Friday, 30 July 2010

Seven people or things that changed my life (1) Jurek Mazurkiewicz

Thanks to Mr London Street, for it is from him I got the notion of boring you all with this, here is the first one.  They are approximately in chronological order.

Jurek Mazurkiewicz was from Poland and was a pilot in the Polish Fighter Squadron in the Second World War.  Like many Poles he fetched up in west London after the war and found a job and stayed, although also like many Poles he was strongly nationalist.  He married an English girl, blonde and glamorous, whose name was Kitty but who was nicknamed behind her back, not unkindly, Blondie.  They had three children and they lived next door to us in west London for the first seven years of my life, until we moved out to Bedfordshire.  I was friendly with the middle child, the girl, Danusia, a little younger than me, my brother's age.  Later she became famous for a while, not in a good way, as a police officer who was forced out of the police by jealous misogyny - she was also my constituent in the late 1990s when I was MP for Reading East.  But all that is another story.  Her father Jurek seemed old to me, compared with my other friends' fathers - he had grey hair and his Polish accent was exotic to my ears - in late 1950s London English was still pretty much the only language you heard outside the East End. When I was five, and proud of myself because I had just learned to read, I picked up a book at their house and opened it.  And I couldn't read it!  When just that morning I had been able to read!  My mother had to calm me down and explain to me that the book was in French, a language that people spoke in France, and that Mr Mazurkiewicz could read French because he was foreign.  From that moment on I became a linguist.  Not necessarily a good one, but someone for whom language and languages are a passion; more than 50 years later that passion is as hot as ever.  If Jurek Mazurkiewicz had not been our neighbour I might not have seen a book in a language other than English for another 10 or 12 years; we lived on a council estate in South Ruislip and there weren't many books of any kind in people's houses.  When my grandmother said "books" she meant magazines like "Woman's Realm".  Jurek Mazurkiewicz also gave my brother a book (in English) called "Fire and Sword", which he still has but has never read.  Without I am sure ever knowing it, he brought books into our lives in a way that changed them for ever.  Jurek Mazurkiewicz died I think some years ago, after his wife Kitty, who was carried off by breast cancer.  Part of my story (which you will have to wait some months to get from Mr Amazon) was inspired by him and his family.

1 comment:

Mr London Street said...

You are full of surprises - if I'd thought you would do this I would have passed this on to you when I finished the series myself. Really enjoyed this and looking forward to the next six.