Friday, 22 July 2016

Glorious high summer, Jeziorki

Time to celebrate high summer in this most magical part of Warsaw, the perfect rus in urbe, just 40 minutes by public transport from the centre of the most dynamic city of Central and Eastern Europe. To get this level of rurality, you'd need to travel on beyond Nowa Iwiczna, beyond Piaseczno and Zalesie Górne - it's only around Ustanówek that you reach countryside as rural as this. And yet, here I am, within the city limits of my beloved Warsaw.

Below: six of the seven swans eggs that hatched have survived to grow into cygnets, swimming in line astern. Their mother was watching from a little way off, happy to observe them growing in self-confidence.

This will be another bumper year for fruit crops. It's already been an excellent season for cherries (both wiśnie and czereśnie - the former being the sour variety), and now the apple trees are heaving with young fruit that in three months time will be large, ripe and tasty. And remember - a week's sunshine in October has the same effect as a month of summer sun. This is a wild tree standing by the side of ul. Dumki, fruit to pick aplenty this autumn!

This time two years ago:
Rondo ONZ One at twilight - the City Sublime

This time three years ago:
Up that old, familiar mountain

This time four years ago
More from Penrhos

PiS, Brexit, Trump and cognitive bias

I have written about cognitive bias in one of my Lenten posts in relation to the search for God. Cognitive bias being the innate tendency of us humans distort reality to fit our own personal worldviews.

Today I want to write about cognitive bias in politics and in respect of the outcomes of elections.

It's evident from my blog that I am a not a fan of PiS, nor am I in favour of Brexit, and I consider the possibility of Donald Trump being elected President of the United States of America as a potential disaster.

After 26 years in which the trajectory of world affairs has been heading in generally the right direction (the Middle East excluded), things have turned sour - from my perspective. Time, then, to reassess the cognitive biases that weigh down upon our judgment. My judgment - your judgment - their judgment - every voter's judgment across the democratic world.

One of the main cognitive biases is hindsight bias - 'I knew it all along.' If voters vote for this, then the outcome will be negative - so after the vote, which didn't go according to my wishes, I'm hoping things will go wrong - even to the detriment of my own wellbeing - so that I can be proved right, having invested so much emotional energy into what turned out to be the losing proposition.

Do I want the economies of Poland and the UK to fail because I said they would, if voters went against my better judgment? Do I want bad things - harmful to myself and millions of others - to happen just to prove that I was right all along? The bit of me that yearns for this to happen is the nasty side of me, the reptile brain, the immature and spiteful me, the bad loser.

It is more civilised, more angelic, to accept the outcome, move on, and work hard to keep both economies ticking along, rather than to revel in the schadenfreude when the pound or złoty has another bad day on the currency markets or when the sovereign debt gets another downgrade.

Better it is to see such cognitive bias for what it is - a deviation from rational judgment caused by sour grapes. And to do everything to avoid one's own prophesies of doom from fulfilling themselves. Don't cry over spilt milk - get over it, get on with it.

Then there's another cognitive bias that is opposite of the above. People who elected PiS and voted for Brexit will tend to say - "things are getting better, just as we said they would". They will trumpet ever perceived change for the better as their personal victory, often when the change is illusory or in fact negative. This is optimism bias, or wishful thinking.

A further cognitive bias to be aware of is illusory correlation, misplaced inference: "it rained yesterday, it will rain again today." Or - more sophisticated - "after a similar spell of hot weather last year, we had storms. So we'll have them again." This can be applied to political outcomes to; comparing, for example, what happens when Theresa May settles into her job as prime minister with what happened when Margaret Thatcher took office.

Where does the truth lie? Truth, that will be judged by history, decades into the future? Will Brexit ultimately be judged a triumph, another turning-point in British history, the equivalent of Margaret Thatcher facing down the trade unions and stemming Britain's decline? Or will it be seen by the end of this century as a Canute-like reflex to hold back the inexorable progress of globalisation that caused far more harm than good? And will PiS's electoral victory last year be seen as the Polish nation turning its back on social and economic liberalism, choosing instead a robust, patriotic, traditionalist model that ultimately proved to be a geopolitical success? Or will it be seen as a one-man power-grab, the result of shrewd power-politics and effective populist rhetoric that set back the country's progress by a decade?

Elections and referendums - the latter in particular - are those historic moments that bring about change in direction of travel. Some are more important than others. When looking at a country - any country - the key question is 'is it idiot-proof'. Warren Buffett once said "I buy stock in businesses that an idiot can run. Because sooner or later, one will." The same goes for countries. Some states are so fragile that the election of a dreadful populist can wreck them. Poland survived the PiS/ Samoobrona/ LPR government of 2005-07 without any major side effect (other than some residual paralysis in public procurement). America will survive Trump. But the damage caused by Brexit will be felt for decades - even though it probably won't be as severe as many have predicted.

Now that I feel like I'm sliding into wishful thinking - it's time to invoke Godwin's Law - the longer a thread (or in this case) post gets, the greater the chance of Hitler making an appearance. So. After the Nazis gained power in Germany in 1933, who would have predicted a second world war and the Holocaust would happen within a few years? What were the flaws in the arguments offered by the optimists? What were the event horizons, beyond which there was no turning back? What should we learn?

In the end, it is down to judgment. The more fine-tuned, the more subtly nuanced it is - and yet expressed in terms everyone can understand - the more capable the brain that issues it.

Incidentally, what is the Polish for' judgment'? Stanisławski give rozsądek, but that's not quite right - 'he has good/poor judgment' - on ma dobry/słaby rozsądek - doesn't quite fit. PWN-Oxford gives rozsądek as 'reason', 'sense', so on ma dobry/słaby rozsądek - would be 'he is reasonable/sensible' or 'unreasonable'. Given the importance of judgment in one's life - in particular in one's working life, in annual performance reviews etc, I'm surprised that modern corporate Polish has not taken on board a loan word, such as on ma dobry/słaby jadżment.

This time three years ago:
Portmeirion, revisited, again

This time four years ago:
Beach day, Llyn Peninsula

This time five years ago:
Down with cars in city centres!

This time six years ago:
8am and 26C already

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

40 years ago, I set off on a holiday that would shape my life

On the morning of Wednesday 21 July, along with 89 other young people of Polish origin, I set off from London's Victoria Station bound for Poland. It was a holiday that was to shape my destiny and the course of my life.

Since the early 1970s, the Polish parish in Ealing, where I lived, organised summer holidays for its youth, at first setting off in coaches for places of pilgrimage in France, Spain and Morocco, such as Loretto and Montserrat.

But in 1975, a controversial decision was taken to make Poland the destination of these visits. The controversy within the Polish emigre community was whether it was right to travel to the People's Republic of Poland, dominated by the Soviet Union, and to accept the numerous compromises this would entail.

Some emigre elders - army veterans, and the scouting organisations in particular - were against. Less doctrinaire voices thought it would be good for the generation of young Poles born in Britain to see their fatherland, under the watchful eye of the parish clergy.

The coincidences needed for this to happen were impressive. Ksiądz Okoński, the priest tasked with looking after the spiritual well-being of the parish's younger souls, happened to be the brother of the personal assistant to Cardinal Wyszyński, the Primate of Poland. And Ksiądz Honkisz, the parish priest, happened to have been in the same Home Army unit during the Warsaw Uprising as Kazimierz Kąkol, at the time the Minister of Religious Affairs.

Strings were pulled and the show got off the ground. Ninety young people from the capitalist West would spend five weeks in summer being driven in two coaches all over Poland, staying mainly in seminaries, and getting to know their ojczyzna. The holidays were called Montserrat, after the Spanish monastery that the Ealing parish's youth had visited in earlier years.

There had to be a quid pro quo. Along with the visits to Gothic cathedrals, places of pilgrimage, seminaries and monasteries, there were visits to factories, there were film shows - and it was clear that the coach drivers that drove us around communist Poland worked for someone other than PKS. This was the era of propaganda sukcesu, as First Secretary Edward Gierek spent money borrowed from the West on infrastructure, industry and consumer goods. Economically, it was a flash in the pan.

But for us, blissfully unaware of the geopolitical realities of the time, it was huge fun. Yes, there was Mass every day, and the Rosary would be recited in the coaches from destination to destination, but with 45 girls and 45 boys aged between 15 and 20, and with 200 zlotys to the pound on the black market, the attractions were clear.

Below: a typical day; about one-third of the group are visible in this photograph, taken by Andrzej Poloczek. Who I strongly suspect was standing on a bench to get this shot.

We saw a vast amount of Poland over those five weeks. The trip was hugely educational. And for me, this was the first of three such trips. I returned with the group in 1977 and 1979, building up a far broader picture of Poland than many people of my parent's generation ever had.

The train from Victoria took us to Dover; we boarded a ferry that would take us to Oostende. Two Polish coaches met us there, to take us to Poland, calling at Bruges, Brussels and Cologne en route.

Looking at the itinerary for the 1976 visit - Szlakiem Wisły, it was called, we visited Gdańsk, Toruń, Płock, Warsaw, Lublin, Sandomierz, Kraków, Żywiec and Poznań and many points in between.

Crossing the Polish border from East Germany - a country with a specific atmosphere of its own - was a memorable experience for me; my first contact with Poland in ten years. I was moved by the landscape, the quiet, traffic-free rural roads, the road-signs, village names, in Polish - an emotional feeling that my English friends back home in London could not share.

First stop was Paradyż, a seminary school. We spent five nights here; for many of us this was the first taste of Poland. For me - I'd last been in Poland when I was eight. Here's a photograph from that summer 40 years ago, taken by Andrzej Poloczek, below.

Below: the road between Jordanowo and Gościkowo [2014 imagery courtesy of Google Maps], with the Paradyż seminary to the left. The trees have grown tall, obscuring the church towers, the seminary has been renovated with dormer windows in the roof, which itself has been re-tiled.

The next port of call was Gdańsk - Oliwa to be precise. I returned here in 2012 for the wedding of Rysiek and Blanka Szydło. Again, we stayed here for five nights, using the Gdańsk seminary as a base, visiting the sights of Gdańsk and the surrounding region, including the Lenin Shipyard, Malbork and Hel.

In the 19 years I've lived in Poland, I have revisited many of the places that we called in at on those summer holidays in the 1970s. There are a few that I haven't; one being Pelplin. But Malbork, Toruń, Płock that we visited on our way from Gdańsk to Warsaw I have seen. And many more, as you'll read below...

In Warsaw, we had the rare honour to visit Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński in the Primate's Palace in Warsaw, below. A figure of huge historical and religious significance in post-war Poland - we teenagers were unable to grasp the enormity, the importance of the man we met that day. Photo by Andrzej Poloczek.

While in Warsaw, we were given three days to visit family across Poland. For me, this was the first opportunity to fly. I bought a return ticket for an internal LOT flight from Warsaw to Wrocław (in an Antonov An-24), from where I took a steam train (departure about 4am, I recall) to Kłodzko, from there to Lądek Zdrój to meet Ciocia Dziunia and her family. I returned to Warsaw the next day, and feasted at the Forum Hotel (today the Novotel Centrum), outside of which I changed a one-pound note with a black-market cinkciarz and received 200 złotys for it. I proceeded to spend this on roast pheasant, armagnac sorbet, brandy and a large cigar in the Forum. Afterwards, finding I still had time and money on my hand, I changed another one-pound note, went back into the hotel restaurant and ordered the same again. Cheap holidays in other people's misery.

From Warsaw we travelled on to Lublin, calling at Kazimierz Dolny on the way. Photo below by Andrzej Poloczek from 1976. Most of the people you can see wandering around are from our group. And this is the height of the summer holidays, 10 August 1976.

Below: contemporary Kazimierz, photo taken by me over eight years ago, on the occasion of Tessa and Adam's wedding. Tłumy, panie!

We also took in Sandomierz (I'll be back again there next month), Kraków, Nowa Huta and Wieliczka, took a boat trip down the Dunajec river and made it into the mountains - Żywiec and Wisła. Visiting Auschwitz and before that Majdanek made a profound impression on me; the unbearable inhumanity of mass extermination of human beings as an industrial activity. I was physically sick.

Heading back, we visited the Jasna Góra monastery in Częstochowa, holiest of Polish shrines. The return journey was via Piotrków Trybunalski (which I visited earlier this summer), Łódź, Łęczyca (which I passed through twice last August) and Poznań, where we spent our last night in Poland before boarding the international coaches that would take us back to Oostende and Dover.

The holiday had a profound and lasting effect on me. It shaped my love of Poland; despite the attractions of university which I was to discover weeks after my return from this holiday, I wanted to return for another such holiday, which I did, twice. Three such holidays, each one around five weeks long, each one visiting many different towns and cities and other significant places across Poland. They gave me an excellent taste of what Poland actually was - the politics notwithstanding.

The legacy of those kilometres in the coach, when we weren't reciting the Rosary, we'd be listening to music. Four LPs were played over and over on the coaches' tape decks - Desire, by Bob Dylan, including the songs Hurricane and Mozambique, Eric Clapton's 461 Ocean Boulevard, from which the song Let it Grow was the most salient number, and two albums that have truly stood the test of time - David Bowie's Station to Station and Trick of the Tail by Genesis. While the former I associate mainly with my trip to Wrocław, the latter - in particular the track Entangled - will forever be the soundtrack of that holiday. I wrote the other day about memory and qualia and how our personalities are shaped by those memories that return, triggered or unbidden. That particular summer holiday, 40 years ago, was instrumental in creating in me the desire to spend my summers in the vast, eternal, sunlit Poland, either revisiting places I'd visited on those holidays, or just discovering new ones.

Below: me, then. Not a single molecule, not a single atom, that was part of me then, is part of me now. They have all changed, four times, since 1976. But those strong memories linger, waiting to be triggered. Photo by Andrzej Poloczek.

If you took part in one of the Montserrat holidays to Poland in the 1970s, there is a series of DVDs based on the home movies shot by Ks. Okoński and others, put together by Marcin Hauke in Ealing back in 2009. Worth getting hold of. Drop me an email and I'll put you in touch.

Researching this piece online, I came across this doctoral thesis about the history of the Polish parish in Ealing, 1950-2000, written by Katarzyna Fuksa. It appears in different guises online, so google her name and 'parafia NMP Ealing'. Download the .pdf file then Ctrl+F and type in 'Montserrat'.

Thanks to Andrzej Poloczek, thanks to Rysiek Szydło for curating the photos on his website.

This time last year:
Last night's storm

This time two years ago:
Drifting south with the sun: bicycle hobo

This time four years ago:
Royal Parks in the rain

This time five years ago:
Storm clouds over Warsaw, Dolinka under water

This time six years ago:
Round-up of pics from Dobra

This time seven years ago:
Conservatism - UK or Polish style?

This time eight years ago:
Wheat and development

This time nine years ago:
A previous visit to London

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Memory, place, experience

I want to revisit a few concepts I've written about before. Namely the spirit of place, and how it affects the consciousness, and the idea of qualia - a philosophical/scientific way to describe the everyday experience of sensations that we feel.

Heading home yesterday, I walked through the Rydz-Śmigły park heading for W-wa Powiśle station. The afternoon was warm but overcast, the threat of rain in the air. As I approached the Poniatowski bridge, I had one of those intense *paff!* moments, when, in my consciousness, a quale (singular) coincided with perfect congruence... and I was able to place it immediately.

It was from exactly half a century ago; the summer of 1966, Poland - Polanica Zdrój, visiting with my family from Bystrzyca Kłodzka. Together, we visited the nearby spa town, walking along the tree-lined avenues. The same weather, the same feeling of being among the trees and seeing a grand building through them... and then a memory. I had bought for me there a cloth badge, the town's coat of arms, which prominently featured a red heart, appliqué on felt, which on return to London, my mother sewed onto my duffel bag (dark green and navy blue tartan), along with embroidered badges from German towns (I remember Cologne, with some gold in the design).

The wonder of the internet means I can immediately verify the memories. Google Maps Street View allows me to wander through Polanica Zdrój. Wikipedia shows me the Polanica Zdrój coat of arms, a heart in the bottom-right quadrant, and then I google 'Cologne sew-on patch' (indeed a shield on a red background with the word 'Köln' on a gold bar above a picture of the cathedral). Good to know the memories were accurate.

Feelings (sea wind on the face), smells - everything from manure to perfume - tastes, sounds (music in particular for me) and sights - the abstract things like straight roads through flat fields on a cloudless day that can bring back precise memories of qualia past. [Ha! I write 'precise memories', and Google helpfully underlines the word 'precise' with a green wężyk, suggesting 'precious memories'.]

Just for a moment I hold the memory and it is exactly like being there again - and then the memories evaporate. But they were real, fragile.

We remember some things and not others; people, places, fragments of conversations, sights, smells, sounds, tastes and sensations - but not all. Our memories would physically be unable to store every single memory that has accumulated since infancy. So what factors determine which qualia are stored - or is it that they all they all stored, just awaiting the trigger to release them? I would not have recalled the Cologne badge had I not recalled the Polanica Zdrój badge, a memory triggered by seeing a palace in the park, a sight I'd seen many times before - but not on a day with the right weather conditions to trigger that particular memory.

Then there are the unbidden, untriggered memory flashbacks. Memory hiccups. These are even harder to explain. Especially when qualitatively they are like ones from my life, yet evidently not from it. I've written about this phenomenon before, and it's one I'd like to learn more about, indeed, it is becoming a lifelong quest. Something that affected me as a child and as an adolescent.

Science has yet to get a full understanding of how memory works in conjunction with consciousness; there's that memory into which we reach to recall what eight times seven is or who the minister of the environment in the last government was. Memory of facts is at the core of what our brain is known to do, but perceptual memory is elusive.

What makes it all the more interesting is that over the course of nine years, we shed every single molecule in our bodies, from inside cells, from inside bones, organs - they are replaced by new ones, even as we age - and yet memory abides. The structures responsible for memory are constantly changing, shedding, replenishing - but the core of memory which makes me me and you you is retained. Those clear memories from 50 years ago survived more than five complete changes of molecules in my brain.

This time last year:
UK Number One in world Soft Power rankings
[One year on: UK slips a place, Poland up one to 23rd.]

This time four years ago:
First flight from Modlin

This time seven years ago:
Another cycle route to work

This time eight years ago:
PZL M-28 and Piaggio Avanti - Okęcie regulars

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Four stations between Jeziorki and Czachówek

Last week I visited Czachówek to see how work is progressing along the Warsaw-Radom railway line. Today and Friday I filled the gaps, to bring news from the four stations between Jeziorki and Czachówek, namely (from north to south) Nowa Iwiczna, Piaseczno, Zalesie Górne and Ustanówek.

Let's start with an update from W-wa Jeziorki, today, Sunday. A day of rest, but all along the line deadlines are chasing, and work is proceeding at full gallop. Below: I've seen this piece of kit at rest but here it is in action - the device for laying long lengths of rail onto the trackbed. Good to see full safety kit including hardhats and hi-vi vests being universally deployed.

Below: looking north towards town, the foreshortening effect of the 300mm lens makes the rails look like lengths of al dente spaghetti. Before long, the new line will be joined up all the way from beyond W-wa Dawidy to here.

On to Nowa Iwiczna. Interesting things have happened here. Before the Radom line tracks are relaid, the non-electrified coal train line to Siekierki had to be realigned to allow the Radom line to pass without having to swing around an island platform. The engineering problem was the radius of the curve on which Nowa Iwiczna station currently sits. For ten days last month, no trains carried coal to Siekierki power station as the track was lifted and relaid a few metres east of the old alignment. Below: looking south from the level crossing on ul. Krasickiego. The coal line's on the left. It used to pass down the middle of the frame, where the new 'up' platform will go.

An interesting thing about Nowa Iwiczna station now is that it is the only station between W-wa Okęcie and Czachówek Południowy (inclusive) where the old platform has survived intact. The rest have been demolished or half-demolished. Below: probably the last photo I'll take of Nowa Iwiczna station as it was. Note that both sets of tracks and overhead power lines are still in place. Your last days to photograph it as it was.

Looking south from the platform's end towards Piaseczno, I can see more work progressing. Between Nowa Iwiczna and ul. Słoneczna, the trackbed is being prepared for the new rails (below). This stretch is several months behind the progress achieved elsewhere on the W-wa Okęcie - Czachówek section of the Warsaw-Radom line.

I walk down ul. Krótka to get to Słoneczna and then to carry on south to 'Setchno. From the level crossing, turning back to look north, I can see the new trackbed being laid  (below).

Southwards, on to Piaseczno station, passing the points where the two tracks become four. The 'down' line is being replaced all the way from W-wa Okęcie to here; from beyond here on the 'down' line remains intact while the 'up' line is being replaced. The new trackbed here is in good shape, it's been tamped down flat for some of the way. In the far distance, the new footbridge for Piaseczno station.

A few words about PKP Piaseczno, an important and busy commuter station. Piaseczno is the first major town south of Warsaw, a town of 43,000 people (of comparable size and position to Croydon). The main reason my bus journey to work takes longer than it should is because so many people from Piaseczno drive into Warsaw along ul. Puławska, eschewing public transport alternatives. The train should be the best way in from Piaseczno, but with two an hour during peak times, the Koleje Mazowieckie service is woefully inadequate. Once the Warsaw-Radom line has been modernised, with sidings for reversing trains at Piaseczno, there will be capacity to run the SKM trains (operated by Warsaw's public transport authority, ZTM). This will mean Piaseczno should be served by four trains an hour to town at peak times.

Great. But for the time being? Shambles, panie. Services are scarcer - and more prone to delays - than usual. And the main entrance to the station, where the 709 bus terminates - is closed (below). Passengers are being asked to walk a detour that's well over half a kilometre (540m), accessing the platform via ul. Sienkiewicza. This is frankly insulting. Even on a Sunday, between trains, I could see several people coming down this way. It's not been sealed off - there are merely signs. Typical. They know passengers will not comply - but rather than provide convenient and safe access while work continues, they merely ban the use of this entrance. Meanwhile, at W-wa Okęcie, the footbridge awaits opening, while passengers are being asked to cross the tracks.

Below: looking south with the recently refurbished station building to the left (a fine piece of 1930s modernism) and the demolished half of the platform overlooking the naked trackbed that awaits new subgrade, ballast and rails.

Below: looking north, perhaps what will be my final glimpse of the old shelter, similar to the ones at more important stations on this line. To the right the old track, overgrown with weeds, rotting wooden sleepers.

Below: Piaseczno station from ul. Sienkiewicza, looking north-east. In the far distance, the station building. You are meant to traipse all this way to get from the far end of the platform, up ul. Dworkowa and round to the station forecourt where your bus is waiting.

Onwards, south to Zalesie Górne. Below: looking down from the viaduct that carries ul. Sienkiewicza over the line, the line curves to the right as it passes Żabieniec.

That's my Sunday ramblings over - I walked round to the front of the station to catch a 709 bus back to Jeziorki. However, on Friday I covered the next two stations en route to Czachówek. Around the corner from the photo above lie the old fish ponds, then there's Żabieniec, where the train doesn't stop. Below: photo taken from the level crossing at Żabieniece, looking south towards Zalesie Górne. The 'up' line has been ripped up and awaits a new trackbed.

Further south, to Zalesie Górne, the last dormitory station on the line. Many houses among the trees, large, shabby, no doubt many still belong to the old elite from the communist days and their families, when this was a posh place to live. Today, it's an awful hack to get into town from here, either by train or by car. Once the track works are completed, things will improve, but the SKM services will only go as far as Piaseczno... unless some bright spark has them extended to Czachówek.

Below: the station at Zalesie Górne has the same style shelter as at Piaseczno, like the old one at W-wa Okęcie demolished late last summer. A new platform is emerging to the left of the photo.

Below: looking north from Zalesie Górne towards Żabieniec and Piaseczno beyond. Work going on preparing the 'up' line for a new trackbed. Months behind Jeziorki, which was at this stage in January.

And onward once more, down to Ustanówek (below), the first real 'country' station on this line. Wioska. In summer months, people take the train down to their działki to repose among the trees and meadows, returning to their city flats by train with baskets full of home-grown produce. Idyllic... once the railway line is working properly.

Below: looking north, a new 'up' platform is being built. The old overhead powerline is still in place.

Below: last shot. Looking south towards Czachówek, down the hill. This is the reverse shot of the one I uploaded in my post from Czachówek last weekend.

All in all, a lot of work just to complete one line (the 'down' line from W-wa Okęcie to Piaseczno,and the whole of the 'up' line from Piaseczno to Czachówek) still to go.

Bonus photo (below): I was lucky enough to catch this coal train as it rounded the bend coming off the main line at Nowa Iwiczna. Newag-refurbished ST48-013, a single loco,, hauls what it used to take two old ST48 Tamaras to do.

This time two years ago:
A tragedy foretold

Friday, 15 July 2016

"What's on telly?" "MEEEE!"

Brexit has meant a sharp uptick in the number of my television and radio appearances. In a typical year, I can expect to make around 50-60 media appearances, commenting on various aspects of life in Britain, from international trade to politics to royal babies. One visit to the studios per week has been my average for the past six or seven years. Yet since the beginning of June I've appeared 30 times on Polish TV and radio to talk about Brexit and its aftermath. Five times more often than usual.

It's been my proud boast  that for the past few years, I've spent more time in front of TV cameras than I do watching TV in Poland.

Over the past six weeks, I've been invited to appear to the following TV studios - Polsat, TVN, TVP Info and SuperStacja.

What's it like, being on television?

Fear of public speaking? Not at all. Not nervous, confident - I know my stuff. My biggest worry is that my Polish will trip me up - missing bits of vocabulary or case endings. But I'm enough of a seasoned trooper to talk my way out of a jam.

And the experience itself?

Depends where you go.

The TVP building in ul. Woronicza is a spectacular shambles and a classic example of the ills of state broadcasting. Kilometres of narrow labyrinthine corridors wind through the building on several floors, linking studios, cubby-hole offices and editing suites. The corridors are lined with perforated hardboard, presumably for acoustic reasons. Broken furniture and empty boxes are left abandoned hither and yon. Outside nearly all the editing suites stand a couple of pot-bellied men of late middle age with ponytails and t-shirts bearing the name of some death-metal band or other, smoking cigarettes in blatant disregard of the law. The combination of narrow corridors, perforated hardboard walls and cigarettes makes for a potential death-trap; that and the various unmarked trip hazards would have the place closed down in minutes by any British health and safety inspector.

The corridors seem endless, the impression of people milling around aimlessly suggests massive over-employment - why so many studios? Why so many editing suites? Why so many offices? And yet, TVP needed even more studios, so a brand new building was opened in 2009 at huge cost next door to the existing one, both are in use. Who audits these people?

Since Jarosław Kaczyński put his people into TVP after last autumn's elections, viewership figures of TVP's main evening new programme have fallen by a fifth, with 750,000 regular viewers switching off. TVN and Polsat have overtaken TVP in viewership ratings of their main news programmes.

Transport to and from the studio

When I'm contacted by production staff to arrange an appearance, the logistics of getting me to and from the studio are worked out. Some stations (TVN, TVP Info) will send a marked car to collect me - which is kind of cool especially when it's waiting outside the gates of our estate. Superstacja uses an unmarked car, while Polsat picks me up in taxis, and gives me a card for my return journey. The taxi solution seems the best, as it means lower staff and capital expenditure costs, plus greater flexibility. All guarantee punctuality.

Security: front desk impressions 

TVP on Woronicza employs old geezers with few social graces to insult and belittle guests. "Kim Pan jest, Panie?" Name not on list. Ten phone calls later, someone comes down to fetch you.

TVP Info on Plac Powstańców: this is well organised. You give your name, they check the guest list, then direct you smartly to the make-up room. Security guards here are politer.

TVN: you announce yourself at the front desk, have your bag scanned and walk through an airport-style metal detector gate. A studio runner comes to pick you up and escort you to make-up, and then to the studio. [TVN's studio in the Warsaw Stock Exchange building - just stroll in. No make-up.]

Polsat: you give your name at the front desk (security guards after office hours, receptionists during office hours), they phone to the studio, a runner comes to lead you through the gates to the studio.

Superstacja: the security guards do not even look up as you walk in from the street and head to the studio.

Make-up: impressions

All TV appearances are preceded by a quick visit to the charakterizja - make-up. An application of cream and powder to my head ensures my bald head does not reflect light into the camera. As I learnt from observing my mother's reactions to current affairs programme on TV -  many viewers spot something unbecoming in a speaker's looks and cease listening to the message and start commenting on what they see, rather than what they hear. Hence the need to reduce glare off the face.

Now some make-up artists go to town with every available lotion and cream, others just apply a light touch of powder. Can't say anyone notices the difference; public or private, the time spent in the make-up studio is directly proportional to the time left before you're due to go on air. They can do it in 10 seconds just as effectively as in two minutes. Afterwards, the difference is in how many wet-wipes are needed to remove the make-up. It ranges from two to five.

Studio impressions:

Best equipped: TVN. Shabbiest: TVP Info.

As to the quality of the interviewers (forgive me, I have a bad memory for faces and names, and not watching TV, I don't know who's more and who's less recognisable), they are uniformly good - well-informed, intelligent, polite. Only once in recent months did I experience a dobra zmiana moment, when I was asked at TVP Info: "As of today, London has a Muslim mayor. Now what?"

Why do I keep being asked back? I know the subject very well, and my British-accented Polish gives an air of authenticity and hence authority.

This time last year:
Eating cheaply and well in Warsaw - bary mleczne

This time two years ago:
In which I warn of the MH17 tragedy a day before it happened

This time four years ago:
Who should pay for railways?
[A good question to pose would-be politicians]

This time six years ago:
Grunwald - the big picture

This time eight years ago:
"Take me right back to the track, Jack"

This time nine years ago:
The summer sublime