Well, here’s a thing… I started to write this much nearer the time it happened, back in November last year (2017) but, as I so often do, I wandered off-topic and produced a sprawling piece that even I couldn’t understand and shelved it. A few days ago I went back to it and took out the sprawl, most of it, and what was left is essentially the middle piece, the piece which had not much to do with what I started to write about. Anyway, I brushed it down a bit and here it is.
I was on my way to Łódź for Prog the Night III, two nights of Progressive Rock concerts (Friday 3rd and Saturday 4th November) at Łódzki Dom Kultury, the Cultural Centre in the city of Łódź, in central Poland. This necessitates catching the 07:00 or thereabouts, departure from Chesham to Liverpool Street; one of the morning zombie trains filled with screen-staring, coffee-carrying, Metro-littering automatons. I’d arrived at the railway station with my customary earliness and I stood there in the pre-sunrise twilight waiting for the train to arrive. When the train pulled in to the station, I took a seat and pushed my bag underneath out of the way of zombie-like feet and we set-off up to London.
So there I am sitting with the screen-starers, coffee-carriers and Metro-litterers, I do this journey occasionally; they do it five days a week and it obviously takes its toll. I’m quite happy to sit and look out of the train windows; that is until my view is blocked (because for ease of egress at my destination I’m sitting on one of the longitudinal seats) by the ever increasing quantity of commuters; this usually happens somewhere around Rickmansworth and then I’m reduced to looking at bags, shoes, jackets and coats.
The screen-starers sit or stand resolutely locked in communion with their mobile devices. OK, yes, we’ve all got them and form time to time I’m as guilty as the next of screen-staring but these people have it down to a fine art, some of them swapping between tablet and ‘phone or even between laptop, tablet and ‘phone. Others have those little in-ear earphones plugged in and are listening to music or watching the news or maybe a film they didn’t have time to watch the previous evening. Good grief, some are even doing work!
The coffee-carriers; are these people really so busy that they don’t have time for a cup of coffee at home before they leave for work? The coffee-carriers are in fact screen-starers but slightly more hip and trendy screen-starers; they tend to revert to staring at their screens after they have drunk their coffee but their entrance, cardboard cup held high, is always noticeable. When did it become a badge of ultimate coolness to carry coffee in a cardboard cup? It seems to have supplanted the practice of carrying a mobile telephone held out before you.
The Metro-litterers, these are what you may call old-school newspaper readers who, with only the occasional furtive glance at their mobiles, read a copy of Metro and then upon reaching their station, most of them casually toss it aside. I often wonder how much “resource” Transport for London must devote to collecting and disposing of all those unwanted newspapers. Maybe it’s a good deal, maybe they sell them for recycling; I’d like to think that they do. Hmmm… I have to say that this question has piqued my curiosity and after a little internet search I found this on the Metro website:
“We therefore also encourage our readers to help us as far as possible by asking them to take their newspapers with them and recycle them at work or at home.”
That’s working well then.
Getting off of the train at Liverpool Street Station in the middle of the morning rush-hour is always an invigorating experience, battling through the throngs of people to reach the ticket gate, looking for an empty spot to stand on the main station concourse while you survey the train indicator but all the hubbub fades away once you have identified and reached the platform for the next departure to Stansted Airport, only to reappear at the bag-drop and security check once you reach the airport.
Eventually I got to Łódź, it was a Thursday evening and I went out on the town, actually; I went to the restaurant at Łódzki Dom Kultury and then to my favourite pub in Łódź, Chmielowa Dolina (Hop Valley).
On Friday I went, as I am wont to do, exploring a bit on foot and found a rather splendid café with several small rooms decorated in the style of a private house from the end of the nineteenth century. Later that afternoon/evening I was back in the restaurant at Łódzki Dom Kultury where piecemeal, concert-goers began to appear. The concert was not due to start until 20.00 so I and a chap I knew called Adam decided to abscond for a while to a bar. We ended-up in Piwoteka Narodowa, a multi-tap bar not far from ŁDK but we had taken a round-about route to get there. Beer was bought and finding a place to sit, we sat and supped and chatted. Adam was complaining that the beer in Poland (Adam lives in Bavaria, Germany) was too strong and that in Germany you always knew that the beer wouldn’t be too strong and hence you could drink a lot of it. He had a point, most beer in pubs and bars in Poland, especially the burgeoning multi-tap type, starts around the 5% abv mark and gets stronger. We returned to ŁDK and attended the concert.
Zapraszamy na kawa i ciasto
On Saturday in the early afternoon I returned to the café I’d found the previous day, Czekolada Retro Cafe. It was indeed a charming place to while away an hour or so while enjoying coffee and cake, indeed, that’s what had drawn me in the previous day, a chalk-board on the pavement inviting me in for kawa i ciasto.
After Saturday evening’s concert I was invited backstage for an impromptu “after party”. It’s a long story and I won’t bore you with it here but I had brought some home-made chilli vodka; not distilled at home you understand because that’s illegal it seems; it was a shop-bought vodka which I had infused with home-grown chillies which were as it turned out quite hot. I had also been presented earlier with a small bottle of shop-bought chilli vodka. Naturally there had been beer drinking before and during the concert and now, back-stage, I was presented with “Bimber” which was described to me as being Polish whisky. After a little research some days later it seems that bimber is a term to describe any number of distilled spirits that may not have been distilled with, shall we say, state intervention, but there are also various manifestations available to buy in shops. Anyway, there was food and drink and more drink… The chilli vodka was measured out and with the customary “na zdrowie” we all knocked back a generous shot.
At one point, Marcin, the singer from the evening’s penultimate band, Yesternight, appeared. Someone called to me, “Tony, Marcin needs some chilli vodka.” By this time the supply of my home infused chilli vodka had been exhausted but I remembered that I had the bottle of shop-bought stuff in my coat pocket. I turned to see Marcin in a fine old state of inebriation and thought to myself that chilli vodka was probably the last thing he needed right now, but I poured him some anyway. Yesternight, although not the top of the bill, were for me, the highlight of the evening. Marcin has a really good voice and they finished their set of original material with a rather splendid cover version of Deep Purple’s Child in Time and now it was time for Marcin and no doubt the rest of the band to relax and wind-down and Marcin it seemed had a head start.
After the backstage event, those of us who had indulged in bimber and chilli vodka went up to the venue’s restaurant/bar where another after party was in progress and more beer was imbibed. Somewhere around 01.30 people were drifting off back to their homes, hotels and hostels. I left with a group of friends and we wondered along towards a crossroads where they were going to turn left and I was going to go straight on, to my hotel. At the crossroads I made my farewells only to be told that I wasn’t going back to my hotel but that I was going to accompany them back to the hostel where they were staying, Hostel Flamingo, for an after, after party. Well, you know what it’s like when you’ve already had a few drinks, I willingly acquiesced.
Uwaga, śliska podłoga.
On the way we stopped at a 24 hour drinks shop and all putting a 10 zł note into a collection, the funds were obtained to purchase a bottle of whisky and a large bottle of Coke. When we reached the hostel, we all climbed up to the fourth floor and piled into a bedroom where the whisky and coke was served in cups, mugs and whatever else was available. Drinking, conversation and antics continued into the early hours. There was a lot of chit-chat, the sort of frivolous stuff begat by copious consumption of alcohol, at one point I was being instructed on the finer points of some Polish soap opera, nothing of which I can remember but I do remember that there was a lot of pointing at the TV screen.
Drinking, conversation and antics.
Sometime around 04.30, I decided that it was probably time to go back to my hotel; I had a flight to catch later that day and a bit of sleep would probably come in useful. I bade goodbye to whoever was still awake and descended the stairway to the street. Poland is in the Central European time zone (CET), one hour ahead of the UK but as Poland is at the eastern edge of the CET zone the sun rises earlier (by the clock) and It wasn’t just getting light, it was light. Feeling strangely buoyed by the early morning blue sky, I strode out, enjoying the glorious morning. The walk was fifteen minutes or so, I reached my hotel and stripping-off, climbed into bed.
I awoke some five hours later; do you know that scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral…? I think I may have said, quietly to myself, “Fuck” once or twice. I’d missed breakfast and it was getting perilously close to the time I had to be at the airport. I had a very perfunctory wash and, getting dressed, crammed my belongings into my bag and went down to reception. I paid my bill, checked-out and asked for a taxi to the airport.
Sit back and enjoy your flight.
As I had thought it would earlier on my walk back to the hotel, it had turned into a nice day; a little cold but sunny. The taxi deposited me at the airport and I went straight to the bag-drop and then to security check. The bag-drop was empty, but there was a large queue at the security check, which I duly got into. Łódź airport is only a small place, there were two flights on the departure board, mine going to Stansted and another one a bit later going to Dublin, or maybe it was Belfast, I don’t quite remember but I do remember that as I walked through the security scanner thingy I could see people walking out onto the tarmac to board the Stansted flight. After putting my jacket, boots and belt back on and re-filling my pockets I strode purposefully down to the passport gates, straight past and into the toilets. Better safe than sorry. Then I went through passport inspection and onto the end of the queue of people slowly making their way out to the plane. I left the queue momentarily to buy a bottle of water but in spite of this somehow I didn’t manage to be the last person onto the plane.
I was booked into seat 10F, a window seat but of course 10D and 10E were already occupied and rather than go through the kerfuffle of the other two getting out of their seats I offered the guy in 10E the window seat, an offer, judging by the smile on his face I think he couldn’t refuse. The two guys shuffled across and I took the aisle seat, quite glad, frankly, to just sit for two hours or so and not have to move and by the time we arrived at Stansted I was feeling a little more human.