Kaptain Kombinować strikes again

I like our landlord. He’s helpful, trustworthy, generous and friendly—he treats us more like guests than tenants. The only problem is that he has a secret identity: he is Kaptain Kombinować. When a problem needs solving and no one else can help, he swoops in dressed in his elastic-waisted sweat pants and inside-out Duran Duran T-shirt and wielding the mighty Hammer of Kombinować (except when he forgets it and has to borrow mine).

Kaptain K’s latest adventure began with a seemingly innocent visit by the electricity meter inspector. The evil inspector was not pleased. “This meter must go,” he insisted, “and in its place, one that isn’t quite so blatantly illegal must be installed,” he added. Kaptain K swung into action 48 hours later. Thankfully he was accompanied by his sidekick Presumably Fully Qualified Electrician Boy, otherwise I would now be writing this via a seance.

The new meter was successfully installed, in the sense that it didn’t immediately fall off the wall or cause any deaths. It was less successful at dealing with more complex challenges, such as allowing us to turn on anything electrical. The boy wonder performed certain technical adjustments with a bent screwdriver and all seemed well, until we tried the hot water. Everything in my flat is electric. The water heater switches on when you open the hot water tap. We opened the tap, and were immediately plunged into darkness. Further adjustments were made but the ensuing darkness was, if anything, more profound than the first time. This amusing game continued for some hours. I began to enumerate the benefits of cold showers for future reference.

For reasons known only to ancient and hidden intelligences greater than man’s, and the electricity company, I have a pre-pay electricity meter. This means I have to buy my electricity before I use it. It’s a bit of a hassle because it means visiting the electricity buying office every month or so, but I don’t mind too much because it’s amazing how much more conscientious about electricity use you become when you’re burning something you’ve already paid for. When you visit the electricity buying office they don’t just give you the electricity in a big bag, they give you a 20-digit code to punch into your meter. Exactly why it has to be 20 digits is another mystery for the ages. My credit card number is only 16-digits long, and it would take most of the computing power in the known universe to crack that.

Kaptain K called me from Kombinować central some hours later. Through his network of underworld crime-fighting chums he had learned that the only way to solve the problem was to hack the meter’s software by entering the code that would force it to allow the huge wattages drawn by rare and arcane appliances such as super hadron colliders and electric water heaters. I was skeptical. Military-grade encryption is not the kind of thing you can circumvent with a large hammer, no matter how hard you kombinować it. The afternoon passed in a blur of whispered phone calls consisting exclusively of 20-digit numbers and creative Polish swearing. I began to have imaginary Enigma machine flashbacks.

Kaptain K’s next plan was to install a night-storage water heater. This had the double advantage of bringing the hammer back into play and sidelining the crypto-mathematics. The Kaptain arrived in full regalia heaving a 20-kilo water heater up the stairs. It was surprisingly new-looking, despite the obvious signs of having recently been forcibly removed from a wall—chunks of masonry clinging pathetically to wires and water pipes.

Water storage heaters are large and heavy things. Fill them with 50 litres of water and they start to approach the mass and density of collapsed stars. One of Kaptain Kombinować’s superpowers is the ability to negate gravity by sheer will power alone, at least I assume this is the case since the selection of screws he had bought for attaching this 60 kilo lump to the wall would clearly have been about as effective as dry spit. I’ve never seen a screw inserted by hammer before. I’ve also never seen a 60-kilo water heater successfully hung on a plasterboard wall, and I think I never will. My nerves got the better of me. I insisted that luke-warm showers were bearable for the time being and suggested that the water heater be placed on a firm surface under United Nations supervision.

He’s out there somewhere, even now. Ready for the call. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find him, maybe you can hire Kaptain Kombinować.

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9 thoughts on “Kaptain Kombinować strikes again

  1. Decoy says:

    Kaptain K conjures images of the super-hero type indeed, climbing the stairs juggling the night-storage heater on one hand, while giving the walls a quick cleaning using his free hand as he ascended.

  2. scatts says:

    Can you hear those voices in your head? “Time to change your apartment……go on….you know it makes sense!”

    tee hee.

  3. Bartek says:

    A brilliant story Jamie. But I suppose it’d fit better you column on WP.PL than Polandian. Nice anyway plus I found some ideas (other than kombinować, you once translated it here) for my next translation contests.

  4. dangoth says:

    wonderful! a very accurate allegory of how the Polish borderline shrewdness will be the end of us all. while I’d welcome some improvements in the flat I am renting I don’t think I’d appreciate if they were performed in a way similar to those described in your article.

  5. Name says:

    You are already familiar with the key word :kombinowac.You are just 2 steps away from solving the mystery of” fixing problems the polish way.”
    first step ;” po znajomosci ” – if you don’t know how to ” kombinowac ” yourself – call the family member neighbour or any acquaintance.
    They will help.No money involved- just bottle of vodka (you have to drink together!) ,some” kanapki” and long evening talk.

    Second step : ” zalatwic”-who needs to go to the store and buy expensive item if the brother in law or his brother or his brother/sister neighbour has the same thing – perfectly working (maybe not so good looking-but still working) ! They can also give you this item for bottle of vodka,kanapki and long evening talk…

    Small print : after using “zalatwic” and “po znajomosci” you are obligated to to return the favour if someone from your family or family acquaintances ask for the help with “kombinowac” .Same price:vodka,kanapki (bigos,pickles..e.t.c)and long evening talk..

  6. Monika says:

    important relationship of words :

    zalatwic po znajomosci
    wykombinowac po znajomosci
    znajomy zalatwil
    wykombinowac od znajomego
    zalatwic znajomemu
    wykombinowac zalatwienie…….e.t.c…et.c…

  7. Grze$ko says:

    Interesting one this one…
    For years I’ve been saying that we Polish are the true Robinson Crusoes.
    During my studies we had no ready-made-and-cut-to-size materials, we had to kombinowac. Shoe boxes were the best source of white card, house paint mixed with floor oil made brilliant paint base, the list went on.
    Travelling on student exchange (yes, during the dark times of communism) we were faced with our Dutch peers problems of not having the right size of paper in their student supplies shop. We thought they were joking, they thought we were insane rummaging through shoe shop rubbish.
    Your KK obviously takes that art to another level, good for him, pity on you.
    I just came back from London where my (English) friends said that their plumber was Polish and was able to redo their kitchen and bathroom using nothing but a paperclip and a box of soggy matches. They called him Mc Gyver, but remember him fondly.

    It’s been sink or swim for a long time and many people have developed the ability to do something with nothing. The same applied to arts, where artists, movie and theatre directors were forced to think very hard how to say things without saying anything and bypass the censorship.
    We wouldn’t have many a song of film were we allowed to say and show anything…
    Andrzej Wajda would probably have to do a Polish remake of “Walker the Texas ranger” to pay for his ready made TV dinners…
    Long live kombinowacing!

  8. Name says:

    There are my favourite Kaptains Kombinować:

  9. John says:

    We must have the same landlord… My kitchen in connected to the wall with sticks (from trees) en plaster!! Some cabinets have a light color with wooden handles; some are dark with metal handles. My sink is not connected to a wall, and the hanging cabinets are screwed together instead of being connected to a wall… This is all my landlords own work / vision. He is a really nice guy, but I am scared to call him when I need something to be fixed.

    Every time something breaks my landlord knows a guy who can fix it. Usually this is a 75 year old guy who obviously visited a bar just before he came over and who carries a hammer and a piece of rope in a plastic Hugo Boss bag as his only tools (why do all these people have black plastic Hugo Boss bags is a question that has puzzled me ever since I moved here btw). These guys did manage to fix my gas pipes, chimney, heater, water supply, etc. Maybe they are also the reason it breaks all the time, but at least they manage to fix it…

    The guy from N-TV that came to install my satellite dish spend 2 hours figuring out why the electric system in the whole building short circuited every time he connected the satellite to the receiver (turned out my landlord did the cabling in our flat himself, and he obviously had no idea what he was doing: somehow the coax cable was wired up to the electric system).

    The guys from GH-Net that came to install internet spend 1 hour searching for a cable where internet should come in to the building (we had the sockets, but no signal). In the end they asked my neighbor how it was possible he had internet: turned out there was a cable going to our floor via the balcony of a neighbor, and this cable could also be used for our flat (instead of the 12 other network cables already in our walls)…

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