Category Archives: News

Krakow Changes

There’s a Hard Rock Cafe right on Rynek, the main square in Krakow, which includes David Bowie memorabilia (a signed album cover). The late, great (and ever reinventing himself) superstar would have been proud of the changes that have come Krakow’s way.

Nearly a quarter of a century ago when I first visited the city, there was of course no such cafe on Rynek. Indeed there were many fewer cafes. And fewer bank machines. And fewer (decent) toilets. Fewer of everything. Life wasn’t the easiest for cosseted Western tourists.

Now, things are different. They used to say every other building in Krakow is a church. Now, I’d say it’s an eatery. The number of restaurants in the city is just incredible – many freshly, tastefully renovated – a modern flourish here, a retro look there.

The service in such places – and other facets of life – has improved almost beyond recognition. In Polska Dotty, I railed against the poor customer service I commonly encountered in restaurants, as well as shops, banks and elsewhere. Now, the approach is generally a friendly one. An example is in restaurants, where invariably our family needs to order dishes with a twist. Could we have carbonara without the Parmesan (for our youngest)? Pierogi without the onion (for our eldest)? I usually end the conversation with an apology, in my pidgin Polish, for the complexity. “That’s not a problem at all”, the waitress usually responds, with a winsome smile. Maybe they like my Polish.

Modern tourist information offices abound seemingly on every street corner, peopled by willing young folk with excellent English.

Bank machines line up like soldiers. Back in the day, if the one machine on Rynek was out of service (which it frequently was) and the banks were closed, you really were in a predicament to get to your money. Few establishments accepted cards.

Even more museums have taken root – Krakow was always in the lead in this regard in Poland – including the impressive and unique exploration of history under the market square, and the equally avant-garde Galicia Jewish Museum in the Jewish quarter of Kazimierz, which studies the history of the Jews in Poland in a new way (see my blog “Jewish Krakow – Part II”, 31 August 2016).

And on and on. I see two types of change in Krakow. The new museums and arts festivals, the constant (and tasteful) renovation of the city – stunning new squares, modern statues – Krakow has been doing well for at least as long as I’ve been visiting. The Poles have this spirit and creativity within them. But the added comforts and conveniences – these seem to me to have been parachuted in, no doubt on the wing of commercialism.

That’s good and bad of course. Around the main squares in Rynek and Kazimierz, you can hardly pass by for being accosted by those wanting to whisk you on a prosaic golf buggy tour of the city. And the incorrigible stag party made its way to Krakow, though seems recently to have departed, in search of other victim cities.

For the most part, though, the combination of new and old is a winning one. As for the old, it’s good to see some things never change. Hawelka restaurant continues to offer lovely, reasonably priced food – classically presented. Chopin concerts are offered daily, in handsome old concert rooms. The three graces in Rynek – Mariacki church, the Sukiennice cloth-hall, and the town hall tower – all look resplendent this year, apparently newly-renovated.

And don’t forget our favourites, the Old Metropolitan Jazz Band, who can be heard many an evening playing gratis at Ratuszowa – the town hall cafe. Here only three days, we’ve already taken them in twice, including the inimitable banjo player whose instrument appears to play him, and the trombonist who stares balefully at the audience in between solos. We overheard an audience member joke they’ve been playing together for half a century. I’m not sure about that, but long may they continue. After all, change is constant…

Polska Dotty and Polska Dotty 2 are available on Amazon

Polska Dotty 2 e-book edition is available half price – this week only

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Filed under Cracow, Holiday, Krakow, News, Poland, Travel blog

Brexit Syndrome

So:

Inflation is up (and becoming concerningly high).

Consumer confidence and spending is down.

Most businesses are pessimistic about the future.

The pound remains very low.

The vultures are circling for our multi-billion pound Euro-clearing business – said to support 83,000 jobs. 83,000!

And on, and on.

If anyone had any doubt whether we were in a phoney war – we were, and the serious stuff starts now. An unmitigated Brexit disaster is on track.

How did we get here?

A man called Nigel Farage – intelligent, and vitally a very effective communicator – never underestimate the power of communication – led us here.

But as a schoolmaster of Farage once prognosticated – google it – he is a serious menace. And this menace is one of many who suffers from a disease known as Brexit Syndrome.

Those with Brexit Syndrome don’t understand the consequences of an increasingly globalised world – or even accept it.

They consider Britain still rules the world; doesn’t need its European brethren; can make its own way; will be welcomed with open arms by international partners.

They live in La La Land.

And for many of them, the Brexit disaster will be of no personal consequence.

The barrow-boy tabloid barons will be all right.

The Eton alumni will be all right.

David Cameron will be comfortable in his £25,000 chillax garden shed. Did you know you can sleep in it?

But the bulk of Brexiters – the engine-room – the disenfranchised of the midlands and north who voted in such large numbers to leave – I fear the consequences for many of them will be severe.

The penny is slowly dropping. There is talk now of a soft Brexit.

But we must not rest on our laurels!

Astonishingly – does this excuse for a PM ever learn? – Therese May has just appointed my hapless local MP Steve Baker as Minister for Zealotry in the Brexit Department.

He’s said already to have struck up a good relationship with those delightful people from the DUP. Takes one to know one.

We are at a pivotal point, and must capitalise.

Let there be a clamour for a second referendum (aim high), and if not, the softest of Brexits.

Let’s look back at May’s general election call and say that, whilst it was folly for her, it was serendipity of the highest order – and saved this country.

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Filed under Brexit, General Election, General Election 2017, News, Politics

Tory Folly, Deceit… and Defeat

Let us be in no doubt: the current rudderless state of the country – a declining economy, a nation divided in many ways, an impending Brexit disaster – are all down to the Tories.

It was the Tories who decided on an EU referendum, to see off UKIP and thereby maintain the integrity of the Tory party. And it’s no good saying the country wanted out of the EU: the country voted on false premises and arguments, and to give a good kicking to the establishment. As they’ve just done again. The country (other than hapless die-hard Little Englanders) will have second thoughts when Brexit follows its inevitable course toward unmitigated disaster.

And despite all this – and the effective vote of no confidence they’ve just been given – the Tories continue in (feigned) denial. Or, at least, the repellent Theresa May does (she now seems cut loose from her own party). The Tories won the most votes and seats. Only they can provide “certainty”, she says (she dare not say “strong and stable” any longer).

This deceit is pitiful, and I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with John McDonnell that the public is fed up with this approach, repeated day in day out by Theresa May flunkies like Michael Fallon. It’s an insult to the electorate (about whom it was clear during the campaign this wayward, wheat-destroying vicar’s daughter cares not a jot) to treat them like this, force feeding them meaningless mantras, and lies.

The people do wish for something new – repeated anti-establishment votes demonstrate this. And they will get it. For what we are seeing is the decline of the Tories. On the surface, they may look strong: yes, the most votes, the most seats. But only just! Cameron did ok in 2015, then the Tory Government lost the referendum vote, and now May has no majority at all.

It’s Europe that will do for the Tories (as it always does). May’s position on Brexit is now – simply – untenable. She is weakened in negotiations abroad and at home. The latter will see her off. The soft Brexit the people have now declared they want (by the way, supported in a regular poll taken ever since the Brexit vote which now shows more people want to remain than leave) will split her fissile party down the middle; an attempt to continue with hard Brexit will not make it though Parliament.

Out of this Tory carnage will arise a second general election – before you know it – and will arrive like a knight in shining armour the unlikely figure of Jeremy Corbyn (Labour won’t be able to ditch him now). We’ll have to see how that goes, of course. Maybe he’ll adapt his very left-wing but broadly sympathetic policies to a degree, and thereby broaden his appeal. After all, he may have to fight off a “British” Macron by then. But if nothing more occurs than that Tory patronage and arrogance are replaced by a more caring, meritocratic, and… human approach to government and politics more broadly – for that, alone, I will be grateful.

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Filed under GE2017, General Election 2017, News, Politics

Appearance in Za Kanalem

I’m really pleased to be the subject of the latest “Portraits” interview in Za Kanalem.

Za Kanalem – or “Across the Channel” – is a new Polish language magazine for Poles local to Slough and High Wycombe.

An exciting mix of articles – informative, educational, entertaining – has seen it grow in popularity. I hope and expect it to carve a niche in the competitive market for Polish language publications in the UK…

(Read Polska Dotty 2 for more on how Poles over here have brought out an impressive range of publications).

Thank you to interviewer Dominika Kuspit, and photographer Joanna Madziarska of PhotoHarmony – and all at Za Kanalem.

Powodzenia!

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Filed under High Wycombe, Immigration, News, Poles in UK, Polish culture, Slough

Have Yourself… A Polska Dotty Xmas

Polska Dotty 1 – the paperback – is proving a popular stocking-filler this year.

And for the next 7 days, you can purchase the kindle edition HALF PRICE on amazon countdown.

Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B005YAEHK0

Polska Dotty 1 explores Poland – and what it is to be Polish – in a series of themed chapters, underpinned by a hilarious storyline.

Don’t forget Polska Dotty 2, your unique guide to Poles in the UK, laced with the same great humour:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01ECH9WZA

Have yourself a very Merry “Polska Dotty” Xmas!

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Filed under Books, News, Poland, Poles in UK, Travel

The World Upside Down: Trump, Brexit & the Germans

It is a truth universally acknowledged that we find ourselves in a world where populism is rampant. Its first sizeable manifestation was Brexit – but in fact, populist movements had already been strengthening around Europe, if not the wider world: the National Front in France, Law and Justice in Poland, Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in the Netherlands, Golden Dawn in Greece, Norbert Hofer (an extreme right winger likely to become Austrian President). And on and on…

If Marine Le Pen wins the French Presidential election next year, and manages to take the French out of the EU, the latter will surely implode (its German-French engine having exploded).

And what, then, will the Germans think – already deserted by Little England, and Trumped in the US? It is a world turned upside down where Germany is the guardian of our freedoms. I don’t mean that in the least patronisingly. I just mean that, since WWII – a war in which Nazi Germany redefined man’s inhumanity to man – it is ironic that it seems to be the last man standing when it comes to the protection of our most basic freedoms. There’s a reason for this, of course, which is precisely its past. Germans have been there and done that. They don’t wish even to contemplate division in Europe, having twice divided it themselves.

We’ll have to see. The French Presidential election comes before the German one, and if Le Pen does make it, this will add momentum to Germany’s own populist party, Alternativ fur Deutschland. Which begs the question, how widespread is populism in Germany itself? I work for and with Germans, and from what I can tell, the mainstream there remains strongly for the EU, probably (if they had to say) more for the peace it brings than economic benefit. This, of course, is where it differs from (just over half) the UK’s voting electorate, who never wanted more than an economic union. So, I think we can rely on the Germans remaining our guardians, without underestimating the feral forces that could also be unleashed there if the rest of Europe goes native.

What of the populist zeitgeist itself? This is what worries me the most. Because it’s not populism. Let’s be straight: it’s fascism, pure and simple. Trump – the Man in the High Castle – is against every group unlike him. The other. A large chunk of Brexiters are xenophobic, fearful of immigrants who take the jobs they won’t. They scapegoat immigrants. It all comes full circle (and the mask slips) when Nigel Farage stands in front of a Nazi-like, snaking queue of foreigners, all (apparently) itching to enter the UK.

How is this prejudice unbottled in the public? By the scapegoating, but also by promising the masses what they want, irrespective of its deliverability. It’s what they’re calling post-factual politics. Trump is its master exponent, of course, but the side of the Brexit bus would be another good example. All over Europe, and in the US, populists are blaming everything on globalisation, and promising in its place… the earth. It’s fraud on a staggering scale.

Never mind the Simpsons – here’s what’ll actually happen. If these people take control, there’ll be worldwide economic stagnation (or worse) as the major powers go protectionist; and a disregard for human rights (even more scandalous than at present) as Trump and Putin carve up Syria and the like – until, inevitably, they fall out with each other and bring us closer to worldwide conflagration (neither being the sort to lose face).

Are we helpless to do anything, in the meantime? I don’t think we can halt the current populist wave. But in our voting, and protesting, and writing – look at what Lego announced today! – we can slow it, and contribute to its ultimate defeat. Defeat will come when the people realise they’ve not only been duped, but their baser instincts appealed to in the process. They’re just as poor as they’ve always been – and nastier. This will right itself. As Ghandi said, evil empires – and make no mistake, we may be heading for a few – always come crashing down in the end.

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Filed under Germany, Immigration, News, Politics, USA

Polska Dotty 2 – Reviews!

Reviews are rolling in for Polska Dotty 2…

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Cosmopolitan Review
The latest, from Cosmopolitan Review declares the book is “[a] hilarious story of home renovation with a cast of almost unbelievable Polish characters doing the work… not only entertaining but also instructive”. Here’s the link (check out both the review, and my article on Brexit): http://cosmopolitanreview.com/

Inside Poland
This follows on from the first review of the work by Inside Poland, who wrote that “Polska Dotty 2 is an excellent primer for anyone interested in what’s really happening with Poles in the UK”: http://inside-poland.com/t/polska-dotty-2-ahead-of-brexit-referendum-read-new-book-by-jonathan-lipman-on-poles-in-the-uk/

Lajt magazine
Lajt says this is “the book every Pole living in the UK should read”. Win a copy by sending pix of your painted nails into them!.. http://lajt.co.uk/uwaga-konkurs-pochwal-sie-swoimi-paznokciami

Warsaw Voice
And look out for Warsaw Voice’s review of the book later this month…

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Filed under Book competition, Book review, Books, News, Poles in UK