Thursday, 18 July 2019

Local round-up

A vanilla-flavoured post to capture the everyday progress of life in Jeziorki under an increasingly humid sky. The heatwave has passed but is due again, the air heavy with threat of downpour.

First, a catch-up on the snail's pace work on the Karczunkowska viaduct; into the second half of July and progress since the last deadline (end of May) is limited to the crash barriers and ballustrades at the top of the bridge. Still very much to do. Thirteen pedestrian crossings needed.

Below: to the west of the railway tracks, there's still no asphalt for the unfortunate residents of Karczunkowska. Three days ago, this was a mudbath.

Below: cars are not yet crossing the bridge, and yet its walls are already sprouting plantlife.

Below: from the top of the viaduct, new views of the every-changing skyline of Warsaw. I can count 14 cranes in this one photograph.

Below: storm cloud at sunset, ul. Trombity.

Below: Polish government Boeing 737 coming in to land over our garden.

A good year for the swans on our ponds, not so good for the grebes; our annually-visiting swans, male 2KC1 and his mate delivered eight cygnets in May of which seven are still alive; four seen below swimming with their parents. The reeds are getting ever-higher and choking the southern end of the ponds.

The remaining three are on their own at the other end of the northern pond, about 250m away. Two of the trio are seen below (the other sibling's out of shot to the right). Have they been abandoned by their parents, or have they struck out on their own?

Below: Jeziorki house at night, ul. Trombity.

This time last year:
New Nikons on the way!

This time seven years ago:
Work continues on S2, going under the railway lines

This time eight years ago:
Stand Easy! - a short story

This time 11 years ago:
God Save The Queen - I mean it, Ma'am

This time 12 years ago:
Legoland, Dawidy Poduchowne

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Two days in Rzeszów, heart of Poland's aviation industry

Lack of sleeper-train space three weeks (!) before date of travel meant that I had to fly to Rzeszów on Monday. Very good visibility on approach to Rzeszów's Jasionka airport (below), the A4 motorway visible lower left.

My first four meetings of the day were all in or around the Aeropolis Science and Technology Park, home to many global aerospace companies and their supply chain. These include several UK businesses that have recently moved into the area.

The area around the airport is a boomtown. New buildings appearing at an incredible pace, older (like, three-four years old) being extended. The BorgWarner gearbox factory has been extended five times since the original site was opened. Below: the G2A Arena, just across the road from the airport terminal, is a popular conference and exhibition venue.

An excellent example of a British manufacturer in Poland's Aerospace Valley - McBraida (established in Bristol in 1954) specialises in the precision machining of aircraft engine parts from extremely hard materials such as titanium. The firm has been present in Rzeszów since 2013 and currently employs over 70 people. Other British firms here are Bodycote and Poeton (heat-treatment and coating respectively), and Rolls-Royce joint venture, Aero Gearbox International.

The day's last meeting was in Rzeszów's Old Town, so a chance to walk around and take in the summer atmosphere (last time I was in the Old Town was in March 2017 on a sunny but cold day).

A very attractive part of Rzeszów, well catered for with bars and restaurants. The Stary Browar Rzeszówski, where we pitched by, brews its own craft beers. A 'deska konesera' of four quarter-litre mugs on a wooden board costs but 20zł (£4.23). Each was excellent, the American Pale Ale the best.

Below: the Old Town square in the late evening.

Below: the 1890s juxtaposed with the 1990s. How will the 2090s look?

Below: Rzeszów's main railway station is undergoing a massive remont, likely to go on for a long time. There's no direct link between the ticket hall and waiting rooms in the station building and the platforms; the only way is across the footbridge in the foreground, as the underground passages are closed. The train back to Warsaw took five and a quarter hours, with long (planned) waits in Tarnów (25 minutes) and Kraków (21 minutes to change direction of travel). The line via Lublin is currently being modernised, so the more direct rail route home is not an option.

Below: awaiting entry into Kraków Główny station, 318.3km from Warsaw Central.

This time last year:
Hala Gwardii, Hala Mirowska

This time two years ago:
Four stations between Piaseczno and Czachówek

This time five years ago:
A tragedy foretold 

Saturday, 13 July 2019

For Reasons Unknown - poems by Nigel Humphreys

Poets should strive for universal applicability - covering themes that resonate with everyone; such is the received wisdom passed on by poetry teachers.

"It's easy to be difficult," said John Betjeman, riposting T.S. Eliot, who suggested that poetry should aim to be difficult. Nigel Humphreys' voice is neither deliberately obscurantist nor is it simple, but it is authentic, and it resonates fully with me. Several threads that run through his fourth volume of poetry, For Reasons Unknown (styled for reasons unknown), published in the Parhelion series imprint from the Arbor Vitae press, which chime with themes I've covered in my blog. These include the role of consciousness in the universe, the reality of the sub-atomic level, Proustian memory, spirit of place, and the eternal. Because Nigel Humphreys' world view is so congruent with mine, I find his poetry elevating and replete with insight.

The marvellous prose-poem Brock - that forms the backbone of the book, speaks of a detached consciousness moving across the face of our planet, an aware observer that never interferes, eyes without a face, born of this world, observing it, yet not engaging with it. Brock, "an individual without home, creed, philosophy or agenda, who through his wanderings, permeates existence and, by doing so, becomes a disinterested observer of what it is to exist," says the author's note. Brock, strung out across 48 parts, becomes a framework to which a further 48 poems are attached, each one thematically linked to the preceding fragment of Brock. This structure suggests a vastly more planned tome of poetry than the usual compendium of loosely-edited poems; assembled thus, the book acquires a narrative tone; the reader is drawn into Brock's world.

Humphreys'/Brock's place in space and time is early 21st century Aberystwyth, a Welsh seaside town reminiscent of the Pwllheli that I've visited so often. I compare the two on Google Maps Street View and am struck by the architectural similarity and their geography. A town built around a mediaeval castle, with Victorian and post-war buildings, car parks and superstores, hospital and charity shops. Brock's world is the Town Surrounded By Country, in the country, fenced and gated hills, horses and sheep on green fields over which circle the hawk, the kite and the eagle; the Town is By The Sea where the eternal natural struggle takes on aquatic form. Intermediate, the coastline, with "the tang of bladder wrack..." words that summon earliest childhood memories of seaside summers on the cold coasts of Britain.

The physical construct of the universe, made of atoms, living in a fragment of the Infinite and Eternal, seeing just that - above the supermarket trolleys, digital signs, mobility scooters, laptops, t-shirts, kiosks and scaffolding yet acutely aware that there is more, far more than "the white water of consumerism", above which Brock manages to hold his head.

Atoms, time, energy, matter, consciousness; the stuff from which the universe is woven. Nigel Humphreys is a poet of our quantum age, accepting the mysteries of the subatomic world and the structure of the gene, "as ruthless as ever, keeping its host body alive for reasons unknown" - I sense towards the end of the book what these reasons are - the evolutionary path of Consciousness, from being aware of Nothing, to being aware of All. Our eyes will experience but a snippet of the journey.

This is a book that elevates one from everyday duties, from automatic action, and invites the reader to gaze again and reflect with a higher consciousness upon that which surrounds us all, and place that into the context of infinite wonder, "time beyond time", "the universal will".

Having read all three volumes of Bevis Hillier's biography of John Betjeman, I have come to appreciated the importance of the long-term relationship between poet and publisher. In the case of Betjeman, it was Jock Murray, fifth-generation scion of publishing family John Murray. In the case of Nigel Humphreys, it is Jonathan Wood, founder of the Arbor Vitae Press, who has also published Humphrey's three previous collections of poetry, The Hawk's Mewl (2007), Flavour of Parallel (2010) and Of Moment (2013). I look forward to more.

This time last year:

This time two years ago year:
It's just an Ilyushin (central Warsaw's plane-restaurant)

This time four years ago:
Marathon stroll (31.5km) along the Vistula 

This time five years ago:
Complaining about the lack of a river crossing between Siekierki and Góra Kalwaria! 

This time six years ago:
S2 update (nearly ready)

This time seven years ago:
Progress on S2 bypass - photos from the air

This time nine years ago:
Up Śnieżnica

This time 12 years ago:
July continues glum (2007 - a rainy summer)

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Johnson, Trump, good behaviour and civilisation

We are mammals. Hierarchy, the pecking order from top-dog to runt, is something that's in our nature. We innately judge people by first impression - evolution has taught us to do that. Predator or prey?

Yet we are civilised human beings too - by 'civilised', I mean we have evolved biologically and behaviourally to live in ever-closer proximity to each other in ever-larger towns and cities. The top-dog concept that 'might is right' does not make for a pleasant life or a sustainable community. Evolutionarily, 'might-is-right' is being displaced by 'win-win'. 'Might-is-right' as a model still survives in Russia and in many parts of Africa; sadly now after decades of retreat, it seems to be making a comeback in the West.

With alpha-male status, once you could have got away with anything. The Big Man has been pulled down time and time again, usually by force of law - but "when justice is gone, there's always force". Why has someone like Trump, whose baggage of misdemeanour would have crushed any political carrier, been allowed to become - and remain - President?

Social conventions, politeness, manners, have evolved over millennia to oil the human-human interface. We try not to hurt each others' feelings - it makes sense not to do so, as life in a city of ill-mannered, crude, brutal people is sub-optimal and unsustainable. In general - with many reverses in our human story - we have been evolving in this direction.

So why Boris Johnson? Why Trump?

Like Trump, Boris Johnson can lie, cheat, bullshit, bluff and charm his way to the top job in politics, unrestrained by any usual behavioural norms, the breaking of which usually put an end to any chance of advancement. Dark forces (the Kremlin) are trying their damnedest to destabilise the West and supporting any narcissist bully into the top job is a good way of going about this. And the anti-liberal trick of getting people to vote for someone who hates the same people as them works too. Something that the social media is all to good at amplifying.

People who know Johnson well are scathing of him, of his behaviour and motivation in a way that I cannot recall happening to any would-be prime minister in waiting. And these are mainly people of Johnson's political persuasion and background, people like Max Hastings Sonia Purnell or Matthew Parris who have seen the man behind the PR gloss and spin.

Why Johnson then?

The right wing seems to revel in the idea of 'natural order'. "The rich man in his castle/the poor man at his gate." And yet conservatism should revolve around conserving that which is good and worth conserving. How people with Christian values can remotely identify with serial cheats such as Johnson and Trump is difficult to grasp. How these men can be held up as exemplars of morality and protectors of decency and civilised values?

Johnson at least has enough self-awareness and emotional intelligence to want to avoid being seen as a pompous jackass; his polished jocularity and charm wins many over. Trump's IQ and emotional intelligence are both lower than Johnson's; unlike Johnson, Trump doesn't know when to stop. Trump had won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote, so he made out that Democrats had been engaged in voting fraud. He probably still believes that.

Johnson's main political strength is in his party's belief that only he can keep the spectre of a Corbyn government at bay. This belief is misplaced. Corbyn is so terminally useless that at a time when the Tory party is ripping itself to pieces, Labour under Corbyn can only manage fourth place in the latest opinion poll.

Political correctness is little more than basic politeness. We should not wish to offend other people either consciously or unconsciously or even subconsciously. Political correctness is little more than extended guidelines for avoiding words or phrases that can make those around us feel uncomfortable.

We are on a spiritual journey from barbarism to civilisation, from the bestial to the angelic; it seems that for the moment a step back has been taken. May this regression be short in duration and mild in symptoms.

This time three years ago:
Laughin' just to keep from cryin'

This time seven years ago:
Modlin Airport open day, just ahead of its inauguration 

This time eight years ago:
Along Austro-Hungary's strategic railway

This time nine years ago:
Gone is the threat of Państwo Smoleńskie

This time ten years ago:
Get on your bike and RIDE!

This time 11 years ago:
Moles in my own garden

Friday, 5 July 2019

South of Pilica to the end of the line

South of Warka, south of the Pilica river, the Radom line runs single-track all the way to its destination, with track doubled up at all intermediate stations to provide passing facilities. Stations serve sparsely dotted settlements and are used by few passengers.

Here's Grabów nad Pilicą, one of several somewhat misleadingly named station on the southern stretch of the line. The name of the village (population 650) is a misnomer; it actually lies six kilometres (over four miles) from the river. And the station does not serve the village as such - the station is four kilometres (two and half miles) from the village of Grabów nad Pilicą. [Not to be confused with Grabów nad Prosną, which is in Wielkopolskie province.]

Below: a train to Minsk Mazowiecki pulls into the station. Three people waiting at the platform.

Below: I watched the train depart northwards toward the river (another 4km to the north) and Warka beyond. Note the passing loop to the left for the 'down' train. When the line is modernised, it will be double-track working all the way to Radom.

Below: Grabów n/ Pilica station building, another original dating back to 1934. Note dip in the platform level to the right, helping passengers to cross the track. No doubt this feature will be replaced by a tunnel or footbridge. The station is in the middle of a forest. The nearest group of houses is one and half kilometres from here, the main road is a kilometre further on.

Below: looking south from the track crossing. To the left stands a signal box that guards the passing loop. The south end of the platform is 62.5km from Kilometre Zero at W-wa Centralna.

Onwards, south, to the next station. It is called Strzyżyna, although once again the station itself lies over four kilometres from the village of Strzyżyna (population 100). It is here that Radom-bound trains currently terminate and where passengers for stations to the south transfer to the replacement bus service.

Below: in the distance - Strzyżyna station; a Warsaw-bound train stands at the platform. Outside the station building, a number of buses await passengers wanting to travel south. One bus has already set off. The buses take two routes - one goes directly to Radom via Lesiów (the last stop before Radom); the other route stops at all the intermediate stations - Dobieszyn, Kruszyna, Wola Bierwiecka, Bartodzieje and Lesiów. The former takes just over an hour, the latter an hour and 21 minutes. The journey from W-wa Śródmieście to Strzyżyna had already taken over one hour and 40 minutes; some people are facing a six-hour daily commute. Work is already overrunning. Whole line completed by 2021? 2022 more likely. Years of misery for the people dependent on Warsaw's economic pull who live out here.

Below: I watch the train depart for Warsaw. Once it's gone, the station is left deserted. Note that as at Grabów n/ Pilicą, there are two platforms; one is on the passing loop.

Below: this telephoto shot shows the situation at the end of the passing loop, the two tracks merge back into a single line that runs 5km north to Grabów and the next passing loop.

Below: the station building, Strzyżyna. How will it look here once the line is completed?

Below: south of Strzyżyna. The line runs several hundred metres beyond the platforms' ends and reaches a stop sign. The track is being doubled all the way down to Radom.

Full plan of the new track alignment all the way from Czachówek to Radom here.

This time last year:
West Ealing to Castlebar Park - waiting for Crossrail

This time two years ago:
Trump flies into Warsaw

This time five years ago:
Making Poland's railways safer

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Finding Kilometre Zero

All the main railway lines that radiate out of Warsaw count back the kilometres from the capital. I live on the Warsaw-Radom line, and W-wa Jeziorki station is on Kilometre 18, while Chynów station, the nearest to my działka in Jakubowizna, is on Kilometre 42. Heading east out of Warsaw, the border with Belarus, beyond Terespol, stands on Kilometre 211, while going the other way, the border with Germany can be found on Kilometre 478. Add those last two, and you can see that 698km of rails span Poland from east to west.

But where is Kilometre Zero? Kilometre Zero in Madrid, for example, is on Puerta del Sol. Ancient Rome had its Milliarium Aureum. Many cities have kilometre zeros for roads; I'm more interested in rail. So where in Warsaw is the kilometre zero for Polish rail? I puzzled over this online, unable to find a definitive answer, but in the end it turned out to be obvious.

It is, of course, at Warsaw Moniuszko Station. What! You've never heard of Warsaw Moniuszko Station? I must say, neither have I until today. I've been there hundreds of times, but I've not heard of it. It's better known as Warszawa Centralna/Dworzec Centralny, but then Warsaw Okęcie Airport was also renamed for a composer, albeit some while back. The new name 'Moniuszko' was bestowed upon Dworzec Centralny in January this year -  an occasion that somehow bypassed me.

Here we are then, at Warsaw Central (W-wa Centralna) station, or if you prefer, Dworzec Centralny imienia Stanisława Moniuszki. Some 50m to the east of the middle of the platforms, close to the foot of the main escalators that lead down from the central passage spanning the eight tracks. On a white rectangle, clearly marked in black, is 0.0 (below)

The four platforms, each serving two tracks, are 400m long; walk out towards the western end of the platforms you will find Kilometre 0.2 (below). And if you look closely from your train, you will see 0.3 inside the tunnel just after entering it.

Logically, equidistant from Km 0.2 and Km 0,0 there is a Km 0.1 marker (below); they are 100m apart.

And going the other way, eastwards beyond Km 0.0, not quite at the end of the platforms, is another Km 0.1 (below) - but this time measured eastwards. Note that like at Km 0.2 not a soul here.

So now we know where Km 0.0 is, we can look for kilometre markers along the main lines (lesser lines will count up from wherever they start). Below: Km 12.7, south of W-wa Okęcie station.

This time last year:
Bristol fashioned [my first exploration of this wonderful British city]

This time two years:
The imminent closure of Marks & Spencer in Warsaw

This time six years ago:
Along mirror'd canyons

This time eight years ago:
Mad about Marmite 

This time nine years ago:
Komorowski wins second round of Presidential elections?

This time ten years ago:
A beautiful summer dusk in Jeziorki

This time 11 years ago:
Classic cars, London and Warsaw

Sunday, 30 June 2019

First half of 2019 - health in numbers

"Beat last year" is a good motto when it comes to staving off the onset of old age. The fact that I am stronger and healthier than I was last year and even more so than two years ago  is good news. Above all, I have greater strength of will. Knowing this contributes to good well-being and that useful Polish word samopoczucie (how you feel within yourself, a combination of mental and physical). But to beat last year, you need to know what last year looked like. I've been logging health-related key performance indicators since the beginning of 2014 in an ever-growing Excel spreadsheet. Paces walked, alcohol and fruit & veg consumption, exercises and (since June 2017), blood pressure.

In the first half of this year I have walked more - with a daily average of over 11,800 paces a day, every day, while in the first half of 2018 it was 11,078 paces. Press-ups - comfortably more. Although I had a break in London in mid-June due to a shoulder-sprain (once again, too much stuff in the rucksack, this time groceries). I was unable to rehabilitate with weights as these were back in Warsaw. However, since last week I've returned to the full exercise routine and have just done 47 press-ups. Focusing more on quality - from nose to the floor to arms fully extended.

Planks are great exercise, strengthening the body's core muscles. Since the end of January when I started, I've 'held the plank' for over 14 hours in total! (usually two-three minute stretches).

Weights - 5kg is now the norm, lateral rises, internal and external shoulder rotations. I returned to these gently after coming back from London, starting with 3kg, now back up to 5kg, building up the numbers to 12 x 3 set of repetitions for each exercise.

Alcohol consumption - finally got it down to the UK health guidelines of 14 units a week (first six months of last year this was 17 units), with number of days without alcohol increased to 121 - up from 116 in the first half of 2019. Intake of fresh fruit and vegetables at 5.4 portions a day identical to the first six months of last year and 2017.

The real achievement remains my overcoming high blood pressure without medication. This time two years ago, my average readings were 140 (systolic) over 100 (diastolic). I was prescribed pills ("to be taken for the rest of my life"). How am I faring? On 30 June 2017 my average reading was 134/95. On 30 June last year - it was 112/79. And now it's 110/79. [Heart Foundation's guidelines are between 90-129 (systolic) and 60-84 (diastolic) as the acceptable norms of healthy blood pressure.]

Over the past two years I have lowered my blood pressure to healthy levels, consistently and sustainably, without gulping pills. I take measurements daily and log them, observing them consciously, like the results of a quantum experiment. This, I believe, helps me will myself to stay healthy. So far so good - onto the second half of this year!

This time last year:
Key Performance Indicators - health - first half 2016

This time two years ago:
Three and half years of health and fitness data

This time three years ago:
First half of 2016 health & fitness in numbers

This time four years ago:
Venus, Jupiter - auspices

This time five years ago:
Down the line from York

This time six years ago:
Cider - at last available in Poland

This time seven years ago:
Despondency on Puławska

This time eight years ago:
Stalking the stork

This time ten years ago:
Late June lightning

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Down the line to Warka

Next up on my explorations of the stations between Warsaw and Radom - Gośniewice and Warka. It seems the modernisation of the Radom line is happening at an equal pace, in other words, patchy. Here's a stretch almost done, and here's another stretch way behind schedule. But generally, work on laying the 'up' track is progressing, though whether the whole length will have been laid by the end of the first week of September, the anniversary of work commencing, is unlikely. Once it does happen, all the trains will be diverted to the 'up' line and the 'down' line will be ripped up and the whole process repeated. There will be much work to do at the bigger stations, as is visible in Chynów and Warka.

We start with this view, looking toward Michalczew, which I visited a few weeks ago. Below: the station building is visible to the left in the middle distance. To the right, new electricity gantries and new rails on new concrete sleepers are visible.

Below: departure of the train from Gośniewice halt towards Warsaw and Minsk Mazowiecki. The 'up' platform has disappeared altogether; the 'down' platform currently serves both directions. Just three passengers alighted at Gośniewice. This must be one of the most remote stations on the Koleje Mazowieckie network - no asphalted roads reach it. Opened in 1972, this was never an important stop. A ticket booth and toilet have both long disappeared. Unusually, no island platform here, which suggests this halt was an afterthought, plopped down between Michalczew and Warka.

Below: looking towards Warka - the new 'up' platform will be staggered, located to the south of the 'down' platform - just as at W-wa Jeziorki. In the far distance, to the left of the tracks, the brewery buildings in Warka.

Below: Warka station, one of the original buildings from when the line was built in 1934.

Below: waiting for the southbound train to pass before crossing the track. Just as in Chynów, there will be an underground passage linking the platforms.

Below: general view of Warka station. Note the sign, placed at an angle, a good innovation, increasing its visibility! To the left, new ballast awaits sleepers and track, while to the right, track-laying equipment stands waiting.

Below: close up of the equipment taken from across the tracks.

BONUS PHOTOS: Stork nest in Pieczyska (unlike this post from 2016, the storks didn't show any symptoms of parasitical infestation. I watched them for several minutes, none was scratching itself.

Below: frog's-eye view of a pair of menacing storks.

This time two years ago:
Unusual sights on the railway

This time three years ago:
Brexit - it was new-EU immigration that swung it

This time four years ago:
Still flying after all these years

This time five years ago
Yorkshire's smallest city

This time six years ago:
Cramp in the night

This time seven years ago:
Football goes home

This time eight years ago:
Birds of Omen

This time nine years ago:
Yes, it does matter who you vote for

This time ten years ago:
Poland could do with some more mountains

This time 11 years ago:
Warmth of the Sun
 - the Beach Boys and Noctilucence

This time 12 years ago:
Polish roads that look like America