Tomasz Wlodarkczyk, born in 1968 in Poland, came to the UK to join his mother and her partner when he was 13 or 14.
Tomasz was born in Lodz, an industrial town in Poland. When Tomasz was seven or eight his mother left for England. Tomasz initially stayed with his father but then moved between other family members – his great grandmother, his grandmother and aunt. His parents divorced when he was about 10. Tomasz was not the best-behaved boy so thinks the family members were each given a ‘ twelve month sentence’ supported by money from his mother. Because of this constant moving Tomasz had to change neighbourhoods, schools and friends frequently. Whilst this gave him a certain amount of freedom, he found this constant moving difficult and often bunked off school.
Tomasz was aware of being under Communist rule from a young age. There were small acts of rebellion – he disrupted Russian classes at school; his grandmother, who ran a food franchise, distributed party members with less meat than other customers. Through his grandmother he gained access to forbidden books such as Catch 22 which he read when he was just 9. He considers Poland to be a libertarian society that did not take easily to Communism.
Tomasz visited his mother 3 or 4 times before he settled here at the age of 13 or 14. She was a manual worker and traded in second hand clothes and other goods across the world. He found it, ‘natural to step into a new life’ staying with his mother and stepfather in Wapping, a white working class area. He went to Philip Howard Catholic school in Poplar where he got into eight fights in the first two weeks, and was nearly expelled. He spoke with a posh English accent as he had been taught in Poland by an ex RAF WW11 pilot. Because of his lack of English he did not do well in O levels . At 16 he moved into a derelict tower block with classmates, worked on a market and got a job with BT. He returned to education, took O and A levels at various colleges and went to university to read European Literature and Philosophy. After working as a fundraiser for several charities he now makes stained glass.
Tomasz went back to Poland for the first time after 20 years. He speaks ‘Poleglish’ with his mother and thinks his aesthetic taste has been influenced by Bauhaus and his early years in Poland. But apart from this he considers himself English – an East Ender to Cockney, even.