I’ve survived two long months in Grodków, and I’m about to be released back into the wilds of Marbella!

I’m coming home, I’ve done my time!

If that means little to you, let me enlighten you – Grodków is a village-slash-small town in Brzeg County, Opole Voivodeship in Poland, the administrative seat of Gmina Grodków. It is located in the Silesian Lowlands of the Oder basin, in the historic Upper Silesia region, about 20 km south of Brzeg, and 45 km east of Wroclaw. It is (thankfully) adjacent to the A4 motorway, which connects Wroclaw with Krakow – the road out of Grodków being the highlight of the town. It has a population of 8,595 souls, and offers little in the way of entertainment, other than a petrol station which serves Polish food and beer, No Rule’s Pizza and Kebab emporium, and – naturally – a church. It is my wife’s home town and, if you read my last blog, you will know that I’m here because she needs to work at her mother’s private school for the exam season, and I fancied a road trip in the Aston.

Samuel Johnson said: “When a man is tired of Grodków, he is tired of life; for there is in Grodków all that life can afford.” Come to think of it… he may have meant London?

We arrived in the first week of May, and tomorrow morning we will begin our 3,150km trip back to Marbs, where I will spend the rest of the summer moaning about the heat and complaining about the bloody grockles.

The last time I spent a couple of months in Grodków was during the pandemic. But one thing about Grodków that you need to know, is that lockdowns make little difference to the general pace of life, other than I’m currently free to visit the forests to walk and run, whereas this avenue of recreational pleasure was banned during the lockdown, for fear of infecting the bear and boar populations.

I’ll be honest – the first few weeks were tough. It was a bit like serving a sentence in an open prison. My habitual social niceties were replaced by endless hours of Polish politics on telly, an absence of what I would refer to as “normal food,” and obsessive trawling through Twatbook to reassure myself that the world as I once knew it still existed.

I even took up painting. I’d finished my first masterpiece by the Grodków timeline of D (Departure) Day – 42, and proudly revealed it to my wife and stepdaughter.

‘But it’s just a black canvas!’ Exclaimed my wife, who had clearly been hoping for something more… err… I don’t know much about art, so let’s just say… Postmodern? ‘Does it have a title?’ She asked.

‘Indeed, it does,’ I replied proudly. ‘It’s called Grodków Nightlife!’

“When a man is tired of Grodków, he is tired of life; for there is in Grodków all that life can afford.”
Come to think of it… he may have meant London?

Samuel Johnson

I even plotted my escape. A business meeting in Belfast I had hoped would be scheduled for June got pushed back to September, because everybody in Norn Iron is too busy rattling up their Lambeg drum (or throwing incendiary devices at those who rattle them up) throughout July, and they need to take August off to recover. I also offered to fly over to Manchester to spend a weekend with a friend who had been under the weather for some time, only to be politely told to postpone my visit until his wife was away. I’m pretty sure this was because his wife considers me to be a bad influence, and, after a few weeks of climbing the Grodków walls, she almost certainly would have a point.

To mitigate the boredom, we had a couple of weekends away. The first was in Krakow which was overrun by people from the North of England – mainly stag do trippers from Manchester dressed in chicken costumes, drinking raucously into wee the small hours. So, we just went to Wroclaw for our second outing, stayed in a decent hotel (The Bridge) and drank cocktails in the hotel bar wearing normal clothes, into the wee small hours.

Wroclaw nightlife. A little better than Grodków nightlife

Wroclaw is a beautiful city. For me, it knocks spots off Krakow (for one thing, there are fewer ratpacks of visiting Northerners) and I’d also place it above Prague in terms of places to visit. To be fair, Prague does have a Museum of Historic Sex Toys and Wroclaw doesn’t.

But the funny thing was, that at around D Day – 35, something strange happened.

I stopped counting the days.

It’s said that one can get used to anything given time, perhaps this is what is meant by institutionalism. But around five weeks ago, I found myself rather liking Grodków, and here’s the reason why: apart from the constant yapping of dogs, Woody the Bloody Woodpigeon waking me at 3am (when it gets light) then shitting on my car for no better reason than to wind me up, and the ghastly smell that is endemic in the countryside, I found myself enjoying the sedate pace of life, and the fact that I had time to do stuff that I hadn’t had time to do… well, since the pandemic lockdown. I went for long walks and runs around the town and in the woods. I used my wife’s parents’ little gym on a daily basis. I re-engaged with my Spanish lessons. I took pot shots at Woody the Bloody Woodpigeon with father-in-law’s pop gun.  I read at least one book a week. And then recently, the Euro soccer replaced Polish politics as the nightly televisual feast, and although I detest soccer, I found – much to my own embarrassment – that I was actually rather “into it.” I knew which teams were in which groups, when they were playing, and how many points they had accumulated. Naturally, this is a temporary displacement effect phase, as watching overpaid prima tossers roll about in “agony” when a breath of air blows them over is not my cup of sporting Earl Grey. I mean, how on earth do they manage to survive being tattooed if they have such low pain thresholds?

I digress.

The interesting thing about Poland is that it is quintessentially at odds with every other European country I have visited. Visit any “Western” European country, and you will find that globalisation has got its teeth into pretty much everything and painted it with the same standardised shade of beige. Take the language for example: Polish is a cross between a language that snakes might speak – if indeed they have a language – and Klingon, which is a language invented for no one to speak.

There is no shortage of churches in Wroclaw

Even in the cities, English is not widely spoken, and as I cannot speak more than a handful of Polish words, most of them useless (words such as beer, adverts and danger) communication is generally conducted by mime, noises (Choo, chug, chuff… Choo, chug and chuff for train station) and hand signals. I confuse “thank you” with “good day,” and I haven’t been into a shop and bought anything for two months, and I rather like that. I’ve bought petrol, but you don’t need bilingual fluency for that.

For me, part of the footing for Poland’s unique charm is that it still appears to have one foot firmly planted in the distant past, particularly in the Soviet era. Many elderly Poles, for whom a goodly chunk of their lives was under Soviet jurisdiction, actually miss the chronic stability-slash-stagnation that communism brought. You didn’t need to worry about self-advancement, because the only advancement for those who craved it was through the doors of the Ministerstwo Bezpieczeństwa Publicznego (the Secret Police). And also, what you couldn’t have, you didn’t miss. There was no keeping up with The Joneses because… well, you were all cut from the same cloth – cloth labelled with the name of Jonesski.

And another thing: the Polish are even better at queueing that the English. If you find yourself not having to queue at a supermarket checkout, that would be because there’s nothing on the shelves. And don’t expect to walk onto a village shop and find anything more sophisticated than potatoes. If you time your visit correctly, you may be lucky enough to find fresh bread, but don’t count on it. There is, naturally, always a plentiful supply of all things alcoholic, because as pubs don’t exist other than in the cities, drinking at home serves to dull the misery of televised political dogma.

But once you have got your head around the strangeness of Poland, if looked at through those alcohol-imbued rose-tinted spectacles, you cannot help but conclude that it’s the idiosyncrasies of the place that makes it rather quaint. Everywhere you go, you catch glimpses of the past through the present… or is it the other way around?

And no shortages of fine architecture in Wroclaw either

My moment of epiphany came a few weeks ago when we were driving into the city for our weekend of cocktail drinking in the Bridge Hotel.

‘You know,’ I said to my wife, ‘I’ve come to the conclusion that Grodków actually isn’t such a bad place, after all.’

‘You do know that the police will confiscate your car if they catch you drinking and driving, don’t you?’ She replied.

A very accurate assessment – just swop the BMW for an Audi

‘No,’ I said, ‘I’m stone-cold sober. If you forget about the things you cannot have, and focus on what it has to offer, Grodków even has a certain charm. I mean, I’ve been drinking much less, as there’s nowhere to drink… I’ve been eating healthily, as junk food is regarded as an unnecessary luxury item here, and I’ve spent most of my time walking, jogging, or in the gym. And I’ve lost weight. There are no complementary crisps or frutas secas, chips are a figment of my imagination, and I’ve been going to bed at a reasonable time and sleeping much better. I’m not saying I’d want to live here, but it’s sometimes nice to have a bit of a holiday from paradise, isn’t it?’

And so, right now I’m laying out my summer clothes, but not wishing I was gone with the intensity of my first few weeks here.

Will I miss it? You’ll have to wait for the next blog to find out, amig@s. But right now I need to focus on packing the tiny boot space of the Aston in preparation for our 3,150km road trip.

Hasta pronto, chic@s!

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  1. David Stewart says:

    The New York City winters are a-bleedin’ me…

    Firstly, the population you quote for Grodkow is a bit bigger than Antrim, and a bit smaller than Ballymena, when you were growing up; you found enough to do then.

    Secondly, I am getting frustrated at not having enough reading time. I’m buying books (despite trying hard not to – when you attend four days of a History Festival near Salisbury, and most of the speakers are promoting their latest work, it gets a bit challenging) faster than I am devouring the buggers !
    In fact, I’ve roughly calculated that I need to be live to something like 150 to get through my present stock.

    Thirdly, I’ve not been to Prague (on the list – not just for the museum you mention), but I would also place Wroclaw before Krakow (and – having been there just last week – perhaps sacrilegiously) ahead of Belfast).

    Fourthly, if soccer players had to work as hard to get possession of the football as their rugby counterparts, they wouldn’t give the bloody thing away so readily!

    • Richard Grainger says:

      Four very good points well made. My memories of Antrim are anything but fond. The place was, is and always be a sh***hole, and I wanted to get out of it more than I wanted to get out of Grodkow!

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