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

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Drip drip drip

Is there anything more depressing than rain falling on snow?

Well, apart from fleeing war and violence and finding yourself in Poland that is...

Jeez, these refugee stories really get to me. It's terrible but I think it's just as well I only work two days a week on my refugee project and spend the rest of the time correcting awful (allegedly...) English. I wouldn't be able to take the emotional drain otherwise.

Asylum seekers can't escape from their lives, but I can. Isn't that shameful?

I'm reading a wonderful, terrible, depressing and thought provoking book at the moment. It's fascinatingly heart-wrenching. The things people do to one another is shocking, and the lives people are forced into is desperately sad.

Count your blessings.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

cryptic whisperings

I have a history of sleepwalking. Well, I mainly have a history of crashing my parents' dinner parties and demanding food, as well as the more standard nonsense talking nighttime wandering. That's my thing though, sleepwalking.

Marek, on the other hand, is into sleeptalking.

When I first came to Poland it was very frustrating, because I'd be woken up by some incomprehensible mutterings and, unable to remember the Polish until the morning, never know what weird and wonderful things he was dreaming about.

A couple of years later, the situation has evolved, and now I can understand the nonsense he spouts in the middle of the night.

When he's sick, when the line between reality and delirium is less defined, Marek sleeptalks even more.

The latest example was when he fell asleep in front of the tv...

him: (low throaty chuckle) uh-oh!

me: (thinking he was concerned about the fate of the animal about to get savaged in the nature programme on tv) yep

him: who's he going to be next?

me: (realising he is asleep) who?

him: (incredulous) a woman??!

me: (lost) huh?

him: (waking up) nevermind.

Understanding all this Polish may reveal some fascinating things.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Soon. The sickness. It will go.

I no longer feel like I'm at death's door. I'm backing away down the path, one hand on my throat, the other at my head croaking 'another couple of days, just another couple and I'll be fine honest'. No, that's still an exaggeration, I'm feeling much better, apparently looking more alive and sounding less and less like an 80 year old with a serious smoking habit. That's always fun.

Of course, the vicious bug that did this to me didn't leave me before sticking its middle finger up at me, blowing a raspberry at the naive 'no kissing' rule and striking Marek down too. It was inevitable. My nursing skills don't come quite so naturally as they do to angel-boy, but we are sharing the tissues and drugs between ourselves quite nicely.

Anyway, more interestingly it's snowing! It's winter! This time last year -26, but this year, it's barely staying below freezing.

I must be getting better as the realisation that a whole load of work has been piling up as I've been wheezing and groaning is starting to bother me. All in good time.


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Monday, January 22, 2007

This is the 'I'm so ill' post. Skip it if you like.

This weekend was dire.

We were invited to two parties saturday night, and instead poor Marek got to peel me oranges and make me soup, while I coughed and spluttered and moaned and drove myself round the bend.

He is an angel that guy. He did all the shopping, cleaned the place, made me all the comforting food I could stomach and stocked up on so many pills and potions that we will never, ever, have to go to another apteka in our lives.

Marek takes looking after the sick seriously. It's like a full time job. He's strict too. If I haven't taken the vitamins or haven't finished my soup, he shakes his head, gives me such a stern look I feel ashamed and sticks a thermometer under my arm.

He had the audacity to admit, the first day I was ill, that he almost likes it when I'm all feeble and needy. Less talking back. I guess he gets to be the man for once, the provider and One In Charge, which let's face it, I don't let him be all the time...

I haven't had this kind of all-consuming illness for a while so I have been spared the antique Polish torture methods for some time. I got out of the feet in boiling water thing but swallowed down the sickly warmed milk with butter and honey. Just the once. Urgh.

I made myself hot lemon and honey, and succumbed to the inhalation thing and to being wrapped up in so many layers that I thought I may suffocate. They are mean, these traditional treatments.

Then. Then, I nearly cast Marek out of my life forever, when I poured myself a glass of cold juice. Marek walked into the kitchen and looked at the juice. He looked at me, shocked, then back at the juice. He was so stunned I might as well have been sawing off my arm with a carving knife. His eyes were saying 'juice? cold? do you WANT TO DIE??!' and then he shook his head, and turned away from this unbearable sight.

It was almost worth it. That juice was so soothing on my poor throat.


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Sunday, January 21, 2007

nope, no title for this one

I know how annoying it is when bloggers are ill and post 'I'm snotty and sick and can't think of anything to say' posts. So I won't. Actually I'm not snotty, just coughing like a dog (literally, think 'woof, woof') and with a throat that will only accept soup and warm liquids containing a good spoonful of honey. But you don't care about that so I won't say any more on the matter.

The only thing making me feel less sorry for myself at the moment is the truly horrible replays they keep showing of that poor Czech boy who fell on his head at Zakopane yesterday. Why do they keep replaying it? It's horrible. The boy (come on, he's younger than my little brother) looked like he was doing fine, flying off the end of the ski jump, and then suddenly something's not quite right, he's not in the right position, and as you watch you're thinking 'Dear God, no, straighten yourself, otherwise you'll land right on your hea...' and then he lands. On his head. And they keep playing it. Ok, we get it. Ski-jumping's a dangerous sport. He is critically ill in hospital. I am not the centre of the world, I just have a cough and a cold. I get it.


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Friday, January 19, 2007

what do you mean, grow up?

While I wouldn't dream of breaking my don't-blog-about-work rule, I am going to write about something that stems from differences between the Polish and English languages, that may or may not have been brought to my attention at work.

I may or may not have been editing a piece about a restaurant that had very fancy food and was proud of the fact that the chef made all the desserts from high quality ingredients 'while using no conservatives'. This has me almost choke on my tongue while I HAW HAW HAWed, imagining the line of miserable tories who had been banned from the kitchen. 'I'm sorry, you just can't come in, give Mr. Blair a go for a month or so and then we'll see...'

So, I (may or may not have) changed conservatives to preservatives and then realised that if a Pole who didn't have a great grasp of English read that sentence, they'd have their own reason to giggle.

Prezerwatywa means condom.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007


The doorbell rang and we looked at each other.

Marek went to answer it, and I hovered, nervously.

Marek followed the young priest in, who greeted me with some blessing-like saying. I realised I didn't have a clue what I was supposed to say in response, so I muttered and stammered under my breath. This was not going well so far. I took a deep breath.

He came into the sitting room and saw the table, which Marek had prepared with the candles, cross and holy water. 'I see you're all ready' he said, smiling, and made the sign of the cross.

Now, most Church of England-ites don't make the sign of the cross, and to be honest I feel stupid, almost blasphemous, doing it, especially in my sitting room, so I didn't. I didn't want to feel like I was playing a part. Also, when the priest and Marek started saying the Lord's Prayer aloud, I thought my voice chiming in with the English words might throw them off their stride so I kept my mouth shut and made do with bending my head.

Another prayer, and the priest blessed the flat with the holy water and that little mini wand-like thing (I am sorry, I have no idea what they're called). I looked on, listening and learning.

If the priest was thrown by my weird behaviour he hid it well. There was however, a look of sudden realisation that spread across his face when Marek mentioned that I was English. It didn't take him long to cut to the chase. A couple of questions about whether I liked Poland and then,

'Are you two married?'

I left the question and answer session to Marek, who by the time the priest asked 'but is it forever?' was practically squirming on his seat. He did well, poor lad, and steered the priest round to practical considerations. The priest did his best to brush them out the way though.

'Oh, no it's no problem if you decided to marry in a Catholic church. We just need a certificate that Pani has been baptised in England, and Pani has to sign a decleration saying that she will not stop Pan from practising as a Catholic, and if you have children, that Pani will not stop them from being Catholic, if Pan wants them to be.' I saw an opportunity for argument at that last point, but let it go.

After a bit of small talk about the flat, our jobs and, rather bizarrely, the Vietnamese people who live in the flats nearby, the priest left us. He invited us to the church across the road, and all my urges to probe at the problems I have with the Catholic church faded slightly, with his cheery goodwill.

Another thing. I'd heard that it was expected for money to be given, but Marek really had to force it on him, and that gave him extra points in my book.

I almost felt positively warm and fuzzy about the Catholic church.

Still, if the feeling fades he'll be in the building for another couple of hours doing his rounds. I can watch for him leaving and shout 'what about homosexuality?' and 'why shouldn't women be allowed in the clergy?' from the balcony.


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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Outdone again

Although I've mainly done jobs of the bad-pay-but-good-on-the-cv variety, bonuses and work-related awards are not familiar territories. A long time ago I worked for the best bank in the world, and got a couple of bottles of wine when customers said nice things about me, but that was really where my corporate career ended.

For my latest project (come on it's been soooo long since I last plugged, er, mentioned it) I have a certain amount of interviewing to do, so my project's budget (which doesn't run to a salary for me) stretched to a very nice little creative zen, with enough room to record various interviews and oh! look! I might just put a couple of songs on there to listen to on my way to refugee centres... ahem.

Anyway, so I was feeling a little guilty at the loveliness of my little zen, when Marek came back from work last night, grinning from ear to ear.

As he made his company the most money from the contracts he wrote them last year, they gave him a present. What kind of present? Funny you should ask... a creative zen! But before you start worrying that we may get our zens mixed up, don't!

Mine is like this...
whereas Marek's is like theeeeees...

Seriously. It's a motha. It's memory is 60 times the size of mine. No exaggeration.

So, I've decided to stop feeling guilty about not buying a crackly cassette dictaphone instead of the zen. Turns out it wasn't so extravagant after all.

Oh, aaand he got 1000 zl travel voucher... where shall we go? Hmmm.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Why would they do that?

The other day I switched on BBC Prime and there was nothing. No home decorating shows, no re-runs of sitcoms I've been out of the country long enough not to have ever seen, no cooking shows, no game shows, just a blank screen.

Funny, I thought, and then watched a Polish channel for ten minutes and went off to do something else.

Today, I was watching my Polish soap opera, when Marek said he had some very bad news to tell me. He sounded so serious, I was surprised when his response to my questioning was just a 'look at channel 9'.

They've switched it off for good! Gone. Kapow. Pooof!

No BBC Prime.

They say the contract is finished and there's going to be a new channel. Minimini. I mean purlease. What kind of channel calls itself minimini?

It's not like I need BBC Prime, but I'm so far detached from British popular culture that it's the only link I have to anything British, and after a year of 7 Polish tv channels I was so happy to be getting anything, as you may remember...

So bleurgh to you UPC. I've written to you (ok, Marek technically wrote, but it looks like it's from me so play along) and I expect answers! Answers damn you.


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Saturday, January 13, 2007


One of the great things about living in an old building like ours is the way, if you look hard, you can see the original beauty of the structure (underneath the graffitti, peeling plaster, grim flakey woodwork and creaky wooden staircases of course).

One of the extra great things about paying a rather large amount into the restoration fund every month is the way that, if you are patient enough, you see it being used to bring little pieces of the original aesthetics back to the building.

When we looked around our flat there was no gate to the internal courtyards, now there is!

When we were decorating and moving boxes in, there were old wornout windows in all the stairwells, now there are new clean white wooden ones!

When we moved in we had ugly doors to the stairwells that clanked shut like prison cells. Our particular stairwell's door had a hole kicked into it, low down.

When we returned to our flat after New Year, we were greeted by this!

Slowly, slowly but surely.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Tea. The story of a failed rebellion.

I have spent a lot of my life trying not to become my mother. No, that's not quite right. I have spent some of my time trying to avoid the same paths my mum went down in her life and make my own way. Not because my mum's not a fantastic person you understand, but because once you spend your entire life being told you look the spitting image of someone else, you have to do your bit to carve your own niche (can you tell I studied psychology?).

One episode in my childhood is still vivid in my mind. My mum and I went into a corner shop when we lived in London, and the kindly Indian behind the counter looked at me (aged 8? 9?) and looked at my mum, then back at me. 'Photocopy!' he declared.

In order not to be considered a photocopy for life, I decided a few things early on. First, I would not study languages like mum did at university, after all, who needs languages? (I love learning languages and have learned and needed two other than English since). Right then, now I'll find my own career; I will never be a teacher (I have been roped into teaching countless people from French school-children in Germany to Chechen refugees in Poland). Ok, then I will never be a journalist as she was before (I work at an English language news magazine).

Fine! I will not like tea.

Ok, this may be stretching it (I'm not qualified to work as a psychologist you understand...), but if there's one thing my mum loves, it's tea. And if there's one thing I was never ever bothered about, it was tea.

'Put the kettle on!' was a wail we learned to recognise as kids. She visibly perked, still does, after a cuppa. I, on the other hand, never understood the fuss that surrounded tea. The boiling kettle, the ritual of warming the pot, the spooning in of the tea leaves; it just seemed such a waste of time to me. Give me a glass of juice anytime.

I went to university. No tea. I lived with my parents in Brussels. No tea. I moved to Warsaw. Slowly the tea crept in.

As I was in Poland, it was the standard tea bag plonked into warm water. It tasted ok, especially with a lemon slice, but it wasn't familiar tea. My parents visited and hid their distaste as I served them tea-bag tea. My brother visited and tried to cover his shock at my not having a teapot. I held my head high and downed my lukewarm funny tasting brown water.

This Christmas and New Year I spent an awful lot of time with my family. It was great fun, and a lot of tea was drunk. We made gallons of it, and the whole lot disappeared, cup after cup after cup. We even taught Marek how to warm the pot.

When I got back to Warsaw, I found tea-bag tea was no longer acceptable. They were sneaky, the "proper tea" drinkers. They slid in the need for warmed pots and tea strainers quietly, without me even noticing. I admit it. I have lost the latest battle.

I bought this today:

...and I'm on my fifth cup.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Holiday Hangover

Christmas was full of family and food. It was raised happy voices and footsteps running up stairs. It was seeing people I rarely see, and remembering how great it is to talk with people who really understand me. It was meeting a man I thought would never forgive me and realising he has. It was a feast of mixed cultures and traditions, borrowings and inventions alongside turkey and cranberry sauce.

New Year was a family of four swelling into six and almost bursting at ten. It was meeting the fiancee of a friend I have known all my life and seeing him shine with happiness. It was the soft disappointment of rain falling on snowy mountains, soon forgotten when the snow set in and piled into tall drifts. It was a face wash and a fresh start, full of good intentions and hope.

The return to Warsaw was a hard bump back to earth. It was the thin line between recklessness and evil; a man I have known and worked with since arriving in Warsaw, accused of an awful crime - hiding his HIV and spreading it intentionally. It was the harsh reality of plans and meetings and schedules. It was the shrinking from the future's uncertainties and focusing on the positive, while surrounded by this big mess.

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