Sunday, 25 May 2014

Oscar and the Lady in Pink – book review

Prompted by the Soulmate, I read the book, which had recently gained the status of set book for fourth-year primary school pupils. The book, written in 2002 and published in Poland for the first time in 2004 (hence I had no chance to read it at the age of ten), tells a story last days of ten-year-old boy terminally ill with cancer. The Polish version can be read online; I encourage you do so, as the novel is short and reading it from cover to cover will not take you more than an hour and a half.

I find it hard to judge, whether such poignant story is an appropriate choice for children entering their teenage years, but beyond all doubt seeing the world with eyes of a boy who knows he is doomed to pass away soon is a heart-rending experience. How Oscar (the main character) perceives the little world surrounding him is a mixture of naïve childishness (he still knows very little about life) and astounding maturity (going down with probable incurable disease and then getting by with death sentence imprinted at the back of his mind leaves its mark on Oscar).

Induced by a volunteer worker (the Lady in Pink), he lives through his last days as if each day stood for a whole decade. He goes through adolescence, early adulthood, middle-age slump and old age and discerns ups and down of each of those periods from a child’s perspective.

The book broaches issues pivotal in lives for all of us: God (the boy’s parents are atheists and so bring up their son, while the Lady in Pink tries to introduce him to the Deity), priorities in life (find out what is really important, when you have so few days left), death (as inevitable part of life), sympathy (when every day to see people suffering and dying, it reshapes your perception of life and sensitivity to human suffering and death), relationships with other people (parents, helpless in confrontation with their son’s illness).

The boy is angry with his parents who simply don’t know how to cope with his illness, how to behave when they visit him, they approach him unnaturally, smile artificially what winds Oscar up. Finally, when he frankly cheers them up by saying “we will all die, but I’ll die first”, something breaks through. The novel as no other taught me not to mess with parents, as if they love a child, they want all the best for it, despite not knowing how to show it.

Despite being faced with a deeply moving story, I managed not to weep. I was close to tears, but held them back. My childhood was free of such distress, but after reading this I slightly fear such cruel fate can meet my child – and what then? Would I have enough strength to carry such burden?

PS. The inevitable moment I referred to on 29 January 2011 (see last paragraph) came to a pass today. General Jaruzelski died. Are we in for a political clash?

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Racing for seats

Since the inception of the blog, before each and every election, I felt a sense of excitement; I felt the election was a meaningful event, a groundwork of democracy, an act by which when casting a vote, a citizen, by entrusting wielding power to authorities, plays a vital role in shaping a future. This year, a week before we elect deputies for the next five-year term in the European Parliament, I feel nothing except for indifference. But next Sunday I will visit the polling station, but only out of a civic duty, because I have been brought up to exercise my rights in democracy, not because I feel it makes sense.

The reasons for my joyless attitude are ample. I could go on about the general fatigue with politics, spurred by seeing politicians making politics rather than pursuing policies, but I will briefly (exam in three weeks, do not expect drawn-out contributions) focus on four aspects I fail to put up with.

Firstly, how big is the influence of Polish deputies on well-being of Poland and Poles? For sure higher than marginal, but nowhere as significant as this exerted by decision-makers in Poland. We need efficient and competent deputies to create good laws and foster interests of Poland in the EU.

Secondly, the reputations deputies from Brussels have earned, on account of their numerous privileges. No matter if they show up on sessions and committee meetings, take part in voting, they deserve sky-high wages, subsidies for running their offices and several perquisites (flats, hotels, flights, etc.). Many candidates race for a cushy job for five years that would allow them to set themselves and their families up for the rest of their lives.

Thirdly, the campaign which revolves around issues we have in Poland. This issue of subcontractors building motorways is a domestic problem and it will not be resolved in the European Parliament, as Mr Liberadzki (SLD) says. Problem of queues to doctors should be tackled by the ministry of health in Poland, not by guys in Brussels, keep it in mind, Mr Palikot. JarKacz, as the spokesman of his party, Mr Hofman, claims, suspends campaign to set off to southern Poland to monitor flood danger. Then JarKacz turns up there and keeps on running campaign, by saying the government is guilty of not modernising enough many kilometres of embankments… Platforma in its spot instead of laying out its agenda of what they want to do for Poland in the European Parliament, ridicules Mr Hofman for showing off the size of his penis, Mr Karski for damaging hotel equipment in Cyprus, while being under influence, Ms Pawłowicz, for her condemnable statements. Voters have heads screwed in and are capable of assessing how much (or rather how little) these PiS politicians are worth. What all parties stand for is a huge crying shame!

Fourthly, the candidates. Everyone who is alive, rushes for European parliament (or put it straightforward, for cash). Mr Kurski, infamous for speeding and absence on parliament sessions, whose presence in European Parliament consists in making politics in Poland, in on every second rear of public transport bus and on every third billboard, makes me want to puke. Parties presumably had serious problems compiling lists, as they had to put in former sportsmen (Otylia Jędrzejczak, swimmer – Platforma, Tomasz Adamek, boxer – Solidarna Polska) or celebrities (Weronika Marczuk, known as victim of anti-corruption bureau – SLD, Izabella Łukomska-Pyrzalska, known from centrefold of Polish edition of Playboy – Twój Ruch Europa Plus). What the hell are competencies of those people to sit in the European Parliament?

If I can advise who to vote for… In short – for those who are well-versed in the European issues and have track record of arduously toiling away in Brussels, not blowing their own trumpets in Poland!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Boobs letdown

Watch out! Beware! The Poland’s new export hit has fallen short of expectations to conquer the Eurovision festival (thanks for Jamie, aka Island1, for sharing the link to a brilliant pithy commentary). Hopes for the top award have been dashed, the Polish song ended up ranked fourteenth.

When it first appeared in the Polish media half a year ago, it promptly aroused ample controversies, surrounding both suggestive lyrics and the video clip, allegedly oozing with sex. Some critics approached it reservedly, other dubbed it soft pornography.

Popularity of the song has been explained by its simplicity and catchiness. Cross my heart, I don’t find it catchy, nor kitschy (which might be construed as a compliment). The form is uncanny, however the blend of hip-hop and folk music is certainly not my kind and not my style. Forty million views on youtube (including several millions in days subsequent to posting) may speak for themselves, but I’d interpret the figure as a manifestation of curiosity rather than genuine appreciation of the song.

Until today, I’ve been finding the idea behind taking this song to the Eurovision festival as our export hit mind-boggling. I have confessed to recognise bawdy songs generally appeal to audience and Poland’s most precious assets are undoubtedly charming women (they stand out in terms of beauty against other nations), but bringing the two notions together could have been bound to result in a massive flop…

The outcome has not filled me with disgust. Celebrities all over the world show off their bodies to nurture their popularity and not infrequently to mask deficiencies in their talents. Yet, even if emanating with sexuality is the daily bread, I dare to doubt if artists representing Poland on any event abroad, even if it is the ‘celebration of campness’, should follow suit. If Poles are to win any international music contest, they should be capable of getting ahead without invoking the most primeval instincts (busty girls doing I don’t know what, cause I’m not from the countryside, but looking ambiguously) and substance ought to triumph over form!

I pledge not to have seen yesterday’s finals of the contest, but when I compare it to what the festival stood for 20 years ago when Edyta Górniak scored the second award or 40 years ago, when Eurovision turned out to be a stepping stone (not a Waterloo) for the Swedish band Abba, it seems popular culture is going downhill…

Against the media-fuelled fad, I didn’t even root for Donatan and Cleo. Had they won, I wouldn’t have felt pride. They ended up fourteenth and serves them right, proper rank for what they embodied… Such stance is entirely patriotic, but I’m reluctant to blindly embrace everything that is Polish just on account of its Polishness…

Sunday, 4 May 2014

When darkness turns to light...

...It ends tonight, it ends tonight.
Just a little insight won’t make things right…
It’s too late too fight, it ends tonight…

It’s been a long time coming…

- the Company – my current employer,
- the New Factory – hope the future is bright out there,
- Dude – my boss (despite the superior – subordinate relationship, he is for me like a mate, we are on the same wavelength),
- Commander-in-chief – the boss of my boss,
- the Soulmate (mentioned here many times, a fellow colleague, despite being a close friend knows nothing about the existence of this blog)
- and me, for a short moment the hub of the universe ;-)

January 2013
The first, emotion-driven, attempt to change the job. By offering a pay rise and promotion, the Company manages to keep me in. More than a year after, despite all the bad stuff, I do not regret that decision.

May 2013.
First cracks on the glass appear. The Company refuses to further pursue relationship with one of its large customers on less favourable (lower income) terms and then terminates provision of services to one of the largest and most reputable customers in Poland. The relationship, established less than a year earlier, has not fetched adequate profit. Nobody bothers to think this was a door-opener for being a meaningful player in a certain market segment. No other competitor on the whole market would dare to take such step.

August 2013
Two female colleagues announce they are pregnant. Both will give birth in March 2014 and are due to return from maternity leaves in spring 2015…

September 2013
The Company decides to exit another relationship with a large customer. We entered it for prestige, rather than for income…

October 2013
Dude arranges for a substitute for pregnant girls. The new colleague will work for us as part of secondment for half a year. Soon she turns out to be anything but productive. After two weeks I begin counting down days until the end of March when her secondment ends. Months with her in the team are a rough ride…

November 2013
A guy who left the Company a few months ago calls to persuade me to join his team in a company in which he took office as director upon the departure. The prospective employer is government-controlled and is not a part of international corporation, meaning doing business is subject to political influences and I would not use English everyday. Both reservations are a huge drawback for me. I turn down the offer.
My motivation is in the slump, particularly after several people I have worked with are laid off…

December 2013
In this month and some time earlier other important customers decide to quit or decrease scopes of relationships with the Company. No new ones are acquired to take place of them, resulting in idle capacity…

January 2014
I’m faced with another proposal of a new job. Having weighed up all pros and cons, I decline it, despite realising the current job is dead-end. Another customer terminates its co-operation, this time for operating reasons (the service provided proved unreliable for too many times).

February 2014
Dude hires a new girl. Very self-focused and inefficient. Dude, even if manages to delegate tasks, fails to enforce execution.
I find a job opening from posted by the New Factory. It seems appealing, but for the time being, I decide not to apply. I don’t want to earn a reputation of a person who turns up for interviews and then kicks up a fuss.
Another strategic customer severs the relationship with the Company, as competitors offer it lower prices for services.
Applications presenting opportunities to provide a profitable service for two prospective customers are negatively opined by decision makers…
During annual appraisal, I tell Dude I don’t fee a future for myself in the Company and cite reasons why (see above). He tells me has no doubt I would find a job somewhere else and I’m replaceable. He seems to really believe there must be a breaking point at which someone realises the Company needs to be turned around. I am of the opinion by the end of 2015 our business segment will have been wound down.

March 2014
No new customer acquired since the beginning of the year and another one lost. There are days when I am at the loose end most of the time… The only upside is that the end of colleague’s secondment draws near.
The Soulmate is determined to find a new job. Our plan is that she leaves first, I soldier on, but demand a substantial pay rise and quit a few months later.

7 April 2014
In my LinkedIn box I find a message from a recruiter from the New Factory relating to the job opening I saw in early February. If they approach me, not the other way round, at least there’s no risk of being perceived as the one who kicks up the fuss. In response I send my CV.

8 April 2014
A recruiter from the New Factory invites me for a meeting two days later.

10 April 2014
In the morning I call Dude and tell him I’ll be late as the French electronics in my car packed up in the rain and I ended up in a garage and I’m waiting to get the car fixed. (Megane has had a track record of no single breakdown since the wipers mechanism breakdown in May 2013)
In earnest, the new job is not perfect (none would be), but reasonable. Scope of duties and role in the process is very similar to what I do at the Company. My salary expectations are exorbitant, so I’m prepared to adjust down my demands.

17 April 2014
I receive the letter of intent from the New Factory. They are unwilling to beat down my expected salary … I respond positively.

22 April 2014
Members of management board having decision-making authority all take seven days off to take fortnight-long holidays and do not delegate their authorities, which results in decision-making paralysis. If a customer turns to us with a request regarding the terms of service, it has to wait until first week of May. At any other firm in the industry such event is unthinkable. This probably is a part of pursuit of “Priority for clients” strategy…

23 April 2014
In a newsletter sent out to all employees, CEO of the Company delineates a strategy which assumes customers from the business line I deal with will be “acquired selectively”. If I can read well between the lines, it means withdrawal from this business line and inexorable redundancy for me… By the way, how does the CEO imagine execution of such strategy, if reputation of the Company with the target has already been spoiled?

24 April 2014
I am designated to co-ordinate a project. It is bound to fail, but I politely agree to take up all the tasks…

25 April 2014
Dude hands out missives containing the information on annual bonus. What a golden handshake! Seriously, again I feel very bad about hiding my intention to leave…

28 April 2014
Needless to say no new customers have been acquired since the beginning of 2014 and loss of two other by the end of May looms large.

29 April 2014
My bank account is credited with the bonus. Now no one can change the discretionary decision on granting it, nor take back the transfer order. Dude and I are dealing until late afternoon with absurdities unknown to other companies. When I knock off he sighs and says: ‘it’s been a crazy day, I hope tomorrow will be uneventful’.

30 April 2014
I’m damn stressed-out, I can’t focus on work, my hands quake. Dude turns up to the office late. He’s angry and refuses to talk to us. After a quarter he slightly cheers up and reminds us of holiday planning.

I ask him to come with me to a meeting room for a face-to-face conversation and when we get there, without further ado I hand in my notice. Dude is kind of crestfallen but keeps a cool head. His first reaction is absolutely correct – he tries to renegotiate my salary; to no effect. I quickly retort if this was only a matter of money, I would tell him straightforwardly I want more and we would probably strike a deal. I point out if the Company was forging ahead, I would connive at all the stuff that fucks me up and get ahead with it, but when I see it being wound down, I see no other choice. Dude asks, whether I wouldn’t consider carrying on my misery until girls return from maternity leaves. I refuse and further argue there is no point in staying. I explain we can either embrace the way the Company is run or reject it and I can see no in between. We can either shape up or ship out. I’ve been shaping up for some time, now there’s the opportunity to ship out… The Company has worn me down… I feel under my skin Dude thinks the same, as most people do, but he’s far from having the comfort of speak it out. Dude refuses to countersign my notice for the time being. He has to talk to Commander-in-chief.

We return to our desk. Dude most probably informs Commander-in-chief by e-mail about my decision. At some point Commander’s merry face turns red. Hard to guess whether he’s stumped, shell-shocked, frightened, bemused. He asks Dude to have a face-to-face chat immediately. They’re away for half an hour which seems to last ages. They come back. Commander-in-chief is livid. Dude now asks the Soulmate to come with him. Next thirty minutes wear on. I still wonder what the hell they are talking about.

Two hours after the bomb was detonated, Dude countersigns my notice. Within next hours things get back to normal. It’s good the atmosphere seems to have cleaned up. I’ll work here till the end of July (one third of that time I’ll be on holiday, but never mind), so making life harder makes little sense.

Just like in choosing a person you will spend the rest of your life with, there’s no point of raising the bar too high when looking for a job. In both cases you run a serious risk of not finding a partner or employer. The New Factory meets three criteria I have set: it is a meaningful player in the industry, keeps growing and its profits incline as well, I will use English in everyday work and I will have the chance to develop and learn, as it is involved in doing businesses the Company shies away from. Apart from this, I don’t expect it to be perfect. As everywhere, corporate structure and people will be more and less tolerable, but at least it offers prospects the Company lacks…