Leeds, March – April 2007
Couple of facts from memo of a labour emigrant 2005 -2007
At the beginning of April 2005, a month before the term of my PhD thesis defence I went to the state unemployment agency to register myself as the next member of the crew of the few million Polish unemployed. I had to do that because being without healthcare insurance I was afraid that in the case of any illness, no one would help me and I would have to cover all the cost from money that I didn’t possess. Two weeks later after the official registration meeting one participant of this assembly asked me on the side whether I would like to work for newly-created state agency – the Institute of National Memory. If so I should call the given phone number and discuss further details the following evening. The main task of this institution was to investigate crimes committed by the former Communist regime on the Polish nation and created a whole historical view concerning this topic. I decided not to call, because it was not my character to remain a state employed files researcher for the rest of my life, searching peoples’ pasts and shamed biographies. That was the only time until now I have been offered a job in Poland.
A few weeks later, in May 2005 in Warsaw, Poland I had a viva and received my PhD degree, which was confirmed after one week by scientific council agreement.
The procedure was quite dramatic. Having a high temperature, half an hour before the exam blood started to stream from my nose. With pieces of hygienic tissues stuffed in my nostrils I performed. The two and a half hour-long procedure was the longest in the whole history of the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Science. The Polish state had obtained its next young professional. ‘Narrowly educated’, (I shall add that apart from philosophy, the side subject of the studies were the following: sociology, new media, politics, globalisation) with big expectations toward life, I left my prestigious institution to look for my place in life.
The first week after that event I was, as I mentioned before, sick. I was so exhausted after five years of struggles for a better position in this ‘runaway world’ that I had to have a rest. Doing my PhD without any support from the above-mentioned institution I was forced to travel in the early mornings, before conductors start work, to library or school, my work places, and return to home in the late evening, long after they went back to their homes. Having not even a bus ticket I had determination to survive and succeed. I survived. Having a lunch box full of sandwiches, a few apples, a thermos of tea, I resisted all hardships and eventually I succeeded. When recovered, I left my lovely state and stayed some time in Great Britain to do art and community projects.
A few years earlier a group of close friends decided to try and support ongoing struggles for a more predictable future for our world. To do this they organised some funding from the European Union and started to create some wall paintings and community projects in some parts of the continent. Studying at that time in Graduate School for Social Research, I participated in a seminar named Communication and Social Media. There I met Q, a close ally of Y, painter, historian and political activist. We met three days later at their Warsaw flat, and from that time our sometimes better sometimes worse relations were established.
In June - July 2001 along with over thirty people from all over Europe in Greisfald, a picturesque Hanseatic town situated on the shore of the Baltic Sea, living together in kind of artistic commune we tried by doing art and socialising, to work out alternative ways of socialising and spending time. The main task of the project was to decorate with murals a large house which a local students’ association Ikuwo, had received from the City Council as the space for a future students’ culture centre. During the coming six weeks a few hundred square meters of the house facade were decorated with frescos. Every morning common meetings were established and all the problems were discussed. Problems ranged from debates about progress of the work and particular tasks and challenges we were facing, to discussion about what should be cooked for dinner and by whom. Decisions were taken collectively on what was to be the final effect of the work.
The main motto of the action was ‘everyone is an artist’, and during the progress of the project everyone was involved in the artistic creation process. Organic food, and socialising on organised discussions concerning emerging important problems such as climate change, globalisation, the planned expansion of the European Union, unemployment and strategies to reduce it, as well as socialising on the nearby beaches or on excursions filled the whole of the project.
In the following years (2002, 2004, 2005) new projects were undertaken. Such places as Stegna in Poland Kievieli in Estonia, Sibiu in Romania, Carrara in Italy, were decorated with modern-made murals that for some time changed urban spaces of these places.
The last station of the project took place in Leeds just few weeks after my viva.
The Project was different from those before. Instead of doing murals a team of international volunteers started doing a tiles workshop. The aim was to make by hand, paint and fire in the kilns some amount of tiles that later on were planned to be put in some places in Leeds as well as be prepared for the G8 summit, which was planed in Scotland in the coming weeks. Some problems emerged when I arrived in Leeds. Y who had come first and had to organise everything ‘from scratch’ just had too many obligations on his shoulders. And logistics broke down.
Due to lack of proper communication, cooperation of timeworn Y with local trust organisations, who had kilns, had been interrupted. Interested at first in cooperation which meant mainly intending to lend us use of the tiling kilns, they eventually more and more reluctantly expressed their interest in cooperation.
The problem was that our partners from Leeds who should have supported us in our struggles simply bodged the details, and were not able to coordinate properly all aspects of the logistics we were faced with. To push work forward I called the BBC radio station in Leeds and described the aims of the project. They were so interested that they proposed an interview with us the following day. This newly-emerged opportunity was used to find new partners to finish the job. Next day after the live interview phones started to ring. New partners were found as well as some new people coming to ‘have a look at what was going on’, eventually staying a little bit longer. That definitely pushed our works forward.
The final time came to try and use the guerilla technique in practice. Some people one evening took earlier prepared tiles and some glue and went for an evening ride through the centre of Leeds. In some places connected mainly with the historical struggle of labour forces for better life and work conditions suddenly new elements of the urban landscape emerged. As the commonly known graffiti, tiles with some political slogans such as shut down G8, equal opportunity for all the people, stop the war in Iraq, shut them down and the like decorated for some time Leeds’ urban spaces. Work was hard due to the fact that it is not so simple to stick the tiles to the building walls in the permanently congested places while being at the same time invisible. Even after few years some of them remain in their places, and bring to my mind our token action when passing the places.
Eventually the project was completed and the urban guerrilla went for a pint of beer.
Next day a collective decision was taken at the meeting that the best place for the final presentation of the monthly artistic struggle would be the common space of the local NGO which was a partner in the project, and which lent its space for the artistic creation. Shortly after that one big pillar, a metre high and one and half metres wide was filled with the tiles representing all our work.
Following day some people went to Scotland to face the forces of globalisation.
Travelling by hired mini bus with a group of friends I had an excellent time. Excited to see the bountifulness of Scotland I had as well some expectations towards ongoing events and was very interested to see ecologically designed campus. Eventually in the evening we ended up in an ‘eco village’ in a suburb of Stirling. Built in accordance with ecological standards it was an independent place with renewable sources of electricity from wind turbines and solar panels. Organic food was the only kind available, and with beer from a nearby supermarket suited the vibe of the gathering. Never-ending evening concerts were performed, prepared especially for this event. The atmosphere of excitement and protest, a variety of languages, which representatively described the internationalisation of the coming weekend, completed the picture.
The whole of the following week was full of the independent events dedicated to changing the world. Usually whole actions were prepared and discussed in common meetings, which were organised for particular ‘task forces’. No leadership was built up, so usually discussions were very long and quite often unproductive. Next day all the protesters left Stirling to go to Edinburgh to take part in a big official demonstration named ‘Make Poverty History’. It was daylong action of the white middle class people against overexploitation of the Third World countries by uncontrolled forces of neo-liberal globalisation. Moreover, it was kind of independence referendum organised by the secessionist movement on the Scottish peninsula. As well as banners concerned with the eradication of poverty there were other ones handed out by the Scottish National Movement for a free independent Scotland. As usually happens, some different sometimes contradictory interests are present at such mass events. That was the case as well this time. What surprised me a lot was the fact that all 200,000 people who took part in the event represented, with only small exceptions, the white race. Until now I have no clear answer to this phenomenon. Recognisable amounts of British people have African or Asian origins. But they were very visibly underrepresented in the ongoing struggles for our common future. What is more, at every University in the country the number of ethnic students is growing steadily, and they constitute a visible amount of the whole student population. So, why they were underrepresented in Scotland? Perhaps a reasonably stable and good position of the ethnic minorities in the British society recently observed, have been creating kind of protectionism policy against reminding themselves of very visible discrimination, as they were faced with even a few decades ago, and a mimicry strategy is undertaken to remain full member of the British ‘multiethnic’ society.
After that experience it seems to me that this movement still has strong white origins and it has been represented in the wide extent of interests of the vanishing white middle class, at least in Europe. And even in such a multi-ethnic society as Britain, inter-race integration still has a long way to go.
The main demonstration had been planned to take place in Gleneagles next to the Conference Centre in which the G8 summit took place. The motto of this action was the following: ‘Nothing about us without us’. The main issue on which participants tried to focus the attention of the mass media was to try to answer the question why the eight main players on the world political scene could discuss the world’s most profound problems concerning issues and the population of the whole planet? Is that justifiable? Democratic? Is that legal? If not then what to do? What about the rest of the world population? If their role is reduced to only to that of silent spectators without any right and chance to perform on their own behalf? What about the vanishing system of democracy? How to postpone and reverse the process? How to create equal chances for common participation in the ongoing world issues?
It was planned at a common meeting to block the main motorway between Glasgow and Edinburgh in order to postpone the arrival of the experts participating into the assembly. To do this groups of ‘guerrilla fighters’ (among them me) left the camp and at night with better or worse result tried to cross the mountains and reach Gleneagles, located twenty miles away. The main challenge was to overtake police blockades that were set up on all the roads coming from the eco village.
A threesome of Y and Z and me decided to leave the camp and by crossing cow fields as well as fields of crops reach the mountain base from which it had seemed to be a simpler way to go to our destination.
But it was not such a simple way on the whole. Firstly we had to creep fifty metres away from police patrol in a field of thistles. We succeeded. Secondly we went to the cow field full of buffalos. It was midnight and big Scottish buffalos were not impressed with unexpected guests so they decided to attack us. We ran away across the whole field to get to another one, the buffalos running behind us. That was the only time in my life that I was not sure I would survive till the coming morning. What a stupid death. Being killed by group of aggressive cows. Everyone can understand someone being hit by car and dying, someone being stabbed, strangled or shot, even accidentally killed taking part in a violent demonstration, but being killed by cows just by cows, for such cause of death even there is no place in someone’s imagination. When we had passed the fence and eventually reached another field I was surprised when Z suddenly shouted, ‘Run away’!
Unfortunately for us in this field there were more buffalos, and what is more they were even bigger and more aggressive. Again we raced with ‘modified’ forces of nature. Eventually we managed to escape. It was only two miles of Scottish clay crops fields and we reached the mountains. Climbing was quite hard and additionally it started to rain. After about two hours we reached the mountains dale. We had been surprised perceiving emerging helicopter armed with spotlights whose task was to find potential protesters smuggling themselves to Gleneagles. Fortunately for us we were in the middle of the sheep field, and we squatted in between our animal friends, covering our heads with grass. The helicopter crew with their thermo-vision camera probably realised that except for the few dozen sheep there were no protestors in the patrolled area so they flew away.
It started to rain hard. We set up our tent behind the small groups of maple trees and went to sleep. The heavy voice of the passing Chinook helicopters woke us up after a few hours. After a small breakfast we went through the mountains towards our destination. Passing by electrical fences, sheep and cow fields and police blockades eventually we reached the place from which it was predicted that the demonstration would begin.
It was early on in the afternoon. Earlier in the day groups of protesters blocked the motorway for a few hours, to postpone the summit. Eventually forced by police they were pushed away. To some extent it helped that a lot of coming coaches full of organised demonstrators arrived on time to the gathering place. The protest began. About fifteen thousand people from around the world (let’s say it symbolically, because the majority were from England and Scotland and represented the white minority) started to go forward walking round not far away from the conference centre. Among this colourful crowd were some samba and pantomime groups, students, workers union members, policemen’s controlled whole movement and lots of normal ordinary people who arrived at Gleneagles to demonstrate their attitude towards ongoing world events by supporting the forces of rebellion.
When the colourful crowd passed the first row of barriers, erected around the conference centre, some people spontaneously started jumping over them, and by crossing the field of oats they were moving towards the main defence line. After a while this behaviour spontaneously spread among all protestors. The attack began. Some groups of people started forcing the main fences. Some even reached the observation tower and tried to knock it down. The defence forces were in chaos. Such a scenario was not predictable, at least for them, because ‘coincidentally’ all media transmitting equipment, including cameras on ten- metre high cranes were set up in this place. The national media had been transmitting the whole event.
More than two and half thousand people were pushing forward through the field. The police started reorganising their force to defend the conference venue. It was 4.00 pm and a feeling of victory spread among people. One big Chinook helicopter had been trying to land behind the fences but after a while it flew off. Another emerged and started put off police forces from on board.
A contraction of the armed police forces began. Someone was running back from the first line covered with blood. That was because one of policeman had hit him on the head with his stick. After a while, due to the public media concentration on the place, the police gave up their violent revenge strategy. They started to push the crowd away by using special intervention forces, some on foot, some on horseback, others with German Shepherds. The situation started to be chaotic. People slowly started moving away. Some pantomime groups and samba teams tried to delay the movement back, playing field theatres with the police. That created a lot of fun. The police, who had been ordered not to be violent, had no idea what to do with this mobile circus.
Eventually all of the protesters were pushed back to the street, and peacefully forced away. The demonstration was over. It was late afternoon. Everyone satisfied by the unexpected achievement had wished to return to the place of concentration to celebrate after such a productive day, so some people returned to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling or just to their homes somewhere in the UK. In the evening the media reported that George ‘Dubya’ Bush had twisted his hand, crashing with the guard officer, when he had been riding his bike at the conference centre. The information was so unbelievable that after a while the theory ran that he was on board the Chinook helicopter, which had tried landing and eventually withdrawn. According to this theory his injury was caused by the ‘sudden escape’ of the helicopter. For the next day another action was planned to take place in Gleneagles to paralyse the conference in accordance with the motto ‘nothing about us without us’.
Next morning everything changed forever. It was the seventh of July 2005 early morning. The media reported that on the London Underground as well on a bus terrorists had exploded bombs. It was expected that almost one hundred people could lose their lives. A feeling of depression and defeat replaced yesterday’s feeling of victory. What to do next? There was something more to be done. Police forces besieged and blocked off the eco camp. The whole time army and police helicopters patrolled the sky above.
It should be mentioned here that the Eco camp, despite the undisputed advantage of its position somewhere between Glasgow and Edinburgh, only 20 miles away from Gleneagles where the summit was held, had one big disadvantage. It was situated at a bend of the River Forth and had only one entrance. It was simple for the police to shut it down and control it from outside. That indeed happened.
In the late afternoon I left the camp checked and noted by the police force. All other people started to leave the camp as well, as quickly as the police agreed to this.
I went to Glasgow. The place for converging was situated in an old factory somewhere in an industrial district. Several hundred people returned there for the night, this time on their final way home. I met lots of friends, all of them depressed and resigned.
The last demonstration was planned for the next day to present climate changes issue as an important, emerged but un-evaluated problem. A new, big challenge for our shaken civilisation. At the evening general meeting we decided that anyway the demonstration should take place. In the morning people moved from the factory and went to the place from which the demonstration was planned to begin. Feeling of depression had been common. Even police forces, which earlier in the week supported protesters, started to be unpleasant and even inimical and aggressive. This promised nothing pleasant for the coming hours.
Some policemen even pushed protesters forcefully to the pavement when they tried to walk on the roads. They perceived the alterglobalisation forces movement to be the symbolic counterpart of the perpetrators of the previous day’s bloody blast. Eventually the demonstration moved towards a bridge on which it was planned to organise a big eco picnic with pantomime samba and dance performances. All the people had been trying to forget about yesterday’s tragedy and started to perform ‘a dance of life’. Under siege from both sides by police forces they did improvised performance all afternoon.
After a few hours and a lot of improvised dances I realised that it was just the proper time to go. Having experience from the 2001 protests in Geneva, I found the correct time for my ‘quantum leap’. Y, for example, stayed longer, even for three days longer in a Glasgow prison in solitary confinement, mentally tortured among another new occupants by local police officials and prison guards who woke them up whenever they attempted to go to sleep. What is more, he was allowed to dress only in underwear during the time he was imprisoned. Strange connotations of Gestapo techniques started to emerge in the imagination of the jailed people.
At the same time in Leeds some people had been trying to free protesters from the jail as well as finishing the project.
That was the end of my protesting experience.
A decision had to be made what to do next. By chance Andy, one of the participants in the Leeds project, had some building work to do in his recently-bought one- hundred-and-fifty-year-old house, and offered me some jobs for several coming weeks. That was excellent opportunity to stay some longer time in Britain and earn some money. To spend time in a more ‘creative way’ I applied for an English summer course at nearby Leeds Metropolitan University. The August 05 course was free of charge, which was very convenient for me. It consisted of a one-hour long lesson with a qualified teacher and two hours of training with an English language trainee who were doing their Adult Teaching Cambridge Certificate and for this reason used students as the ‘test-tube’ class.
Work began. The task was to clean out old glue from recycled oak and maple board, which was planned to be set up again on the floor, sanded and polished in order to create a new ‘recycled’ structure. Borax was the main tool used and an air mask constituted the main visible element of my new clothes.
Mornings, from 8.30 till 12.30 I was working at Andy’s house, afternoon from 1.00 pm till 4.00 at the university, from 5.00 till 7.00 again at Andy’s.
The job was hard and I had availed myself of all safety precautions. If they had not been taken this job would have been quite harmful. It was for the reason that chemicals contained in old glue, which had to be removed from the board were quite toxic. Four hours of such work, wearing a protective mask was really enough. A quick wash and a quantum leap to the university for the next few hours created a sphere of autonomy. Not only did I earn some money, but also I improved my English. Even if my English was of a good standard for the eastern European area it had to be improved as I found when working with English people on the just finished project.
People were nice on the course, a real multinational group. The main three groups were following: Far East states members, mainly Chinese, Japanese and South Korean; Middle East with a representation of Syrians and Iranians and south European with a strong representation of Spaniards and Italians. One Eastern European and one German completed the spectrum.
It was funny to find how the English language can differ in accordance with the region of the world from which the students originate. Anyway it had to be very challenging for young English lecturers to understand us and at the same time try to convince us to use the proper English manner forms. But it was task for the teachers and inevitably it had to be done.
To organise my time properly I borrowed a bicycle and crash helmet. The bicycle was quite a funny one. Supposedly a model 68’ or some such. Big wheels, thin frame, not effective enough brakes set up on the handlebars should give the full picture of the object. Of course it had had some adventures as well. When the old rotted tyres were changed for new ones and new brakes were fitted it was quite speedy and to say properly trendy bike.
After a few hours of the intellectual freedom there was an obligation to return for two final hours to the ‘builder workshop’. Time had been passing slowly as usual at the end of the working day when you have been only waiting for final time gong. Sometimes in the evening I stayed longer in the working place with Claire, a young woman working at the university as a secretary, and her boyfriend Dan. They rented the whole attic of the house and organised quite a nice nest. Dan had recently graduated in Political Science from Leeds University and as lots of newly-graduated young professionals was unemployed. From time to time he had some work for BBC in London and was responsible for electronic equipment. Even this job was not suitable for his educational background it was a job and some source of money to cover his living expenses. That was a common life choice for a large proportion of young professionals who, after finishing their studies, had been faced with a brutal reality check.
At the beginning we hardly ever saw each other. It was the opposite situation with Claire, who ritually invited me for a cup of coffee when I had finished my work. It was a nice time and we both enjoyed it.
In the middle of the month-long course I went with other students on a one-day trip to Whitby, which is a seaside summer resort situated on the cliffs of the North Sea. The place was horribly overcrowded, and we spent a quarter of the day reaching this place, because of the traffic jam on the way.
In this town I went to visit a thousand-year-old Norman church, one of the first ones established by the new masters of the British Isles. Later I went to find a famous fish shop situated somewhere in the narrow street near the edge of the sea. It was famous for the locally-caught and smoked-on-the-spot fish. When finally I found it I went inside and asked for one small fish. The owner measured me with a look from head to foot and gave me one medium-sized fish as a gift from the shop. It was very nice of him. It was probably due to the fact that I am quite thin and at that time I was wearing shorts, so my guess is that he thought I might have been starving and he had simply been trying help me, even if that was not the case.
Sitting on a rock, surrounded by water, eating my fish gift I was thinking what to do next. Return to Poland or stay a little bit longer in Leeds. I decided to return. That was the proper time to start looking for a job at home.
Anyway there was less and less work to be done and I felt that it was time to go.
As was promised before I left Poland in July all documents concerning my PhD diploma should be obtained from the office by the beginning of September. That was an additional factor which motivated me to return, to seek a professional job I deserved. I returned home in the middle of the month.
Two weeks later I was again in Leeds. In Warsaw, not all the documents were prepared and it was promised that they would be ready at end of October. Walking back through Leeds, having a big travelling bag, consisting whole of all my belongings, with a feeling of fun and adventure I return to the place.
Next day I visited Andy, and he agreed that I could start decorating the small toilet, foursquare metres large four metres square with tiles. So I was back to being a tiler.
My next adventure was prepared for me by unpredictable fate.
Tiles for the project were mainly obtained from the skips situated next to the big Tile Shops located on the outskirts of Leeds. In the evenings we used to visit the places in his car armed with torches and collect tiles.
A few words about Andy. He is in his forties, graduated in Fine Art from the University of Leeds and he has been teaching Maths and Fine Art in one of the Leeds colleges. In his early twenties he lost his arm climbing a high building somewhere in the centre of Leeds when drunk. In spite of that he is very optimistic, full of patience and confidence as well as being very helpful and supportive for other people. He has a metal hand with a kind of hook at the end of it, two old dogs, Frible and Otley, and a charming girlfriend, Charlie. What is more he has quite an old Russian car called a Lada Niva, white coloured. It is similar to the old-style British Landrover. Being very noisy and a gas guzzler it is quickly recognizable everywhere.
The task I was faced with was to design and decorate the future toilet space. Some basic expectations were discussed with Andy. He wished to have it decorated as a throne with the crown at the top of the structure. The rest of the design had to be put into effect by me. The piping infrastructure which connected the toilet, the sink and the rest of the system had to be covered by boards. Being inspired by wavy style of art nouveau, waving in architecture, some deconstructive trends as well as by eco trends in design, which I was to use consistently, using recyclable materials I started my work. Again I met Dan and Claire. Being perpetually unemployed Dan started working for Andy as well. He was stripping old wallpaper from the walls, using steamer and strippers designed for this job.
At the same time I started my artistic adventure as a tiler. Even though I had no previous experience in this profession, life forced me to learn quickly and intuitively. The next one and half months I spent in a four metres square size toilet designing and putting into effect my artistic vision which I had agreed with Andy.
The work was quite enjoyable. I can’t complain as I was doing something which demanded my own initiative and imagination. Time had been passing quickly and listening to the radio I was pushing my work forward. Almost every evening I stayed for a dinner with Dan and Claire. Sometimes at weekends we went somewhere for socialising or just for a walk. Dan still was stripping walls of old wallpaper. Supported sometimes by Richard who was doing a new floor base from board panels which had been prepared by me in the summer they created quite an interesting team.
Anyway it is worth saying a few words about him. He was in his late forties, previously having worked for a bank as a computer engineering adviser, from which he eventually resigned. As he described it there was a lot of politics in the office environment, some people doing many things just to get promotion and doing so in a dirty way. He never explained what exactly happened in his case, but he had quite a cynical view of humankind or on some of its representatives. He decided to keep his part-time job as the school bus driver, in the school in which his wife was teaching Music, and the rest of the time he was doing some general building construction works for some friends. Being educated in English literature he was doing what he was doing despite what he really deserved.
This was a similar situation to Dan’s. I found later that it was common experience of our times…
‘Remember remember the fifth of November’. I will do. Rather than organising a bonfire in order to commemorate the discovered plot of Guy Fawkes, who planned with his friends to blow up the British Parliament a few centuries ago, which eventually didn’t happen, I organised a small house party in order to commemorate the end of my struggles with the ‘tiling project’. Almost all the work was completed and only the cleaning and polishing of the established piece of art had to be done. For a whole day I was doing that job. In the evening I invited about fifteen friends to celebrate the project’s completion. It was quite noisy because of bonfire fireworks, but not enough to disturb or influence my plans. I bought a few bottles of wine and some biscuits, and was only waiting for arrivals. When a small crowd had gathered I performed a piece of music on my guitar and we started the party. It was quite a long one prolonged later by socialising at the club. That was the end of my experiences as a tiler.
Next day I decided to return to Poland. During the summer and autumn I saved enough money to make a fresh start. I bought a ticket for 26th of November and started thinking about my return to Poland. For the last three weeks along with Dan I was stripping walls in Andy’s house. Dan and Claire decided to leave Leeds as well and moved to London. Eventually they moved there two weeks later.
The job was hard and boring. It was really difficult to withstand seven hours, which I was working daily. Time was passing so slowly that in order to resist I started drinking coffee. Anyway, strange as it seems, time was passing more quickly. From my experiences I found that coffee could help me when I am doing physical work, but in the case of intellectual work it is quite the opposite. When I was writing long texts e.g. MA, or PhD, I never used coffee. It helped me a lot. I was able to sit at the computer screen for whole days and I was not bored. In case of using a coffee, I rather was looking for something else to do instead of doing intellectual work, which required intellectual perseverance and concentration on the tasks. For example coffee has activated my taste in colours when I am doing pastels or paintings. As far as I know, the Polish philosopher from the beginning of the 20th century Stanislaw Brzozowski, on whom I wrote my PhD, drank a lot of coffee. Van Gogh used to drink as many as twenty cups a day, which maybe was one of the main causes of his nervous illness. That is all about coffee. Maybe it should be only added that without it our civilisation would be different, maybe less advanced technologically, and that I prefer African brands.
In Poland snow covered everything. Just a few days before my return to Poland early winter had begun. With gentle frost in days and night with a few inches of snow it created a very nice atmosphere. I always loved snowy winters. Except for the fact that usually it was horribly cold and it was very costly to warm up houses in Poland it was so beautiful. For as long as I remember I had been always impatiently waiting for the first snowflakes. When it had been snowing I was rambling without aim and directions, just to feel this snowy whiteness.
Winter in Poland would be five months long so always later with the same feelings I was waiting for the first signs of spring, but that is another story.
My documents were not prepared, and eventually it was confirmed that the official ceremony would take place on 15th January. It was due to the fact that a few newly graduated doctors, including me, were waiting for their diplomas and had been instructed that an official ceremony was required. I had not so much to do. Until Christmas I just had a rest. I was visiting my friends and killing time. I decided that I should wait for my diploma before starting to look for a job. That was first time in at least few years that I had been able to afford to cool my heels in the above- described way.
Christmases were horrible. I never liked them. Only one time I had a good one; that was far far away in the past…
Everyone is forced to be happy, even those who are unhappy. In my family Christmases were always connected with big tension. Mother always cooked too much food for the coming days, just to present Polish hospitality. Later on she started getting drunk. Being an alcoholic for more than thirty years she was always looking for the opportunity to start. Christmas and Easter were always the same. The worst was always 24th December, in Polish tradition in evening whole families sat down at the table having a communal vegetarian dinner. The obligatory custom was to wish each other the best for coming year and that part of the ritual was always the worst part of the evening for me. It was difficult to honestly wish the best to my mother, not to mention hoping she would stop drinking.
Usually she started that day and the following week was horrible. This tension always radiated on me and my father. It is difficult to be happy when you are living with someone who due to their addiction destroys everything around. She tried to stop several times, but was never strong enough to go to a rehab centre. Our struggles to help her by sending her to obligatory rehab always ended in defeat. That was mainly because Polish society is built up in the way that instead of helping oppressed families it tries to avoid taking responsibility for the rehabilitation process. Even if an addicted person is forced go to rehab due to a decision of the court, that person may discharge himself or herself after coming to the centre without any consequences. Anyway a strategy of my mother was quite intelligent. In case I or my father tried keep away alcohol from her she always called the police accusing us of abusing her civil rights, by bullying her and treating her in a violent way. She always explained that alcohol she had bought (usually for her neighbour as she explained) had been stolen. Surprisingly for quite a long time police believed her rather than us, the victims of her addiction. Last time it happened was when I was writing my PhD. She accused me of violently stealing of bottle of vodka and passed the matter to the court. When I had been writing my thesis and later on, when I had been preparing myself for my viva, I was, during the following year, once a month in court, which was due to the matter mentioned above. It determined me additionally to finish my dissertation and examination procedure as fast as I could.
As an aside it should be added that my Dissertation is dedicated to my mother, in the hope that she will have the power to overcome her life’s enemy.
It took almost one year to convince the jury that I was not a bully but victim of bullying. My whole family, that is my mother’s mother, her sister and her husband, my father, my sister and her husband, and other significant people including our neighbours had to present the facts in their true light. Supported by policemen and social workers who knew mother eventually we won the case and what is more we pushed the matter of obligatory rehab to the court.
Actually the matter is in progress and it is expected that after a long battle, she will eventually be forced by the court to go there. That is a very sad story because for all of thirty-odd years it was impossible to rescue my mother from her habit, not to mention that it left its stamp on my personality and my father’s life. My escapes from the country, which I described above and coming ones were partly caused by lack of adaptability to the situation. My whole live I had to prove that I am someone different from my mother, even if in the depth of my heart I know that without the addiction she would be a magnificent person and, having energy and ambitions, would achieve a lot. (Of course I persistently love her.)
Being a member of a dysfunctional family, having origins in poor educated families from both sides I achieved something. Another matter is that my achievements are not necessarily transferrable to life success.
Still traces of my social origins and life-history are imprinted somewhere and it couldn’t help me to any extent in finding my proper place in the world. I feel partly like a loser in my life, although with hard determination I try to drive forward, but maybe that is normal for every life due to the fact that we have to face lots of disappointments during its span.
Anyway the next Christmas was disastrous and on the second day of it I bought a return ticket to Britain. The PhD diploma ceremony was planned for the fifteenth of January, so I bought the ticket for the seventeenth. In between I was mainly waiting for take off. I planned to find a part time job and apply again for the English Support course at Leeds Metropolitan University.
Meantime my sister’s spouse had some problems with his sight, so in the period after Christmas I was mainly driving him from hospital to hospital to be examined and to have his mysterious illness investigated.
The ceremony was boring and we were not even invited to the following scientific council assembly meeting.
By the next day I’d got ill, I suppose by being in one of the hospitals with my brother in law I was infected with flu. Instead of leaving the country my flight was directly to bed for the coming week. That did not change my plans. I bought another ticket for the tenth of February and was waiting for the date. When eventually I landed in Liverpool, I got the bus to Leeds and in the evening I arrived at Colette’s house. A few words about Colette are required. She is in her late fifties, quite thin, even petite. We met first in Stegna (Poland) at the end of August 2004.
Writing my PhD on one of the hot days of the month, when commuting to the library in which I was doing my writing, I decided that in order to finish it I needed to have a rest. Instead of reaching the place I returned home, packed up my rucksack and went back to Warsaw, this time just to cross the city to reach the Warsaw-Gdansk motorway. Having no money in my wallet, but having determination I decided to travel to Stegna, where the next station of ongoing art project I was involved with before had taken place. This time a festival was dedicated to rescuing a summer resort centre for underprivileged children from lower class families. Owing to some new anti-fire law, firemen were employed to shut the centre down due to the improperly-built ceiling of the dining and recreation hall. Instead of final work on my PhD I decided to take part in the rescue operation which had been taking place somewhere on the outskirts of Stegna, twenty minutes away from the sandy beaches of the Baltic Sea.
First I hitch-hiked and after about ten minutes I was going towards Gdansk. Not a long distance. Maybe 20 miles, but for the beginning that was good enough. The man who picked me up was a painter, so when I described to him the ongoing project to which I was going, he seemed to be very interested in the details. I described to him in detail former projects I had taken part in and gave him a postcard with murals as documentation from the passed actions. On the other side of the postcard was the website address of the project so in case he was deeply interested he could even visit the site and take part in action, which he eventually did. Next I travelled in a DHL delivery van, then with a caravan man who was going somewhere in the district of the Masurian Lakes to take someone for a funeral which was planned in the coming days in Warsaw. As he explained to me: when having sex someone had a heart attack and died. The situation was complicated because he had been having sex not with his wife, whom he left in Warsaw, but with his mistress. Anyway about ten minutes or so after boarding his vehicle I felt a little bit uncomfortable. I was mainly thinking whether the coffin, which was lying behind me in the caravan, was empty or contained someone. After the above-mentioned explanation I felt much better. The next driver was a student of sociology who was conducting some research into people’s preferences for brands of washing machines in the southern part of Poland. We were talking mainly about his research. Preparing himself for the dissertation he was working for the whole summer for a public opinion research centre in Gdansk in order to collect some money for the coming final year of study. Eventually we said goodbye to each other fifteen miles away from Stegna at a crossroads. He went straight on, I turned right. I hope he finished his dissertation and got a job which a young talented sociologist deserves.
The last driver I was travelling with was a man in his fifties who had decided to take a sentimental trip to the Krynica summer resort where he spent his honeymoon with his wife some thirty years ago. When I said to him that I was just writing my PhD and I had decided to leave Warsaw to have a rest he said that it was very good decision, and that I seemed to be overworked and should put a greater distance between me and the life tasks I was dealing with. He wished me the best. And at a crossroads in the suburbs of Stegna we said goodbye to each other. Firstly I decided go to the beach to see the sea. It took me about half an hour to reach the beach.
After a short swim, lying on the sand I was observing one of the last summer holiday sunsets. That was what I really needed. After not such a long time I decided to go to find the place. After about fifteen minutes I reached the resort, had dinner and with a group of friends went back to the beach.
Next three days I was mainly doing plastering, painting and socialising on the beach. The ceiling which had to be rebuilt had a surface of 400 square metres and it was a really big challenge to do so. More than fifty people from around the Europe were on the team.
The atmosphere was so good that I decided to return to Warsaw, take a laptop and a few books and return to prolong my rest. Next day I was back in Stegna. Two days later I met Colette for the first time. That day a group of volunteers who were interested in supporting the project arrived from Britain. Having been before in Leeds with the Y project in 2002 I knew some of them and was chosen to go to the bus stop to support them on their way to the centre except that instead of looking for the way to the place they went to town looking for a beer. In spite of that some of them decided to go directly to the place and among them was Colette. I carried her rucksack, and we started to chat. That was the first time we met. When the next project took place in Leeds I was living in her house. Also later on when I returned for the first time from Poland she had a place for me.
Now being back in Leeds again I was knocking on her doors. She opened them enthusiastically and we hugged each other.
Next day I went to the University in order to book the course and later on in the evening with Andy for a beer. He supported me again, got a job and we agreed that I could start working at his house next morning. This time as a room painter. We agreed that I would work fours hour a day, from 9.00 to 12.30, and later I would go to the university for my course.
Painting, learning, painting, learning, painting - that way I would describe the next four weeks of my life. After the course was finished I decided to return to Poland in order to look for job as a lecturer at the University or at one of Warsaw’s high schools. April and May I spent mainly in libraries preparing proposal plans for my lectures. When it was ready I went to some places and left my applications for a job as a lecturer. No one answered except the Department of Sociology of Warsaw University where eventually I took part in a competition for lecturing in social sociology. Not surprisingly I wasn’t chosen but even so, it was worth a try. Q, whom at that time I met, said to me that such competitions have to be publicly announced but often there is a leader behind the screen who usually wins.
That had taken place in her case, in the case of someone else and yet in another case, eventually that is what always happens in Poland.
Now wiser from her advice I was waiting only for my nose operation, which was planned for the end of July. Having problems with breathing through the nose and having repeatedly occurring pharyngitis, I had to have my nostrils widened by undergoing a surgical operation. It was performed without general anaesthetic, but I was not able feel anything. However the anaesthetics, which were injected before it took place, were so strong that eventually I lost consciousness. Next day my nose was the size of a pear, and stayed that big for the next three days. The third day after operation I left hospital and partly conscious, using public transport I returned home. Next week I spent mainly in bed.
I was thinking again about a quantum leap to Leeds. Not being competitive on the Polish labour market without proper confirmation of my level of English, I decided to return to Leeds to prepare myself and pass the IELTS test, which is a kind of Cambridge exam. In the last week of my stay in Poland I went with friends to the Tatra Mountains.
We stayed mainly in Slovakia, struggling to reach Gerlach peak, which is the highest one in the mountains. Unfortunately the weather defeated us, so being almost on the peak we gave up. It started to rain hard and was very slippery. We were in serious danger of not being able to return before nightfall, or having an accident. Staying on the mountain was not an option. We were not properly equipped for such an eventuality. It could cost us a life. So we decided to retreat. Almost at the end of our way back one of my colleagues slipped, collapsed and broke a hand. At the beginning we assumed that nothing serious had happened: maybe he had just twisted his ankle but prolonged pain indicated something. Sleeping in the mountains behind the stones, which were shaped in a kind of shelter next to the mountain lake, we decided to return the next day. After breakfast and a quick swim in the ‘frozen’ water we shouldered our rucksacks and went down towards the valleys. Next day I was in Warsaw thinking about my next journey. Two days later I was back in Leeds.
For the first two days I was determined to find a job but I gave up, and instead of that I went again to the university.
For a whole month I was working hard to improve my English. Every morning I left home and spent two hours before classes in the library. There were some things to be done. I was keeping a regular diary in English, so in the mornings, being fresh, I just wrote it. Secondly I was copying newspaper articles to improve my writing; furthermore I was studying the dictionary to broaden my vocabulary. Later on I had three hours of classes and eventually in the afternoons I was filling out application forms for potential jobs with the University of Leeds, Leeds Metropolitan University, even Bradford University and Leeds City Council. Without success. Eventually there was much more work to be done to prepare myself for IELTS. Leaving the library usually about 8.00 - 9.00 pm I was at home by 10.00 pm and after cooking food, without any brain function left I was going directly to bed and to sleep. Once a week I was invited for a music session at Oli’s house not so far away from mine. About 8 – 10 people every Thursday were playing drums from 9 till 11 in the evening , me among them. I had met Oliver two year earlier on the project in Stegna and from this time we had friendly relations. Sessions were usually similar. Having at our disposal quite a large amount of drums and percussion instruments we were playing something and from time to time we were exchanging instruments. A little bit of a spliff inspired some of us deeper. An invention which I introduced was the sound of my electric guitar. Sometimes I gave it up to play the drums; sometimes I just played it. Later on the bass guitar was performed also, and at this stage all instruments were exchanged during the session. Having analogies with the former painting project I would say ‘everyone is a musician’ to explain deeper the motto: ‘everyone is an artist’.
What inspired me a lot is the fact that the project was completely undirected. As our whole generation seems to be to some extent. No attempt was made to create some pieces of music that would be performed again. Spontaneity and pleasure from the fact of common socialising and playing were the main rewards we’d get.
That time there were a lot of people at Colette’s house. Young students left Poland for summer working holidays to collect some money for the coming academic year and a few of them were living in her house.
Sometimes on Saturday evenings we went somewhere together to socialise. Those were the only Poles I had contact with. One additional exception should be made for Richard, who was living in Colette’s house last two years occupying room in attic of the house.
If I can say something about the Polish people I was in touch with in Leeds, it should be mentioned that they were every time very helpful and supportive. Especially Richard. Being in his mid-fifties he had experienced a lot. A few years earlier he lost a son in a car accident in Poland, but eventually he overcome the trauma and pushed his life forward. He tried his best to convince me to stay in Britain longer, at least a year or two and later think whether there was any sense in returning to Poland. His point was that I should collect experiences here in Leeds and having proficient English start looking for something different somewhere else. From my perspective now I think the pieces of advice he gave me were good ones, but I had my own way. His story is the story of ‘the Polish plumber’. Being the officer and chief of support staff on a Polish transatlantic trade ship, having sometimes up to 200 people under his orders, he was made redundant when his ship was sold and finished his career as a cook somewhere in one of the hotels on the outskirts of Leeds. Now together with his wife Joanna they started a business, which is to support Polish labour workers in finding a job here in Leeds. Moreover or rather firstly they rented several houses in Leeds and they are renting them to the new Polish young incomers or rather as they should be described, exiles. Eventually he left Colette’s house a few months ago and is sailing on his own wind towards a better future. I am glad he won and overcome ‘plumbing’; that is not the case of every Pole I met here in Leeds.
Plumbing means simply a job for Eastern Europeans who entered the country after their countries joined EU in May 2005. Especially often it is mentioned in the British media that Polish plumbers did something… so plumbing iconographically describes the position of Polish labour emigrants.
Even being highly educated, having experiences which require them to keep well paid jobs they have always been offered crap dirty ones, which were formerly reserved for Asian or African incomers. Even though this is the case they keep these
jobs simply because they have no alternative, i.e. jobs available in Poland.
Good times bad times
The beginning of September was glum. I was without money and any job. Earlier doing my course probably I was supported by a higher spirit because a few times I found banknotes blowing about on the street. Together it was £55 that helped me a lot to survive August.
Now I had to be looking for a job instead of looking for rolling banknotes. I left my resumé in about 10 recruitment agencies, but only one which was recruiting industrial side workers was interested in finding me a job. A few days later I started my adventure as a warehouse assistant. In one of the warehouses, of which the outskirts of Bradford contains many, I started my shift. I planned to work six or seven weeks to collect some money and later on start for the last time an English Support Course, to prepare myself for IELTS. But before that I was packing electric bulbs into paper boxes to send them to the clients.
I was working along with one Latvian and two young Polish students who due to lack of money packed in their studies in Poland and went to England for one year to collect money for study fulfilment. The rest of the staff consisted of young British people. We were working from 8.00 till 17.30 every day. During the shift one half-hour and two fifteen-minute breaks were given.
Usually at the beginning of the day with the rest of the staff we were preparing paper boxes, which we used later for bulb packing. Later on we were putting on the shelves bulbs to replace yesterday’s wastages. Collecting ordered bulbs from the different parts of the catalogue was the next day’s task. In doing that we were using trolleys, and at the same time were collecting usually dozens of orders. Then packing. Usually until the end of the day. Sometimes to make us ‘more efficient’ our manager organised a competition for us. Measuring time he was checking our efficiency. The weakest one was usually sacked after a day or so. ‘Time is short and you are not good enough to stay in our team’ he justified his decision to the loser. Another thing is that he was a racist. When black or Pakistani people came to work, they never worked longer than two or three days.
After seven weeks I resigned. Two weeks earlier I went to our manager and informed him about my plans. He was disappointed, but at the end of the day, when I was leaving the warehouse he even wrote me a good recommendation in case I wanted to work in the future in a warehouse. He even wished me the best with my education fulfilment, he shook my hand and that was the last time we saw each other. I left the warehouse, then I had one bottle of beer with the Polish and Latvian fellows and after that got a bus and went home. Next day I went to Spain for three days’ holiday. Except for the time I was killing time in Poland before Christmas, half a year back and mentioned somewhere above when I took a three- day-long trip to Slovakia’s Tatra Mountains, that was my first holiday in the last seven years. Doing my study I had no time at all, or money for anything. The only holidays I had were summer schools and project coordinations in some parts of Europe.
A year earlier being in Leeds I bought a flight return ticket to Granada and had been planning to stay there over the week. But when I received information that my lovely pet Dzeki had died, instead of going to Granada I returned home. As is mentioned somewhere above not for long. Being at that time sad I sacrificed my planned holidays. Now after the year eventually I fulfilled them. I went from Leeds by coach to Liverpool and then by flight to Granada.
It was the 21st of September, quite a cold day in Britain but still quite warm in the south of Spain.
(Ten o’clock pm at Granada airport, plus 18 degrees centigrade)
A smell of dried herbs and grasses was the first aroma I was aware of leaving the plane. After
the airport control I went outside. Instead of going by minibus to Granada in the middle of the night and looking for accommodation somewhere in town I decided to sleep in my igloo tent somewhere near the airport, and next morning take the decision whether I should reach the city by bus or by foot. Eventually I erected my tent somewhere in an olive orchard by the airport fence and went to sleep. Thankfully for me Granada airport is one of the smaller ones and no plane took off or landed at night.
I slept badly because I didn’t have a mat and was forced to sleep directly on the ground and I felt cold from the soil.
Next morning was quite chilly but emerging together with the sun, the panorama of the Sierra Nevada Mountains was inexplicably beautiful. I decided to go on foot. Ten miles with a not-heavy rucksack was a reasonable distance to cover. Additionally my visit to the Alhambra Palace in Granada was booked for early afternoon. It was seven o’clock and I had enough time to explore the sites of Andalusia when emerging into the city by foot. The appearance of one landscape after another was feeding my imagination. Passing one of the three small suburban towns I saw one of those scenes which are quite often described in Spanish guides - singing flamenco gipsies. Unfortunately - as is not described in guides – the chosen madam was not satisfied with the lovers’ behaviour and shouted at them to go away. Which they eventually unwillingly did. Anyway I caught a feeling of the Andalusian temperament and that feeling was with me till the end of my short holidays.
Visiting the Alhambra was a tremendous experience. I had dreamed of doing so in the last ten years and when eventually my dream was fulfilled I was indescribably glad. The day was warm for the end of October, about 25 maybe 26 degrees Celsius, a sunny blue sky without any clouds. I was so lucky. This Moorish citadel with water gardens inside hadn’t ever been conquered, but eventually was left by its inhabitants in 1492 and repopulated by its new masters, the Spanish. Used until the second part of the eighteenth century by Spanish Kings, the Palace and gardens were constantly restored, and once partly rebuilt by King Carlos V in the seventeenth century, who inside the remaining Arabic Palace infrastructure built up as an attachment his ugly round one. Eventually abandoned in the second part of the eighteenth century it was partly demolished by Napoleonic soldiers who occupied the place in 1808. Remaining the symbol of the Spanish unification as achieved by King Fernando and Queen Isabella who eventually forced the Moors to retreat from Spain, the palace was restored in the second part of the nineteenth century and from that time has remained one of the most precious treasures of the Spanish cultural heritage. To see the whole inside of this citadel with its green gardens took me a whole afternoon. After five hours inside I had not had enough but I had to go to find some place for the night. Eventually I went to the nearby mountains and on one of them in the forest put up my tent. Part of the night I was thinking about the beauty of Andalusia and especially about the splendour of the Alhambra. I decided that the next day I would travel to the seaside in order to have a swim in the Mediterranean Sea. And so I did. Travelling by coach towards the seaside I was looking at how stupid humankind could be. Building new motorways connecting Allicante with Malaga, Spanish engineers instead of boring tunnels through the mountain or bridges through the valleys, chopped down parts of the mountain peaks doing irreversible damage to the natural environment. Who permitted them to do so I have no idea, but such barbarous destruction shouldn’t go unpunished. Disgusted I reached the seaside, went to the beach and went to swim. The water was cold and I resisted it only one or two minutes; additionally it started to rain. I retreated to the bus stop and returned to Granada. When reaching the city I perceived that in the highest parts of the Sierra Nevada snow was lying. That probably was one of the first signs of the coming autumn.
In Granada I did some shopping and with bottle of Spanish beer started my ramble in the Granada Old City district. I was strolling for a few hours catching the feelings of the medieval city and its magical atmosphere. Later on I returned to the mountains to the place I had slept the night before and went to sleep. Next day, the last day of my trip, I planned to visit Malaga.
After breakfast I went to the coach station and went to the City. When I arrived just after a storm, it was horribly humid. But apart from that rather worm. Maybe 28, or so. I had only three hours to visit the sites. Firstly I went to the beach and had a swim. By contrast with the previous day, the water was reasonably warm as for this part of the year so I definitely stayed longer in the sea than the day before. Generally the beach was beautiful even though it was situated near by Malaga harbour. Maybe the view of the medieval Moorish citadel and Spanish fort from the sixteenth century made this place magical. Maybe rows of old date palm trees planted on the side of promenade? Anyway I was very pleased. Later I went to the fort from which I could admire a panorama of the old city and sea. After that I returned to the coach station and later on to Granada. I bought a bottle of Spanish wine and in the evening flew back to Liverpool. I was in Liverpool at half past twelve at night and stayed in the airport until the morning. Eventually I was back in Leeds by late morning. One week remained till the start of the course, so I went to the job agency and found a job for the coming week.
The job was simple; I just had to pack proper scrubs in small paper boxes. The week passed so quickly.
In between I sent an application form to the University of Manchester with the fee for the IELTS exam. Now I had four weeks to prepare myself for it. Every day after the classes I went to the library and was doing my preparations. They were the following: writing, reading and listening. Speaking I was practising during my early afternoon classes. Every day I was leaving library half ten or eleven o’clock at evening. A few times I stayed till half past eleven. That was limit of my resistance even with a strong caffeine supply.
At the beginning of the six-week-long course I went with some students for a weekend to London. The trip was organised by our lecturer Nevil who recently set up a private project named ‘Don’t be a tourist’. The aim of this small initiative was to travel with the students to the most attractive tourist sides of the United Kingdom in order to spend time in a pleasant and at the same time active way. Of course he had made small profit, but that was not the most important factor to be taken into consideration, when he organised the project. He charged us a very reasonable price taking into account the fact that he was our driver, tourist guide and at the same time co – coordinator responsible for accommodation, food and leisure activities. He hired the mini bus and few days twelve of us went to have a fun in the capital. After arrival in the late afternoon, we registered in our pre-booked hostel and later on went on an excursion to see the most significant sights of the city. These were planned for the coming afternoon: Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, the city centre with Oxford Circus, and neighbourhoods. Additionally a fireworks display was planned next to the bank of the River Thames for the coming evening so we had a lot of plans to be fulfilled for the coming hours. When everything was finished we went for a communal dinner to a restaurant, later on, to a pub and then some of us went looking for advantages.
To be more precise Abel, a student from Spain, contacted his friend, who was doing PhD research in London and it forth with one Italian and one Frenchman we went find her flat where the party had been organised. It was forty minutes walk away from our hostels situated somewhere near the Bayswater undeground station, which is in the west corner of Hyde Park to the Oxford circus where she lived. At about half past twelve at night we eventually reached the place. The party was organised in one apartment situated somewhere in a block of flats three minutes away from the Oxford Circus.
Inside, lots of people at that time of the night were drunk, at least a little bit. After a while we enjoyed the atmosphere and had a lot of fun. At about half past two in the morning we went to a Spanish club to dance. At this point it should be mentioned that judging by the places we had been visiting hours before I would have deduced that it was the Spanish not the English capital. There were so many Spaniards in these places that this was the only conclusion you would have drawn. Anyway, it seems to that London, in spite of its outward appearanve is still the capital of the United Kingdom.
Nevertheless the party was marvellous, and eventually at about five am we returned to the hostels from our adventure. We woke up at seven o’clock and after breakfast we went to see Kirk Gate, the famous British flea market.
After that I went by myself to the National Gallery to see eight paintings by Vincent van Gogh amongst which was Sunflowers.
In evening we were back in Leeds.
Next day I started again my intensive training. Only three weeks remained to the exam date, but a lot of work had to be done. Now every day, leaving the library after eleven at night I was really overworked. Nonetheless there was no any another option available; I would just try to do my best. In the evenings, I started additionally going to the gym three times a week to build my confidence for the coming events. After a week two things happened. Firstly the university decided that instead of having one hour-long class with a professional lecturer we would have a one-hour English language lab class, which was convenient for me. The new teacher, Mike, occurred in my life just in time to save my life, time and money I had spent on my preparations. By doing a simulation of the exam he showed me how it was in real life, and made some comments, which helped me prepare myself for a better final result. Furthermore he taught me how to prepare myself for the listening section, which without his remarks would have been a disaster.
Secondly I got the news that my father had suffered a stroke. Fortunately instead of staying in his head blood left the body through his nostrils. That was information which totally my plans for the immediate future.
Firstly I I was not even expecting to return to home for the coming Christmas, but taking into account the above-mentioned fact I decided to return to Poland even for a week or so just three days after the exam. I bought a ticket, and had been preparing myself for the approaching test.
The test was very demanding. Five hours long without any break. I had some problems with writing, due to the fact I [hadn’t practised my writing tasks on examination papers. They were the following: description of a chart and an essay about renewable sources of energy. The time given was limited: one hour for both tasks. I lost some points by not pre-planning my answer. I panicked a little bit because I estimated that the given time would be not long enough, so I started to improvise. That printed sign on finale construction of the whole task. What was more, when it came to the speaking part, my examiner found that the tape recorder was broken. She called someone to replace it. It took about twenty minutes. In between we chatted about everything starting from my background through problems concerning with globalisation problems, finishing with the above-mentioned renewable sources of energy. When she started recording our conversation she asked me to describe the home I was living in and later my lovely piece of furniture. That was quite hard for me talking almost without any break about both these issues I have mentioned. I left the place with the feeling that I had gone to pieces. Even before I planned to stay a little bit longer in Manchester, just to wander around a little bit; eventually I changed my mind and returned home earlier. Three days later at midnight I was back in Poland. Ten days in Poland and again I was in Leeds. I did three things in Poland. Firstly I updated a little bit my website, with my drawings, secondly I went to Krakow for one day-long trip and thirdly I bought my parents a new central heating boiler, because the old one had just worn out. Doing that I spent all my savings and that was a further reason for leaving the country so quickly.
Additionally being convinced that I had failed I was determined to return to Leeds to take IELTS again. That only would clean gap in my CV, which in between started to be alarmingly long. Only on receiving a good mark from the exam, and having confirmation of attendance on the English course at Leeds Metropolitan University I would clean the gap.
What is more I didn’t want to stay in Poland for the next unhappy Christmas of my life. I owed it to Colette to spend one Christmas with her for all support I had received from her since the time I had come to the country one and half years before.
When I returned to Leeds the morning of the next day I went to the ‘friendly’ me Job agency and applied for a job. I got one and I started the same afternoon. It was a job in a furniture factory near Morley. That was the hardest job I have ever done. Eight hours a day, staying next to the assembly line I was packing pieces of furniture into the passing boxes. The pieces were quite heavy and at the beginning it was very difficult to keep going for eight hours. Usually every person was responsible for multiple tasks. By this I mean that some different pieces of the furniture had to be quickly packed on the moving line, which demanded speed and concentration. Our supervisors persistently watched us in order to be sure we didn’t slow down the process. Some analogies with slavery work would be relevant. Of course no black people were working on the site. Apart from that Polish and Pakistani labour forces were employed. What is more, the factory floor was very cold and when I’d stopped working only for a while I felt cold. One half an hour break was included and two ten-minute ones. Fortunately there was canteen where everyone would go and stay for their break. Some food and tea or coffee were offered at a reasonable price.
When planning my near future as still being in Poland I thought that having a job in Leeds for the first three weeks I would save enough money to take another course at Leeds Metropolitan University and pay the exam fee. Then, when I’d returned to Colette’s house in Leeds I opened the letter from Manchester University with my final scores. My results were so good that I never expected such a high grade, taking into account all the difficulties I described above.
That completely changed my situation. Instead of taking an additional course I decided to work without any break until the end of January and at that time return to Poland in order to look for a job I deserved. In between some thing changed. Firstly there was no job available to take in between Christmas and New Year. Secondly after one working week and one day after New Year I was simply sucked. Officially it was due to the fact that I was looking for temporary job, when they had been looking for someone for longer period of time. But in reality, probably I was simply not strong enough for this eight-hour long working class prison day. Luckily for me I would add.
Apart from looking for another crap job I returned for the coming weeks to the university.
Due to the fact I eventually left the course two weeks before it ended and went to Poland to see how my dad’s health really was I was promised that in case I returned, there was the guarantee I would get these two weeks. What was guaranteed was then realised. I returned to the course and after that I returned to the library, and in the evenings to the gym. In the library I was translating into Polish a book by Terry Eagleton ‘Marxism and Literary Criticism’. Being to some extent connected with my past interests, mainly with Walter Benjamin’s theory of culture, additionally being ‘not too fat’ as for first committed in my life translation I’d taken it at my workshop. What is more at this time I received an invitation letter from the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences for an interview concerning the position of Adjunct of Philosophy at the above-mentioned institution. That situation created an excellent opportunity to return to Poland in order to try to have a fresh start. I had to return to the country at the end of January at the latest to enable me to have some additional time to prepare my research proposal. So eventually I bought the ticket for 29th of January.
Time was passing quite quickly and eventually I had prepared myself for the next quantum leap.
Being well dressed, with only 50 quid in my pocket, but fully optimistic I landed back at Warsaw airport.
Next day morning I started looking for a job. Before that, on Sunday I called my sister and asked her to buy me on Monday - that is in the day I was returning – a Polish broadsheet named Gazeta Wyborcza. Every Monday a major part of it consists of job advertisements. Due to its size it is known colloquially as ‘The Bible of the Unemployed’. In the coming weeks I found out why.
Firstly I bought a bus ticket valid for thirty days in Warsaw and the suburbs from where every day for the next few weeks I commuted to the city. Secondly I went to the gym, which was situated about twenty minutes away by bus from the library and bought a thirty-day gym carnet. Next month my days were quite similar. Wake up at half pastsix, leave the house at seven thirty, start at the gym at ten past eight – till nine and eventually start working in the library at half past nine.
On Thursday, just the next morning after my night arrival I stayed the whole day in the library, preparing a motivational letter and together with my resumé I sent it via mail to the about thirty job agencies operating in Warsaw. Waiting for the answers till the end of the week I was preparing my research proposal. The following Monday I delivered it to the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Science. The research proposal was similar to the one that one year earlier I had left in some places looking for an academic job. Later I went to the library and checked if some responses had arrived. No answer at all. I bought a new ‘Bible’ I went to the gym, and when I returned home I was searching for some job posts I could apply for. That was until night . The next two days I was visiting particular agencies and was asking for a job. No jobs available at all, except of one position of labourer in a factory on the outskirts of Warsaw. I was not interested in such a job having a PhD and what is more having experience of working in a factory just a few weeks before in the UK. I just tried keeping my dignity. What is strange, but probably not in the case of Poland, is that in a few agencies there were some announcements pinned up on a wall on the information desk, and some of them seemed to be interesting for me. When I was asked for particular posts in all the cases, in different agencies I was informed that these posts had just been taken. So usually I asked why in such a situation they were still displayed on the desk. I received no logical answers. It seems to me that these ‘better jobs’ are still distributed among close allies, acquaintances and so on and so forth. After two unproductive days I returned to the library and I started sending applications for particular posts I had chose to apply for. I also started sending my applications to the some foundations and state agencies. No answers, or if there was it was information that actually there were no jobs available but we will keep yours data on our records. In case the situation changes we will inform you.
For the next three weeks I did morning gym and for the rest of the day I sent applications. Without results. Eventually my money ran out and I decided something. I borrowed money from my brother-in-law and bought a return ticket to Leeds. I didn’t want to live without money any more. I just wanted to keep my life going and earn money for my living expenses. Having such experiences with job searching in Poland, now I completely understand Polish-working emigration to Great Britain or Ireland. People just want to keep their dignity and have the chance to make enough money to live. Apart from the fact that almost everything in Poland costs the same as in Great Britain, people, if they have any job are so low-paid that it is almost impossible to scrape a living independently. I am not mentioning those without jobs, who comprise of Polish society. The unemployment rate in Poland is now about 16 percent. That is when data refers to the population of productive age, which is in between 18 and 65.
When data refers to the whole population, it is estimated that about 51 percent of the population is out of work.
It’s terrifying me but not only for me. Polish people who are working in Great Britain with whom I was talking about their future plans always were saying that if they are not forced to return to the country in the future by the British government, they never will return to Poland. Who will stay in Poland? These who are less mobile, elderly and retired? Just now Poland has the lowest birth rate of all the 27 member states of the EU, the lowest rate of self-employment, the lowest GDP, and one of the lowest average salaries. Of course the unemployment rate has dropped slightly due to the continuous emigration. This decrease is announced by state agendas as the big success of the newly-elected government. But if that really is such a big success that seems to be very controversial. This time I decided to leave the country for a number of reasons. Firstly, when I was in Poland I sent an application form to the University of Oxford for a one-year library trainee course, and would be I am short-listed. Having the sort of luck I have, I am not convinced that this will be the case, but without trying no one can achieve anything. Secondly if I want return to Poland, which I plan to do, I have to earn some money again as the ‘Polish plumber’ in order to have some money for when I am back trying again to find a job in Poland. Thirdly, I want to have a little bit time to write down ‘Experiences of our Times’ that is my job seeker career.
I was thinking about that before, but eventually waiting in the departure lounge of Warsaw airport I started preplanning what I have written above. At the end of this short novel two things should be mentioned. Firstly, eventually I had an interview for adjunct position I applied for when I was in Poland. It happened just two days before I left the country. The final results will be announced on the first of April, as I was informed. I had a look at my calendar, and I found that that day is a Sunday. What is more it is April Fools Day, the day when in my country everyone can tell a lie without serious consequences.
Secondly and finally, I left my country having in my pocket one pound twenty, and I survived.
I miss Poland.
First of April 2007, called April Fools Day.
I just opened an envelope with a letter from Oxford.
The information is as follows:
Dear Dr ……
Graduate Library Trainees
Thank you for taking the time to return your application for the above post. We had a very large response and the panel has now met to consider all the applications against the selection criteria. Unfortunately, you have not been short – listed for interview on this occasion and we will therefore not be processing your application further.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your interest in OULS and wish you success in your job search.
There is a signature
Oxford University Library Services
30th April 2007.
Until today I have not received any information concerning my job interview from the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Science. So I guess I was not chosen to be an adjunct.