Tuesday, 31 March 2009
For the record, 130 sit-ups today (60 morning, 70 evening) and 40 press-ups (20+20). I've not missed a session since the start of Lent. No proscribed foods or beverages, plenty of fresh fruit and veg, plenty of fish.
I can't say I miss meat much, cheese I do miss, the smell of coffee makes me yearn for a cup, and alcohol - in social situations it certainly does act as a lubricant.
In terms of spiritul life, I have been much taken by an article my mother cut out for me from The Times by Roger Scruton about beauty and truth. [Read that article and its follow-up here.] It has caused me to contemplate deeply on Keat's famous equation and ponder the finer feelings that Mankind can experience and express; these are not just flows of seratonin and dopamine and other feel-good hormones, but something metaphysical and God-given.
Sunday, 29 March 2009
Does anyone else agree that the changes from summer to winter time and back again should be symmetrical? By mid-March, the sun is rising very early (half past five on the spring equinox on 20 March), but we could really all do with that extra hour of evening daylight.
Plus - in this day of climate change worry - surely if the Northern Hemisphere were to use one hour less of electric lighting for four whole weeks, that would make an immense difference to carbon dioxide emissions. Not to mention the money everyone would save.
Having the clocks go forward on the last weekend of February would make March in the northern hemisphere brighter and happier.
This time last year:
Griping about the same thing
Saturday, 28 March 2009
Friday, 27 March 2009
The procession, led by the Dominican friars around the 14 Stations of the Cross, was accompanied by Gregorian chant, Latin prayers and candlelight (to which my Nokia N95's camera has given a purple cast). As I've mentioned before, the abbey's accoustics are excellent, and the vox humana fades beautifully into the dark vastness.
This time last year
Last snow of the winter
Thursday, 26 March 2009
Right: The view from my study at 6.12 am. The sun now rises before half past five, the day's 12 and half hours long, spring should be with us, but it's not. Still, such sublime winter beauty is to be welcomed. Below: The front garden at 8 am as I'm getting ready to depart for work.
POSTSCRIPT: Indeed, this was the last snow of the winter.
Wednesday, 25 March 2009
Oh gosh. Someone's got to dig us out this morning. 15 minutes added onto the school run...
I grab the camera while Moni and Eddie grab the brooms. They've put their hats and gloves away for spring already! How previous! The Micra has just come back from extensive bodywork, so it's looking factory-new under that snow somewhere.
It's not snowed like this all winter, and here we are, five days into spring. Look at how much snow is on the trees and powerlines. Fortunately, it's not that cold (only -2C).
This time last year:
Summing up at the end of Lent
London civilises its wetlands
Tuesday, 24 March 2009
Weather here in Warsaw - an unwelcome return to winter, after my four days of gorgeous spring in London. This is so unpleasant. It feels like winter will never depart. The wet snow that melts during the day; unpaved surfaces are turning to quagmire, paved surfaces are slick with a thin though omnipresent layer of thin mud.
And ul. Baletowa is being dug up, ostensibly no traffic allowed down the stretch from ul. Jeziorki up to the railway line, but in practice everyone is ignoring the no entry signs causing chaos and churning up mud. Quite awful.
This time last year:
Snowy Easter in England!
Sunday, 22 March 2009
Take two slices of rye pumpernickel bread; spread thinly with Benecol or Flora Pro-Active; add slice or two of smoked salmon, sprinkle lemon juice, grind some black pepper on it. Make into sandwich, cut into four quarters and serve.
Porridge - cook without milk, or sugar or salt. Eat hot without flavouring.
One banana, one glass of tomato juice (seasoned with Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and ground pepper), and a mug of peppermint tea.
Large handful of walnuts.
Sets you up all the way through to a late lunch. Balanced, nutricious.
The economy is likely to get worse, and what I've witnessed in London this week could have just been a blip brought on by the lovely spring weather. If things do get worse, and unemployment tops three million, will people change their behaviour? Will they turn down tempting offers of consumer loans, 110% mortgages, half price sofas with another 50% off and nothing to pay until May 2011? Will they save and produce rather than borrow and consume? Will they have learnt their lesson?
I doubt it. The economy is driven by man's basic need to show himself better than his fellow man. Cooler clothes, flashier cars, bigger houses. This was proved long ago in an experiment in which people were asked whether they'd rather have a 100% pay rise (and have everyone earn the same as them), or take a 50% pay cut (yet still be earning more than everyone else). The overwhelming response was - the latter.
Once we've got over this economic crisis, there will be scars on the collective psyche, but mankind is a social animal, keen on displaying trappings of status and hierarchy. The drive to consume to show off will always keep the economy moving along. Peaks and troughs are here to stay - as Russian economist Nikolai Kondratiev pointed out. He identified 50- to 60-year commodity price cycles going back to Egyptian times. The reason we're now 80 years between cycles is because humans live longer.
Saturday, 21 March 2009
Below: Crowds from the riverside pubs by Hammersmith Bridge are overflowing onto the footpath. Favourite haunts in my London days - the Blue Anchor, the Rutland, the Ship, the Dove, the Black Lion.
Below: The warmth and sunshine brings out the cyclists, the pedestrians and the picnickers. Furnival Gardens, by the banks of the Thames at Hammersmith, W6.
Friday, 20 March 2009
How different in Poland, where on the roads might is right. Unless a pedestrian has his foot on the zebra, the motorist will carry on. Even if the pedestrian is actually on the zebra, the motorist will continue if possible. In Britain, for the motorist, the combination of zebra + pedestrian is a potent as a red traffic light.
In the UK, zig-zag markings on either side of crossing prevent motorists from overtaking or parking on the approaches. This makes life safer for pedestrians. Statistically, Poland has more fatalities on its roads than the UK, despite having less than half the number of cars on its roads. The Belisha Beacon is one reason Britain's roads are safer.
A thousand miles and five hours later I am in Ealing, in my parents' front garden. The sun is shining (as it has done all week). Flowers are in bloom. The streets are full of people in t-shirts and convertibles driving about with their tops down.
This is the one time of year (late winter, early spring) when London has the edge over Warsaw when it comes to climate.
The economic contrast is the other way round. At the social event I attended in London this evening, all the talk among the business community was of a long, deep recession. Not a glimmer of hope. A fatalistic cynicism abounded. How different to the can-do attitude I'm picking up in Poland.
This time last year:
First day of spring, Warsaw, 2008
The meaning of equinox
What's happened to spring?
Tuesday, 17 March 2009
The recent weakening of the zloty (from 3.20 to 4.90 to the euro - a fall of over 50%), has made Poland attractive once again to inward investors. Their euros, dollars and pounds go much further in terms of buying land, building factories and hiring workers. The zloty has bounced back in the last month (from 4.90 to 4.50 to the euro), but Polish workers are still three times cheaper than their counterparts in the west and the Polish economy is still showing signs of life. New car sales are up, consumer spending is up (just), so the domestic market is also seen as attractive by foreign investors. Another beneficial side effect of the zloty's slide is a fall in Poland's trade deficit, with imports falling much faster than exports.
Worth taking a look at Poland's labour market a year ago to see how quickly things have changed.
UPDATE: I had an insight today about why unemployment in Polish cities is so low, and in the surrounding countryside it's so high. A contribution to this is the effect of many young Poles, who left rural parts to work in the cities, not registering themselves (the meldunek) in their new residencies. They remain registered where they came from. When they lose their urban jobs, they return to their small towns and villages and sign on there. It's estimated that 2.7 million people actually live in Warsaw, compared to 1.9 million actually registered there. So job losses in Warsaw hit communities all over Poland, and don't so up in the official stats.
"It's bringing about the chemical transformation of raw food throught the application of heat."
An old joke, but it went down well at the Royal Variety Performance show. The Queen laughed - Prince Albert found it funny too.
But enough Christmas cracker gags. In the photo (top), are the ingredients for my Lenten Recipe 2, the hot'n'spicy lentil stew. The ingredients shown are enough for four portions. After the stew, dessert - Brazil nuts dipped in honey, washed down with freshly-squeezed orange juice.
It's three weeks into Lent, and I've not touched alcohol, caffeine, meat, dairy products, fast food, salt snacks, confectionery, cakes, biscuits or salted my food. This being my 18th consecutive Lent, I realise that for well over half my adult life I've been abstemious at this time of year, and very healthy it is too. This year is less of a chore than last year's Lent, when fish was also off, along with TV (I watch rarely anyway), and popular music. This year, I'm allowing myself fish and jazz. As of now, I'm listening to Introducing Wayne Shorter (1959), recommended by Mr Nick Marsh of Kent.
Sit-ups - steady at two times 50. The last ones are still killers; I won't push it - the important thing is to keep at it. Not to miss a morning or night. And it works; my waistline is now down to 38 and three-quarter inches (one and half inches less than before Lent began) - good going. Press-ups steady at two times 15.
This time last year:
Six weeks into Lent
Jeziorki wetlands waiting for spring
Monday, 16 March 2009
Sunday, 15 March 2009
Per person: 250g whole prawns (in shells); half a cupful of basmati rice (accept NO other); 1 clove garlic, half onion, one whole red hot chilli pepper (hot), six cherry tomatoes, 100g spinach leaves (fresh, but frozen will do), handful of mushrooms (champignons). Fresh corriander.
Peel prawns. Put rice on to boil (one cup of boiling water to half a cup of rice, covered pan. Should take 15-18 mins simmering in saucepan with lid on to absorb water). Finely chop onion, garlic and chilli pepper, and fry in hot sunflower oil on large frying pan. When onions become translucent, add prawns. Cut tomatoes into quarters (or sixths if they are large enough), slice mushrooms, cutting stalks very finely, and add to frying pan. Slice raw spinach leaves into strips, add to pan. When rice is boiled, add to pan. Stir everything in, ensuring nothing sticks to frying pan. When all is cooked through, serve with fresh corriander cut up fine sprinkled on top.
Eat, listening to Cajun music or New Orleans Preservation Jazz.
Above: View showing rail crossings on ul. Poloneza (nearest camera) and ul.Oberka (in distance). Beyond that a digger at work. Several houses on this stretch will be demolished.
Above: Looking south along ul. Poloneza. Houses will be demolished; Poloneza looks likely to be widened in preparation for viaduct over bypass (that will run behind camera's point-of-view, parallel to railway tracks.
More houses in the way of the road. Above: six buildings between here and ul. Puławska. In one, there were signs of the owners moving out, packing their things onto a trailer. A digger was working on demolishing another, clearance crews were at work.
Above: ul. Puławska, the major artery running into the centre of Warsaw. There will be a major junction here; the bypass will cross over Puławska at this point. At some stage, the used car dealer on the other side of the road will have to move. While the flyover is being built, there will be absolute commuter chaos - which could last for two or more years.
This time last year:
Digging up ul. Dawidowska
Saturday, 14 March 2009
Above: Looking north from the track towards ul. Tramblanki. I talked to a local resident who told me that the people still living in the houses along the path of the bypass have until the end of the month to move out. He was understandably bitter about the prospect. But this road is necessary. The bypass is the S2 express road, which links the eastern and western stretches of the A2 motorway across the south of Warsaw. This has been known about for many years, finally its happening.
Above: The bypass will run parallel to the railway line which connects Warsaw's Metro to the outside world from near the southern perimeter of the airport to ul. Puławska and beyond. Here we see ul. Hołubcowa crossing the track. In the distance, the path of the bypass. Hołubcowa will cross over both railway and bypass; a viaduct will be built on the spot where I'm standing.
Moving further west; the farmhouse on the corner of ul. Hołubcowa and ul. Karnawał is being demolished. A shame, as it was full of rural character, solidly built. Below: We cross the main Warsaw-Radom railway line, where a row of trucks is parked up on the spot where the bypass will cross the new S79 running down from ul. Sasanki; to the south, the S7 will one day run from this spot down to Kielce, Kraków and on to Budapest.
Below: Looking towards the railway line from the junction. I would guess that the earthwork to the right will form an acoustic screen? It does not look robust enough to carry the weight of an expressway. I shall find out in due course. In the distance, a Radom-bound local train.
While excited at the idea that at long last Warsaw will get proper road links to the outside world, I am also saddened by the passing of a semi-rural way of life. Below: A summerhouse to the west of the junction. Looking through the scattered magazines (from the 1960s) and toys, I'd guess that this was where a grandmother once looked after her grandchildren, keeping them amused over the summer holidays. Everything must pass.
Friday, 13 March 2009
UPDATE: The very next day, after the shopping, I popped by the local Toyota dealer. Very nice, the iQ. Doors close with a solid thunk, the car exudes a quality feel. Lots of nice little touches; the in-car entertainment system is entirely driven from the steering wheel, with only a slot on the dashboard for the CD. A port for MP3 players is next to the handbrake. There's room for two small people in the back, though zero baggage space. Leave children at home for that trip to the supermarket because the rear seats need to be folded flat to hold anything bigger than a newspaper. Yet these days, rarely is either of our cars required to transport more than two people.
But those prices... 54,300 zlotys (around 11,500 quid) is a vast amount. This is for the basic version. The posher trim level costs 4,500 zlots more - for which you get the dubious benefits of keyless opening (what happens when the battery fails?), polished alloys (as opposed to unpolished ones), electrically folding mirrors, automatic rain sensor. The only thing useful in this trim pack is front fog lights. An automatic gearbox adds another 4,900 zlotys, so if you want an auto box and top trim, you'll have to fork out 13,500 quid - an absurd price to pay. I'd be very interested to see how the iQ sells in Poland. It will do, but only if the idea that showing off around town in a car is not limited to new sports cars, SUVs or limos, can spread into the consciousness of Warsaw's nouveau riches. The new Mini has done just that, a great example that small cars can have prestige. But then the new Mini has the heritage and cache of the old Mini (rally victories, Swinging Sixties London) behind it, whereas the Toyota has what - the 1960s/70s/80s/90s Corollas?
The train takes me to W-wa Powiśle, two bus stops from the office. The old neons no longer work, the outside of the station building with its unique architecture is scarred by graffiti and neglect. Could do with a lick of paint and some new neon tubes.
On ul. Koźmińska I spot some pigeons taking a bath in the gutter. There's six individuals crowding this particular puddle. Note the disgruntled expression on the fellow up on the kerb; he's just been chased out by the one on the left.
W-wa Powiśle on the way back. The station (left) serves local trains, the two tracks run into the tunnel to W-wa Śródmieście to emerge at W-wa Ochota. On the right are the two express tracks, stopping at W-wa Centralna. This tunnel is high enough to accommodate the double-decker local trains that don't fit into the local line tunnel, so trains like the one disappearing into the distance in the middle of the picture don't stop at Ochota, Śródmieście or Powiśle. Which is a nuisance.
This time last year:
Five weeks into Lent
Spring is on its way - birds fly home
Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Sit-ups are now up to 100 a day (two lots of 50) and press-ups 30 a day. You know you're doing the optimal number of sit-ups when the last three or four are painful. And the effect is visible after a fortnight - three quarters of an inch shaved off around the middle. Four and half weeks to go.
Looking at these commuting scenes within six miles of the very centre of the capital of the EU's sixth-largest Member State, I'm wondering what Warsaw's Zarząd Dróg Miejskich (urban roads authority - ZDM) intends to do about such horrors. Not a whole lot, I'll be bound
Below: I'm generally against the use of large four wheel drives in town, but this part of Warsaw, where a third of the roads are unpaved I can see their sense.
I've made it. The parking alongside ul. Poloneza by Platan Park looks like this; mud, snow, puddles. I turned up into the office with my trouser spattered with mud. My brave Micra has made it once again, but having been bogged down once on Poloneza, I'm aware it could happen again. The biggest threat is being stuck behind an over-cautious driver who gingerly skirts the puddles, entering them slowly to avoid splashes. Driving slowly is the surest way to get stuck. You need to keep forward momentum on roads like this; gain speed on the dry bits to get you through the deep puddles. Unfortunately this throws mud up the side of the car and the dirty water can play havoc with the electrics.
By way of complete contrast, another side to my morning commute. Modern inner city Warsaw, new houses, no mud - but mad drivers. Another accident on the corner of Sikorskiego and Beethovena, and another one involving a diplomat (the red Peugeot). See this one, same place, six months ago. Another note to ZDM - install some lights at this junction.