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by Charles Lacey

Chapter 7

It's amazing how much you can learn and how quickly you can learn it, given the necessity. At home we made a rule of speaking only in Polish at mealtimes. With Sanwar's help – he was phenomenally quick to pick up a language – and that of Herr Weissmann, we all learned quickly and on Friday nights when Sanwar always ate with us and stayed the night he often corrected Mum or Dad. Of course, Sanwar and I were very excited indeed about the prospect of going to live in a country, even if it was only for a couple of years, where we could be open about our relationship.

We were registered for the International School, and Dad got some information about it. It had no uniform as such, though students (we were rather pleased at being 'students' rather than just 'boys') were expected to dress neatly; dark suits with white shirts and school ties were worn on special occasions. Mum and Dad were very pleased to hear that it was co-educational; there were girls there as well as boys. "That's a plus point," said Dad, "maybe you'll find yourself a girl-friend."

Poor Dad! Mum had pretty well accepted that Sanwar and I were going to be a permanent item, but Dad hadn't yet quite given up hope of getting me married and presenting him with grandchildren.

What with keeping up with our normal school work, visits to the gym and the swimming pool and learning Polish at high pressure, the time went very quickly. The University would be giving us free use of a house on the campus, so as Grandad would not be at home, Dad arranged with a local agent to let our house while we were abroad. Sir William Tomlin, true to his word as always, had arranged with an organization called the Overseas Students' Association to pay Sanwar's fees at the International School.

In the meantime, we saw Grandad off to India. Dad took him to Heathrow in the car, with Sanwar and me in the back. It was rather an emotional parting in which Sanwar and I both shed some tears; we didn't know whether we would ever see him again. Grandad's eyes were moist, too, but in his case it was at least as much happiness at the thought of being re-united with his beloved Pradesh as sorrow at leaving his family in England.

The last few days took place in a sort of frenzy; packing everything we wanted to take with us, packing up all our other personal possessions to go into store. Dad and Sanjay had both written to the Headmaster at St Edmund's to let them know we were moving and we were both surprised and rather touched at the number of people who came up to say Goodbye and Good Luck.

And then we were off! Sanwar had quite an emotional parting from his parents, and Muhajid positively howled when he realised his big brothers – for so he now thought of us – were going away, but we knew it was only for a couple of years, during which we would probably come back for an occasional brief visit; it was not as if anyone had died. The flight was much shorter than the ones Sanwar and I had done to and from India; we were at Warsaw airport within three hours from take-off, from where we caught the train for Krakow. The Professor of Surgery, who with his wife were to become quite close friends with my parents, had arranged a car to bring us from the station to the University. We were all delighted to find that we were already quite at home in Polish, though the pained expressions on the faces of some of the people we spoke to revealed that our accents were not as good as we'd thought they were! Still, we got by quite comfortably, and could only improve with practice.

The house on the University campus was a little larger than ours at home. It had two double bedrooms and one twin. Sanwar and I would much have preferred the double one, of course, but Mum insisted that we use the twin. There didn't seem to be any point in making an issue of it, so we went along with her – for the time being, at any rate. And Mum had stopped looking in on me last thing at night, so what we did once the door was closed was no-one's business but our own. We were both quite slender and fitted quite snugly side by side into a single bed. And what became an ongoing joy was that the house had a shower room as well as a bathroom. We soon got used to showering together, washing each other's backs. And, indeed, quite often washing each other's fronts and just about everything else as well. Having tried it, I can recommend oral sex with a mouthful of warm water. The sensation is really remarkable!

But, my word, was the International School an eye-opener, or what!? For a start, it was truly international. There were several American students, a surprising number of Poles, mostly children of University staff. There were two charming French sisters, Yvonne and Annette Perronet, and three Dutch boys, two brothers and a cousin, called Anders, Pieter and Gerhardt Janssen. Sanwar was the only Indian but there were two Pakistani boys, again brothers, whose father was a technician in the Physics department. My word, they were a couple of bright lads; they soaked up knowledge at a terrific rate.

Almost the only language that we never heard spoken there was German. The Germans, of course, were still greatly hated in Poland; hardly surprising, after what they had done to the country and its people under Hitler. Even Austrians, or Swiss whose first language was Schweizerdeutsch, habitually spoke Polish or English. On the other hand, the English were welcomed with open arms. At the start of the war, we were told, we were the people who had stood up for the Poles; we'd told the Germans to clear out of Poland, or else we'd go to war against them. They didn't; we did; we won, with a little help from the Russians and the Americans. It was just a pity, we felt, that after the War they weren't able to go back to their pre-War status but now they had the Russians breathing down their necks.

When we arrived we went for an interview with the Principal, Dr Teodor Rejewski. We later found that he was a distant cousin of Dr Marian Rejewski, a mathematician of genius, who had done the preliminary work on breaking the Enigma ciphers. Of course, we didn't know anything about that at the time as it was still kept in the dark under the Official Secrets Act. But without the work he had done, the work that was done at Bletchley park during the War would probably never have got off the ground. What goes around, comes around, as Dad was fond of saying.

"Mile widziany!" said Dr Rejewski. "Witamy w Krakowie! Welcome to Krakow! We all hope you will be very happy here."

"Dziękuję Panu. Thank you, sir," we replied.

The curriculum at first looked terrifying! Because they were catering for an international student body whose previous educational experiences had differed widely, students were placed in different 'sets' for different subjects. A lot of the more senior sets were actually taught by University lecturers, which meant that we had teachers who not only really knew what they were talking about but really could get it across. We had quite a lot of private study time, which was really necessary for us to keep up with the classes. But both Sanwar and I found the new method of learning very stimulating. Sanwar lapped it up and came back for more. I at least managed to keep up, though there were times when Sanwar had to give me some help. But the lecturers were friendly and approachable and were always happy to give a bit of individual tuition if they could find the time and it was needed.

And we were welcomed, too, by the Senior Student, Marika van Beekum. She was from Rotterdam in the Netherlands, but had been in Poland with her parents, both University staff, for five years.

"Welcome, Jack. Welcome, Sanwar," she began in completely unaccented English.

"Thank you. Are you English?"

"No, from the Netherlands."

"Your English is perfect. How many languages do you speak?"

She blushed.

"Dutch, English, Polish, Italian, Czech and Russian are the main ones."

Just out of gentle mischief, Sanwar addressed her in Urdu, and she replied haltingly in the same language. We looked at her with greatly increased respect.

"I can see why you are the Senior Student. What do you want to do for a career?"

"Oh, I hope to go into the Diplomatic Service. You need good language skills for that. How about you?"

"I am hoping to go into medicine," replied Sanwar. "Jack hasn't made up his mind yet."

"You'll find this very different from your previous schools," said Marika. "Tell me, are you a couple?"

"Yes," we replied simultaneously.

"I thought you were. Good for you."

Oh Lord, I thought, if only it could be like this everywhere.

Marika was right. The style of discipline was completely different, for a start. St Edmund's was a good school, but the masters did have to keep order, which they managed with varying degrees of success. Here at the Szkoła międzynarodowa everyone just assumed they were here to learn and even if one or two had wanted to misbehave, either in class or out of it, they would have been quickly put right by other students.

To my delight there was an excellent gymnasium which was used by both staff and students at the University. It was always busy, so one generally had to book a time, but that was no trouble. There was also an Olympic size swimming pool. There were fixed times when it was reserved for the use of professionals and those hoping to compete in the Olympic and other important Games, but at other times it was available, though generally rather crowded.

I was happy to make the acquaintance there of an American boy, Mason Rivera ("but call me Mase, all my buddies do") of around my age who was a keen gymnast. Unlike me he was also a games enthusiast, especially an American game called 'Baseball'. He tried to explain the rules to me, but I don't think I ever really grasped them. He wasn't a bad chap, though, and he certainly worked hard both in the gym and in class. I had the impression that his father was very demanding; Mr Rivera came from a very wealthy family and was at the University for a year in the role of some kind of financial wizard. Apart from myself, Mase didn't seem to have any particular friends.

There were, as I said, many nationalities represented both at the University and in the School. There was a Russian family; both the father and the mother taught Russian and Slavic Studies within the Humanities department. Their name was Rudenko; they had three children, twin girls named Pavlina and Polina and their older brother, Evgeny.

"Call me Rudi" he said, "no-one who isn't Russian can pronounce my given name properly."

Rudi was very reserved and gave the impression of being perpetually watchful, though we had no idea what he was watching for. We put it down to his being Russian. At that time, Mikhail Gorbachev was just beginning his glasnost policy and the endemic secrecy surrounding all things Russian was just beginning to crack open a little, but it was still a land of mystery to most of us and the Communist Party still kept an iron grip upon its people. It was being seriously challenged in Poland, though; Lech Wałęsa and his 'Solidarity' union were gaining increasing support throughout the country and we sensed that it was making the Russians nervous.

Rudi was a very pleasant, harmless sort of chap and with the friendliness that came with being at the Szkoła międzynarodowa other students included him in conversations and invited him to join our tables at lunch. I rather had the impression that Milena Duczyński, a very pretty Polish girl in our set, was a bit sweet on him, but although he was always polite and good-natured he seemed to keep a little aloof from the rest of us. But as I say, we put that down to his being Russian and the politics of his country.

Until, that is, the day we met him and Mase in the gym.

I'd just finished a good work-out and had a shower, and was feeling pleasantly tired. Sanwar had come in to look for me as he and I and my parents were going out to lunch with Professor Kakzmarek, the Professor of Surgery. He and his wife had two very pretty daughters a little older than Sanwar and me, and the idea was that when we had eaten the girls should take us away and entertain us. Dad still had hopes!

Anyway, there we were, Sanwar and I, and we pushed open the swing door into the men's locker room. At the far end, half hidden behind some lockers, were Mase Rivera and Rudi Rudenko. They looked as if they had just sprung apart, and were both blushing furiously. Mase was as red as a tomato – or a 'tomayto' as he would have said! Well, it was pretty obvious what they had been doing, especially as they both had a noticeable bulge in their shorts. But you never saw two boys look so embarrassed… or so frightened. We walked towards them and Sanwar and I looked at each other and nodded. The next moment his arms were around me and our lips were glued together. Mase and Rudi looked at us, open-mouthed. Mase was the first to speak.

"Hey, boys, I'd no idea… I thought you was just good friends."

"No, Mase," said Sanwar, "we've been a good deal more than that for the last year and more. We didn't want to make a big thing about it, but it doesn't worry us if other people know."

"Well, for Crysake, don't tell anyone about me and Rudi…"

"Of course we won't say a word to anyone," I put in, "it's none of our business, anyway. But why don't you want it known? It's not illegal at our age in this country."

"It's my old man. If he found out I was a faggot he'd half kill me."

"And," put in Rudi in his soft voice, "in my country it's illegal for everyone. Men caught with… with other men… are sent to the Gulag. Or worse."

"Well, we won't let on to anyone, I promise. We had plenty of practice keeping it quiet at home in England."

Mase and Rudi were beginning to relax a little.

"Where do you go if you want to … you know."

"Wherever we can. Usually out of doors, but sometimes we've made out in the bathrooms." I was horrified. These two nice boys just wanted to enjoy a bit of intimacy together and the only place they could find to do it safely was in the toilet. How utterly sordid, I thought. But it was the same at home in England; although it was not actually illegal once you were over eighteen, it was a bold man who proclaimed his sexuality openly.

Sanwar went up to Mase and hugged him, and I did the same with Rudi, before we went our separate ways. But we both felt we wanted to do something to make the lives of our new friends a bit easier, even if was only providing a place where they could have a bit of time together without the risk of being discovered and punished.

The lunch party at Professor Kakzmarek's was lovely, the food mostly quite spicy traditional Polish dishes which we were beginning to get a real taste for, and then Katrina and Nataszya took us up to the new exhibition at the Town Hall, of art work from the period of the Second World War. There were some truly terrifying pictures there, especially some 'dreamscapes' by Zdzisław Beksiński. The girls were very knowledgeable and explained some of the paintings to us, but it took a long time before I got those nightmare images out of my mind.

Sanwar and I were worried about Mase and Rudi, and felt very sorry for them. We were still required to sleep in twin beds, though we'd much rather have shared a double, but at least we were allowed to occupy the same bedroom. And we weren't afraid of anyone finding out about us. Mase's Dad seemed pretty old-fashioned, we thought, and of course realizing that there were still places in the world where adult men could be imprisoned or even put to death just for loving other men… well, we'd thought that had gone out with the Nazis.

While we were at the exhibition we had a very pleasant encounter with a party of four older men. We heard them talking; two were obviously Polish, but the other two sounded as if they came from the English Midlands, which it turned out was actually the case. The Polish men were a couple, named Jan and Krzystof; the English men were also a couple, named Paul and Aiden. Paul was a cabinet maker and Aiden, his partner, was a doctor; they lived in Derby. It seemed that Jan had been imprisoned in the German concentration camp at Belsen because he had had a boy-friend, but a German guard had shot the boy-friend, just out of casual irritation. Aiden had been a male nurse in the Army and had been in the party that liberated the concentration camp as the war was coming to a close, and had saved Jan's life. I was proud that an English man had done that. We all went to the café attached to the art gallery and had coffee with little sweet cakes. I was very touched, as was Sanwar, that both couples seemed to have been together for quite a number of years.

But talking to them gave me an idea. "Dad," I said that evening, "How would it be if Sanwar and I and a couple of our friends went away together for a few days?"

"Hmm… where do you want to go?"

"We haven't really thought that out yet. But we could borrow tents and bicycles and make a two or three day trip somewhere."

"Which friends are these?"

"Oh, Mase and Rudi. Mase has a bike already. We might just set out and see where we get to."

"Well, you'd better get a plan together, and then we'll see about it. And I'd better meet these other boys, too, before I say anything definite."

"Thanks, Dad. I'll invite them over so that you can meet them."

So a couple of days later Mase and Rudi came to dinner to meet Mum and Dad. They were obviously on their best behaviour. Mase addressed them as 'Ma'am' and 'Sir' which I could see pleased them. Rudi was quiet, but polite and pleasant as always.

We'd talked over possible places to visit. Sanwar and I had been deeply affected by the paintings at the exhibition, and decided that we wanted to cycle westwards towards Oświęcim where we would visit the site of the German concentration camp, which they had named Auschwitz. We could also pay a visit to the old Royal Palace there which had just been rebuilt after being destroyed in the War. No wonder, we thought, that the Germans were not welcome in Poland. I tried to imagine how I would feel if the Germans had invaded Britain, blown up Windsor Castle and built a concentration camp near Birmingham. The resulting mental images were utterly horrible and I had to reach out and hold Sanwar's hand before they would go away.

Sanwar and I, sometimes by ourselves and sometimes with Mase and Rudi or the Kakzmarek girls, had already explored a good bit of Krakow and its local area together. It was a fascinating place. Fortunately a good part of the Old Town had survived the Nazis' depredations, though of course a lot of the population, especially Jews, had been murdered by the Nazis. I just couldn't understand their point of view. I mean, people are just people, aren't they? Sanwar and I were from different races, but we loved each other to distraction. There were two Jewish boys at the school, Berek and Janusz Gomułka, who were a little younger than us, and they were lovely lads, friendly and cheerful and very good looking too. All four of their grandparents had died in what was starting to be called the Holocaust. I remember wishing we could have shared Grandad and Papaji with them. The mutual esteem and affection would have been immediate.

Well, Mum and Dad eventually agreed to our camping trip. We borrowed a couple of tents from other students. Sanwar and I bought second hand bicycles as we were hoping to do a lot more exploring; Rudi borrowed one. We kitted ourselves out with mess tins, pannikins, maps, spare clothes, bedding rolls, sleeping bags and goodness knows what else. I must admit that when we looked at the piles it did seem to be an awful lot to carry. Mase and I took the tents on our backs as we were the strongest and we shared out the rest equally between us, and off we went.

We found a good place to camp a few miles outside Oświęcim. We got permission from the farmer who owned the land, pitched our tents, cut out a circle of turf for a fireplace and made a fire on which we baked potatoes; we cut sticks, whittled them to a point and used them to toast sausages. It was exciting, if very slightly scary, to be on our own, away from adult supervision. But we had a lovely evening together, and when we turned in we were very tired. Not surprising, perhaps, having cycled something like fifty kilometres. Despite which Sanwar and I definitely heard plenty of giggles and other noises from the other tent. Not that we didn't contribute a few of our own, of course.

The next morning we decided to leave our tents and other things; we didn't think anyone was likely to steal anything. After breakfast we set off for the site of the wartime concentration camp. My God! It was a haunted place, if ever anywhere was. There had been some restoration done, and there was an excellent museum run mostly by volunteers. But we saw the rows of rotting huts, the terrible rooms where people had been gassed, the ovens where their bodies were cremated. We saw the watch towers with their searchlights, the ragged remains of barbed wire fences, the iron gates with their terrible mocking motto, Arbeit macht frei, work makes free. We remembered our friends Jan and Krzystof; I thought especially of Jan, who must have been about our age when he was imprisoned in Belsen. Krzystof had told us that when Aiden found him there he weighed thirty-two kilograms, which I worked out to be just over five stone. Less than half of what Sanwar weighed, and he was a slender boy with no spare flesh. Not for the first time, I wondered about the unthinking cruelty of the Nazis. And yet it was different only in degree from the hatred of some English people for others of different races or even different social classes.

It was a sobering place. A strange thing, that although when we had woken up in the morning we had heard birds singing, there was no birdsong here, just an eerie silence. Sanwar felt for my hand and held it tightly and I noticed Mase and Rudi holding hands too when they thought no-one was looking.

That evening we were a bit boisterous, I think in reaction to the things we had seen during the day. We'd found our tents and so on quite safe, so we built a fire again and sat around it, chatting, singing, roasting chestnuts and cooking up a stew in our mess tins. On the way back from Oświęcim we'd gone foraging in the woodlands and found chestnuts, some field mushrooms that Rudi assured us were quite safe to eat – they were, and very tasty too! – and a root of wild garlic that we used to flavour the stew. The kindly farmer had given us some apples from his trees, so we had a good meal. That night Sanwar and I had discovered that it was possible to unzip our sleeping bags and zip them together to make one big one. We put our bedding mats together as well, and lay close to one another. Once the talking and the singing were done and we were in bed, the realities of the day came back to us and we thought again of Jan, whom we had met with his partner at the art exhibition, and of all the thousands of young men like us who suffered such a terrible fate under Nazi rule. I heard Sanwar snuffling and felt his body trembling, and put my arms around him. Then I suddenly thought, that could have happened to me, or to Sanwar. What had happened to him as a boy, back at home, was bad enough, but what Jan, and others like him, had suffered was beyond belief. I held on to Sanwar as if he were the only piece of sanity left in a crazed world, and cried my eyes out. He just held me and soothed me with little, kind sounds. Eventually we recovered enough to stop weeping, and we finally dropped off to sleep, wrapped in each other's arms.

The following day we were all a bit tired and quiet. I don't think Mase and Rudi had slept all that well either, and we'd not heard any noises coming from the other tent. I think Rudi, who was used to living under a repressive regime, had a much clearer idea than any of the other three of us just what it was like to have to be perpetually on one's guard. But we set off for the town again. It's an interesting old place, and the Royal Palace is well worth seeing. It had been badly damaged by the Germans, and the restoration was far from complete, but we managed to get a very good idea of what it must have been like when Poland was ruled by a Royal family. We got a good lunch with a glass of beer each at a little workmen's café for a very reasonable price. Our improvised evening meals had been tasty, and fun to prepare, but not really enough for four big teenage lads. In the afternoon we explored the town and chatted to various people that we met.

That night we made 'dampers' – a stiff batter, wound around sticks and toasted over the fire. They were a bit smoky, but with some plum jam that we'd bought in the town, very good to eat. That night, again Sanwar and I zipped our sleeping bags together. We lay there for a few minutes, holding hands, then began to hear quiet sounds from the other tent: some soft giggles and then … well, I suppose you'd call it heavy breathing. I ran my free hand down Sanwar's front and discovered that he was as stiff as a stave. Well, of course that did it for me.

We'd often discussed sex, and decided that we wouldn't have full intercourse until we had a home of our own. But there are plenty of other things that a couple of healthy teenage boys can do to show their love for each other. Sanwar had a repertoire of the most extraordinary things that he could do with his hands at the same time as kissing me passionately. I have very little body hair and what there is, is quite soft, so I used to press my thighs together and he would push himself between them. We'd already reached the point where we knew one another's bodies intimately and so we knew just how far we could push each other without actually reaching the point of orgasm. Eventually we would decide that we both wanted to come; how we communicated it I have no idea, but nine times out of ten we would climax within a few seconds of one another. It could get a bit messy; I generally produced no more than the average teaspoonful or so, but Sanwar could and often did make quite a bit more, especially if we'd gone a couple of days without sex. We always kept a towel close by so that we could clean ourselves before we went to sleep. A couple of times before we learned sense we woke up in the small hours stuck together!

And my lovely Sanwar could do a lot of different things with his tongue, too, whether in my mouth, flicking over different parts of my body – especially my nipples – or when my shaft was in his mouth. Altogether he drove me to distraction. And often I thought, how wonderful this is, that we two boys, who understood each other so well, can do so many different things to give each other pleasure. And how different from so-called 'normal' folk whose only idea of sex seems to be, well, conventional intercourse. They always seem to me to be thoroughly unimaginative, to say the least.

Well, we got back from our trip tired, of course, but eager to take ourselves off again on another one when we could. But there was a good deal of pressure of work to keep up with. Although the actual tutorials and lectures at the International School seemed quite relaxed, because the people giving them were not constantly having to break off to keep order, we were learning at a tremendous rate. It was clear by now that Sanwar was considerably superior to me intellectually; he grasped with ease things that I had to work hard at. It didn't worry me; I fact, I was very proud of him. I still didn't have any real idea what I wanted to do with my life. He, of course, was intent upon a medical career, and there was still the promise of Grandad's money to help him through the years of training.

We heard from Grandad and Papaji from time to time. They were blissfully happy together. Papaji had bought a double bed, so Grandad told us; what they did in it, other than sleep, I had no idea. But I had the impression they were making up for lost time. Dear Grandad! He'd been an important part of my childhood, then a constant and reassuring presence in my teen years. It had been he who had made my relationship with Sanwar acceptable to Mum and Dad. It was he who was making it possible for my beloved to follow his dream, and it was he who would open the way for me also, as and when I knew what I wanted to do.

But I still didn't really have much idea what that would be. I liked the idea of running some sort of gymnasium or health club, and Grandad's money would certainly make that possible. I knew I wasn't really the academic type. I wondered about the Armed Forces, but realised that it would take me away from Sanwar for long periods, so that was a non-starter. I wondered briefly about joining the police, but when I thought back to their complete failure to make any sort of investigation when Sanwar 'fell' down the stairs I abandoned that idea too. I'd wondered about being a professional athlete, but I knew that although I enjoyed gym training and so on, I didn't really have the drive to take me to the top. I always wanted to be the best I could, but I didn't really care that much if someone was better than me.

One of the principles of the International School, which was reflected in the Baccalaureate, was breadth of education. And so students who wanted to specialize in the sciences were also required to do some study in the fine arts or the humanities, while those who wanted to major in, say, History, were obliged to do some basic science courses. And so it came about that Sanwar and I both took a course in our second year on general European history. As it happened, the lecturer who was supposed to be taking us, a good natured, elderly man named Katowice, had a heart attack two weeks into the term, and so a substitute had to be found at short notice. This was Stefan Ostrowski, and he was an architectural historian. He was a real character. Even for the International School, he was informal in his approach. We were invited to address him by his Christian name – this in a school where senior male staff were still addressed as Sir! As often as not, we students would be standing in an untidy group around his desk while he taught, rather than sitting at tables. But he was passionate about his subject, and frequently took us to see different buildings, placing them in their historical context. He didn't confine himself to very old or very important buildings, either; one of his principles was that to an architectural historian workers' cottages were as important as cathedrals, and that the lives of ordinary working people were just as interesting as those of kings or statesmen.

This was very much reflected in his teaching. Many times he would take us to somewhere in Krakow where there was a point of interest. He was a brisk walker, too, and expected us to keep up with him! And it was in his company that the second of the two days that changed my life occurred. The first, of course, was the day I met Sanwar. But the second day that changed my life came when I was following Stefan around the Cathedral in Krakow, listening to his enthusiastic talk about Gothic architecture. As usual, he had plenty to say.

"My friends, look at these beautiful arches. Look up, and imagine the weight that these arches are carrying."

We looked up, and marvelled.

"They are wonderful, aren't they. To the mediaeval architect, they just looked, and felt, right. But now see how they used their material so that it looked delicate and almost other-worldly, but was actually incredibly strong and durable. And what they worked out in practice is now demonstrated by scientific research; that the Gothic arch is in truth the most efficient of all possible load-bearing structures."

True to his principle that working folk, especially craftspeople of any trade, are always interesting, Stefan had stopped to chat to a stonemason who was cutting a piece of stone to repair a broken crenellation. I looked at this man working, and asked if I might try chipping at an oddment of stone. My luck was in! I later came to know this man, Marek Glinka, very well. But he was very kind, found me a chisel and a mallet, and a little offcut of stone which was flawed and not suitable for any other use, and showed me how to make a start.

I was hooked. All these years later, I still am. I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life. The feel of the stone, as if it were a living, breathing thing (which to a stonemason or sculptor it is – look at ancient Greek sculptures if you want a good example), the sound and the feel of the tool and the hammer, the way the chisel goes around doing just what you want it to; all these things are endlessly fascinating, whether you are repairing an ancient building or creating something new. And the job does need real physical strength, too; stone, especially marble or limestone, is heavy stuff.

I talked to Sanwar about it first, then to Stefan, then to Mum and Dad. Sanwar, I knew, would support me in whatever path I chose. Stefan was frankly enthusiastic – but then he was enthusiastic about most things. He was a born teacher. Mum and Dad were less happy. They really wanted me to do something that needed a good degree: ideally one of the professions, otherwise perhaps something in business – a banker, for instance. But they knew me well enough to know that once I had made up my mind, that would be the end of the matter.

I wrote to Grandad to ask his advice, knowing that he would have something helpful to say. He replied on a postcard of the Sanchi Stupa, an ancient monument in India, saying (and I quote),

"My dear Jack,

Congratulations! If you want to leave your mark on the world, you could hardly do better than become a stonemason. The building on the other side of this card has been there for over two thousand years and looks good for at least another thousand.

Much love to you both from Grandad and Papaji."

This was so like Grandad, short and to the point, going direct to the heart of the matter. But I thought, how right he is.

Marek was very kind to me. He welcomed me to his workshop, and Sanwar sometimes came as well to look on, when he could spare the time. Marek even let me do a small amount of the rough work. He also taught me to swear in Polish! Of course, I still had to keep up with school work, and nothing would ever have made me neglect Sanwar, but on Saturdays and other days when I had an afternoon free I would go to Marek's workshop and – well, he was kind enough to say, help him, though I suspect I was probably as much a hindrance as a help, especially at first.

Marek was a short, stocky man, with hands roughened by the materials he worked with. He had short, greying hair, keen blue eyes and a ready smile. Several times I saw him with a man around his own age, slender and intellectual looking. I assumed he was one of the Cathedral staff, but I was wrong. His name was Celestyn Myślenta and he was Marek's partner. In Poland, even then, same sex relationships were accepted by most people and very few thought it in the least out of the way.

Several times, Mum and Dad had Mase and Rudi to dinner with us. They were good company. But it was one such occasion that did Sanwar and me a great favour. We'd decided that as we were all old enough to drink wine with our meal, we might as well do so, and then it would be better for Mase and Rudi to stay overnight in case they were a bit unsteady! So they had our bedroom, and for the first time Sanwar and I shared the double bed.

We never went back to the twin room. Mum and Dad had eventually recognized that our relationship was not going to come to an end; we'd had plenty of opportunities to acquire girl-friends at the International School but we just weren't interested. We had several good friends among the girls, including one couple who were... well, just that, a couple. But that was all they were: good friends who were fun to spend time with. There was no possibility that any of them could provide any kind of close relationship for either of us.

The time for our Finals came all too soon. Sanwar sat papers in all of the sciences, applied maths, English language and European History. I was a bit more modest; I did Biology, Earth Science and Chemistry, which I'd always enjoyed, general maths and again English Language and European History. In due course my papers came back with good grades, Sanwar's with outstanding ones. I'd already made up my mind that while were still in Poland but no longer at school I'd ask Marek to take me on as an assistant, unpaid if necessary. Sanwar found a short term post – paid, though at a fairly low rate – in the Medical School as a lab technician. But these were really make-work jobs, just to keep us occupied while we waited to return to England.

But it was at this time that we had a real object lesson in prejudice. Mase's father had found out about his friendship with Rudi, and hit the roof. He didn't, at that time, know that it was more than just friendship, but as a patriotic, right wing, red blooded (etc., etc.) American man the thought that his son might be associating with a Russian 'Commie' was completely anathema to him. So of course he flatly forbade Mase ever to see Rudi again. I saw Mase in the gym that day, and he looked dreadful. Rudi wasn't much better.

"Well," I said, "come to our house. You can at least have a little time together there in private."

"Wow, Jack, can we really do that?"

"Of course. We'll choose a time when Mum and Dad will be out, and you can arrive separately, but when they you are both there you can use our bedroom."

I have to say that I'd never taken to Mase's father; he struck me as rather arrogant and self-satisfied, and too keen to let everyone know how wealthy and important he was. However, it would not be long before he and his family went back to their home. We'd arranged that Mase and Rudi could correspond via our address in England; the Russian authorities would no doubt have been deeply suspicious about any private letters sent to an American address. We'd even wondered whether to suggest that they send letters in code, but thought that if they were opened it would look far more suspicious than just ordinary text. Not for the first time, I reflected on how lucky we were in Britain, having a muddly, give-it-a-try-and-see-what-happens sort of political system, headed by a Queen who had no actual political power, but enormous influence, all of it to the good. Our parliamentary democracy had grown up over centuries, going right back to the Great Charter of 1215. Our studies in European History had taught us that revolutions seldom produced the desired result, but that our plodding, untidy British system somehow worked and avoided extremes of any kind.

The end of the year came, and our second Christmas in Poland. The first time, feeling slightly homesick, we'd tried to make our Christmas as traditionally English as we could. This time, we went to the opposite extreme as we would be returning home early in the New Year, and we had as Polish a Christmas as we could manage. Christmas Day we spent with the Professor and Mrs Kakzmarek, and for Boxing Day we invited Rudi and his parents to join us for dinner. We'd have liked to have Mase and his parents there as well, but unfortunately Dad had crossed swords with Mr Rivera, and anyway if he'd had to sit at a table with some Russians he'd probably have been unpleasant, so perhaps it was better that he wasn't there.

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