Fly Me To The Moon


I sat on the runway at Shannon airport waiting for the Ryanair plane to take off. I’m not a good flier. There have been many, many flights to and from Poland and each one has plunged my mind into a downward spiral of dread and fear. Most of the time I can pull out of it, distract myself with PMI – Positive Mental Imaging, the type of psychological bluff golfers use to kill their putting hobgoblins – The ball won’t roll by or stop short! It goes in the hole!

The girls were fighting in the seats beside me and Malina burst out crying when Lilly bit a chunk out of her arm.

‘Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about,’ I shouted at her, sounding like a low-income, nineteen eighties Irish parent. The flying anxiety had pushed my mean side to the fore. I sat there simmering in a low-level panic

Picture the plane landing safely at your destination…

when an incredible thumping noise emanated from under my seat. I turned to the woman sitting across the aisle.

‘Did you just hear that?’

‘Excuse me?’ She was Polish and almost half asleep.

‘There was a ferocious noise just now – didn’t you hear it?’

‘Probably luggage,’ she said.

Luggage? Is she nuts? It’s the plane! There’s something wrong with the plane! Long have I been taken with the notion that fear has a colour and that colour is brown. Brown is also the colour of accumulated metal fatigue, a colour I could now see in large patterns on the plane’s right wing.

‘I think there’s something wrong with the plane,’ I said to the Polish lady.

‘Everything is going to be okay,’ she replied absently. Her voice was a leaf falling off a tree.

‘I’m going to tell one of the cabin crew right now,’ I said, my voice not a falling leaf, more akin to the squeal of brakes from a getaway car driven by Donald Trump.

You are landing at your destination relaxed and happy

No I’m not! The landing gear is broken! The Dunlop is in the rough! This plane is not going to survive take-off!

The Positive Mental Imaging was gone, replaced by Sky News footage of feral children plundering plane crash debris. I’ve got to get up and talk to the Captain! But when I tried to undo the seat-belt, the damn thing was stuck. I was all set to start gnawing at the material to fashion a rip, when a hostess lowered her lacquered head to mine.

‘Is there anything I can help you with?’

‘I heard a noise from under the plane a few minutes ago,’ I told her.

‘Did anyone else hear the noise?’ she asked and I got the implication; it’s all in your head you big loop. Now calm yourself down like a good boy or I’ll zap you with the Ryanair stun gun.

‘Can you please mention it to the Captain? Just in case…’ I was keeping calm, but I knew my next words would be in the voice of the Chairman of the Chinese Tourette Syndrome Association.

‘Sorry sir, but we can’t enter the flight deck when the plane is preparing for take-off.’

She moved away. The engines fired up. The plane boosted faster…

Then…everything slowed down. Slow, slow until it ground to a halt. The passengers looked around at each other. The Captain’s voice came over the speakers;

‘We have encountered a minor technical problem and in the interests of safety this plane will not be departing on schedule. Apologies on behalf of the airline.’

The Polish woman across from me woke up.

‘Have we landed?’

‘No,’ I told her. ‘We have to go back to the departures area.’



And with the satisfaction of a hypochondriac who has finally been diagnosed with a malign melanoma, I told her, ‘It seems there was something wrong with the plane after all. Told you.’


Ten Things I Love About Poland

Ten things? It could have  been twenty, that’s how insane my love is for the Land of Po. Okay, let’s light the candle on this and see where it takes us…

10 Dumping

For the last month I’ve been staring at a car bumper dumped behind my building. I would have done something about it, only the tiny stretch of grass it’s lying on is owned by a delightful man who promised to ‘hunt me down like a dog’ if I ever set foot on his two-metre strip of land ever again. But this is the greatness of Poland; the ever-changing landscape. One day you have a blank wall, the next a swastika.

9 Tiles

I think there’s a law that says every dwelling in Poland must be made up of at least 60% tiles. Cold, uninviting and boringly practical, they say so much about the Polish character. They also make every apartment look like a giant bathroom. Isn’t this amazing?

8 German Toilets

A lot of old buildings have these toilets with a porcelain ledge upon which the contents of your bowel land. That’s right, you have to manually push your poo off the ledge and into the water before you flush. Disgusting? No. Engaging with my own feces on a daily basis has made me a better man.

7 Grudges

It’s impressive how long people here can hold onto a grudge. About three years ago, I accidentally turned off the light in our basement without knowing there was someone else down there. The man in question still refuses to say ‘hello’ when we meet. Worse, his eyes go black and I know he’s imagining what my head would look like on a stick.

6 Roads

Polish roads with their uneven surfaces and craters big enough to fit a mid-size Japanese family, and somehow they’re almost always under repair. As a keen cyclist I appreciate this diversity. Many times I’ve cycled to the Czech Republic but thanks to my numerous falls and the bent wheels, the journey always feels new.

5 Understanding

I was with an American friend in a restaurant and when we’d finished he asked for the bill; “Prosze o rachunek”, but because he was a millimeter out with his pronunciation, the waitress refused to attempt to understand what he meant. Instead she got the manager who also found it impossible to decipher what two men who had just finished their meal and holding credit cards, could mean. Such a beautiful evening and it made me eager to learn more of the world’s most precise language.

4 Liberals

While Poland is currently in the grip of a right-wing, authoritarian, government, it’s heartening to see a coherent alternative being put forward by those in opposition. At least it will be, when they get around to putting those ideas on paper and, uh, you know, tell us how, eh, they might, eh, try to, ahem, do those things, you know?

3 The Teacher Lottery

Unlike Ireland where primary schoolkids have a different teacher every year, Polish kids have the same teacher for three years. Parents here fret who their darling will get; soul-sucking witch or doe-eyed Mary Poppins. I find this lottery aspect very exciting and so what if my child’s development is irrevocably ruined – as long as I have five hours free every day to waste on then I’m happy.

2 Coal

Others look on coal as a dirty, filthy destroyer of the landscape, responsible for thousands upon thousands of pollution-related deaths. Not me. It’s the dark flower that shows how loyal the Poles are; coal has been good to them and they’re not going to let something like fatal fetal abnormalities get between them and their bestest, blackest friend.

1 Guard Dogs

I like guard dogs. I like the way every house has a pissed-off German Shepherd stalking the front garden. I like how the dogs make me think twice about any unscheduled visits. Do I really need to visit these people? Couldn’t I be putting my time to better use than frivolous socializing? Do I even like these people? Is talking to them worth the risk of having my face bitten off? No. As with most things in Poland, the answer is always no.

How Two Little Girls In Poland Can Be Irish

While canoing the great lakes of Mazury, my eldest daughter turned to me and said she would like to learn Irish. Come, come Lilly, I said. There are many other languages for you to master, tongues useful for traveling such as Spanish or Russian. Or why not German where unlike Irish, the laws of grammar can actually be applied coherently and logically? I even offered Italian as an alternative. Not really a language at all, more a catalogue of food names. It is well known that 90% of all Italian is gesticulation, the world’s noisiest body-language, its value essential, no more so when shrugging your way through Rome or grimacing whilst being robbed at knife-point by Sicilian street urchins.

But no, with true donkey stubbornness, she insisted on Irish.

At present both Lilly and Malina speak English and Polish and are learning French. I haven’t spoken Irish consistently for at least twenty years, based on the qualification that it wasn’t going to be of any use to me. Only 3% of Ireland’s population speak Irish as an everyday practicality despite it being a compulsory subject in all secondary schools. It is a dying language that when spoken has all the charm of a crow eating itself in a chimney… And yet somehow it seems important that I acquiesce to my daughter’s wishes.

Sure, perhaps her commitment to the Irish language will be a folly, a laborious luxury which her still childish mind does not fully comprehend. But in the face of accepted bland, corporate subservience, it could be a mighty declaration of her heritage, of who she is and who I forgot I am. As parents, we are keepers of a flame. We guard it and we pass it on.

To not do so would be negligent. It would limit the intangible mysteries which govern our journey. I speak of course about the imagination, the soul and the values of our antecedents. My daughters would not be here if it weren’t for those who came before them. They never met their grandfather Peadar Mór, he who taught me Irish when I was four. They never met their great-grandmother Kathleen who left the side of a Kerry mountain at seventeen to nurse in London. They never met their great-grandfather Peter who had a ticket for the Titanic and thanks to the great de Búrca trait of being late, missed the liner’s last stop at Cobh in County Cork.

But through the Irish language and my teaching of it, there is a chance they can meet something of their ancestor’s spirit, and these two little girls living in Poland, can be Irish.