Michael Pollek

Born: 24th February 1954

Reading, UK

Date of interview: 13th July 2006

Map showing where Michael Pollek came from

How was it that work, working amongst fellow Ukrainians?

Well it was funny because again, being white, we don't stand out and in those days people were very concerned about Asians and about blacks and really left us alone until we spoke. And then when people spoke in Ukrainian or you heard the Ukrainian accent being mentioned, everybody would be called 'Johnny the Pole' for a kick off, that's everybody's name 'Johnny the Pole'. People would sort of congregate on their own, I must admit in the early days I didn't like that, I didn't like that I was standing out in a crowd and I wouldn't mix with the Ukrainians. Made up for that since mind. I put that down to young stupidity, I just wanted to belong, I wanted to be normal, what I thought was normal. When I was a youngster growing up amongst the Ukrainians I used to pretend to friends of mine at school that I was Irish.

Again at St. James, a catholic school, you would have on St Patrick's day, the majority of the kids there were Irish, there were some English kids there, as I say there were no blacks, there were a few Poles, and there was me, a Ukrainian, I was the only Ukrainian there. St Patrick's day everyone would be wearing shamrocks except for a handful of us who didn't have shamrocks, and you stood out in a crowd and it was awful, it was awful, we'd be taunted, they'd take the piss out of us, they'd call us foreigners, I said I had a brother who was Irish, I clearly remember that that I had a brother.

My mother would come and see me at the gate to bring me some sandwiches and I'd hide 'cos I was embarrassed, I didn't want people to know she was my mother, much to my shame. As I say I, perhaps a little bit too far now seem to have tried to alter that position. But I can, this is again with the trade union movement, this is why I feel it's ... when a group of people are joking about, whether it's a racist joke or whether its about somebody's appearance or somebody's look, the group will join in with that laughter. That doesn't necessarily mean that everybody's included in that laughter, and sometimes the butt of the joke of that laughter will laugh as well, and then will start to make those kind of jokes themselves about others, and that's the awful side of, but I mustn't paint the wrong picture.

Reading is a very tolerant town, always has been. Its greeted its migrant workers, its greeted its immigrant residents with open arms. I remember back in the early '70s, how the national front tried to campaign at the local elections in Whitley, 'cos they thought the Whitley area was a place where they could get friends. And they were ran out by the Whitley people. So no, Reading, but nevertheless you do feel that, not that, difference is too much to actually handle.