Saturday, 4 June 2005
The man who brought down an Empire
Like any other Saturday I went for my lunchtime pint at the local. A group of three guys are standing next to me and one asks: “Make camera pleez.” I remember a bit of my schoolboy French and my self-taught smidgeon of German and realise that he wants me to take camera or, rather, to take a photograph. So I take a photo of the happy trio. Next, one moves behind the bar and stands beside the barmaid from Northern Ireland and has his photo taken by one of his friends. The Welsh landlady observes this but before she can say anything one of the three asks: “Eez OK to make photo?" Yes, “Eez OK.” It turns out that our guests are from Poland. One of the group points at the landlady’s crucifix and says: “Jeezoos Chreest! We also Chreest.” This seems unlikely and then one of them asks me: “Papa Germania?” Is my father German? Perhaps he’s upset about my moustache and maybe my father had one – I understand that Poles are a bit touchy about Germans with moustaches. I’m trying to work out how to say that, yes my late father had a moustache, but no he wasn’t German, and indeed he fought against that rather well known German moustache wearer. But then I am asked, “Papa Polski?” Suddenly it dawns on me and I say tentatively: “The POPE is German and the last one was Polish.” Yeez! I’ve got it! One of our three friends lights up a cigarette and the landlady objects. Crestfallen, he heads for the door and I am frantically working out how to say in Polish: “It’s OK Jimmy, you don’t need to go outside the bar to smoke, you can smoke inside the bar as long as you are 1.21919999 meters from the bar.” Conviviality is resumed. I ask the one who speaks a leetle English if they are here on holiday. “No,” he replies. “Coobrie.” He tries again: “Coocoobrie.” My God, does he mean Kirkcudbright? Indeed he does and can pronounce it reasonably well. It turns out that they are working in a fish factory near Castle Douglas but seem to find it easier to say Kirkcudbright. “What do they do?” I ask. “We scrape shells and I also mend,” I am told. “Mend?” “Yes, zee tanks and zee pipes.” Good grief – I have met the man who brought down the Holy Belgian Empire: the humble Polish plumber.