Taking the Brexit

24 June 2016

20131243153252734_20Yesterday I woke up an EU citizen. Today, I don’t know what I am.

Like many others, I’ve held back from commenting on Britain’s referendum to leave the EU (the so-called “Brexit”) until now. This is mostly because I know a lot of my friends read this website and I’ve never felt it appropriate to cram my political views down someone else’s throat just because we happened to go to the same school. But also it’s because I’ve been online long enough now to know that the internet is a dark and depressing place at the best of times and trying to make your views heard against that background roar of hatred, ill-informed vitriol and downright trolling is no way to add meaningfully to the discussion.

But the referendum is over now, the votes have been counted and Britain stands on the cusp of change. And there is nothing that my words (like my vote) can do to change anything.

Last night Brexit won. Britain is leaving the EU.

Much will be said over the coming days about how close the race was. People will point to all sorts of demographics. They’ll show how Scotland voted unanimously to stay and how they’ll probably want another referendum of their own soon. They’ll point to Northern Ireland voting to stay and how they’ll likely be looking for unification with the rest of Ireland. They’ll show the oddities seen in places like Sheffield — SHEFFIELD! — of all places, which inexplicably voted to leave despite being a long-time bastion of liberal ideals. They’ll discuss how the “remain” campaign never quite managed to get their message across to the tabloid-reading working classes and that’s why the “leave” campaign ultimately won.

Image taken from theguardian.com

Image taken from theguardian.com

But they won’t talk much about people like me. British people who live abroad. British people who have foreign wives and foreign children in their not-too-distant future. British people, in short, who have always considered themselves European first, British second and English only a very distant third.

I live in Poland. My wife is French. European life and European culture flows through my veins and beats in my chest. It used to be that I was just another EU citizen living between countries as was my right as an EU citizen. Now, I find myself an oddity, straddling two worlds as they strive to isolate themselves from each other. Will I need a visa to work here in the future? Will I need to reapply for residency? Will I have to start buying health insurance when I travel to other EU countries? Heck, will I need to start taking my passport with me when I pop over the border to Germay?

And beyond these mundane practicalities, there’s the simple fact that I’m devastated. Shocked. Without any sort of hyperbole, this is honestly one of the saddest days of my life. I feel as though my entire national identity — my whole sense of who I am — has been ripped away from me. It’s nothing short of a mini-existential crisis.

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And what gets me — what I really don’t understand — is how there are actually people in the UK rejoicing at this result. There are people who say, “We don’t need the EU. It’s never done anything for us. We’re better off without it.”

Let me tell you something: Poland joined the EU in 2004. I moved here in 2009, so I’ve already been living in this country for most of the time that it’s been an EU nation. I have seen first-hand the good that comes from belonging to the EU. I’ve seen the workers flowing out of the country to other countries where they are more needed, thus helping reduce Poland’s unemployment rate. I have seen the influx of money and foreign investment. Wroclaw, where I live, is a booming economic centre: the home of Amazon, Google, HP, Volvo and Credit Suisse where I work, not to mention many more.

Did you know that when I first moved to Poland, there was only one motorway in the entire country? At the time Poland was the only country in Europe whose capital city, Warsaw, wasn’t connected to the rest of the nation via highway. At the time, if you wanted to drive to Germany you’d have to go via a road which was built by the Nazis. And note, when I say that this road was built by the Nazis, I don’t just mean that it followed the path of a road which was built by them. No, I literally mean it was the exact same road, foundations and all, which was built back in the 1930’s and never updated.

Now don’t get me wrong, Germany is fantastic a building roads. But 70 years is a long time to go without an upgrade.

All of that is changed now. Poland’s motorway network is vast and growing all the time. Its infrastructure is on a par with may Western European countries. The EU made this possible.

And you know what? The really great thing about free market, open border politics is that Poland’s gain was the UK’s gain also! Thanks to the influx of skilled labour from countries like Poland, the British economy boomed and its unemployment rate remained enviably low even throughout the darkest days of the 2008 credit crunch. Immigration meant an influx of skilled labour into the UK, much of whom was prepared to work in jobs that most British people wouldn’t want and for wages that they wouldn’t accept. And the best thing was that Britain didn’t need to spend a penny on educating these people or keeping them healthy through their formative years. Instead here they were suddenly on our doorstep, willing to move to our country and work, thus instantly adding value to Britain’s economy.

Really, The Sun? Really?

Really, The Sun? Really?

But the “Leave” campaign never see this. They see only immigrants and the scary refugees in camps in Calais and somehow they get them all confused in their heads and they start shouting xenophobic nonsense like “they’re taking our jobs!” Guys — you want a job? Apply to one which matches your skill set and then do better than the other candidates in the interview. Stop blaming other people for your own failures.

Whatever. There’s no point in arguing these matters anymore. Brexit won. The time for debate is over.

I’m in shock right now but I know that pretty soon I’m just going to have to face facts. The Britain I remember from my childhood is gone. The Britain I grew up in — that of “Cool Britania” and New Labour — is as much a figment of my imagination now as Nigel Farage’s much-vaunted Golden Age of pre-EU Britain. The fact is, I must have been away from my country for too long because I obviously no longer understand it. I always knew Britain was a fundamentally cautious nation when it came to European affairs but Brexit in on a whole other level?

I mean for crying out loud, even my own home town voted to leave! My friends and family — the people I grew up with — probably voted to leave. Do you know how sad that makes me?

How it should be

How it should be

Sad as it is for me to say, I don’t think there’s a place for me in Britain anymore. I don’t like what this country is becoming. I don’t like what it’s doing. And luckily, I was able to get out and move abroad before that border was closed to me.

So you know what Britain? You don’t want Europe? Fine, Europe doesn’t want you.

Go! Be independent if that’s what you want. Enjoy the coming decade of constant recession, rising unemployment and falling exports. You want to keep those immigrants away? Fine by me! I’ll just have to stay abroad instead and be an immigrant myself.

You wanted Brexit. You got Brexit. I hope it drowns you.

I am never going back.


Floorboards and chimneys and doors, oh my!

18 January 2016

Happy New Year everyone!

OK so straight off the bat I need to deal with the elephant in the room.

Yes, I realise I’ve been very quiet lately. In fact, I’m a little embarrassed to say this is my first blog entry in over 5 months, which is an inexcusably long time to go without checking in, especially for a blog which is supposed to be all about me. You’d be forgiven for thinking I was dead. Or that I had no life. Not that there’s necessarily much of a difference between those two states of being.

However, if there is one little thing I can say that might go some way to excusing my absence, it would be thus:

My house is finally finished. My wife and I are now ready to move in.

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A view from the front. The driveway here is brand new, hence the copious amounts of sand

That’s right! Months of hard work. Weekend after weekend of wasted time spent painting and fixing and tinkering and pottering. Piles of catalogs and endless trips to IKEA. Whole teams of workmen standing around in our living room scratching their heads as they pull quotes out of thin air.

It’s all over. It’s done.

Finally the end is in sight.

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A view from the back. Please excuse the patchy grass in this picture. It had a rough summer bless it

As you can imagine, I’m pretty stoked about this fact. Moving house was one of my main goals for last year and to think it’s finally happening – this week no less – fills me with nothing but happy thoughts.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a way to go yet. My wife and I are going to be knocking around in some pretty empty rooms for a few months yet while we save us enough to buy more than a couple of items of furniture. But the important thing is that the bulk of the work is done.

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The upstairs bathroom complete with custom-made storage unit for hiding away the washing machine

What’s more, it looks pretty good too in my opinion. Oh sure I’m well aware the style we chose won’t be to everyone’s liking but what matters is that we like it. And that’s good considering it’s us who will be living there.

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A view of the living area. To the right is the kitchen. To the left the faux-brick fireplace

 

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And here’s the opposite angle showing the living room with the stairs on the right. At the time this picture was taken, we hadn’t finished installing the skirting board, so if the blue wall looks a little unfinished, that’s why

Oh and as the icing on the cake, you will recall that I mentioned a couple of posts back that I was re-working my novel for the umpteenth time with the aim of finally posting it off to an agent.

Well, I’m happy to report mission accomplished here as well…

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For some, this will look like just an ordinary envelope. For others, it’s a Big Deal

What happens next is in the hands of much better people than myself. In the meantime, if you don’t mind I’m going to be right here, chilling in my new pad. It’s been a tough few months and we could use the break.

#dealwithit


RIP Mr. Iwata

13 July 2015

satoru_iwata

Today is a sad day for all gamers and fans of Nintendo in particular. Last night Nintendo president Satoru Iwata passed away of a bile duct growth. He was 55 years old.

Normally I don’t comment on these sorts of issues. This website was always supposed to be a forum for my writing first and foremost and not a place for real world news but in many ways Mr. Iwata was such a huge source of inspiration to me over the years it would be callous of me to ignore it. The games he brought into my life were sources of inspiration to me at times when I had all but lost hope. They reminded me of the importance of fun and for that I will always be grateful.

Since becoming Nintendo’s president in 2002, Mr. Iwata helped to spearhead the Japanese company’s return to dominance within a video game industry which had all but forgotten the name Nintendo. His work and his games were a huge inspiration to me and his absence will sorely be missed.

Satoru-Iwata-Luigi-Nintendo-Direct-G3AR

During his life, Mr. Iwata spent most of his career working at Nintendo and HAL Laboratory. As a coder he had a huge role to play in classic titles such as EarthBound, Kirby, Balloon Trip and Smash Bros. As president of Nintendo, he oversaw the launch of the DS, a portable console which went on to sell over 150 million units worldwide and open up the gaming field to a wider audience for the first time.

The Nintendo Wii followed in 2006. At first the gaming industry was skeptical of the idea of motion control game-play, especially coming from a home console which seemed to eschew graphical fidelity in exchange for an innovative control method, but Iwata-san was quick to defend the idea.

“Making games look more photorealistic is not the only means of improving the game experience,” he said in 2005 at a game developers conference. “I know on this point I risk being misunderstood, so remember, I am a man who once programmed a baseball game with no baseball players. If anyone appreciates graphics, it’s me! But my point is that this is just one path to improved game. We need to find others. Improvement has more than one definition.

He was right. The Wii went on to sell over 100 million units during its lifetime, dominating the global market for almost half a decade and putting Nintendo back on the map.

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Mr. Iwata was notable as a president for his unconventional way of thinking. Not only was he never afraid to clown around and have fun (as the pictures on his page should nicely demonstrate) but he was also extremely honorable in the way he handled his business. When, in 2013, Nintendo shareholders demanded that Iwata cut staff in order to make up for disappointing year-end results, Iwata bravely refused to do so.

“If we reduce the number of employees for better short-term financial results, employee morale will decrease,” Iwata told the shareholders that year. “I sincerely doubt employees who fear that they may be laid off will be able to develop software titles that could impress people around the world.” Nintendo cut no staff and instead Iwata-san personally took a 50% pay cut to apologize for the less-than-satisfactory sales results.

It was this approach that characterized Iwata’s time in charge of Nintendo. Was he a perfect CEO? No. As any gaming critic will tell you, a lot of Nintendo’s decisions over the years often appeared out of touch and misguided. But he was a good man and a good manager above all. He led by example and was never afraid to put his own neck on the line in order to help his beloved Nintendo. I can’t help but respect a man who worked so tireless all the way to the end of his life. I’m sure that Iwata-san knew for some time that he was suffering from this condition and that it would likely lead to his death, yet never once did he allow any weakness to show. He worked right up until the end, securing in the last few months of his life deals with mobile giant DeNA and Universal Studios theme parks which I am sure will have a huge impact on Nintendo’s fortunes for years to come.

He was a likeable man. He clearly loved video games and he adored the fact that he was working in a job where he could make them every day.

“On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.”

RIP Mr. Iwata. You left an indelible mark on all of gaming. You will be missed.

RIP you crazy Japanese man

RIP you beautifully crazy Japanese man

Special thanks to The Guardian for the quotes used in this article.


Bits and bobs

16 May 2015

No time for a proper post this week so I thought I’d update you all on what’s going on this end.

First of all, I’m in a book!

It's a thing of beauty

It’s a thing of beauty

Not one of my own books sadly but one written by my former director Terence Clark-Ward. It’s called “I can Sing in English“. The aim of the book is to teach young children how to speak English through the use of songs and repetition. Admittedly it’s not a very new idea, but the core concept in this book is that all of the songs are based around just 25 key words. These words, according to research recently conducted by Professor Leslie Rescoria from the Child Study Institute at Bryn Mawr College, USA, are the first 25 words that a child will learn in English if English is their mother tongue. This means that if a Polish child can master these same 25 words, they will have the equivalent vocabulary of an average 2 year old English child. That right there is a very persuasive argument for loosening any parent’s purse strings!

I appear on the CD as one of the lead vocalists. And yes, before you ask, I can sing. In English.

Here's a pic of me in the recording studio looking all singery and professional and stuff.

Here’s a pic of me in the recording studio looking all singery and professional and stuff. This is actually the second book of Terry’s that I have been a part of. The first was Zegnajcie Bledy all the way back in 2010

And finally, an update on the house.

Courtesy of a month of back-breaking labour, our garden is now (finally) weed free and neatly raked over ready for grass seeding.

Not a weed in sight

Not a weed in sight

We also have a vegetable patch complete with strawberries, potatoes, rosemary and onions. We did have some basil planted as well but the slugs attacked and killed it in less than a week. We’ve since swapped the basil out for mint and so far the slugs are leaving it well alone. So at the very least it’s nice to see they are fussy eaters. God knows there isn’t much vegetation left for hungry slugs to choose between in our garden, hence the impenetrable wall of loose stones that we ferreted out from around the garden to keep them at bay. (Un)fortunately our garden has no shortage of stones in its soil.

One day all of this will be in my stomach

One day all of this will be in my stomach

Our upstairs bedrooms now all have floorboards and the beginnings of a skirting board (although this will need neatening up as we are not happy with it at present).

Once all the furniture is in place, this room will look very different

Once all the furniture is in place, this room will look very different

The downstairs bathroom is a complete mess but at least we have a plan for it (more or less).

The bathroom. Minus the bath. And the toilet. And, in fact, anything

The bathroom. Minus the bath. And the toilet. And anything at all for that matter

Next week we’ll be getting a fireplace and exterior blinds. I’ll post pictures of that when I have them.

And finally, a last bit of news. Hard to believe but it’s now been over a year since I’ve been working for Credit Suisse. Yes, strange to say I am no longer the wide-eyed innocent that I was when I first stepped foot within these hallowed hallways. Next week I sign my full-time, non-probationary contract, and that is a very good thing.

That’s all for now. Expect the next proper post any day now.


Our new house

2 March 2015

So it’s still not officially official yet – the bank hasn’t approved our loan application yet and the final documents are still in the process of being put together – but it looks as though my wife and I will soon be the proud owners of our very own house.

This house, to be precise.

A shot of our new house from the back

A shot of our new house from the back

As you can see it’s a brand new semi located outside the city. Owning a brand new house is cool because it means you can make everything fit your exact specifications, but it does mean a lot of work needs to be done before it’s fit for human habitation. I can already tell you that every weekend between now and the summer is going to be a slog of visiting showrooms and pouring over catalogs for everything from bathrooms to fireplaces. But hey, it’s a project, and it’s something my wife and I have been planning for a very long time.

Unlocking the front door for the very first time

Me unlocking the front door for the very first time

The house itself is located just outside Wroclaw, in a small village a few kilometers away. It’s close enough to the city that we can drive to Wroclaw in just a few minutes but far enough away that it feels like we’re in the countryside. It’s very quiet around us. There’s a park with a children’s playground opposite us. Our neighbours mostly comprise chickens and a small company that chops wood. There are no shops but there are a lot of domestic animals. We also have some friends living in the same village so that’s cool.

A shot of what will eventually be the kitchen

A shot of what will eventually be the kitchen

My wife and I are both really excited to see how things pan out from here. As always I’ll be posting our progress here so check it out if you’re interested in keeping up to date on all things house-related. I’ve a feeling there are going to be a lot of updates on the subject.


News and updates

4 October 2014

plane-taking-offI’m going on holiday today. Two weeks in the country of my birth to celebrate my 31st birthday.To say I’m looking forward to it would be a huge understatement. It’s been a loooong time since I was last in the UK.

But before I go, I promised you all some news last week. I was waiting until it became official before properly announcing this and now that it has I can finally reveal that…

I just got a promotion!

That’s right: six months into my new job and I’ve apparently done enough wheeling and dealing to impress the higher ups enough to trust me with the well-beings of 20 other people.

My new job title is Overnight Shift Leader and it’s nice because it’s the sort of job title that succinctly explains itself (unlike my current job title of Presentation Graphics Specialist for the Investment Banking Division which is such a mouthful people tend to forget it after about two seconds).

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Just like this guy

Anyway, I’m very happy. I’ve got a lot of great ideas for this role and I can’t wait to get started.

In fact, it turns out that the reason I was hired by Credit Suisse in the first place was because they were considering me for this shift lead position all along! Their nefarious plan apparently involved hiring me on as a regular grunt just to see how well I took to the job. If I did well, they would promote me. If not… oh well, at least they’ve still got a Presentation Graphics Specialist out of it so no real loss.

Those crafty…

Now I think about it, it was kind of obvious all along. I mean I’ve never had much in the way of graphical training. Never used Photoshop before starting this job. Never went to art college or to business school to study economics or finance.  On the surface I’ve always felt like a bit of an odd one out in the team. My colleagues are capable of doing some amazing things with a computer that I can barely even get my head around and pretty much the only skill I have in my personal arsenal is the ability to speak English.True, it’s a useful skill, but it isn’t exactly special.

However, I do have experience with managing people. Organising. Delegating. Communicating with diplomacy and tact. Leading by example. Working with integrity. These are all skills I developed over five years of teaching English and running my own company. Apparently they are also skills that Credit Suisse needs in its Overnight Shift Leader.

Either that or I just got really really lucky.

So yeah, go me. Lots of new responsibilities and a job where the stress level has just jumped through the roof. All day this week people have been coming up to me for advice or just to bitch about other people on the team and the role wasn’t even official at the time! God only knows the hell I’ll be walking into when I get back from my holiday.

Boring paperwork

I do know there will be lots and lots of paperwork though…

 

By the way, if you fancy listening to my dulcet voice whittling on about unimportant subjects for 20 minutes at a time, you can tune in to Wroclaw’s Radio Ram where I recently took part in a radio show as part of Radio Ram’s English Zone. Check out the link here (I’m in episode 7).

Me and the rest of the team recording an episode

The rest of the team and I recording an episode

And that’s not the only place you’ll be able to hear my voice. In a couple of months, the latest book by my old boss Terrance Clark-Ward will be released. This one is aimed at children and whad’ya know? I’ll be singing on it! More on that later when it’s finally made official.

Fun times. Maybe all of these things added together go some way to explaining my lack of progress on my book of late.

Probably not.


Back from Rock Am Ring

10 June 2014

These are pretty exciting times right now.

I just got back from a four-day holiday to the West of Germany, where I spent most of my time lying on the hard ground inside a blisteringly hot tent as I desperately tried to patch up a punctured airbed with a roll of duck tape. I was hot, dirty, dehydrated more often than not and my back was killing me after just a couple of days but despite all that, the thing I’m going to remember most about my little camping trip is the music.

And that’s a good thing because it was the music that I went there for.

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One of the biggest summer music festivals in Europe

Rock Am Ring is one of the biggest rock festivals in Europe. Based on the Formula One race track in Nurburgring, it’s a four-day power house of some of the best rock bands in the world. 100,000 fans, 37 degree sunshine the entire time and over 50 bands playing across three stages.

It's one of the biggest festivals I've ever been to, that's for sure

It’s one of the biggest festivals I’ve ever been to, that’s for sure

The main reason we went there was for Kings of Leon, who my wife is a huge fan of. But we also got to see an amazing performance from Kaiserchiefs as well as Linkin Park, Kasabian, Iron Maiden, the Offspring, Fall Out Boy, the Fratellis and too many others to remember off the top of my head.

A complete list of who we got to see

Here’s a complete list of who was playing

I’ll be honest though, I’m completely exhausted now. Three days in and I was feeling beyond icky. Heavy legs. Aching back. Sun-blistered skin. Not to forget the aforementioned punctured airbed incident. I think I might be getting too old for this sort of thing.

The first day before the crowds (and the nice weather) turned up

The first day before the crowds (and the nice weather) turned up

But still, even if this is my last music festival, what a great way to go out with a bang. Fantastic times all round.

8 hours in a car and I was still so full of optimism

8 hours in a car and I was still so full of optimism

Anyway, it’s all over now. Back to work and all that. Luckily, I’m not too upset about this fact and that’s mainly due to a little thing called The World Cup, which starts in Brazil in just a few days’ time (hard as that is to believe).

Not to forget E3, the biggest event in gaming, which also happens to start this week. I love E3. It’s the one time in the year when I feel fully justified in letting my inner geek off his leash to run around drooling all over the many cool gadgets that will be adorning his home.

Not that I can actually touch any of those cool gadgets, of course. To be honest, the entire event is little more than a cock-tease these days. It’s like a multimillion dollar teaser trailer saying little more than, ‘Hey, look at all these cool things you won’t be playing with for at least another year.” But this year it’s OK because I already have a new toy to play with to see off the boredom:

Finally!

Finally!

Yeah, fun times are ahead.

Great weather, great games, great music and a bloody world cup. Does it get any better than this? Not often, that’s for sure.