Friday, 20 January 2012

Poles Apart

Diversity, or for that matter employment and equality law, has not yet reached down to the world of hand cash car washes in our area. The various teams engaged in this form of economic enterprise are rigorously segregated and some may well be from one extended family. My preference has been for the Polish one.

They are efficient, work as a team and do a very good job. There is often a small or longer queue so I am not alone in my opinions. What is striking is that they are all adult, some may well have families back in Poland and are clearly used to manual work and the disciplines involved.

Quite what their precise financial or housing arrangements are I am not sure. It is possible that the UK system of benefits and the rest may be a major incentive but they certainly know what they have to do and get on with it.

The other teams are all migrants from other places. Alas, I am unable to choose a Scottish, English, Irish, Welsh or British group, they do not exist. Perhaps the educational system is at fault.

None of the several universities in our general area have graduate courses in car valeting or post graduate studies in motor transport hygiene management. I enquired of one senior educator why this might be at a recent meeting only for her suddenly to discover urgent business elsewhere.

Meanwhile in the media there is a debate about how it is that so many migrants find work to do in the UK whilst an increasing proportion of our youngsters do not find work that matches their expectations or inclinations. Fingers at pointed at Eastern Europe, notably the Poles, as taking our jobs.

There was a time when in the Midlands town where we lived on a summer’s day there was a large group of Poles making their way up the main road to the beat of a bass drum. When the drum stopped and the band struck up the dignitaries in the grandstand rose as one and the thousands lining the road cheered the men on.

It was the Polish national anthem and the group were men from the 1st Independent Polish Airborne Brigade brought over from Grantham way (did Mr. Roberts serve them in his grocer’s shop?) who had fought at Arnhem in 1944 and this was July 1945 when they were being honoured amongst others.

I was standing on a Jeep courtesy of American’s of the 82nd Airborne Division who were cheering as loudly as anybody. Some wore the Purple Hearts they had earned on 6 June 1944 when they were dropped into Normandy or also at Arnhem.

Many of the Poles did not make it back to Poland for a variety of political and personal reasons. For some there was no family left to return to and for others the welcome might be uncertain from their former Soviet allies now installed in Poland.

The local Roman Catholic churches welcomed them. They provided a devout stiffening amongst the more lackadaisical local men and moreover, unlike those in the congregation from one part of the Atlantic Isles, did not head out of church regardless of the service five minutes before the pub’s opening time.

Most married into local families, there were more than enough widows or lost fianc├ęs to avoid the usual resentments. They were found work in local factories. One was keen to recruit their footballers and especially the most able chess players amongst them. The works chess team became one of the best in the Kingdom.

This is all two thirds of a century away and it is likely that most of their grand children may have forgotten their Polish heritage or know little about it. It is possible that some of the loudest complainants about recent migrant Poles may well have that blood.

In any case if one looks at the patterns of male DNA in the Y Chromosome there are a good many in the UK from the long past who left behind cousins in central Europe as they moved north and west after the last Ice Age. So many Poles are closer to some of us than we think. Much the same applies to the maternal DNA.

The questions arising from recent mass migration, employment patterns, educational provision, benefits policy and housing and health provision are very complicated. In the case of the Poles the history is even more complex.

None the less there is a profound irony in large numbers of Poles coming over to do the jobs that many of our own young people do not want to do, may not in fact be capable of doing and in any case are able to refuse.

Which reminds me, the car needs a wash.

1 comment:

  1. "None of the several universities in our general area have graduate courses in car valeting or post graduate studies in motor transport hygiene management."

    Give it time.