Archive | October, 2011

Sorry, seems to be a blip

30 Oct

Something funny happened when I tried to upload two old photos of me looking thoughtful. Quite likely there was something wrong with the photos themselves, because it seemed to be this that was causing problems. Never mind, at least everything seems to be back to normal. Sorry about this if you received two extra posts.

I was preparing myself for the new Bootsnall prompt and write-session through November. I used to write the odd article for Bootsnall in the old days before I settled in one country, but of course while I’ve settled here I’ve been travelling a lot, and I’ve seen a lot of this part of Poland especially, so there might be something in this prompt thing. Or there might not be. There might, for example, be an essay relecting on the nature of travel, or some kind of treatise on the way things have changed in travelling as with everything else. Or they might ask simple questions like your favourite place this year or something. I know for sure I will not answer all the prompts; I may end up answering none of them, and there’s always the danger that it might keep my creative mind focussed on more than one thing, such as the novel/ short stories I am writing.

An old, wise literary agent once said to me: ‘ you can’t write a play, a symphony and a novel at the same time!’ She had a good point. All of these things require hours of concentration and hard work; a blog, unless you want to be up there with the gods of blogging , doesn’t so much. So I shan’t be doing short stories, poems, novel and blog at the same time, hence the paucity in all probability to my replies to the prompts. But it’ll be interesting to see what the nature of these prompts will be.


Tegestology, or beer mat collecting in Poland

23 Oct

One of my memories of the Czech Republic was how many different kinds of beeer there were. Almost every town had a brewery, and the Czechs themselves were avid beer mat collectors, especially if they could be swiped off the pub tables.  In Poland, collecting beer mats is marginally more popular than collecting beer bottle tops, but it is gaining ground, as  Kamil will testify. He  is an unashamed beer mat anorak. He has a large collection of about 100 different beer mats, nothing, according to him, compared to the 200,000 he has heard that one or two own. Kamil has  attended  many a beer mat expo, or tegestologist’s convention, in Poland. There was one in Poznan he went to recently, and these are not the slick professional affairs the nomer might suggest. They are informal occasions, deals being made over pints of beer in rooms in pubs, and even bidding for some of the rare ones done in the spirit less of a posh auction, and more in  the style of  ‘I’ve got a Kutna Hora up for grabs. Excellent nick. Sold to the gentleman with the large anorak, huddled over a pint of Zywiec in the corner.’

    Kamil was very excited by his visit to Poznan: ‘ I bought 100 different types of beer mat for only 10 zlotych, [about 2 pounds] ‘ he said. Apparently, tegestologists welcome people from all walks of life, from doctors to taxi drivers, from plumbers to TV execs.  His fellow beer-mat collectors, a number of whom are his friends, after they’ve made their exchanges or bought new ones, do what the rest of us do,  and order a drink to celebrate and to make boasts and jokes.

    They then play  a game, not, alas the one where you pile beer mats all on top of each other, flick them into the air and try to catch them with one hand – too risky for the beer mats, and too easy to knock an unsupecting beer glass over. But the game seems equally pointless. You try to flick a coin so that it bounces once on the table and then drops in to a cup specially placed in the middle of the table, a sort of coin-in-the-cup-tennis meets-table basketball. Of course, if you miss, you have to have a swig of beer.  If you score, you can nominate the next person to have a go.

  All these high spirits make the whole art of tegestology much more fun than collecting them over the internet, which is a method a lot of people prefer.  The beer mat is in decline in Europe at least, as the main European factory for making them has gone out of business, which will probably eventually make them quite valuable. If you want to feast your eyes on British beer mats, the uber tegestologist, alas now with God, Mr. Calvert, had (and still has) a gallery of his collection on the internet at

Food, etc.

22 Oct

I remember Polish food from my childhood when I spent a few weeks on a Polish farm, or later when I went to South East Poland on a summer holiday. The reason I say this is that when my family lived in Poland, we didn’t always eat Polish food. Sometimes my father would slice Polish bacon from a joint, and we always had Polish jam, which , frankly, has always beaten British jam hollow, not to mention the odd strawberry soup.  However,most of the time we ate things which would come under the label British or even international, so  the smell that evokes those times on the Polish farm and on the summer holiday in the South East of Poland, is that of cabbage soup, a much nicer smell than that of cooking cabbage on its own, which I have never liked much.

Cabbage and pork are obviously two things that feature a lot in Polish cuisine, and some well-known dishes from here are bigos, a cabbage dish with sausage or bacon or pieces of meat, and pierogi, a kind of Polish pasta, or let’s say ravioli polonaise, if you will excuse my probably inaccurate French. The point with pierogi is that these ‘dough pockets’ are stuffed with lots of delicious things, both savoury and sweet, for example mushrooms, which is also a crucial part of Polish cuisine, since everyone picks wild mushrooms here, and the Polish love of mushrooms means that every individual mushroom has a different name, whereas in Britain we either resort to using an adjective + mushroom, e.g. oyster mushrooom, or we resort to the Latin classification, e.g. armanita, though that of course is also known in some manifestations as the Death Cap mushroom.

No Pole worth his salt (or mushrooms)  is going to go picking mushrooms without being able to identify the ones which are poisonous. Unfortunately, occasionally people make mistakes, as recently happened in the Bieszczady district of Poland when some teenagers picked a Death Cap or two , confusing them for a more edible variety, then ended up eating them. Unfortunately they died in  hospital because people had not identified the problem in time. The problem with Death Cap is that it is delicious, and its poisoning symptoms are subtle before it’s too late.  

Typical for me to start talking about highly edible things and end up with talking about poison. Well, getting back to Polish food, it is not in the least bit poisonous. Try their version of Pork steak (or neck of pork),  karkowka, or golambki, a stuffed cabbage which, unlike its not-very-nice Greek counterpart salmades, is worth trying. There are loads of others, including a delicious variant on the humble meatball using mountain cheese.

Because my wife is Polish and my mother-in-law makes delicious Polish meals, and there are a lot of decent Polish restaurants in this neck of the woods, I don ‘t attempt to cook Polish stuff myself, but instead resort to a more ‘international’, i.e. fusion cuisine. Not content with Spag Bol and Pasta alla Norma on their own, I outrage Italians by combining them both and I don’t use mozzarella, but cheddar or similar cheese. I usually make it with tagliatelli. My ‘British’ Shepherd’s Pie has lots of oregano and tomatoes in it. I can’t resist playing around with my favourite Steak and Ale Pie by adding a few Mexican spices. I stuff pitta bread with bean sprouts and soy, onions and leeks.




7 Oct

Indian summers

We’ve had a right Indian summer all over Europe this year, and Poland has been no exception. What this means is that the parasols and seating in the Rynek stay out for longer, though the pub in the park is more work-to-rule and where there were parasols and benches is just a bit of concrete floor now. What it also means is that people are doing lots of things ‘before it gets cold”; some of my fellow teachers have been visiting places of interest, especially if they’re new here, so as to squeeze it all in, and there’s been a lot of rushing around places nearby.

I have been taking advantage of the weather by taking long walks in autumnally-coloured parks, or squeezing pictures out of reflections on lakes and rivers, zooming lenses to get abstract rippling effects on video, and generally being impressionistic, as the colours are so oil-painting at this time of the year.

The hint of a chill breeze has just started to nip people less-than-playfully, but it’s still a very long way from permafrost. Cars and buses rumble and choke, roar and murmur, and no one is yet slipping and sliding or digging their way out of their snow-trapped vehicles. Maybe it won’t happen. Poles are anyway much better equipped for the snow than say, the Istanbullus (let alone the British). I can remember when it took two hours to get from one side of the Bosphorus to the other because of a few flakes of snow in the city of the Sultans.


1 Oct

Like the advice given to budding photographers, especially photo-journalists,  in the old days, ‘always carry a camera,’ there’s sound sense in always having a pen and piece of paper or notebook available if you want to write. Sometimes it’s a way of making up for the boredom of waiting for a bus, or in this case a one-to-one student who’s decided not to turn up to his or her class but hasn’t bothered to tell anybody.  I decided to fill the time with writing something. There are several things you can do. You can describe the empty classroom, the sounds outside, both in the corridor and on the street and what is suggested by them. You can use the classroom as a way of inspiring memories of your own schooldays, that’s assuming you want to remember them or are brave enough to remember them without necessarily wanting to.

I ended up doing only the second of these options. I wrote one poem based on my experiences as a teenager and young adult , but actually the classroom featured nowhere except in its references to mythology. The second poem was totally connected, it was inspired by one of those creative writing prompts; what would you do if you went back to school again, which I took to mean that  if you went back in time and went to school again, what would you change about your time there. The poem wasn’t full of regret, je ne regrette rien,  it just told me how useful retrospect is.