Oh, poppets. I have discovered what makes you look weirder than a punk rocker or a Goth, and it is a 1940s hairdo, especially if you have long hair. As I looked at myself in the hairdresser's mirror, my little heart sank. I sported modified 1940s hairdos in elementary school, when rollers fixed my fuzzy hair into smooth waves for Picture Days, but this was much, much worse. Instead of two balanced victory rolls, I had one huge victory roll and two pin curls on either side. I crept out of the salon half-expecting to be accosted by school bullies. Taxi!
However, I am not in school but a grown-up and I spent the day inside grown-up Summerhall listening to very grown-up topics as part of the Polish Scottish Heritage Festival.
The first lecture was Scottish Nationalist Party propaganda disguised with a thin veneer of history. The lecture was supposed to be about Scottish migration in the 16th to early 18th centuries to Poland, i.e. between the early days of the Scottish Reformation and the Union of Scotland and England. What economic factors sent the Protestant Scots to Poland, you might ask. Terrible restrictions because pre-union Scotland was in direct competition with powerhouse England? And what economic factors following upon the Union stopped Scots from going there, you might also ask. Astonishing Scottish economic growth? And although what I wanted to do was pass unnoticed (if such a thing was possible, given the size of my victory roll), I did ask these questions. AND DID NOT BL**DY WELL GET STRAIGHT ANSWERS. Because the whole point of the lecture was not to discuss historical realities but to exploit Polish sympathies for nationalism to get more "Yes" votes for the separatist referendum.
I asked the only questions because the other "questions" were actually just other Scotsmen listening to themselves talk, and I do not recall which one it was who tried to draw parallels between Scotland's role in the United Kingdom with the three partitions of Poland, but the speaker certainly did not say that was a stretch. Seven of Britain's Prime Ministers have been born in Scotland; pretending Scots have been groaning under foreign domination since 1707 is ahistorical, an insult and a lie. Not only is it an insult to generations of Scots in Britain, and to Britain in general, but an insult to generations of Poles who suffered in ways the vast majority of Scots born since 1707 could not possibly imagine. How interesting that Poles continue to be exploited, this time by Scottish pseudo-intellectuals prostituting history for their "Yes" votes.*
The speaker was wearing a "YES" button--believe me, it was THAT obvious. I was so angry, I thought the rest of the day would be ruined for me. First I had mad hair, and second the Scots Nats seemed to have hijacked the Scottish Polish Heritage Festival. However, I then heard two excellent testimonies from Scots about Polish experiences in the Second World War and after, in Poland and Scotland. One Scot had a Polish father, and the other had aided Polish displaced persons in Germany in the 1950s and become a Polonophile. The latter wrote a series of short stories, and I was so impressed by her reading that I bought her book. The former's book sounded interesting, too, but he hogged the question period as the woman sat there quietly, so he lost my buyer's sympathy.
Next was an American film called "The Officer's Wife", about the Katyn massacre and the deportation of two million Poles to Siberia. It was very good although natually very depressing. I was curious about the voice given to the actress reading the memoirs of filmmaker's Polish-Chicago grandmother; it sounded neither Polish nor Chicago. It was also political, but at least it wasn't a cheap ploy to get the Poles living in Scotland to vote against the Union (which is not, IMHO) in their economic or political interests AT ALL. No, the film is 100% anti-Soviet and 99.99% anti-current Russian regime, which--given the events described by the film--is fair enough.
Then there was a concert in the main hall by Polish folk singers, which was very loud and reminded me that, although I am a huge fan of Polish pop music of the interwar--and war--period, and have a soft spot for the 1950s stuff (condemned by Polish Pretend Son as Stalinist forced cheer), and enjoy Disco Polo and other modern Polish stuff (and Chopin), I do not like village stuff. I really do not like Polish village stuff. I dislike it so much, I wrote a note to remind myself because every time I think I will like it this time, I do not. And as the room was very crowded with enthusiastic Polish folk music lovers, and I already stuck out like a sore victory roll, I couldn't escape. Oh dear. But at least that wasn't anti-British either. And when it was done, I tied a scarf around my head, like your great-grandmothers, and went out into the outside world for coffee.
My self-confidence improved drastically an hour or so later when I put on my 1940s gear in the Summerhall toilet reserved for the disabled. I had proper 1940s corsetry (squeeeeeze) and tights with lines down the back. I had a long black dress that could have been from the 1940s, black gloves and shoes of a rather 1940s-looking design. I had chunky rhinestone jewellery. Above all, I had brown eyeshadow with which to 1940sfy my eyebrows and super-dark red lipstick. And so I no longer looked simply peculiar but like a 40-something woman in 1940.
The reason many of us all think we look young for our age is because nothing was as aging to our grandmothers and great-grandmothers as the great divide between Maidens' Clothes and Matrons' Clothes. Once upon a time, once you were of a certain age, you HAD to stop dressing like a young woman. And, lo, if you were over thirty in 1940 you might have looked like this:
My mother says I looked magnificent and my hair is just like that of my grandmother in a photo my mother keeps on her mirror, but she has not offered it to my view as proof. Frankly, I thought I was not going to make a very good wingwoman for my Single pal after all, for surely the male reaction to my hair would be to fall about laughing.
But no. After supper and the Katy Carr concert, there was a swing dance, and at this dance I was suddenly SEIZED by a Polish Pretend Pilot (out of uniform) of about 60 and made to swing-dance all over the floor. He had a huge grey moustache and was delicately scented with tobacco and was reluctant to speak in either Polish or English, but I thought I would introduced him to my Single pal anyway. At first she did not look happy with this, for although our saviour from wallflowerdom was an excellent dancer, he was also familiarly affectionate, as if we were his long-lost grand-daughters.
Personally, I expect to be squeezed just a little too much and kissed soundly on the cheek or forehead by slightly tipsy cigarette smokers I have never met before on the dance floor. It is the price one pays for partner dancing. Indeed, I bet generations of women would agree with me, although nobody would admit it. However, my pal is a little more fastidious, so she looked rather irked, but she is also endlessly forgiving, so she may have forgotten about the over-squeezing and face-kissing already.
So after we had both been rescued from wallflowerdom, we went to the bar fashioned out of a room across the hall. The Scots barman had three bottles of vodka behind him, but he literally thought I was joking when I asked for mine straight. He even laughed. "They told me this one goes with apple juice," he said, so I had my zubrowka with apple juice, and it was actually very good. It also gave me the courage for my next wingwoman manoeuvre, so pay attention.
"We must dance with younger men," said I to my Single Pal. She agreed and bewailed the new male tendency not to ask women they don't know to dance. Primed with vodka, I looked around the room for anyone I knew, even slightly. But the only person I knew was Kasia, who looked great, by the way. However, I did recognize one of the men as someone who goes to various of Kasia's Polish poetry events, so I carted my Single Pal along to where he was talking to another youngish man, and I said, "Hey! I know you! You're a friend of Kasia's!"
This of course flies in the face of "The Rules", but I did not care because, being married, I am not interested in male strangers at parties as anyone other than men who might ask my Single Pals to dance. If great cosmic punishment falls upon those who talk to strange men at parties, it will fall on me, not on my innocent Single Pals. Perhaps this is one reason why Single Girls should have Married Pal friends. The caveat is that the Married Pal shouldn't look too obviously married and as if she were merely trying to marry off her Single friend. No, no, no. The Married Pal must look interested in whomever for himself, so that if he shrinks from her brazenness, her friend will look better by comparison. If he recoils with maidenly disgust, the really Single friend can roll her eyes in sympathy and apology and thus create a BOND of shared feeling with the cute stranger.
"Which Kasia?" asked the Polish guy, smirking. "I have two friends here named Kasia."
Oooh. Polish surnames. You know, I see them on Facebook, but it is years before I actually sound them out to myself, let alone memorize them. Faking your way through them is not really an option but...
"Kasia Kokosanka", I claimed.
The Polish guy laughed and well he might, for kokosanka, I have since discovered, means coconut cake.
"That's not her name," he said, chortling away.
"So what is it?" I asked, and as he could not remember, I said he had a lot of nerve laughing at me in that case. I then introduced him to my Single Pal, and eventually he asked her to dance. Ta-dah! (Victory roll.)
I then talked to his non-Polish pal, and eventually asked him to dance, as I cannot resist Irving Berlin songs, and had a marvelous time. My Single Pal may have helpfully corrected any potential misunderstandings by mentioning, when the non-Polish pal made inquiries, that I was married. I think I was back in the arms of Mr Squeezy Moustache at the time.
At 11:15 or so, the crowd had thinned out a bit, and my Single Pal and I rushed off to our respective buses which, conveniently, came to the same stop almost simultaneously. And so I was safely home by midnight, and instead of facing dismay that his wife had run about town with attention-getting hair, Benedict Ambrose took a lot of photos.
"Did that really only cost forty pounds?" he asked, which as you may discover, is one of the nicest things a husband can say, combining flattery about your looks with the assertion that they didn't cost you that much. (Second victory roll!)
*Poles resident in Scotland can vote for or against the Union in September's Scottish so-called "independence" referendum. No-one living in any other part of the UK, including those born in Scotland of Scottish parentage, can vote. Four million people, including 16 year olds and people not born anywhere in the UK (including me), get to make a decision that will potentially worsen the lives of sixty-two million people. Nice, eh? Before the SNP got into power, "independence", never mind Scottish republicanism, was a fringe interest. IMHO this whole stramash is a vanity project for Scottish politicians without the talent or clout to get anywhere in the Union as a whole. As I said, at least seven Scots have been Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom, a major first world power. Why we're going to chuck this in... Oh well. If the economy collapes, B.A. and I can always go to Canada, and the Poles can always go back to Poland or to England, which I hope would weather the storm.