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, March 31, 2009

Marriage according to the Catholic church.

On my mission to become a good Catholic Polish wife (Hmm. Take out the Polish and Catholic parts then and we'll try again... ok) On my mission to become a good wife, I tried Really Hard during our marriage lessons. Marriage lessons are lessons kindly provided by the church to prepare you for married life. They are given by a series of priests and nuns. Priests and nuns clearly being the best people to teach others about married life. Sorry, I'll try to limit those kinds of comments. Ahem.

Before each session (there were ten. TEN!), I reminded myself why we were there and tried to put myself in an open, receptive, uncritical frame of mind. This does not come easily. I was expecting to strongly disagree with some of the statements throughout the course, and was also expecting some good fodder for the debating part of my brain. I was prepared not to be happy, but hoping to be challenged.

At the beginning, we had an older priest, the kind who repeats himself (good if Polish is not your first language and you feel a little sleepy on a Wednesday evening) and sticks to the Pope's every word (not so good if you are me).

Typical statement from old priest: 'When a young man comes to me and asks what he needs to do before he can get married, I ususally tell him... [pause for effect]... find a GIRL! [stop for laughter... which never comes... ok, continue, adopting serious face] Because there are some people nowadays who are suggesting ridiculous things about boys and boys and girls and girls [show audience appalled face].' Deep sigh from me.

He repeated himself through a few sessions and covered thrilling information like the cases in which it is acceptable for a Catholic to marry a Muslim (I looked around the fifty faces in the room. Nope, all Polish Catholics, bar me and a Spaniard, also not Muslim I suspect); the legal papers you need for a church wedding and why (again) marriage is for one man and one woman (another sigh).

The second priest was younger and jollier, with an impressive round belly. He actually got a bit deeper into the juicier parts of love, faith and marriage. All of which he took great joy in telling us we know nothing about.

Typical statements from round priest: 'You may think you love each other but you don't...marriage is all about the triangle between a husband, a wife and is not the be all and end all, after all I can tell you where to go to find sex. There are plenty of willing girls walking about by Place Stephanie.' Oh yes he did.

The last couple of sessions were covered by a nun. We missed the first, as we arrived 7 minutes late and found ourselves locked out. The second time though, I was rather glad we only made one. I think I would have been thrown out if made to sit through another...

Typical statement from nun: 'So you see, monitoring your temperature every day to follow your hormone path is THE MOST RELIABLE form of family planning... contraceptive pills give you cancer... condoms do not protect you from HIV.' GRRRRRRRR.

At the moment I cannot think of that last experience without a little knot of anger forming, so I'll keep that story for another day. Suffice it to say I learned far more in biology aged 11, and have never had false 'facts' presented to me in such a frustrating and self-righteous way.

God save my soul.

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Sunday, March 08, 2009


Four out of five days last week I was in an airport. Actually two airports each time, and a plane. This is wrong. And bad.

It is bad for the environment.
It is bad for my health.
And most worryingly, it is turning me into a pompous snob, blase and dismissive of exciting, new places because I know all I'll see is an airport, a train or bus, a meeting room and then the same all over again, in reverse order.

I used to love travelling. Actually, I still do, but for pleasure, when I have time to read about and really experience the place, taking millions of pictures and properly exploring. Travelling for work is rubbish.

Three of the four flights were delayed; I went to Stockholm for the first time and saw absolutely nothing of the city; and I've been in Vienna so many times over the last year that it doesn't feel like abroad anymore.

In 2008 I went to 8 countries. That doesn't sound too unmanageable but I went to Austria 6 times for work, and the UK the same number, not to mention the ten trips to Poland - the sad necessity of a long-distance relationship.

I know I am a privileged person and that these opportunities may not last forever, so I should cherish them. But when you spend hour after hour in some lifeless departure hall, trying not to spend your hard-earned cash on overpriced souvenirs just for something to do, it doesn't feel like much of a privilege.

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Father Christmas

When I was out and about, going to the post office in my lunch break, or buying some fruit from the corner shop by my work, I often used to see him. A sturdy old man, long white beard and friendly manner, he used to stop and talk to dog-walking ladies, the endless lines of construction men working on the roads, the young mothers pushing their babies. Usually with a smile on his face, I noticed him too because he walked around with the kind of fat bellied ease that implied he owned it all, this was his home. He talked to the people who strayed into his territory and tolerated them, humoured them even, by offering them a kind word here and there. He watched them all as if he was somehow responsible, and wandered his lands with the air of someone with all the time in the world. Someone who had as little fear of dying as Father Christmas.

One morning, on my way to work, I saw him emerge from a shop doorway. Except it was no shop, he was putting plant pots out and looking around at his new surroundings. Over the weeks, the shop windows were clothed in mismatched blue and white blinds, put up in a way that covered the large expanse of glass, but had no order or charm. The plant pots multiplied, and were joined by a small table and garden chair. Some mornings he'd be out, in an old dressing gown, watering his plants, or chatting with a neighbour. When the blinds were open, the front room, with its clutter of furniture and boxes was exposed, and sometimes he was sitting, just staring, not taking anything in, just being.

A few weeks ago, I was on my way to work mentally preparing for a meeting that day. I spotted the police car from a distance and felt a tightening in my throat. As I approached, I saw there was an unmarked van alongside the police car and a group of hefty men, gathering the old man's belongings. He was nowhere to be seen. 'This shouldn't take you too long' said the policewoman, leaning against her car and puffing on a cigarette. A man with a clipboard nodded at her and laughed 'yeah, there's not much stuff.'

I walked past, resisting the urge to ask what had happened to this man I had never even exchanged a word with. Never met. Observed from afar. The door was wide open, blinds pulled back to reveal the jumble within. Was he being evicted? The old man himself was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he'd been caught squatting in the unoccupied shop, furnished by friendly donations from dog-walking ladies. Or maybe he'd moved somewhere else - won the lottery and moved to a warm location by the sea, donating his old home and its belongings to a local charity... but then why the police car? Father Christmas couldn't just disappear, there had to be an explanation I'd not yet come to.

I walk past the shop every day on my way to work. It is still empty, devoid of clutter and boxes. The terrace at the front has no plant pots or garden furniture. I never see the old bearded, fat bellied man anywhere.

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