Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The Communist Pentathlon

From the window of a train somewhere about thirty minutes outside Bratislava, I noticed a small red-and-white aeroplane grounded in front of a building. As we got closer, I realised it was part of a children's playground.

- Oh look! I squealed to my colleague - A real plane in a playground! How cool is that?!
- Actually, he replied, - it's quite common to have military equipment in playgrounds here. There are plenty of places where children get to play with disused guns, for example. Traditionally it was to train them up to ward off potential attacks from the Forces of Capitalism.

I tried -unsuccessfully - to pinpoint any subtle whiff of Gallic irony.

- Seriously, he continued - my girlfriend had to learn to use a gas mask at school. And one of my American friends, his girlfriend used to do a sort of 'Communist pentathlon'...

The Communist pentathlon, it transpires, involves the following healthy outdoor activities:

i) Sprinting

ii) Shooting at a target

iii) Sprinting again

iv) Throwing a grenade

v) Swimming underwater across the Danube *

vi) Political Questions

I was impressed.

- We never did anything like that at school! The worst we got was throwing the shot putt!
- Me neither! Just think: thank goodness during the Cold War we never attacked them. We wouldn't have stood a chance!

I wonder how different my life would have been had I been raised as a grenade-hurling Slovak girl...

Announcement: The World Premier of the Original Communist Pentathlon (sponsored by Sevenoaks Town Council in conjunction with Laura Ashley) will take place on the Vine Cricket Ground on Sunday, May 10 in the afternoon. Applications to be received by
end of March 2009 at the latest. Tea will be served at 5pm in the Pavilion: all survivors are welcome.

*Author's note: I made this up because we couldn't think of the fifth activity.


Michael Dembinski said...

Hey Pinolona, since you left Siedem Dębów your posts have acquired a surreal, dreamlike quality, jumping from subject to city. Cool! Left Field! Keep it up, like the Rodzina Królewska, never complain, never explain.

Tomorrow: Pinolona, accompanied by a Bulgarian violoncellist, visits Vilnius zoo and attends a cheese-tasting at the Museum of Paleontology.

pinolona said...

Thanks! Unfortunately I'm back in Siedem Dębów (w siódmym Dębie? or is that the seventh oak??) for a little while now - staying put at least until the new year (don't stop reading!). My extended summer of wandering is sadly finally over.

Cheese tasting in the museum of Palaeontology, now there's an idea for a Saturday afternoon...

pinolona said...

Umm... and apologies for casually floating the idea of attacking Central Europe during the Cold War. It came out slightly differently to that actually - we were talking about the American friend and, well... Sorry... I love Poland really... Forgive me?

Island1 said...

Shooting exams used to be big here, until very recently (maybe they still are). I've heard many stories about lasses secretly punching holes in targets with a biro. I can't imagine this in a British school, it would turn into an instant massacre.

Anonymous said...

Military training at school in the UK in generally confined to independent schools. The one I attended had a Combined Cadet Force, so we spent Monday afternoons from S4 to S6 (that's Scottish for Years 11-13, of fifth and sixth form in old money), marching round the playground, painting camoflage cream on each other, taking apart SA80 assault rifles in the school hall and doing shooting practce. Once a year we went to camp, ours was former POW Camp in the Highlands, and did fomration attacks while firing blanks etc etc. Some of us were very keen and did interschool competitions and national, just like our communist opposite numbers.

Of couse, only about 7% of the populartion went to independent schools, though most towns also have the ACF, Sea or Air Cadets (like Scouts but with guns)