Friday, 30 January 2009

Polish word of the day: 0012009

I've decided to resurrect 'Polish Word of the Day' - ostensibly to get some culture into an otherwise flagging blog and give Anna a run for her money but basically because it's still by far and away the biggest search hit* and I Want Stats.

Today's Polish Word of the Day is 'pakiet internetowy'. Or even 'pakiet transmiji danych'. (I know that's actually several words. But one single concept).

This is a magic bean that you can bolt on to your sim card or phone contract (if you were the kind of person who stayed in one place long enough to have a phone contract), which allows you to have internet wherever you go. Hurrah, and finally, freedom from sitting in front of the screen! Not only can one check/receive emails on the move (thus avoiding that annoying situation where you have No Work for 48 hours, yet the minute you go outside for a walk/shopping/just to remember what daylight looks like, four million requests arrive, all of which are answered by ... 'never mind, I found another translator' by the time you come back).
Also it would allow me to update my facebook status and get a little mobile phone sign next to it, just to confuse all my friends who work in the city...

Having decided that mobile internet was going to be essential to my professional survival over the next five months, I set out for Carphone Warehouse.

- Sure, said the first guy. You can buy a Blackberry handset (costs a fortune but it'll be worth it), add a SIM-only contract and then cancel it and slip in your Polish SIM once you get over there. No problems!

I spent an evening calculating how many pages of EU regulatory notifications I would have to translate before earning back the £250+ a Blackberry handset would cost me, and whether it would in fact be better to spend this money on minor essentials such as my first month's rent and deposit (I probably lose almost this amount per month in missed jobs when I'm away from my email for whatever reason).
I then passed many happy hours trying to decipher the various websites of Simplus, Era and Blackberry Polska. All excellent vocabulary practice.

The next day I went to the Sevenoaks Mobile Phone Centre. A very smug salesman was very busy with a middle-aged customer. I checked the queue at Phones 4 U and came back about twenty minutes later.

Blackberry? No, you can't do that. It's got to be configured you see - all of ours are locked to Vodafone. If you put a new sim in the email won't work.
You could try the new Nokia...


... but it'll cost you 300quid.


Back to the drawing board.

I tried Carphone Warehouse again and talked to a different salesperson.

- You know what? she said; I think maybe for your purposes an email phone isn't the best way forward. Why not get a netbook (greedily I took in the row of tiny 7" Asus laptops, all heavily discounted - hurrah for credit-crunch Britain) and use a PAYG dongle for mobile internet? Then all you have to do is put in your Polish sim when you go abroad!

Wow! A new toy! And wouldn't it look bad-ass in the booth?! (not that I'm in the booth all that often, but who knows, maybe a magic netbook would give me special professional powers)

I wanted one.

I went home and rang the 3G sales line to ask about their mobile broadband roaming rates.

- Um... I'm not actually going to buy anything today but I'd like to... can I still ask you some questions?
I could feel the guy's heart sink at the lost commission, but he gamely agreed to chat to me.

- No... no it doesn't work like that. All our dongles are locked to 3G. You'd have to have it re-configured for a Polish sim. You're basically in a Catch-22 situation** really: if you get an English contract you have to pay massive roaming fees, and if you get a Polish one... well, you're stuck with it for eighteen months.

Oh crap.

Back to the drawing board. Worse still, no new toy for me.

I decided to leave it until I actually got to Poland and then go and talk to the nice guy in the Plus GSM store. And then possibly to the dodgy guy down the road just off Starowiślna, under the sign saying 'Odblokowanie komórki'.

Anyone got a better idea?

*with the exception of anything about Polish men. You'd be surprised. Actually, maybe I should tag all my posts with 'Polish men' and gain a whole new reader demographic.
**I've heard that the French equivalent to this phrase is 'une situation Corneillienne': can anyone give me an Italian or Polish version?

Wednesday, 28 January 2009


I used to be shy. Very shy: being scared of shop assistants shy; twisting up my hands and feet and not looking people in the eye shy; acting like a moron at school to deflect the abject terror associated with social interaction in all its forms.

Then, I grew up, I left home, went to university - discovered the relaxing powers of alcohol - and it all got better.

Only... it's come back...

Now that I'm effectively running my own business, I'm writing emails and talking on the phone all the time, in three different languages did I use the right formal register, was I too familiar, did my quote overstep the mark, should I really have asked that question or does that make me look inexperienced?

and I'm feeling a pressure at my temples and in my jaw and I'm holding my breath

Then - coming back from Poland - I'm plunged into social circles where just having a funny ex-pat story isn't enough. I'm being respectfully interested with my parents' friends, pretending to be grown up with new acquaintances of my own age, trying to fit back in comfortably with old friends
do we still talk about that? did I forget to ask about so-and-so? have I said something inappropriate? did I offend someone? am I talking too fast, did I interrupt?

tension, pressure, stress-stress-stress, breathe ... breathe...

And then, to cap it all, I read that Stress Makes You Fat

Not only are young women expected to live their lives in a constant state of worry about their figures, their careers and the size of their student debts... we're now under continuous pressure to RELAX! AT ALL COSTS! ON PAIN OF... FAT!!!

make it stop make it stop make it stop...

Friday, 16 January 2009

On why toned abs are impossible if you have a dog

Exercise no. 1: sit ups.

Lie down on floor, on back, with knees in air.

Enter dog.
Dog sees you on floor. 'What on earth are you doing down there?!'
Dog potters over, with a look of deep concern, presses its nose into your face and sniffs loudly.

Pull in stomach muscles and raise head and shoulders towards knees.

Dog looks disturbed, potters around in a circle, and places a worried paw on your arm.
You attempt to sit up but collapse in giggles.

Hold this position, drawing in abdominal muscles

With a deep sigh, dog slumps down beside you and leans its muzzle on your ribs.
More giggles, resulting in very sudden release of clenched abdominal muscles. Lie flat on back, panting.
Dog is disturbed, stands up, wags tail hopefully, looks worried, sniffs tail and potters around in a circle again.

Gently lower yourself back to lying down position.

Since you are already lying down, this is not easy.
Dog presses nose into your face again.
Jump to standing position and bend knees in fighting stance.

Dog - overexcited at the prospect of a playfight - pees on the carpet.

Throw in the towel and go to look for some kitchen roll.

Thursday, 8 January 2009


He is at the front door before I've had a chance to get my key out.

Those brown eyes stare at me accusingly.

- You're late back. Where have you been?

I mumble some excuse and start to undo my boots.

sniff sniff sniff

- That's not your normal scent! What is that smell? Wait! What's this?

A hair! A blonde hair!

He sits back and looks right at me.

- What's his name?

- What do you mean? I ...
Ok, ok. His name is Alfie.

- Alfie?

and... Tilly

- Two of them??

- Look, it was just a walk, ok?

- A walk? When was the last time you took me for a walk?!

- Well... a walk ... and lunch...

-You stayed for lunch? I love lunch!

- And... after lunch...

- YES??

- (looking at the floor)... he sat on my knee.

I see where this is going. You've been out without me! You've been playing with someone else's dog! You've been out committing DOG-ULTERY!

I'm not talking to you any more.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Cordon Bleugh

I have a guilty, traitorous secret.

I suspect I may be the only person on the British Isles who does not like Roast Dinner.

Perhaps you are currently spending your Sunday flipping through the colour supplements in bed (it's minus four outside so I don't blame you). Go to the first (ish) page, and look for the column where they interview a celebrity of some genre about their Ideal Weekend (both the papers my parents get feature this type of article). Almost certainly, at some point during the interview, the words 'Sunday Roast' will be uttered: probably in conjunction with either of the phrases 'at our local pub' or 'with the parents'.

Please. Where is your imagination? After a good fortnight of rich, stodgy food, even the hardiest carnivores must by now be unable to stomach another slice of ropey grey beef or a sweaty sliver of damp chicken breast. Even the Christmas turkey had strings of something twisty running through the flesh.

Then, there are the roast potatoes: traditionally the only bit of a Sunday dinner that anyone actually likes (unless you live in the north, in which case, include Yorkshire puddings - a surprising hit with my French flatmate in Bath). Should you take your life and the health of your arteries in your hands and use lard? Traditionally it's the best fat for the job, but in the wrong hands can result in waxy insides and burnt skins (on the potatoes, of course). Do you go for the trendy option and add olive oil, rosemary and garlic?* Used with the wrong potatoes, this can result in clammy skins and half-baked flesh (on the potatoes, of course). Oh and it makes your kitchen smell like the back room of Mario's Trattoria, for the next 24 hours.
Goose fat is a new (or re-?) entry on the market, popular with the Nigella generation (likes posh ingredients, has less middle class guilt than the Extra Vergine crowd). It comes in a tiny jar with a silver label and the leftovers will sit in the fridge for the next six months like your Sunday Best, growing fur and waiting for another special occasion.
The safest option is to pop down to Iceland for the pre-roasted frozen version, and, if you have guests, burn the packaging.

Vegetables are really best forgotten. The cooking time of the joint itself requires such feats of mental arithmatic that whoever is acting as unfortunate chef for the day can spare few brain cells for greenery. The result is anaemic, overboiled greens, beans and carrots.
Parsnips are the only salvagable part of this sorry collection, largely because when roasted they pretty much count as potatoes, but with a higher Glycaemic Index**.

Sprouts are a Christmas treat unique to our Island. How I long - all year - for the day I can eat my fill of sprouts. That peculiar bitter aftertaste - sourish, with a note of earwax - the damply enticing dark green leaves, the elusive, slightly composted smell, hinting at digestive sensations yet to come.
Only in Britain could a population so relentlessly indulge in the ritual self-flagellation of eating sprouts.

No, the only decent thing to come out of the Sunday Roast is the preliminary thimbleful of Harvey's Bristol Cream (preceded by the words: 'I'll just get a sherry for Granny'), and Pudding.

Cut out the rest, and Sunday Lunch is a haze of boozy, cheescakey*** bliss.

Back to the vegetable soup and couscous then...

* I admit I have been known - on rare occasions - to serve diced potatoes prepared in this manner to deserving boyfriends. Deserving... make that very rare occasions.
** This is bad if you are on a diet, but I can't remember why. It may or may not have something to do with the Stock Market (for vegetable stock... geddit?).
***see 'Nigella generation' comment above. Marbled with 70% dark chocolate. It took us four days to eat it.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Resolutions for 2009

- I will ensure that I am always equipped with appropriate footwear for a '15-minute walk from the station' (nb, 4-inch heels do not constitute 'appropriate footwear')

- I will ensure that I leave the house in plenty of time: not an hour late, for example

- I will not get lost looking for my hosts' front door and I will avoid mistakenly shouting "Helloooooo?" outside their neighbours' window

- I will not only remember my contact lens case, but my glasses as well (for when the contact lenses are in the case)

- I will be careful to wear a skirt of an appropriate length to avoid embarrassment when performing routine operations such as walking down stairs, sitting on sofas, etc. I will ensure that I am in full control of the petticoats of said skirt at all times

- I will make sure that my camera is always fully charged, to avoid badly-lit, out-of-focus party shots

- I will not take pictures of sleeping fellow partygoers and subsequently post them on facebook

- I will not try to poison my friends and kind hosts with any of the following:
  • Rounds of Wyborowa wodka shots
  • Ogórki kiszone
  • Mysterious herbal spirits from Slovakia
- I will leave some toffee crisp for everyone else next time.