The Agony of a Hangover

This entry initially started as an experiment,  I was going to write it only while in the throes of a hangover but that quickly came to halt, mostly because this would have been limited to constant repetitions of “Oh Christ”,  “GodohGodohGod”, “Kill me”, “Shite”, and the occasional mashing of the keyboard “AKSHDZLKVHWEOLKSZXLXL.;XV”.

Coffee is a way of stealing time from your future self. Alcohol then, allows you to steal happiness and joy from the future you. The laws of the universe state that for every action, there must be an equal and opposite reaction. It’s a double-edged sword.

I shouldn’t hesitate to add that I am not an expert on the subject, merely a gifted amateur. I’ve experienced hangovers on three continents, in more than a dozen countries. They’re vile aren’t they? Nothing bates the wakeup the next morning. You wake up, eyes flutter as you slowly come to, the brain fires up and then THUMP. It hits you with the subtlety of a hammer.

Of course they come in all shapes and sizes. Your stomach can churn incessantly, meaning you’re under constant threat of legging it to the jacks to grab onto the toilet. Your head will generally appear to have a pulse of its own and throb painfully with every breath.

The world appears to be a darker one while you’re hungover. Part of me wonders if it actually represents an advanced stage of sobriety, that it shows the world for what it really is, stripped of all those pleasant clouds of optimism that murk our vision. It’s a dystopian vision like They Live or Equilibrium. Almost like being taken out of the Matrix. Everyone and everything seems out to get you.

Simple tasks are magnified into Herculean feats, stumbling to the shop or cooking requires immense willpower. And God help you if you’re expected to function in normal society. You’re out of sync with normal society, the more you try to conceal yourself, the more obvious you are. Paranoia has you eyeing passing cars with suspicion, just in case they’re getting ready to mow you down. You stare back at the cashier and your stomach will clench She knows. Just walking on the street or going to work can make you feel like you’re living in an Orwellian nightmare, expecting at any moment to be snatched by secret police.

That’s what really gets me with a hangover. I can handle the nausea, the headaches, the fatigue, but the sheer sense of existential dread and terror of the outside. Those who say alcohol isn’t a depressant, I recommend this weekend you start off with a couple of shots, follow it with some pints and maybe a glass of wine or two. Repeat for another 2-3 days, I guarantee you’ll feel shook for the week. The older I get, the more I dread going out. They do get worse as they get older.

Not that I’m saying a pint with your friends is bad, this post is just about the hell of a hangover, which if you drink sensibly, won’t be an issue!

Perhaps the most interesting part of the depths of a hangover is the religious fervour it can instill. I’ve seen committed atheists, agnostics, and pagans, all declare aloud their faith and like a suffering penitent, beg for salvation. Kneeling before the toilet is generally accompanied by heartfelt pleas and desperate prayer.You’ll renounce all association with the demon drink if only solace is granted now.

If there is one saving grace about the hangover, it’s that there is no cure. I’ve tried numerous concoctions, remedies, prayers, and methods. The only one that works is time. Which is just as well, the deterrent is there. I know for me it’s meant less “Grab one before the bar shuts!” and more “Feck it, I’m going home”.

P.S. I had initially considered adding pictorial evidence of the effects of a hangover but in the end decided not to, this is meant to be a light-hearted post, not a horror story!

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Buses, Borders, and Babcias.

So at the time of writing, I’ve just about recovered from my delightful journey to Ukraine. It was well worth it but travelling there was enough of an experience that I thought it might be best to write a bit about it to help anyone else considering it!

Now the trip didn’t start so well. I’m not designed for heat and Kraków being located in a valley means that it tends to attract a lot of it. Added to that, the bus was late. I get edgy at the best of times, this was making my hair go gray.

I should have trusted Prykarpatskyi Express, in fairness they did show up. A horde of chain-smokers escaped the bus to get their fix while us new passengers battered our way through the crowd to try and stuff our bags in. Of course with so many stops, the drivers do try to put some control on the chaos.

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A pure deascent Ukrainian bus. Home for the night and morning.

From the tumult of conversation around me, I gathered that most of my fellow passengers were Ukrainian. Being quite hungover, I let myself pass out asleep until my neighbour elbowed me in the ribs for dozing atop her. Just as well she did though because we stopped after for the first of many smoke breaks.

The chain-smoking brigade tended to consist of large, burly individuals built like proverbial brick shithouse so when the massive lad next to me muttered something to me in Ukrainian and proffered me a fag, I felt obliged to mumble a dyakuyoo and accept it.

I dozed on and off till the border, we passed through Rzeszow and Przemyśl (good luck trying to pronounce those) before hitting the main checkpoint. It’s a bit scary to be honest, the Polish and Ukrainian border guards tend to go for a military look, with either green uniforms or camo.  One thing they both share appears to be a regulation of no smiles at all. The Polish guard were particularly angry, barking questions at most of my fellow passengers, wanting to know about their visas and so on, two men were taken off my bus for more questioning.

By contrast, the Ukrainians were a lot more relaxed, though my passport got a bit more scrutiny. The fact that the guard was carrying a Kalashnikov made me quite amenable though. I was a bit edgy about my passport being taken off me but my neighbour Olga assured me that this was routine. She was a Ukrainian working in Silesia like me and spoke excellent Polish. Olga was a mine of information for the next few hours and was delighted to be able to lecture me at length on Ukraine. It definitely helped speed along the three and a half hours at the border, and several more after that.

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My first stop on Ukrainian soil. These petrol stations are depressing.

It’s odd those long journeys. The hours crawl by and you start to feel a bit of solidarity with your fellow passengers. After a few hours and stops, you start to exchange companionable nods and greetings with each other when hopping on and off. Hearing my atrocious accent in Polish, Sergiy and Aleksandra (seated in front of us) butted into our conversation, curious why a foreigner was headed to Ukraine. They were from Lviv (the best city in Ukraine so they said) and happily shared some of their food with myself and Olga. It was a bit of craic since my Polish is average at best and theirs wasn’t fantastic either, they’d only been in Poland a few months. Trying to understand each other at times was hilarious.

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Another stop, another station. I did see my first Soviet car here though.

The roads in Ukraine are…..interesting. It reminded me of Ireland though so after a while the constant potholes and bumps began to take on a soothing aspect. The cities and stops became a blur. Kalush, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kolomyya. Being absolutely knackered is a bit like being drunk. You’re not sure what’s happening, who you are, or what you’re doing. The tv blaring the Russian sitcom Кухня started me questioning my sanity.

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Arrival in Kolomyya. The station was fairly packed for 7 in the morning.

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My first glimpse of a marshrutka! 

Unfortunately all good things come to an end. That said, if you’re lucky, so will bad things. I felt like a VIP when I arrived in Chernivtsi, there was about three of us left on the bus so the driver and dispatcher were in a chatty mood. My contribution consisted of much smiling and nodding with the occasional Da or Ya ne ponemayu. 

I have to say that despite the nightmarish nature of the bus, most of the passengers were dead sound. The amount of free food and fags I got was something else. They could be blunt and direct but they definitely helped the journey go a bit faster. Point to Ukraine.

Still it was worth it to make it to the Carpathians. I’ve realised this has been mostly me whinging so I’ll actually include a couple of travel tips for those of you who punished yourselves by reading this far.

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Home for seven weeks or so.

Firstly, for anyone considering buying an international bus ticket in Europe, I recommend using http://www.infobus.eu/lang/en/. It’s a ticket middleman but it saves you the hassle of grappling with a multitude of different tongues and currencies by doing to the direct seat. I’d had enough issues trying to buy my ticket off a Ukrainian bus company till I stumbled across this. Print off the ticket or if you’re not stuck in the 20th century like me, use your smartphone.

Secondly, don’t sit near the old women. Not if you want to sleep.The babcias or babushkas in Poland and Ukraine are formidable women. They survived communism, the older ones survived the last World War. Even if you don’t speak their language, it won’t deter them. They will torment you. They will incessantly complain (about everything from my limited understanding), enjoy airing their feet in the cramped confines of the bus or nag you constantly. I’ve probably lost a combined week of sleep or so from them during my travels, even the nice ones don’t let up. There’s only so much of looking at pictures of grandchildren you can take before your sanity cracks.

Thirdly, I know appearances aren’t everything but pick your seat neighbour carefully. You’re going to be stuck with them for God knows how long.

Lastly, if the option is there and you’re considering hopping on a bus for sixteen or so hours. Don’t. Be nice to yourself. Have a stopover in between, enjoy life. Live a little. Otherwise you’ll find yourself in a warped version of The Canterbury Tales or contemplating flinging yourself from the emergency exit.

I’m done whinging. Thanks for reading.

Slán.

 

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Fencing in Westeros

Great post on the fencing styles in Westeros with an eye to their possible historical inspiration.

Custodia Tertia

Scroll down for my Yoda-English Translation:

Per chi capita su questo blog per la prima volta: In questo blog mi occupo principalmente di arti marziali occidentali, cercate HEMA su Google se siete curiosi!

Dunque, per i miei lettori praticanti di scherma storica e Nerd almeno quanto me, se avete letto A Song of Ice and Fire o almeno visto Games of Thrones penso vi siate chiesti come sarebbe risultata la scherma dei “Migliori combattenti” di Westeros in un’ottica realistica. Ieri mi sono proprio trovato ad immaginare quali stili schermistici potessero addirsi ad alcuni personaggi, la cosa ha un po’ fomentato il mio lato Nerd e ho deciso di trasgredire alle regole che mi ero autoimposto per il blog e di scriverci un post a riguardo.

Cominciamo subito, ho deciso di prendere in considerazione quelli che secondo me (o secondo gli abitanti di Westeros) sono i migliori schermidori o combattenti che “vivono” nell’epoca “presente”…

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Japan now lead the pantheon of all-time great RWC shocks

Nice work featuring some of the greatest upsets in rugby.

Oval balls, mauls, and Ireland's calls

The Rugby World Cup is finally upon us and what an opening weekend it was! Although England’s Friday night opener and Sunday’s itinerary were solid if unspectacular affairs, sandwiched in between was the mother of all World Cup shocks.

Japan, a side that had never won a single game at the Rugby World Cup prior to Saturday, shook the international game to its core by beating the two-time champions South Africa, 34-32. The nation of Japan awoke on Sunday morning to the sight of their national rugby team on every backpage around world. Not only was it a gargantuan result for the Japanese, who now find themselves co-leaders of pool B on four points, it was also a pulsating encounter which set a benchmark the weekend’s subsequent games simply could not match.

Japan’s wondrous victory provides the perfect springboard for today’s post; a look back at previous shock results at the Rugby World Cup…

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Faha Ridge.

With only a couple of days left in Ireland, I was delighted to get a chance to go out on the hills again. A few weeks of kayaking and swimming have started to get boring so it was nice to do something different for a change. With a few old friends from UL on their way down to Kerry, I was more than happy to tag along.

We were headed towards Mount Brandon (Cnoc Bréanainn), a magnificent mountain located at the western end of the Dingle Peninsula (Corca Dhuibhne). The second highest in Ireland at 953m (3123ft), it dominates the surrounding landscape. It’s a mountain that features heavily in local mythology and religion. Heavily connected to Saint Brendan, it’s a popular pilgrimage site but it is also linked with a pagan voyager that of Bran from the colourful tales of Irish and Gaelic mythology. Both men are meant to have voyaged to America and the name Brandon seems to indicate the amalgamation of both the Celtic and Christian tale.

The two most popular routes up Brandon are the traditional pilgrimage route Cosán na Naomh, which is quite boring, albeit safer. The second is from the east from the village of Cloghane which is my favourite for its spectacular views, threading through a glen strewn with Paternoster lakes. However we opted to go for the scrambling option along a less well trodden gem, that of Faha Ridge.

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The red and yellow indicates our approach route along the ridge. The yellow is the scrambling part. We returned by the route through the valley.

The map really doesn’t do Faha much justice so heres a look at what the ridge looks like from the opposite side of the glen.

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Faha Ridge.

The first part of the day was relatively boring, just some steep hiking up along the ridge towards Beenagh and the scramble. The weather was surprisingly warm which is a rarity in Ireland. Blue skies and sunshine generally don’t have a place here.

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A typical west Kerry landscape.

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The ascent into cloud. Supposedly to the right of the ridge there are the remains of a crashed German bomber from the War.

Once onto Beenagh, the ridge narrows noticeably with the drops becoming more sheer to each side. Rather than rattle on with a description, I’ll let the pictures speak for it. Suffice to say, it’s fun scrambling but the exposure on either side might be a bit much for some people. This is alleviated by wider patches where the ground levels off.

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The drop down from Beenagh.

There’s a sort of track for much of the ridge. Route-finding really isn’t an issue, just keep going forward. There is a couple of downclimbs that can be a little tricky but the rock is very grippy and unlike the much maligned Howling Ridge on Carrauntoohil, actually quite solid. We didn’t need any gear though I imagine it’s a different story in winter conditions or anything not a lovely summers day. Those without a head for heights might appreciate the reassurance of a rope.

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The view back along the ridge.

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It’s really a walk just to enjoy the views and with amazing exposure on both sides, we made good time. The most interesting feature is an inclined rock plateau that has to be seen to be believed. In winter it could be fantastic if conditions were right.

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The drop down to the plateau.

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Just for scale, top right of the ridge, you can make out Davis climbing.

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Below the plateau and upwards.

After the plateau there was a small traverse through some broken ground across outcrops of rock and grass. The ground was quite steep, I’d imagine it’s not so much fun in snow or in wet weather. A steep bit up a grass gully and it wasn’t long till we were on the saddle below the summit.

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Nearing the end.

Considering we were in cloud for most of the day, it was a nice surprise when we got onto the saddle to be greeted by..

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…..this. 

The mountain sights in Ireland are fantastic but rarely seen. We got lucky. It was fantastic how the western side was all clear like the above while on the eastern side we had the cloud confined to the glen and ridge.

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 The cloud barrier.
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Last push.
After helping a lost Czech tourist we met on the ridge, we pushed on for the summit to enjoy lunch and great sights of the Atlantic and Corca Dhuibhne.
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We went back down the track into the glen and followed it back to the carpark. Five hours roughly round trip and it meant we had enough time to make it to see the All-Ireland Hurling Final. Not that I know anything about the sport.

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Faha Ridge, well recommended.

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1967: The summer Shamrock Rovers became an American franchise

Interesting snippet of football history.

Oval balls, mauls, and Ireland's calls

During my research of domestic football in the United States for my last post [see here] I stumbled across the short-livedUnited Soccer Association. It was a professional league that lasted just one season before merging with the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL), itself a one-season wonder, to form the North American Soccer League (NASL).

United Soccer Association United Soccer Association The United Soccer Association (USA) was truly unique as rather than building franchises from the ground up, or building upon existing semi-professional clubs, it imported European and South American clubs which were then designateda major city and given American franchise names. In short, to explainthis post’s “click tease” headline, Shamrock Rovers wereone of 12 such clubs. Giventhe city’s prevalentIrish heritage, Rovers were based in Boston as the Boston Rovers.

As it usually does, even today, there is nothing like a World Cup to rekindle American interest and intrigue in “soccer”. The…

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An Outsider’s Perspective on the Polish Presidential Election

Elections always bring out the wackiest individuals. In our last presidential elections, Ireland has had Eurovision singers, former terrorists, double-dealing businessmen, poets, all and sundry vie for the title. I’m not sure whether to be relieved or worried that Poland is also quite similar in its varied selection of characters who are fighting tooth and nail to be deemed worthy for power.

I guess in Ireland it’s not so bad since our president is largely a figurehead, there to be an ambassador for the country, to be present at ceremonial events in a similar fashion to the Queen of England. Usually there’s a sense of benign ignorance towards our head of state, one of mild neglect but relaxed good will.

And our current incumbent in fairness to him seems like a fairly normal sort of individual. He’s a human being which is a lot more than can be said about a lot of our politicians.

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Queuing for the ATM. Makes me proud to be Irish.

There is also rumours that he is an exiled prince from Tír na nÓg or the fabled Hy-Brasil. Seeing him at public events makes me wonder if our grandparents were right about the Tuath Dé Danann and the Fir Bolg, the pishogues.

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“You have done well Lord Vader”

But I digress. What interests me about the Polish election is that their diaspora will be allowed to participate in their presidential elections unlike in Ireland which seems to twist the slogan of the Thirteen Colonies to “No representation without taxation!”

With a population nearing 40 million and current tensions in eastern Europe as they are, along with its long and complicated history, Poland’s election is a bit more of a big deal than our little song and dance in Ireland. Especially since the President of Poland has quite a bit of power. Along with being the Supreme Head of the Armed Forces, the President can also dissolve the Parliament if he or she wishes as well as various other legislative and executive powers that all comes under the tenure of the office.

Poland is like Ireland in some ways and in others, completely different. Both countries are traditionally seen as bastions of Catholicism with conservative values, both flanked by larger, more aggressive neighbours. Whereas we’ve had the best part of a century to run ourselves into the ground, Poland endured the austerity of communism. The large working class and powerful trade unions are tempered by a strong sense of patriotism and Catholic conservative values. It’s quite a different animal from Ireland where our political parties are all pretty much the same and there’s no real left or right, just centre.

Issues like women’s suffrage were far more advanced in Poland but on the other hand something like the marriage referendum that’s happening in Ireland now probably won’t happen here for another decade or so at least. Political struggle here in recent memory was centred on the union members (the world famous Solidarity Movement) with widespread civil disobedience and strikes unlike our distinctly Irish tendency towards mortar attacks, car bombs and molotov cocktails.

So let’s check out some of the more interesting candidates.

First up we might as well see the current president who is seeking re-election, Bronislaw Komorowski.

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I’ve heard nothing too spectacular about him. He’s reasonably popular, became acting president after the death of Lech Kaczynski in 2010. Interned under communism, has served as Defense Minister. He’s not too much a fan of Russia. A lot of political experience which counts in a country where traditionally politicians spend years working their way up the party hierarchy. Not going to comment too much on him as he’s the current favourite.

I couldn’t leave out Janusz Palikot.

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Jan…well he honestly doesn’t give a shit about anything. The bad boy of Polish politics. He loves publicity stunts. He’s smoked weed in public, publicly stated the president is an oaf (a risky move with Poland’s anti-defamation laws), brandished a gun and a dildo at a press conference over police rape allegations and perhaps most infamously produced the severed head of a pig during a TV debate with officials of the Polish Football Association (PZPN) as his way of declaring war on what he stated was corruption within their ranks.

He’s also been investigated for financial irregularities with claims that he’s illegally financed his election campaigns. He’s got a mixed reception, some love him, others hate him with many I’ve talked to seeing him just as a showman.

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Then there’s Pawel Kukiz.

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He’s a singer. He’s compared himself to Gandhi and recently said something along the lines of

If you have your own anti-system candidates then you really need to go to the ballots and vote for them. The more votes we get, the more we weaken this enlightened communism, the better for Poland“.

His view is that political parties are there for their own gain, that citizens lose out thanks to the current system. He’s getting quite popular recently, he’s got nearly 10% in the opinion polls, mostly amongst younger Poles who are probably a bit pissed off with the system.

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Then we have Marian Kowalski.

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Marian does not do photographs well. He varies from looking like a Bond villain to a retired punk rocker who’s having a mid-life crisis. He’s from the Schwarzenegger school of politics, he’s a former bodybuilder and no doubt quite good at lifting heavy objects. Marian is heavily involved with Ruch Narodowy (National Movement) which began as an alliance between several far right and nationalist parties in Poland. As such he’s probably doomed to be eternally in opposition.

He recently visited Ireland to canvass for votes where his reaction to protesters about his presence was to call them

the agents of Putin in Ireland

He’s not a fan of immigration which I find mildly hilarious considering how Poles, like the Irish, tend to emigrate. He also has the same name as my mother, so I can’t see his name without chuckling.

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Quite a bit easier on the eye is Magdalena Ogórek.

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With a doctorate in history, Magda is from a heavily academic background with quite a bit of lecturing experience under her belt. She’s better known for her looks though, having cameos in quite a few films and tv shows. Much sharper than she’s given credit for, alot of Poles I’ve talked to seem quick to dismiss her on account of her looks, unaware of her academic work. She refused to be interviewed during her campaign which I hardly think is going to improve her chances. A local girl, she’s from Rydultowy, a small mining town near enough to where I work.

Has stated that she intends to thaw out Moscow-Warsaw relations which is in contrast to some of the other candidates. Here she is acting.

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I’ll finish with Janusz Korwin-Mikke.

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He’s….controversial to say the least. A veteran politician, he protested higher taxes by eating his tax return. He’s also stated that democracy is the

stupidest form of government ever conceived.

(Churchill would have been proud, “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter”).

Last of the Mohicans, Korwin is a contradiction. He’s not a fan of women’s suffrage and believes men are more intelligent but then stated Margaret Thatcher was his political authority and attended her funeral. He also said that disabled people shouldn’t be seen on television but prior to this he had set up a foundation to help them develop their skills in chess. He’s conservative, he’s liberal, he’s Janusz Korwin-Mikke. He puts me in mind of an aging Cossack, an old warhorse who won’t be put out to pasture. Basically he does whatever he wants.

I’ll just leave you with some quotes of his, give his blog a look, putting it mildly, it’s some read.

A jump from the sixth floor is definitely more harmful than taking heroin, yet we don’t forbid building sixth floors.

He’s made it clear he doesn’t like democracy…

Democracy means that if this man, you Miss, and I will be trapped on an island, we having a majority of votes will decide that you have to sleep with us. That’s the Democracy. And with 2/3 votes we can even put that in the constitution.

Or socialism…

Paleontologists do not have to search for famous “missing link” from which humans supposedly came, and current great apes. This link is simply the socialist – because he has both monkey genes.

He’s quite direct.

I support the protection of life from conception to natural death. But a natural death for a murderer is a death on the gallows.

In his seventies, though he doesn’t look it. I sincerely believe he’d prefer to settle arguments on the field of honour as opposed to parliamentary debate in the Sejm.

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There’s a few other candidates but none quite so as entertaining as the one’s I’ve mentioned above. Hopefully my  outsiders view on the presidential election won’t ruffle too many feathers, I’m a novice at Polish at best and I’ve only been living here eight months. I’m curious to see what the result will be come next week. It’s been relatively muted in my town, most people seemed more excited about the local elections! Maybe it’s a Silesian thing.

The above opinions are my own with some paraphrasing from people I’ve chatted to or some articles I’ve read. It’s not intended as a definitive take on any of them. If you’ve any comments or observations, feel free to leave them in the comments section below and I’ll get back to you when I can.

Slán go foill agus go raibh maith agaibh.

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