By TheOttawacker

Copernicus & Jennifer Rush have much to answer for

Once, when I was in Poland, way back in 1991, I got absolutely bladdered in a bar with a group of Polish railway workers. I was in Toruń, home of Copernicus, and even he would have been impressed with how I managed it.

It started off when the girl I had gone to see and the wanker with whom I was travelling (there was no relationship with the girl, she had worked with both of us at Nancy University and we had briefly studied Polish together. She had excelled, I had managed three lessons, until the proliferation of sz, rz szczm, etc. threw me a curve ball. Then I met words like “bezwzględny” and “Dziewięćsetdziewięćdziesięciodziewięcionarodowościowego” and we parted company). Having travelled all the way from Nancy to Poland, via the Czech Republic, as I remember, it was not my idea of fun to go and watch a three-hour art nouveau film in French at the university. This, however, was what Hazel had planned and the wanker with whom I was travelling had agreed to. I think my exact response was: “Fuck that for a box of soldiers, I’m going to write some postcards.” This I did, having wandered around the centre of Toruń first and taken the obligatory photo of the statue of Copernicus.

In 1992, the number of people writing postcards in cafes frequented by members of the Polish railway fraternity was not great. Indeed, there were not people of nine-hundred and ninety-nine nationalities (or as they said “dziewięćsetdziewięćdziesięciodziewięcionarodowościowego”) doing it. I was alone. I was perhaps the very first person to have written a postcard in the Toruń Railwaymen’s Bar. As such, I attracted attention.

The first I knew of the attention was when three glasses of vodka arrived at my table. With the fluency acquired from three one-hour lessons in perhaps one of the more difficult European languages, I managed to say I hadn’t ordered three glasses of vodka. Then I saw a group of three men, wearing Polish Railwaymen’s Uniforms, waving at me from the bar. I smiled and waved back, wondering if perhaps I had wandered into a gay bar by mistake (there was a certain hirsuteness and they were wearing uniforms). Was this some sort of mating ritual? What the hell were they expecting me to do? And, more to the point, how dare they think I’d do it for only three shot glasses of vodka!!!

I didn’t have long to find out. Over they came to the table, introduced themselves (Jan, Jan and Jan – not hard to remember), and sat down. Over the next three hours, we talked about football, music, Liverpool (they all knew it because of the football and the music), Lech Wałęsa, Solidarność, etc. etc. etc. The conversation was wide ranging because (a) they were all smart people and (b) names were all I could say. When my friends came back to meet me, they found me completely drunk, standing on a chair, trying to teach a group (the number had increased over the hours) of Poles the lyrics to “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Ferry Across the Mersey”. I was frogmarched out of the place, taken back to Hazel’s apartment, and left to sleep off the effects of the best part of a bottle of Żubrówka and many, many chasers of beer. Never again, I swore.

Well. So much for swearing. Today I found myself in a similar situation. Wandering back from a lovely walking tour of Málaga (did I tell you how much I love Málaga?) I stopped off in the Tapas bar that is some 50 metres from my “loft” with the view of a quick livener before going home to gorge on the smoked chicken I had just bought at Mercadona. One turned into two – and then a couple of guys came to sit at the bar next to me. One had just come back from a record store, and he had in his hands a priceless 12-inch version of Jennifer Rush’s “The Power of Love”. He didn’t speak English and my Spanish is on a par with my Polish. He was called Salvador. Pretty soon Salvador was joined by Antonio. And others. And four hours later, I staggered home, zig-zagging along the uneven pavement, before crashing onto the bed, fully clothed, and promising myself I’d be good in the future if God spared me the hangover. He didn’t.

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