Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Shops: Memories of Old England

Is there anywhere that hasn't changed in the last 50 to 60 years?

My family moved out of their Brixton flat to a house, 36 Seymour Road, Mitcham, Surrey. It must have been shortly after I was born, as my mother told me about the neighbours gathering around that novel product, a television, to watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. I cried too much as a baby for them to go up to London to watch the procession. (Mitcham became part of London, rather than Surrey in 1965.)

This picture is of a house in a different street, but by memory is quite similar in design. Ours was in the middle of the terrace rather than free standing, however.

My mother told me many years later that they moved out of Brixton because the Irish immigrants were bringing down the quality of the place. She particularly remembered seeing out of her window an Irishman standing naked in his flat opposite, hanging up his clothes to dry on the curtain rail. I had no concept of Brixton being an Irish centre when she told me: it was a centre of Jamaican life and culture by that time.

At the back of the house, the original outside toilet had been incorporated by the previous owners into an extension of the house, which included a bathroom. I assume this was quite normal, as the houses on either side also had bathrooms, although on one side, the previous owners hadn't got planning permission and the council was trying to get our neighbours to knock it down. Our extension had a bedroom built over it, giving us a three bedroomed house, with my brother and I having the luxury of separate rooms.

All heating (water and warmth) was by coal - used downstairs only, supplemented by electric fires or paraffin heaters. (We eventually got coal fire based radiators some years after we moved to a different house, although my bedroom was not included. I remember ice on the inside of the windows.) A land mine (ie a very large bomb) had exploded nearby during the war and the structure of the house was said by my mother to be unsound, although I couldn't see anything wrong with it. I think it was mainly that the cement between the bricks had disintegrated somewhat (although whether by the impact or age, I don't know). The floorboards downstairs were full of rot and woodworm: my mother nearly killed herself treating it with preventative fluid (which she then found out contained arsenic).

One of the distinguishing features of the area was that it had been used as a relocation and rehousing area for refugees from the blitzed Dockland area of East London. Some, such as the Heathcotes next door, lived in normal houses, but there were still quite a few of the temporary pre-fabricated huts that had become permanent housing. The Heathcotes had a car. Since we lived next door, we were one of the few families in the area that went out for day trips. Cars were a rare sight on our road.

What ever it's state then, it's still there, being sold in 2010 for 171,000 pounds and 223,000 in 2011: I think there must have been significant renovation work in the mean time. See the value graph below:

The miracles of the internet have made me digress. Such was the area in which I lived. On the corner of the turning at the end of our block of housing was a small shop called Krett's. I remember little about it, but it seemed dark and crowded. It had a counter with a glass show front, with produce scatted across the floor (a sack of potatoes, fire wood, etc) and wooden shelving units around the walls. It was not that dissimilar in internal impression from some of the older style rural shops still here in Poland. It's long since gone, overtaken not, I think, by supermarkets, but by the building of a new block of flats with a shop in the bottom, which is now Jalaram Food & Wine, a sub-Post Office.

I don't recall seeing a single Asian or other immigrant face when I was young. It was only sometime later that my Mother told me that the family at the bottom of our garden were Polish. I would never have known.

Apart from local shops, a distinguishing feature of England was the local pubs. Our district was not a 'pub on every corner' area, but there was one at the top of the road, a short way along the main road. I must have been taken in there once in my early teens. It still had gas lamps on the walls. I'd heard of gas lighting, but had never seen it before. Although they were not used, they were still there 'just in case'. (I suspect that the cost of redecoration was the real reason.) Much of the seating was plain wooden benches, attached to and running along the sides of the walls. It looked a bit like something out of a Victorian picture, compared to the pubs in the centre of Mitcham. I had worked in my school holidays which looked very different. If my Mum was busy, the owners of an old coaching inn, complete with stables for the horses, would look after me at lunchtime. I also went into others. They were modern in comparison. (To protect my Mum's honour as not being a daily pub goer, she had admirers who took her out and, given the lack of money for babysitters, I went along.)

Although I have few specific memories of the Krett's corner shop, the idea of it being there is clear. My mother told me that other people did not like Mr Krett, but that he had been very good to us, allowing us children to stay when she had to go out and couldn't find anywhere else to leave us.

It is only my life in Poland that could possibly have brought the idea up, but is 'Krett' an English name? It was such a part of my growing up that I had no reason to think otherwise: it is not a very popular surname, but there are plenty of those. I even wonder whether other people disliking him because he was Jewish. The wonder of the internet (not for a second even dreamed of in those days) came to my help.

There are a scattering of Krett's in England and Wales and the US, with references found to Germany, France and other parts of Old Europe. And then I came across

Their search facility gave me this Google result, showing that Slovakia is full of people with the surname 'Krett'. I also found some in southern Poland, near to the Slovakian border (I think). It's a reasonable guess that Krett, or his family were from (Czecho)Slovakia.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Shops: an English introduction

Mentioning Jeremy Paxton's book recently, “The English” brings me neatly into the subject of shops.

I feel that food shops in Poland have changed dramatically in the past 10 to 15 years and have been considering the issue of 'quality' shops. My two problems are that the places I know may well be unrepresentative of Poland generally, and that what I take notice of and consider important may be different to other people. I've found this about England.

Jeremy Paxton's 1998 vision of English towns (presumably pre-mobile phone times) gives his perception:

A little bit of Kingston-on-Thames in 2006:

“If one [an old style, red telephone kiosk] still survives it as an ornament to a 'heritage site', as one shop after another is colonized by burger bars and pizzerias. In these places … High Streets are either jammed with cars or pedestrianized, the newly laid cobbles, wrought iron lampposts and litter bins a self-conscious imagination of how the place might have looked in Victorian days... [Comment on city centres in historic tourist centres.] Elsewhere, the small traders have vanished, replaced by branches of retail chains selling anything from kitchen utensils to babyware: a nation of shopkeepers become a nation of checkout operators.”

Cambridge in 2011. The Victorian lampposts have disappeared, if they were ever there. No cobble stones.

What I mostly recognise from his description is people complaining on television about how terrible everything now is compared to the romantic past, eg lampposts and litter bins being criticised as hugely expensive monstrosities, although these were equally matched by (the same type of) people who complained about cheap ugly modern lampposts being out of tune with the architecture of the area.

Canterbury in 2011: changed out of recognition as well?

Not if my 1994 picture is anything to go by. Cambridge in 1994:

Not that those areas are representative of the vast majority of non-tourist centre English high streets, which Paxton tucks in at the end of his description under the 'elsewhere' category. (Why does he go on at greatest length about places which are atypical?) However, his description again reflects a standard TV complaint, which was only ever partially true anywhere and only then applied to the more prosperous city centres.

My normal experience was of predominantly small trading centres. The products sold may well have changed from the 'good old days' and quite a few of these high streets were in serious decline. They were not prosperous enough to attract the chains, but had turned into a row of surviving small shops and cafes, whilst desperate looking (and smelling) cheap, short lease charity shops were a foremost feature (their internal fabric being barren walls as the bailiffs had removed anything of value from the previous shop that had gone bust). However, it was the regularly interspersed empty windows of shops that had failed or were 'rationalised' that gave the strongest impression - many of the Woolworths chain closed at this time, once an essential attribute of any self-respecting High Street, now condemning them to negligence.

Streatham High Road (from those times) springs immediately to mind as a desperate looking example of England in collapse, the impression made even stronger by my starting to work in Poland just about this time. There was even a One Pound shop here (before they became a standard high street feature). Thornton Heath High Street fared better as a small trading centre, perhaps because it had Tesco at one end and Sainsburys at the other, making it a good place to shop, but it was still not rich enough to attract the chains.

Part of Thornton Heath High Street, 2011. This is the type of small shop I remember, although the Halal and Madina ownerships and shop fronts are new. The shoe repairer and the BBC (probably closed, although it was early morning) look just like they used to.

What about country towns? I only really know Swaffham town centre, in Norfolk, which over the last twenty years seems to have changed little, with small local shops predominating. Some have changed, but quite a few have the same owners (and shop fronts). The recent arrival of the supermarket tucked into a small lot round the corner must have affected the food shops, but it also helps others: it has free parking.

I have to wonder how someone writing a book defining English attitudes can only describe something that is not an England I recognise. It may be that Paxton only experienced the affluent world, whilst I saw a much wider spectrum. However, I suspect that all he wants to say is that England has changed and uses clichéd stereotypes (also seen by him on TV) which his intended audience will accept and understand.

I was very pleased to be given the book (thank you Iwona). I am interested in greater understanding the English character, but the views of someone who is either ignorant about my England or is just writing to satisfy a narrow range of potential readers, has little value for me.

Just before the section of Paxton's book I quoted above, he says:

"In ...The Lion and The Unicorn, George Orwell managed to escape the dreamy right-wing pastiche about England being all hedgerows and gardens. Seeking to define a country that corresponded more closely to the lives of its citizens,, he described a place of red pillar boxes, Lancashire clogs, smoky towns, crude language and lines outside labour exchanges. The picture is as recognizable as an L. S Lowry painting, and like a Lowry, it is a period piece."

Orwell still seems closer than Paxton, even though the smoke has cleared and the factories closed.

Having just typed all this, I realised that I didn't know what 'pastiche' meant. From Miriam Webster Dictionary: "a musical, literary, or artistic composition made up of selections from different works". Paxton's "pastiche" therefore seeming to be what people say when they blindly repeat the views of others. A most pertinent description.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Polish Emigration Distribution

It seemed like a good idea when it started, but I'm not so sure now. I have, however, learnt how to paste table into the blog, so that's not bad.

I saw a hit list compiled by a criminal anti-fascist group and, noticing the number of non-Polish addresses on the Polish list (136 out of 480), I thought it would be interesting to see their destination distribution. The list may not be random or widely representative and some of the places may not be the real locations/spelt correctly. (I liked 'Krapowice' on the Polish list.)

The top scoring destinations were:

Co. Cork
Co. Meath
Des Plaines

Ireland 26, England 25, Scotland and USA 3.

With 2 each came the next 14 preferred destination:

Co. Westmeath
Co. Tipper Cashel
Hemel Hempstead

Whilst the 51 runners up were:

Aberdeen Edinburgh Newcastle under Lyme
Armees Egilsstadir Nottingham
Bad Sobernheim Egilsstodum Oxford
Beckenham Evje Pontypridd
Bedord Hamburg Quincy
Braunschweig Hetzerath Rasharkin
Bruxelles Jersey Redhill
Bury St Edmunds Laitila Riverside
Buxton Langenhagen Romford
Carlow Laudun Schenefeld
Chicago Limerick Southport
Clonmel Lydney St. Marys
Co. Kildare Masham St. Leonards on Sea
Co. Louth Meckenheim Staines
Co. Roscomm Nailsea Stamford
Dresden Nesoddtangen Sutton
Dungannon Newbridge Trenton

There's lots of hard data in a Migration Information Source article from 2010. This shows temporary stay destinations in 2008, with the EU lead countries being the UK (650 thousand), Germany (490K) and Ireland (190K). This illustration shows remittances from Polish workers to Poland by country of residence:

To assess the volume of movement to the EU countries, assume that the US level of money sent home has remained roughly stable. You'll have to read the article to assess the reliability of the assumption. If you do this, the increased movement to the UK and Ireland, rather than Germany, is clear (taking into account the article's suggestion that the 2009 fall in the proportion of receipts from the UK and Ireland reflected the economic situation of Poles living there). This corresponds to their predominance in the list I complied at the beginning of this post: I wondered why Germany was not more important. Is this co-incidence?

Friday, 20 January 2012

Money for new rope

Refraining from commenting on public TV, private unsubsidised TV companies have a great appetite for news channels. From the small amount I see, Poland's best at the moment is TVN 24, but I was interested to see from thenews.pl that "a new popular television news channel" is being opened by the Super Express newspaper company. (If they would like a name suggestion, I propose S Ex News'.)

A fun station full of muck raking, distorted stories, inventive journalism and loads of smut would be great and an extension and enhancement to Polish tradition. I was surprise at how little it costs, even though it is described as: 'Benbenek made no secret that that project requires immense investment. “The launching of the channel alone will cost over 10 million zloty [2 million euro],” he acknowledged.' A lot for the company, but not a large sum in today's media world.

The worlds of private and public finance are, of course, very different. The next thing on thenews.pl was the announcement of the opening of "a new music centre" in Kielce at a cost of 15 million euros. I had to check that sum, but it seems to be about right. How can opening a private TV station costs as little as 2 million euros, whilst opening a concert hall costs 15 million?

The Kielce 'music centre' is the International Cultural Centre, the new home of the Świętokrzyskie Philharmonic Orchestra. (Click here for some nicer pictures From Gazeta Wyborcza, Kielce.)

I used to know someone in Kielce who, over a few beers, gave the impression that he ran the Orchestra, although when we went to listen to a (dull) concert he just seemed to play the cello. ("Six [new] pieces by contemporary Polish composers", as played at the International Cultural Centre, would, whtehr good or bad, at least have been interesting. The Orchestra was then playing in the Kielce Cultural Centre, which needed some internal renovation and tidying up, but seemed fine. It still looks much the same from the photos on their website. Miles Davis, a statue on the lower right, is something of a local obsession.

The International Centre is the type of EU funded project which, back in the UK, I would have expected to be looked at closely (but fairly) to ensure it provided real benefit to the development of the area, rather than being a minor interest, political cause. I was never involved in decisions on giving money, but as central advisor on the principle's of support (and writer of the Woods' Manual that set out the principles, not rules), I was often asked on my views about how to deal with projects. (The decision makers were themselves independent from project creators, but
they had to deal with local political pressures and central advice could be reassuring.)

Coming over to Poland, I had to readjust my point of view. The first trigger for this may seem strange, but it was EU Commission officials deciding to refuse certain types of projects that they (as individuals) considered to be a complete waste of money. Anything that such Commission official refuses to countenance must be of some value as far as I'm concerned. If you see this as blind prejudice on my part, fair enough, although I suggest that 15 or so years' experience with such people counts for something. Imagine a group of applicants coming to a meeting with the Commission official when he bluntly says "I'm fed up with road projects so I'm not going to support them". He then went through the list, crossing out the projects he was rejecting and thus letting people know they'd wasted their time and (at that time), considerable money preparing everything. He hadn't even done his homework enough (eg reading project descriptions) to decide the list beforehand. (Quite a nice guy, actually.)

This was an early experience, but it immediately generated my wish to be more open minded. I hope - in fact I'm sure - that I quickly understood the difference between public investment benefits in Poland and in the UK, not only in terms of roads. I remembered the Commission criticism of investing in local town halls - only for the personal aggrandisement of local ruling politicians - when I drove past the completed Nadarzyn Town Hall (self-financed, not EU funded). I immediately saw it as changing the nature of the town, with the potential to lead to development of the area into a modern, thriving, but still small, community. I wonder whether, without the Commission, I would have been much more sceptical and only thought of short-term cost benefits.

More illuminating about my narrow mindedness, was a discussion we had when visiting the Krakow opera house, still under construction at the time. (I can't find the photographs.) There was a combination of Polish, British, French and Italian 'advisers'. The Polish official (Lesser Poland's/Krakow Marshal's Office) thought it was good for the city in terms of encouraging tourism, although he didn't think he'd ever set foot in it again. The Brit perspective was to question the value of a minority interest facility and suspected it reflected little more than a questionable belief that every worthwhile city had an opera house. The French view was a bit fence sitting, but our Italian guy was marvellous. Every decent town (not only city) had an opera house and it was essential that there be one.

Fortunately, we were just visitors, not project assessors. Our remit was to assess whether the system for making judgements was working well. The important thing (as in the establishment of UK principles rather than rules) is that all the right things are considered and not the final balance of judgement, which varies not openly between areas and individuals.

I think we pushed the assessor a bit hard in Poznan, in questioning (as far as I remember) investment in a theatre and stage in the ballet school when the old one was on the opposite side of the road (according to the papers). He was clearly a fervent supporter of the concept (not coldly independent as in the UK), being the person in the region best able to judge major cultural projects in the region (ie a Poznan supporter of developing things like ballet). We had to apologise and explain that we did not want to question his judgement, but just to see if he was considering, not the importance of ballet, but the importance of the project to the region. I'm not sure he recognised the difference, but he answered well.

So what about huge amounts of money spent in Kielce in order to move the orchestra down the road. The facilities are immensely better, but how important is that in comparison to other potential uses of the money?

I liked living in Kielce. I fond the people very friendly and accepting, and there was much more a sense of community than in Warsaw (and, obviously, London.) There was a sense of mission there that Kielce should be maintained and improved as an important regional centre. Although this is all emotional (and infectious) stuff, it is exactly the sense of purpose that assists in transforming a backwater into a thriving centre, recognised on a national scale. The importance here being that it was not a concept generated by the rhetoric of politicians but a broader public (possibly aspirant decision maker rather than general population) feeling. The aim, in my words, would be to establish the city as a place where potential investors in Poland would naturally ask "What about Kielce?".

In contrast, when Babcia in Warsaw was told I was going to work in Kielce, she laughed and said "why?. In a survey, What do you know about Kielce?, the main thing was that everyone carried knives, as was mentioned in a song by a rapper who came from there. I was made an honorary mountain person by the presentation of a folding pocket knife, but I doubt whether this sort of utensil - generally useless to me - was what people thought about when they gave this answer. TV power will have us thinking about a knife that can speedily cause bodily harm.)

New facilities for an orchestra would not be my priority. I suspect that few people in Kielce would disagree with me and, since the money is for the development of the region as a whole, it may well be that the vast majority in the region would not feel it worthwhile. However, I do see how it fits into the overall emotional strategy and, if nothing else, any addition to the limited stock of new, quality designed buildings would be an enhancement to Kielce marketing both in Poland and elsewhere: it actually featured on the English language news website, which is quite an achievement.

I can't imagine that anyone I knew there would ever read this, but if by some strange stroke of fate you do, my heart is with you and all my respect for you and gratitude for your acceptance of me remains with me. The photo contains too few of you,

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Knowing Poland: the Cornflakes Test

In my last post there was a comment that I "really haven't got a clue about life" in Poland. Whilst I don't agree, I do assume that I know little about life here.

I had been thinking for some time how to express this and eventually come up with the Cornflake Test. More precisely, "Do Polish people eat cornflakes or other (breakfast) cereals, if so when and how?".

I don't have any particular angle on this as I gave up eating cereals many years ago and hadn't thought about it when I came here. I occasionally have muesli with milk in the evening, which some people in England considered a strange time.

My guess is that eating cornflakes, etc is well established amongst a minority of people, but it is a relatively new phenomenon.  They will normally be eaten dry as a snack (mainly afternoon or evening), but milk will be added sometimes. The milk will often be warmed up. I am sure that I saw them referred to as 'płatki śniadanowa' somewhere (breakfast cereals), but I suspect this is an imported concept.

How do I get to this? My direct experience of what people do when they get up in the morning is very limited (whether in England or Poland) and is almost all related to the immediate family. This would tell me that only some of the 'healthy' cereals with bran and fruit (Vitella or whatever) are used, although I would suspect this is a foreign influenced practice. This is primarily a snack and milk is not normally used. (I have much wider experience when offered coffee, for example, of people not having any milk at home. Drinking milk (or other beverages such as water, but not vodka) from the fridge is, I am told, unhealthy, so it is usually warmed up first.

My limited experience is backed up by the lack of advertising here, which in England is an important part of TV revenue. Cornflakes would make an ideal product for placement in soap operas, but I can't recall any. There may be other reasons for this, not least for soap operas that I might just fail to glance at the TV at the right time: I can't even remember what they eat for breakfast on M Jak Miłość.

On the other hand, supermarkets stock a reasonable amount of cereals, though less than in England. I am relying on general impressions, rather than targeted research: I keep forgetting to check when I do the shopping. I did notice, however, that even Biedronka has cornflakes and one other standard cereal. One of their adverts also shows a child eating cereal with milk - part of shop rather than product advertising, however. The volume of milk available in shops brings my direct experience into even stronger doubt, as there are usually large stocks held there.

It is therefore self-evident that I know very little about the ordinary lives of people. Cornflakes may be a trivial example, but how can I possibly know enough to believe, with whatever caveats, that "Poland is one of the best places in the world for normal people to live"? This is not about money, but an absurdly complex judgement in both Poland and England about what constitutes happiness and general well-being. It's just a, sort of, feeling and, whilst I could try to expand, explain and justify, I haven't consciously done so and doubt if I would find it convincing myself if I did. (I'm not sure I could define 'normal people'.)

My prime motivation when I started saying it, some 15 years ago or so, was to counter the blind assumption here that life was and would be so much more wonderful in 'rich' countries like England even though people knew nothing at all about life there: a prime motivation for joining the EU. I was laughed at. I still say it without embarrassment as ignorant Polish self-denigration continues ie "I have no idea whether I'm right, but you know even less than I do." I was, however, reassured somewhat by the realisation among people who returned from the emigration exodus to the promised lands, that Poland was for them the best place to be. (Told you so, but you didn't believe me!)

I'm sorry, but the assumption that life is good in England if you have English wages and life is bad in Poland "if you earn Polish wages" is compete and absolute nonsense.  Anyone who believes this hasn't "got a clue about life": they need to start thinking people not places. (Babcia's very happy on her pension.)

By the way, I hope it's clear that I also know virtually nothing about England either. I like to say that I'm speaking from my South London, or just London perspective. I know roughly zero percent of people there though. I would go so far as to question the existence of an entity labelled "the English" in the way that one think of being Polish. I was therefore interested to find that the beginning of Jeremy Paxton's book "The English" comes very close to concluding this, but it then wanders off. Well he wouldn't have a book would he? I haven't yet managed to get very far with it (three attempts), but his way around this seems to be to assume that the English are the British if you ignore the Scots and Welsh. A more subtle interpretation would be that unconsciously he believes the English are the British middle class. I kept getting the feeling that he "hasn't got a clue about life" in England either. How could he?

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Poland really is the best

I fully admit to being completely biased in believing that Poland is one of the best places in the world for normal people to live. My bias being that I can only really compare it to England: I have never lived anywhere else. However, when I saw a repeated presentation on TVP of a German mocking the idea that Poland is No. 1, I wondered what it was about: it didn't say. Eventually, after a few days, the punchline was added showing it was part of TVP's political campaign to get more money.

What do you think is a better use of taxation (or equivalent), helping the poor, providing a decent basic health service, supporting education or TV entertainment? Enforced taxation to pay for television must be one of the ultimate immoralities. Be proud Poland, be very proud that you do not accept this. Ignore TVP's irony and recognise that Poland is superior, with a far more advanced approach to the trivia of life than those other, brain washed countries. You are the best.

Some of TVP's advertising/propoganda is shown on their 'news' site, which roughly translated includes:

Poles champions in non-payment of subscription

Poland number one in Europe. Unfortunately this title us does not bring us pride. We are leader in the non-payment of the radio/television subscription. Over 3 million people are in arrears in payments worth over 2 billion zlotys. Nationally, the percentage avoiding payment is 65 percent.

"Poland is number one in Europe? Impossible!” – is said on one TV spot, underlining the specific character of our country. In Germany the percentage of people avoiding subscription payment is only 2 percent, in Austria – 4. In Great Britain it amounts to 5 percent of inhabitants.

– "The objective of the campaign is to inform ourselves as to how sad we look against the background of Europe. How much we fail to keep to European standards" – says Jolanta Wisniewska, President of the Association of Public Media Employers.

–"the low collectibility of the subscription in Poland is a result of historic failures by the state, the public media, and the people", comments media expert Doctor hab. Maciej Mrozowski from Warsaw University.

Mr. Jerzy Pluta from Strzelec Krajeński in Lubuskie pays the subscription regularly and is convinced of the advantages of the allocated money: "Surely everyone will find something. I like the news first, sports information second, and serials third. Statistics on receipts from the subscription also improves large companies."

Etc, etc

Well obviously, the rich guys at TVP want more money: fair enough. Even us pensioners would like that. The President of the Association of Public Media Employers is presumably a TVP puppet figure and spokesman. Personally, however, it does bring me pride that Poles reject the concept of state control of their lives down to such areas as TV entertainment. One of the things I detest is the regular, mindless commentary that Poland is bad because it doesn't meet a statistical European average. The issue is always whether what Poland is doing is good or not. Being an independent country with its own ideas and perspective is a compliment, not an insult. (Number one in road deaths - bad; number one on rejecting state controlled TV - good.)

I particularly like the 'Joe Public' comment. News, sports and serials are the common fare of all the stations, government controlled or not. People are making the choice that they don't want to pay extra money for TVP's expansion of an otherwise extremely wide choice. It's the coercion that TVP wants - the elimination of choice - that is the immorality.

Public TV appears to be written into the constitution. Quickly looking through it, I couldn't find anything, but I remember what I think was a statement from the Constitutional Court saying that they couldn't judge on the abolition of the subscription without knowing what would replace it. The alternative proposal is/was that Government ministries should allocate funds according to their own policies. However, how would this work? Parliamentary broadcasts seem supportable, but the only general programme I can think of is the excellent farmers' programme, which the Ministry of Agriculture should be willing to support. Certainly not M Jak Miłoszcz. Who would want to support the popular music quiz programme where the pianist turns round at TVP propaganda time and says "without you paying your subscription, this programme won't continue"? If only he was telling the truth ...

The Ministries already pay for adverts and programme slots anyway. I've been very impressed by the Polish Government's advertising on its work on European funding programmes. In the UK we honestly believed that development money should be used for development, but watching in Poland I an now far less certain that we were right (although the situations are different). Does it really work though? There is a fascinating sponsorship by the Ministry of Regional Development of one of the quiz shows, where there is always a very general question about EU funding programmes eg which Ministry is responsible for a certain programme. (Did you know sponsors buy questions?) I have never seen any of the contestants have a single idea what the answer might be: even just saying 'Ministry of Regional Development' gives them a good chance of getting it right, but they have never heard about these things before.