Hello, I'm Your Polish Neighbour
Hello, I'm Your Polish Neighbour
All about Poles in West London
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This is a book to satisfy the curiosity of the average Londoner about the sudden influx of hard-working Poles with their formidable and attractive women and exotic customs. It is also an insight into the older Polish community which came here as former soldiers and political exiles at the end of World War II. The articles were first published weekly in the Ealing Gazette and the Hammersmith Gazette in the years 2007/2008.

A Barbaric Ritual

Were you perhaps woken on Easter Monday morning by the sound of young women screaming?

If so, I hope you were not too alarmed. No need to activate your local Neighbourhood Watch. In fact you were probably witnessing the enactment of the primeval Polish tradition of “dyngus”. It falls regularly on Easter Monday and it consists of Poles, male and female, soaking each other with water. It signifies the washing away of sin and it is a spring fertility rite. I suppose it is only fair that after the piety of Holy Week, Poles tend to let their hair down somewhat.

I was drawn into this pleasantly barbaric ritual when I visited a friend at Green Avenue in Northfields early that fateful morning. I was assailed by water pistols and ended up being dunked during a watery dog fight with plastic bottles in their back garden. Then after a reassuring glass of wine, I joined forces with this family and we proceeded, four strong and armed with water propellants and water-bombs, towards another Polish house in nearby Haslemere Avenue. Local residents watched with trepidation at their garden gates as we proceeded menacingly like a modern aquatic equivalent of Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers on their way to their Slavonic OK Coral.

At the second destination, all hell broke loose. The female household defended their property with great resolve and screamed for England every time they were drenched. The very youngest called in her young English neighbours armed with pump action water guns, while further Polish families descended onto this battlefield site. The skirmishes covered the street outside as well as the garden and the crucial last stand enveloped the rear outside tap as both sides battled for this energy source to replenish their buckets, pistols and plastic canisters while trying to dodge the water bombs raining down on them from the second floor.

Eventually everyone settled down, changed into dry clothes and sipped their mulled honey wine while the children were rewarded with chocolate eggs. A female latecomer turned up at 3 o’clock with a water container and attacked the resting veterans upon which the newly soaked males unceremoniously picked her up and chucked her into a bath full of cold water on the first floor. Honour was satisfied.

At least this year there was no police intervention. Some years ago my friends and I were ordered by a policeman to desist as “Water is a dangerous weapon.” I could not agree more.

Ealing Gazette April 13th 2007

Football Comes to Poland

The news hit the Polish West London internet chatter market at around midday the previous Wednesday. Yes, it was true! UEFA had awarded the right to stage its Champions League finals in 2012 jointly to Poland and Ukraine.

When I first heard this I was dumbstruck. Poland and Ukraine were the outsiders. Italians with their beautiful stadiums, classy motorways, world class footballers and sunny beaches were sworn favourites. Sure, they had blotted their copybook somewhat with a few fixed match results and their baton-wielding police had practised karate chops with their truncheons on discontented Manchester United fans. But this was the land of vendettas, where things occasionally get a little corrupt and violent between the shrugged shoulders and the romantic songs about Sorrento.

Suddenly the shrugging and the “cantare” had to stop. It was the 83 million strong Polish-Ukrainian conglomerate which had won the day on the first round of voting. UEFA had turned east to two of those countries which had been pressing their eager faces to the glass as they watched the Western football megastars strut their stuff in the past. Now my fellow London Poles had to take in the fact that the baton had certainly passed to our two nations.

After the initial euphoria came the nightmare doubts. Were our stadiums too old? What about Polish and Ukrainian roads? What about the head-banging fans? Are the police up to scratch? Never mind, we thought, we have 5 years to get it right.

We dreaded though what the British papers might say. Strangely they said almost nothing. It was not even mentioned on the morning TV news summaries. We could stand being praised. We could stand being vilified. We could not stand being ignored. Did the British really not care?

Then I turned to the BBC news website. I searched for commentaries on the main news bulletin. 356 comments! That’s more like it! Some compared us to the Third World. Some said this was a great step forward for UEFA. Most criticism was reserved for Italy anyway. The majority seemed to be rubbing their hands with glee. Many British fans were looking forward to “cheap vodka, cheap beer, and beautiful women.” Well, somebody has the right priorities!

Ealing Gazette - April 27th 2007

Wiktor is a prominent figure in the Polish community in the UK. He was formerly editor of the Polish monthly "Orzel Bialy", spokesman for the Federation of Poles in Great Britain and a former Ealing Councillor and has a wry detached view of life.


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