Now that the dust begins to settle and we all have had time to reflect, a clarity of mind returns. I promise to be brief.
When a woman pushing forty feels compelled to reveal to a global TV audience of 50 million, that it was in fact Kate, a higher ranking Duchess, who made her cry, and not the other way round, in the run-up to her royal wedding three years earlier, because of something to do with the flower girls dresses, the whole thing reaches Alice in Wonderland level of absurdity.
We had all been dragged through the rabbit hole for the duration of that surreal interview. The good news was, the majority of us got to crawl back up at the end of it. No such luck for Harry, he is staying firmly put, for now, hen-pecked in the Chick Inn, whilst the Duchess ponders his fate.
At 4pm on last Saturday before Christmas Tier 4 was announced for London. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, we spent the evening doing the Which Disney Character Are You Most Like? quiz for each family member.
Daisy, our cat, was not too happy when she got Pumbaa from Lion King. She was hoping for Simba, naturally.
Personally, I was not too thrilled with Hades from Hercules, either, but my children were quick to explain to me, that Hades is really cool, with a great sense of humour and edgy blue hair, so I am fine with it now.
Last Sunday before Christmas.
With nowhere to go and nothing to do, we had a family viewing of Tangled, complete with a trayful of pigs in blankets and a box of Roses. A fascinating film, which prophesied lockdown and dreams of escaping from it ten years ago.
Monday before Christmas.
We spent the last week emptying the fridge of everything still remotely edible to make room for Christmas.
This morning we woke up to the photos of 4000 lorries stuck in Dover, immediately followed by news of panic buying of lettuce, broccoli and lemons.
With the rampant new strain of Covid on the loose, I have decided to shield my husband, who has a mild underlying condition, from turkey-hungry crowds at our local orange-themed supermarket.
Not taking any chances, the said husband also developed a well pronounced limp in his left leg today, in case I changed my mind about the marital shielding. I must congratulate him on his survival instinct, because Sainsbury’s was a killer, if you excuse a hint of Covid humour.
The only turkeys still available were size XL, boasting to feed 13-17 people each. Something sad and ironic about only the biggest birds being left on the shelves, as most families get ready for a seriously scaled down Christmas dinner.
Goose fat. Nowhere to be found, sold out apparently. Not a single full goose either, come to think of it. I wonder what happens to all the geese when jars of their fat start adorning supermarket shelves every November. Never seen a goose in the meat section of any shop. Never seen a plucked goose anywhere in fact, apart from the one Patrick Stewart swings around on TV every year. Must be liposuction. Yuck. We move on to a morally neutral territory of festive napkins and Christmas crackers before I turn vegetarian.
The 24th of December is the only day in the year when I dig out my Polish culinary roots and cook a meal which requires a lot of cabbage, sauerkraut, dried mushrooms, prunes, four different types of meat and an unlikely combination of spices.
Polish Christmas is all about the Christmas Eve dinner, Wigilia. We sit down to it, dressed to the nines, just like I remember from my childhood. I dedicated the whole nostalgia-ridden blog post about Wigilia a couple of years ago, so I am not going to repeat myself.
After dinner, charades with a twist. There is little point in us playing the traditional version. What usually happens is, as soon as I get up and announce, ‘film, two words’, the rest of the family shout over one another, ‘Les Mis’! before I begin to mime a single letter. If I have a second go, and show ‘film, two words’, they scream ‘Leap Year’!! before I have a chance to take a single exaggerated step across the carpet. So, this year, we decided to pick up random words from a newspaper article to act out. We also split the family into two teams. My husband and I got Covid-19, social distancing, and Exeter to mime to the rest. The first two were a doddle but Exeter posed a challenge. We started by frantically pointing our fingers at our son, but that, unsurprisingly, didn’t tease out the correct response. I then proceeded to perform a fervent Nazi salute, as well as to pretend to throw something up in the air and catch it back, whilst my husband was very convincingly imitating slicing somebody with a sword. Our combined efforts brought a suggestion of a ‘little Nazi graduate’ from our first-born, and it is quickly acquiring the status of a family Christmas classic.
For the uninitiated, our son graduated from Exeter University with a history and German degree a few years ago.
It is now the 27th of December and we have all fallen into the blissful mellowness which comes after two days of guilt-free gluttony and alcohol abuse. The horrors of the annual New Year New Me are still a few safe days away. I am going back to the sofa in a minute, to enjoy the fullness of the moment. I invite you all to do the same.
Christmas Season 2020 so far has gone as well as everything else this year for us. First off, our Jingle Bells Turkey lost his voice. He is at least 15 years old but it still came as a shock. When pinched on his tail, he still gyrates like mad, and stretches his neck as expected, but without the sound he looks like he is having a seizure. I would like to help him, just don’t know how.
Next thing I know, our baby poinsettia plant is not looking very healthy. He might not make it till Christmas. And finally, for the first time since I became a mother, I failed to secure Advent calendars for my brood. Fair enough, I set off to purchase them on the 2nd of December, but I expected some sad Frozen 2 or Percy Pig offerings to still be available. Nothing. Zilch.
A year of feeling that as soon as one door closes, another slams firmly shut in your face, is crawling to its end. In slow motion, of course, like everything since February.
On Monday, the 14th of December, we got another bad news bogof. Tier 3 for London announced in the same breath as a new strain of faster spreading Covid. Where does it stop? It’s been relentless, exhausting, bottomless. I am not prone to negativity, I hate to complain, my default mode is happy. But this is beginning to test me.
At least Eastenders sounds more and more like comedy central these days. Last night, Rainie to Stuart, all heaving bosom ravishing : ‘I am proud of you. For being honest about the dead man in our fridge’. I can’t wait for the Christmas meltdown. —
Lockdown 2.0 Here we go again. Personally, I think it was unnecessary, but enough politics already.
Lockdown the Sequel confirmed once more that you can never step into the same river twice. Probably for the better, as I, for one, would not like to go through the same volume of panic and fear per square inch as before. The fear is still there, and it’s real, but I think we managed to tame it a little and get on with it.
The decision to keep the schools open this time round meant that, for our household at least, life changed very little on the 5th of November. We experienced none of the late March nationwide lull and Netflix. Alarm clocks still went off at 6.00 each weekday morning, and continued going off for half an hour in regular intervals, until our younger girl got up and woke up her sister.
Courts stayed open this time round, which meant I was frequently out and about myself. My husband, the two cats, and Charlie the hedgehog remained as blissfully relaxed and removed from any stresses of everyday life as they had always been.
During springtime lockdown, I missed the theatre and the school concerts, I mourned the lack of Easter holiday, and the cancellation of summer family trip to South Africa. I missed the Sunday markets, weekend catch-ups with friends, strolls around art galleries, bookshops, pet shops, garden centres, and impromptu meals in quirky out of the way restaurants.
What did I miss this time round? Ice-skating Sundays, Everyman cinema, John Lewis Oxford Street and Cafe Nero with friends. I am acutely aware how short this list is, and it is actually quite concerning. Is my world shrinking? What if this is irreversible? Life feels comfortable and cosy. Too comfortable and too cosy. Laziness is no longer frowned upon. Why would it be?
When the second lockdown was first announced, I felt a short-lived spark of excitement. I know, pathetic. For a day or two I was kidding myself that this time round I was going to do things differently. This time I was going to do it right, actually going to do something with all the extra time. There would be no banana bread, and no Joe Wicks, but also no bingeing on Netflix. I was going to start with a proper spring clean. November sounded as good a month for it as any, it is still 2020 after all. I had so many plans.
And then, life happened, and as we are entering the last few days of Part 2, I have nothing to show for it. I have embraced the new normal.
What I have learnt since last lockdown ended.
Putting my phone in airplane mode will be the closest I am going to come to flying anywhere anytime soon.
Given time, there is no limit to what humans can get used to, and do without.
My body’s resistance to starting a fitness regime is stronger than previously thought.
Katy Carr is a British singer-songwriter of Polish, English and Scottish background. She is fiercely proud of her Polish heritage, which she has been referring to extensively throughout her music career. When I think Katy Carr, I see a tall dark-haired lady in one of her signature 1940s inspired outfits, gently strumming the ukulele, while singing her own songs in her unique deep dark voice. At the end of last month, Katy released her latest album, Providence.
The album includes a curiously eclectic mix of themes, a veritable feast for the intellectually minded among us. In Providence, Katy takes her audience on historical, cultural and literary rollercoaster, which ranges from recounting the 1920 Battle of Warsaw during the Polish-Soviet war, through tributes to Oscar Wilde, Elizabeth I, and Boadicea, to singing the praises of the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond. The latter is my favourite song in this collection. The Hampstead Ladies’ Pond is an utterly surreal place, Katy Carr re-creates its esoteric, peculiar nature perfectly.
The album includes one song performed in its original Polish, Hej, Sokoły (Hey, Falcons). The song has been every traditional Polish wedding reception’s staple for decades. Katy adds her unique vocal interpretation to this absolute legend of a song, bringing it beautifully close to its original Ukrainian steppes setting, with her slow and maudlin version, whilst adding her trademark folk harmonies.
Throughout this album, I can’t help hearing distant echoes of another singer of Slavic origin, Regina Spektor, both in the quirky lyrics, and in the tone of Katy’s voice.
I will leave you with a review from a very dear friend of mine, who has spent the last 40 years working in the Polish ‘music industry’, as a musician, composer, conductor, and music director. He can play more instruments that I can name. He requested to remain anonymous.
Katy Carr’s album transports me into a different world. The world of dark brown chambers, styled in the austere aesthetics of musical painters who inhabit them, and who are for ever waiting for a visitor from the past, knowing that he will not be coming. Nevertheless, they insist on arranging objects from their past on the table, in the belief that these items will help evoke the spirit of the bygone eras. The sound of this record gives the chambers their colour, the objects on the table are the instruments used in it. And what an unusual combination of instruments it is. A cello, piano fender, harmonica, mandolin and … a drum machine of the 1980s! Is it possible to conjure up anything out of it? I can say with appreciative certainty, that it works beautifully. It works thanks to Katy Carr’s dark voice, brimming with the honesty of expression. Her voice manages to magically glue together seemingly mismatched elements, and the result is a truly unique album, in which we hear folk music combining the Scottish singing aesthetics, and instrumental performance with notes originating in Poland and Ukraine. Perfect for long autumn evenings, best enjoyed with a glass of smoky whiskey. I heartily recommend!
I wrote the title and paused. Where do I even begin?
Poland, unlike Britain, has a written Constitution which serves as a supreme book of law for the country. Polish Constitution has a long and distinguished tradition, and as every proud Pole is keen to tell you, Poland was the first country in Europe and second in the world, after the US, to have come up with the written Constitution, in 1791 no less. We should probably gloss over the fact that that first Constitution only lasted 14 months, but anyway, the tradition was set, and suffice to say that the Constitution is a very big deal in Poland. It’s a sacred document of the land. Like the Bible, which, ironically, is also a sacred document to many Poles, and that is where a lot of Poland’s current problems stem from.
Last Thursday, a court called Constitutional Tribunal (CT), which rules on constitutionality of all Polish laws, issued a decision banning abortion based on severe malformation of the foetus.
Over the last few decades, abortion has arguably been the single most inflammatory, emotive, divisive, controversial issue in Polish political and social life. Do not get me wrong, there have been plenty other inflammatory, emotive, divisive and controversial topics around recently, such as LGBT rights, specifically gay marriages and adoptions (both remain firmly illegal), the intake of refugees (Poland refuses to take any), sexual education at schools (you can guess), free access to contraception, and a plethora of other similar issues.
Before last Thursday, abortion had already been outlawed in Poland in most cases anyway, but the recent decision takes it up to another level by introducing a near-blanket ban. Abortion is only going to be allowed where there is a risk to a woman’s life, or the pregnancy is the result of rape or (puzzling turn of phrase) incestual violence. The last two scenarios need to be verified by a prosecutor.
Historically, as introduced by Abortion Act in 1956 by the then Communist government, abortion in Poland was legally available up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. At the time, this was a pretty liberal law, compared to other European countries. As any Call the Midwife fan worth their salt knows, abortion in Britain was only legalised by Abortion Act of 1967.
The recital of the Polish 1956 abortion law included circumstances which allowed for the legal termination of pregnancy. One of them quoted ‘difficult life conditions of the pregnant woman’, which opened itself up to a broad range of interpretations and effectively amounted to ‘abortion on request’.
Despite fairly regular challenges by the Catholic Church and its derivative organisations, the status quo existed until the end of Communist rule in Poland.
All of that changed in 1993, when the new Act of Parliament removed the ‘difficult life conditions’ provision from the previous law, leaving only the danger to woman’s life, foetal malformation and rape or incest as grounds for legal abortion. As far as game changers go, that one was pretty major. Curiously, the 1993 Act had been referred to as an ‘abortion compromise’ in Polish political discourse, which should have set off some worrying alarm bells among the pro-choice section of Polish society. If that was a compromise, what else could the opposite side have in mind? As of last Thursday, we’ve got the answer.
The amendment to the law means that women will now be forced to carry pregnancies to term even in the case of most severe, irreversible foetal abnormalities. Such babies will often only live for the matter of minutes, or hours, and that could be seen as small mercies. Others will live lives stripped off any meaningful existence or dignity for years. There is no need to explain what depths of misery and avoidable suffering that will entail for the severely disabled babies, their mothers and wider families.
The timing of the latest decision cannot go unnoticed, and is truly despicable in itself. Poland is as much in the grip of the Covid pandemic as the rest of us, the stats have been steadily rising over the last few weeks. Polish government must have known that a CT decision of such magnitude, with such breathtaking social consequences, would not be accepted without protest, that the people will take to the streets ignoring current Covid restrictions thus endangering lives.
Nationwide response came literally within hours of the CT decision. Thousands of protesters poured onto the streets of Polish towns and cities, armed with unprecedented anger and makeshift slogans. They’ve been out there for the last week and they have no plans to return home any time soon.
One word stands out on their cardboard banners, the word which, incidentally, I shrink from using in everyday parlance. The word is Wypierdalać and it means Get the fuck out. This word has been traditionally associated with representatives of lower social classes, who would use it in situations of heightened emotions or extreme inebriation. Since last week, I have seen this word on the lips of individuals I thought incapable of pronouncing it. The word is directed against the current government, the Law and Justice (PiS) ruling party and also against the dignitaries of the Catholic Church, which is seen as largely responsible for the current developments. Which leads us to the next stage.
Three days after the CT decision, several groups of protesters all over Poland, entered their local Catholic Churches, and interrupted the Sunday Mass. Religious feelings run as deep among some parts of Polish society as their love of the Constitution, so this was seen by many church-goers as a terrifying escalation of events, the violation of the sanctity of the churches.
Two days later, on Tuesday this week, and I promise this is the final episode in my current reporting, the leader of the PiS party, Jarosław Kaczyński, decided to address his party faithful on national TV, mainly on the matter of attacks on churches, but also on the subject of the vulgarity of expression on the part of the protesters. He appealed to all Polish citizens, and specifically to all the PiS members to ‘protect Polish churches at all cost’. He described the attacks on churches as part of the plan to destroy Poland. He referred to the current events as ‘war’ for the preservation of Polish national identity and Polish patriotism. He signed off by saying, ‘let’s defend Poland’. It did not take long for his audiences to draw chilling parallels with another sombre leader’s speech, watched by millions, as general Jaruzelski declared Martial Law from TV screens on a December morning in 1981.
Since I like to do things thoroughly, I set out to find somebody who supports the latest CT decision and to try to understand the reasons why they defend it. None of my friends does, so I resorted to a well-known research method of Facebook stalking. I found one person, who is not only in favour of the decision, but she is prepared to, quite literally, go to war over it. Yes, it’s a woman. She welcomed the CT decision with ‘joyous heart’, and she is now ‘more proud than ever’ to be Polish. You get the gist.
She attracts like-minded individuals to comment on her posts. Remember Katie Hopkins comparing migrants to ‘cockroaches’? That’s exactly how this person and her circle refer to their political opponents. The all-embracing highly contemptuous term which they use to describe anybody with even a hint of liberal views, is lewak. Lewak doesn’t translate easily, mainly because whatever word I choose, it will likely fail to convey the utter disgust and derision the Polish term implies. Leftie is too soft, it sounds almost like a term of endearment by comparison. Libtard comes close, except it is not used very often in English, whereas the label lewak is freely given out in Poland to anybody who expresses even slightly progressive views, about anything.
This morning, she put a temporary frame on her profile picture, which reads ‘National Guard’. She has taken her leader’s words to heart, and has declared herself ready to ‘protect the churches, protect Poland’ against the supporters of eugenic abortion.
So there it is. Eugenic abortion. This is a rather cleverly, carefully chosen term, I must admit. Eugenics is a fully discredited concept, and it gives the supporters of the current CT decision a high moral ground they so crave.
All of this is far from over. I will let you know what happens next.
‘On the Rocks’ is not a great film. It is slow, with minimal plot, zero surprises, ok, fine, one, tiny little surprise towards the end, still no major surprises; not much humour, and Bill Murray looks like he’s tired of acting and also, frankly, slightly unwell. So much so, that one fellow sufferer in the audience vented his frustration half way through, by shouting at the screen, stop blanking, start acting!
Murray’s character is selfish and obnoxious, which serves no purpose, but rather, like everything else in the film it is what it is. Did I mention that Murray looks drawn and haggard? He does. His daughter, played by Rashida Jones, who, I understand, has received a degree of praise for the role, but I am sorry to say she does not do much for me either. Her husband comes off the worst of them all. He is so bland he seems to be nothing more than a prop, with no visible traces of a personality, and an acting method built around rubbing his forehead with his outstretched hand a lot to indicate his inner struggles. Or just a persistently itchy forehead.
The marriage, the state of which the title alludes to, and which is meant to be the centrepiece of the movie, is utterly unconvincing, completely removed from reality of modern family living. The father-daughter relationship has its cute moments, but these are so too few and so short-lived, they cannot possibly save the film from itself. It is one of those films where ‘nothing happens’, and in the absence of any other redeeming features, you leave the cinema thinking it was a bit of let down and a bit of a waste of your time. The kind of film that typically only attracts a very small crowd of eccentric culture buffs, which lends the cinema auditorium the same depressing vibe that is unfolding on screen. Except, this is 2020, and typical does not apply. Audiences, starved of new releases flock to each one in large numbers, limited, naturally, by social distancing rules.
And so it came to pass that On the Rocks opened to a full house at our local Everyman cinema. My daughter and I were there too, amongst the Crystal Palace finest, doing our bit to save the industry.
One nagging thought still remains, as we watch the trailers. Why, oh, why there is a need to push back Dune, No Time to Die and Black Widow releases, but On the Rocks was able to open.
Everyman really knows how to look after their middle class, ever so snobbish clientele. Sofa style seats, currently separated by Covid-friendly single empty armchair. They offer food and drink waiter service, with a range of burgers, hummus and flatbread, four types of chips, including deliciously salty and just the right side of thin, sweet potato variety. Drinks menu includes a decent wine list in three colours, as well as a large choice of cocktails, with a frozen pina colada with vanilla ice cream to die for, and, wait for it, raspberry candy fizz, which is raspberry liqueur and prosecco with a dollop of pink candy floss on top. All this allows the cinema to double up as a bar and a restaurant, which makes sitting through mediocre films like this one all the more palatable. I can’t wait for Cats and Dogs: Paws Unite next weekend. Kidding, it’s actually Cinema Paradiso, 30th Anniversary, and I literally cannot wait. I already have my food and drink order all sorted in my head.
I want to believe that the future of cinema is bright. It has the colour of the passion fruit martini at your local Everyman.
PS. The photo shows me using Every Girl facilities. The lighting inside is every middle aged woman’s dream.
The longest September on record has ended. It dragged on so long, I convinced myself it was time to move the clocks back already. My family stopped me at the last moment, just as I was about to interfere with all the digital displays around the house.
September is traditionally the month of New School Year resolutions for me, as I feel inspired by warm memories of sandy beaches and lingering sunsets, my tan still glowing. This year, as we came back from ten days of solid rain in North Yorkshire, I could not be asked.
Highlights of the month. One trip to a half-empty local cinema, one trip to a half-empty local hairdressing salon, one track and trace check-in at a half-empty Costa, one chicken caesar baguette at half-empty Pret, one stroll around half-empty John Lewis store, and one walk in the countryside along half-empty paths, amidst half-empty fields, travelling to work on half-empty trains. You get an idea.
Oh, yes, one more thing. A week or so into this most unlikely September, I found myself an unwilling participant in a mask rage incident on London public transport. The 15.36 to West Croydon via Crystal Palace, from London Victoria, platform 11, to be precise. What’s more, it wasn’t my usual, mobile-at-the-ready bystander’s role. No. This time I was thrown bang in the middle of the action, a villain or a victim, depending on where you stand on these things.
As usual, I arrived at the station with plenty of time to spare, walked the length of the platform and got onto the first carriage. I had it all to myself, so I took my mask off and started munching through a punnet of cherries. And not just any cherries, but M&S, end of season, soft and plump, dark red, just ripe enough, not too sweet, absolute bliss cherries.
‘Put your mask on!’, I heard an angry male voice behind me, ‘Put it on, put it on, you need to have your mask on when you are on the train, put it on now, you stupid bitch, PUT IT ON NOW!’
I do not respond well to people shouting at me, never have, so I ignored him, and reached for another cherry. That enraged him beyond all reasonable expectations. Within seconds of me taking another bite, his whole body shuddered, he did a small jump on the spot, raised his preaching finger at me. To his credit, he kept a safe distance at all times, as per government guidelines.
‘Put your mask on, you bitch! Show some respect, you are not allowed to eat on the train, look at all this saliva!’, at this point he stopped his rant, to run his fingers down his face to illustrate the imaginary streaks of saliva drooling down his cheeks.
He was properly fired up now.
I spat out a cherry stone, slowly and discreetly, into my hand. He must have seen it as a personal insult, and raised his voice a notch.
‘You disrespectful bitch! You have no respect for me, you have no respect for the law, you have no respect for yourself, you fucking bitch!
I looked around and considered my options. We were the only two people in the carriage, the train was leaving in about three minutes. I was about to get up and move to a different carriage, when he ran up to the door and stuck his head out. ‘Excuse me! Guards! Security! Please remove this woman from the train, she is refusing to put her mask on, she is eating on the train, she is not allowed to eat on the train!’.
Next thing I knew, two laid back, well-built six footers in orange high viz uniforms strolled into the carriage. The mask enforcer set off again, ‘She is not wearing a mask, tell her she needs to put it on now!’ One of the guards, visibly bored, looked at me and said, ‘but she is eating’. It was the wrong thing to say.
‘She is NOT ALLOWED to eat on the train! tell her that, she is a disrespectful bitch, she needs to wear a mask but she doesn’t, she is a law-breaking bitch, and she has white privilege!’
That was enough for one of the guards. Still relaxed, he said to the man, come on, cool it man, there is no need to for that. Madam, would you like to move to the next carriage? He gestured towards me, shielding me from the mask warrior with his body. I packed the cherries away, put on my mask and changed carriages.
As I was leaving, I looked at the fuming vigilante one more time. Until he mentioned white privilege, I assumed he was white himself, perhaps Southern European, or whatever. His race was the last thing on my mind, as I was assessing his level of aggression against me and my cherries.
Incidentally, the two security guards who came to my rescue both most definitely identified as Black Caribbean.
This is not a story about race and colour, it’s about mask rage on a train due to my over-zealous love of cherries.
The fact that some people will go to great lengths to turn every story into one about race and colour, just came as an unexpected bonus.
After a government-enforced spring laziness (thank you, Boris and Rishi), we are now once more full steam ahead. There is simply no stopping our burgeoning family book business.
At the time of writing, Alexia has got no less than three book covers to her name, please see the pictures below.
Jaimie, Ania and Cordelia are doing their level best to write fast enough to keep up with Alexia’s prolific graphic design skills.
Even the husband joins in, albeit grudgingly, bringing his invaluable formatting talents to the table.