APASS 2005 - Obóz językowy Puławy - WEEK TWO ►

◄ ...you take the low road, and I'll be in Gdansk afore ye.

2005-09-24APASS 2005 - Obóz językowy Puławy - WEEK THREE

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Monday. New classrooms... argh. Ceilidh... argh. When we'd arranged an evening with Scottish dancing, we had someone (Sally) who knew dances and had done it a week or two earlier. In the event, Katie and Joel did amazingly well, both impressively not only not denying all past knowledge, but managing to come up with a couple of dances much more practical than the one my sister had left written instructions for. The entire day and indeed much of this final week were quite ad hoc, which people coped with admirably.

The new classroom situation was less ideal for some people than others. Most were in the basement, including rooms we'd been using for afternoon activities such as the kitchen/infirmary. I'd say about half of the eight downstairs had good lighting. One of the two on the main floor was really nice, designed as a classroom, whilst our group had the hall most of the evening activities were held in. I don't know if you've tried it, but teaching in a large room with an echo isn't ideal, nor is being unable to leave resources in place and lock them in. We coped, as it was only for four days, but bear in mind that's four out of twelve days that had timetabled morning lessons. Yes, on a conversational language camp you get a lot of contact time with students outside those three-hour slots, but if the situation could be arranged for future so that more appropriate rooms for classes were available—for the duration of a camp—better results could be obtained.

To provide some continuity during the move, the plan was to finish off watching Harry Potter during the first half of the morning. Unfortunately, we couldn't get hold of the VCR from the small language school and only had a DVD player in the Bursa. The first half went ahead as normal, whilst one person ran into town to see if they could find the film for rental in town, but no luck. The Incredibles (which one of the Polish staff had and we'd watched ourselves the evening before) was substituted. In retrospect it might have been better to have aborted the promised video session altogether, being as the second film didn't quite fit into the time available, but a number of groups got some imaginative creative writing on super-powers out of it afterwards.

In the evening, Katie and Geoff caught a Ukrainian kid trying to slip into the bathroom they shared with Jess and Steph. When challenged, he tried to bluff his way out by claiming Jess and Steph's room was his—"I go to my room now," going for the handle and waving, the works. Naturally they found this quite amusing, despite a degree of rising indignation, marching the brat down to Magda. It turns out that various kids—not Polish ones from our camp, mind—had been using staff en-suites, and nicking shampoo and shower gel. The trouble with locking the outer doors of the rooms built like this, though, was lack of keys to give to both rooms sharing a hallway and bathroom.

This didn't seem hugely irritating at the time, kids being kids, etc. Looked at calmly and rationally, though, we were moved from a communal setup to individual rooms split up around three towers of a building, mixed in corridors with kids from our own and other camps. The wording of the APASS contract document is equivocal when it states that team leaders have a duty to:

6) c) ... ii) ... Insist that the British team has separate accommodation from the Polish students.

No mention is made of what this separation should entail. Now, I'd think it a given that no staff member should ever share a room with students, so the intent is that staff be placed away from student rooms. I would also assume, by spirit of the statement given, that the same would apply if the students were Ukrainian rather than Polish.

Since it was considered reasonable to move staff during camp, it might also have been reasonable to consolidate students and residents on floors, using one floor of one wing to accomodate staff separately from students and other resident teens.

This had also briefly been an issue during the previous week, when Richard (and Viks, I think) were going back to Rich's room on the same corridor as students. A Polish staff member (from another camp, actually) got rather arsey about them carrying drinks back to their room and having paused to talk to members of someone's group. Investigation revealed this to be an individual stirring (no alcohol was consumed in the company of students, as I'd expected was the case, and I'd have taken very seriously.) However, staff should not have been placed in this situation by being accommodated with students.

(Magda was incredibly apologetic as she was bringing the above to my attention, feeling that she was only seeing us to pull us out of meals and convey things like this; such as when local kids turned up looking for Joel on the pretext of having arranged to meet, because he'd spoken with them about football teams earlier. (Quickly resolved by finding and sending Joel to tell them to clear off. He hadn't arranged to meet with them; they were out to cadge cigarettes and borrow sports equipment, natch.) I did what I could to reassure her this wasn't how we saw it, that we understood it was just a function of the job, etc. Excepting one slip of "right, I'll go kill people" on hearing the alcohol story. Note for self: use language less euphemistically in company of non-native speakers.)

After a last profligate use of balloons to fill time after ceilidh practise, Tuesday saw the inauguration of "games and drama" as cricket, which went over with equal measures of confusion and enthusiasm. Earlier in the second half of morning lessons we tried to salvage Monday's combined video session, but met with even less success than then... the VCR ate the tape, The Incredibles turned out to have been returned, and a last-ditch improvisation of Father Ted didn't work particularly well... in part because that DVD lacked Polish subs, but partly I think because "Hell" isn't all that funny an episode—from season two and the show as a whole, in my opinion, nothing rocks like "Tentacles of Doom" for slapstick or character humour. A few in the higher groups really enjoyed the comedy, but the plan of finishing Harry Potter for discussion was dead in the water, and with exams on Friday a moratorium on videos seemed in the best interests of everyone.

On the plus side, certificates were done and dusted, reports were beginning to trickle in, and I'd had chance to get a second test written in the format of the first one, as well as some copies of the original test printed for people to plan revision from.

We spent the tail end of Wednesday's lesson planning what the kids were going to do as a group for the final presentation. No-one seemed keen to sing, so I told them the story of Billy and the dragon, which they seemed to buy as an alternative. Not the first time I've improvised lesson material out of a Crocketts song and I'm sure it won't be the last... anyway, I went and bought some big pieces of card from town, found a plastic sword on one of the market stalls, typed out enough script for a several minute sketch —well, if they hammed it up a bit—and taped together conical hats, signs and a dragon mask. Danielle managed to track down coloured blankets for the dragon and the royalty, which meant we just had to persuade our king (the most confident speaker in the class) that his part wasn't too long or complicated for him to pull off.

Later we were invited to an evening of traditional Polish dance, performance and food. We'd already seen some of the traditional food at the staff party in the first week, including dishes of rendered fat—I'm not sure about Poland, but in Ukraine salo is the name given to it—and gherkins and cheeses, laid on as nibbles rather than a meal. The dance was a large ensemble affair involving synchronised walking in patterns and curtseying mid-stride, and the Polish staff and kids had borrowed some of our team to join in, practising in secrecy the day before. (Very sensibly they didn't ask me, though I may have escaped only because I'd vanished into town for art supplies.) There was also a short play about a damsel getting kidnapped and rescued, and after that an audience participation game derived from old courting ritual. Hopefully others took better photos.

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Thursday was the final day of proper lessons, so we did a refresh of exam content in the first half and then got on with presentation rehearsals. We'd actually lost our Billy to illness at this point, so plans were hatched to steal Mark as a substitute until it was confirmed a bit later that Billy would hang in for the evening. Once we'd glued cue cards onto appropriate props and got everybody projecting for the audience a bit more, we broke for sweets, played some vocab games and went back to getting in another few run-throughs of the story.

Coming out of lessons, several other groups seemed busy with plans to skive afternoon activities and practise further, but our class assured us they were happy with where we'd got to and to just turn up in the evening and perform. Since we had time after dinner, a bunch of us who hadn't had chance to mail out postcards went to find the post office to get airmail stamps. A pleasant discovery was the first issue of a Lobo reprint comic series, so I picked one up to have a go at with a dictionary once camp was over.

I then spent afternoon activity time getting the Friday tests run off and duplicated, along with some typed copies of the oral assessment criteria Sally had come up with first time around. Sounds easy, right? Well, apparently when Magda had done the first lot, she'd photocopied one side then fed the sheets back through to do the other side, a few at a time... perhaps I lack a gentle touch, but I can't see how she managed it. No copier ever used has ever liked printed paper being fed back through it. We were running too low on paper to waste the amount getting chewed up, so it was over to plan B. The laser printer didn't like re-feeding much either, but it grudgingly acceded to pick up only single sheets most of the time. Afterwards, Anj helped me collate and staple the things.

The evening presentations went off pretty well; we had sketches (with everything from dragons and fights to gravediggers to Henry VIII), songs, and Group 10 explained their Sunland shared hallucination to everyone else with a short play and lots of dressing up in drag. Mark got roped into more costume work, this time as a wolf. The presentations were followed by a traditional game—and, like all traditional games, there's a story that goes with it. Each person gets a wool necklace, onto which are tied lots more short threads of wool. The idea is that you have to go to everyone, tie a piece of your own wool onto their necklace and say something nice. This would encourage communities to talk to each other rather than getting too self-absorbed...

For the unfortunate blokes participating, it had echoes of last Monday's variety evening and not knowing where to safely place eyes—with the added complication of blindly tying bits of wool and trying not to accidentally grope people or stab them in the neck. James succeeded in huddling in the corner for a surprisingly long time before being dragged up by a group of girls who were determined to see him smile before they left... I don't know if it was coincidence but shortly after that a cascade of sobbing swept across the hall, as it sank in that there were only a few days of camp left and hormones took over... anyway, the rest of the event saw much shoulder-patting, whilst intimidated lads slowly circled the room, looking desperate to avoid making eye contact.

All of which made this seem a very appropriate point to go and find a drink. This was the first time I'd been to Smok, a jazz club next to the bar we'd adopted. There weren't any jazz events whilst we were there, but it was a nice place you wouldn't suspect was there from its outward appearance (on the top floor of a building with a ramp leading up to it.) I say drink, but I'd pretty much given up trying to find beer in Poland, so I was on coffee and chips for the evening. (Mmm, carbs and spicy ketchup.) I did try to find a nice pint a couple of evenings later, something my diary notes wasn't wildly successful...

Dog in the Fog beer label

"One of the reasons vodka is so popular may be because stouts are very obscure here; most bars will have Okocim, Żywiec, Warka, Lech or Tyskie on tap, which are lager beers. Bars with bottled stock may have porter varieties (dark beer) which is more palatable... or the comically-named halfway house Dog in the Fog. This is the right colour and does contain malt, but tastes heavily of sugar. Be wary, because helpful bar staff will recommend it if they realise you're English—in fact, in general don't assume that just because something looks like beer that it might be. You could end up drinking Karmi (another novelty brand which tastes rather like bottled liquorice.) Guinness in bottles is sometimes available in larger areas, but it's likely to be disproportionately expensive. You'd think that with supermarket shelves stocked with beers with names such as Dublin and Belfast, it'd be a lot easier to get one of Ireland's more notable drinks in a pub. Alas, it's generally not the case..."

I left to go and get some sleep a bit after midnight, knowing full well that marking was going to be a sod and that it'd take a while to set up the orals first thing. Plus we'd got drinks in for after the kids' disco the next night, when things would feel more finished.

Friday duly dawned, with the slight panic of having realised just before I crashed that I'd put the exam papers and oral sheets in Classroom 2, and had to go and get the key from Jane and Vicky. Then it was just a case of slinging the chairs and tables in there into my classroom, and rounding me up some teachers. A little easier said than done, so I sent those who'd made it to breakfast to wake everyone else whilst I corralled the kids who were trickling downstairs. Rich turned up from somewhere, cheering Joel up, as he'd been unable to get into their room the evening before and ended up crashing on a spare bed in someone else's. James put in a startlingly vertical appearance, so I paired him with Danielle, who was much chirpier—and, more usefully, still possessed the power of coherent speech. I reckon everything balanced out eventually.

Things seemed to go smoothly once we were set up. The oral marks were far and above better than the first time around, in large part perhaps because we were familiar faces by that point and they'd just had three weeks of practise, but there was plenty of new vocabulary and confidence evident by the feedback I got. Half a dozen of us managed to get the multiple-choice part of the papers marked quickly (with as much amusement/ bemusement at some of the replies as there'd been with the first paper) and then we broke for the official closing ceremony of the camp.

This... er, could have gone smoother, perhaps. It was a warm day, and with everyone in the hall a few people visibly wilted before we got the windows open. Paul had to retreat part-way through, both with the heat and the fear another wooden chair would break on him. We gave out participation certificates to our classes, got given CV documents and thankyou gifts (I got a hipflask!) and there was a cornucopia of prize / participation certificates to follow, including beanie toys and sports equipment. There were so many certificates, in fact, that some kids who'd participated in lots of things were up as soon as they'd sat down, and attention spans and temperatures that the applause grew rather perfunctory. This didn't go unnoticed, thankfully, so the last few rounds of certs were grouped and that let the kids go before any of them passed out.

With those formalities done and dusted, people turned attention to writing out notes and getting sweets to go in their classes' envelopes if they hadn't already. This novel idea involved sticking up posters for students and staff with an A5 envelope for each person. The Polish staff hadn't reckoned on Katie putting Kinder eggs in her kids' ones, though, so we used bluetack we'd been collecting up to keep things on the wall until they were taken down in the evening. They'd then be given out as kids started to leave, and no-one was supposed to peek inside their envelope until an agreed time.

All that remained was for me to mark the essays, which only one person could in the interests of fair marking. I blagged the sekretariat for this, which had a nice big desk and the bonus of an infrequent stream of distractions (enough to force breaks, but not prevent me getting stuff done.) I had a nice chat with the Irish lady from the music camp, one of my kids came to say thanks (which was heartrending watching him try to pick words, and of course I can't form sentences in Polish... argh) and after a while some of my team figured out where I was. All told, ninety-odd essays took about four and a half hours at full tilt, Danielle kindly typing up the new score table whilst I finished up the essays. I almost wish I'd cut "friends & family" off as one of the essay subjects, as lots of kids went for it, and about as many recycled content they'd used before, "knew" (at least partly) and were comfortable with. The trouble with descriptive prose focused on people is that it lends itself too readily to repetition, affording little opportunity to gain credit for creative use of vocab. Those that did have the confidence to experiment were rewarded for it, anyhow, as well as going some way toward preserving my sanity.

Final reckoning revealed that most kids were ten or twenty marks up on their entry scores, some having doubled in the lower groups. Higher oral marks certainly helped most overall, but I was pleased to see some of my group grasp contractions (it's, she's, they've and so on) and have more of a go at the essay. At least a few have the curiosity to make intuitive links and progress to be quite fluent if they study English further, which I hope they will. At the very least, I hope we didn't turn them off languages.

Feck knows what time it was by the time we got down to the staff social, but everyone seemed cheerfully drunk. I tried the Bear's Blood, which was actually pleasant—it stands to reason that I'd only buy decent wine by accident—and people cooed at their group's marks. There was singing (which Rich seemed very insistent I join in on, so everyone's R&R was interrupted with caterwauling in the form of Nita Nitro—hey, I tried to tell him. I got up on stage for two years at college by way of proving I can't sing, but I'm not shy when pressed and don't have to be drunk.) Fortunately, the Manics tunes by others were a bit more melodious. There was also dancing, mostly to recent indie pop—if any indie kids are reading this, incidentally, have a listen to The Crimea—and conversation in German. (I even managed to follow a bit of Paul's explanation of Nita Nitro—if you're wondering at the choice of language, it was a convenient common tongue for much of the evening, as some of the Polish staff were fluent in it and so's he.) The rest was a tapestry of drunken confidences I was sober enough to both recall and forget, and the occasional pratfall—not mine, because supper had been a large bag of crisps, so I'd had a lot more mugs of tea than wine—followed by sweet, sweet unconsciousness.

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I slept it off Saturday, more than a little knackered and not expecting most of the kids to leave until late or next day. It turns out a few of the ones who'd figured out where our room was had come up to try and get final test scores before heading off, but neither me nor Glyn were conscious enough to register that. If I'd thought, I could've stuck a list of grades on the door before collapsing at 4am... and if I'd known so many were heading off early I definitely would have. I don't know if any of the planned activities (sports day at the pool and an observatory trip) went ahead in the end, although there did seem to be a fair number of kids milling through when we went and parked ourselves on the front step of the Bursa. Apparently by sleeping I'd evaded the efforts of two of my class to present me with chocolate long enough for them to eat it, so that was an awkward scene sidestepped— it isn't that gestures like that are unwelcome, I just rarely feel that they're deserved...

All in all it was a quiet day, which enabled me to chase up the last few reports, hand in papers and before/after scores to be forwarded to schools, and go round and check for items left in classrooms. We then procrastinated amongst ourselves about booking the restaurant we'd been to in the first week for the evening. In the event we had a few problems with the second visit—the food was nice (especially the mixed ice-cream selection, which included a marzipan flavoured scoop) but with most people finishing their meals, Geoff's still hadn't materialised. Katie subsequently berated management down to half price on their orders, which was something, I suppose, and Jane made the observation that we were supposed to be opening our envelopes at 8'o'clock, and people in different parts of Poland would be thinking of each other as they did so. Aw... Clearly a more romantic soul; it hadn't occurred to me the sign on the envelope board might be anything more than trying to get the kids not to sneak peeks right away.

Getting back, there was evidence that police had been round, the halls were clean of gunk in a way that suggested there'd been a lot and towels were down to stop steps being slippery. We also handed in a phone we'd found on the driveway... word from some of the kids Paul was talking to was that there'd been a gathering outside and a local element had turned up. There also seemed to have finally been some disciplinary action on the part of their minders, judging by the clean-up operation inside.

Sunday saw the second group set off for the Ukraine, led by Paul as the only confident Russian speaker amongst them. This was a good arrangement as they had feedback from the last excursion to rely on, and Paul said he was looking forward to another couple of quiet days. Camp was by now a ghost-town and the Polish staff had departed (which made getting into the staffroom to get keys to anywhere else a rather amusing logistics exercise and when we did the DVD player was locked somewhere else, so we played Worms World Party (which did turn out to have been localised into Polish) for a couple of hours, and other people wandered off out for a drink. We even managed to get the net working a bit.) Magda, who'd popped across town earlier to take stuff home, came back, collected Richard (that surprised a few people) and headed off home again.

Friday's cold was kicking in with a vengeance, but I was looking forward to a couple of days with nothing much particular to do. I think this gap in schedule worked really well for us; lots of people liked to tourist (not a verb, but it should be) and could organise themselves. It also allowed plenty of time to pack, relax, do some shopping and recover.

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Monday was a national holiday, so a planned bus ride to Warsaw got put back a day, but some people hopped on another bus to Lublin in search of a national bugling competition mentioned in Lonely Planet. (I'm not making this up, I swear.) They didn't find it. Whilst they were doing that, the rest of us who didn't feel like getting up first thing explored Puławy a bit. We found the "palace" (another large house) easily enough, wandered around for a bit, and met up with others at the bar on the way back for a couple of afternoon shot rounds.

We also had a thorough bimble through town, finding another very large supermarket, teen-culture-on-a-peg clothes shops, ice-cream, and generally getting some fresh air.

On Tuesday various people went to Warsaw and bought tack, discovering themselves if they hadn't been already that it's a concrete wilderness but quite good for shopping. I couldn't face the Palace of Culture again. (The Palace of Culture... er, see for yourself and bear in mind that it's a lot less prepossessing without lights, and the sight from the top is the same as most surburban cities you'd find in the UK. In fact, it's a bit like Milton Keynes... which, if you remember from Good Omens, "was built to be modern, efficient, healthy, and, all in all, a pleasant place to live. Many Britons find this amusing." London would also be a fair comparison: being a capital city, Warsaw manages to be expensive in addition to being historically significant but slumping into urban decay, vandalism and crime. The city is actually the only place I've been in Poland I've felt unsafe, despite speaking only rudimentary Polish. In other areas I'll happily wander around by myself.)

The rest of us had another relaxing day, went and bought loose ends for travelling from Champion, did washing and got some packing done ahead of the next morning. Later, the second Ukraine party returned with the tale that they'd had to bribe border control to get back through in a sane timeframe rather than wait out a manufactured delay.

Boarding to go on Wednesday was fairly shambolic, but shouting wouldn't have made a scratch of difference; if we got to Auschwitz too late for the time the guide was booked, we got there too late. Eventually we got everyone and luggage just about squeezed into the minibus and trailer, Paul's Ukrainian girl came to say bye, and off we went.


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