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

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Oh yeah, that's better.

So that's what you have to do when faced with the February blues; spend a long weekend in the Polish mountains skiing!

It was gorgeous. An intensive four-day Polish immersion course, excellent snow, good weather for most of the time, plenty of skiing practise and a chance to escape the drippiness of Warsaw.

I swapped this:

for this:

for a long weekend and it really did me the world of good.
I recommend it.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

We're off... again...

Try not to miss me too much, but we're going away. We'll be skiing, admiring, eating, most certainly drinking, photographing and relaxing in the Tatras until Monday evening (long live random long weekends made possible by flexible voluntary work and a generous boyfriend).

Keep warm and prepare yourself for the inevitable gushing about Polish mountains when I return...

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Haaaa ha haaaa

WASHINGTON, DC—Government documents declassified today reveal that President Bush was briefed last summer of "a substantial risk" that Vice President Dick Cheney would shoot an elderly male in the face sometime in the next several months.

In other news, it's Fat Thursday!!! Pączki all round...

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Beckham and Arsenal

We watched the footie last night. Quite funny really as neither of us are that into football (soccer, not the American kind, although to be fair we're not really into that either...)

However, we'd both heard of Beckham, Zidane and Henry and I knew my family would be following it as my brother has been a long distance Arsenal supporter for a ages and my Dad seems to have decided Edd's on to a good thing so has abandoned his home team of Leeds for his son's.

So, we saw the match and to our astonishment witnessed Arsenal beating Real Madrid. Who knew it was possible?

Anyway, I have a couple of questions that resulted from this match, maybe you can help me answer them.

1. Why are a few grown men paid soooooo much money to kick a ball about and act like spoiled brats? I mean they are undoubtedly very fit, have good ball control blahdy blah, but at the end of the day they spend so much time fouling (in a way that tries to look like it's not a foul but ends up just looking like a foul badly disguised as an accident) and falling over clutching their foot, shoulder, arm, head, that it's all very reminiscent of the playground. Especially when they jump up after fouling someone, hands in the air, all 'it wasn't me sir, it was him!' There is all this money that magically appears for football (or any sport) sponsorship, and yet surely everyone could think of a couple of better causes for this cash off the top of their head...

2. This is a question specific to Polish commentary of the match last night. Someone must have the answer, and I will not stop until I have found it because Polish is an incredibly precise language and not understanding this is bugging me. Ok, so the commentators were following the ball, and as it went to David Beckham they would say the ball was going 'do BeckHama' (I couldn't stop myself regularly shouting at the tv 'It's Beck-em not BeckHam!!') but when it was going to Thierry Henry they would say the ball was going 'do Henriego' I think I've confused myself but I thought it was genitive and the noun ending is -a but the adjective ending is -iego. If that's right, why is Beckham a noun and Henry an adjective?

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

bike show number 2

I had my second experience of a motorbike show on Sunday (I KNOW! The Day of Rest...)

Marek went for the bikes. I went for the people. I just find people fascinating, and watching people in a situation I am not familiar with is even more enthralling. You see the unwritten rules people are sticking to, and the interactions between the different groups. Oh, and I went for Miss Poland 2005. I know, you're jealous now aren't you, she was there, but more on her later.

It was in a pretty standard indoor stadium and the bikes were laid out according to make; the hostesses and salesmen weaving in and out of the crowd handing out flyers and information. I was pretty disappointed not to see any of the girls in bikinis, but there were penty of short skirts and high heels about.

The girls were much more interesting to watch than the men actually. The men were just wandering round, comparing notes with their friends, sharing their wisdom with their sons, taking the odd flyer and looking up every so often to listen to the live band ('born to be wiiiiiiiild'). No, they were pretty dull. The women were fascinating though.

First there were the pro hostesses. The ones who you imagine sleep in full make-up and don't own anything that isn't skin-tight or shockingly short. They were the ones lounging about in suggestive positions on the bikes, loving every minute and tossing their hair at everyone who walked past. They were the kind of hostesses I was expecting and I had a kind of perverse admiration for them. They were doing such a great job of a terrible job (I did consider it, but came to the conclusion that this was neither the time nor the place for a one-woman feminist rally). They looked and acted the way they were supposed to. I was surprised to see only a handful of them.

The second group of hostesses were the ones who were obviously uncomfortable with their jobs. The ones you imagine who had taken it on for a bit of extra weekend cash. They were the ones pulling down the hems of their skirts, stifling yawns and handing flyers to people without even looking at them. They looked embarassed and I felt embarassed for them (maybe they would have joined my rally after all).

The last group were the girls who had decided to ignore the testosterone-fuelled environment and approach their work another way. They were the ones in jeans and shirts, caps and motorbike jackets. They were actually talking to potential customers; sharing information and joking with them, acting as workers rather than props. They looked like they were doing the best job and enjoying the day at the same time.

The thing is, everyone was there for the bikes (except me I guess, although even I was impressed by a couple of them). It must be demeaning to have to sit straddling a bike all day looking seductive, but it must be even more demeaning to be draped over the bike and have men totally ignore you and marvel over the bike itself. Poor things.

Although it was mostly men, there were families and couples there too. There was one little girl of about 2 whizzing about on a pink four-wheeler barbie electric bike, and another posing miserably next to her daddy's favourite bike for a picture (future hostess?) There were biker men in leather and chains, all long hair and tattoos; wives in tight jeans and boots baring their teeth at the girls trying to give their men flyers; and young men choosing between scooters.

Then there was Miss Poland 2005. When we came in I noticed a pretty, bored-looking girl of about 18, sitting on a bike. There was something a little different about her and as I looked back, I decided the huge sash and glittering crown had something to do with it. Later on, there was some kind of competition and a pitifully small crowd was gathered around her and a man with a microphone. We went past them on our way out and I had just enough time to see that she was standing next to a similarly attired; similarly blond; similarly vacantly smiling girl with sash and crown. There were two! This year's and last year's? under 18 and over 18? miss and vice-miss? real and substitute?

Marek wasn't too interested in my questions and I fear I shall never know. I suppose there are greater mysteries in life.

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

drills and suckers

'Zapraszam!' called the kindly looking woman in a white coat and face mask. I followed her, Marek behind. 'Er, is it ok if we come together?' I asked in my faltering Polish, 'I'm not Polish and I'm not going to understand everything'. She smiled, 'no problem.'

I sat in the dentist's chair first. 'Just a check-up'. It had been about a year since my last, which I felt a bit guilty about but I have a history of good teeth and regular visits so I wasn't expecting anything too major.

My parents have never been too happy with their teeth and always did everything possible to make sure their children's teeth were well looked after. I've had teeth covered in a special seal to protect them, four pulled as they were crowding each other out, various kinds of braces, teeth moved around until they are straight, and so on. My one and only filling was done years ago in the UK, and ever since I've had satisfactory check-ups in the UK and Belgium, the last Belgian dentist going so far as to proclaim 'vous avez une bouche magnifique!'

All this is just to explain my surprise when the nice Polish dentist came up from her inspection to inform me that I have six sick teeth. 'SIX??' I asked, as calmly as I could.

There are several possible reasons for this.

1. The last dentists were not thorough and missed some small cavities that have since had a chance to get worse.
2. My dental hygiene has suddenly taken a turn for the worse, and the Polish diet has too much sugar in it.
3. My nice new Polish dentist is over-zealous and trying to make money on her fillings...

This last uncharitable option I suppose is a possibility, although I chose to go with the first option. We decided to do three there and then, and to come back later for the rest (giving me the option to go for a second opinion I suppose).

I said yes to the anaesthetic (does anyone say no?) and she started drilling. She replaced my old filling (Marek's comment: It was a metal filling! Do they still have those in the UK?) with a nice shiny white one, and added a couple of small ones. She was the most meticulous, precise dentist I have ever come across, regularly checking whether it hurt and taking so much time over the finishing off I was amazed. She was chatty and friendly and totally professional. I was really impressed.

I was there for over an hour. 300 złotys = 25 euro a filling. Not bad I say, especially when the insurance is going to pay for it all.

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Anyway (author unknown)

People are often unreasonable,
Illogical, and self centered.
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may
Accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win
Some false friends and some true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank,
People may cheat you.
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building
Someone could destroy overnight.
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness,
They may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today
People will often forget tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have.
And it may never be enough.
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis,
It is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

travel snob

I glanced up from my book as the eager crowd stood and gathered around the gate. The flight hadn't even been called yet but the appearance of a trim woman in skirt and hat, moving things around on the gate's desk had been enough to stir the throng. I returned to my book and waited until the flight had been called and the crowd had thinned to a dozen or so. Packing away my book I joined the small group, showed my ticket and pasport, walked to the plane and climbed the rear stairs. On the plane there were several spare seats and I picked one not far from the back, an aisle seat, so that nobody would block me in when it came time to leave the flight.

Such is the way of a regular solo traveller. Sniffy of eager queuers, blase about not fighting for the best seat, fluent in the actions required to stow overhead baggage, eyes closed to the memorised safety procedures, no anxious glances about as a result of turbulance and prepared for the overpriced refreshments, bottle of water and sandwich already in hand at take-off.

When I lived in London, we only ever went on holiday to France, in the car. The highlight of my holidaying memory until my mid-teens was a family trip to Majorca when I was 3, when we had 'been on a plane!' Now, after living in a couple of different countries, and having the increased possibility of air travel thanks to the ridiculously underpriced cheap flights I can't remember a time when getting a plane was less exotic.

As I sat on the plane last week heading to a weekend with family and friends, slightly bored with the repetetive procedures of passport control and baggage claim I couldn't help but reflect on a conversation I'd had the day before.

A young Chechen guy, self-taught English speaker and ambitious for his future had told me about the 'tolerated stay' permission he had received from the Polish authorities. He has no right to travel, no right to any support in finding a job or somewhere to live, no idea even what he's going to be doing a few months from now, or where. If he leaves Poland he is a criminal, but if he stays, the road to a legal satisfactory job is an impossibly tough one.

I know life isn't fair. I know people are born into different circumstances and that even nowadays you can be born into royalty or slavery. But I don't understand why we aren't doing more to redress this balance. When is the idea of nation going to seem irrelevant? When is everyone going to get the opportunity to be a bored traveller?

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Valentine's update

Don't forget the HOFF still loves you. He does.

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If love is blind, why is lingerie so popular?

Some alternative gift ideas...

Join others who hate Valentine's day or just send a card.

These ones are just for you... (taken from the card site, which seems to be so popular it's not working for the mo)

and my particular favourite...

Happy Valentine's you jaded cynics.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Back to school...

I went back to my old school over the weekend: Bonn International School. Except that it's no longer an 'old' school, but a spanking new one in its beautiful old location by the Rhine.

It wasn't a reunion as such, because very few old students were there but I caught up with a couple of teachers and admired the facilities (kids today! don't know how lucky they are...) There was something surreal about wandering the halls of a school, glass of wine in my hand and exchanging news and gossip with my old teachers. Another one of those 'doesn't time fly? aren't we all getting old' situations.

The buildings themselves are wide sweeping shapes which incorporate pre-school, primary and secondary levels, all with incredible views of the river. The whole place has been kitted out with new equipment and well-thought out spaces. The Director, who has been in charge of the whole project and who started out as a design and technology teacher has obviously had fun with the ordering of tools and machinery. It's fantastic.

Today I'm back to school in Warsaw, back to teaching English in a square room with a view of the road. I never want to be a career teacher but if I did, and I had the choice of schools I'd be straight back to Bonn.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Beware, impending rant

One word would nicely sum up Warsaw yesterday: MISERABLE.

I could of course expand; Warsaw was drippy, wet, slushy, runny, puddley, rainy, dreary, chilly. Warsaw's cars and buses (especially the buses) were on a mission to race at high speed through every puddle, splashing as many passers by as possible. The buildings were shedding every icicle and shelf of snow, drip by drip. People were wandering round with umbrellas and hoods pushed down over their eyes. I think you get the idea with miserable. Miserable works fine.

I've totally changed my mind when it comes to temperature. -20 is good. -10 is a bit better, but really, anything below -5 and not dangerously near -30 suits me just fine with all this snow around. It's the bastard temperatures around 0 you have to watch. The 'shall we water particles stay as snow? or shall we melt and then freeze and trip up some poor unsuspecting old lady? Ooh, what a choice, no contest...' Urgh. I nearly fell about a million times. No, I exaggerate, about 80 times. Walking across a road involved so many new choices: 'walk an extra 10 metres to go round the enormous puddle or try and daintily step through the shallower parts?' or 'step through that enticingly thin film of water, or avoid it at all costs because it is in fact a thin sheet of slippery ice?' 'run for the bus, grabbing people for support along the way or risk waiting 20 minutes for the next?'

*big big BIG sigh*

When I fell, it was into a huge puddle of recently melted snow, ready and waiting to rush icily up the leg of my jeans and stay there. For hours. It was just before I was to give my English lesson and I was surrounded by a group of young Chechen men I was about to teach. Fantastic.

Embarassment was way beyong me. I just sighed and futilely wiped at my jeans. Looked around me at the dripping buildings and splashing cars, and carried on my way.

The reason I can put up with this kind of crap? Did I mention I'm leaving the country in a few hours and I won't be back until Sunday? HA!

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

photos, extremists and sausages

Go to flickr if you want to see my hyacinth attempt suicide (it grew... it grew... it bloomed... it collapsed).

Go to human rights and wrongs if you want to join a discussion on this cartoon thing, which is getting rather old now to be honest.

Go to Cologne if you want to join me for bratwurst and koelsch tomorrow evening.

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Monday, February 06, 2006


The Pope's coming to Poland! I won't be around, but I expect his visit will be greeted with a great deal of interest.

Something which struck me as slightly weird in this press release was the whole motto thing. I never knew there were such things as "visit mottos" but this official trip will be accompanied by the moving words "Be Strong in the Faith."

If I were Pope (which I guess is pretty unlikely, as I would have to be Catholic and male) I think I might enjoy coming up with trip mottos. I suppose he has minions to do that though. Do you think someone holds that official title? 'Papal motto developer.' It must be quite a challenging job to be honest, one basic theme and the need to include motivation and drive in a way that resonates with past history and country priorities.

Anyway, I quite like the idea of mottos. Sure, they're a little cheesy, but they give a kind of grandeur to an official visit. Did Princess Anne have a motto for her recent trip to Poland do you reckon?

I'm off to Bonn at the weekend. My motto will be "Drink Much of the Beer"

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Friday, February 03, 2006

Pronouncing Polish: Lesson 186

On my one-woman mission to fully support 2006, year of the Polish language, I bring you a useful phrase that will twist your tongue, guaranteed!

I am fully aware that the official opening of these celebrations isn't until Feb 21st, International Day of mother tongues (I kid you not) but I learned to 'be prepared' as a brownie guide and it hasn't let me down so far...

Actually, I'm not at all sure radio Polonia didn't make this up as an early April fools' joke, because, as far as I'm aware, this *exciting* news hasn't been covered anywhere else, but we'll go with it.

First a little preamble: Now I'm coming within spitting distance of the end of my 'year in Poland' people have suddenly realised they risk missing their trip to Warsaw to visit me. Actually this isn't the case as I have no intention of going anywhere for the moment, but to arm you people who are intending to come over in the near future with a phrase you might want to use....

'Cześć! Cieszę się, że cię widzę!' It means more or less 'Hi! I'm so happy to see you!' In other words, something you might say to an old friend you haven't seen in a while, or maybe to her Polish boyfriend ;-)

How it's pronounced? Thought you'd never ask... This is a rough guide:

chesh'tch! che'sheng sh'ieng zheh ch'ieng veedzeh!

w porządku? (f pozhont-koo?) ok? Thought so. See you soon!

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Don't give up hope...

Winter will end. The snow and ice will melt. I will be able to leave the house in just a jacket. The sun will shine. The trees will grow leaves. The bulbs will push through the hard ground. The birds will build nests. The days will get longer. People will start smiling more.

Repeat until spring.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Don't hassle the Hoff

This has nothing to do with anything at all except that when I lived in Germany, friends from the UK would always go on about how popular David Hasslehof is there. I never saw any evidence of it, but in this video that is definitely worth watching, you can find out why everybody should be worshipping the guy... More Hasslehof 'gorgeousness' over here.

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