Aug 282014
Loose Change: The Miracle of Buses

I’m told the countryside has much to recommend it, and isn’t just there to put decent intervals between interesting places. For example, recently reported that crop circles with ‘magical strength’ had appeared in a Polish field. A local dowser is quoted as saying: “No evidence of human activities in the field is noticeable,” presumably apart from the 30-metre crop circles and, you know, the crops. Summer is traditionally the time city dwellers get it into their heads to leave the city and have a look at the countryside. It’s not a coincidence that summer is also the time when people who spend very little time in the countryside get into all kinds of trouble there. Urbanites drown in lakes, get struck by lightning, see imaginary gorillas and generally provide country folk with a rich stock of hilarious stories to tell each other through the bitter winter months. My own relationship with nature is complex. I […]

Jul 102014
Loose Change: Tram Hero

He’s out there, somewhere. Righting wrongs and protecting the weak. Roaming the streets of Krakow on the side of the humble tram rider, the nightmare of the gas guzzler. I’ve never had a hero before, being inclined to almost toxic levels of cynicism, but I found one last week. It was a Friday evening, and I was heading to Kazimierz on the number 19 tram. I’d noticed him of course. It’s not often you see a 60-something-year-old guy dressed in full Polish mountain man regalia, including feather in leather hat. Decades of living in cities have taught me exactly what to do about crazy people on public transport. Rule one: Don’t look directly at them, but don’t let them out of your sight either. We pulled up at Wawel. The doors opened and fellow passengers hopped down among the line of cars idling across the tram stop, waiting on the lights. Feather hat guy rose from […]

May 232014
Loose Change: The Sexy Shop

I had high hopes for the Sexy Shop. Nestled comfortably in double-fronted premises of moderate size on ul. Tomasza, ‘sexy’ suggested to me a light-hearted flirtatiousness otherwise entirely absent from the terrifying world of Krakow’s go-go bars and those grim staircases advertising ‘24h massage.’ I was expecting more in the way of saucy, handmade lace items and less in the way of hard-eyed, Belarusian blondes. I was disappointed. The not-necessarily-horrifying lacy lingerie is there, manufactured by the hands of winsome grandmothers in some mountain village I never want to go to, but a closer inspection of the window display raised some alarms: cellophane-wrapped packages featuring pouting and big hair, a suggestion of ball-gags, a pair of strap-on breasts manufactured from a plush, furry material. I didn’t go inside. I may be wrong. Maybe the place is run by a genuine Venus with a perfectly nuanced grasp of English. Maybe she really is here to put a […]

Apr 192014
Loose Change: The Polish Bird Flap

There was great excitement on BBC Radio 4 last week, as far as excitement on Radio 4 goes, over a pair of storks nesting in Britain. ‘Remarkably,’ enthused the breathless on-the-scene reporter, ‘it’s the first time this has happened since 1416’ – so just after The Archers first aired. There hasn’t been this much of a flap over large, white birds since 2004, when British tabloids jumped on the suggestion that Poles were routinely eating our swans. I pleaded at the time that swan sandwiches were a rarity in the Polish diet, which only persuaded my fellow Islanders that this was all the more reason for the Slavic hordes to bung a cygnet under the grill the moment they got the chance. That the latest avian excitement should also have a Polish angle only shows how intimately our nations are connected these days – or perhaps that’s just in my mind. The stork is a Polish […]

Mar 132014
Loose Change: When Russians Were Hilarious

Remember the Winter Olympics? You must remember. It was about two weeks ago and that Polish woman who always wins medals won a medal. Wasn’t that fun, looking down on the Russians for being poorly organised and homophobic – before they suddenly became terrifyingly efficient at annexing small autonomous republics. Russians were hilarious back then, with their crazy double toilets and absurd oversized medals with bits of meteor in them that didn’t really have bits of meteor in them. My, how we laughed. The other thing we were all talking about before this part of the world suddenly became very unfunny was the likelihood of Krakow hosting the Winter Olympics. Here? In sleepy old, semi-competent Krakow? I don’t know, it sounds like a lot of work and, you know, organising things. How can we hope to match such luxury? Well hold on to your ski poles people, I think it’s actually quite likely. If it were […]

Feb 162014
Loose Change: Ice

If summer is the silly season for news, the middle of winter is the dead boring season. We get the same stories every year. Either everyone is wondering where the snow is, or snow is causing national chaos. Either everyone is moaning that Poland never gets anything at the Oscars…

Jan 022014
Loose Change: In a Band

It’s not that I really want to start a band, I just think it’s necessary – you’re nobody in this town unless you’re ‘in a band.’ At a party the other day, a former Miss Singapore and professor of nuclear physics with several books under her belt earned nothing but yawns until she said…

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