I am three weeks in to my latest attempt at teaching myself Polish. I first tried to learn Polish ten years ago while studying for my PhD. My research was based out in northern Poland in and around the city of Gdańsk, and so I put myself on a sort of crash course to learn the very basics so that I could get about the city, order a cup of tea, buy a ticket on the metro, that sort of thing. I worked with translators from the University of Gdańsk for my interviews, but I had to manually translate documents and newspaper articles myself which meant that the progress I made was in a very small, technical area of the language. I knew the words for ‘nuclear power’, ‘electricity’, ‘local government’, ‘international’, ‘solidarity’, but I couldn’t hold a simple conversation with the hostel owner’s six year old daughter.
On Sunday afternoon I said a very emotional farewell to the digital piano I have had for twenty-three years. In my pyjamas with a cup of tea next to me I pulled my grandfather’s crumbling score for Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier down from the shelves above the piano and played goodbye to my Roland with Prelude in C Major. It’s such a simple piece, but it’s one of my favourites. When I had finished, I closed the lid for the final time and began to disassemble the piano ready for the family who were coming to collect it from me later the same day.
On the way to town to buy birthday cards on Sunday afternoon, a man stopped us to ask if we were local and if so, where he could go for some lunch. Reliant on a walking frame he explained that he couldn’t go very far and that he wasn’t familiar with Birmingham, but that he happened to end up here as a result of a mix up with the trains. The question, it turns out, wasn’t really about lunch, but rather an excuse to start up a conversation. Step by painful step we continued in the same direction as him for some twenty minutes, covering just twenty metres in that time, but also more than twenty years of his memories. Love, loss, disability, loneliness, despair and the cost of living, but also his love of classics, philosophy and memories of all the places he has called home over the fifty seasons he’s seen come and go.
In May I began work on my first feature length documentary. I filmed everything on location between May and August, and I have just finalised the edit. Last night I hosted a private premiere for the stars of the documentary and I wanted to write about the experience because it’s a milestone for me, and one I don’t want to forget.
As someone who loves to read, I own surprisingly few books. Part of this is practical. I love physical paper books but they take up space and when you live in an apartment space is at a premium. Another part of it is financial; new books are expensive (I don’t see Amazon as an option). The third reason though is the most important reason for me, and that is that I find by ‘owning’ a book I have paid full price for, I feel compelled to complete it cover to cover and then hang on to it even if I don’t like it. I have wasted months of good reading time trying to force myself through books I don’t enjoy, half a page at a time. The reason I have read fifty books and counting this year is because I have almost exclusively been reading library books. They’re ‘mine’ for four weeks at a time, and if I don’t like something, I simply return it unread. It’s been liberating.