Let me take you with me on a holiday to Grójec Wielki in western Poland. I can do it in a few words: mushrooms, kayaking, food – and twins, of course. The house is capacious overlooking an above-ground swimming pool; a table and a fireplace; a jetty; and the lake, which unfortunately we can’t swim in because of algal bloom. There we are: four grandparents, two parents and Jaś and Maja.
The stars of the week are mushrooms and what Ola and Jurek do with them. Jurek and J go mushrooming for a few hours and return with a basket and a bucket full. They tip them out on the bench in the shed, or the table near the jetty, where they are brushed off, sorted and sliced.
Some become mushroom stew; some are pickled in vinegar and allspice and are eaten on breakfast bread; some are turned into mushroom soup eaten over pasta, handmade by M and Ola.
That’s not the end of living off the land. A harvest of wild peaches becomes peach compote and the evening vodka is decorated with mint from the edge of the lake. Wild sorrel transforms into a slightly bitter soup based on duck stock and rich with cream.
Jurek grates and squeezes potatoes to make pancakes we fail to savour properly because a wasp stings Jaś and we’re terrified he’ll have an allergic reaction. He doesn’t, but he shrieks with the pain until he’s comforted by sugar pancakes, art (Tata’s drawings of wasps) and literature (particularly Mummy’s story about cousin Ari being stung by a whole nest of wasps.)
I don’t go on the morning mushroom jaunts, but I do take an afternoon mushroom ramble in the forest with Maja and J. Perched on his shoulders she has the job of mushroom spotter as we traverse the mossy ground, sometimes dug over by pigs or deer. She knows my favourite colour is purple and she finds me a purple assemblage.
Apart from an occasional foray to the shop, once on a rainy day which was a gift to mushroomers and snails, we don’t go farther afield. (The last two snails are water snails.)
Everyone goes out in kayaks, either down to the bridge where there are baby swallows still in the nest, or up to the lake where I see a heron close up as it swoops towards harassing gulls. Maja handles the paddles by herself with some aplomb. Jaś wants a life jacket that will save him. I go with my daughter, a rare chance to chat without interruption: and with J who noses in amongst mosquito infested reeds to look at wooden boats and take photos and measurements. I shame myself totally at disembarkation time: I have to be hauled out. When the kayaks aren’t being paddled the twins use them for surfboards.
There’s plenty to occupy three year olds. They pick flowers and pat slugs; suck the innards out of blood sausage; throw back the tiny fish dziadek catches; draw with charcoal, and a stick on the sandy road. On the swing Maja says “I’m going to do a blimey charlie”: that’s what we say in admiration when she hangs upside down. Then you hear a plaintive voice drawling “Who’s going to push me?” and know it’s time to put down the beer and the conversation and start the rocket ship countdown as you push them very high. They help to gather sticks for the bonfire and toast marshmallows. Inside they make dens for yabbies and bunyips out of the lounge cushions.
Of course a week isn’t long enough. But I have something to look forward to when we return to Warsaw. My Australian daughter arrives for her holiday.