Sunday, 15 June 2008

Zakopane


My chest snaps as I stand. It feels much better. Even though this random escapade is to be a short one, the small suitcase we have with us is comforting; it feels like an anchor of preparation seldom included on banal treks to the village or surrounding woodlands. I snatch it up greedy before the door to my right slides open. Two nuns bolt towards the open, clad in blue and white robes, past a huddled bunch of biddies I can see through the smeared glass windows. Someone told me before we came that it is not necessary to book a room in Zakopane before arriving, as it is almost impossible not to stumble across swarming old women with boards upon getting off the coach. I hook my jacket around my waste and thank the driver, a tatty gnome like woman with chipolata fingers and bad breath, hops up and down in front of me exclaiming that she has an apartment for rent. Her loose pink blouse is so stretched it looks like it is trying to escape her tacky dark skin. I look over my shoulder and ask Joanna what she thinks, she winces. A group of elderly women point at the gnome lady from behind and make faces at her when she tries to convince us she has a beautiful apartment for us to stay at this evening. I ask her where her accommodation is located and she tells me it is only three minutes around the corner, her mawkish digits grapple with the suitcase and we are on our way.

The gnome lady’s competitors sneer behind her as she turns to gloat, but she does so only for a second. She whisks us off in the direction of the high street past kiosks, meat markets, veggie stands, coat racks and shrubbery until we find ourselves at the entrance to a modern Polish tower block. The walls are yellow. Gnome lady opens the door with a silver key and we march up some stairs to the third floor, she shuffles us inside her smutty abode and shows us around. The first thing I notice after stepping into the bedroom is the glorious view of the Tatra Mountains in front of us; peaks capped with amethyst streaks that shimmer in the sunlight. It looks glorious, which is a little more than I can say for the dingy quarters we are asked to pay seventy zloty a night for. I haggle down to fifty and the gnome lady sneers while handing me two small keys strung together by a gritty pink hair tie. She tells us not to touch the boiler, even if it starts rattling in the night. The ceiling is bulging and the dead lock is busted but everything else works fine. She says she will be back at ten o’clock in the morning to remove us.

Joanna has just finished a twelve-hour night shift and her hands are shaking but she says she is ready to climb some mountains. The poor lass works as a security administrator in Bochnia, her role similar to that of Janine Melnitz in Ghostbusters, dispatching security forces to breeched areas of the town. I pry about the small apartment and decide is not actually all that bad for fifty zloty a night. The boiler growls and spits some thick black liquid into the bath tub as I walk past it and into a second bedroom. Like the room we dumped our suitcase in, it holds two foldout sofa beds and little else. As I turn to leave the room though, I am confronted by one of the creepiest religious objects I have ever seen.

White polystyrene folding boxes are commonplace in the UK for carrying battered fish and chips. They are most useful when eating on hoof and even for storing ‘from the night before’s. As useful as these boxes are in the take away food department, I would never so much as even think about using one as a picture frame. Yet that is what I seem to be presented with. A polystyrene fish and chip box lid, nailed to the wall, framing a cut out of John Paul 2nd. The late pope grins back at me as I make no effort to contain my laughter at this absurd display.

We walk a couple of minutes from the apartment to the bustling high street, the forecast was for rain but the sunshine has brought masses of people out onto the streets for ice cream and dancing. Hundreds of market stalls litter the pavements, selling everything from baby slippers to long axes. The air smells of chestnuts and the Gubalowka mountains in front of us rocket from the ground below the busy high street. We hit the bottom end of the town center for a mushroom zapekanka each and locate the cable car to the top of Gubalowka. According to the tourist guide, this is the most accessible mount and is full of screaming kids as a consequence. The most rewarding aspect though, is that it is an excellent place to view the ‘praying man mountain’, whatever that may be. Half expecting to be escorted to the top of the mountain all rickety by a rusty chairlift, I feel a splinter of disappointment upon discovering the sixteen zloty a head ticket only covers a one way journey to the top by a state of the art train. We clamber on board and the electronic doors hum as we zoom past eager climbers haggering their way up the recline. I envy each alien stride.

School children bustle about the wooden fencing that overlooks the below. A loggers leap type race track, flags crumpling in the gust jets and the praying man mount. It twirls in a sea of cloud somewhere to our right. The view from the top of the Gubalowka is beautiful but I feel foolish for paying to get to the top. We take a coffee in a café overlooking the fabulous view and we discuss our plans for the remaining few hours we have left in Zakopane. We are staying for two days and one night; a deserved break after a tricky year of toil. Joanna points to the praying man and asks me what I think. This particular formation is symbolic due to the fact that it slightly resembles a man laying down in the prayer position… Some time ago, people decided that it would be a good idea to stick a giant cross on the praying man formation’s ‘finger’ to help inflate its symbolism. It looks daft. Regardless, the range is an incredible sight and makes walking back down to the bottom of Gubalowka most pleasant.

By the time we reach the bottom of the 1200 metre descent, I am walking at a mad angle. There are so many peaks and pivots to patrol, my ankles bend odd every time they touch ground. The sky hints at downpour but we still have one more mountain top to conquer before dinner if we wish to make the most of our stay in Zakopane.

After a nice sit down and a cup of tea in a field, we wait at a random bus stop. There is no timetable and daffodils lark in the gentle breeze. A little similar to Rytro with its multitude of guesthouses and tourist delights, Zakopane is one of the most popular destinations for Poles during bank holidays and summer seasons. According to Joanna’s father, there were over one million visitors during the May bank holiday weekend this year, leaving the roads jam-packed and inflation on a killer wave. The streets are crowded enough on this murky, I can’t imagine what a million bodies on a sun kissed afternoon would do to this small town.

We wait twenty minutes and an eight seater stops and drives us a few kilometers up the road to a range called Kasprowy Wierch. This bad boy is eight hundred metres higher than Gubalowka so we have no intention of climbing up or down it. At least not today. As the cable car plods slower up the plume green mountains, the clouds get that much lower. Droplets of rain start to slap the glass-paneled car as we escalate. There are thirteen of us in the car, huddled together taking pictures of astonishing scenery. Gallant green gatherings of steep bark ad tussling leaves jigsaw up the mountain as we near the 1000 metre mark. We stop at a place called Myślenickie Turnie, change cars and get higher. A slim brunette stands in the center of the car and spins around in circles while clutching a video camera. Her sister asks what she is doing and the camera lady presses a free finger to her lips. The car tilts to one side and a fat man squeals with glee. 1987 metres above sea level and we are at the top of the mountain, although we might as well be at the bottom judging from the view. Cloud surrounds the peak of the mount and it is impossible to see more than a few feet in front. I feel as though I am a part of some glorious magic show, all surrounded by smoke. I refuse to pay the two zloty at Dominium to use the toilet and urinate over the edge of the mountain.

Once back at ground level, we make our way to the bus stop. A driver bolts upright when we walk past and asks if we want to go to the center for three zloty each. Sounds fair. He boots us up with a grim collective of moist walkers and starts the ignition. The drive back to the center of town is a quick one, taking no longer than a few minutes. By this point though, Joanna is very tired after her night shift and needs to collapse. We find a pizza restaurant in town and order humongous portions of veggie delight. We make plans for tomorrow, accounting for the gnome lady waking us up at ten o’clock. She tells me that she once went to a mountain range in the area called Morskie Oko and that it is a frightfully wonderful place to spend an afternoon if it be rain free… We walk back to the flat half expecting to see Gnome framing a picture of Ratzinger in a crisp packet. She is not. The boiler screams at me while I use the bath, a lacey black spider watches me as I scrub.

Joanna sleeps for an hour and a half while I mooch around the shops in search of herbal tea. The sky is leaking but it matters not, for when she awakes, she tells me she wishes to drink wine in the center. We brolly to the high street in search of bright lights and noise. There are several illuminated signs, some bustle in the air and thudding beats come from a building somewhere above. We stumble into a quaint little joint on the main strip. There is a band of three belting some whoppers on their strings and horns as we take our seats. I order a bottle of white wine and the waitress beams back at me as she pours.

-

I throw on my jeans and scour the kitchen for cutlery. Three forks. I take a swig of cold tea from the bowl I used as a vessel last night and stroll the morning dew in search of a bakery. I settle for a 24 hour mini mart called SuperSam and purchase some fresh rolls, a yogurt and a couple of drozdzowki. When I get back to the flat, we fill the rolls with cream cheese and get disturbed. A ten to nine, Gnome bursts in through the front door with a couple of new guests. She yells good morning at us and shuffles her new clients into the polystyrene pope room. We had agreed to have the room until ten o’clock this morning but I suppose this comes at the expense of winning a bitter haggle.

We consume our breakfast on the small balcony and finish packing to the voices of Gnome’s new guests, they hand over the full asking price in cash and Gnome leaves. The gent of the new clientele asks where we are from but he has never heard of Bochnia. He sits in the second bedroom and natters to us politely while skinning up a joint on the coffee table. We bid them adjure and walk towards the train station with our suitcase, passing scores of babas with smoked cheese and head scarves on the way. We pay a lady at the station five zlotys to take our suitcase somewhere and look after it for the day while we scout the area for busses to the Morskie Oko.

The mini bus is tight and loud. It buzzes through small villages, bombs around sharp corners and struggles over dusty hills, lavished on either side with fury green trees. I listen to a Spanish vocab builder and the first ten minutes of Andrew Marr before we arrive at a large car park. We pay the driver eight zloty each and then pay another three something to get through the gates and into the countryside. There are posters and signs everywhere exclaiming the presence of bears in the area. A mass of people start to make their way up the steady mountain and scores of walkers crack open tinnies as a symbol of vacation. I am stunned that so many people are drinking beer at this time and place. I fancy one. Waterfalls, brooks, sudden drops and random pathways jilt at all angles throughout the six kilometer hike to the top of the mountain. I drink a litre of water, wash my face in a stream and get confused for a girl on the way to the Oko. Once we get to our destination I feel a change in the air. The most placid and glistening veneer of the cleanest and possibly the coldest water I have ever seen lay in front of me surrounded by flourishing greenery and crumbling rocks. Chubby fish swim close to the edge in hope that I will drop my sandwich from the rock I am perched on. A guesthouse looks over the transparent water where trout swim and children throw stones. Group loads of Poles arrive on carts pulled by horses and there is not a cloud in the sky. I look up to my right at one of the highest mountains in view, Joanna tells me it is called Rysy and it is 2500 metres high. Crikey. I buy some tea with rum and we sit with a group of elderly Germans who munch on pealed apples with bread and meat.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Boris



Social Networking. An online phenomenon I despised with relish and poked fun at with a side order of chips. A digital bastard house of misfits and weirdos, a place I felt alien towards and unwelcome in. When I joined Facebook I could feel myself climbing into the trap. Vast amounts of time spent tagging photos, joining groups and reacquainting old friends was a sure sign this was only the beginning. But that was okay. I was just keeping in contact with old friends and forgotten chums… So why not just email the people I speak to regularly and leave the rest to flitter away like old photos in a cyclone of zeitgeist? I contemplate this question and scribble in my notebook as the pospieszny train travels me direct to Wrocław from Bochnia. The journey is five and a half hours and I will have to make the same trip back again tomorrow morning. Why am I doing this again?

It all started with a pop-up. A greyed border on a music orientated SN website advertising a concert three hundred and ten kilometres away from where I live. I always make an effort to take my students recommendations and interests seriously. I only have a select clientele of one-to-ones and I like to keep up to speed with their music and film tastes. When one of the select few referenced LastFM as an online cultural adaptation of music based bar talk, I decided to give it a whirl. Thousands of strangers rampaging audio recommendations I had never heard of and the option to catalogue music preferences. I became excited and opened an account. Misfit Weirdo. This was me being engulfed in a new environment. An environment I had recently jeered at as being little more than a database of wasted efforts. Before long I was checking, updating and monitoring my profile with the same enthusiasm I had for my Facebook page. Misfit weirdo.

It was through this site I found that one of my most coveted bands is playing a one off gig over the other side of the country. I contemplated. I decided that I would only go if there was a way I could stay in Wrocław for free. For the last six months I have been finishing my novel and, being as though it is my first, I received no advance for it. The grosz are few and far between so I needed to make sure the venture would be minimal in expense. When travelling Poland for the Talking TEFL project, I signed up to another SN site called couchsurfing.com. I didn’t take advantage of it on the nationwide journey but my account remained active. Although couchsurfing.com harbours the same principles as the other ‘communities’ I have tumbled into, it is probably the most useful. The site details a catalogue of people all over the world, from Antarctica to Kazakhstan, who have free accommodation available to whoever wants it. I met Agnieszka through this site and she is going to meet me at the station when I arrive in five hours time.

My legs ache and my mouth dries as my journey continues through Katowice and onward to Opole. I read Naked Lunch and The Kite Runner while listening to Stereolab on my headphones. I eat rice cakes with the butch nana sitting opposite me. The heat pours through the windows and I think about how I have spent the first sunny day in a long while, cramped on a train with body throb. I arrive in Wrocław at half past four and feel faint as I walk through the station to the concourse. My stomach growls in a wicked echo and I prod my gut like a pin cushion. Angnieszka said she would meet me here at half past but there is no sign of her. She called me up a couple of days ago and told me that she would leave work early to meet. She said I would recognize her from the profile photograph and that we could hit the venue straight away to pick up my ticket for the concert.

I loiter under the train departure info and wonder who will recognise who first. I turn around and come face to face with a tall ginger girl, she has light blue powder stroked lightly over her eyelids and a toothy smile. “Well good afternoon Daniel” she says in plenty rehearsed English. “Good afternoon” I reply, almost trembling for lack of sugar. I wonder about the protocol for such situations and she asks me what I would like to do. People push past on their way to the platforms and I hook my shoulder bag over my head. We leave the station and walk down a main road. I want to ask her about couchsurfing and why she allows total strangers into her home. My questions seem terribly inappropriate and I bite my tongue. A fat lady barges in front of us and bellows across the street at an invisible boy and Agnieszka tells me about how Polish people have begun to alter their personalities to suite the American demographic. I am confused and my gurgling stomach feels like it is dissolving. The venue is called Firlej. I step inside. There are two bearded men behind the desk. I ask them for a ticket to this evenings performance and I notice that this is the first time I have spoken Polish in front of my host. She crumples her face. Fort five zlotys for a ticket and a free poster. We leave Firlej and walk towards the Rynek while discussing Serge Gainsbourg. Agnieszka is most pleasant, her ginger curls dance in the gentle breeze and her index finger points at a grinning couple. We walk over to them and they speak to us about dinner. They tell us that a Mexican restaurant called Havana has reasonable prices and excellent vegetarian tortillas. I walk with her. “They are a lovely pair” she says, “he is German and she is Polish but they speak in English all the time”. I nod and look over my shoulder.

The restaurant is smoky and dark. We take a seat at a crowded table with one leg shorter than the other three. It rocks slightly when I lean on my elbow. This seems to be the right time to ask about couchsurfing but my voice jumps out all paranoid and jittery. She looks relaxed and subtle as she flicks her ginger hair with long bony fingers. She tells me that I am the third guest she has hosted (the waiter takes our order) and that she is very pleased I came. She doesn’t get much time for holidays so she lures new being and conversation with promises of free accommodation. This must make her feel in motion. I smile and thank the waiter as he brings over two cold pints of Okocim. My head throbs as I slurp and we discuss the infinite possibilities of fraudulent absurdity that could take place in our current situation. I could be anybody. I could be nobody at all. Does she really want to bring me into her home? Misfit Weirdo.

After a slice of cherry pie and a fistful of Ibuprofen, she escorts me back to the venue one last time. She says that she doesn’t like walking and I go inside on my own. The lady checking tickets at the door greets me with a whisper. “Czesc”. “Hej” I blurt back all clumsy. I order a beer and stuff my jumper into my bag, there is far too much in there what with all the books, bottles of water and empty cigarette packets. I must look suspicious. There is a loud mechanical whir coming from behind a closed door in the hallway. I light a cigarette, take a couple of drags and put it out while staring at the ticket checker lady. The whirring gets louder and I open the door.

There are no more than thirty people in the audience, they are swaying slowly, transfixed on the stage. Two young men rock back and forth with guitars in their hands. There are transistors, mixers, synths and distortion pedals all over the place and everything is deafening. I can feel my ribs rattle around to the sound and I take my position next to the stage. Underneath the overheads. I take photographs of the quiffed guitarist as he swings to the booming grooves. His strumming the source of the stampeding boulder like percussionless drone. Each flabby groan ripples through the room like a wave. I surf on the sounds and dwell in the crunching blasts that drip off the walls as they ricochet. The band is called Growing. They ooze cool and define intriguing. Their set finishes after twenty minutes and I get another beer, my ears ringing and I feel like a plaster cast of myself before I entered the room.

I have been a fan of Boris since 2002. The first thing I heard from their back catalogue was an album called AbsoluteGo. The record consists of two tracks and lasts for over seventy minutes. Each track is a brutal recording of distortion, guitar fuzz and feedback. It sent me wild and became the centrepiece of my university dissertation, for which I received top marks. I got in touch with the bands Japanese record label Diwphalanx, bought albums in bulk and sold them on ebay as recommendations to people who had never heard of them. Boris released Pink in 2005, a glitzy bashing of rock songs for which they received a great deal of critical acclaim. The band also has a reputation for experimental collaborations, thunderous live shows and general inconsistency. Perhaps not the safest band to bet twelve hours of train on.

So perhaps this is more for the experience, I guess while swigging on my beer bottle. When has it ever been possible in the past to sign up to a networking site, take up a cyber peer recommended concert and arrange to stay at a complete strangers house for free? Boris takes to the stage. I am on the right and have a perfect view of Wata, the dreamy shoegazer guitarist, as she plucks her strings. Boris birth their set; slow, bursting and loud. I can feel the noise in front of me like a block I have chisel at in order to move. They play for just over an hour. A barrack of mystical buzz.



I leave the venue in a melt. A warm evening breeze wraps around my distorted hearing as I adjust myself to the real world. If ears could squint.

She meets me at the top of the street by the crossroads. I pick her out of the crowd, bobbing up and down through the windows of a tram. She speaks to me but I can hardly hear anything at all. Like a rolling cliché, we stagger, strangers in the street light. A rickety bus drops us at her flat across town and we are at her place by half past midnight. I drink lemon juice in the kitchen. My bed is a fold out sofa in the spare room and I share my space with a PC and a library of eighties horror DVDs. She says she will wake me at five so that I am on my way back home bright and early.

The sky is naked and a morning chill pinches my cheeks. She tells me she had fun and that I am welcome to stay anytime. Utterly casual. I thank her for the hospitality and my bus pulls up to the pavement. I am at the station by six. My train is guarding the platform warily as I board a back carriage. In six hours I will be home.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Shakespeare's Sister

I hated Macbeth just as much as every other piece of literary text that was dished out by my teachers at secondary school. The fact that it had been chosen for the curriculum and that I would have to answer questions about it made me despise the masterpiece. Many other fine literary works were turned into chores and wasted on me. It wasn't until I finished my GCSE exams and enrolled at college that I began to placate my interest in literature. This is when I began to realise how I had wasted my time at school. It took me no less than two years to re-read all of the books I had disregarded in the past but I never once cursed myself for not making the most of the opportunities I had. Such a thing would have only saddened my dilemma, making a mockery of the re-reading tasks that I set myself. This particular reason is one of many as to why I have so much admiration for students that study, enjoy and even memorise literary texts and prose. On April 2nd 2008 I was asked to judge an English Literature Recital and drama pageant at a high school in Krakow. This was my second year as a judge on the panel.

The mini bus from Bochnia to Krakow gets me to the centre in a record time of thirty five minutes. I manage to dodge the dancing drunk who swings his way from seat to seat, stinking the vehicle with the foul smell of dungeon gin and alight at the stop nearest my arranged meeting point. I am then driven to the High School by a young lady I recall from last years contest, she tells me that she is teaching her young baby how to swim at the local leisure centre. Even though it is only swimming, it is a skill which will develop with time, making it one less thing for the baby to learn when it is older. Although there is of course a limit to how many things small children can learn at one time, early learning is something that is not taken advantage of enough and I discuss this with my new friend as we drive through the Krakow suburbs. The high school is quite a distance out of town and we only just make it in time for the competition, nervous students loiter around the main entrance of the concourse looking over their notes and quizzing their friends. Kasia, a good friend of mine and one of the event organizers, takes my coat and offers me something to drink before the event takes place. I take my seat in the spacious auditorium at the judges panel just in front of the stage. I feast on the sweet pastries and orange juice that scatter the surface of the table and glance around at the costumed contestants. Aside from my swimming baby companion there is one other judge I recognise from last year, a bubbly member of staff with exquisite English proficiency and a friendly allure. A senior member of staff from another Krakow high school sits to my left and we are all provided with a schedule for today's performances. I look over the list of recitals in the first half and am intrigued to find works by E. E. Cummings, Lord Byron, T.S. Elliot and ...Allister Crowley?

The first half comprises of twenty three recitals in all, each to be marked on interpretation, diction, understanding and stage presence. The participants themselves mostly attend schools in Krakow but there are a few on the list from towns as far out as Brzesko. It seems that this is quite a reputable event for its genre and I feel most pleased to be a part of it. Before the competition begins, the judges are introduced to the audience and I am prompted to take a little bow when my name is called. The lights go down and the announcer calls the first contestant to the stage where she recites the poem 'I love you so much' by Mr Cummings. Her voice trembles and she looks utterly bewildered by the prospect of speaking but she manages to remember her lines and sets a relatively good standard for all that is to come. When the young lady finishes the poem in English, she then recites it in Polish with the same diction and poise. I have such admiration for students that can dedicate themselves to such things but I refrain from going overboard with the marking for recital number one. As the competition continues, I become utterly transfixed by what the people on stage are saying, obviously there is some variation in that some contestants choose easier texts than others, some forget their lines and some are overcome with shyness. I fill my judges form with notes in short hand that will make sense to nobody else and I devise my own marking system. About twenty minutes into the show a young lady climbs onto the stage in a head scaff that she removes when she reaches the microphone. She recites a flawless fragment of M. Zimmer Bradley's 'The Mists of Babylon' in an utterly gripping manner that stands out phenomenally from the rest of the other performances. Her style is composed and her English pronunciation is perfect, her recital was a most difficult piece to remember but she bounces through it effortlessly and I find myself writing five out of five on my paper. Most of the contestants seem to be afraid of the microphone and stand to the left of the stage which makes it difficult to hear what the are talking about. There is a wonderful recital of Robert Frost's 'Stopping in the Woods', which goes down a treat but it is not until act twenty two that I find myself deciding on a personal favourite. The poem is 'The More Loving One' by W.H. Auden and, although it is not the most difficult poem to recite, the girl who performs it does so beautifully. Every word she says feels like she treasures it and wants everyone to feel the same way about the poem that she obviously does. One of the final performances is from a cocky young fellow with long hair and spectacles. He trudges across the stage like an angry giant booming a poem written by British Occultist Aleister Crowley. Whether the rest of the judges panel, or the director of the high school, who happens to be a priest, know what the boy is reading is a mystery. It would be easy to dismiss this young fellow as a joker but the fact that he has memorised and beautifully articulated a perhaps... lesser known poem is a bonus for me and I rate it. If his stage presence and arrogance where a little less obvious then perhaps the rest of the panel would feel the same way but I can feel them recoil with disgust as he recites the Polish version of his chosen piece.

The recital portion of the event comes to an end after an hour and half and the judges retire to a staff room to discuss their verdicts. I walk behind the three other judges with at least two contestants in mind and a craving for stuffed green olives. We arrive at the staff room and pour over our notes, discussing who we each believe to be the top three contestants. My thoughts are generally agreed upon, except of course for the Crowley recital which receives no merit at all... and perhaps rightly so. It was not the time or the place.

The second half starts after a ten minute break and I am handed a second plan for the rest of the afternoon - Drama. Each piece is expected to last for approximately ten minutes, I look down the list to find mostly Shakespeare adaptations, with the exception of an Oscar Wilde piece and something by Jack Heifner. There are eight performances in all. I watch with curiosity as the opening actor performers a ballsy version of 'To be or not to be' using a science lab skeleton and an executioners mask for props. He is followed by a genuinely sparkling rendition of Act 2 Scene 2 from Macbeth and several more dazzling adaptations. The students really go to town on their performances, throwing themselves about the stage in blood and gold, with spades and pom-poms in beautiful attempts at recapturing historical scripts. It seems however that the best is saved until last as a gender bending Romeo and Julliet take to the stage, the contestants witty performances are then followed by the last in this years event, a minimalist adaptation of 'The Importance of Being Ernest'. The Polish interpretation is gold and has me laughing out loud along with the rest of the audience. This has to be first place. Once the competition comes to a close, the audience are treated to a comedy sketch piece by some second year students. It looks to be one of those plays found free on onestopenglish.com but it is well performed and goes down a treat with the audience. The curtains close one last time and the judges retire to our smutty lair.

There are no doubts as to who the top two prizes are going to. I perch on the end of a long sofa, signing my name of several certificates and pronouncing my reasons as to who I think should win and why. The majority of the judges agree with my spilling although there are some discrepancies about the Jack Heifner piece, which seemed to go on for much longer than ten minutes. A reenactment of 'A Much to do About Nothing' is also heavily debated, I considered the four girls who performed the piece to have talent and VIGOR but my feelings are not shared with the rest of my co-conspirators. We make our decisions final and the prizes are taken to the stage, mountains of books on English literature cover a small coffee table and I am jealous. Before the results are announced, a short montage sequence depicting the life work of John Paul II is screened. Today is the third anniversary of his death and he is very sorely missed among the Polish people. The film lasts for three minutes and then the judges are invited on stage where we are thanked for our efforts. The results are announced and the winning contestants bashfully make their way up to collect their prizes from the priest director of the school. The audience clap and cheer along with the winners, who I awkwardly find myself amongst, and pictures are taken to document the occasion. There is a real sense of unity and companionship on the stage as the winners are joined by the rest of the participants for a final photograph. The lights shine brightly in my face and I make a promise to myself that I will have to perform poetry onstage myself before I go judging any more recitals...
The event was as much of an inspiration to me as I am sure it was to the contestants of the event and the audience alike. The intellect, dedication and skills that were demonstrated on stage this afternoon were nothing short of eye opening, unique and above all, bloody entertaining.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Dancing With The Swan Bride

I love that feeling of sugar rush combined with the inhalation of smoke. Coke and cigarettes are great for this and I dwell in the sensation before buying my ticket to Zilina from Krakow and boarding the second class. I take a pew amongst a group of arty dreadlocked teens in an open carriage and discuss swimming styles with a skinhead fellow in his early twenties as the train hurtles towards Katowice. The skinhead is joined by a colleague from school, a midget gentleman with a hunch and teeth like Nosferatu. I open the sliding doors when the train reaches Trzebina where I mooch along the platform and up a flight of stairs to my next connection in the direction of Czechowice, a small down with a damp sky. I sit alone and ponder the open wooden shacks that loom all the way along the railway line. Temporary housing for the down and out with metal boxes for stoves and beer cans for company. The train fills with Polish village teens who swear and curse about this and that, poking fun at old ladies and spitting through the gaps in their teeth. I make my connection in Czechowice and get acquainted with two lady travellers from Krakow on their way to Bielsko Biala. I drink more coke and smoke in the rain before the train arrives, the sugar courses through me and I exhale a jet of airy white lush. I board the train with the Biala bound girls and they tell me that my Polish is nice to listen to, I was once told I speak like a retard as my grammatical mistakes are frequent. I tell my fellow travellers this and they chuckle before getting off at the next stop.

The train soon empties and I find myself lonesome in my carriage, the mountains surrounding the tracks are illuminated by the stars as darkness approaches. I feel unsettled as to what is in store for me this weekend, as long as I have my camera and enough money for whisky and cigarettes there should be no trouble. I must however also make sure that I capture something special. Six hours after departing Krakow I arrive in Zilina, the third largest city in little Slovakia. I crank Guided By Voices up to the max before I walk through the gloomy station to the entrance and locate my hostess for the next few days. Her name is Katarina and she is the manager of the band I will be working with. She hugs me quickly and we quickstep through the rain towards the city centre. She has dark make up around her eyes and hair blacker than midnight. The Gallery café on the market square is full of trendy Slovaks drinking coffee. I haven’t eaten all day and my stomach growls at me when I only order a latte. A tall, suave and polite character takes my hand as he introduces himself, his name is Fuxo and he plays bass for the Swan Bride. I take to him immediately and we discuss Nick Cave’s back catalogue until we are met by two more members of the band, Matko the front man and Miso the percussionist. We are sat in a corner of the dark café where we discuss plans for a film project. We speak in English. It seems that the differences between Polish and Slovakian are somewhat dangerous, so we remain in my mother tongue. Whisky flows and a copy of ‘On the Road’ is pulled from my bag and made the centrepiece of discussion. I find it almost uneasy that Katarina read the book when she was fifteen years old. We decide that we won’t start filming until tomorrow when then the band are scheduled to meet and MTV executive to discuss plans for a music video contract. Miso gives me and Katarina a lift back to her pad across town in a small village called Tarnowa where my hostess says that I can stay in her brother’s room.

My quarters are awash with Ozzy, Edguy and Dream Theatre posters as well as portraits of the occupant himself. I bid my hostess goodnight and try to rest. My mind swirls with flashy dizziness and I am unable to drift off. I sit up with the lights off and try and mediate for a while, my mind takes me to a corridor made of blue tak where there are stacks of motorbikes and a talking crocodile. I pursue the pillow but only manage to catch three hours of naptime. I wake up unsteady and starved, a state that makes meeting the parents for breakfast seem like a daunting task. It isn’t. In fact it is quite the opposite. I sit with the family and gauge on cereal, bread rolls and cheese while we talk about the differences between Poland and Slovakia. Katarina has to work a little as translator but my English and Polish crossbreed language is understood by most parties and we all get along just swell. I spend the morning with my hostess, listening to Venezuelan flamenco, drinking black tea and smoking cigarettes. We get a lift into town with Katarina’s father and sit in a Nighthawk diner while we wait for the band to show up. They are not with us for long before the MTV exec shows up with his sons, they are rather portly fellows with friendly faces and no interest in me. Katarina grabs hold of the situation firmly and enraptures the man with words I don’t understand. I spend the duration of the meeting talking about Nietzsche with Matko. We smoke plenty and discuss the differences between Polish and Slovakian society, he tells me that audiences in the Eastern part of his country are completely different to those of the west and I will have to go on tour with the band to experience it. He looks at me with a twinkle in his eye, his rugged stage show style, encompassing his surly speech about sub cultural divide and communism. The meeting is apparently a success, the exec offers the band a chance to support Nick Cave for his show in Austria. This is obviously very special but the Swan Bride must put on one hell of a performance tonight to sway the decision. MTV will be watching.

The line up for this evening is as follows: The Swan Bride, Lavagance and a DJ from Bratislava. The mentioned DJ gives Katarina, Matko and me a lift to the club where the band unload their equipment and I start filming. I neck straight whisky at the bar and it hits me like a freight train, I start talking currency conversions with my new companions and I feel myself having to prop myself up at the bar with my elbow. I film the Swan Bride sound check and the DJ grants Matko and me a lift to the singer's apartment where we drink white rum and I play him some Johnny Truant. We stagger back to the venue an hour or so later, I am wild eyed and on the subject of eating meat. I sing Morrissey lyrics and twirl myself about a lamppost, attracting the attention of the Swan Bride fans who line the streets waiting to get into the club. The venue fills with people and I fill my guts with whisky before plotting my filming strategy and getting prepared for the show. I smoke cigarettes with the band's make up artist and interview Fuxo about the Swan Bride's influences before they take to the stage and kick off. Scores of heads bounce up and down to the mind heavy wave of Rock N Roll as the Swan Bride leap and bound through their set list, incorporating everything great about energetic live performances. The sexy and smeared interludes the band put their audience through make their enthralling energy and tight composition even more of a treat. I duck and dive in the crowd, filming all I can before clambering onstage and sharing the limelight. I get some riotous footage and prop myself back up at the bar when the set comes to a close. Katarina is most critical of the bands performance but then again, I guess that’s the managers job. I befriend several gentle Slovakians and indulge in the delights of their Seven Crowns whisky, which is cheaper than chips and could strip a wall clean of paper. Lavagance appear on the stage in a glam-goth fashion with electronics and shouting, I like their style but don’t dig their set. Katarina eventually takes control and bundles me into a taxi where we zoom back to Tarnowa at the speed of sound. My head aches but my tapes are swimming in delicious footage.

I stumble across the hallway hung over and unshaven. I scrub the smoke off my skin in the shower and blow dry the blonde all ready and fresh for breakfast. Katarina’s mother cooks me a plate of fried eggs on toast, which instantly cures my hangover. We then retreat to the cellar to smoke Marlboro and drink tea. Katarina tells me that talking to me in English in the morning is like being at school. She goes upstairs to get ready for the day and I talk football and firewood with her father. He pours me several shots of Sliwowice, a homemade plum liquor and it sends me sideways. By the time Fuxo drives Katrina and me to the centre, I am singing to myself and talking make up. We head to Matko’s flat and I conduct some interviews with the rest of the band, I ask each member a series of bizarre questions and we retreat to the Gallery bar where the drinking and interviews continue. We don’t get back to the house until late evening, it has been a heavy weekend and I am ready to fall down.

I am a huge fan of Monday mornings, the first day of the week is a new start and the best day of the week to optimise old opportunities and seek out new ones. Today is an exception to the rule. I wake up at half past six and skulk downstairs for a bowl of cereal. I just about cram the last spoonful into my trap when Katarina’s father bursts into the kitchen and tells me that he needs my help. I understand that there is a problem with the car and he needs me to lift something. When we get to the garage I find that his tyres are flat and he needs me to help him pump. All four tyres are down and it takes us twenty-five minutes to pump them up again. The combination of sleep deprivation, hangover and belly full make the pumping almost impossible and I almost vomit over my shoes. I finish the job and collapse on the dining room sofa before we leave the house and I get the bus to the train station with my fantastic hostess. We smoke cigarettes outside Zilina Hlavna while waiting for Katarina’s lift to Bratislava, when he arrives I bid her farewell and jump straight on my train to Krakow. The train stops in Katowice and I get stopped by the police for smoking in a prohibited section. A drunken man in my carriage tries to teach me how to dance like a Cossack and a lady sells me a meat sandwich instead of a cheese one. Apart from that, the journey is straight and I am back home in time for tea.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Poland Thailand

LEDGE 30: September/October 2007: The documentary stated in Malopolskie, Poland. The acclaimed CELTA course is run at International House Krakow for one of the cheapest prices in Europe and is one of the most popular places to take it in the country. After taking the intensive TEFL training course at IH just over one year ago I decided it would be the perfect place to begin filming for the project. The flickering enthusiasm and eerie quirkiness of the teachers in training enveloped beautifully on screen and I managed to interview staff and students at various points on their grueling and toilsome journeys, quizzing them on the whimsical and the customary while piecing together the documentary film angle in my brain.

The CELTA course in Krakow lasts four weeks, so when it came to an end and my subjects graduated, I traveled Poland and Slovakia on a one man documentary dice with destiny to explore the variety and scope that life in the TEFL industry has to offer.

LEDGE 34: November 12-13 2007: My first port of call was due far East Poland in a small city called Rzeszow, a place once home to the late avant garde theatre director Jerzy Grotowski. I know not much about the man, however the conceptual idea behind his 1964 play ‘The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus’, whereby the actors and actresses let their bodies represent various objects, is indeed inspirational. YES school is an independent company that employs several native English speakers to work side by side with Polish teachers, the school was the first of its kind in Rzeszow and when I arrived I received nothing but respect and admiration for the documentary project. The school director, a lady who seemed firm in her beliefs but open to suggestion, was most welcoming and hospitable. We did sit and chew the fat like a couple of old chums for several quarter hours and it wasn’t until midday that I was released onto the school grounds and to mingle with the staff and flaunt my questions to anyone that would listen. I pricked several ears during my two day stay at YES, the first pair belonging to a mysteriously gothic young Polish lady who informed me intently of her learning curves and teaching practices. I had the pleasure of filming a class full of soldiers, and then small clusters of child students before following it all up with a splendid selection of interview and interrogation. The TELF community definitely has a lot to offer if my visit to YES was anything to go by.

LEDGE 36: November 15-17 2007: The capital city is located far north of and a smidgen west of Rzeszow. The change in environment echoed enormously as the train flung through bellowing green forestry, through tripe and harrowing residential parks and claustrophobic sky scrapers. Upon arrival I heaved my heavy back pack over my lumbered shoulders and made my way to Lingwista school, the oldest language school in the capital city, which would put it in the running for oldest nationwide. My first encounter was to be with a teacher who has seen much change and assortment in his fifteen year career in TEFL, from the barrels of Turkey to the pits of Ukraine, my first subject had over half an hours worth of digital video laden with his trials and tribulations, concluded nicely with a warm and generous observations as to what the industry may have to offer those with an open mind. I was listening to a lot of Mercury Rev at this point, and their ‘Deserter’s Songs’ album accompanied me while trekking through the avenues of Warsaw while on my private journey to capture footage. After a half an hour wander I returned to the school and met with my second and third teachers of the day, both rather pleasant Polish ladies with plenty to share and more nerves than a bag of eclipsing moons. I was driven across the city to another faction of the hive, a small and rustic chapter of the school that hosted three classrooms with wooden paneling splintered across each wall. The director of studies taught a class of ten eager students, each of which crooning for information and begging to answer the next set of questions. I shot for forty of the one hundred and five minutes the class dangled for and did not return to the school until the next day when I interviewed my first teacher who preferred speaking in her native language (the old Polish) than the language she taught in (the round English). I then filmed five minutes of her beginner’s class, which proved to be some of the best footage from the classroom acquired so far.

LEDGE 37: November 17-21 2007: The train to Bratislava took eight and a half hours and upon arrival I got to work decorating my cassette tapes with delicate examples of the city center and nearby castles, the weather was strong and pinchy against my cheeks. Once my bearings were comfortable I took a bus across town and met the director of languages at the Bratislava School of Law, the students there have a large section of their classes taught in English and so my interviews with the two eager non native teachers were most insightful. I have worked alongside non native speakers of English, I have also befriended many in the past without fully appreciating just how damned smart they are, to be able to teach a second language on the other hand proves beyond exception from the dynamic and pursued, human nature can be so beautiful and assert, it is only the lack of desire and passion that keeps us from hunting the golden boy of knowledge. The students at the law school were indeed most helpful, once filming was over I was led into the city center for traditional Slovakian food with a very pleasant group of young females before they assisted me to their flat were I stayed the night, listening to My Bloody Valentine and drinking mulled wine.


Day broke and I trundled to the bus stop in the early morn to Axxent School, which was a slight journey across the city. After necking a cup of coffee and thumbing a vegetarian breakfast baguette down my throat, I filmed the school director and the ADOS in a double whammy interview of the most interesting scale. The directors dog sat on her lap as she stroked at its head and spoke of her experiences with English as a young Slovakian lady, her co-interviewee, a suave South African lass, filled in all the gaps in with how easy it was for her, as a native English speaker to fit into the Central Eastern European block. I then made my way by tram to my next port of call, Plus Academia, in the heart of the city. As I made my way through KFC and up the stairs to the main elevator I could feel an odd presence in the air, their were very few people around and after expecting the noisy clutter of a school in the center of the capital, I was a little disappointed. The lady on reception, a seemingly cautious woman in her late twenties, approached me warily. I informed her of my project and she gave a slight wince, she said that the gruesome pack on my back had given her the idea that I was a feeble traveler, smelly and on the look out for an occupational fling. Upon informing her of my identity though, her face sank even further down her head than I could ever have imagined possible. She told me that she was so sorry but she had sent me an email an hour ago informing me that the school would not be able to take part in the project. There were no eager teachers around and the ones that were in the building were all horribly offended that they head even been asked to be on film while they worked. A little taken back I put my bag down and refused to leave until I at least interviewed one person. I had arranged my meeting with this school over a month ago and I assumed that they would have been prepared for me. After half an hour, one of the non native teachers agreed to be interviewed in about an hours time. Feeling a little bad about being unprepared, my new best friend took me for dinner at a vegetarian curry restaurant. We sat and chatted about the destruction of language for an hour, which almost made up for the shamble shamble shambles. We walked back to school and I set up shot in a small room to the right of the looming reception desk, my subject arrived and proved to be most insightful and worth waiting for. Her bouncy flamboyance made light of my waiting and her clean cut and discerning answers turned my frown around when I left at just gone two o’clock in the afternoon. My twelve hour journey back to Bochnia was horrible; a scuffle with border control and several confused conversations with a deaf Ukrainian girl entertained me somewhat but I still felt slightly unprepared for work a few hours later. I still work as a TEFL teacher at a small private school in Bochnia, although my documentaries are my main focus, the thrill of teaching and sharing information with eager students is all too much to resist, I only teach once a week but it is enough to warm my need for a classroom fix.

LEDGE 41: November 26 2007: I prepared my boss for an interview, she is perhaps the nicest and most understanding employer I have ever encountered. Speaking with her is a pleasure and working for her is a breath of fresh air, the fact that we get along so well eased her nerves slightly and made the interview thoroughly interesting. Although she runs a language school, her English is not fluent, she teaches German as a second language, and although she can get by with the English she knows, interviewing her in Polish gave the document an interesting edge.





LEDGE 43: December 01 2007: A British Airways flight from Krakow Balice to London Gatwick, an intense security frisking, four whisky cokes and bus journey to London Heathrow’s North Terminal and I was in the departure lounge contemplating the next few weeks that lay ahead of me. Seven flights in ten days, boat rides, photography, interviews, sleep deprivation, drinking, self exploration and then the day after my return, twelve days of train journeys around Poland with my former collaborator Joel Carr and his playwrighting associate Mathew Stocks.
The flight across land and sea to Bangkok lasted around thirteen hours, I cannot be exact as my drifting in and out of consciousness combined with alcohol and caffeine consumption killed any track I may have only lost had I been more careful. Upon touchdown in Bangkok, the adrenaline started to kick in. Landing amongst a host of British and Australian holidaymakers allowed me a lot more of a comfort barrier than when I first landed in Sri Lanka three years previous. Making my way to the car park after haggling with the Airport Transport lady brought the effects of the air conditioning to my immediate attention, my body was just not used to this temperature in December. The taxi man seemed pleasant enough to let me try out my Thai on him, by this point I had mastered a few basic sentences and questions. I had never spoken to a native Thai before, and although I had only been learning for a couple of weeks, I felt almost weary as to how to use my language, maybe everything I had been taught was just bollocks I thought, perhaps the good fellow would just speak to me in English upon realising I had no clue how to respond to his questions. Luckily enough the man behind the wheel spoke very little English and encouraged me to speak Thai throughout the half hour mission through traffic to my four star hotel.

LEDGE 43: DECEMBER 02 2007: I got the Pathumwan Princess hotel out of breath and in a daze, I greeted the smiling doorman and proceeded up the escalators where I was looked upon most sternly in my wild like state, as if I had just escaped a brawl with a wire fence and a dirty hedge. I was handed a non alcoholic fruit cocktail and a series of forms to fill out. The dainty receptionist in charge took me to the lift and up to my eleventh floor suite. My room was glamorously standard, a king-size bed, two televisions, several phones, a kitchen complete with min-bar, microwave, toaster and kettle, a large bathroom with tub and shower cubical, an unnecessary amount of toiletries, hairdryers, dressing gowns, slippers and fruit. I scrubbed myself frantically and dried my blonde on the dryer before meeting with the sponsor of the documentary project. His name is Josef and he is from England, he is the owner and director of TEFL.net and various other EFL orientated websites and communities. He greeted me on the eighth floor of the hotel and we went for dinner by the swimming pool, I ordered pumpkin seed mash in pasta shells on a bed of fresh spinach, it was delicious. We spoke little of the film and more of my plans in Thailand; how, when, with whom and why did I want to do everything. Upon establishing ourselves socially and swigging a beer or two, we moved to the streets and walked around Siam Square, a splendid portion of the capital city aflung with markets, stools and night crawling. We then visited two of the three red light districts in the city and I plied myself with generous glasses of whisky and coke while filming elephants, photographing lady-boy prostitutes and skipping down the red light ridden avenue. We then proceeded to a pretty little bar with pretty little girls dancing on a stage in the center of the room. Each girl had a number pinned to her so that they could be identified quickly if any punter fancied getting sloppy. We got back to the hotel after midnight and had a nightcap while discussing the following days tactics. I planned to secure a deep and insightful montage of Bangkok, using as much varied scenery and scandal as possible.


LEDGE 43: December 03 2007: I woke up at half past seven and went downstairs for breakfast. A vast abundance of fruit and eggs lay in wait with large quantities of cereal and various other cereals scattered neatly about the place. I ate heartily and read an interview with Morrissey in a recent NME. At about half past eight I went downstairs and met with Josef, who I found standing by the entrance of the hotel with a Thai girl I wasn't introduced to. The three of us took a taxi across the city to Khao San Road (popular with back packers) and I shot the street with a heard of Thai men crowding around the camera screen every time I extended the tripod. We made our way through a couple of alley ways to a short pier where we boarded a long boat, mostly used for public transport and by tourists, snapping their way along each pier. The boat took us all the way down the river, past the kings palace, past down and out shacks and graceful hotels. I filmed the entire trip, capturing some of the best city footage yet while hanging by my left arm from the back end of the boat as it sped along the Chao Phraya river. After docking and taking a short stroll through the district near the pier we got off at, we took a pink cab to Lumpini Park where I was left to my own devices. After a couple of hours of strolling in the blazing sun with my tripod and DV camera in hand, I sat down under a tree by the lake in a far corner of the lush green park where I was stalked by a large monitor with big claws and a flashy tongue. I managed to signal a motor bike taxi and backied my way across the capital back to Siam Square. I retraced my journey back to the hotel and drank a cold beer from the fridge before heading back to the market place and charging about with my camera while singing along to Townes Van Zandt. Darkness hit the afternoon like a wet fish around the face, it crept up around quarter to six and tormented me. I perched up on the roof of the Pathumwan Princess hotel and filmed the cityscape by twilight, Battles on the iPod and a glass of white wine in my hand. When Josef came to meet me at eight o’clock that evening we made our way by Sky Train, basically an eccentric monorail, to Sui Cowboy, one of the big red light districts, where we met with a former TEFL teacher turned games inventor and writer called Matt Errey. Matt is from Australia and has been in Thailand for many years, we talk about time perception and the amount of space the Thai drivers leave between cars in comparison to places throughout the rest of the world. Apparently Thai people view time as something that comes and goes without the need for worry; when we die we reincarnate and live again, so what is the point of bothering about time wasted… this is not something I can particularly agree on, purely for the fact that I am obsessed with time, minutes and schedules. If something does not go according to plan then I can become very stressed, this is a perception of reality I need to alter, sadly though, my time in Thailand didn't make much of a difference regarding my outlook. I drank a bottle of white wine with my pasta and the conversation became more and more abstract; domain names, shades of green and ex-pats. Matt gave an example of how his EFL structured board game ‘Word Up’ works, the game is one of the most practical and innovative ideas for the classroom I have seen since becoming a TEFL teacher. We finished our wine and I moved down the center of the Cowboy district with Josef, stopping only to film an elephant in the middle of the street as it was manually masturbated by one of the boys leading it up and down the path. We went back to the same bar on the small strip and spoke with the ever so friendly bar maid while sipping whisky and coke.

LEDGE 43: December 04 2007: I woke up early and took a taxi straight to the central SIT/TSOL site in Bangkok. I arrived hung over, tired and disheveled. I met with the teaching staff and managed to get through the documentary purpose speel without any noticeable fuck ups. I immediately set up my tri-pod and filmed a class conducted by a trainee teacher from the States, her name was Sally and she did extremely well in her lesson on Crime. I then got permission to film a feedback session, a planning procedures class and my first three-way interview with a choice selection of teacher trainers from all across the globe. I managed to hook up with Matt the games inventor, who took me to the nearby park for an interview before we both returned to the SIT/TSOL base for my interview with Steve Tait, the course director. The interview went extremely well, Mr Tait’s answers were precise, natural and direct, something I am sure I will appreciate more intently once I get down to editing this behemoth collection of footage. Me and Matt then roped a few students together to play ‘Word Up’ and I filmed the consequences. This game needs to be in every EFL classroom that seriously wants to envelope the communicative method of learning English. I was still trying to recover from my jetlag and hangover, so after getting the Sky Train back to the hotel I crashed for a couple of hours before meeting up and coming American actor Peter Tuinstra and Josef for dinner. We sat and ate while I numbed my stress and anxiety with gin and tonic. Peter had previously been a TEFL teacher so I planned to interview him the next day in an attempt to explore his integration and career change. I left at around half past ten in the evening on my own and I chose to explore Nana Plaza. I found lots of Go-Go clubs and chatted to a couple of girls with big hands, unfortunately though, my inquisitiveness as to when and why so many Thai people choose to ‘alter’ their sex at such early ages didn't buy me many friends. I got the name of a place where there is supposed to be some live music and I danced the evening away at ‘Spice Club’ which was the best nightclub I visited during my stay in Bangkok. The music was fantastic, a hideous mixture of gunning hip-hop, soul, funk and break beats. The soundtrack fused to correlate with the bar maids clinking of bottles and tambourines while I drank a bucket of whisky and cola with some lovely chaps from Nairobi.


LEDGE 43: December 05 2007: I woke up drowsy at eight o’clock and went downstairs for breakfast, the hotel staff eying me suspiciously as I scooped fresh water melon onto my plate. I met with Peter a few moments later and we set up camera poolside on the eighth floor of the hotel. We chatted for fifteen minutes about his moving to Thailand and the transition from TEFL teacher to actor, his stories were most intriguing, particularly as he got to work on a Michael Madsen project. We finished the interview and I packed my bags, receiving a wink from the doorman as I slid into a pink taxi, I left Bangkok and made my way to Ao Nang near the South Western coastal town of Krabi.

The flight took just under two hours, but during that time I was fed twice and given two beers. Upon touchdown I collected my baggage to be immediately met by a short man with a huge beard. His name was Mal and he had come to pick me up. Mal was a great fellow, brutal to the point and damned if he was going to cut down on the swearing just because I was using his vehicle. He told me about working down the mines back home and about how he had spent fifteen years in Tasmania. He now lives with his Thai girlfriend near the town of Krabi where he plans to make a living driving people around and supporting his lady’s beauty and massage parlor. We arrived at TEFL Krabi near the beach of Ao Nang and the filming started instantaneously. Gary, the course director had set up seven interviews with various staff and students which all went very well. I then filmed an input session for the TEFL training course and shot some scenery from the roof of the building. The odd thing about this facility was that everybody was in their socks. I was used to seeing people taking their shoes off in Thailand when they entered temples and perhaps lesser buildings, but the fact that everybody was walking around in socks just seemed odd… I don’t even know why it should have, it was no stranger than seeing the same thing in a persons house but this just seemed really too twee and weird.
Gary gave me a ride to my hotel, which was closer to the Ao Nang beach. We passed several diving schools, restaurants and cafes while battling with my suitcase on the front of the bike as we rode. When we arrived at my lodgings I dropped my suitcase off and made arrangements to meet Gary later on in the evening for some food and a few beers. The room I got was cheap as it belonged to a friend of the TEFL school; I was however a little disappointed to find a view of the internal hall and stairwell when I opened my bedroom window. I made my way to the sea front and walked along the beach filming the long boats and sweeping green cliffs that blundered into the water as if stampeding from the desperate tourism collective busying the endless coastline. The sand was pure and the sea was warm, I was happy to be by the water but at the same time I felt intoxicated and trapped by the hustling of my fellow countrymen into booths, boutiques and fast food restaurants. I am told that Krabi is a developing tourist site, with the recent opening of Tesco not too far from the centre, local markets and stores are already being closed down, that is of course unless they are located on the beach and selling postcards. I love the idea of travel and exploring new countries and cultures, I also believe that there is a necessity for people to go on holiday and relax for a fortnight to get away from the stress of the city. I am still unsure why this bothers me; perhaps I should just take some Valium.
I overslept and kept Gary waiting for twenty minutes for our meeting that evening. He took me to a Thai restaurant near the beach where I accidentally ordered some spinach in diaphanous slime with a side dish of spring rolls. We drank beer and talked about what it is like to live in Krabi, I promised myself I would not disclose my negative feelings towards the place as they are completely unfounded, perhaps I was just ‘home’ sick. I slept well that night.

LEDGE 43: December 06 2007: I managed to chase down a tuk-tuk at half past seven in the morning and straddle my suitcase on the way back to the TEFL school where I met with the rest of the team half an hour later. I left my baggage and we rode to the local state school where the two TEFL trainees were to have some practice lessons. Each trainee was asked to teach for an hour on the subject of ‘Doctor’. The school was packed with children, most of whom seemed more concerned about their old and crooked stationary than learning English. The first trainee had a group of about thirty five twelve-year-old students who took a bit of interest in what the crazy white man in front of them was doing, the second group however were slightly older and they did not make the teachers job easy. The trainee seemed to be far too spooked by the prospect of teaching a class to be able to do a relatively good job, it was truly a horrible thing to watch; a middle aged man covered in sweat, throwing his arms about the place attempting to elicit the word ‘ache’ from a group of thoroughly non-plussed teens. I filmed in nevertheless and followed it through by interviewing the government employed English teacher, an extremely pretty Thai teacher called Mai. We spoke outside about her students and their attitudes towards learning English, her hair blowing in the wind and down the wires, muffling her answers and forcing me to retire.

I took a car back with Mal, the Australian fellow with the super beard. He spoke again about mining and he told me of his trip around the world with his mother. He visited every continent with his old girl, staying in hotels and seeing the sites, an obvious highlight in my new friends life. He confided that he would have to return to the Australian mines in a few months and leave his Thai lady friend behind for a while. I wished him all the best and left him at the airport.
The flight to Koh Samui lasted all of forty minutes, a short but sweet free lunch and a can of Singha beer served me well for my bus journey from the airport on the small island to TEFL World on Chaeweng beach. The driver dropped me off about two hundred metres away from the school and I managed to get lucky hitchhiking my way up the hill to the entrance, it was there that I met with Phil, the TEFL course director and general manager of the school. The layout of the place was different to anything I had seen so far, small classrooms grouped together in fabulous Thai décor amongst the leaves and green undergrowth. The cigarette packets in Thailand have pictures plastered all over them of people with diseases, amputations and disfigurements caused by cancer. This didn’t stop me smoking too much but it did convince me to start looking for a cigarette case so I didn’t have to look directly at how one of my habits has broken so many people across the globe. I talked to Phil about teaching methods, course programs and the Thai government before his wife very kindly drove me to my nearby hotel where she planned to meet me tomorrow morning to drive me back and film. I took a shower and made my way to Chaeweng beach, my hotel was a lot nicer than the one in Krabi, I had a panoramic view of the surrounding area and access to a communal swimming pool.
I have never been to Benidorm, but I can envisage it. Giant hotels surrounding a once clear beach and crystal waters, far too hot in the summer for the white skinned flabby slap heads who go there to scorch their beer bellies. If I have been completely mislead and need to get down to cases immediately in order to correct my skeptical opinion of the Valencian coastal town then please forgive me. Chaeweng beach is my interpretation of Benidorm (only with a few less sky scraping hotels… although there was a Russian restaurant that served pierogi of all things!) and I wish to write no more about it. The town next to the beach hosted a bustling night life which I didn’t really attempt to take advantage of, I could not even sit down for a slice of pizza without being menaced by snappy Thai fellows with designer suit catalogues. I retired for an early night to find that I was sharing a hotel floor with a burly brigade of southern English yob twats. This did not become apparent until about half past one in the morning when they came back to their hotel room screaming and shouting at each other. I recall the scaffolding of their dialogue as being:


A “I’m gonna just go right back into that club an fuck ‘im up”
B “Don’t do it bruv, it ain’t worth it, ‘ee probably didn’t mean it anyway”
A “why not? What do you fink? Do these trowsers look shit or not!?”
B “there fine mate”
C “Just leave ‘im alone you prick, we should go back there and just smack”

And it went on for about three quarters of an hour before they moved on. I did not hear them come back.

LEDGE 43: December 07 2007: I got up early and the man on reception made me some breakfast; a boiled egg and a few bread soldiers, grand it was. I walked down the main road by the hotel and bumped into a couple of teachers at the school I saw briefly yesterday, both from North England. By the time I got some fresh coffee and walked back to the hotel entrance, Phil’s wife was waiting for me. Within fifteen minutes I was at the school, drinking my second coffee of the day and filming the students raising the Thai flag as part of their daily proceedings. TEFL World is a unique place in that it is a private primary school for Thai children. To be able to operate it must work in cooperation with the ministry of education, which means the students must raise the national flag daily and have a certain amount of Thai language lessons. The classes that I filmed at the school were efficient and well organised, the students had respect for the teachers and seemed very eager to learn, even in front of the camera, and these were the youngest groups I have filmed yet. Unfortunately I was not at the school during the time they were running a TEFL training course, but all the teachers currently working at TEFL World had taken Phil’s course and they assured me it was hard work but good fun. Unlike the CELTA or SIT/TSOL this course runs for six weeks and gives the trainees a chance to work with students from very young ages to in company classes around the island. I came away from TEFL World at the end of the afternoon most pleased that I had visited but eager to get off of Koh Samui. I did however decide to give the island one more chance by heading to Choeng Mon for dinner. The place was almost empty of tourists but there were a few small bars open. I stopped at one place right on the front for a whisky and ended up speaking to the bar man. I practiced a bit of my Thai and he got some of his friends to come over and we ended up drinking together with the manager of the place, a most peculiar looking lady who convinced the bar man to ride me to town on his motorcycle after he clocked off and take me to a club. I specifically requested a place for Thai people only and I was rewarded by being taken to another live music event where I sampled more whisky cola buckets. I stumbled back home after midnight and clambered into bed after a cold shower, I had to be out of my room by ten o’clock the next day.


LEDGE 43: December 08 2007: I woke up and went straight downstairs for some food, after being denied at the reception desk I made my way along the main street to a German restaurant where I received an egg and onion fried mash with tomato and toast for forty Thai Baht. When I got back to my room the cleaners were already scurrying about, I asked them for five minutes and packed my stuff together, grabbing a map of the island and some complimentary mints on the way out. The lad at reception let me keep my bag at the hotel for a few hours so I walked in the midday heat in search of a cab that would take me to the old Muslim fish market in Hua Thanon. I got there three quarters of an hour later after haggling with a group of cab drivers, turning them down, walking another fifty feet, haggling with another group and paying more than the first lot. Hua Thanon was half way across the islands, but when I got there I realized it was worth the journey as my perception of the island began to change, I walked through an alley way and found myself surrounded by Thai people. With no other white person in sight I sat down next to an old man and drank a can of coke outside his shack. I tried to speak Thai to him but he ignored me. I continued through the market to the dock where a lone boat bumbled around on the waves like an angry hornet, ready to either attack or fall apart. I took some photos of the dry fish that lay out in the sun and filmed around the huge mosque in the centre of the village. After absorbing as much of the place as I could I walked up the coast to Lumai beach, probably the second biggest tourist hot spot on the island, I burnt in the sun, played in the sand, swam in the sea and then got a traditional Thai massage which was phenomenal. The girl who practiced her physical cunning told me that she massaged people by day on the beach and sold BBQ at the Thai boxing ring by night. I imagined her as some sort of split personality super villain, the chicken flinger that uses her body know-how to wreak havoc on the Thai Gulf.
I took a taxi back to my hotel just after four and picked up my baggage, the driver took me to Buddha Beach on the north of the island where I enjoyed a couple of cold beers in the afternoon sun at a bar below the huge giant golden Buddha statue that gives the beach its name. I bought a vegetable Thai curry, which was painful but too good not to eat, and although the ice cream that followed aided my tongue, it was too late for my guts and I suffered a few hours later at Bangkok airport. With that nastiness behind me, I made my way back to the Pathumwan Princess for one last night on the Thai tiles before returning to Poland. I got to my room and called my film associates who were, by that time, on their way to Bochnia from Birmingham, currently on the ferry across the English channel. Upon telling my companions I was still in Bangkok for one more night, I was convinced to go and see a ping-pong show. The temperature in Bangkok is fantastic around December, at least from my experience, and so I took it upon myself to make the most of my final night in the city. Dressed in a bath robe, flip flops, sun glasses and a baseball hat, I got in a taxi to PatPong, the biggest Red Light area in Bangkok, and went on an adventure. I was immediately pounced upon by various men with menus and drink prices, when I agreed to follow a brawny chap with a moustache I was taken through a series of markets and up a stairwell to an empty chair in a club full of all sorts. I had a whisky and coke and watched some ping-pong action, which was instantly followed by a talented young lass who opened bottles of beer with her nether regions. It was around this time I began to get hassled by various girls asking for tips, I pretended to be Polish for a long time, not speaking any English, but when they started asking me for five hundred Baht entry fee I got a bit angry. A girl with three fingers kept harassing me and I missed half of the banana show while bargaining my way out of having to take my wallet out of the bath robe pocket and show it to the boisterous doorman. I escaped only paying for my drink and I walked around the market place looking for interesting medallions. I found nothing that caught my eye and so I took a cab to Sui Cowboy after switching uniform at the hotel, this time to something a little more practical. I sat down at the same bar I had been at with Josef and befriended a cheeky camera man from Shanghai who was looking to score pills. He bought me a drink and I remained watching the hordes shuffle by as I practiced my Thai and spoke with the barmaid about life in Bangkok. She said she would take me shopping the next day to help me buy Christmas gifts for my family and so I finished my drinking at a dignified hour and was back at the hotel by half two.

LEDGE 43: December 09-10 2007: I woke up and helped myself to the breakfast buffet before meeting my shopping companion for the day. Mew (the barmaid) met me outside the biggest shopping centre in the capital and we trundled around, bargaining with sales staff, haggling with managers and hunting for psychedelic clocks. I was surprised to find that this particular Thai person sought company rather than money, it seemed that even when I offered to buy my latest peer a coffee my offer was denied. We parted company at two o’clock and I went back to the hotel room for a while, packing and signing Belle and Sebastian. Josef met me at half past and we went for dinner by the pool, we drank a few glasses of the best white wine on the menu and retired to the running track for an interview with a Bangkok backdrop for the DVD extras. Incognito and slightly tipsy, Josef talked me through his history with TEFL and the structure of his current web projects. Once complete, I retired to my room for a couple hours sleep in anticipation for my flight at half past midnight.


I awoke with half an hour to spare before I had to leave, I showered and went downstairs to check out where I was met by Josef and two random girls who I bid good day to but was never introduced to formally. One of them was wearing a Faith No More t-shirt, which I found curious. We all bundled into a taxi and hit the airport only to discover my flight was delayed by four hours, having the trusty connecting flight to Krakow from London though assured me a seat on an emergency flight and I took off on time with a prime position and a book full of movies to choose from; Werner Herzog's 'Rescue Dawn' and Wes Anderson's latest 'The Darjeeling Limited' made the tedious journey thoroughly enjoyable, which is more than I can say for the drastically poor 'Run Fat Boy Run' starring Simon Pegg, a film I endured for reasons unknown even to myself. To make matters even more interesting, I found that the old lady sitting sort of next to me was Polish. I had not come across any Poles on my journey so far and this particular lady spoke no English. Oh how we spoke of her homeland. She was seventy three years old and lived in Malborg, a small town near Gdansk. She told me that she had some family in Australia and that she goes over sometimes to see them, I helped her order her dinner and she went to sleep. I touched down at London Heathrow after fourteen hours of flying, grabbed my bags and jumped on the National Express to Gatwick where my connecting flight to Krakow was waiting. Three and a half hours later and I was back in the snow kissed rapture of Krakow, upon collecting my baggage I walked through the sliding doors to be greeted by a sign held up reading ‘Pill Dealer’ with a circled ‘E’ underneath it. My documentary journey had only just begun.




So there we were, Joel Carr, a mystical and experimental film maker with a newfound love for agriculture, Matthew Stocks, a final year film studies student turned playwright and Me, jetlagged, sore and eager, sitting in a restaurant at Krakow airport guzzling coffee and looking over Joel’s photographs from their night before. A swarm of semi-naked Germans compiled with bottles of Jaggermeister and obscenity filled the viewfinder. We then drove forty minutes in the opposite direction of Bochnia and so it took us an hour and a half to get back home, I slung my luggage in the wash and we headed into town for a slap up meal and a few pints at Kasztelania. Joined by my former colleague and good friend Alex, we jabbered of tales not to be told and spoke of stories that should remain silent until it was time for me to go to sleep. I left my trusty companions in the bar and clambered back home to get some planning done for the following day.


Ledge 44: December 11 2007: I was woken at half past five by the sound of something outside the house, I walked downstairs to find Joel and Matt strangling each other amongst a series of black and white photographs of them posing at what appeared to be an elegant photography studio. I sighed with acceptance as to what would be the prelude of things to come for the next twelve days and hung down my head. We woke up later than scheduled and cooked a hearty breakfast of boiled eggs and meat for the dirty rotten scoundrels. The train to Rzeszow left just after eleven o’clock and we were on it, the journey had begun across the land of Po and I was scared.

Having been to Rzeszow quite recently I was familiar with the city and I knew exactly what I wanted filmed. During my last visit I had concentrated more on buildings and landscape shots, this time I wanted close ups and intimacy, as well as a dynamic landscape shot of the massive vaginal monument that clings to the sky like a freshly squeezed lemon in the middle of the town. When the night drew close and the stars became clear, I went to buy myself a hairdryer, the one thing I had forgotten to pack, while Joel and Matt went hat shopping. So with Joel’s choice of headwear unnecessarily reflecting his mood; padded, ebullient and drastic, we went to meet our first subject, a teacher called Ralph. We had chosen to meet in the coffee house where I had first run into him, a quaint Costa Coffee on the edge of the market square, it was here that we met with two of his students, who also agreed to be filmed, and we drank latte. We relocated hurriedly to a language college near the Rynek where Ralph teaches once a week and we found ourselves a classroom. Matt assisted with the framing and sound, while Joel snapped some photos of the interviews taking place, this new angle was something that I have never been able to manifest, in that everything I had done on the project before this was solo. Having people around to document the documentation and capture things I may not have seen was an essential bonus. Once Ralph’s interview was over, his students took the lime light in a double team effort, the only problem with this however was that they both wanted to speak in English but their levels were completely different. Sebastian, the gentleman with the most acquired language skill, dominated the conversation while Jagoda, the graceful intermediate, became too afraid to answer and came across much shier than she really was. Upon finishing, Sebastian took Matt, Joel and Myself to an underground bar where we drank a celebratory pint and talked about our favourite stand up comedians. After filming some more of the town, we left our baggage at the hostel we were staying, a cheap as chips guesthouse on the Rynek that provided is with a three-bed room. Next door to the guest house on the left hand side was a pretty little Mexican joint where we stopped for some burritos and cocktails. Several Tequila Sunrises and a box of slim cigarettes later and we made our way to the same hangouts I trawled while flying solo in Rzeszow a few weeks ago and we met some locals who invited us back to their place for some more drinking. We declined but treated our new friends to a series of ‘Jagerbombs’ and magic tricks which came arm in arm with Donald Duck impressions, nana bashing and hat parades. We left with no shame at two o’clock and I photographed Joel and Matt as they ate kebabs.


LEDGE 44: December 12 2007: The journey to Lublin seemed to be the longest and most difficult in terms of time and train changes, but we managed to make it to the next city without any major hiccups. I use the word ‘major’ lightly, in that I mean none of us got our faces ripped off or our bottoms stuffed with Pleistocene dough. My shoes melted on the train radiator and Joel’s video camera broke though, which wasn’t so fab. When we got to Lublin we had been traveling for about six hours and we were all pretty spent. We took a taxi straight to the guesthouse and threw our stuff down before taking the same taxi across town to the school we were to film at. Skrivanek is a chain of school all over Poland that specialise in English teaching, training and translation, they should also be very proud of the fact that they were fantastic hosts and very pleasing to work with. We soon managed to capture interviews with the department director, a mature student and the director of studies, while feasting on Polish jaffa cakes and tea. Once done, me and Matt gathered some footage from around the office and outside the building while Joel tried to reassemble his broken down camera. We were finished after an hour and a half and so we all took to our beds for a disco nap before exploring our temporary environment. We walked down the main high street through the disappointingly bland Rynek and head to a Chinese restaurant where Matt claimed he would not drink for the rest of the evening and ordered banana juice, I ordered a double whisky and Joel a beer. By the time our food came though, the travel, tiredness and abuse kicked in and I felt more abused than a lizard at a tea party. I got the fever and went back to the hotel and feasted on pain killers and Fervex while my crew gallivanted around Lublin with Norwegian medical students. When they bowled through the door at three o’clock I had already been sleeping for a couple of hours and I knew what to expect. Their drunken shenanigans fused with my feverous delirium made for some interesting y-front footage and a smoking prohibition.

LEDGE 44: December 13 2007: Due to my traveling to Warsaw a couple of weeks previous I had most of the footage I needed, however after a morning of filming in Lublin with Matt, we all took to the trains and scavenged the capital city for more angles. Lots of hand held Dogme95 style shots of the Palace and ice skating rink later and we found ourselves bounding across the rink with skates ablaze. We all decided that we should perhaps take it easy and so we went to the multiplex and caught ‘Death at the Funeral’, a new balls out English comedy… not really my cup of tea, necrophiliac gay midgets on ketemine anyone? With my fever calming and my shakes succumbing we hit the old town and acquired some more footage before gorging on apple pie and hot chocolate and taking it early with Fargo beds and biscuits.




LEDGE 44: December 14 2007: Day Four and my peeked appearance started to get the better of me. We seeped into Torun early in the morning and made straight for the GiLA School for young, gifted students… which soon became the Torun school for the young, gifted and vulnerable in the editorial. We were once again graced with incredible hospitality and cooperation, receiving as required, interviews, footage from the classroom, a tour of the school and information on national projects. The footage shot in Torun was certainly the best so far, and the fact that the students and teachers alike were so helpful and eager to take part in the project was a superlative quality for which the whole team was grateful. Friday night in Torun was extremely dusty. With make up on and vodka intake up, we made the most of our first Friday night with style. Being the weekend meant that we had no school to visit in Gdansk. I had tried to make an appointment with some teachers at Bell school, who were originally interested in the idea but bailed a few days before the project really took heat. Instead we visited the north to shoot some footage at the shipyards and around the harbor. Gdansk is an influential place in Poland due to its historical reverence. Plus the fact that none of us had ever been there and we were eager to see what lurked in the mysterious city where big Lech W once took the helm of the country.


LEDGE 45: December 15 2007: We swooned, bruised and crooned ourselves into a taxi at some unearthly hour in the morning to get to Torun station in time for the fast train to Gdansk. Upon entering the taxi, the driver asked how much we had drunk this morning. We sped at lightning speed to the station and leapt aboard our train with no time to buy food and so the journey went slowly and painfully. We were lucky in that we managed to get an entire carriage to ourselves and so we sprawled out with shades on and sung the song of sleep. The train came to a sudden stop and we all bolted upright, it was dark outside and the name of the station was illuminated in neon. We jumped up harder than Panda Bear and grabbed our belongings fast, the taxi rank was at the opposite side of the road and so we had to head through an underpass to get to our bastard rip-off driver who charged Matt far too much to get to our hostel. The girl behind the desk looked sour and she showed us to our rooms, I called a top bunk length off to Matt and Joel underneath, the three of us connected but I was the odd one out. I chipped straight upstairs and showered while Joel bought a beer and wrote in his journal about what a naught boy he had been, Matt lingered and smoked cigarettes while buzzing the Internet for parties in our current location. An hour later and we were seated at a fine restaurant offering fresh fish from the Baltic and fit enough waitresses to fry it. We ordered plates of best and Joel got all oystered up, ready for the night. I had no alcohol as I was still fevered and rushed, the lattes I gulped helped me to breathe but my mood was most certainly not a ready one. After our three course, we prepared our frocks and with my mascara applied, we hit a local rock club. The atmosphere was most certainly dry and local but I buzzed it. We drunk small ones and big ones, dark ones and clear ones to make all the colours leak into one. Matt went on the retreat through boredom and Joel found a lady companion, her name was Bogna and Joel said he liked her very much indeed. I met a lady who's name I don't recall, she was a puncher and she liked the hard stuff. I left a couple of hours after midnight, with Joel's guns blazing and my door key in his pocket. When I returned to the hostel, the sour look on the reception ladies face was as if more lemons had been gnashed, she shouted at me coarsely and I recall thinking what a bad move it was to have Joel in charge of the key. Matt was still awake when I came in, I told him about the molestation I received in the gents latrine as a result of my androgynous appearance. We gigged and snored until Joel called me at six o'clock in the morning asking for the location of the hostel. I had no idea and told him I would see him in Denmark. When he arrived half an hour later, he rang the bell and woke the receptionist again, I did not see her face but I can imagine it would have been as if she had been mainlining squeezy Jif. Joel slumped down on his bed and began snoring so hard I thought he had ingested his own face. Matt punched him and turned him over as to ease the sound, it worked and I slept until ten. When I got up I travelled around the city by foot, filming the docks and the ship yards as I went, making sure that everything was all nice and captured. When lunch time came I got myself a fresh cod and chips and sat and watched the people moving outside. The air was bitter cold and my hands were frozen from filming but that cod trickled down a treat.

LEDGE 46: December 16 2007: The next filming appointment was to be in Poznan and that wasn't until Monday, therefore to cut the journey down slightly and to get us to a quiet little place where there could be no distraction, I had booked us into a hotel in a small town called Pila, which literally translates as 'Saw' - as in hacksaw or chainsaw. I met Joel and Matt outside the hostel in Gdansk and Joel told me of his love for the place, he said he had a wonderful evening out on the town and had seen more than most folk while he had been there. I was pleased for him but a little narked I was left on my own for the filming. We took a cab to the station and boarded the first of three slow trains with enough time for Joel and Matt to get themselves a McDonalds at Gdansk train station. The train took us to a small town where we made a change over to a double decker train, which took us to an even smaller town where we got a bus, and then we hopped on another slow train to our destination. We kicked open the doors at the station to a bleak little place in the dark. I had read that there were some canals in this town but that’s about all. The cabbie drove us to our hotel, giving us a guided tour in Polish on the way, noting the 'West End' restaurant, the local eatery where his daughter works. We checked into a three-bedroom place on the twenty-somethingth floor of the seemingly empty hotel and we all showered. Grabbing our cameras we walked to one of the canals and checked the menu of a boat restaurant which was way to pricey, it was Sunday night in Saw and there was nobody around, Heaven only knows what we sought but food was high on the agenda. We walked to 'West End' and ordered pizza and beer. We lurked in the standarness of the place and spoke of films. As a student of film, Matt has far superior knowledge of moving pictures with age and quality, whereas Joel is an avid Empire Online reader and is able to log and recall all sorts of information about movies of the last decade. I am a massive goon for Lynch and the Coen brothers, I love odd flicks like 'Tape' and 'Storytelling', I crave the sinister loveloss of Van Sant, have the deepest respect for Goddard and marvel at the brilliance of Winterberg and Von Trier but I am unable to recall quotes and tic-bits of information from years worth of film here and there and that often left me dangling in conversation. I would never study films, I use them as vehicles to transport me into other places and that is where I leave them. It is easy to get carried away and become transported time and time over again, but I am not one for doing this often. We found ourselves drinking half liters of Zywiec on a bowling lane, I played consistently while Matt won both games. My fever turned to a stern cough I could only tame with cigarette smoke. We had a final beer at the hotel bar and an early night followed, setting our alarms for half past seven as to get to Poznan on time.


LEDGE 45: December 17 2007: The journey was blunt and standard, the three portly gentlemen in our wagon seemed a little displeased at our choice to sit with them but that was fucking tough. Yes we were unclean and aching but we needed to travel. I had drunk a fair old bit of coffee with Joel at breakfast in the morning, leaving Matt to writhe in his bed. We had eaten yogurt, bread, eggs, salad and cereal by the time we left Pila but my stomach was aching again by the time we got to Poznan. We checked in at a students lodge just outside of the city centre and took a taxi straight to the small private school I had arranged to film at. When we arrived we were unsure as to whether or not we were in the right place, there were no signs, no buzzers, no students lurking or anything, just a residential street and a block of flats with a slide and a sand pit in the garden. I walked up to the second floor and called my contact, I could hear her phone ringing somewhere off the landing and she opened a door above my head. She greeted me warmly and took my arm before I informed her of my colleague’s presence down below. I signaled to them from the flat window and they came trudging in, I think my mascara had worn off by this point but I was still extremely ropey looking. Our subject, a lovely twenty something TEFL teacher who worked from her flat, was more than welcoming and provided us with chocolates and coffee while we explained all about the film. Her name was Lucina and she had been teaching English for a couple of years out of her home, mostly to children but also at in-company classes. She let us set up camera in her lounge, or 'learning area' and my battery died. I had forgotten to pack a spare so I relied on Matt's camera for the interview, how professional. Lucina had a great personality, very bubbly and most perfect for the documentary, the fact that she worked from home as well also gave a fantastic insight into the scope of just what TEFL could be. We left Lucina in peace and walked to the city centre where we found a Sphinx restaurant in the middle of the glorious architecture and sweet little ice sculptures. We had a plate of expensive crap each and shot some footage around the Rynek. By the time evening came we had bought a bottle of vodka and retired to the base to drink it in our pants. The group moral was pretty low considering the circumstances. The project was going well so far, we had shot tape loads of great footage and we had travelled three quarters of the way around the country. I think due to the combination of sleep lack and bad hygiene as well as heavy alcohol consumption, I was feeling particularly down in the dumps. So much so that I did something I may regret in the next few coming months. I made a pledge to myself that I would not smoke, drink booze or indulge in narcotics for a period of no shorter than twelve months, starting January the first 2008. The reason that this sounds so scary, as I write this, and as I contemplated the idea at the time, is because when I dedicate myself to such things, I usually take them seriously and the idea of not doing something almost becomes as intoxicating as the actual act of doing it. I planned to write myself a little manifesto the following morning and I sunk a few shots of vodka. We hit town and swung by several bars, holding hands and miming Icelandic to those that were pretty enough and we all woke up with booze juice on our pillows. It was time to head to Wroclaw.

LEDGE 45: December 18 2007: Rock Law! As it may appear to be pronounced is a super place. I have been there many times while living in Poland and I had visited the city with Joel Carr almost three years ago whilst on our university exchange trip to Katowice. Joel, Matt and Me arrived in the city centre at half past one and went straight to the Yes School of English, (which is of no relation to the Yes School in Rzeszow) a gloomy looking building three or four kilometers away from the Rynek. The reception we got form the place was a little shaky, we all looked like hell in our hoodies, carrying our tripods and slandering ourselves with our backs to the walls. The school director I had been in contact with was out of the office so we spoke with the director of studies who got us a couple of people to interview, most of whom were unsuspecting and incredibly blunt in their answers. I am very appreciative of the cooperation of every school that agreed to work with us on the project, but this was the most unprepared school we had visited so far and I for one was so tired by this point that I was ready to call it quits and go home half way through filming. We did however persevere and we managed to score a great interview with a gentleman called Mariusz, a student at the school. Mariusz was a most bizarre character, he spoke very slowly and refused to speak any Polish when he was utterly unsure about anything he was saying. During the interview he stopped me in my tracks and asked "Daniel, do you know how to say 'good morning' in Japanese?".


We took a taxi from the school and went to get some food at a vegetarian restaurant in the centre of town called Vega. The food was insaciable and very cheap. I vowed I would eat breakfast and lunch at Vega for the duration of our stay in Wroclaw. From there we moved to a bar I remember going to with Joel the last time we were here together. The name of the place escapes me but I remember it being very red and we had to go up a flight of stairs to get there. When we arrived on this occasion it had only just opened its doors and we were the first customers. I had myself a mulled wine while Joel got a beer and Matt went straight for the Mojito cocktails. After the first round I retired to the hostel to catch a couple of hours sleep, I went out like a light and did not stir for four hours until Matt and Joel jumped on me while I was unawares. The cigarette burn wound on my hand came undone in the rukus and I got blood on my pillow. The boys were a little drunk and had come back to get me and so we went straight back to the bar I had left them at. The bar was now crowded, obviously a popular place to go on a Tuesday night, and so we got ourselves a sort of half table near the bar. We drank multicoloured cocktails and moved onto a jazz club on the corner of the Rynek, a place that Joel and I had also been to on our trip three years ago... I think I preferred everything back then, when there was less worry, me and Joel were close like brothers and we both had more electricity. The three months I spent in Katowice with Joel were the best three months of my life and no matter how we try and recreate the past in the present, there is just no way that things will be the same. The motto for this documentary trip around Poland went 'Trow Down, Chin Up, Cam On' with various spin off variations. 'No Shame, No Doubt, No Guilt' was the tag line of the 3 monther and I still deem that as being the best, and possibly the most dangerous... Joel and Matt ended up having an argument about punk music; Matt seemed very edgy when speaking of Johnny Rotten and the atmosphere turned rather sour, making me want to leave. Wroclaw had the greatest Rynek Christmas tree I have seen on the trip so far so I went and stood under it for a time to reflect on our journey and to contemplate my actions upon our return to Bochnia. I had already vowed I would give up alcohol, cigarettes and narcotics, I also added caffeine and fish to the list.

LEDGE 45: December 19 2007: One of our team had athletes foot and our bedroom at the Centrum Hostel absolutely stunk. When I woke up at nine, I readied myself and left alone to get some footage of the city, only after having breakfast at Vega of course. I went back to the hostel at two o'clock to find my team still sleeping, I arranged to meet Joel in a couple of hours to go and film at Heather school as Matt was unable to move. I got some coffee at empik and scripted new ideas for my website in January. When I met Joel he was rearing to go, we took our gear to the school and met with the directors, a Polish lady called Anna and her English husband, Aemonn. They were both very hospitable and helpful, providing us with a joint interview with them both and a couple of interviews with their students, as well as footage from two of their classes. Unfortunately the classes they taught seemed to be based solely around conversation practice on the subject of Christmas. When we finished a few hours later, me and Joel went for a beer to discuss the direction of the documentary. It was great to be working with a team, due to the amount of effort I had put into organising the project, the interviews, the travel and the accommodation, it was sometimes difficult for me to keep my eye on the prize and concentrate solely on the film, which is what I really wanted to be doing. We went back to the hostel to drop our things and Matt was ready to go out. We decided to go for a meal at a Mexican restaurant on the Rynek where we once again met with Anna and Aemonn. We had a lovely chat with them about our journey and what it was like to live in Wroclaw, we bid them adure and retired back to the hostel for an early(ish) night.


LEDGE 45: December 20 2007: The train to Opole was an early one; my correspondence with the director of the school we were to be visiting had been most enthusiastic so I was anticipating a good days filming. The fast train that took us their though was delayed and I found myself in a carriage with the strangest of characters. He was wearing a leather jacket, had slicked back blonde hair and blood all over the postaxial finger of his right hand. When I opened the door to the wagon he told me there was no free space, when there clearly was, and when I sat down he said that I smelt nice and asked me if I 'fucked like a king'. He asked me in Polish of course and although I am a confident speaker of the language, it took me a while to recognise what he said as it was in the direct presence of the elderly couple sitting opposite and the teenage girl next to me, but before I had even comprehended an answer I had already said 'I do what I can' and he left it at that. Soon after the train departed the guy got up and slammed the door and we never saw him again, the awkward tension the man left in the carriage caused me to form an immediate bond with the elderly couple, the lady telling me how much she hates swearing and the man turning down my proposal of sharing headphones while I bobbed along to 'Strawberry Jam', the newest offering from the psycho-clipped-ultra-whipped Animal Collective.
Opole is smack bang in between Wroclaw and Katowice, I found that it resembled the gloom and hollowness of Katowice but took the edge off slightly with a pleasant Rynek and canal, more to the tune of its Westerly neighbor. The taxi man took us to our guest house, through a series of metal workshops and battled train tracks to a twenty four zloty a night absolute shambles of a building we were to call home for the next few hours. We took our gear to the city centre and made our way to Optima school, where the director, Tomasz, was more than pleased to meet us and show us around. He was very eager to share stories and tell us about his past and the founding of the school, he was also equally eager to burst in on his teachers lessons and send us into various lectures and film, much to the horror and dismay of his employees and their students. At this point we were working with only one camera as Matt's batteries were flat, this meant a lot more concentration on sound and stills, which made for an interesting change. We conducted eight interviews in total and I managed to shoot seven classes over a period of seven straight hours with a break for lunch and half an hour to get some footage from the city centre. This was the last school of the project so far and so by the time we were done we had a chance to celebrate. We munched some food and slurped a few drinks in a local bar called Rynek2, toasting to the project and reflecting on our experiences in traveling and filming around the country. Christmas was due and by this point I was too tired to even toast.

LEDGE 46: December 22 2007: So after leaving Opole and stopping for the night in Katowice to visit some old friends, the three of us made it back to Bochnia in time for Christmas. With all our tapes in tact and everything having gone as planned, aside from the occasional mishap and health epidemic, we managed to get some carp and spend a few more days lulling in each others company before the New Year.

So that brings us up to date with the documentary project so far, its roundish, boyish and charming fragments summarised in a few pages. The footage has been watched and digitized and is lurking digitally in my black hard drive, waiting for me to chop it into something fabulous.