Grandmother has two cats. One, a jumpy, ginger tom cat, who now trusts me enough to chew my toes when I sit on the veranda and rub himself against me affectionately when I eat in the hope I’ll let him lick my plate after I’ve finished eating. The other cat, a delicate and painfully shy female, is not around so much but recently started appearing with a couple of teenage kittens in tow. The kittens seem quite old now so must have been hidden somewhere whilst they were young and their mother tentatively only brings them one at a time to feed. Grandmother was convinced she had had her cat spayed so was outraged by the sight of the kittens. Like a conservative parent who’s just discovered the pregnancy of a teenage daughter, she went out to scold the cat, telling her she was not happy with her at all, then cast her out shouting “go, you are no longer welcome here, I already have too many mouths to feed!”. The next day as we were having tea, after catching sight of one of the kittens in a bush, grandmother matter of factly suggested it might be best if we shot them. I was horrified and tried to persuade her they were too cute to shoot. “Oh my dear, we cannot let ourselves be overrun by pussies” grandmother replied solemnly. Luckily for everyone, grandmother doesn’t own a gun.
The temperature here has taken a sudden nosedive and within the space of a few days I have swapped shorts and vest tops for thick jumpers, thermal vests and leggings under my jeans. The farm doesn’t have central heating but I have a lovely wood burning stove in my room which the turn in weather has forced me to learn how to light. My first couple of fires were a disaster, causing so much smoke that I had to open both my windows and doors as wide as they would go in an attempt to fumigate the room, defeating the point of trying to create warmth and also setting off all the fire alarms. My room now smells of bonfire and I often find a thin layer of ash covering my possessions but my fire lighting skills are slowly improving and I no longer need to choreograph vigorous dance routines around my room to try and keep blood flowing to my fingers and toes. Despite my enthused attempts to keep warm, my body still responded in coughs and sneezes to the sudden change in temperature. Grandmother gave me a knowing look as I blew my nose, “uncertainty makes you ill” she explained. I tried telling her that I was pretty sure my cold was down to the change in weather or perhaps the smokey room I’d created for myself in my fire lighting attempts, but she remained insistent that my ailments were largely psychosomatic. “I think you’re lonely my dear” she told me sympathetically.
“No, I think I’m just cold grandmother”.
“Ah, you need a man in your bed to warm you my dear!”, then she gave my cold hand a loving squeeze and hurried off outside, laughing delightedly at her own joke.
Grandmother’s subtle attempts to marry me off continue on a regular basis but have started to become a bit of a joke between us. After spontaneously buying a beautiful double bed from the market, she loudly asked if I’d like the delivery man (a 30-40 year old man with thickly gelled up hair, cargo shorts and a faint wiff of poo) to stay so I had someone to share the bed with. Luckily the poo scented man didn’t speak English. The other day she asked me where my sweetheart was who I was so clearly pining for. When I explained there really wasn’t one at the moment, she seemed both disappointed and worried on my behalf. Why wasn’t I going out to find one? Surely that should be a priority for me right now. I should be more proactive about finding myself a man. Her most recent suggestions for how I should find myself a man are that I sit in the same cafe every day until someone notices me, or if that fails, tie ribbons in my hair and riding around town in the back of a horse and cart. Just as I write this she has presented me with a strange pamphlet entitled ‘perspectives on Marriage’, illustrated purely with Chagall paintings.
Although I have politely ignored most of grandmother’s helpful suggestions, I have tried to make more of an effort to get out of the house and explore the surrounding area now that I feel more settled. I havn’t been forging any great social connections for myself yet but I enjoy observing the strange eccentricities that the area seems to be full of. For example, the nailing of old cuddly toys or dolls to the front of houses, which seems to be quite a popular and creepy trend. Catholicism has a strong cultural influence here and shrines to Jesus and the Virgin Mary are dotted around at regular intervals, by the road, on footpaths and even in forest, with many people having miniature versions in their gardens, often placed awkwardly in the centre of a manicured lawn between some garden gnomes. The Pope is a big celebrity here and photos of his smiling face appear on most objects in the post office, from notebooks, to 2017 calendars (of which there are about four different Pope designs to choose from) and he is even cover star of the tv guide. In stark contrast to the deliberately seductive or foul mouthed TV chefs back home, the majority of cook books I’ve found here seem to be written by nuns, who appear to be prolific in the field of food writing.
Rooting through the car boot sale style weekend markets satisfies my charity shop craving and although I rarely buy anything, I still enjoying looking through the strange collections of personal nicnacs, old furniture, oversized women’s underwear and tables piled with velour hareem pants and large 80s print shirts. My personal highlight are the creepy goth manikins, pictured below, from a stall selling children’s clothes.
As I become more comfortable and settled in my life here, I have found myself facing my familiar struggles of time management and motivation, often lulled into a bored laziness by daily routines or frustrated by my failure to accomplish lengthy to-do lists. While structures and repetitions can help create a sense of meaning and order to life’s daily occurrences, like with music, sometimes change, irregularities and excitement are needed to keep us awake and engaged enough to keep going. I appreciate I speak from a position of extreme privilege, having the luxury of so much free time and choice, but investing this wealth of time properly still takes a form of budgeting that I am still trying to figure out. As much as it is also important to slow down sometimes, to let go of a constant need for productivity and achievements and to just enjoy being in each moment, whatever it is, I am starting to find that slowing down too much can also deprive you of the invigorating thrill of moving forwards. To quote what for years I thought to be a wise Chinese proverb but turns out to be Bruce Lee: ‘Running water never grows stale. So you just have to ‘keep on flowing’’!
Grandmother has clocked onto my slight loss of direction and likes to make her own suggestions on what I should do. Perhaps the best of her suggestions for giving me the responsibility and direction she feels my life needs, was that I adopt some Polish children. She was very proud of that suggestion as an answer to my troubles, explaining that there would be plenty of room for the children here, it would force me to improve my polish speaking skills, I’d get paid a bit by the Polish government and even get cheaper health insurance! I get quizzed frequently on where I’m going and what I’m doing with my life. I’ve given up on my usual vague replies that I’m ‘just being’, ‘seeing how it goes’ or ‘taking life as it comes for a bit’ as they are dismissed as unsuitable answers and I find myself fabricating future plans for myself to pitch to her like a hopeful entrepreneur on Dragon’s Den. Suggesting things I ‘might’ do can be problematic as, in a whirl of goodwill, grandmother can start making plans on my behalf and I have to stop her before it gets too late and I can’t go back. When we spoke about this, grandmother explained that when someone shows a spark, it is nice when other people protect that flame and help it grow. I agreed that was lovely but explained that sometimes someone just wants to light a small candle not a whole bonfire. She liked that explanation. We have now reached a stage in our relationship where we can have strange conversations like this where we speak almost entirely in symbolism and understand each other perfectly!
Although I sometimes get frustrated by her attempts to micro manage my life for me, she also has a lot of good advice and wisdom to share when I am in the right head space to accept it (not that advice about adopting children, that was a terrible idea). A couple of weeks ago, after we’d finished our evening’s quota of Heidi, she said she had some wisdom to give me. She carefully told me to remember that “those who put their hand to the plough will only make a crooked line if they are always looking back at what they have done. To plough a line that is straight, they must look straight ahead and focus on where it is they want to go”. And with that in mind, I am trying to draw together my stay in Poland for the year, figure out what I’m going to do with myself over winter and how best to prepare myself for (hopefully) returning here next spring.
Thanks for tuning in!