Chris Markiewicz's Blog
Every Monday – thoughts, observations and ideas that hold up a mirror to who & how we are

Nightmare? What nightmare?

 In April of 1940, my mother, who was in her early 20’s at the time, undertook a train journey. The journey was from the Polish city of Lwow (now, Lviv in the Ukraine) to Kazakhstan.

 It was not a journey of choice, rather one that was at the behest of the Russian army. My mother, along with her own mother and four brothers was ushered onto the train at gunpoint, having been told to leave their home with virtually no notice. My grandfather had already been taken away one night some months earlier, never to be seen again. The train had no seats, no buffet car, not even on board toilets. In fact, they were travelling in a cattle truck. Destination: a work camp in the wilderness that was the Kazakh Steppe. The journey was to take a total of ten days.

 Fast forward seventy years. The son of the woman who undertook that journey is travelling into London on a Northern Line train. The train stops at West Finchley, a station that happens to be above ground. The doors open and the crisp sunny air of a frosty February morning wafts its way into the carriage. There is a delay of several minutes. A woman, dressed smartly in business attire takes out her mobile phone:

 “It looks like I’m going to be late, the Northern Line’s an absolute NIGHTMARE”


 What is it with this word NIGHTMARE that has come into common use in the last decade or so? Every minor inconvenience or delay, instantly seems get hyped up to the “red alert” level of NIGHTMARE. I write it in capitals because we usually speak it in capitals for greatest possible emphasis.

 “I was stuck on the M25 for 40 minutes it was a NIGHTMARE”

“ I left my wallet at home, what a NIGHTMARE” (alternatively: “What a DISASTER”)

 We have seen more than our fair share of real nightmares and disasters on our screens in recent weeks, yet we still insist on “sweating the small stuff” so much of the time. It may appear that I’m coming from a judgmental standpoint here, urging that we all “should be grateful”. However, more importantly, I wonder what such dramatisation of situations does to our stress levels and ultimately our well-being and relationships? Such over reaction to day to day challenges can’t help but take it’s toll on our system.  Classic mountain out of a molehill stuff.

 Instead of taking the opportunity to enjoy the fresh air and sound of the birdsong on that sunny winter’s morning, the woman on the tube chose to see and emphasise the dark side of the situation.

 Unlike one of the women on a very different train journey over 70 years ago who is quoted here in an extract from my mother’s memoir:

 At the station they put us in the cattle truck with two platforms at the end for sleeping. There were nine families in our wagon, 17 adults, mostly women, 9 children and 2 babies. I remember old Mrs Sielanska sitting on a big wicker trunk with her black hat askew saying, “All my life I wanted to travel and here I go!”. She was a grand lady.

 I’m also quite sure that those unfortunate people who were caught up in the recent calamities in Japan and Christchurch or a few years ago in the 7/7 London bombings will probably carry a more realistic perspective of what a nightmare really is.

 Meanwhile, when stuck on a delayed train, tempted to over react, I try to tap into what it will have been like for my own mother in that cattle truck those few decades back. I then take a deep breath, relax and know things ain’t all that bad. Rather than a nightmare, I give it another name – a bit of a poo. Just like the real thing – inconvenient, unpleasant even, but hardly life threatening.

 So, next time you encounter a day to day type inconvenience, stop yourself before being tempted to declare it a NIGHTMARE to one and all and think poo instead.


PS: An estimated 1.7 million Poles were deported to Russian labour camps between 1939 and 1941 – just one third of them survived. This is one of the biggest untold stories of the time. For a concise overview of these events see:           


2 Responses to “Nightmare? What nightmare?”

  1. Very salutory reminder.
    Each time I hear of another death in Afghanistan or Iraq, I remind myself that during World War II there were a thousand such tragedies for UK people every week, and wonder how my parents’ generation could possibly have coped. And now you remind me that just the Polish deportations to Russia alone took 4 times as many lives.

  2. I think I can relate to your mother’s ordeal but maybe I can’t, but perhaps my father could. As you and I may have discussed, my father had to flee his home town of Brlog, Croatia during the 2nd world war and walk with thousands of others for several days until they reached Southern Italy. Like your grandfather, my grandfather had already been shot in a reprisal killing which was why the young menfolk had to flee their villages in the area which had become a battleground between Tito’s army and German troops occupying Yougoslavia as was. My father was a teenager at the time, leaving all his family behind. During the long and arduous journey he recalls a conversation with an older (wiser !) man that went along the lines of :-

    My Father: We’ll be back in a few weeks when all of this blows over, I can’t wait (probably said with a few expletives)

    Wise man : Mmm , somehow I doubt that very much. It may be a very long time until we will be able to return safely

    He was right – it was several years until it was safe to return and to this day, my father has never been back to his homeland (a very long story which I won’t go into here).

    Your blog has made me aware of how little my father has ever complained about “his lot”, perhaps bacause he is very grateful to England for what it has done for him. He never said to us as kids, “when I was your age …..”.

    I suspect he still has “nightmares”, real ones that recall these atrocious events, although he never speaks of them

    In our world, change nightmares for distractions, minor inconveniences, or for the really positive amongst us, opportunities !

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