British Studies Web Pages
Mrs A's Diary
The Day of the Worm or having the time of my life
They say that time waits for no man. And they say time flies. And in business time is money. So where do we find time for a holiday? Especially a holiday of a lifetime? Below is the diary of a woman desperately trying to find time for herself to take a holiday from the daily grind. As you can see, any attempt she makes to find time for a break is bound by concerns and idioms of time.
If you need any help understanding the idioms in the diary, just place the mouse over the purple ball to find the meaning displayed on the screen.
27th April, Friday
The last day of work before the long May weekend (more than a week to be exact). It really was one of those days! At school my colleagues ganged up against me. First pani Basia (biology teacher) complained that Darek fell asleep in her class. Apparently he’d been watching Big Brother all night. She thinks I should talk to him. Boys his age should keep regular hours. How am I going to convince him to kick this habit? I’ll never manage, not in a month of Sundays. Then Pani Zosia insisted I talk to Luiza about her excessive make-up. She says it puts years on her so that she, a girl of 13, suddenly looks 25! And finally Rychu (our PE teacher and definitely not my favourite) asked me to have a word with him. I’m not exactly fond of passing the time of day with him, and somehow I could sense he was going to give me a hard time. I expected him to have another of his ‘intellectual’ questions for a crossword puzzle. Maybe this time he couldn’t remember which Francis defeated the Armada or which queen, whose name starts with ‘v’, ruled the longest. I’ve told him time and again not to bother me with stupid questions. My premonitions were wrong, though. It was nothing of the sort. He told me (in confidence) that he suspected that Daria, one of the best pupils in my class seems to be heading for anorexia nervosa. She’s bound to land in hospital, it’s only a question of time. Having PE lessons with the kids he has a good chance of noticing if any girl develops symptoms of excessive dieting. This time he’s absolutely convinced slimming has gone too far. During today’s PE Daria couldn’t do a press-up and when she was supposed to stand on her hands and put her legs against the wall, her arms just gave way and she fell down. Apparently all her limbs look like matchsticks. I thanked him for drawing my attention to the problem. ‘All in a day’s work’, was his curt reply. Well, knowing Rychu I can take it for granted that any woman who hasn’t got an hourglass figure is a rake to him. However, I promised to look into the problem, after the May weekend. All in good time.
At home - another surprise. When I appeared after 7 hours of teaching, carrying three shopping bags and rather shaken by what I’d heard at school, what picture should meet my eye? Spouse conferring in the living room with an unknown middle-aged man dressed in a suit that has had its day. Either the man has no sense of dress or he he’s been doing time for the last couple of years. I was rather quick to take in the contents of the table: the remains of the soya cutlets that I had prepared for myself for the coming three days (a sure sign that pork chops made for the meat-eaters were also gone), 6 beer bottles (another 6 empty under the table), my best hand-embroidered pure linen tablecloth stained with ketchup (by the look of it), only a solitary laurel leaf floating in the last jar of home-made, hand-picked, pickled-myself mushrooms that I had been saving for my nameday and - a bottle of brandy that I had got as a present from my former student, uncorked!. Absolute mayhem. Spouse, visibly agitated, welcomed me rather profusely, ‘Darling, meet my old friend from the army’. Since time immemorial it has been agreed that I am not to be addressed as ‘darling’ in front of strangers. It soon transpired that ‘his old friend’ was just passing through and on the spur of the moment decided to take his old pal fishing. To cut a long story short, Spouse and Mundek (why should I call him Mundek if his real name as I learned was Zygmunt?) are going to the lake for Saturday and Sunday. They’ll take Maciek with them. It’s males only so they’ll be having the time of their lives. The cabin has a heating system and the boat will be theirs for the whole time. So, sorry darling, I know we’ve been planning to visit your brother in Gdañsk, but it’s going to be such a long weekend (more than a week in fact), there’ll be time for everything, of course you understand. I understood and went to see Alina. When I returned (in the dead of night), the friend and Spouse were sharing the living room sofa, deep asleep. Luckily neither of them is a night owl so I didn’t have to listen to some endless discussions about football in the small hours. Judging by the smell in the room they’d had more than just a nightcap, and judging by the stacks of dirty dishes in the sink they must have raided the fridge for a midnight feast. The day of reckoning will come. Luckily the kids were safely in bed although the TV was still on - thank God with Eurosport and not RTL. I decided to sneak in beside Julka in her single bed. Not the first time in my life, and probably not the last one. At an unearthly hour, some 4.30 in the morning, I could hear the alarm clock but pretended to be asleep. I got up at 8 (after all it was Saturday) and felt profoundly grateful that they hadn’t used my china service for the morning tea. I hope ‘the fishermen’s trip’ won’t be a time bomb.
28th April, Saturday.
Today Julka was to go on a week-long trip. There was still some last minute shopping to be done plus the dreaded packing. I decided it would be better to put the last night’s events behind me and start a new day with a clear mind. First, a quick visit to the market. That didn’t put me in the best frame of mind. When I asked the lady at the stall for a bottle of Morning Fresh washing-up liquid, some Head-and-Shoulders shampoo and Dove soap, a man behind me remarked, ‘Extraordinary how quickly some people learn English from TV commercials.’ The idiot! I wonder what he can say in English apart from a few swear words. I paid for the goods (daylight robbery!) and hastened home. Julka’s welcomed me with a very unhappy face. She showed me a huge pile on her bed and asked bitterly, ‘how am I going to pack all this into one rucksack?’ It looked pretty bad indeed. I tried to introduce the time-honoured principle of selection: seven days equals seven pairs of pants, seven pairs of socks, one pair of jeans, a couple of T-shirts, a pullover and an anorak. She groaned. For weeks on end she’d been planning what to take. The pile on her bed turned out to contain two-thirds of her wardrobe, 4 pairs of shoes, a walkman, a dozen cassettes or so and a photograph album. I didn’t even know she had so many shoes. Underneath it all I found my cosmetics bag - full. Four colours of nail varnish for a short school trip? A storm was in the offing. I collected myself and calmly declared, ‘Phone Patrycja to ask which two cassettes she’s going to take, then I’ll let you choose two different ones. For the time being, leave the rest to me.’ Before she negotiated things with Patrycja (also discussing the latest developments in Big Brother), everything had been packed. I allowed no protest insisting that we were pressed for time and it was high time we prepared any packed lunch. Unwillingly she agreed. I had to bring her to the meeting point in a taxi, as Spouse took the car. But we were on time. My suspicion that Mundek was after a free lift to Mazury grew stronger with every minute. But when I kissed Julka good-bye a new, not unpleasant idea crept into my mind. Alone in the flat! Until late tomorrow! Three rooms to myself in complete silence! No MTV, no hateful computer games’ buzzes and whizzes, no arguments whose turn it is to have the remote control, not even a minute of hi-fi blaring. Utter tranquillity.
29th April, Sunday
I was woken up at 5.30 by a wailing. That baby on the third floor is crying morning, noon and night. She doesn’t even have the decency to shut up on my only free day. Lying in bed I contemplated the prospects of a perfect day without a family and school. What to do with so much time? Spouse and Maciek were to come back late in the evening (hopefully losing Mundek on the way) so I had around 15 hours just for myself. What could I do? Have a day out on the town and go to the cinema? No, if they saw me without Spouse they’d think we’d got divorced. Clean the windows? No, neighbours would disapprove if I visibly worked on a Sunday. Paint my fingernails? No, it wouldnt’t take 15 hours and after all Julka’s taken all the varnish. Correct the essays? No, the probable intellectual contents would put me off any activity for the rest of the break. What’s the best thing to kill time? Suddenly I had a brilliant idea. I’ll read a book! Maybe I’ll even read two! I’ll stay in bed reading. I don’t remember when I last could afford such a luxury, not since the year dot. Last month doing shopping in a hypermarket we bought 15 books, each one 1 zloty. The time was ripe for an intellectual feast. In the good old days, when I was a student, rather addicted to burning the midnight oil, these writers were almost cult figures, Burgess, Doctorow, Flannery O’Connor. And now - each one 1 zloty! The world is going to the dogs. Not that we had plans to start devouring fiction this very minute. But not to buy these books seemed to me like treachery. So reading it’s going to be. I shut my eyes, thrust my hand into the pile of books and pulled one out. Doctor Strangelove. Fine. I’ve seen the film. It was great, so I’m sure I’m going to like it. I’d barely read 30 pages or so when the telephone rang. My first thought was not to answer it. But then it crossed my mind that something might have happened to Julka or the fishermen so I picked it up. First thoughts are always the best. It was Alina. She’d like to ask me a favour so could she come over? No, not over the telephone, it’s very personal. The favour turned out to be a translation for her ‘cousin’, whom she wasted no time bringing over, saying, “There’s no time like the present.” Judging by Alina’s tight-fitting outfit (new!) and the amount of perfume she’d put on herself the cousin had been ‘rather removed’. The cousin was obviously wearing his Sunday best and I felt slightly ashamed in my old jeans that had seen better days. The 1st of May was a deadline for an article on parasitology that a medical journal was going to publish and he had to work against time. He was rather concerned about the quality of translation as it was his first article, so he needed ‘an expert’s help’. Fool’s help - in my terminology. I couldn’t refuse. Alina has always been a true friend in my hour of need. It literally took us the whole day. I may be an English teacher but that doesn’t mean I can translate a text about the habits of tapeworms, threadworms and lamblias in no time at all. Alina prepared a wonderful lunch, over which we took our time eating with a strange enthusiasm, considering the circumstances. True to form (worms need some toxic substance) we also emptied the brandy and dialled the radio taxi for the ‘emergency shopping’. All in all, the worms were drowned. Time flies. It was almost 8 o’clock when we called it a day and they left. ‘The cousin’ was extremely grateful and promised to repay the favour. That’ll be the day. Doctor Strangelove went back to its (his?) place in the virgin pile. Before going to bed I discovered two boxes of disintegrating worms on the balcony. It was a hot day and the fishermen’s bait didn’t stand a chance in the blazing sun. How prudent they hadn’t left them in the fridge! My discovery certainly carried the day. It surely was the day of the worm, unfortunately not the day of a bookworm.
P.S. My diary, as usual I’m profoundly dissatisfied with the lingo. ‘Kolega z wojska’ doesn’t quite sound the same as ‘an old friend from the army’ and is there a good English equivalent for ‘zalaæ robaka’? Help me when you can. I’ll bide my time.
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