Choir, Gessler and Palikot

I had a lovely weekend: an away weekend with my choir. This was the second time we had stayed at a Jewish retreat in Otwock. A lovely setting, a pine treed garden redolent of the healthy air that made Otwock a favoured resort for the affluent before the War; the accommodation was reasonably comfortable with a set menu that would have been fashionable (in Poland) thirty years ago, (I’ve not had spam since school), a handsome, beautifully proportioned black cat roamed the dining room with a proprietorial air and familiarity that would have horrified the health and safety maniacs and a splendid hall for rehearsals. The choir worked willingly and well. A good time was had by all, as they say.




I had to finish the choir weekend early because the Palikot Party, the second
opposition party in the polls, asked me to go to Parliament to address 100
or so postprandial delegates and MPs. The young translator, a law student from Lodz who had done two years in a Texan high school and who could not refrain from addressing me respectfully as “Sir” (I wonder if an old Etonian would have done the same) drew my attention a rather colourful member of the audience, a trans-gender MP, who was posing for photographs with delegates and who couldnt help but bring to mind, though not ill intentionedly, W.S. Gilbert`s lyric about the lady from the provinces. He was keen to meet this person and I promised we would make a bee-line once my talk was over.




Yesterday was the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic, a fact I pointed out to the audience as a certain number decided that a talk on careers advice for older school children was not the best way of spending a wet Sunday afternoon. Sadly, amongst those who headed for the life boats was the transgendered MP. To make up for the disappointment, I took the interpreter to Gessler`s place in Al. Uzajdowski. Beautifully decorated, apart from the most uncomfortable seating, it’s amazing how much you have to pay for so little: the waiter was a real bruiser.



A couple of questions came from the audience, mostly disgruntled business people bemoaning the government`s willingness to invest in their business ideas. This is not quite my area but thanks to listening regularly to Peter Day’s “In Business” programme on BBC Radio 4, I dealt with them deftly. I got an ovation for one answer. I think I emerged as something of a business guru. It’s so easy. Just tell them the truth. If you think it’s a great idea you’ve just got to make the rest of us believe you.



Afterwards, I was thanked by the party’s number two and promised a meeting with Mr. Palikot himself, who, though sending his apologies, was elsewhere on party business. We shall see. 




Do unto others? Hmm…


I did myself a big favour this weekend. On Saturday I bought some DVDs in Empik amongst which was “Panie z Cranford”, a BBC production based on three novels by Mrs. Gaskell, the Victorian novelist and social commentator. A Unitarian, her novels are full of that humanity and celebration of people’s quirks and differences that tolerance and charity based on profound, dogma less faith instil. So, over the Easter period what could have been better than reminding oneself of Christian virtue and the meaning of community in the company of Judi Dench, Michael Gambon and the rest of the starry cast? But then reality kicked in.

I had a house guest. A young man, well not much more than a boy, who I am trying to help to get into an English university. He lives in a once prosperous town in the heart of Greater Poland where difference and individuality are scorned and, according to him, “doing unto others” means making sure no one else achieves anything. “The Christian spirit just doesn’t go there.”

Just before he left to go home he asked me why I am helping him. I said that it just seems normal to want to help someone if it is within your power. “Not where I come from”, he lamented.

The people of “Cranford” are not without their sorrows, meannesses, and pettiness. But what the novels did when they were originally published, and the DVD does for us now, is to point the light on our shortcomings and to encourage us to rise above ourselves through our communities.

The 19th century did not produce many Polish novelists of note. Even if it had, I doubt they would be read today by the young. Most young men don’t read. So, thank God for DVDs. And if anyone is thinking of how to spend a wet weekend, do yourself a favour, go to EMPIK and buy “Cranford”, be moved, laugh and weep,  and then go out and do unto others……


Invest in Polish television: huge export potential!


Did I tell you that I have written a satirical drama series for television, in Polish, about Poland, which a major Polish television company seems keen to produce? No? Then read on. 

The series has enormous potential both for the domestic audience and for export. (I know, an amazing prospect!)

We have one hurdle to surmount: the pilot. We have a prestigious cast and crew but we need an investor to put up 20.000 pln, which is where you come in. If you have any idea who this investor might be,  dont be shy, speak up! …it could even be you and your friends (though it may be unwise to harbour wild dreams of becoming an instant television mogul! This is not reality TV).
Anyway, thinking caps on. I am waiting to hear from you.

A WOK…ing good read!

Incredible though it may seem, a new film of Shakespeare’s Macbeth has been banned in Thailand. A Thai production, financed by the Thai government cinema agency, it has been banned by the same government that commissioned it. Such is the relationship between the Thai monarchy and its subjects that regicide, even in drama, has been deemed too dangerous for the national good. Even when abroad, Thai law bans journalists of any nation from discussing the monarchy, if they want to return to Thailand without the threat of prosecution. Not a healthy situation if a state feels threatened by the ideas of a centuries dead playwright. Yet, it proves the power of art.


Perhaps the management and staff at the Warsaw Opera Kameralna could learn from the art they profess to represent. King Lear has not been set to music very often. Perhaps now is the time for some of those underworked musicians and “othercrats” to give it a look. But don’t stop there. The abuse of power and its consequences also features in so many of Shakespeare’s Histories. They would be well worth looking at too.

So, here is something really worthwhile to do for the holiday. A WOKing good read! Happy Easter!

Taxi shrinks


And talking of taxi drivers, did I tell you of the time I was sitting in a taxi at the lights in Constitution Square? I was anxious. Late for a meeting and the superannuated driver didn’t seem to have gauged my mood. The large, elderly Mercedes was in as rotten a condition as its owner and the smell and stains of cigarettes permeated the animate and inanimate surroundings.

No sooner had we stopped at the lights than a far stronger odour made its presence felt. Petrol. Where was it coming from? I opened the door and quickly discovered. There it was. A river, no, a torrent of petrol spewing from underneath the car. I leapt out unable to avoid petrol on my shoes. So too, from the other side, did the driver, fearful of losing his


 “Benzina” I shouted as I leapt into a new, black Mercedes with the Hyatt Hotel logo on the side. The driver knew me. Still waving his fist and ignoring the flow as we sped away, the driver got back into his taxi set off in pursuit. How far he managed to get before he emptied his tank or before a lighted fag was thrown his way, I have no idea. The new Merc far outdistanced the older. I didn’t read of a taxi immolating. Did anyone, I wonder?

But, and the question must be raised in the light of Monday`s news, if this is the sort of fellow who is now offering psychotherapy, what calibre of advice can it be?


By the way, I was wrong. There will be a Mozart Festival but I won`t be going. The last time I went I saw Cosi. Horrible. Never to be repeated.

WOK, taxi shrinks and blood.

The goings on at the Warsaw Chamber Opera are becoming ever more obscure. The press office, run by an organist with no obvious skills beyond the keyboard, seems to be issuing contradictory statements. Will there, wont there be a Mozart Festival? Um….. Apparently, he is not at liberty to say despite having said something, er….

The politicans are weighing in where angels would to fear to tread. Perhaps they should spend more time with their taxi drivers: it was announced yesterday that, on completion of a one month course, Warsaw taxi drivers are qualifing as psycotherapists to avoid a new law that would prevent them from plying their trade. Please read twice to comprehend!


The facts at WOK are very clear. 200 plus musicians (including seven conductors) are paid salaries, double those of teachers, not to play: the huge state subsidy is deemed insufficient by the management to allow for “performance” fees. The theatre has no out reach programme: education seems to be beneath rather than outside the remit. Performances, when they do take place, are patchy, rarely good enough to attract an audience beyond the superannuated “groupies” that make up the following of this almost court theatre.

The core of the problem is obvious. Its the usual Polish problem: management. A remnant of the command economy, oblivious of market forces, a potential cultural jewel is being driven into a very overdue grave. There will be blood.