A brief extract from Chapter 4...

Why didn't you mention the flagpole...

…Over the Christmas and New Year of 1999 - 2000 (the supposed millennium as distinct from the real one of 2000 - 2001) I vaguely remember hearing a brief local radio story about a passing shortage of frozen vegetables in the shops. In the light of subsequent developments I will now always take such stories just a little more seriously. A few days into the New Year the English neighbours of a deceased Pole, who were anxious to know when and where his funeral was to take place as they wished to attend, contacted me. It transpired that not having seen him for a few days they had contacted the police to express their concern. Eventually, after several phone calls, the police had arrived in the early evening of New Year’s Eve and forced an entry to the property. They found the old man dead in his bed. He had died peacefully and unexpectedly in his sleep. The neighbours had contacted me because they knew that the old man had no relatives in this country.

When I contacted the police they informed me that the body was with the Coroner. When I contacted the Coroner he had no record of the case but suggested that I contact the undertakers who were always employed in such cases. They in turn had no record of the case. At first I assumed that there might be a simple error. Possibly a Polish surname had been incorrectly recorded. Over the next couple of days the police seemed to become ever more evasive. A full answer was always just around the corner. Eventually I threatened perhaps rather unrealistically to raise the case with the Polish authorities at a very senior level. The impact was dramatic. Within five minutes I received a call from a very senior officer who was clearly squirming with embarrassment. The truth, he said, was that they had - temporarily he hastened to add - lost the body.

There had, it emerged, been an unusually high number of deaths that winter. The mortuaries in the region were full. As a result some refrigerated frozen food lorries had been hastily ‘borrowed’ (hence the brief shortages in the shops) for the interim storage of corpses until more usual facilities could be found. While some of these vehicles were parked behind police stations others had been parked behind supermarkets. In the confusion the authorities had temporarily lost track of exactly what, or more accurately who, was parked where!

Within a few days the matter was resolved and the gentleman went to his final resting place after only a slightly interrupted journey. I have always preferred fresh vegetables to frozen. That taste seems ever more pronounced these days…

…So far, as an Honorary Consul, I have avoided any real disasters but there has been one major near miss of potentially magnificent proportions. Indeed it was such a good story that it featured on John Peel’s B.B.C. Radio 4 “Home Truths” programme making something of a hero of the main participant who was, needless to say, not me.

I was working at the computer in my office, which is a long narrow room with built in work surfaces running its whole length. The computer in question is at one end of that work surface. Suddenly our chief cat, a very large, handsome and supremely self confident abyssinian / tabby cross, called Tadek, arrived and duly stomped over the keyboard with predictably catastrophic results, before tramping with dirty paws across newly printed correspondence. I said something to him, which was extremely rude and clearly offended his dignity. He stomped off down the work surface to the other end of the room, turned to be sure that I had his attention, and slammed his paw down in a display of anger onto a nearby phone. The message to me was perfectly clear - “don’t you think you can tell me what to do”! I again said something very rude to the cat and returned to my work.

Now, I should explain that the phone in question is one that is reserved solely for consular business. It is permanently on answer phone and I simply take messages off it several times a day as convenient. Normally the volume is always switched off. On this occasion I had used the phone shortly before the incident with the cat and had turned the volume and had, mercifully, forgotten to turn it off again. I say ‘mercifully’ because as I turned back to my work I suddenly heard the sound of my own voice shouting “you bastard cat!” In hitting the phone Tadek had not only managed to hit the precise button needed to record a new outgoing message he had actually held it down long enough to capture the complete ‘message’ which I had just unintentionally delivered. Had the volume slide been turned off I would have known nothing about the newly recorded change of message.

I sat there, shaking, trying to imagine the possible consequences. Imagine a tearful Polish girl who has just lost her passport desperately phoning a Consulate of the Republic of Poland only to hear the message “you bastard cat!” Imagine a senior British police office anxious to track down a Polish interpreter receiving instead the message “you bastard cat!” Imagine indeed Consulate General staff from London or even the Consul General himself phoning the Consulate in Kidderminster only to be greeted with the words “you bastard cat!” The mind boggles!

The same cat, Tadek, is perched by me as I write this. His gaze is solemn, impenetrable and apparently benign. I hope that he is not planning any further retaliation. I treat him with great respect these days!


Bonaparte, Bras & Bigos
Damn Passive Sympathy
The Stairway To Heaven
Why Didn't You Tell Them About The Flagpole
If Freedom Then What Freedom?