Class Monitor No.5: Polish girlfriends

We're in a public park on a sunny day. All is pretty much as good as it could be. We live in what is still a wealthy country, and it isn't raining. The remaining leaves are golden and most, if not all, of the dog shit has been collected and put in the appropriate bins. Men and women walk through the park hand in hand, but one couple are on bicycles.

He is forging ahead, going off the pathway deliberately to churn up the grass, hurtling through puddles, and scowling at dogs, trees and bushes as he splashes by.

The woman smiles at the flora and fauna, but she struggles to match her miserable partner's velocity, and stops. Wiping her running nose, she calls after him in Polish-accented English: "Stop, Simon. Please stop."

Simon turns. His shoulders are hunched, his well-fed face a fixed rictus of displeasure. His giant white speedboat-like trainers curl up and his insanely garish, breathable-fabric windcheater flaps in the wind.

The girl is dressed less expensively: a simple anorak, jeans and old-fashioned plimsolls. Her hair is tied back. "It is such a nice day. Look!" she cries, throwing her arms into the air. On cue, leaves cascade down around her, adding to the prettiness of her half of the scene. But not his. "Yeah," he mutters in Home-Counties-cum-estuarine, and pushes his bike towards the next hillock.

Poland's Politya newspaper has estimated that there are more than a million Poles in the UK and most are under 35. How many of them came for a job and found a relationship, or what passes for one in this country, as well? A Polish girl in England is hard-working, self-motivated and tough, as she has proven by her successful efforts to get here and survive. English boyfriends in breathable fabric are not, on the whole, hard-working, self-motivated and tough. Simon is more likely to be soft, lazy, self-indulgent and suffering from - as is becoming apparent - that most of English of traits, moodiness.

“But what is wrong with you?" she pleads. Simon says nothing; he mounts his bike and pulls away, offering only his Lycra-clad rear quarters in answer. A pall settles over the girl and, for a second, she seems very, very sad. But then she pulls herself together and remembers the thrill of the adventure, of the new life, and perhaps new lives, she will be making with the man riding ahead of her. She runs the back of her hand across her nose, pulls her anorak down around her thighs and sets off after her spoilt, angry Englishman.

Michael Hodges writes the Class Monitor column for the New Statesman. He was named columnist of the year at the 2008 Magazine Design and Journalism Awards for his contributions to Time Out.

This article first appeared in the 26 October 2009 issue of the New Statesman, New York / London