Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas Cheer

Is it really twelve days since I last posted here? Christmas time is a bit of a blur, no?

Anyway, I wish you all a Merry Christmas. And, if you don't celebrate Christmas, then I wish you a Merry Non-Christmas instead.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Relatively Relative

I discovered a distant, elderly relative in the Ukraine. At least I think I have, if she's still alive.

It felt odd writing a letter to her. I was told the Poles/Ukrainians like 'care' in a letter, as if I should write it asking how's the cat?—or how's the woman next door's burst boil? But how do you create a 'cosy' letter to what is effectively a total stranger, and across cultures at that?

And it felt odd writing to a woman who might have passed away.

Of course, if that's the case, I'm hoping she's left family behind, and they might get in touch and help with my search for the Michalczyk family tree. Or maybe they'll think who's this barn-pot Englishman with his daft obsession with the past, and barely glance up from their Wodka?

I have to say I'm very impressed with Google's translator. I joined a Polish online forum a while back, and one of the regulars on that forum kindly translated a draft of my letter for me. I ran it through Google to see how the translation back into English held up, and it was near perfect. It gave me confidence to add to my original letter using Google's Polish.

Now I wait to see if there's any reply. I included an email address—I wonder if there's Internet in rural Ukraine? Not that I'd expect my octogenarian relative to be using it (although, having said that, my dad is 85 and he's just had broadband installed—he's the oldest net-head in town :-).

Friday, 11 December 2009

This Weekend...

This weekend, I shall write something.

Since finishing Burying Brian, I've been sitting smug-faced with feet up and enjoying, so I tell myself, a well earned rest. But it's time to write something again—a short story, perhaps; I have one or two anthologies in mind that I think I'd like to try for.

This weekend, we'll put up the Christmas tree and adorn the house with lights. I love it when we're lit up. It feels like the magic of Christmas is not so far away then.

I'm on twenty-four-hour call for the day job this week, too. I hate call with a passion; it rarely feels like I'm not working, even if there are no calls.

But, such is life. I'm off now to write…

Sunday, 6 December 2009

The Fine Art of Tribal Warfare


We're off to the football match, James and me. It's Everton versus Tottenham Hotspur—they're fourth in the league, we're sixteenth, and we're not in the best of form right now, so in theory we should lose.

But, it's a funny game, so who knows what might happen?

When you think about it, it's an odd thing following sport. I mean, we do get rather fanatical about it, but really it's celebrating someone else's achievement—the eleven often petulant millionaires kicking the ball about on the pitch. But there is some strange emotional attachment that's really hard to put into words. If you're not 'into' sports, and so you've never felt it, I don't think I could ever really explain it to you. But it's real and almost palpable.

For ninety minutes, we kick every ball with those highly-coiffeured an pampered individuals; we feel every ounce of pain; we offer threats and the loan of spectacles to the referee. Maybe it's a tribal thing, a throwback to a more primitive age. But, if so, why do I feel it?—I have no other Neanderthal tendencies—I hardly ever drag the wife around by the hair and hunt bison wearing nought but a loincloth. Perhaps it's more of a 'club' mentality. Maybe we all just need to belong.

And I saw that emotional thing dawn in James. The first half-dozen games I took him to he spent more time engrossed by the antics of the crowd rather than the game. But at one match I saw an abrupt change in him. He suddenly took a greater interest in the game itself. He felt it in himself—even at that tender age—because he actually turned to me and said: 'Daddy, I can see what you see in this.'

And we smiled and shared a nodding, father-and-son moment.

Now, he's a walking encyclopaedia of all things Everton. In fact, not just of Everton but of all things Football. He puts me to shame with his knowledge.


We're at the match. Oh, I'm relating this later, of course, as not even I am daft enough to sit in a football ground tapping away on a laptop. I'd probably be labelled a dangerous intellectual, if I did, and be made to stand at the back. It's cold, and wet, and I'm wondering what we're doing here, particularly as the game is being shown live on television. But that's what sports fans do, brave the elements.

James has a hotdog, and I've got a pie of dubious content. The theme tune blares—Z cars—and crowd roars and the teams enter the pitch. This is why we come, as we stand proud on the eve of battle, our hotdogs and dubious pies raised aloft in salutation. 'No prisoners!' is the cry, or something like that, and we take our seats and await the contest unfold. More warfare should be conducted sitting down. It's hard to invade Poland on a seat. Spurs kick off. Everton can't get the ball back. Some things never change.


We've been to the match. It finished 2 – 2. It was all very exciting, with the Everton goalkeeper making a last minute penalty save, and Everton coming back from being 2 – 0 down. It was a bad tempered affair, which of course makes it all the better. But no one got hurt (apart from one player who was taken off on a stretcher), and with a tied game the spoils were shared, which is more than can be said for most tribal warfare. And we'll do it all again in a couple of weeks time.

Come on you Blues!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Polish Polish Everywhere

Well, my learning of Polish is coming along nicely. I'm about six weeks into my audio course, and I'm pleased with the way things are going. I had a week off with 'flu last week, mainly because I could barely speak English never mind Polish.

It's certainly a tough language to learn. There are plenty of sounds pretty much alien to English, and while it's not too bad with practice and repetition to make these sounds in individual words, I find the hardest part is rolling words into one another in the same sentence. That rather adds another dimension to the alien feeling and certainly ties the tongue in knots. But it's all good fun.

The grammar is tough, too, given that different words are used for the same meaning but in different situations (for example, 'something to eat', and, 'something to drink' each use a different word for 'something'). So, I have to learn multiple words and learn where specifically they're used.

But it feels like a challenge, and I think should I reach any conversational level in Polish it will be an achievement.

I need to get a text book, now, too. While I love the audio book, it's teaching me to speak Polish but not read it, and reading it is going to be essential to building my vocabulary beyond that of the audio course.

Do widzenia