Grandpa’s typewriter was my first writing instrument. Using it had many advantages over scribbling. There was no need to learn to hold a pen, no risk of smearing. It even held paper for me. The resulting text was usually perfectly legible, as long as the reader overlooked a few words that were X-ed out. Of course, I had to learn to read first! – at least well enough to be able to recognize characters shown on keys. I quickly learned that there were many ways to write the same word, and made sure to ask Mom for correct spelling.
I could never do it in English, because as we all know, English spelling is chaotic and unpredictable. As my English language teacher used to say, “In English, there are no rules, only exceptions!” Polish spelling, in contrast to the above, is mostly phonetical, and on the whole quite predictable. An occasional shout to Mom was enough for me to produce a mostly correct text.
As I grew up in my grandparents' house, it quickly became apparent that my family gained a geek. I had no patience for humanities. My biggest childhood interests were:
Astronomy and astronautics, thanks to the resounding success of the Apollo program. Illustrated articles about it were presented in shiny, even glowing colour, unavailable to Polish publishers. These were carefully selected excerpts from US publications, such as “Life” and “New Yorker”. They were combined on the pages of US embassy publication “America” that my Grandpa subscribed to. The impression it made on me was later a big factor in my dreams of life across the Atlantic. If a country looks that good, well of course I have to check it out one day.
Chemistry, mentored by my uncle’s friend, who was a geologist, as well as my grandpa the doctor. I got myself a little book by Stefan Sękowski, a chemistry popularizer par excellence. He published a whole series, aimed at aspiring chemists of the future. Since there were no chemistry kits in stores, these books relied on readily available raw materials, such as batteries, lye, or baking soda. Soon I was trying to set up a home lab, bending glass tubing to produce a Bunsen burner, and producing oxygen from potassium permanganate. I wasn’t into explosions; my passion was to understand how things work. Chemistry appealed to my sense of the world as a mystery to be explored.
Aviation, as an airfield was nearby, and planes and helicopters flew frequently over our house. I found airplanes' sleek shapes very appealing. I made some airplane models from kits, with much help from my Dad, who was handy with such things. He also made sure I actually finished projects before starting new ones. If, as could be expected, I started yet another endeavour because I got bored with the previous one, he would say “Hayfire! You have to learn to finish what you started!” Very true!
Later came a lifelong fascination with electronics and radio communications. One of family friends, Wojtek Zawistowski, was a computer engineer. He worked with mainframes of course, as it was still the ’70s, and computers were the size of a large room. He even invited me and my Mom to visit him at work. He was also a ham radio operator, a now-silent key SP5GM. Amazingly, he was legally blind, an inventor, and entrepreneur. He encouraged my interest in radio, and gave me many electronic parts, with which I built my first circuits. I soon used my uncle’s book of electronic projects for inspiration and advice. By the end of primary school, I have built a couple of things that were actually useful, and many horrible failures that basically said “NEXT TIME, PLAN AHEAD!"