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, July 31, 2007

Holiday Snapshot: The Graduate

'It's a bit sinister this music' Dad whispered, as the choir got going and the procession filed in, caps and gowns a mass of rich fabrics and mismatched colours.

'Very Harry Potter' I said, almost seeing the wizards flying past and trying to picture the chancellor in a pointy hat.

The ceremony was long, but not as yawn-inducing as I remembered from my graduation. All the speeches were kept short and sweet, and included an entertaining over-excited alumnus from Hong Kong, who talked about his university days with unconcealed nostalgia.

When the long bit came, the reading out of those who'd managed to get to the end of their courses despite the parties and other distractions of student life, it wasn't as lifeless as expected.

The girls were all long hair and interesting shoes. I was grateful to the one whose mortarboard fell to the ground on stage, prompting a red face and slight pause while she waited to see if the vice chancellor was going to pick it up for her.

The boys from the geek department (ok, computer science then) were for the most part satisfyingly dorky. There was lots of uncropped hair and thick specs. Edd, of course, was the exception to the rule. He looked like he'd been born to wear an academic gown. It fanned out behind him as he climbed the stairs, strode forward to collect his first - generously ignoring the mispronunciation of his second name - and cheerfully shook hands with the degree-hander-outer.

I watched him as he made his way back to his seat, nonchalant and good humoured as the ceremony continued. He looked older and more at ease with who he is, in his ridiculous black cape, than I've ever seen him.

He's not a little boy in a temper anymore, trying to make himself heard above everyone else's chatter. He's not even a teenager in a band, moderately successful and surrounded by people convinced they will make it big. He's a sensible, sensitive young professional who is, nevertheless, still my little brother dammit.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

pies (pea-ess, Polish for dog, not pies as in steak and kidney)

The dogs pulled me gently along, stopping every few paces to get a good sniff of some patch of grass. As the old lady approached, I had a hunch she would say something. Most old Polish ladies have something to say, and are not afraid to start long conversations with complete strangers.

'Oh look,' she started, as we drew level, 'aren't those lovely dogs.' I smiled briefly, not really knowing the appropriate answer. 'What kind are they?'

'Um, well,' I said, wondering. 'Some kind of collie. They're not actually mine,' I confessed. 'I'm just looking after them.'

'I don't think I've seen that kind before' she said.

'Well, they're owned by an American family, so maybe there aren't many in Poland.'

'American?' the lady's eyes widened and she took a step back from the dogs, who were waiting patiently while I tried to get away from this chit chat. 'But Pani is Polish?' she asked me, hopefully.

'Oh no,' I said cheerfully, 'I'm English.'

Whether it was surprise, confusion or horror she was feeling, the lady covered her emotions well, giving me a thin smile and half waving us goodbye.

It wasn't long before we neared a bus stop, a little crowd waiting near the shelter. I spied the most likely chatterer from way off. She followed us with her eyes as we approached, smiling indulgently at the dogs.

'Excuse me,' she said. 'Are those sczyminitultoffs?' Ok, she didn't say that, but she said some breed name that came in one ear and out the other.

'I'm afraid I'm not sure' I said. 'I'm just looking after them for a friend.'

'Well they look like it,' she continued 'collies, but the small kind.'

'Yes, more than likely,' I agreed, 'that's probably what they are.'

Who knew dog-walking involved so much Polish conversation practice? I need to find a dog breed book before our next outing though.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Holiday Snapshots: Where did the baby go?

'Buh! Tuh!' Her baby blue eyes were wide with delight and she brought her palm up to her cheek, as if to emphasise her happiness. My cousin passed her daughter a small piece of buttered toast, which was greeted with the same happy chant. 'Buh-tuh!'
'She loves butter,' my cousin smiled. I guess that's what you expect from the offspring of dairy farm kids.

For a few minutes, my cousin and I chatted and sipped at our coffees. Soon though, our plates, with their appetising fried eggs and bacon became the focus of attention. I was flashed a wide, brilliant grin. 'Am?' she wondered aloud. 'Well, yeah, I guess bacon is almost ham' I confirmed. 'Am pees' she said, grinning again, and I rewarded her good manners with a little piece of bacon.

For a few days, all our attention went to this little bundle of blond curls and happy chatter. Each brightly coloured bracelet I wore was slipped off by little fingers, pulled over a tiny fist and pushed as far up a chubby little arm as it would go. 'Mine!' she would usually add, looking up from under long lashes to see if she had got away with it. Each morning I looked forward to the 'Beh-Kah!' that would greet me. We read stories of other families and other farms. She could name all the animals in the farmyard and imitate their noises. 'What's that?' I'd ask, pointing. 'Cow!' she'd declare. 'What does a cow do?' I'd continue. 'Mmmmmmmmmhhhh' she'd go, laughing up at me with her cleverness. With songs, she usually joined in the last word, as if for emphasis. 'Baa baa black sheep have you any wooool, yes sir, yes sir, three bags fuuuuuull.'

It was a sad day when we left.

It's tough seeing family members so rarely, but at least they stay more or less the same. This little being though has changed from a drooling baby to a bright, talkative little girl in very few visits. She'll be a stomping teenager before we know it.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Holiday Snapshots: Turbulence

The wobbling stopped and I loosened my fingers from the seat rest, surprised at the strength of my own grip. What's wrong? I scolded myself, never been in a plane before?

The plane was almost at cruising height now, and the engines weren't working as hard as they had been. It's meant to sound like that, I told myself, pulling my magazine from the seat pocket in front. That tinny whine is normal. I flicked through, my eyes not finding anything to distract my ears, which were straining to hear any sign of engine trouble, approaching storms or wings coming unattached.

The cabin dropped suddenly. My stomach lept up to my throat and the girl in front let out an involountary whoop. I giggled. Nervous laughter bubbled up and threatened to spill over my bottom lip, but the next hit came before it could; an uneven tumble, this time accompanied by several gasps.

I focused on the young family across the aisle, keeping their baby son entertained by greeting each terrifying drop with smiles and the clapping of hands. They were doing an amazing job and I almost envied the boy, oblivious to the alarm building up around him.

I eavesdropped the conversation behind, but finding them talking about near-death plane experiences in the Caribbean, switched off again.

After taking out a book and abandoning it, I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. At each jump and shudder I concentrated on my breathing. Slow. Calm. It's nothing.

Soon, the flight evened out, and I almost forgot about all that air underneath us. I wondered what could have changed this attitude to flying. Especially at the beginning of a summer full of air journeys.

Then it hit me.

Damn National Geographic and their plane crash investigation series.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Puppy Post No.3

Yeah ok, I hear you. Enough puppies.

But how can you be so heartless? They are uber-cute and you should count yourself lucky I'm posting so few photos.

I took about 100 of them over just a couple of hours today.

OK, I exaggerate.

94. I took 94.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Who's in charge of censoring in this country?

I don't get it.

That Paul Coelho book with a cover that shows a baby's finger pointing at a nipple (sorry, couldn't find a picture aaaaaaanywhere) has a big black box over the nipple on all the posters around Warsaw.

But, the magazine that has the terrible twins suckling, one on each of Merkel's breasts (nipples just visible) has been left alone.

I mean, clearly a normal country would have both uncensored, but which rule has this bizarre govenment introduced that sees an artistic book cover (which looks plainly stupid with a black box over it) as not for public viewing, while a magazine cover that makes me (and I suspect i'm not the only one) want to gag, as perfectly acceptable. It's witty, and provocative sure, but totally gross.


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Thursday, July 05, 2007

As requested...

For you out-of-Warsaw readers, this is what I was talking about here:
He did say some nice stuff as well as the chewed shoe thing I suppose. See for yourselves if you must.

And all this is copyright WiK English Edition I guess, so no funny stuff. Although it's in the process of closing down, so um, whatever.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

call an expert you say? nah

My mum has always wanted me to be a plumber. It's a useful profession, and you always have work. I got sidetracked with a law masters and endless voluntary projects, but maybe one day I'll make her proud and do a plumbing course. Maybe that's why I went for a Pole, to cover my plumbing needs... (We all know that Poles are natural plumbers. Knowledge of pipes and waterworks comes with the nationality.)

Our bath had a plug that wouldn't plug. You'd turn the knob that was supposed to close the plug, and nothing would happen. You'd turn some more, nothing... more, nothing... more, it would make a creaking sound and fall off. So, what with my intended profession and Marek's natural ability, we decide to buy the part and fit it ourselves.


On Friday night, after a couple of G&Ts, we decided that NOW was the time to do the plumbing. Obviously. We assembled our tools, our pipes and the bottle of gin. Things started off well. We got the old pipes out, fixed the new pipes and siliconed everywhere, to stop the water even thinking of leaking.

We turned the tap, ran the water and saw the leak.

It was ok though because Marek had a theory. He'd noticed that the waste water pipe had been wobbly, and thought it may have come out of the hole it had been pushed into. In the wall. On the far side of the bath. The bath that is slightly sunk into the ground and obstructs any access to any wall whatsoever.

To check the status of the suspect pipe, I stuck my hand into the hole and photographed the far wall, under the bath.

Exhibit 1: Pipe not in hole. Damn. Dirty under our bath innit?

Yup. Pipe out of hole.

Faffing around blind, trying to poke the pipe back in and taking occasional photos to check progress didn't work.

We poured ourselves another drink.

'What we need' Marek mused, swirling the ice around his glass, 'is a way of seeing that hole. We need some way of looking at it. Using mirrors. Or a screen.'

'Oh yes!' I said, totally getting where he was coming from 'like doctors have for keyhole surgery!'

'Do you have a cable for that camera to connect it to the tv?' he asked, getting up, and going to get the tv in question.

I brought the cable through, and connected it to the tv, lowering the camera into the hole under the bath, next to the light Marek had already positioned there.

Exhibit 2: The tv, connected to the camera, showing the operation area, lit by the lamp.

I couldn't look.

'Is it working?' I asked, and the beam on Marek's face was enough.

In a flash, the pipe was in the hole, the leak had gone and we were sitting there laughing at ourselves. Surrounded by pipes and cables, we couldn't help but be a bit proud of our high-tech solution to a very basic problem though.

We're not available for call-outs just yet.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

I'll take my outrageous swimwear

As we're going to a Tuscany wedding at the height of the tourist season, I've been spending a fair amount of time trawling through websites that offer travel, accommodation and information about the area we'll be in.

There's masses out there. Cheap flights and expensive cruises, hostels and luxury hotels, museums and galleries, little cafes on Italian piazzas, bars and restaurants promising the best wine, the crispiest pizzas and tastiest pasta.

I recently came across this little gem.

'The sandy beach of Viareggio falls gently into the sea, ideal for children, is spacious, clean and outrageous.'

An outrageous beach eh? That is definitely going on my itinerary. What do you think it means? Do you think it wears pink feather boas and sings loud show tunes? Do you think it plays practical jokes on the sunbathers, nicking their underwear and swapping their sunscreen for shampoo? Do you think it tells eleborate lies, swearing it is telling the truth?

Whatever it means, I will find out.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

ah! that's better

I did something last night I have wanted to be able to do for ages.

The low hum of a mosquito buzzed past my ear, and instead of flailing about for the light switch, swatting the air futilely or shaking Marek awake so he could deal with it, I just smacked it.

I smacked that little bug out of the air so hard it presumably squished itself against the wall.

It felt so good. And I only have one bite today. Sorry, gotta love all God's creatures etc, but mosquitoes are way out there on their own.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Puppy Love

For the love of God, and all things that are Holy and Good, are these little creatures going to get this much more adorable every time I see them?

Before too long, the urge to stuff as many as I can in my pockets and run run run away as fast as I can will be too strong.

It's just too sickly sugary sweet for one person to handle. If you think you can take it (ooh, look at you...) then go here. I'm warning you, you may feel queasy with cute-overload.

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