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custard – by Justyna

24 Sep

Thankfully this word sprung up on FFF and now I finally understand what custard actually is. As in what exactly is in it. It was never consumed in our house in any way. In fact back in the day my mum bought it once accidentally thinking she was buying buttermilk. We all crowded around it, sniffing it and tasting it and wondering what to do with it. It was universally decided it was not something to be poured over muesli. It stood in the fridge for ages until it went off and was tipped down the sink. It was too sweet for our Slavwog palette. Polewog? These are new. I like both. The latter a bit more athletic.

Anyway. The Polish language does not have a word for custard. The Almighty Google Translate gives us two options: cream or pudding. Both horrendously wrong when describing custard. The only custard experience, apart from Wahooti Fandango (an album I never owned but liked and now wish I had), is that desert I believe to be called truffle*. The look of it always reminds me of vomit. A perplexing thought as to how one can make such ugly yet surprisingly tasty sweet food. Especially when it’s chilled in a glass bowl. Super, super ugly once the first serving is dug out.

Pudding in Poland is equally gross in it’s visual dimension. And, unlike truffle, really, really crap to eat. For some reason this potato starch rubbish food is loved by kids. Bleh. Michal tells me long romantic anecdotes how back in the commie days when the supermarket shelves were bare, pudding was the only form of store bought sweet a kid could regularly get. When drizzled with home-made raspberry syrup it was the bomb. Apparently. Nah uh. My mum would buy me pudding in Oz thinking it was a mad treat and I always hated it. It was like a cop-out fake ice-cream disaster or a warm thick, stagnant semolina slab rip-off, dressed in vanilla flavour. Even when she poured Ribena over it I always knew it was going to taste like crap.


* What I actually meant was ‘trifle’. Thanks to the watchful editorial eye of Suzy, I now know my error. The French are probably disgusted at my plebness.


Six – by Tabitha

26 Jun

When I was six, my best friend, for a time, was Nathan James (not to be confused with Nathan James Thomas). Our sole common interest was the Police Academy franchise. This unidimensional model of acquaintanceship was to reappear often in my life, over several workplaces, as I bonded with coworkers over nothing more than our shared interest in the Monte Carlo biscuits in the kitchen, or having the same ringtone. When I was six, Police Academy sustained my friendship with Nathan James for a surprising amount of time, until, I think, we both realised that girls and boys aren’t supposed to be best friends. He focused on the handball crowd after that, and me, the fairies and pressed flowers set.

When I was six, my grandfather died. My father’s father, the Greek Cypriot one, the only relative to bring a bit of ethnic colour to my family. I have one memory of him, and that’s of him sitting in his chair, a leather Lazy Boy, in his Penrith home, doling out one- and two-dollar notes to his grandchildren, the very picture of a New Australian patriarch. The morning after he died, when I was six, my mother came in to tell me and Toby in our bunk-beds. I felt very strongly that I was supposed to be sad and cry, and tried to muster up a tear. At school, I told my friend (a more appropriately female replacement for Nathan James) that my grandfather had died, and she was shocked I had been sent to school that day. This hadn’t struck me as a problem, but she seemed to know all about what was the done thing in these circumstances. This was the first of many times that I felt my family didn’t seem to do things properly.

When I was six, I had two teachers. The first, Mrs Bruce, left after only one term. Once, during a thunderstorm, she shouted at all the children to get away from the windows, saying her friend had been struck by lightning that way, and was now in a wheelchair. I reported this back to my mother, who seemed very sceptical. “I don’t think that can happen”, she said, a confusing contradiction of one voice of authority by another. I don’t think it can, either, but every time there was an afternoon storm in Hanoi, I’d take a step back from our metal window frames.

When I was six, my second teacher was the mother of a girl in my year, and who would remain in my year until we finished high school together. We were never close friends, although I remember a brief, particular interest in her after she returned from a year in the Cook Islands with her family, which was exotic. Her mother was a lovely teacher though, especially after Mrs Bruce, and I continue to hold a fondness for her. My own mother recently told me some awful news about her, and her daughter, which is why I don’t want to mention their names. My teacher, from when I was six, was babysitting her toddler granddaughter, the child of my classmate, at her home in the Mountains, when the little girl swallowed, or choked on, some kind of insect, and died. It is the most biblically grim thing to happen to a family. In my mother’s email on the subject she noted, “You see, there’s no such thing as a groundless fear, anything can happen”.

When I was six, my mother was more involved in my school life than she was for the rest of my entire educational history combined. I suppose this was because at that time she was adapting to not having to care fulltime for at least one child for the first time in sixteen years. She came into my classroom once a week for “remedial reading” with the kids who hadn’t been taught to read at home, and who lived in the housing commission on Cascade Street. Many, many years later, when she was working at her friend Adelaide’s antique shop in Wentworth Falls (Adelaide’s Antiques), a couple of these very same remedial reading boys, now remedial reading teenagers, came into the shop, greeted her as “Mrs Carvan”, then nicked her purse from the back room.

When I was six, my mother also accompanied the class on an excursion to Featherdale Wildlife Farm. The highlight of the excursion was meeting Fatso the wombat from A Country Practice, the apparent excitement of which I couldn’t share with my classmates since I was still yet to watch a single minute of commercial television, our TV being permanently tuned to the ABC. Yet again, our family didn’t seem to be doing things properly. But when I was six, I still patted that celebrity wombat just like everyone else, as it was held aloft by a handler in his pen, and was shocked by that bristly, prickly hair.

Beer – by Justyna

18 Jun

I love beer. It is probably my favourite alcoholic beverage. No, it is my favourite alcoholic beverage. When I was a kid my dad would let me slurp off the beer froth. Later when I was a bit older he would let me have half a glass now and again. It was usually Thooeys Old. It was usually drunk on a balmy night out in the backyard. A special bond between a father and a son he never had. I was totally into it. Now I live in a paradise of beer. If you thought Poland was a vodka country, you’re so 1993. In fact Poland is the second largest beer consuming country in Europe, a few pints off Germany. Poland produces amazing beer and there are still local breweries that have not been bought out by Heineken (unlike the national beer Zywiec, which has gone completely down the toilet since), producing mind blowing brews, albeit without the boutiquey prices. Every region has it’s own mainstream brew, but the true gems are the beers from crappy provincial breweries that have no marketing budget to speak of. You stumble upon them, and hey presto, your mouth is in hops heaven.

The women who do drink beer in Poland tend to drink it with raspberry syrup. It gives the beer a pinky glow and a sweeter taste. It is drunk through a straw. Bleh. Sometimes instead of raspberry syrup you can order your half a litre glass with ginger syrup. Equally yuk. Shandies are rare but they do exist.

There are next to no preservatives in most Polish beers. So guts remain relatively small. You also do not get extreme hangovers from guzzling the beer here, due to the lack of chemicals within. There. There’s my propaganda.

My local bottle-o sells Wojak, a very daggy beer from Poznan. It costs 1.74 zł. It’s delicious on a balmy night, even when not drunk in a backyard. The bottle is returnable to the bottle-o. Once you’re done with it, you get your bottle deposit back. Just like with milk bottles back in the day. Brilliant. Means we have a whole stash of Wojak bottles under our kitchen sink because no one can be arsed to walk the 38 metres back to the shop with the glass ware.

The Polish word for beer is “piwo”.

image by

(Under) exposed – by Justyna

3 Jun

I’ve been thinking hard about what to write regarding this week’s word ‘exposure’. Thoughts occurred writing briefly about the photography course I did in in Year 10 using an old Russian SLR camera belonging to my dad that weighed a tone and donned the name Zenit. I pretty much over exposed all the photos in the dark room and never got a handle on shutter speeds and depth of field. Thank you digital heaven.

Then I started to think about all the things that I do not expose Kazek to. And I realised that I’m a bit of a freaky, fanatic mum, the type that I scorned in my previous life. Shit. When did it all happen? Without me consciously meaning it to become a fundamentalist exercise? I think it’s more of a contrarian thing though anyway. Do the opposite here because everyone else doing it the other way shits me. Or having the privilege of being able to compare two worlds?

So here is a list of things I (we) do not expose Kazek to:

Flavoured yoghurt. Danone is the devil and it has taken over Poland. It has a series of products called Danonki (little Danonies?) that are geared at children, toddlers and infants. Yes. These sugar filled parcels of chemical rubbish are actually propagated as dairy deserts of goodness and mothers are encouraged to feed their 8 month old children with additives and preservatives. The day-care Kaz attended to had Danonki in its standard daily menu. Kaz was not allowed to be fed these. When I read Tabitha’s posts in The City That Never Sleeps In I often see the parallels between Poland and Vietnam. It mainly concerns a society that has been artificially closed off to certain consumer trends and consumer knowledge for decades, and is now hungry and going crazy within an open market yet unable to judge appropriately. Only twenty years ago the children of Poland drank fermented kefir with fresh strawberries. Now a store bought tub of goo is considered more appropriate. Of course I am generalising and there is a strong movement and awareness of decent food in Poland and what is actually being fed to Polish children. But it is sparse and definitely not part of the concern of the majority. Anyway, Kaz is keeping up national dairy traditions by consuming copious amounts of kefir, buttermilk, milk and natural yoghurt. Sometimes he even gets a dollop of honey in it. Polish honey. No imported Chinese rubbish.

Store bought fruit juice. See above (the Danonki juice equivalent is a bottled carrot juice for kids by the name of Kubuś. It has no carrots in it. Or fruit. Lots of fructose though. And every self respecting mother in the park has a bottle of Kubuś tucked into her pram bag). Kazek is a water and milk kid. When my mum or Michal’s mum gives us a delivery of homemade syrups (usually black current from their garden bushes), then he gets a bit of sweet ‘n sour sensation in his drink. Only sometimes. Depending on the season.

Packaged sweets. The little dude actually dislikes chocolate. Poor kid, you’re thinking? Nah. He gets into home-baked goods. Oatmeal cookies with cranberries and blueberry muffins are the go. He’s not a total freak. And this is coming from a me, a person who would chew off your arm for a gummy bear!

Television. Kazek never watched telly for ages. Started watching first bits and pieces after he turned two. There are certain rules with this also. When he does watch telly it must be either in English or with no dialogue (??). And therefore is reserved mainly to the laptop. He watches Play School and Noddy on occasion. Recently he’s been getting into old Czech cartoons from my youth. Krecik (the little mole) and “Pat a Mat” (two useless handyman neighbours who go about fixing stuff – Wallace and Gromit eat your heart out!) are permissible mainly because Michal and I think they kick arse. Clever and slow moving. Thomas the Tank Engine is also allowed. Ringo Starr narration only. Kazek is blissfully unaware of who Mickey Mouse or that annoying red, talking Disney car are.

Shopping. We sort of made a rule of it not to take him to shopping centres etc. Why? Well, I guess we wanted to avoid the “I want, I want” stage for as long as we could. Also because Michal is an avid hater of shopping and I only go if I need to. Kazek is well aware of the local green grocer and the butcher and the bakery, but huge shopping centres are a rarity for him. He was taken to the first toy store in his life just the other week. We were buying a birthday present for his mate Maksio. Kazek was amazed to see so many brum brum cars in the one shop.

The Sun. As in I cover him up even though there is no need for him to be covered up because I no longer live in Australia. Even in the May, Continental sunshine, I will slop on some sun block and slap on a hat. He looks ridiculous amongst children who, after a long winter, are soaking up the vitamin D rays. Michal has pointed this out. Some habits die hard.

However his bare feet are constantly exposed to cold surfaces, he’s exposed to falling off kitchen bench tops and chairs, he’s exposed to being dirty and waddling in puddles, exposed to hitting his head on table tops and shelves and eating large amounts of prunes. He is also exposed to his baby brother, whom he can kiss and cuddle and play with, even though accidental eye pocking can often be a consequence. He is also exposed to a mother who at times is frustrated and tired of being cooped up in a toddler world. Hope the under exposures and over exposures balance out and we don’t produce a freak show of a human. There.

Maps – by Tabitha

12 Apr

“Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is one of my favourite songs of all time. It’s so fucking charged, it’s got to be one of the most fraught, desperate love songs ever written. It simultaneously tugs at your heart strings and kicks you in the guts.

It’s about that awful part in a relationship where your boyfriend wants to leave you, probably because he doesn’t love you anymore and your relationship is crap, and yet you’re convinced that it’s just because he’s failed to see how right you are for him.

That panicky, overwrought, undignified self-delusion, when he’s trying to leave and you say: wait! You’re just confused! No-one else could love you like I love you, and you just need to see that!

Oh, is there ever a more tragic, last-ditch line to intone at the end of a relationship than, “My kind’s your kind, I’ll stay the same”?

No. No, there is not.

But the song’s real killer line comes in the chorus, obviously: “Ma-a-a-a-a-aps, wait.”

Having been witness to the dance floor response to this song a number of times, I can tell you that people connect with that line with such naked emotional intensity, it looks like nothing less than en masse agony. Hands clutched to hearts, faces distorted with feeling, voices cracking, heads tossed in longing.

And yet what are we all singing? “Maps”. Seriously? Maps? One of the most affecting, belt-it-out lines in rock music and it’s a total non-sequitur.

For many years I pondered why. Something to do with distance and being apart, maybe. Perhaps the path or journey of a relationship from beginning to end, or perhaps being completely lost, and in need of a map. I seriously dedicated a considerable amount of time to analysing it, like it was a Year 12 textual study, which it probably is given our postmodern education system.

And then one day, sitting idle in front of the computer, I got around to looking it up. I was expecting to find some different interpretations to add to my collection, but no.

WHAM, just like that, I found there’s an actual “answer”. It’s an acronym. It stands for “My Angus please stay”, Angus being Angus Andrews of the band Liars, and Karen O’s boyfriend at the time.

I  have never felt so gypped in my life. There isn’t supposed to be one definitive “answer” to your textual analysis! And now this song, which had previously seemed to be about universal yearning was very specifically about some guy I don’t know called Angus. Also, now the coolest song ever actually features a naff acronym.

But then I realised, well, it just goes to show that the emotion we can all hear in that song is seriously legit. She’s not singing about pleading with someone to stay, she is pleading with someone to stay. The song is it. And that’s some raw shit right there.

And in the video, she doesn’t just look like she’s crying real tears, she is crying real tears, because what she’s singing in the song is actually happening right then and there. Karen O in the NME:

“They were real tears. My boyfriend at the time (Angus) was supposed to come to the shoot – he was three hours late and I was just about to leave for tour.

“I didn’t think he was even going to come and this was the song that was written for him. He eventually showed up and I got myself in a real emotional state.”

So actually, I love the song even more now. It’s about how even one of the coolest chicks in the world can tear herself apart over some stupid, unworthy arsehole.

Picture – by Justyna

12 Mar

I know I am trespassing, again, into the subsequent week of a new topic, but I just can’t seem to get my groove on in terms of time management. Thankfully Beth hasn’t posted yet, so I’m using a sneaky chance to squeeze in before the new ball gets rolling.

I have recently spent two weeks in Dębno, where my parents live. Their house contains hundreds of photo albums. Our place only has three, one belonging to Michal given to him by his mum (a compilation of photos from his childhood) when Kazek was born, and two belonging to me (a compilation of my high school years and another one given to me by Edyta, a compilation of our friendship years, before I ran off back to Poland). Kazek was a bit dumbstruck to be looking at loads and loads of photographs in a printed format. Until now he assumed all photos lived in the innards of my smartphone. As we spent hours flicking through them (with me still being able to cringe at how I looked like at the age of sixteen – a felt hat and an extra large You Am I shirt, unfortunately wasn’t the go like I assumed it was), I came to the conclusion that I am happy with the digital age. Having so much bulk on your bookshelf with albums containing ALL the photographs taken in EVERY roll of film and ALL placed in an album, because that’s what one once did (well my parents did anyway), without any selective process evident, is a weight I am glad I no longer have to carry. When packing up and moving apartments for example.

 And this made me remember when Tabitha moved into the silo and started cutting down on her shit. Including her CDs. I thought it then outrageous to download all your music onto your laptop and then give the hardware away to all your friends. I then thought of all the reprimand I get from Michal for still being in possession of old geography exercise books (one of my favourite subjects at school) that I keep for sake of sentimentality, every time we move (they came with me via cargo shipping when I moved across the oceans). Which brought me back to my parents’ place who, despite making a massive move back across the oceans too, had all their shit follow them. Stuff that I would have gotten rid of ages ago. Like a floppy novelty doll filled with beans that says “I love my dad” on it.

Having moved so many times in Krakow in the last six years, I am in favour of major culling. And now having two kids who add to the crap mayhem, I think less is more beautiful. When it comes to the crunch though, it’s always easier for me to pop Michal’s overstretched jumper into the Salvo’s bin (or the equivalent), then chucking out my English essays into the recycling bin.