Tuesday, 1 March 2011


I liked Bydgoszcz. I loved walking the streets thinking about my two boys, Leo and Tomasz. Perhaps they would run down cobbled streets of Bromberg, as it was then known, to avoid trouble - or get out of it.

I thought of the dangers they would face, alone on the streets - poor, perhaps barefoot.

I imagined them in the marketplace. Perhaps cadging food, or begging, or even having to resort to stealing to keep themselves alive.

I pictured them dodging and out of the crowds assembled in the streets, perhaps to watch the soldiers marching to the station to catch trains towards the French front in readiness for the impending war.

And all the time they would be thinking of ways of getting away from the town and down to Danzig (Gdansk) to the sea - that immense stretch of water that they could only imagine, never having seen it. Down to the sea and then away to a new land. And I thought of ways for them to travel - perhaps they could get on a barge on the river Brahe and then onto the River Vistula.

I began to think about Tomasz's back story. Why was he on the streets alone? Where had he come from? What was he running away from? And that marvellous, inexplicable process of inspiration/invention/ creation began. Little details flitted into my mind - the son of a cobbler perhaps? And has learned the trade. Could he get work for them both? Or perhaps, he thinks he is the cobbler's son but he isn't really?

I began to feel the energy and drive of the boy. Something irrepressible. A huge sense of fun and optimism in the face of the adversity he has faced. He started to live in my head as I walked round the town and I began to love him and what he would give to Leo. Was this him, cheeky and full of mischief, attempting some scam to raise money to buy food for them both?

It was raining heavily the morning I left Bydgoszcz. And it was the morning of the Pope's funeral. The streets were totally empty, everybody inside watching the ceremony on TV. Their beloved Karol Józef Wojtyła who had represented them and brought honour to the nation as John Paul 2 (Jan Pawel Dwa), was being buried and they all wanted to watch.

The rain fell as I drove along the wet, empty streets out of Bydgoszcz. I saw one other car - a Police car, whose occupants stared at me suspiciously wondering why I wasn't inside watching tv with all the other decent people.

I was heading the few miles to Fordon. To the Vistula. To the river. Because despite having considered them getting a ride on a cart, or hiding on a barge, and despite the fact that I knew they would attempt to get on board a train with disastrous results, I had decided that my boys were going to make their way by foot down the river towards the sea.

I had my steamy heated car to keep me from the elements. No such comfort for them. And the river looked wide and the banks difficult walking under the grey, glowering skies.

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