In The Bleak Midwinter

Added on 19 January 2009

Warsaw is deep in the bleak midwinter of its discontent. Of course, the Poles are generally discontent, they don't need it to be freezing.

The cold persists, and it snows every now again, a mild flurry without yet depositing several feet of the stuff. It is incumbent on householders in Poland to clear the snow from the stretch of pavement in front of the house. While I've been doing this, I've also been clearing the pavement for the women who live next door. I see this as a small act of kindness to make up for the fact that they have to live next door to us. I keep expecting my neighbours to appear while I'm sweeping their pavement, either to say thanks or to say, You're that horrible man who shouts at his children, clear off! However, TPCKAM has been informed by someone a work, that further to the law that demands you keep your pavement clear, there is a further law that states that should you clear your neighbours pavement, and the neighbour acknowledges you while you're doing it, you can then charge them for it.

This is completely insane. You do something nice for someone, and they don't want to say thank you in case you're going to immediately hand them an invoice. Further to that, while you're undertaking your random act of kindness, they're not looking at you with gratitude, they're hiding behind their curtains thinking, That bastard's just after my money. Well he's not getting it.

Institutionalised misanthropy. I would say only in Poland, but it's probably spread gloomily across eastern Europe.

In our house the general chitchat of family life has turned to where we're going to be next year, as we are due to leave Poland in the summer. However, the continued cold weather appears to be unduly influencing the other members of the governing collective. One evening last week, I was happily sitting at the piano playing the very best of Barry Manilow, when One of Two and Two of Two appeared excitedly at my shoulder. They started to speak at the same time, I held up my hand, indicating that I should be allowed to finish Can't Smile Without You before they spoke. I made them wait, playing all seventeen verses, including the lost Glasgow verse, You came in singing, utterly minging, and shitened my day... Finally, after they'd been standing quietly, patiently waiting for three quarters of an hour, I wrapped it up and told them they could speak.

'Mum's going to apply...,' began One of Two, but then she fatally hesitated, and Two of Two leapt in like a velociraptor, and ripped the words from her mouth. '...for a job in Australia.'

I was thinking, must be some job at the High Commission that she's stumbled upon. Wonder what it is.

I was off the mark. It was the job in Australia, the one that at least three million people are going to apply for. The six months on an island taking the odd photograph and writing a blog once a week job.

There was a high level of excitement, the likes of which hadn't been seen since Christmas Eve. In that very moment it had become the default position with the kids of what we're likely to be doing next. I felt that TPCKAM had done a poor job of managing expectations.

Since that night last week the kids have been using phrases such as When we go to Australia, and When are we leaving, and I can't wait to go swimming every morning.

I let it go a couple of days and then I played what I thought would be the inevitable trump card. I pointed out to One of Two that there was forest on the island, and being in Australia this would mean that there would be big bugs, and that where you get big bugs, you usually get big spiders eating them. Given that she won't go to the basement because of not very big spiders, I thought it a fair bet that she'd instantly refuse Australia on the basis of its spider population.

I don't mind, she said. Aw, crap, I thought.

Plan C is to order in the largest Australian spider I can get and do a live show & tell in the kitchen, then let it loose in the house and see how everyone gets along.

So far TPCKAM hasn't made her application. This is my Plan B; to let the natural inertia of family life take over, so that the far-off closing date will just suddenly come and go, and before you know it, it'll be too late. And then the kids can start using phrases such as, We were going to go to Australia but my dad preferred Millport.