Her favourite Szarik trousers

In the picture is the girl on a summer holiday at the age of 6-7. She loves the picture, it shows her favourite Szarik trousers, the bike helmet, and the belt she loved. She looks like a boy and she played like a boy. This is the only photo she has that shows that spirit of gender-fluid expression.

She was born in 1963, and spent her whole childhood in Poland, still under communism, and left the country during Martial Law in the summer after she finished her Matura (A'Levels). It was unusual to be able to leave at that time, but that is another story in itself. As a child, she was very conscious of the war still so present in her city, Warsaw.  There were bullet holes, and half ruined buildings, and on the way back from her nursery she often saw men with only one leg, the other trouser leg hanging tucked above the knee. She watched war movies and played war games, and imagined hiding from the Nazis in the cellar and in the wardrobes. She got her first communist denim jeans (gray black, not blue) with the name of the dog Szarik, on the back pocket covered over with clear plastic. The dog was one of the film characters in the cult movie Czterej Pancerni i Pies (The Four Armoured Soldiers and a Dog). She thought a lot about the war and planned her escape routes. Later at school, teachers warned children against picking up anything that looked like unexploded mines. At some point, a book read to them by a teacher, called Dzieci Warszawy, made a huge impact on her. The Children of Warsaw, an unfinished book by a writer who did not survive the war herself. It was about a group of Polish children looking after a Jewish child. That book was her introduction to Polish-Jewish theme.

She remembers two games, which for some reason might have had a Cold War relevance. One was playing bottle tops, kapsle in Polish. It involved a complex organisation. First one needed to have a collection of at least a few tops from beer or orangeade. Then you would make tiny flags of countries, or, if you were lucky, you would cut them out from books you were allowed to wreck. A flag would be put inside a bottle top and it represented a country. The game involved drawing with chalk long winding routes on the concrete ground. That represented the Race of Peace, the equivalent to the Tour de France. The tops were the cyclists and you flicked them through the route without falling out of the marked space. They commented on which country won or lost as each bottle top represented a country. This game was played by boys mainly but not exclusively, but she played it a lot as she was a tomboy. She had a proud collection of bottle tops. The second game was called ‘The War.’