Michael Pollek

Born: 24th February 1954

Reading, UK

Date of interview: 13th July 2006

Map showing where Michael Pollek came from

You've related about your primary education, what about your secondary education?

I went to school, I remember one morning, and there was paper on the desk and a new pencil, and that was quite impressive 'cos I didn't think I had qualified for a new pencil yet. And on the board was written in big letters 'eleven plus', I didn't understand what that meant either, and the teacher started talking about not to turn the paper over, and I did, and he threw the duster at me which hit me round the side of the head and that was the beginning of my eleven plus, I failed that.

I suppose I should have sued the school for that duster hitting my head and therefore helping me fail my eleven plus [laughing] but in all seriousness, the Ukrainian community's quite a tight knit community and the priest, when I was twelve asked my father if I would be interested in becoming a priest. This said 'Well we'd like you to go to Rome to be a priest.' Well I didn't want to be a priest either but I looked at my father and my father said yes, I looked at my mother and my mother was crying. I couldn't understand why she was crying and I said well I don't particularly want to go. 'No that's ok we'll talk about it,' then my mother stopped crying she said yes you will go. And so I said ok I'll go. That would've been round about March, February time. Come July and the papers are all in and things have been signed up and there's a list, 'cos don't forget, as I said my parents, while my mother could read and write Ukrainian she could read a little bit of English but not a lot. My father had none, so I would do all the English stuff. I mean I used to fill in my father's tax returns when I was a young boy. All this paper work is now coming along both in Ukrainian and a lot in Italian which meant absolutely nothing to anybody but there was an English translation to it and its giving us detailed instructions of what we were supposed to do about getting a passport for me etc, and a list of clothes they had to buy for me.

I seem to remember on that list apart from how many socks and shirts and stuff, I had to have a hat for the sun. Now I'd never worn a hat even when I was at school here I didn't wear a cap, that was a fiasco trying to find a hat for me. We didn't have much money and again in those days there wasn't, it wasn't as easy to borrow money as it is today. There was a new thing came up called the provident cheque which was were they would actually give you a cheque that you could only spend in certain shops and you paid it off, it was an early form of loan, but of course you were limited to what sort of shops you could go and therefore limited what you could buy.

They kitted me out and indeed I went to Rome, but before I went to Rome I said look if I don't like it can I come back home? And they said of course, give it till Christmas. Ukrainians celebrate Christmas according to the old calendar not the new calendar, so Ukrainian Christmas is January seventh, as opposed to December twenty fifth. I went to Rome, that particular morning it was an awful chilly morning, although it was summer, but a chilly morning, and the, my sister, I had a sister by then, this is in 1967, no six, 1966, so I would have been twelve. My sister, me, mother and my father walking to Reading station to get on a train to go to London, which was the second time I'd been to London, to go Victoria station to catch the boat train to go to Italy. And there were about 120, 130 other boys from England going to the seminary in Italy. The seminary in Italy had people from all over the world of Ukrainian parentage, the key thing was that you had to speak Ukrainian and you had to pass an entrance exam.

I'm not a priest, I could never be a priest. One thing that taught me, the training there taught me to lie, that's definitely one thing it taught me. It also taught me how unfair the world is and that, and in a way I suppose its thanks to that education I have, that I had that I do what I do now for a living.