Saturday 1 March

There is a hint of snow in the air so we leave the black trees of Dabrowski square shivering and settle for a day of pampering within the gelatinous glasswork of Warsaw’s main shopping centre. Bateman has his hair restructured at great expense while next door in a pet emporium I blow a hundred or so zlotys on a pair of guinea-pig earmuffs. The day’s only inconvenience is represented by a uniformed jobsworth telling Bateman that pictorial representation is not permitted inside this microclimate of consumerism. An inevitable flash of violence but the tub of hair product he has purchased is simply too expensive to be flung at such a skivvy. Soon after, genuine disaster strikes. We share the same bank and have made the same mistake in failing to inform the dozing drones back home that we are heading east. Fraud, they assume, the moment they spot an exotic transaction. A day-and-a-half into our trip and there are no more funds to be had…

On the way back to our artist’s hostel we see two tramps on the square looking happier, and drunker, than us. The bar is full of giddy holidaymakers who must assume that the two Brits in the corner are recreating a childhood game in shuffling coins across their table. No, after a comprehensive search of our room, this is what remains of our funds. If we make our beers last until ‘happy hour’ at seven, we can get a packet of cigarettes and another beer each before bed. Having lost the toss I head out into the snow. The two tramps greet me like I am one of their own – not yet my friends, not yet.

‘Do you speak English?’ I ask the shop assistant.

She doesn’t understand. The silver moustache of the rotund proprietor attempts to flee his gammon-like face.

‘Do you speak Polish?’ he booms.


He flops his arms back down to his sides, the resulting huff almost toppling my nicotine-starved body. This is not a good time to be asking them for their cheapest cigarettes.

Back at the bar, we smoke, wondering how my calculations could have been so very wrong. Then something wonderful happens. We meet that most treasured of holiday companions – the travel-worn couple seeking company. Better still, the male has clearly been banned from drinking excessively for some days now. He takes his chance, urged on by every silent molecule of our beings. And who are we to interfere, when wine is ordered all round? Who are we to argue with this strong, decent fellow, selected in her infinite wisdom by this charming woman, up in the Highlands all those years ago? By the time we are at an ice bar, wrapped in furs, drinking wodka from ice glasses, she has happily melted, our troubles evaporated for now.

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