(I’ve covered most of how Angloville runs in my previous blog, but as each one is different, here are the highlights.)
Although we totally failed to walk to Poland in my last Angloville (distracted, as we were, by cheap booze and haribo), we finally make it to southern Poland and it is beautiful. Loads of steep-roofed, four-storey houses covered in intricate patterns of timber and stone. I’m fairly certain that everyone has a cow in their front garden or, failing that, at least a couple of sheep. At dusk we see perfectly normal people wandering up the street carrying huge buckets and milking stools.
As we drive to the hotel we pass a traditional wedding party, with everyone riding in beautifully decorated horse-drawn carriages, and wearing national costumes.
The cavalcade is led by two men on horseback, singing loudly in rich, tenor harmonies. They are followed by a six-piece band in a covered wagon: the musicians try desperately to keep their violins and cellos from bashing together, as the horses sway along the road.
Next are the happy couple in a white open-topped carriage pulled by four smart, white, horses bedecked with roses, ribbons and brasses. Although they smile and wave, both the bride and groom are terribly busy on their mobile phones.
Then come the wedding guests. The males sport camel-coloured, heavily embroidered suits, with trousers that split at the ankles and spread over their shoes, all topped off with black, round-brimmed hats and loose-sleeved shirts. The females have brilliantly flowered skirts, with matching shawls, and lace-up bodices.
The whole thing is joyously colourful and exceedingly relaxed. We stand and watch as the horses gently wander up the hill, and the strains of some unfamiliar folk song drifts back to us.
Now, the co-ordinator needs a mention here – not just because he was brilliant at his job – but because he looked just like Ryan Gosling with a bit of Ryan Reynolds thrown in.
And his name was Ryan. I’m not even joking.
On the first day he took care to warn us about ‘The Game’ – the Polish participant’s habit of getting the native speakers as drunk as possible. We were allowed to miss a session if we were genuinely ill, but not if we’d played ‘The Game’. Fair do’s. Realised now that the Voluptuous One from the last Angloville had been giving that a good shot, just before she confronted Steve’s nipples.
THE FOOD – BETTER THAN LAST TIME?
Oh hell, yes, what a change! Each meal was an all-you-can-eat buffet with loads of choice, including two or three salads with every meal (even at breakfast). As we had a high percentage of vegetarians and vegans on the course, it was such a relief. The coffee was awful, which proves you can’t have everything, but I was one happy bunny.
ONE TO ONE’S
We had a much larger group, so it was harder to get to know everyone the way we had on our first experience, but they were just as lovely and hard-working.
Had a very interesting session with a lady who told me about a massive crush she’d developed on a much younger man (and what came of it), and another with a mother of three young children, who described them as ‘sweet little energy vampires’. Pretty good grasp of English, that.
I still had my work cut out for me though, especially with one chap. He was middle-aged, and quite tough looking. Not someone you’d think to mess with. Most of the week he was seen wandering around the hotel spa in a bathrobe, and the general consensus was that this was a cheap holiday for him and he wasn’t that bothered about learning English. My one to one with him was nearly over in ten minutes.
‘I answer all questions, what you want, is done.’
‘No, we still have forty minutes, so let’s just talk, ok?’
Shit. What are we going to talk about? But I persevered, and we discovered that if you look at his house on Google maps, you can see one of his hunting dogs. So, that was useful.
After each session, Ryan would give us a small form to fill in detailing what the participants strengths and weaknesses are, and what we think they need to work on. I looked at the paper for ages, and in the end I wrote:
Honestly, no idea. Think I may have spent an hour with a very charming ex-gangster.
I met up with Steve later and told him about the lovely girl I was going to be mentoring: young, sweet, enthusiastic and funny, with some great pictures of a sky-diving day that she could build her presentation around. I asked who he’d been allocated?
‘The Gangster. And all he wants to talk about is what he kills when he goes hunting, and I keep telling him he can’t because of the vegetarians, so he buggers off to the spa.’ Nearly snorted my tea out of my nose.
We are perched on the top of a hill with a wonderful view of the mountains. At the end of the road is a beautiful church, a sweet little chapel, and a stunning cemetery. The church is famous for being linked to a major one in Prague and is a place of pilgrimage. The Sunday we were there it was absolutely packed, with people lining the grounds and path outside, all standing silently (even the children) to hear the service taking place inside.
The whole place was a forest of honey-coloured wood, each surface carved by hand. And the little chapel, with its separate bell-tower, was the same – even the lampshades were made from slats of fan-shaped wood.
But the cemetery – wow. They really like plastic flowers here, plus enough candle-lit lanterns to light a small city. Sounds tacky and it actually was, I suppose, but it was also joyous and celebratory and how I’d like my grave to look, (though a plastic Bambi and a hip-swivelling Hawaiian dancer better find its way in there too. Just saying.)
We had some brilliant presentations that showed just how hard everyone had worked. My girl got us all laughing with her sky-diving story, and she looked so delighted: I was really proud of her. Last up was the Gangster, and none of us knew quite what to expect.
‘I am successful businessman but for weekends I go to my house in forest. I take my dogs – here is picture of my dogs. I take my children. I take my gun. And I take my LOVELY wife.’
He proceeded to describe looking for animals in the forest – to photograph them. This was Steve’s intervention, I knew. Each time he mentioned his wife as an afterthought, but with great emphasis. By the third time, he simply had to cup his hand around his ear and look expectantly at the audience who all chimed in unison, ‘my LOVELY wife’.
By the end of the story, he’d been confronted by a bear, saved his dogs, chased away the bear, ‘See, here is picture of bear from CCTV camera‘. Big gasp, not kidding, genuinely impressive. ‘And final, here is picture of my family. Here are dogs. Here are children. Here is car. Here is house. Oh, and here is….?’
‘MY LOVELY WIFE!’ we all yelled. Well done Gangster. Well done Steve.
THE AFTER PARTY
Well, we all played ‘The Game’ a bit. There was a lot of dancing. One lithe young lady was a hula-hooping yoga teacher, who’s sinuous moves looked almost impossible. One chap was a fantastic break-dancer. Another refused to take Steve’s reluctance to dance seriously, scooped him up in his arms, carried him to the dance floor, and plonked him down in the middle. It was a good night. Maybe a bit too good for some people as the next day, at the certificate ceremony, some of them could only lie on the floor clutching their heads and looking weepy and green.
And that was it. Another Angloville. Another country. Another wonderful set of people and experiences. We still had a van full of Dory and a shed-load of laundry, but it was time to move on.
In my next blog I’ll tell you the Dory story, and how we ended up in Slovakia again.