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


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.


A week in brief…

21 January 2014

The last couple of weeks have been insanely busy at work so I sadly haven’t had the time to write a proper post on here.

In view of posting something, however — if for no other reason than that you know I’m actually still alive — here is a quick summary of what I’ve been up to over the last seven days. As you can see, it’s been a pretty busy time but hopefully things will calm down a bit now the worst of it is finally over.

So anyway, this week, I…

1. Got offered a job!

Hopefully I’ll find the time to talk about this in more detail later but yep, the first of my new year’s resolutions came true this week when I was offered a full-time job at an international company! I’m pretty happy about it. I mean, it’s always nice to know that people want you to work with them. The only problem is, I’m not sure if I’m actually going to take it…

Don’t get me wrong, the offer itself is a pretty good one — interesting work, nice atmosphere and good job perks — but unfortunately it involves working night shifts (10pm – 7am) and for a salary that’s only slightly higher than what I’m currently earning. I don’t mean to sound greedy here, but I can’t help but question whether it’s worth giving up a job in which I’m extremely valued and have a position of authority for something that involves not seeing my wife for four days a week?

I think this experience was worth it because it proves that jobs really are out there and that people really do want me to work with them. I’m in no rush to give up teaching, however. The school semester runs until June and I have plenty of time between now and then to see what else is on offer.

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This is the sort of document I used to prepare at my old job. The new one would require me to make things very similar to this

2. Recorded a podcast

For those of you who might be interested in such things, I post a podcast every month over on Debatable English. It’s a fun little thing I do for my more advanced English students but it’s really for everyone who might be interested in finding out more about the English language and having a couple of laughs along the way. Every month we look at a different aspect of learning English. This month’s topic is on accents so why not check it out? You might just learn a thing or two!

3. Translated an article for Wroclaw Uncut

My wife recently found a cool article over on Slowdaylong.pl all about what to look for when buying meat and how the meat production industry operates. With my wife’s help, I translated and edited it into English this week with the aim of publishing it on Wroclaw Uncut in the next few days. It should go over pretty well there, I feel.

4. Finished the first draft of a short story

The Words of Power competition will be drawing to a close pretty soon but there’s still just about enough time to finish off one last 15,000 word short story and polish it into something resembling a publishable state. Just like the other two stories I’ve written for this contest, this one is basically a novelisation of an old NES game, in this case Milon’s Secret Castle. I have to say, I’m pretty pleased with how it’s coming along so far.

Hopefully I’ll find the time to polish it up over the next few days week and I will, of course, post a sample here when I’m finished. Fingers crossed, it will be good enough to get published in the final anthology.

Not the best game ever made...

Milon’s Secret Castle: not the best game ever made…

5. Drew a pretty picture…

It wasn’t all hard work this week, however, as I did manage to find the time to play around with my Wii U some more. Using the Art Academy application I downloaded off the Nintendo eshop a few weeks ago, I drew this lovely picture of my wife. For a bit of context, she was sitting next to me at the time with a blanket pulled over her face and she was surprisingly sanguine about the whole experience). I’ve got to say, I’m no artist, but I’m pretty pleased with the end result. I mean, it does actually look a bit like my wife! That, alone, is kind of a win for me.

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Easiest thing in this picture: the hair. Hardest thing: that bloody nose.

Well that’s all for now. Hopefully I’ll have something more substantial to share in the near future including another couple of reviews for the Wii U, some more stories I’m working on and some more information about my life in Poland.

Until then, take care.


The Legends of the Stare Miasto

27 March 2013

This is part two of a series of articles I’ve been writing for Wroclaw Uncut. Part one can be found here.

A couple of months ago, I shared with you some of the many great folk legends that can be found on Ostrów Tumski, Wroclaw’s cathedral island. Today, we’re taking it one step further by looking at some of the local legends from Wroclaw’s city centre, the so-called Stare Miasto (old town).

For those of you interested in locating some of these things for yourself, there is a map at the end of the article. Check it out!

1. The Gambling Priest
240px-Św._Elżbieta_z_okien_FeniksaThere’s no denying that Saint Elizabeth’s church is one of the most beautiful buildings on the Rynek. It was built back in the 14th century as a place for Catholics to worship, but for most of its history (from 1525 – 1947) it was firmly under the control of the Lutheran church. What was the reason for this change?

Well, it all goes back to a man named Scultetus, the priest who was in charge of the church back in 1525. Scultetus was a good man, but unfortunately he had something of a gambling problem.

One day, Scultetus challenged the local Lutheran priest Henry Rybisz to a game of dice. At first, luck was on his side and he won a lot of money, but then he got greedy. Extremely confident, he placed all of his winnings on a single throw of the dice and, inevitably, lost.

Henry Rybisz was a shrewd man, however, and he allowed Scultetus to remain in the game provided he could offer up something of value. Eager to continue playing and regain the money he had lost, Scultetus decided to gamble the most valuable thing in his possession: ownership of Saint Elizabeth’s church itself.

Needless to say, he lost, the church passed into Lutheran hands and Scultetus spent the rest of his life in shame.
2. Lightning on the Bell Tower
bell towerIn 1529, four years after Henry Rybisz won Saint Elizabeth’s church in a game of chance, a huge storm hit the city of Wroclaw. The church was pelted on all sides by hail the likes of which it had never seen and for many hours the sky above the church was filled with lightning.

One bolt of lightning chanced to hit the bell tower at the top of the church, knocking it clean off and causing it to smash into pieces on the courtyard below.

When the storm finally passed, the Catholic worshipers were quick to point out that it must have been a sign from God that He was greatly displeased the church was no longer theirs.

However, the Lutherans pointed out that no one had been hurt during the storm – a miracle considering how badly the church had been damaged! They claimed that God must have been on their side after all, and that he must have sent his angels to protect the worshipers hiding inside.

In fact, the only casualty of the storm was a single black cat which had been crushed to death by the falling bell tower. Since black cats are often associated with witchcraft, this was further proof to the Lutherans that their church was literally a weapon against the forces of evil.

To this day, you can see a plaque commemorating this event on the side of the church. In this image, you can see several angels gently lowering the bell tower to the ground so that no one will be hurt by its fall.

3. The Bridge of Penitents
SONY DSCOn the other side of the Rynek sits the Church of Mary Magdalene with its distinctive bridge-linked towers.

Many years ago, Wroclawians were convinced that every night at around dusk, they could see white figures with brooms in hand walking along the bridge between the towers.

These figures were said to be the souls of girls who had tried to escape domestic duty during life, now condemned forever to walk the bridge at night, cleaning it in their wake.

Legend says that if an unmarried couple walks the length of the bridge while holding hands, their love for one another will be bound together by these spirits of servitude and will never fade.

4. The Peddler’s Ghost
Many years ago, back when the Rynek was actually used as a marketplace, there worked a very greedy vendor who would haggle over every penny. She was notorious in the area for the tenacity of her salesmanship, as she would regularly press customers for every spare grosz and accuse those who didn’t buy anything of theft.

After she died, the vendor was buried in the cemetery at Saint Elizabeth’s church… But she didn’t stay buried for long!

Every night for many weeks after her death, the boy whose job it was to guard the Rynek swore he could see the woman’s coffin opening and her ghost rising from the grave. The ghost would cross over to the place where her stall had stood for many years and there she would begin to sell her invisible wares to customers who didn’t exist.

When the boy told the rest of the town what he had seen, no one believed him so he decided to get some proof. One night, he broke into the cemetery while the ghost was away and stole from the woman’s coffin her white burial cloth.

Instantly, the ghost saw what had happened and, letting out a blood-curdling shriek, gave chase. The boy ran into the nearby church and up the steps of the tower to try to get away from her, but the ghost was quicker. Like an animal, she scaled the wall of the church and no matter how fast the boy ran, she was always just a few steps behind him, her hands outstretched and her ghostly eyes full of fury.

Fortunately, luck was on the boy’s side. As he reached the top of the tower (and found himself trapped with nowhere to run), suddenly there came from the distance the crowing of a rooster.

Dawn had come. With the coming of the daylight, the ghost instantly lost her power and vanished before the boy’s eyes never to be seen again. He showed the white burial cloth to the townspeople as proof of what he had seen and everyone was amazed.

5. The Dumpling Clock
z12480193Q,Po-zegarze-kluskowym--umieszczonym-na-wiezy-katedrThe dumpling clock is sadly no longer with us but it used to hang on the tower of Saint Barbara’s church on Świętego Mikołaja street. You can still see the place where it used to hang.

The story goes that long ago, there lived in the local area a businessman whose wife could never do anything on time. Every day, her husband would return from work only to find that his wife had barely started cooking his dinner. Night after night he was forced to wait while she had finished and no matter how much he shouted at her about it, she could never seem to organise herself.

One day, the merchant decided he had had enough so he tried to come up with a way to stop his wife being so lazy. Struck with inspiration, he asked the local church if he could move its clock forward by ten minutes. The church agreed.

Sure enough, the next day the woman heard the clock chiming the hour and, panicking, she started throwing things into the pot for the evening meal. Ten minutes later she knew something was up when suddenly all of the other clocks in the city started ringing the hour and her husband walked in through the door, beaming with pride that his ruse had worked.

For the first time ever, dinner was ready on time.

From that day until its destruction in 1947, the so-called Dumpling Clock rang ten minutes before all the others in the city — a reminder to all the housewives that they had better start cooking now than wait until their husbands were home.

And on that highly-sexist note, that’s all for legends from the old town. For those of you interested in hearing more about the colourful folklore of Wroclaw’s streets, more information (and guided tours) can be obtained from www.kolowrocek.pl, which is where I learned most of these legends in the first place.

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Spring!

21 March 2013

Spring is here! It’s official!

The meteorologists are saying it. My diary is saying it. The longer days and shorter nights are literally shouting it from the sky.

Not that you’d know it by looking at Wroclaw right now…

…but if it’s good enough for the experts, it’s good enough for me!

And seriously, thank the Lord for that. This winter was easily the longest in my living memory: four solid months of snow and almost permanent sub-zero temperatures throughout. It was snowing the day my laptop was stolen, it was snowing the day I started my driving lessons, it was even snowing the day I got my Wii U.

Oh, wait, did I forget to mention that? I have a Wii U now.

And it is awesome!

This is not my Wii U though it is still awesome

This is not my Wii U, though it is still awesome

In fact, probably the only day on which there was no snow was Christmas Day itself — a fact that’s so frustratingly ironic, you just know it has to be God dicking with us.

Anyway, today is also a very special one because it marks exactly one year since I first registered the domain name RJBurgess.net and moved my site over from its old home on Blogger.

I have mixed feelings about this, most of which revolve around my apparent inability to keep up a consistent posting schedule, but overall I’m pretty chuffed with how it’s all turned out.

One of the hardest things about starting a writing blog is finding a balance between what should and shouldn’t be included in it. Should I only post short stories, or should I talk more about my real life? Are reviews important, or would barely coherent rants about things that piss me off be more preferable?

Should I follow the example of writers like Patrick Rothfuss and use this blog to tell detailed stories about my life, or should I follow the Brandon Sanderson model by throwing open the proverbial doors of my brain and letting you all see into the inner depths of my writing? On a more fundamental level, should I try to get paid for my writing or would it be better to follow the wonderful Cory Doctrow in giving large chunks of it away for free?

See, it’s a tough question and one I still don’t think I’ve managed to answer. It’s this fact, I think, that is at the heart of my ofttimes patchy presence here.

But I’m getting there. The blog is being read now — consistantly — and that makes me happy. As a writer, my ultimate goal has always been for people to see my work and, hopefully, appreciate it. A writer without an audience is like a house without an owner, so thank you all for taking the time out of your busy lives to drop by this little ramshackle house of mine and make it that little bit cosier.

I’ll keep on writing as long as you keep on reading. Let’s hope this next year will be even better than the last.

Oh and by the way, for those of you who are interested, I’ve recently started a monthly podcast over on my other blog, Debatable English. If you’re a learner of English, an ESL teacher, or just one of those weird people who like to hear British people ramble on about stuff for hours at a time, check it out! New podcasts will appear on the 8th of every month with other lessons posted regularly in between.


Learning to Drive

25 January 2013

634502195156810419Well it’s finally happened.

After years of telling myself that I didn’t need it or that I would get around to it eventually, I’ve finally taken the plunge, scraped together enough money from recent charitable donations and started taking driving lessons.

In Poland.

I’ll be honest with you: I’m a little nervous at this idea. Poland’s roads don’t exactly have a reputation for safety among the rest of Europe and I’ll be learning to drive at a time when the streets will be full of both snow and students. Never a good combination. But it’s something I’ve been meaning to do for some time, it was one of my resolutions for the New Year and, well, my girlfriend wants it so by gum, I’m going to do it.

The funny thing is whenever I tell my students that I’m learning how to drive, their usual reaction is one of complete surprise. “You don’t have your driving license?” they ask, in the same way that one might ask “You didn’t wash your hands?” to someone that’s just used the toilet.

In Poland, it seems that everyone has a license, whether they actually intend to drive a car or not. It’s like a rite of passage over here that everyone goes through.

Not so in the UK.

You might be surprised to hear that not having a driving license is pretty normal in Britain. Among my British friends, I can only think of maybe 2 or 3 who actually know how to drive. All the rest just take the bus like I do and are none the worse for it. Even among my fellow English teachers at Queens, the vast majority don’t drive. My boss, Terry, does, but like me he took his test here in Poland.

Now at this point, most of my students give me a sly nod and say, “Oh yes, but public transport is so much better in London, isn’t it? That’s why you prefer to use it.” To which I have to laugh and admit, “Not really.” In my honest experience, the public transport in Wroclaw is not only more reliable than London’s but it covers a greater percentage of the city and is more logically mapped out than the insane spaghetti-like sprawl that is London’s public network.

So why don’t I drive then?

Money.

Driving in the UK is expensive. Very expensive. To prove just how expensive it is, I’ve borrowed a few figures from the AA (Britain’s number one breakdown service) to show you just what it costs to own and drive a car in Britain these days.

Right now you need:

• A car (average cost in the UK for first-time buyers: £14,000)
• Insurance (average cost: between £1,500 and £3,000 a year depending on your age, sex, occupation and the make of car)
• Regular MOTs (average cost: £50 a year – this does not include the cost of any repairs needed)
• Road Tax (between £35 and £450 a year, depending on how polluting your car it)
• Petrol (average cost £1.42 a litre)
• London congestion charge (£10 every day)
• Parking in London (average cost £1 an hour, with a maximum stay of 4 hours. The fine for failing to pay this is a massive £130 with an additional £200 towing fee)

Pay particular attention to those last two points as they are very important if you live in London. The congestion charge was an idea introduced about 10 years ago to reduce traffic in London’s city centre. If you want to drive through the city of London, you must pay £10. Every day. Fail to do so and you WILL be fined.

Parking is also a big one. Here in Wroclaw is seems that any patch of road or pavement which hasn’t specifically been designated otherwise, is free to be parked on. I’ve seen people parked in the middle of roundabouts, in other people’s gardens, even on a snow-covered embankment by the side of a busy speedway, mere metres from a paid car park. No one cares. The whole city is a car park.

In London, if you want to park, you pay. No exceptions.

All of which goes some way to explaining why I never learned to drive. When your choice is between a mode of transport that costs upwards of £50 a day and a bus card that costs just £5, of course you’re going to choose the bus card.

In Poland… things are a little different. And that’s why, after years of umming and ahhing, I am finally taking the plunge and learning how to drive.

Lessons start next week. Wish me luck!


Review of Wroclaw’s Barka Tumska

26 September 2011

It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke: what do you get if you cross a restaurant with a boat? Wet customers? A lot of fish? Fortunately for the Barka Tumska, a new floating restaurant and conference suit situated near the heart of Wroclaw, this is one joke whose punch line is more stylish than funny.

It’s an impressive beast. Four dining rooms, a bar, a kitchen and an open top summer terrace make for a great deal of choice for would-be punters. There are conference rooms for business meetings, larger spaces for receptions and a pub for more traditional drinking. There are even special entrances cut into the side of the boat so that travellers on the river can dock with the restaurant and enter from the water itself. Wet customers indeed.

Paul Melka from investment company Integer SA promises that the menu at the Barka Tumska is every bit as extravagant as its setting. “Clients can choose from a menu comprising everything from exotic seafood to traditional local delicacies,” he says. “The unique character of our barge makes for a one-of-a-kind dining experience in the heart of our city’s centre.”

It’s hard to argue with him, especially considering that the owners also promise a series of live events to be held throughout the year to coincide with all that wining and dining.

What do you get if you cross a restaurant with a boat? Whatever it is, it’s certainly worth checking out.

For more information on the Barka Tumska, visit www.hotel-tumski.com.pl.

Barka Tumska Opening hours 13:00–23:00 – Restaurant “Blue Marine”
14:00–24:00 – Pub “The Tavern”
12:00–22:00 – Terrace