The Vodka Project - in search of the spirit

By way of an introduction
Let’s begin at the beginning. One night in a bar in central Warsaw, I talked to an old guy who told me that I was wasting my time visiting Warsaw. It’s finished, he said, it’s gone to hell. Read more…

We are not PolishPosted on 25th December, 2015.

This site is now archived. However,  in 2016, we plan to resuscitate the blog, with offers of visits to explore such places as hat I should undertake vodka project research in places I have not visited like Owińska or Hajnówka.

Meanwhile, here are some reflections on the background to this blog…

Let me start with a confession: my Father was not Polish. All the time people would ask, ‘Is your Father Polish?’ To confuse them, I would reply, ‘No, my Mother is Irish.’ While not actually Polish, he was a long-time member of the Anglo-Polish Society of Wolverhampton, West Midlands Branch, nominated and duly elected as Cultural Secretary – on the grounds that his son, yours truly, had made a career from obscure artistic activities. With baffling central committee logic they said to themselves, Like son, like Father. He held this position for many years before finally being promoted to Chair of the Association. In his capacity as Cultural Secretary he organised the raffle, bingo sessions and various coach trips to the seaside, to English Stately Homes or to country pubs with bowling alleys, as well as volunteering to be responsible for booking the guest speakers for the annual commemorative event at the Katyn Memorial Stone in Cannock Chase, north of Birmingham. This stone is in the middle of what was originally, in medieval times, a Royal Hunting forest, and is now a leisure park for outdoor pursuits – for serious ramblers, casual walkers with or without dogs, picnics, deer spotters and mountain bikers. The forest also contains a large German Military Cemetery, where the bodies of aircrew shot down over Britain during the Second World War were gathered and laid to rest.

I once asked my Father where his particular fascination with Poland had originated. He told me he had always been interested in the history of Poland as a young boy and that, of course, not long after his 11th birthday, Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany to safeguard the independence of the Second Polish Republic. This was the defining moment of his generation. Though it is interesting to note that throughout his 1939 copy of Odham’s Universal Knowledge A – Z (1144 pages long) the entries circled in pencil are almost exclusively locations to be found in the North Americas – Fundy Bay, San Bernadino, Fredericksburg, Bedloe’s Island, Waterbury, Nova Scotia and many others. Warsaw is not circled, nor any Polish heroes – not even Joseph Conrad, though I know my Father read his books. He seemed more interested in Covington, Kentucky – ‘It is notable for its great suspension bridge and for its manufacture of X-ray apparatus.’

Perhaps it was easy to mistake my Father for not being English. His facial features leaned towards those of Central and East Europe; he was tall and thin – invariably the word used to describe him in his youth was ‘lanky’. His nose was highly prominent – a Roman nose, he called it. He was also big-boned and his hands were large, hands made from a family lineage of hard labour, from working in the mines or for working the earth. When I pointed out the fact he was actually brought up in the colliery village of Silverdale in Staffordshire and not Silesia, I remember one woman saying, ‘But he was so tall and distinguished looking, like all those young Polish airmen.’ Here then is beginning of another fiction. Let me be clear: my Father did not serve in the Royal Air Force, though many people to this day still have this impression. Perhaps they were aware that, throughout my childhood at least, he kept a flying helmet of worn leather on the back window of his car and so began a series of assumptions and fabrications.

On long car journeys, travelling by night through Wales towards the ferry terminal at Holyhead or down to the south coast, I would lie on the back seat wearing this helmet several sizes too big for my childish head, looking out at the stars and I imagined being in the belly of an aeroplane. My Mother asleep in the front, my Father happy to indulge this fantasy, as the pilot of our old crate, indulging his son with all the murmured instructions required to keep us in the air, trimming the rudder, adjusting the pitch and roll, talking to ground control or other invisible members of the crew about meteorological conditions, requesting details of the flight path from the nameless navigator, describing the pitch-black landscape over which we flew, as we drove the slowest possible route to our destination. You see, we always travelled on those circuitous A and B roads and never motorways – my Father had an irrational fear of those – so these journeys seemed never ending. We always flew at night, guided by distant stars.

In reality, my Father was too young for military service, though he did try to enlist on more than one occasion, only to be discovered and returned home. One of his best friends did succeed in deceiving the authorities, travelling by train to a recruiting office much further afield where no one could identify him. This friend, barely sixteen years old, flew for a few short weeks in a Lancaster bomber, as a rear gunner – the ‘Tail-end Charlie’.  On his second mission, the plane went down in flames over Düsseldorf, another casualty of the ruthless and relentless destruction of the cities of the Third Reich. My Father, instead, made do with the Air Training Corps, which prepared more of those young boys for war, and he finally took to the air in a Wellington bomber on a routine training flight. The plane had barely landed when the war in Europe was declared over and people’s thoughts turned to demobilisation and reconstruction. He kept his flying helmet as a souvenir and years later – in the 1960’s – it adorned the back seat of the family car, firstly a Ford Anglia, which looked like a small tank, then later a Ford Zodiac, more truly a representative of the Space Age now upon us. One day it simply disappeared, never to be seen again, and my Father grumbled about it for years afterward. It is a memento I regret not having in my possession. Only recently my Mother admitted how, sick of the stories surrounding it, she secretly took it and threw it unceremoniously into a neighbours’ bin.

My Father romanticised the air war, preferring to ignore some of the brutal facts; that sixty out of every hundred crews lost their lives in the RAF bombing campaign. A voracious reader, he had numerous books on the subject and sufficient familiarity with the topic that many people, on the fringes of his acquaintance, came to believe that he had indeed served in the Royal Air Force. And to think that perhaps he was also a little Polish, as there were also many books on the Polish 2nd Army, the Battle of Monte Cassino, the Warsaw Uprising, the Crime of Katyn. Despite gentle disavowals, this myth persisted. ‘Oh, I’m sure he was Polish, wasn’t he?’ Even some Poles thought he was Polish. Perhaps some modesty disguised the truth of the matter, but to add to the confusion his given Christian name was Ivan. Though he is dead some years, to this day people will ask me how did I end up being called Brendan when my Father came from Poland?

In Wolverhampton, in the late 1940’s, it was easy to meet many Poles, freshly disgorged from the Armed Forces, inhabiting huge military and resettlement camps in nearby rural Staffordshire and Shropshire. Many of these Poles were from the Eastern Settlements of pre-war Poland, vast tracts of land then taken by the Soviets and submerged into the U.S.S.R. Dispossessed of their home towns and villages, they found themselves in a post-war limbo. Borders had been reshaped, torn asunder, and Poland itself firmly locked behind the Iron Curtain, a satellite state controlled by Moscow. Of this time Adam Zamoyski wrote, ‘They had not only been consigned to Hell; they were supposed to enjoy it.’

There were over 220,000 men in the Polish Army under British command in 1945, the majority of whom made their home in these England, Scotland and Wales, alongside women and children who had arrived from refugee camps in Africa and the Middle East.  I went to a Catholic primary school with a register that recorded the names of these exiles and escapees. Called out each morning – and most likely incorrectly pronounced – they echoed down the polished hallways. Kisiel, Mita, Lappo, Dobrowski, Frank, Malinowski, Smolinski, Swiderski, Syska, Cieslik, Pilecki, Bardza, Malinowski, Kowalczuk, Sachanowski, Szizechowska, Cebertowicz, Magnuszewska, Wozmirska. To me, compared to Hill or Clark or Guest or Barry, they sounded wonderfully exotic. The ‘continental shop’ run by a Polish couple on the market was the height of ‘otherness’ in late Sixties Wolverhampton; that and one man who always wore beads, John Lennon sunglasses and a flowery shirt amidst the factory and shop workers at the early morning bus queue.

I was walking down a street in Sejny, in North Eastern Poland, near the border with Lithuania, taking some snapshots, when a policeman posted outside the Lithuanian Cultural Centre stopped me and asked me what I was doing. I am assuming this is what he asked as I speak no Polish and he had little English – he was pointing at my camera and shaking his head and finger. He indicated he wanted to see my passport, which I was not carrying. He paced up and down shaking his head and finally let me go to retrieve it from my lodgings. Sitting in his booth, he looked it at for a long while and meticulously wrote down details in a logbook. He then said, ‘Father name?’ and pointed at the passport, flicking through the pages as though he wanted me to indicate the location. I tried to explain that there is no part of my passport which contains any official mention of my Father name. He continued to insist, ‘Father name!’ - as though it must be in there somewhere. I insisted with equal determination, ‘Nie father name!’ He telephoned someone and had a long agitated discussion. At the conclusion of this, he said again, evidently more aggravated, ‘Father name!!’ I shrugged. He tapped me on the chest and shouted, ‘FATHER NAME!!’ Finally, I took out a piece of paper and wrote down IVAN JACKSON and gave it to him. ‘Father name,’ I said confidently. ‘Father name?’ he muttered, pulling a confused face. ‘Rosyjski!’ he exclaimed, which understood.  ‘Nie Russki!’ I insisted. ‘Irish! Irlandzki!He looked at me disbelieving, then lectured me for a while – clearly with some kind of admonishment – before eventually dismissing me with an exhausted little wave of his hand.

My Father only carried three forms of identification – his driving licence, and membership cards for the Anglo-Polish Society and for The Albright & Wilson Working Men’s Social Club, this latter crumpled little card only until he retired. His Mother, Edna, was apparently – in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s – a card carrying member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and some of his Grandparents – at the end of the 19th century – active in the local trade union association for mine workers. Despite this pedigree, I suspect my Father voted Conservative, though he never had a good word to say about any politician or party. As for the origin of his Christian name, it was unlikely that his parents were stirred by the Bolshevik propaganda poster by Ivan Malyutin To the Polish Front’, or were keen readers of Ivan Turgenev – though it is more possible that they were inspired by seeing the Hollywood movie ‘The Tempest’ that year, a Russian Revolution story which starred John Barrymore as Ivan Markov, a peasant soldier who becomes an officer in the army. I understood my Grandmother to be a keen Barrymore fan in her youth.

At school, Ivan was particularly good at Maths so when he left full time education, at the age of 14, a life underground was somehow avoided. His interest in the perfection of numbers meant that he often served as Treasurer on miscellaneous committees, though his first and only business venture – running a shoe shop in Darlaston – failed miserably. Apart from working as an unsuccessful shoe salesman, he was a travelling insurance agent, a clerk for the Great Western Railway, a pork pie salesman, and later worked in the wages department of Lucas in Birmingham, operating huge banks of punch card computers. He spent the last decade of his working life at the Albright & Wilson chemical works in Oldbury. He appears in a 1988 Health and Safety video for the company, ominously clad in gas mark, helmet and overalls, pointing stiffly to the emergency exit.

Though a travelling salesman in his early years, mostly in Staffordshire, Cheshire and Lancashire, he was not well-travelled. He went to France twice and to Ireland a few times. Mostly, he went on occasional holidays to Scotland and to Dorset, always drawn to Dorset. He seemed to relish the experience of life second-hand, gleaned from books and acquaintances. Perhaps he seemed unadventurous, fixed and static. His older brother – who shared the same birthday, two years apart – went away to the Army at age 16 and then to East Africa, leaving Ivan the nominal head of the family, with an ill mother and a younger sister to care for. Their Father, Horace, had long disappeared in slightly mysterious circumstances, of which I know little. After army service, his brother travelled further afield and had his own business, and my Father suffered in comparison. Malcom was ‘full of himself’ and Ivan was ‘insecure’; both were pig-headed, as stubborn as a brick wall, both were always right no matter what the facts of the matter. Malcom, the elder and apparently more worldly-wise brother, liked fine whiskies and – as he moved up the higher echelons of the business world – wines of managerial quality.  In the late Sixties, he sported a goatee and wore narrow cut dark polyester pants and turtlenecks, as though modelling himself on the character Illya Kuryakin, the Russian agent in the Sixties TV series ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E’. By this point, my Father had lost any sartorial elegance he once might have had, recycling two grey work suits from Burton the Tailors. He always seemed to bear a grudge against his more cosmopolitan brother, falling out with him and rarely seeing him for over thirty years. He was not a beer or wine drinker and not much of a drinker at all.  His preference was for vodka, smothered in lime cordial, which seemed wrong to me, even from the earliest memories.

My Mother quoted Canon Weekes, an ecclesiastic authority from Ireland on the art of drinking, whose recommendation was that only women should drink vodka because ‘it doesn’t smell on your breath.’ She said, ‘If you’re not a whiskey drinker, then whiskey smells awful on your breath. Ivan couldn’t stand the smell of whiskey.’ His supply of vodka came primarily from his good Polish friend, George Kisiel, who used to add a little pepper to his vodka glass. ‘Whenever he had a vodka anywhere he was with us,’ said my Mother, ‘he’d always ask for the pepper pot. We’d get some funny looks.’ Funny looks were surely a minor inconvenience to a man like George who, like so many of his compatriots, had lost his home, family and country. Little Englanders have a long tradition of giving people funny looks of one kind or another. I am not sure if these are looks of apprehension or pity, utter disdain or a lack of empathy, or whether they simply express a fear of some kind.

Here is a photograph of George Kisiel, taken shortly after his arrival in Wolverhampton in 1947. This man from Poland – yet again cast as the tragic, romantic doomed country, betrayed by Roosevelt and Churchill at Yalta and tossed into the open arms of Stalin and his fearful minions – this man from gallant yet lost Poland arrives at the railway station and sets out in search of the Resettlement Camp at Wrottesley Park, where he will find Poles, Hungarians, Dutch and other displaced nationals living in hastily converted barracks. Freshly discharged from the army, with his navy blue demob suit and £75 in his pocket, he walks the streets of this provincial town, savouring this moment of freedom. As witness to the armageddon on the European mainland, he is a little surprised to see that the physical structure of this place is barely damaged by the war, despite a preponderance of factories supplying aircraft and motor vehicle parts and the huge Goodyear tyre plant (where so many Poles will soon find work). Food is still strictly rationed and there are sallow and gaunt looking faces on each street corner; this is the age of austerity and will be for some time to come. At first, he keeps himself to himself. Both trade unions and left wing activists, still in love with Stalin, have conducted anti-Polish campaigns; but now the Polish Resettlement Act has passed through the English parliament and offers assistance to those who wish to return to Poland, those who wish to emigrate to the Commonwealth or other countries and those who wish to stay. It offers, at least, a measure of security he and his compatriots have not known in many years. (The Act was intended as a temporary provision but remained on the statute books for the next 60 years.) And so George wanders these streets – no longer a pawn of a huge military machine – and considers his options.

He finds himself outside a motorcycle showroom near the Molineux Hotel, adjacent the Wolves football stadium. Given pride of place in the window is the latest model of a Norton-Villiers bike, produced by a local firm. This is surely the decisive moment – as he feels, rising from suppressed depths, a desire to possess this gleaming mechanism. It represents a new beginning and, more than anything else, it promises the future. As an engineer, George appreciates the fine tooling of this elegant bike and, having ridden them throughout his army years, respects the reliability of the Norton design. He goes inside and ascertains the price, which is astronomical by his standards. Still, he agrees to pay the deposit, which drains his demob pay.

You understand demand is very high, this is strictly a cash purchase, the salesman explains, and so George must return within two weeks to pay the full amount or lose both his precious deposit and the bike. He returns within the allotted time with the money and the bike is his. He never reveals how he obtains the cash – hard work, avarice, card games, favours, a little black market dealing, who knows now? To mark this moment he poses for a photograph astride the bike, in this foreign town he will come to call home, the Polish part of his life set behind him. Did he yearn for the territory of former Poland? Perhaps, but it was, increasingly, a chimera, a country that whispered its name in dreams, that existed in the recesses of his heart only, a place to flee from. He speaks in Polish less and less and his three children grow up without learning the language of their forefathers. Instead, he learns the mother tongue of business, of negotiation, of contracts, of management theory.

I knew the story behind the photograph long before I saw the actual physical object itself, and only then some years after his death. While attending a social event at the Anglo-Polish Club, George had a heart attack. He died on the dance floor, jiving. This surviving photograph remains, as solid a memorial as a stone in a forest.

Long time no see…Posted on 18th December, 2011.

I nearly gave up on vodka project. Less opportunities and reasons to visit Poland. A year of unenthusiasm perhaps. Jobs to do to pay the rent and less time to travel at a leisurely pace. But a trip on impulse provides a necessary tonic. Therapeutic xmas shopping in Warsaw. It’s not snowing.

Tonight I am being taken to the wilder outskirts of Warsaw. I receive an offer to attend a guerrilla theatre event. I am advised to dress warm as there will be no heating and my guide suggests a small bottle of vodka in the pocket would not go amiss. We meet by the Lux/Torpedo bar, which I have passed by many times but never knew what it was called. My instructions received by txt read: Between the stairs heading to the Metro Centrum entrance and the train station. It’s a silver lorry. Indeed it is silver. I wouldn’t call it a lorry though. The figure of a footballer from the Polish national team with a stone bust of Chopin on its shoulders is printed on the side of the vending machines by the cabin.  A gigantic football is positioned in front of the Palace of Culture. Thus the city is being branded to welcome the incoming fans of the Euro football championships next summer.

The night is turning colder as we briskly walk to take an eastbound train. The train trundles over the river and passes by the glowing new stadium – which may be finished in time, which is likely to host some of the matches but no-one knows if it will be used again. Isn’t it a horror? she says. I admit that I too long for its predecessor. She expects mischief. You know the Army museum, she says, can you imagine all those football fans, what fun they’ll have climbing on the tanks and those rockets? I asked the museum what are they going to do to control this and they said they will employ a few extra security guards. Don’t you think it will be crazy? I agree with her. I need to decide whether to be here at that point with the English fans will be an experience, or whether I should avoid the city at all costs.

We leave the train at a platform that looks abandoned, in the darker recesses of the eastern peripheries. The rain is turning to sleet. Only two other people disembark and immediately climb down onto the tracks and take a short cut to the roundabout where there is a solitary bus waiting. Lights on a church steeple twinkle in the distance somewhere back towards Praga, otherwise it’s mostly dark. A few yellow lights swinging near the rail junction and freight yards. We might be In Rembertów but I’m not sure. Neither is she. We have to cross the tracks, two sets, that’s what she says. She asks directions from a guy operating the barrier over the rail tracks. He shrugs. We wander towards some warehouses. She calls a friend but they are coming by car and can’t tell us where we are. We cross the tracks, several pairs. We come to a small shop. I wouldn’t have spotted it. It’s just a blue light in the distance. The shopkeeper asks her, Are you with this gentleman? You’re not going there alone? I stare at the pastries, wondering if I’m feeling peckish. I’m a bit underfed to be a convincing bodyguard. We carry on and find a guy who tells us to go behind that large building and cross the railway tracks. More tracks. The wind is getting colder and the light sparser. This looks a great place to commit suicide, I suggest. A good place for any sort of crime, she suggests. On the other side of the tracks, large concrete blocks that seem to serve no purpose, and an outcrop of stunted trees. Between the branches a sort of path and then a line of candle lights which lead to what looks like an abandoned garage. Inside, it’s quite cosy. There is some heating. This is the base of Teatr Akt, an independent group of artists.

The audience experience a performance with no words, physical theatre, comedy, music and pantomime, which plays with the idea of sporting challenge, football specifically. The Beautiful Game, played around with, a work in progress, which will be performed on the street during the Championships. I have bad memories of the disaster of the English team against Poland in the 1970’s. I’m not sure she will understand this trauma. She is too young. After the performance a glass or two of vodka settles my nerves, then we cram into a car to go back to the city to another party, more vodka and an early night at 4.30am.

The Golden AgePosted on 20th October, 2011.

In Poland it’s been the Year of Miłosz, the centenary of his birth. The events have come thick and fast. I heard a story about the American poet Brenda Hillman, who recalled Miłosz appearing at the door, always with the salutation “Vodka, Brenda!”  They kept a bottle in the freezer for such visits. She once asked him, “What is heaven? What is it like?”  To which he replied: “Brenda, heaven is the third vodka.”

The Belgian poet in Brussels told a different story to me. It was a hot day in May when he met Miłosz in Krakow, where he was living because – the famous poet said – it reminded him of Vilnius. He was doing an interview for Belgian radio. The offer of three days in Poland and one hour to interview the author of ‘A Poem For the End of the Century’ was too good an offer to resist. It was, he recalled, a very special hour. He asked me what language did we wish to conduct the interview in – Russian, Polish, French, Lithuanian or English? It had to be in English, for it was to be broadcast on a Dutch radio station. I remember he talked a lot about the eroticism of language and as I was learning Russian I understood what he meant. I fell in love with the language, that’s the only way to put it.

conversation in a bar, as the fires began to burnPosted on 15th August, 2011.

We drank in a pub that used to be a known haunt of punk rock, which now serves traditional English beer and rather tasty Thai food.

They said, English is a bit of everything these days, isn’t it?

Yes, it’s all mixed up for sure.

Do you worry that the Poles are here to take over? one asks, in good humour. No, I don’t. ‘Poles simply work harder’. I do worry about young people being zombies. Not the chasing after you eating you type, but in the sense of the old fashioned sombulant unconscious trance. But maybe things are about to change. We talk about rock’n’roll and then defining national characteristics and stereotypes and he says how annoyed he was to get an election leaflet though his door from the BNP which opposed ‘mass immigration’ and which, to illustrate the British fighting spirit, showed a picture of a Second World War Spitfire. I couldn’t believe it. I looked at it and realised this particular plane was from a Polish Squadron, flown by a pilot who was Polish. The plane was from 303 Squadron of the RAF. During the Battle of Britain Polish fighter pilots shot down 203 Luftwaffe aircraft – around 12 per cent of total German losses. This annoyed him no end. Come on, he said, Can’t these people get even basic facts right? “It’s not a question of disliking the Polish people,” a BNP spokesman had said when questioned on this, “it’s just a question of economics.”

We then talk about the older expatriate community who, it seems, don’t take too kindly to the newcomers. For years they’ve sent money back to help Mother Poland survive and the moment they’re free and join the EU they come over here. You know, this is first generation to be able to freely express themselves, who can travel across borders without the memory of those times. Those tainted times of Five Year Plans and queuing. Now young Poles have the ability to say what they think, travel, work, and enjoy the same freedoms as ‘The West’.

He tells me about a local recipe for homemade, which apparently dates from the Grunwald Battle of 1410. He’s never tried it though. He also suggests I try coffee vodka. I know that some people from north of Poland what they do with normal vodka is that you take some coffee grains and put it inside a full bottle and leave it for around a week. Then the alcohol taste is killed and you have something like a coffee vodka…

Later I find myself dreaming of a different country, or rather two, where elements of Poland and the UK are irrevocably mixed up, a science fiction scenario that could be from a Stanisław Lem story. Maybe it’s the full moon, maybe it’s the shower of Perseids above…

Here, my ex-girlfriend is proudly showing me round one city, which has Spaghetti Junction traversing the Vistula in ever widening spirals. Here Polglish is spoken – and quite eloquently. It seems the Promised Land. Everywhere is a hive of activity. Old warehouses from Łódź  are jammed up against warehouses in Digbeth, a hive of technological and creative activity encased in 19th century brick and mortar. And beyond, you can see the gleaming shopping centres of downtown. This is Cosmopolitania, a shining new social democratic state, preferably with high mountains, where people work hard and play hard, where we find stubbornness, enterprise, individualism, a distrust of authority and a love of freedom, a land of chilled music festivals and mash up culture. On the large plasma screens in the city centre we listen to the implausibly gleaming model mother glowing on the television. ‘Rutinoscorbin is like the sixth member of our family!’  she says happily. Here glossy commercials for health products beam at all from the billboards, draped down the side of skyscrapers,  interspersed with private insurance schemes and endorsements from television celebrities. People talk endlessly of their management and economic degrees and the new elite dresses up for the party, talking about money and their future dreamed social positions. Here there are optimistic teenagers listening to Crashed Disco Balls with only a hint of melancholy, fringe theatre festivals are popular, there are beaches with sand, fresh fish and fresh fruit.

In the other country, Polgland, which is largely rural and unproductive, conspiracy theories are the main source of media entertainment, along with and repetitive talent shows. The paranoias of the Law and Justice Party and those further right have found their home here. Teenagers are pessimistic, lack lustre and jobless The old times are revered, reinstated even, where the clock is turned back, Orwellian spun via Alan Moore’s ‘V for Vendetta’ or ‘The Black Dossier’. In high stone letters the slogan Why, Mother Knows Best is emblazoned above the entrance to the city hall. The churches and pubs are full, the football hooligans are in place, the League of Families gather in solidarity. The deeply conservative and eternally aggrieved live here, spread out across ramshackle housing estates that stretch out far across the plain. And there is still an underclass – for there must be a scapegoat – those Islamists and former members of the colonies, who work at night and clear away the refuse and recycle what they can, copper or tin. Here, a hefty dose of narcissism in the nationalist martyrology is welded onto a mournful reverence of the time when Brittannia ruled the waves. Here there are beaches with stones, New Brightons, cornettos, grease laden fish and chips, everyone size 16, too many TV reality shows about nothing in particular, and the deeply engrained pornification opium of the masses.

In both these future lands, there is one common problem: What to do with the Chechens?

No vodka was consumed during the writing of this post, though there is surely time yet. Alternatively, I’ll run through this blog about an expatriate living in Wrocław.

queuePosted on 7th August, 2011.

At the meeting of the Polish Expatriates Association, there is only a small queue to play a board game.  The game is called ‘Kolejka’ – which recreates the experience of shopping in communist-era Poland. A game for up to 5 players, it was produced by the Institute of National Remembrance in Warsaw. It was sold out within days, so this copy has come via Allegro (an online auction house).

The task is to send out your family (represented by five pawns) to queue at various shops on the game board to buy all the items on your shopping list  (a card you are given at the outset). Each round represents a day. The problem you face is that you don’t know whether there will be anything in the store when you join the queue. (Though older people reminisce that you could always get vodka and vinegar – though there was a period of serious unrest when even these essentials were rationed.) You may be in a queue of six people for two items or none at all, as there has been no delivery to that particular shop that day. Someone might have a card which allows them to queue jump, move the items to another shop (przepraszam, pani, wrong delivery!) or you may need to buy goods on the black market (at a different daily rate). Indeed, there are some speculators in the queue, ready to snap up the goods. The winner of the game is the first person to collect all the items on their list. There are sixty cards with particular items from communist days. Amongst these goods you might find loo paper, coffee, a guide to Bulgaria, or an elegant coat. This is a serious game, so no vodka is being consumed.

You can download an English version of the game from here:

The Polish Expatriates Association have recently produced an exhibition – and accompanying book and dvd – called ‘From Exile to Freedom’, which can be seen at The Drum in Birmingham, UK until September 3rd. They are also producing a Polish film season at the MAC in Birmingham in August. Details here. As the t-shirt said (from a tabloid headline): Poles Simply Work Harder.