So, you’re in Warsaw’s Esperanto district hiding from an obscenely large, bullet-headed man wielding a baseball bat. In a pizza oven.
And, to paraphrase the singer David Byrne, you might ask yourself –how the fuck did I get here?
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once described London as being a ‘great cesspool into which the flotsam and jetsam of life are inevitably drawn’ and the same might reasonably be said of the world of TEFL teaching. A Teacher Of English as a Foreign Language can usually be described as either flotsam – perhaps a fresh faced young thing taking a break from University – or jetsam – the middle aged man with the inevitable drinking problem and enough skeletons in his closet to keep a paleontologist happy for months.
And, I’ll make no bones about it, I fit rather snugly into the latter category.
Hence, me, three months earlier, hungover, in the back of a deodorant soaked taxi as it hurtled – like the Starship Enterprise on Warp Factor nine- down Warsaw’s John Paul 2nd Avenue, through the constellation of neon signs that marked out the sex shops, 24 hour pubs and kebab shops.
‘When the Pope died the whole street was lined with candles in tribute ,’ said the taxi driver, looking almost tearful.
‘Uh huh,’ I replied, as I fought back the acrid bile that burned my throat.
Before I’d come to Warsaw, I’d heard stories about ‘The Night Drivers’-amphetamine pumped young men who, each midnight, tied fishing wire around their necks, and the cars brakes, and then raced from one end of the city to the next. When I saw the cut marks on the taxi driver’s neck and his red, red eyes. I didn’t exactly have the Colgate ring of confidence.
I was relieved, then, when, minutes later, we pulled up outside The Palace of Culture and Science, Joe Stalin’s unwanted Neoclassical gift to the people of Warsaw.
fished a handful of notes from my pocket and stuffed them into the driver’s hand before running to the toilets to puke.
‘Out with the old, in with the new,’ said a well-spoken, sandblasted voice from the next cubicle. ‘We are all in the gutter but some of us a looking at it through the bottom of a rather nice glass of gin and tonic, eh?’
‘The thing is, some people absolutely loath the place,’ said Sean Bradley, gesturing around The Palace’s Kafe Kulturalna. ‘The locals call it the Russian Wedding Cake. And, indeed, that’s what it looks like; a wedding cake plonked in the middle of the road.’ Sean was a drunk, dapper, nicotine stained example of jetsam who supplemented his teaching by chess hustling. He was one of the few expats who actually liked his chosen country of exile since most just complained about everything being so – foreign. Me? It was as good a place as any.
‘It’s an old song isn’t it?’ said Konrad AKA flotsam, a shiny, happy Canadian of Polish extraction, in Warsaw to find his roots. Aided and abetted by his family’s money, of course.
‘I’m sure it is. Someone left a cake out in the road,’ he sang.
I really wasn’t too sure if he was joking or not. Konrad was either as bright as a two watt bulb or a major piss taker. I just ignored him and took in the Kafe’s interior before we invariably passed the pint of no return.
I met her on a Monday and although my heart didn’t exactly stand still it certainly skipped a beat or two. Tall and with long black hair she flew into the bar like a murder of crows, swathed in scarves and wearing a long black raincoat which flapped in the breeze behind her.
‘Ding dong,’ I said a la Leslie Phillips.
‘Oh.That’s Daria. Better watch out for her,’ said Sean. ‘She’s married to Bronek Malinowski. You know him?’
I shook my head.
‘The second-hand clothes Baron,’ said Konrad.
‘Who and what?’ I said.
‘He’s a low level gangster who has Poles collect donated clothes left outside charity shops overnight in, say, London or Dublin and ship them back to Poland to sell. You can get some damn good schmutter, actually,’ said Sean, pointing to the Hugo Boss label in his jacket.
‘The only crime is getting caught,’ I said, shrugging.
‘Yes, but if a butterfly beats it’s wings in the forest a one handed man claps and a tree falls down.’ said Konrad.
I ignored him and tried to catch Daria’s eye. ‘No, really, she’s trouble,’ said Sean.
I walked over. ‘Would you like a drink?’ I said.
She turned and tried to focus on me, as if she were looking at a magic eye painting. She shook her head. ‘Best not,’ she said, with a fake sounding transatlantic accent. ‘I should hit the sack. I’ve hit the bottle enough for one night.’ Standing close, she looked me up and down, like was deciding on whether or not to buy a second-hand car.‘You’ll do,’ she said dragging me out of the bar by my tie.
Someone or other once remarked that the reason that something became a cliche was because it was true. Certainly, getting caught in bed with a married woman by her musclebound husband was a cliche straight out of ‘Confessions Of A Plummer’s Mate.’ Unfortunately for me, however, it was also true.
The brainwave of escaping into to the kitchens of a nearby pizza restaurant and hiding in one of the ovens was, I would imagine, a one off. But in retrospect, originality, it probably wasn’t one of my better ideas.
So, the oven door slams and you’re sure you can smell gas and now you might reasonably ask yourself – how the fuck do I get out of here? And the probable answer is – you don’t.