The Vodka Project - in search of the spirit

A Report from the Institute of Anglo-Polish Cultural Affairs Field TripPosted on 18th May, 2008.

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Inspired by the possibilities of vodka consumption in Ireland and the rapidly expanding Polish diaspora, The Institute of Anglo-Polish Cultural Affairs was pleased to undertake some action research into the need for a similar institution in Ireland. Our primary fact-finding research took place in a bar or two in Roscommon. Members of the Institute were first treated to a walking tour of the town, and spent some time admiring the construction of the new fire station alongside the modern ring road, which was notably busy at all times of day. Unlike other parts of Ireland, there was little evidence of public art sited on the numerous flower-bedecked roundabouts.

Through a focused discussion group,  members discovered that there was a great deal of excitement about the National and World Ploughing Championships. While this years Ploughing Championships also saw the biggest farm safety demonstration ever held in Ireland -  run by The Health and Safety Authority in partnership with the National Ploughing Association and the Farm Safety Partnership Advisory Committee – this did not seem to stir the blood as much as the thought of ‘The JCB Dancing Diggers’, 10 tonne ballerinas mechanically choreographed to music such as The Phantom of the Opera.

Some of our more inquisitive members were invited to attend a local night club, Rockfords. Sinead told us that she tried to avoid it, but somehow all roads, winding or otherwise, seemed to carry her back there. It was variously described as both the “best fun in Roscommon” and “a bit of a cattle mart at times” and  “a numbing experience for all concerned.” The way that opposite members of sex interact in this context was described in detail by a local expert as follows: Now, say if yer a fella, all yer do is drink an awful lot then prop yerself up against the rail that goes around the dance floor. Eventually, a woman who’s drunk an awful lot as well, probably even more, will come staggering by and you both sort of collapse on one another. And that’s the mating ritual sorted. The local women present were of the opinion that “the boys grab ’em like flypaper and that’s them making an effort…”  It is in this context that a new generation of liberated Polish women, who are working in Ireland, form a remarkable revolutionary vanguard.

One man, Jimmy, told us: Sure, the local colleens are getting worried, cos there’s these new women in town and they’re different. They look different and they act different. They’re Catholic of course, but a very different breed of woman to what the men are used to. They’re a bit more glamourous, that’s fer sure. So the Irish girls are having to make a bit more effort. For a change. Another commented: It’s the first time in history that Irish women have anything to be jealous of.

The big question for Peter – regardless of whoever you were, whatever nationality, and whatever your station, high or low – was this: Did you know the difference between a shovel and a spade? He had a left handed shovel. It was, of course, the best shovel in the whole of Ireland, reliable rain or shine.  He thought that if you didn’t know the difference between a spade and a shovel, what use were you to man or beast?

You lift and scoop with a shovel, you dig with a spade, he said finally. It’s that obvious.

Though he knew that many Poles would be familiar with farming and rural ways, he was not aware if they were fully cognisant of the importance of this distinction between the two implements. He said that he expected any girlfriend he had any intercourse with to appreciate this crucial point. He was in agreement with one of his brothers, Tommy, who stated,  You know, Polish girls are tall, blonde and have great bodies, but their heads are full of turnips.

Indeed, several members of our Institute noted that many of the Polish women were indeed blondes, natural or otherwise, and were reminded of the advice proffered by the Argentinian coach of the Polish National Men’s Volleyball team. When asked what guidance he would give to a first time visitor to Poland, he said: Przede wszystkim radze jednak znaleźć sobie ładną blondykę na tłamacza. We understand that this translates as: However, I would especially recommend finding a beautiful blonde interpreter.

Most of the individuals in Roscommon we spoke to had nothing but respect for the new émigrés. They openly spoke of their admiration for Radoslaw Sawicki, who worked in a major supermarket warehouse in Dublin. Misleadingly described in the news media as ‘the new Lech Wałesa’, he had organised the Poles working there, gaining the support of local trade unions, fighting for equal labour rights. The supermarket and the employment agency now have cases in court. It was all to do with the number of boxes per shift that workers were expected to carry from one place to another and a glaring discrepancy in wages.  Irish people working in the same job, but employed by the supermarket itself and not by the agency as the Poles were, earned at least 200 euros a week more. Box moving quotas for the Poles were also increased.  Sawicki was quoted as saying: “I know it’s not my country, but it’s my Europe.”  Members of the Institute fully endorse this sentiment and we found common ground with every self-confessed lazy person in the pub who thought that while the hard working virtues of Poles were well-known this business of box-shifting was a ridiculous state of affairs in Dublin.

Now, one of Peter’s younger brothers has avoided any potential Polish-Irish conflict and has got himself a German girlfriend. She doesn’t like drinking, smoking or going to discos, so he has to hide the fact that he does like all of these things and in abundance. So he pretends that he is visiting his sister at 3 am in the morning. It’s a bizarre relationship, Peter says.

The last official census, in 2006, recorded 63,276 Poles living in Ireland, far more than those of German origin. The Irish Times of July 5th 2007 estimated there are actually 200,000 and said half of them do not intend to return home. There’s a lot of lonely Irish guys out there for sure and not just at Rockfords on a Saturday night.

In Roscommon, there are also a lot of Brazilians, working in a bakery and a halal meat factory that exports to England. These did not form part of our research at this point, though, for future reference, it would appear from our observations that they are great drinkers and enthusiastic pool players. At this time we are unaware of the potential vodka market in the South Americas.

The Institute of Anglo-Polish Cultural Affairs will debate these matters further at its AGM in October. The main topic of this meeting will be about the group of young Polish writers called the New Neurotics. If you wish to put forward a motion to the meeting, contact the Secretary through the usual channels.

Short Vodka Stories No: 3Posted on 1st May, 2008.

On St. Patrick’s Day, my attention was drawn to an old press release from Irish Distillers, which quoted Pablo Picasso as the source of the following statement: “The three most important things in the past century have been The Blues, Cubism and … Polish Vodka.”  The company held a special dinner to celebrate the arrival of two premium Polish Vodkas – Wyborowa Exquisite and Zubrowka Bison Grass – in Ireland. At the reception, the Domestic Commercial Director told the guests: “We in Irish Distillers are delighted to provide Irish consumers not only with a variety of premium and super premium vodkas but also a selection of vodka from Poland, the home of vodka.  Our Polish vodkas combine authentic Polish heritage, innovative packaging and the highest quality spirits.”  Guests were welcomed with Zubrowka Green Destiny Cocktails and Chilled Wyborowa Exquisite.  Wyborowa Expresso Martinis were served after dinner.  Vodka now has a 40% share of the spirits market  in Ireland.