Sunday 2 March
In the morning our man in Warsaw calls at the hostel, a guardian angel hovering over twin corpses, a cherubic offspring cradled in each arm, gently whispering the name of an unfeasibly liberal Dutch bank that will allow us the zlotys to proceed with what he must deem our crucial diplomatic mission. But this is the last time we will rely on the kindness of ex-pats, we determine as we yawn ourselves awake. From now on we must be strictly with and for the people, whether they like it or not.
‘Of course the train to Krakow runs on Sunday, why wouldn’t it?’ we are told at reception. I take it in my stride, bow politely and tug at Bateman’s overcoat until it covers his fluorescent blue long-johns. It is time to shut up and ship out.
Returning from the buffet carriage, pink-lipped from too much borsch, we discover that intruders have taken up residence in our gently bouncing compartment. Yet there will be no fighting here – their number (three) consisting of two female students and one middle-aged nun, all deep in contemplation. As the dun browns and greens of the Polish countryside shuffle by the nun leans across to demonstrate my useful, fold-down elbow table (perfect for prolonged pointing). I express delight through my eyebrows; she smiles serenely. The student opposite - hair like ripe straw, complexion of a fading harvest moon - looks up from her impenetrable geometry textbook and smiles penetrably. The pigeons snore peaceably in the luggage rack above us, Bateman is in one of his trances, the view isn’t much to look at, so why can’t I speak to this woman? Instinct tells me to the blame the nun, smiling like that – like we each have everything we could ever wish for already so what’s the use in misbehaving; I put her in the cocktail shaker with my religious family and produce a guilt-ridden, non-alcoholic Martini. A few more miles of trees and smiles and after much internal struggle I force myself to reconsider. Could it be that Batson ‘first to bat’, ‘bowl ‘em over’ Bargreaves has lost his nerve? I look to Bateman, he shuffles awkwardly, the student turns back to her book, the nun beams victoriously: we are almost there.
As my lost opportunity disappears into the shadows we soon realize they have been created by our imposing but softly spoken host, Kasper, who is kind enough to show us the sights on the way to the apartment he minds for our friends (a pair of wealthy English language teachers). While traveling relatively light you will not disagree that the modern man on the go must have the means to communicate as the fancy – personal, political, industrial – takes him and for this reason I have brought with me a small team of carriers led by Sanchez and with Lewis amply covering my back (must locate a dry-cleaners soon). While Sanchez, chomping on a cheroot, reports that morale is high amongst the birds, I don’t think anything had quite prepared them for the historic squares of Krakow. Here, we learn, the older section of the populace believes their peers to be nothing less than the reincarnated souls of the original warrior knights of Poland. As such they are fed, almost constantly, and judging from their smooth and shiny plumage, a damn sight better than they are in Manchester. In Market Square a large cast-iron head lies on its side in quiet reflection of times past. It is hollowed out, to allow room for further meditation one supposes, and we cannot help but be exasperated at the tourists who lark about it, disturbing the poor chap’s peace. Yet our superiority carries us lightly onwards - we have a Polish friend and protector; nothing can go wrong now.