Sunday, 29 June 2008


- My colleague has started behaving in an unusual way-
said my friend, Brussels Girl;
- she bought a copy of The Economist and starting underlining good words and expressions.
- uh... I do that... I admitted sheepishly*
- No but she hates The Economist - replied BG. - Only... last week, I used the word 'ramifications' at work and I think it caught her off-guard. What's more, the other day she used 'ramifications' too.
- Oh. I replied. - I'm not sure that I've ever used the word 'ramifications' actually: not even in casual conversation.

Now I'm starting to worry about my own use of English. Maybe I should try and drop in a few ramifications at unexpected moments.

At breakfast: 'If I were to eat a croissant with jam instead of Weetabix, what do suppose would be the the potential digestive ramifications?'

Crossing the road: 'In contact with that lorry I foresee significant bodily ramifications!'

On the cafe terrace: 'One more gin and tonic and tomorrow morning will be coloured by serious ramifications'...

Uxbridge English dictionary definition: 'Ramifications: i) fortifications involving a battering ram. ii) cardinal sin for sheep.'

Must think of some more good words... any ideas??

*Also Le Point, Repubblica and the bilingual airport magazines you get at Krakow Balice.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Pinolona's guide to musical terms

One good thing about living in a house and not an apartment is that you can make as much noise as you like. Also, the social scene is a little calmer here than in Krakow, which means copious choral caterwauling and moody moments over the Moonlight Sonata at midnight.

I'm getting a bit rusty on my old musical terms though. So here's a quick guide.*

I'll count you in. First one to the double bar line wins: and one, and two, and three and four...

piano**: when you don't want to disturb the neighbours too much
forte: when the neighbours are on holiday
mezzo-forte you can't remember whether the neighbours are back yet
crescendo: testing the neighbours' patience
double forte! To hell with the neighbours!!
pianissimo: the neighbours are at the door...

tremolo: the feeling you get when you haven't practised
sforzando: when your heart's not really in it
Maestro: a retro car
Allegro: like eBay, somewhere you mustn't log on to when drunk

strolling to the pub speed
: when you're late for the pub
Ritenuto: when your boss keeps you from going to the pub after work

Con anima: the soul of a crook
Bel canto: beautiful song. Unless you're looking at the bass section, in which case it's 'can belto'

backache. Or a posh name for a turnip.
altissimo: a very tall Alto
allargando: middle-age spread
alzate sordini: you can take the ear muffs off now
totally pizzicato: the second violins, after a good session at The Rifleman.
coloratura: a soprano with hiccups

bellicoso: trying to play louder than the neighbours
capriccioso: spicy pizza
coda: generally served with chipsa
comodo: Grandma has one in the spare bedroom
con moto: coming to rehearsals on a scooter

decrescendo: just before you get to the bit you haven't practised (see also rallentando and diminuendo)
divisi: when you fall out with your desk-mate
dolce: to be eaten after the concert

encore: Never heard this one!

fugue: running away before you get to the bit you haven't practised.
glissando: walking back to the piano after the interval drinks
hemiola: painful affliction requiring minor surgery

improvisando: Practice is Cheating.

incalzando: rehearsal starts before you've put your socks on.
lacrimoso: when they find out you haven't been practising.
largo: cheaper than vino
comes before Easto

'ma non troppo!'
: don't push your luck
mezzo soprano: but don't let her stature fool you.
ostinato: stubborn refusal to practice

scherzo: you want me to play that?!

a ladies underwear store
sostenuto: got a secret stash of beer to keep you going til the interval
tenor: not even enough for a round these days
tutti: ice-cream flavour. Also comes in frutti
unison: when everyone agrees on where to get the interval drinks.
vibrato: wobbly effect famously solved by Triumph.

*Which owes a lot to those printed tea towels they sell at Britten's in Tunbridge Wells.
** "It's not a pi-arh-no you posh-talking weirdo, it's a bleedin' Clahr-in-ahrt!" (a loud clarinettist).

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Recycle! Or else...

Unlike in Kraków, in Sevenoaks, there's always something open when you need to buy odd groceries.
On Sunday nights, it's the Sainsbury's local at the petrol station by the railway (I told you I live at the dodgy end).
Last Sunday, I had a urgent need to buy emergency dark chocolate to make emergency chocolate caramel shortbread (I would have taken my own photo but... uh... we already ate it).

I selected suitable chocolate and took it to the cash desk.

Cashier: Hi
Me: Hi
Cashier: Do you have any petrol to pay for today?
Me: No
Cashier: Do you need any help with your packing today?
Me: uh... no it's fine, honestly.

Cashier: Mumble mumble mumble bags today?
Me: I'm sorry?
Cashier: Will you be reusing your bags today?
(I'm still not sure that this is exactly what she said)
Me: Ummm.... I suppose so... I usually use them for something.
Cashier (apologetically): We're supposed to ask everyone.

She didn't elaborate on why. And since she had just handed me the bag herself, clearly I wasn't going to be reusing it today. I was confused. What precisely did J Sainsbury want me to do with my plastic bag? And would I be held to account for my irresponsible bag use every time I approached the checkout? Should I start to think up interesting things to do with my shopping bags so that I have something to tell the cashier every time?

Life is complicated here.

Sunday, 15 June 2008


My brother, a gentle-looking chap, is often approached by enthusiastic young men of the Hare Krishna persuasion, and he has the pile of books to prove it. However, it's not always easy to start a conversation with a stranger:

Hare Krishna guy to my brother: 'That's a nice beard. Did you grow it yourself?'
Bro: 'No, actually it's my sister's: I just borrow it at the weekend.'

HK: Here. Take a copy of our book.
Bro: Oh thanks, but I'm actually reading something else at the moment.
HK: Oh really? What are you reading?
Bro: A book called 'The Plague'. It's by Albert Camus.

HK, appalled: That goes against everything we believe in!

I rather suspect that telling the Hare Krishnas you like to read Camus is akin to telling the Mothers' Union that you like to paint yourself in pig's blood and make animal sacrifices. Although I'm sure lots of enlightened HKs will be able to put me straight.

In any case, the guy disappeared shortly after. My brother didn't get a copy of the book.

Weird things about being back in the UK

1/ People feel the need to use Chainsaws and Earth Movers in their gardens Every Day. This is to show that they have bigger balls than their neighbours.

2/ Cappuccino is GINORMOUS. At least twice the size of your humble Cracovian or Italian cappu. You get a) very high very quickly; b) stomach ache from lactose overload.

3/ Doorbells. People live in houses here and everyone has a doorbell. The doorbell exists to drive the dog nuts. Or the dog exists to bark at the doorbell. Sometimes, the doorbell (which has dodgy wiring) goes off when you leave the house, and then the dog gets confused. Even when the doorbell doesn't work, the dogs usually do.

4/ Carpets. Remind me again why each floor surface must be carpeted to within an inch of its life? Carpets, as far as I can make out, only serve as hiding places for fleas, ingrained dirt and dog hair. And they absorb spills of all varieties (the dog is highly strung and has poor muscular control. I think you know what I mean). My parents have beautiful wooden floors on the ground floor of their house, and yet these are covered by disgusting, smelly carpets because, as my Dad says, it would be too much trouble to polish them. And he's not even the one who does the vacuuming.

5/ 'Neighbours' is on Channel 5!! What's a girl to do?!
I ought to add that terrestrial aerials in Sevenoaks do not deign to pick up signals from Channel 5. This is to protect residents from an accidental encounter with the likes of Jordan or Denise Van Outen. The same applies in St Andrews, incidentally. I suspect they've signed a 'too posh for dross' secret opt-out clause.

6/ Free food. When you walk past market stalls in the Home Counties, the yuppie vendor - a West-Country organic farmer with French market type aspirations - will offer you crinkly fragments of sun-dried tomato on the end of a cocktail stick. A stroll around Borough Market will keep you going for a whole afternoon.
This Never happens in Poland*. You'll pay for that bit of cheese or we're calling security.

7/ Diet products fill supermarket shelves. My parents' fridge is full of fat-free WeightWatchers fromage frais. You can get Colę dietyczną everywhere. Caffè Nero, Starbucks and the like will serve you skimmed latte on request (try asking for 0.00 pro cent in Tribeca and see where it gets you). And it's not just the grown-ups: Weetabix packets recommend breakfast cereal as a low-fat tea-time snack for kids (whatever happened to Nutella and Kinder eggs?). Cookbooks have titles like 'Skinny Bitch' or 'Why French women don't get fat'**.
And yet the papers are screaming about record obesity levels.

8/ In fact the papers are screaming about pretty much everything. Obesity crises; models with eating disorders; torrential rain threatening to flood the country; credit crunch; negative equity; the Lisbon Treaty and Falling Standards Among the Young.
Gosh the country has gone to the dogs in my absence.

Better hot-foot it back to Poland...

*Except in Alma, which is a weird experimental yuppie place.
** 40 Gauloises a day and bulimia.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Don't just stand there like a...

On the front page of the Daily Telegraph is a short article regretfully informing us that the price of a gin and tonic is set to soar, due to an increase in the price of lemons.

Following poor citrus fruit harvests, the price of a lemon has risen by up to 52% in some supermarkets.

How ridiculous.

Everyone knows you drink gin and tonic with a slice of lime...

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Euro 2008

I won't apologise for my spectacular lack of attention to this particular set of sporting festivities.

The only time I've really shown any inclination towards football was when I worked at a pub and it was a good excuse for taking five minutes off (plus no-one orders when the game's on anyway).
Oh yeah, and I was in Florence for the final of the last World Cup, which was quite exciting. Unfortunately I could see very little of the game due to my being rather less than 5'7" in my bare (ok, flip-flopped) feet and not being able to see over the heads of the crowd. As far as I recall, Italy must have scored a few times because every time they did, my then-boyfriend hauled me up under the arms and shook me around in the air like a large rag doll (which actually gave me a decent view of the screen, if rather sore armpits).

I would have paid more attention to the Czech-Swiss match on Saturday, only I had my back to the screen (the guys having already claimed the other side of the table) and I was finding myself shamefully light-headed on half pints of Kronenbourg.

And it was something of a surprise on Monday night when my Sister's Boyfriend accosted me on MSN Messenger:

SB: Hi
Me: Hi
SB: Sorry about the football
Me: Huh?... Oh crap! I completely forgot! So Poland lost then?
SB: yes
Me: ah

SB: (by way of apology) I'm drinking Tyskie...

I may try and get my hands on a copy of the Polish Sun. I'd love to see how that one pans out...

Sunday, 8 June 2008

... phone... home...

Apparently the UK is a lot more Polonised than it was when I left in January 2007.
This photo was taken outside our local newsagent in the dodgy end of town.

Since the town in question is Sevenoaks*, I suppose I ought to clarify that the 'dodgy end' is where the one-BMW-families live.

Still, five days back and disappointingly little sign of the rumoured hordes of invading Poles ravaging Our Sceptred Isle.

I shall have to search harder...

*see Torygraph ad above phone box.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Polish Day

There have been proposals recently that the UK rename one of its summer bank holidays 'Polish Day' in honour of the contribution of Poles to our nation from the Battle of Britain to the beer menu at Wetherspoons.
A Conservative MP from a Polish background has "introduced a bill in the House of Commons calling for workers to be given one day off a year to celebrate the contribution of Poles to the UK. [the MP dude] argues the holiday is necessary to counter 'an increase in violence towards Poles', which he blames in part on BBC coverage."

... says the BBC news site.

Now there's an interesting thought. I think Polish Day should fall on May 3rd - the constitutional holiday. This will bring about yet another day off in May, thus constituting another step towards the international goal to establish an entire month where nothing and nobody works.
Here are some suggestions for celebrations:

- All shops and traders close in accordance with the Lech Kaczyński rule. Everybody buys their booze from gas stations.
- Said gas stations immediately and mysteriously run out of change.
- All women over the age of 60 shall sharpen umbrellas and don berets in preparation for their yearly rampage.
- Girls will drink pints through a straw.
- It will be generally accepted that food tastes better the longer you leave it to stew in vinegar.
- Men will get the bill.
- For two days prior to the event, mysterious constructions, possibly including a stage, will be erected in main squares across the country. This will be accompanied by someone periodically and loudly testing the amplifier on his guitar. During the two days following the event, these constructions will be gradually removed. Everyone will say 'Did you see the concert?' but no-one will actually bother to go.
- A rash of small wooden huts will also appear. Piles of kiełbasa and fried potatoes will be served from some, and grilled oscypek with cranberry sauce from others. You will drink The Worst Mulled Wine In Christendom with the excuse that it tastes better outdoors.
- Everybody will suddenly be struck with the desire to drive to the mountains (for the UK, substitute 'the seaside' i.e. Blackpool, Bournemouth, Brighton and other gloomy places that begin with B) or to Babcia's house in the country. Roads will be jammed from here to John O'Groats and everyone will wish that their car CD player was working and/or they could tune into something other than Wiltshire FM on the westbound A303.

I think it's a good idea actually.

Long live Polish day! Niech żyje Polska!

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Monday, 2 June 2008

The Modern Girl's Guide to Dealing with Emergencies. Part III: Moving House.

Over the past five or six years, I don't think I've spent more than about eight months in any one place. Until I came to Kraków that is.

It's surprising how much stuff one person can accumulate in just fourteen short months.

On Saturday morning, after the goodbye party, I woke up early and stared in despair at the six bags and one cardboard box on my bedroom floor.

They stared back at me and didn't show any signs of getting smaller.

The day was scheduled with military precision: at 2pm I had to collect the keys for the tourist apartment we were renting. At 2.30pm a friend would come to pick up the tv. At 3pm my landlord would come and collect the keys from me.

In between all that, somehow, I had to get my six cases and one box across two streets and up four flights of stairs. The mercury was rising... 28 degrees C.

I decided it was as good a time as any to call a truce with Car Guy.

At twenty to two I got a call:
- Running a few minutes late but I'm running, now.

I walked to the bank to get the money for the apartment. When I got back, he was already standing by my front door.
Time check: five to two. I decided I could delay slightly on picking up the keys.

We started to load the car. By 2.25 it was full and we drove across Dietla to the new place.
- Stay there for a second. I said.

On the other side of the gate, the apartment's housekeeper was there with the keys to meet me.
- Have a look around and check that everything's ok.
she said
- No, no, I'm sure it's fine, really...
I was anxious to get back to the car and back on schedule.
- Here's your room, look... and this will be your parent's room. There are two bathrooms. What about the alarm. Do you want to know how to set the alarm?
- Uh... yes... maybe... no...
- And let's go over the keys again.

Finally, I locked the door behind me and fled down the stairs, all four flights of them, since we were on the second floor.

Thirteen minutes to three: My phone beeped. It was TV Girl.
- I'm on my way! Just collecting the next set of keys. With you in two seconds, really!

Ten minutes to three:
- Don't you want me to unload your stuff? said Car Guy
- No time for that! The landlord's coming at three and we have to go back to let TV Girl in for the television!
We jumped into the car and sped away.

Then things started to happen all at once:

Four minutes to three: we arrive back at the flat. TV Girl and friend are waiting in the shade on the other side of the gate. My flatmate's brother is waiting upstairs to collect her art things and her share of the deposit. We go in, TV Girl's friend picks up the TV and my flatmate's brother picks up the art portfolio.

Two minutes past three: Car Guy, my flatmate's brother and I are standing in the hallway, looking at our shoes, waiting for the landlord.

Three minutes past three: I decide to clear out my kitchen cupboards, and try to offload all my leftover spaghetti, rice, sardines and so on onto Car Guy:

- Uhh... are you sure? I mean, yes, absolutely, but... don't you want to eat over the next few days?
I pointed out that my parents would be here, and added a bottle of olive oil to the rather unstable pile in his arms.

-Greeeat! It's been years since I was paid in food!

A moment later:

- Absolutely! I love Marmite!

(I have never before heard this phrase uttered by a non-Brit).

Twelve minutes past three: doorbell rings and the Landlord comes up the stairs.

Instantly, all three of us are on Our Best Behaviour.

- Czy Pan chce cos do picia? I say, simpering (I really wanted that deposit in one piece). Not that we had anything in the flat other than water and most of a litre of Zubrówka left over from the party last night.

Quarter to four: Landlord is finally satisfied. All the keys are there. The TV cable is disconnected. He hasn't noticed where my blu-tack took flakes of plaster off the wall.
We leave the flat.


Five to four: Car Guy and I arrive back at the tourist apartment. We're close to caramelisation inside the hot car, so we decide to get on with the move as quickly as possible.

We get through the gate ok, but stop short on the other side.
- What is it? says Car Guy, sounding slightly muffled behind 15 kilos of book-filled cardboard box.
- Nothing. I say 'But suddenly I can't remember which staircase it's on'.

Of course it was on the third staircase.

Me, Car Guy, a 15 kilo cardboard box, two wheelie cases and a rucksack crossed and re-crossed the courtyard three times.
We were stared at with mild curiosity by various neighbours from their various balconies.

- What floor? asked Car Guy, once inside.
- Uh... second... I said, in a very small voice.

We marched grimly up four flights of stairs.

I opened the door...

- Ooh! This is cool!

Four fifteen: Me, Car Guy, one cardboard box and six cases are all inside a Very, Very Posh Flat indeed. We all look uncomfortable and are trying not to get grubby fingerprints on the surfaces.

Four thirty: Car Guy leaves. I subject him to an extremely awkward hug with lots of elbows and then send him off back down the four flights of stairs.

I sit on my own in the middle of the flat and hug myself and think: I made it!

For now...

Sunday, 1 June 2008


The cukiernia* on a Sunday morning is not the best place to be when you've suddenly realised you need to be somewhere in a hurry.

At the front of the queue, a young-ish Polish woman was ordering a cavity-inducing sugary breakfast for her family (consisting of small, chubby child and rather larger- surprisingly British - chubby husband). The stout little lady behind the counter was puffing up and down between tongs and teacups, trying to keep up with the ever-increasing number of requests.

Two rather overheated babcie were sitting either side of a table against the wall opposite the counter, apparently just there for the hell of it.

The requests continued. The small chubby child refused to believe that there was no strawberry juice (there were definitely Cappy bottles with something pink in, but Mama insisted it was orange or apple or tough luck).
Three or four young Polish guys in shorts came in, walked to the other end of the shop, and launched into a deep discussion about what to eat and what to do later. Another babcia entered stage left and stood by my elbow at the counter.

At this point, I realised that I should probably get home and have a shower in order not to be late for class. I gave myself about an hour and a half to eat breakfast, wash and dress and walk to the school.

I waited for the stout little lady to finish her pottering. For once I'd had plenty of time to decide what I wanted, and I'd even managed to glean a bit of vocab from the woman in front. She paid and I moved in for the kill.

Except I had reckoned without the marauding babcia forces to the starboard** side. With lightning speed and deadly intent, she swooped in with a 'Prosze wpół kilo...'.

I checked my watch again. Maybe I wouldn't be on time for class after all...

*Patisserie. From 'cukier', from German 'zucker' (according to Wikipedia, so take with pinch of salt: I'd have thought from 'zucchero' cos of the Italian queen but hey) and both come from Sanskrit roots via Arabic sugar traders in Sicily... isn't this fun? Disclaimer: Pinolona studied 'storia della lingua italiana' as a hungover Erasmus student and is therefore not a reliable source.

**Disclaimer. Pinolona does not claim to know anything about sailing - however she does know about words, and 'starboard' sounds cooler than 'port'.