Les gens qui ne rient jamais ne sont pas des gens sérieux

Be who you are and say what you mean, those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind

Monday, October 31, 2005

Back to the frozen East...

I heart Bonn. Well, Bad Godesberg especially. Walking along the Rhine in bright sunshine with autumn leaves on the ground has to be one of the most calming things for the soul. The Germans really do the eating and drinking thing very well too.

Still, shame I missed out on the Warsaw bloggers' pub night.

I have a few memorable quotes from my eternally amusing parents but I think I'll let them mull for another day and update tomorrow...

Today involves a 12 hour car journey. Happy Halloween y'all.

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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Long weekend plans

I'm off to Bonn today to see these friendly looking people in this scrumptious looking place:

Marek has successfully made it to his motor show in Rheinberg where there seems to be a lot of beer swigging and merriment to be had.

I, meanwhile, have been left with the responsibility of the big bottle of potential wine which now has an extra curly glass airlock in the top, and makes squelchy glugging noises at regular intervals.

Not to be outdone in the beer swigging and merriment stakes, I will arrive in Germany today in time for a Koelsch and Reibekuchen with my folks at Frueh. What more could a girl want on a saturday night?

I'm drooling already.

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Autumn light on an autumn leaf

I love the light this time of year. It's afternoony light. Light with long shadows. Beautiful. Makes everything seem like a photo waiting to be taken. So I'm taking them.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Chór Akademicki Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego

Oh. My. God. My new choir is a little scary.

I went this evening despite the still-croaky voice and hacking cough because my attendance record has been pretty dismal so far and I am terrified of getting left behind.

The rehearsals are held in a geography lecture theatre which is a bad start for me. Geography was the very first subject I gave up when we moved to Germany and I was mighty relieved as a result (something I've since regretted as I seem now to have developed an ability to stand open-mouthed in front of a world map for hours. But I digress). The surroundings bring back bad memories.

Then there's the Polish. I'm pretty tuned in to Polish now after nearly six months of M & co surrounding me with their czs and szs. However, following a choir leader who is using specific words to describe just how we should be breathing, and what moods are appropriate where, at the same time as reading the words to the Polish national anthem and trying to commit them to memory I still find, shall we say, a little taxing.

Then, there are the name tags. I thought this was a standard getting to know 80 new people thing, a friendly welcoming gesture. How wrong can you be about a little scrap of paper? The real reason for the name tags soon became apparent. As I listened from the side with another girl similarly wrapped up to her ears in a scarf and taking regular breaks to blow into a hankerchief as I coughed my guts up, my eyes widened in horror.

The name tags allow the choir leader to pick on people at random, tell them to stand, and sing their part as an example to the rest. The poor trembling singer stands in a sea of upturned faces and tries his or her hardest to remember the notes, words and avoid messing it up in a thousand other ways in front of ALL THESE PEOPLE.


Forewarned is forearmed, or something. I now know what to prepare for. I have to imagine the worse case scenario which could follow what I understood the choir leader to have said this evening about next week. She mentioned sopranos. That's me. She said 'the whole repertoire'. That's the three songs, including the Polish national anthem, which I will spend this weekend committing to memory. Perfectly. She mentioned 'individuals'. I will prepare for the sea of faces.

Jeszcze Polska nie zgineła,
Kiedy my żyjemy.
Co nam obca przemoc wzieła,
Szablą odbierzemy.

Marsz, marsz, Dąbrowski,
Z ziemi włoskiej do Polski,
Za twoim przewodem
Złaczym się z narodem.

I can learn that, right?

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Um, ok then... thanks.

Thanks to the Onion:

Scorpio October 24 - November 21

You've felt for weeks as if they were on the verge of figuring out your secret shame, which is ridiculous, as no one even knows who you are.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Wine, potentially a big bottle of it

Just to move away from the political obsession that is making all the lazy Poles kick themselves and ask 'why, oh why didn't I vote?' I'm going to introduce you to the latest addition in our home. A stonking big bottle of mashed up grapes and bubbles which M hopes will sit around for a while and then, as if by magic, provide him with plentiful potent, but delicious, wine...
Bless him for his eternal innocent optimism.

Buvez, mais buvez comme les polonais.


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Tuesday, October 25, 2005


As someone who has never studied economics but loves the euro for the pure and simple fact that money is just a means to an end and when you travel around it's so much easier to use the same currency in different countries, I find this annoying.
'Getting rid of one's own currency is a very serious limitation of one's own sovereignty'.
Yeah. Nevermind the way the single currency might further help trade between Poland and the rest of the EU, make the free movement of people so much easier and stop exchange offices ripping travellers off by taking huge commissions to change one currency for another.
Lech Kaczynski has been in office for a day and has already managed to piss me off.

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Monday, October 24, 2005

Not Donald but Duck

Well, looks like Donald (Tusk) has lost out to Duck (Kaczyński).*
That means Poland's president is now a homophobic euro-sceptic who has the support of the xenophobic leader of Poland's nationalistic 'self defence' party. Pretty depressing.
The political map of Poland reminded me of the political map of the States after Bush was re-elected. The regions to the west and north of Poland were in favour of Tusk, whereas the eastern, southern regions voted for Kaczyński. Like in the USA when the coastal regions, and those more open to outside influence voted democrat and the internal states stuck with Bush.
Some blogs I've noticed reporting on the election results: polblog, the beatroot and warsaw station.

* The Polish word for duck is kaczka, giving the media excellent fodder for election humour, especially if they add in the avian flu business...
_ _ _ _ _

In other news, my cooperative body that gave me a sore throat the day of my choir audition has decided that today, the day I am supposed to be giving my first English lesson to Russian speaking refugees, is the day for me to lose my voice and have a whooping-style cough. Thanks.

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Friday, October 21, 2005

Polish pronunciation. Lesson One: Chór

To pronounce the Polish word for choir correctly, take a deep breath, picture the word and say 'whore' in a broad Scottish accent.
To wszystko.

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Of all noises, I think music is the least disagreeable (stolen from Samuel Johnson)

I am once again part of a choir. I'm totally thrilled about it, and to be honest a little smug after pulling off the audition totally in Polish. That was last week and this evening is my first rehearsal.
The thing I'm most excited and apprehensive about at the same time is the fact I've been classed once again as a soprano. I've been thrown backwards and forwards between soprano and alto positions in past choirs but the woman who ran my audition seemed convinced that despite the fact I can sing low, and my range is pretty big, my voice is happiest higher up, and should be trained to feel comfortable up there.
This has made me think about my jazz-singing American singing teacher in Bonn who always gave me soprano pieces to sing, and the wonderful Tim Knight who kept me in the soprano section of the Heritage Singers despite my repeated protests and requests to join the altos.
I fianlly got my way when I joined the Brussels Choral Society. I remember my audition, singing scales. First they saw how low I could go, then we did scales going up, and up, and up... Then they asked what part I wanted to sing and I said that although I'd generally been classed as a soprano I thought I'd feel more comfortable as an alto. The Director didn't hide his surprise but duly appointed me second alto.
I've been found out now though and I'm going to be made to work on those high notes again. Damn.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Polish presidents

On my neverending search for comments on Polish politics I found a couple of interesting blog articles a couple of days ago: One on the general situation and another on Tusk's 'scandal'.
It doesn't look good really, whatever happens.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

What's the link between Burkina Faso and Poland?


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Er, one possible addition

Oh, and I might be heading to Greece for a seminar in November too...

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Monday, October 17, 2005

cheap flights

I've come to the suddden realisation that I may well be single-handedly keeping these low-cost no-frills airlines in business. My flight itinerary for the rest of the year is shocking to someone who is all too aware of the polluting effect of planes, and has been trying really hard to stop spending non-existent money by whipping out credit cards at every available opportunity.
Being a volunteer with NO SALARY should mean I am grateful for every penny I receive and hoard it in a box waiting for the opportunity to spend it on others less fortunate than myself. Instead of which I seem to be listening to the voice in my head that says 'spend, spend, spend, travel, travel, travel.'
Damn that voice.
Now I'm going to show off my itinerary in a vain attempt to justify each trip and make myself feel a little less guilty about all the fun I'm going to have...
End Oct: Little trip to Bonn - Marek will go to a motorshow and drool over motorbikes and other bits of metal while I'll catch up with my jet setting parents who will also be spending a weekend in Bonn. Just a weekend, really cheap flight and only one-way because Marek and I will drive back together. Ahem.
End Nov: Slightly longer trip to UK - I will get to drool this time, over my cousin Cath's brand new daughter Esme and spend quality time with my family who I never see (er, yes I saw them all in August but it'll be November by then...) Totally justified because of new baby and opportunity to visit crazy Keji in Liverpool :-)
Mid-Dec: Back to Bonn to spend a weekend showing some more Poles the delights of Cologne Christmas market. All very noble and altruistic really, I'll drink the mulled wine and eat the sausages out of duty and to set an example for the visitors rather than from real enjoyment.
Christmas: For the first time in years the four of us will be together again for Christmas - I'll fly from Warsaw and Edd will fly from Toronto and we'll meet in the centre of the world which is Brussels. This is a once-in-a-year opportunity which will physically bring together my spread-out immediate family which at the moment is linked solely by email, skype and msn!
So there we go, totally justified trips for the rest of the year.
I think I know what I should resolve to do less of in the New Year. Bet I don't though.

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Sunday, October 16, 2005

Presenting Esme...

These are my grandparents, and that little bundle in Grandpa's arms is Esme Jane Thompson, their new great-granddaughter. I can't wait to meet her - what a cutie!

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Polish photos

For ID photos in Poland your left ear has to be clearly visible. What's that all about?

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Friday, October 14, 2005

Thank God for the EU

Actually, God is maybe not the one directly responsible for the EU, but my deep heartfelt thanks go to all those who are.
I have just spent a week trying to get a Belarussian friend in Gdynia a visa for the Czech Republic. What a nightmare. First of all two hours standing in a queue at the Consulate only to be told there's a 5 page application form to be filled in by the applicant (she'd got the invitation letter, permission letter, passport, photos and fee to me but hadn't seen the application form itself...)
So after a frantic exchange of emails, the form is filled and sent to me, but you know what? It wasn't printed in colour with the red squares showing so it's not valid, and oh, didn't we say? you can't apply for her she has to do it herself. The Consulate lady helpfully told me that if she lives outside of Warsaw (which she does, on the North coast) there's another consulate at Katowice (kind of her to mention, only that's even further South than Warsaw, nearer Krakow so worse than useless).
So now, she can either come to Warsaw early next week and apply for the visa herself hoping they'll finish it in two days in time for her to attend her seminar in Prague, or give up and stay in Gdynia. I, on the other hand, can pop over to Prague tomorrow if I fancy. Unfair, yes.
God bless the EU.

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Thursday, October 13, 2005


So it was yesterday early evening and Marek and I were in our local shop stocking up on beer. The check-out girl smiled at us and said she guessed we were going to watch the match. We nodded and I added (in my best Polish) 'and I'm English'. She raised an eyebrow. 'Well, we'll see who is happy after the match then' she exclaimed and exchanged meaningful glances with Marek. 'I think it might be the English girl...'
We came home and watched Polish pre-match coverage , highlights of past England-Poland matches and statistics on who's won most in which place and against whom. Normal people on the TV speak Polish fast, but sports commentators have taken it to a whole other level. Seriously, I didn't get a thing (except for the odd mention of 'Bek-Ham' who wouldn't be playing, and comments on the rain in England and the venue of 'Old Trafforrrd' with a very rolled rr).
The match started and it looked like England was more awake than the Polish side. Marek suggested that whoever lost would buy us both cinema tickets the next day. I suddenly realised we should have arranged bets and said England would win 2-1 whereas Marek thought it would be a 1-1 draw.
When England scored I smiled. Silently. Marek scowled at me and said it was the fault of the rain. The poor Poles aren't used to it... whatever. Anyway, when the Poles suddenly sprang to life and scored a whole minute later he was jumping round like a fool with a big grin plastered across his face. Lucky for me it was only half-time.
The off-side goal in the second half got Marek worried and by the time the second England goal was scored he had quietly admitted defeat. It doesn't matter anyway as both teams are going to the World Cup, but if Poland and England play each other during the World Cup it's going to get tense. (For those who missed the action it's all here.)
The check-out girl was right. The English girl was happier than the Polish boy, but I really wish I'd got myself organised to have a flutter.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Bush To Appoint Someone To Be In Charge Of Country

Oh, if only.

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The boys may not like this post so much

At risk of sounding sexist, this is mainly for the ladies. You'll soon see why.
In my lifetime I have had the dubious privilege of visiting gynaecologists in the UK, Germany, and Belgium. It's surprising how varied these experiences have been considering there are a limited number of ways you can remove clothes from the lower half of your body and sit with your legs spread while trying to look and feel nonchalant.
My experiences may be out of date but from what I remember each had it's own particular negative points.
The UK was weird because you were put on a normal bed, flat and without any particular feature to make it easy for the gynaecologist to do his or her job. Coupled with the sheet of paper placed over your lap, presumably to try and persuade you that you aren't reeeally naked from the waist down, it didn't give the impression of being totally well thought out.
Germany was uncomfortable because (I swear!) there was a nurse who just wandered in and out as you sat in that execution-like chair, legs akimbo. The gynaecologist also seemed to enjoy the fact she hadn't warmed that awful metal contraption beforehand and would look at you witheringly if you reacted to the cold metal.
Belgium was strange because a screen was provided behind which you could remove your clothes, but then you just had to step out into the large open room half naked and settle yourself on the chair, which kind of made me question the necessity of the screen. Also, once my appointment was in a room which had huge windows onto the street. There were additional screens by the windows but I wasn't convinced it wasn't possible for passers by to see through the gaps, and as a result I wasn't too relaxed...
Anyway, this may be sharing far too much, and my experiences are far from scientifically valid, but the reason I've given you all that background is because last week I added to my wealth of gynaecological experience. This time in Poland.
Now, I admit I was a little apprehensive. I recently visited a Polish hospital and was not too pleasantly surprised, and I wasn't expecting luxury as it is, after all, hardly a glamourous process. I kept reminding myself that although Poland is now EU, many things are of a different standard to the vast majority of EU countries. I was expecting the worst.
How I love it when my fears prove unfounded. I was amazed. The gynaecologist was friendly and straight forward. The room was warm and unintimidating. There was a BATHROOM in which you were expected to undress and put on your single-use paper robe and slippers. Yes, SLIPPERS. They care so much they don't want you to get cold feet. Then at the end of the room there was a bed, rather than the expected execution chair, with a thick, wide curtain to shut off the rest of the room. Ok, the stirrups were still there but no horrible cold metal speculum, warm plastic. Plastic! Now there's an idea.
Even the fact that the appointment was carried out in a mixture of French, Polish and English coutesy of my live-in translator didn't make it awkward. Seriously, they deserve a medal. I was mightily impressed.
By Polish standards it cost a fortune but at the equivalent of 25 euros I have yet to see anyone provide a better service in Belgium, Germany or the UK.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Congratulations Cath and Jimmy!!!

This is me with my beautiful pregnant cousin Cath a couple of months ago at her brother Will's wedding.
I've just heard that this morning she gave birth to a baby girl and it's all I can do to stop myself getting on a plane this instant to fly over and start cooing over her and the baby. Congratulations Cath and Jimmy, and beware, I intend to come over very, very soon...

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Poland vs. England

Yes, it's tomorrow. And we don't have Beckham. And I'll have a flat full of Poles watching with me. And Poland seem to be doing much better than England at the moment.
Hmm, maybe it's time to switch allegiance...
I expect outraged comments, don't disappoint me.

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Monday, October 10, 2005

A rose by any other name...

To continue in the theme of photgraphing nature, just how perfect are these roses?
I love it when all you have to do is show up and press the button.

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Saturday, October 08, 2005

Autumn leaves

Every autumn people admire the colours and wonder at the beauty of nature. It's not a new phenomenon. But you can't deny these colours are amazing...

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Friday, October 07, 2005

I've been there!

Yeah I realise I'm not the first to post this but it's pretty neat.
I hope that if I were to look at the map again in ten years time a lot more of it would be red...

create your own visited countries map

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005


I have just spend half an hour or so laughing. Not just giggling, or chuckling, but full blown hooting out loud, doubled over in front of my computer, tears streaming down my face with a couple of snorts thrown in for good measure. This, no this is the reason why. And this. And this, this and this. Really, I can't stop looking, they just crack me up.
Just today I noticed an incomprehensible sign on an bus emergency exit (something about pulling the red arms until the stop) and it reminds me of the time Ruth and I went to the Fanny Bar in Prague, oh and there was that sign to Ouagadougou's Artisanal Village:

As someone who spends so much time concerned with cultural sensitivity, this really is my kind of humour.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Polish test

I knew I could tell the Kaczynski twins apart - I got 10 out of 12 on this test. Oh, it helps if you can understand some Polish but I'll do a little translating of the important bits:

1. Which is on the left?
2. Which is on the right?
3. Which is next to the microphone?
4. Which has a red tie?
All the rest are just 'which one is this?' questions, except the last one which they give you for free. Enjoy!

You can read more about the twins and one perspective of what the future holds for them and Poland here.

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Monday, October 03, 2005

She lives again

We spent the weekend in Jabłonna and on Saturday M fixed his bike. When I say 'on Saturday' what I mean is 'aaaaaaaaaaaall day Saturday' from the moment we arrived in the morning until some friends came over for drinks in the evening. Meanwhile, I played 'good little Polish girl', doing my last Polish lesson's praca domowa, buying and preparing food with M's sister Julita, trying to chat in my best Polish with Rafał (Julita's boyfriend) and popping my head round the garage door once in a while to ask if I could help. (As if!) Actually, M, being the sweetie he is, humoured me and asked me to screw on little screws and hold wires every so often. I felt very useful...
Anyway, it all paid off and she roars like she used to again.
Yesterday the sun came out and we went for a ride in the woods, me in the sidecar being jumped over every bump in the track, pinning my helmet to my head with one hand and clinging desperately to my seat with the other. No, I exaggerate, we didn't go that fast and it was pretty relaxing actually watching the trees whizz by and cyclists throw themselves off the path as we approached. Such fun. M has plans of going away for the weekend on the bike. It's ok with me, just keep your fingers crossed that it doesn't break down...

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