyone on the plane who does not have a ticket to London Gatwick, we do advise you to get off the plane as quickly as possible.

Subdued mirth. People started to get their boarding passes out.

Finally, the all-British crew managed to find someone to make the announcement in Polish:

- Szanowni Panstwo! W krotce ... [uhh... etc...]

Subdued mirth among the Polish speakers on the plane and more restrained commotion at the front of the cabin.

Several minutes later, the plane was taxiing towards the runway...