Lost in translation with Slavomir

Annie Morris
“I know a good painter.” My ears pricked up. The once crisp white walls were looking more like fifty shades of grey. I needed a painter urgently.

“I know a good painter.” My ears pricked up. The once crisp white walls were looking more like fifty shades of grey. I needed a painter urgently.

“Pawel brings his own flask of tea, arrives on time and offers to hoover when he has finished.”

As if that wasn’t enough of a recommendation Imelda added, “Oh and he looks like David Beckham.” I phoned Pawel immediately. The next day he arrived. He really was Poland’s answer to David Beckham. His white painter’s overalls were spotless and looked ironed. His teeth were as white as snow, he was spray tanned and he wore ‘Aviator’ sunglasses despite the fact that it was raining.

Pawel was the coolest painter on the planet. He went around the house, studying the walls and striking the occasional pose. “This job will take a week.” He would be in the house for a whole week? I could handle that. The job was booked.

Pawel phoned the day before he was due to arrive; he was sick. “I am sending my father to you instead. He is a good painter also. He does not speak English. But it’s OK, I have explained the job.”

Twenty-four hours later, I watched as Slavomir arrived in a beaten up, red 1990 Volvo estate. Out stepped a strapping six foot tall bearded pensioner. He waved. I waved back and launched into my welcome. “Hello Slavomir! Isn’t it cold. Is Pawel feeling better?”

A smiling Slavomir looked mildly confused, shrugged his shoulders and said “Tak, tak”. He walked into the house holding his flask in one hand and a ladder in the other.

My week with Slavomir began well. Being so tall meant that he didn’t need an extension pole on his roller. His arms were incredibly long.

He had great attention to detail and patience. He needed it thanks to my own terrible lack of attention to detail when it comes to housework.

The ceilings were cluttered with cobwebs that I had neglected to remove. He came into the kitchen when he discovered the first one, muttering “Yes, yes” to himself.

As I stood ironing, he composed himself briefly stretching one arm into the air and with a sweeping gesture, performed a short mime. Silently, he proceeded to stand on tip toes and wave his arms about theatrically, reaching into imaginary corners until I shouted out, “A duster?”

“Ah tak, tak, D-U-S-T-E-R!” he clapped his hands when I waved the feather pink duster around in the air. He took it from me, said “Tak, tak “ and headed back into the bedroom.

After another hour or so of painting, Slavomir came back into the kitchen. This time he looked troubled. Taking a deep breath, he slowly let put just one word that I had never heard before: ‘functionality’.

It was my turn to look mildly confused and smile. “F-U-N-C-T-I-O-N-A-L-I-T-Y” he said again, slowly. Then came the second mime of the day. He fell to the floor and banged at a bit of skirting board.

Then he stood up and opened and closed an imaginary door. This required much more of my attention than the feather duster did. I put the iron down. “Door?” “Yes, yes!” Did he want to go out? Did he need the toilet? Had he locked himself out of his car? I was clutching at straws.

He took my hand and led me into the bedroom. Kneeling down, he showed me the problem, repeatedly opening and closing the real door and pointing to where it banged against the skirting board.

He wanted me to get a doorstop or something like it that would make the whole door situation better.

I thanked him and wrote ‘BUNG’ on my shopping list.

‘Functionality’ covered all manner of problems in the house. Using nothing but mime, Slavomir was able to act out to me five minor ‘functionailty’ issues in the house.

Slavomir discovered a broken window handle, a missing hinge, a broken wall bracket, several holes that needed filler and a chipped tile in the bathroom. Who needs Polish/English dictionaries anyway? But on day three came a different problem altogether.

He came into the kitchen once again and said another new word, very slowly.

“C-O-A-K”. “COAK?” I felt like a contestant on a weird game show. Something was seriously lost in translation.”

C-O-K” he nodded at me this time with a mime. He stretched his hand out in front of him and like he was holding a gun, slowly moved it left and right.

“Coke?” he shook his head. “C-O-A-K”. “GOK WAN?”

He shook his head. “C-O-A-K” he replied. He took my hand again and led me out to his car where in the back, he showed me an empty cylinder of something called ‘Builders Caulk’.

“You want me to get some CAULK?” he nodded “Yes, Yes.” I wrote ‘Caulk’ on my shopping list and nipped into the DIY shop for Slavomir.

That afternoon, oven on and time for a spot of baking. Slavomir came back into the kitchen.

“C-O-A-K” he said, slowly. We had been here before. I had been to Woodies. “CAULK?” he shook his head. “C-O-A-K” he went on. “You want a COKE?” he shook his head again. “C-O-A-K” I was really struggling. It was never like this on Give Us A Clue. Slavomir felt deep into his pocket and pulled out his phone. He scrolled through some photos until he found the one. “C-O-A- K!” he showed me the screen and a picture of a gateau.

“CAKE?” “Yes, YES! C-A-K-E”. He pointed at a cake on the screen. “I, CAKE.” “You would like some CAKE?” I asked. “Yes, yes. I CAKE.” At that moment, the bleeper went on the oven and I pulled out a cinnamon and vanilla sponge. He ate three slices very quickly.

Thanks to Slavomir the walls look as white as Pawel’s teeth once more. And it’s me who should be saying “Serdecznie dziekuje”.