British Studies Web Pages
Mrs. A, English teacher, mother to two demanding teenage children, and wife to an even more demanding husband, is a regular feature of our pages. Usually the idioms featured are connected directly to the theme but this time, reflecting the wide range of meanings of the term heritage, the idioms are chosen generally from the language.
14th June, Friday, early afternoon
One more week and school will be over! Just when I was ready to relax and turn my thoughts to the prospects of a nice warm week-end ahead with no homework assignments to check, no important decisions about final marks and even no need to do the shopping (Spouse took care of the supplies) - Maciek rushed in. I had imagined (stupidly) that on Friday he finished school at 4.30. Today, as on all Fridays since the beginning of September, it seems he finished at 1pm. My son had been disappearing for more than three hours every Friday and I’d known nothing about it. What a mother! Should I start questioning him now? No - I didn’t want to rock the boat.
As it turned out, Maciek had a good reason to be early - an emergency situation at his school. His class is to prepare an exhibition that will be opened next Friday with great pomp and circumstance (last day of the academic year) and will continue during the summer. The pupils who bring the best exhibits will be given a ‘6’ as a final grade in history. To cut a long story short, previously he’d been hoping for a ‘4’ but now there’s ‘a real chance and a golden opportunity’. A ‘6’ in history is not to be despised, especially if it’s the only ‘6’ he’s got over the past three years. But is it going to be easy? He thinks it’s plain sailing. "What kind of exhibition is it and how come you’re so sure your exhibits will be so good?", I asked. The title of the display is Shaped by Our History - Poland on the Eve of Entering the European Union. The head has either decided to jump on the bandwagon or is looking for the glare of publicity. "So what exhibits have you got in mind? A photograph of Andrzej Lepper emptying rail tracks of imported grain?" - I was joking of course. The kids have been asked to bring some artefacts which bear witness to Polish history. Premium is placed on old photographs and documents as well as ‘objects symbolising Polish patriotism and Christian values’ and Maciek is sure ‘we’ve got plenty of patriotic stuff at home’. My heart sank. "Let’s wait for your Dad", was all I could say.
14th June, Friday, early evening
Spouse and Julka got really excited about Maciek’s predicament. Before supper we managed to ransack all the living room cupboards and the storage space in the hall, dragging to the kitchen table whatever we considered useful. Then we held a council of war. A pile of photographs and old certificates was clearly examined to look for evidence of patriotic feeling and Christian values. For a brief moment the atmosphere got rather tense when both Julka and Maciek suddenly started asking difficult questions. "Why don’t we have a photo of Dad’s first communion?", "Who’s that funny looking guy in flared trousers dancing with Mum?", "So Dad has a ‘3’ in mathematics on his matura certificate?". To the ears of a proud graduate of Warsaw Technical University this was a very nasty comment indeed. I asked them what pizza they wanted - a red herring - and decided to phone for a delivery. Everybody was too busy to think about making sandwiches.
14th June, Friday, late evening
After two hours giggling over retouched photographs, sarcastic comments regarding Spouse’s secondary school record, pure ridicule on the subject of my bathing costumes and a near fit of hysterics over the pictures of Maciek on the potty not to mention a nude Julka in Jastrzêbia Góra, we’ve finally put aside our ‘trophies’. Three photographs of a first communion and two of a christening - to illustrate Christian values. As for patriotic feeling, we had: a Solidarity badge, Spouse’s photo in the uniform of an air force officer (it was decided that the opinion of his captain had better be withheld), my old scout badge and a letter from Uncle Philip in Britain with ‘Censored’ on the envelope. "If you have your correspondence censored, does it mean you love your country?", Julka asked. But the early beginnings of her critical thinking were nipped in the bud. Spouse, suddenly in a didactic mood, ventured a comment, "Patriotism is also reflected in what you cherish and decide to keep for ever". Julka, who stubbornly refuses to throw away her old teddy bears and dolls, saw her childish sentiments in a new light. As for the exhibits, we had next to nothing.
14th June, Friday night
It slowly dawned on us that Maciek’s ‘6’ in history was still wishful thinking. Something had to be done about it. We closed ranks and decided to make a few phone calls. Maybe patriotic feeling runs in the family, and anyway what are family for? Surely to help you out if a history grade is at stake. It took us a couple of hours to call my parents, Spouse’s parents, my brothers, his sister, a few cousins, half a dozen uncles and a godfather. Tomorrow’s going to be the travelling day. Spouse is taking the car heading south, to Lublin, Sandomierz, Radzionków and Przeworsk. Maciek will go with him. Julka and I, by train, are going north - to E³k and Gdañsk. We’ve only got two days to complete our ‘mission impossible’ but judging by the enthusiasm heard in all those familiar voices, whose owners were so unexpectedly woken in the middle of the night, we won’t return empty-handed. Announcements of our immediate visits have been accepted with good grace.
16th June, Sunday evening
The train journey from Gdañsk was a nightmare. First we were almost late for our train and just caught it by the skin of our teeth. Then it was incredibly hot and stuffy in our compartment and some stupid woman wouldn’t agree to have the window open. She was afraid that a draught would destroy her new hair-do. By the end of the journey, although she had every hair in place, her make-up ran in the heat and she looked like a clown. Julka was barely able to keep a straight face. But the trip was worth the effort and ‘our exhibits’ compensated for all the inconvenience and exhaustion. We brought some ‘true witnesses to Poland’s turbulent history’: a few series of postage stamps - Poland from the 40’s onwards. One shows landmarks of Polish architecture - Sukiennice in Kraków, Brama Krakowska in Lublin, Koœció³ Mariacki etc, each featuring a German eagle and inscribed Deutsches Reich Generalgouvernement, another featuring differently coloured and priced Adolf Hitlers and swastikas - 1943. For the 50’s we got a series commemorating ‘The six-year-plan’, Boles³aw Bierut for 30 zl, ‘We’re building Nowa Huta’ - only 60 gr, but Joseph Stalin and ‘A month of deepening Polish-Soviet friendship’ - 90 gr. Then there’s ‘The thirty-fifth anniversary of a decree of friendship, co-operation and mutual help between the People’s Republic of Poland and the Soviet Union’ - for 2zl 50gr.
Captions fluctuate between pure propaganda and an appeal to a national feeling. ‘The return of Pomerania to Poland after 500 years’, ‘We’ll enlarge the Gdañsk shipyards’, ‘A million tons of coal in 1955’, ‘723 000 new living quarters’ or ‘The sixth congress of PZPR’. Our jewel in the crown is a set of stamped envelopes commemorating the Pope’s third visit to Poland with a sentence in his own writing ‘Peace to you, Poland! My homeland!’ - this should satisfy the demand for Christian elements. How fortunate that my brother in Gdañsk is such a keen philatelist! Julka is on tenterhooks waiting for Maciek and Spouse. I suspect that deep down she’s hoping ‘our exhibits’ will prove more valuable than theirs’.
16th June, Sunday, late night
They’ve arrived - tired but happy despite three motoring offences and a hefty fine. Spouse has been driving for 10 hours non-stop and has bags under his eyes but Maciek is looking at him as if he was a real hero. Julka’s eyes were as large as saucers when they started showing their trophies: Grandpa’s miner’s helmet from the times of the German occupation when he, at 15, had to work in a coal mine; my uncle’s rosary made of bread, which survived, as he did, Oœwiêcim; great-grandfather’s photograph of 1915 when he was convalescing at a field hospital after being wounded; uncle Jacek’s forage cap that remembered the Warsaw uprising; a block of sandstone from Dzier¿yñski’s monument (after it was dismantled and taken to pieces) and, finally, aunt Ela’s letters to family when she was interned during martial law. "Only gloom and doom", said Julka, "so that’s what we’re bringing to the European Union - pain and suffering. Don’t we have anything optimistic and cheerful in our national heritage? Do we always have to reopen old wounds?". I don’t know what’s suddenly come over her. Jealousy over Maciek’s ‘better exhibits’? "Someone’s trying to be difficult", Spouse lost his temper, "You don’t choose your country’s history, it just happens. Poland’s had more than a fair share of misery and there’s no point in denying it". Taking the moral high ground?
But a sudden doorbell defused the situation. It was my friend Alina trying to make a contribution towards Maciek’s future success. She brought a few posters from the 1989 election and, given to her only on loan, two specimens from Patryk’s numismatic collection: a medal commemorating King Jan III Sobieski’s relief of Vienna and a silver coin issued to celebrate ‘the miracle on the Wis³a of 1920’. Spouse looked triumphantly at Julka. "Poland as ‘saviour of Europe’ and ‘bulwark against Bolshevism’, does it make you happier? I’m sure that in 35 years or so when your kids try to find something for a school exhibition it will be only fun and games." And he went to the kitchen to put the kettle on, muttering under his breath, "Mickey Mouse T-shirts, bubble gum and Macdonald’s disposable cups. Poland in the twenty-first century". Luckily, she couldn’t hear it.
17th June, Monday afternoon
Everybody’s back home except for Maciek. Is he celebrating his success or what?
17th June Monday, late evening.
Although we’d moved heaven and earth, Maciek didn’t get a ‘6’. Of all our treasures only the rosary has been accepted for the exhibition. Some pain but no gain. Other kids brought ‘more interesting objects’ and three were given a ‘6’. First prize went to Marcin for a pendant with a slightly jagged Black Madonna, which ‘saved his grandfather’s life at Monte Cassino’. The runners-up were a paper-thin bread knife brought by Agnieszka’s family from Siberia and a war time armband with the P-anchor symbol of ‘Poland Fighting’ presented by Monika. Maciek was heartbroken. Before going to bed, Julka asked me, "Didn’t we have anybody sent to Siberia?". We didn’t. We were very fortunate indeed.
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