Sunday, 12 July 2020

Summer wet and dry


Weather-wise, yesterday was awful. A long belt of rain, between 50km and 100km wide, moved its way up Poland, from south-west to north-east, with Mazowsze under a cloud that produced incessant rain for most of the day. The ground is waterlogged anyway; once the asphalt comes to an end, the paths are more puddle than track. I got my paces in and more, but all three pairs of my footwear here are soaking wet and muddy.

The worst part of a wet summer is the sudden rise in numbers of komary - Culex pipiens (there is linguistic disagreement whether a komar is a gnat, a midge or a mosquito in English, so I shall stick to the binomial name). Hot and wet summers bring them out in large numbers. From memory, this is the worst summer since 2011 and 1997. One bright spot - the country komary are a dozy lot and easy to kill. The urban ones are the offspring of thousands of generations of those fast enough to avoid a slapping human hand, and have lightning-fast reflexes. The rural ones are dozy, I slaughtered dozens yesterday. The walls of my działka bedroom have small black stains marking the spot where they met their demise - but no blood. I tell a lie - just saw one above the door, splatted it - and yes, there was my blood, sucked out of me as I slept. A long dry spell is what's needed now. That, and my favourite insect after the bee, the dragonfly. Dragonflies live on a diet of Culex pipiens, but this year I've not seen any iridescent beauties hovering around.

Work on fencing my działka begins early next month; I bought a pruning lopper to cut away at some of the branches intruding over my land from the neighbouring forest. There was a choice of two are the hardware shop in Chynów; Polish ones for 80zł, and Finnish ones (Fiskars) for 179zł. So the Polish ones then... Took a closer look. Yes, Polish brand (Rawlplug!), barcode starting with 59, but in small print on the packaging... Produkt ChRL (Product of the Chinese People's Republic). No thanks. The Fiskars it is then. Made in Europe, less transport, the Finns aren't engaged in human rights abuse - plus the Fiskars product is lighter and stronger and capable of taking down branches up to 38mm, as opposed to 35mm for the heavier Chinese loppers.

Cherries are ripe for the picking, so this year's batch of wiśniówka (sour-cherry vodka) will be coming soon. To make 1 litre of wiśniówka, take 1kg of fruit, washed and stoned, 500g of sugar, 50ml of spirytus rektyfikowany, leave for six weeks, drain the fruit and separate fluid from pulp, subject the pulp to a secondary fermentation, drain again, mix fluid with fluid from first fermentation, bottle and allow to mature - ready for Christmas drinking. 

After a morning of pruning back overhanging branches, the clouds began to gather. Clearing ground is a satisfying activity; balancing the human desire for order with nature's need to be growing. 

Lunch then (a stew consisting of chorizo, chickpeas, cherry tomato and spinach, flavoured with a few anchovy fillets and one piri-piri pepper), washed back with a half-litre of Baltic Porter. Rain clouds are building all around my door. My plans of an afternoon motorbike ride have become unfeasible.

Meanwhile, bad news on the railway front. Apparently in response to a parliamentary question, PKP PLK SA, Poland's rail infrastructure operator, has admitted that the modernisation of the Warsaw-Radom line will not be completed until 2023. This is dreadful! Only the other day was I watching a PKP PLK video showing the wonders of the line once complete - Radom-Warsaw in just 75 minutes, which suggests Warka-Warsaw in 45 minutes and Chynów-Warsaw in 35 minutes, compared to the current best time of 50 minutes.

Better news on the local roads front. Rumours that the level crossing carrying the road between Chynów to Jakubowizna will be closed seem wrong. Having walked around the patch, to my expert eye, the ungated level crossing, used only by orchard traffic, will be closed; the quid pro quo offered to the growers is that the muddy tracks will be properly tarmacked to normal standards, in return for the closure of the crossing on ulica Miodowa. Below: the new road will run straight along the axis of this photograph up to the horizon, then turn right. It will shave off about a minute's walking time between my działka and Chynów station.

And after lunch on the działka - back to work. More pruning, more slashing away at the undergrowth, using my scythe as a machete. I wanted to buy one along with the lopper, but the shop is sold out (the owner said they had their best-ever May, with sales up 250% over May 2019, as people emerged from lockdown to get on with heavy-duty remonty). Anyway, a machete would be useful for hacking away at the denser undergrowth (rather than for settling scores at closing time at a Nando's in Nottingham). In the meantime, the scythe and the lopper will have to do.

Below: this is where the garden pub will go. Peter, who visited yesterday with his son, came up with an excellent name - The Crown (korona - get it?). Bounded by cherry trees to the south, apple trees to the east and plum trees to the north, the 7m x 5m brick-built edifice is intended as a temple for erudite discussion over a tankard of ale or glass of wine. 

Oh well - time to clean the place, close up and take the train back to town AND VOTE!

This time two years ago:
Rainy summer Warsaw moods

This time five years ago:
Marathon stroll along the Vistula

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

This time seven years ago:
S2 update 

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

This time ten years ago:
Up Śnieżnica

This time 13 years ago:
July continues glum (2007 - yet another rainy summer)

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Masterpiece for the digital age

Today the word 'masterpiece' is synonymous with 'work of art'; however, I'm sure that Turner, Van Gogh or Leonardo da Vinci would have felt insulted if they heard their paintings called mere 'masterpieces'.

The origin of the term is a test piece, given to an apprentice to demonstrate his mastery at a given art or craft. The master would reject anything that failed to meet his highest expectations. The test piece would demonstrate the technical proficiency and skill levels necessary for acceptance into a guild. In German Meisterstück (from which the Polish loanword majstersztyk and the 16th-century Scots term 'masterstik'). Today's meaning of 'masterpiece' is nearer the German Meisterwerk, which is not so much a piece for a master as a piece by a master.

A long path, beset with disappointment and rejection, of seeing one's own subjective criteria of excellence belittled by one's master, who set the most exacting standards to ensure that his guild's reputation was not eroded by second-rate work.

The long path is marked by repetition, which should be regularly punctuated by insights - learning moments - without which the path leads nowhere, going round in circles of futility. Mistakes must be punished, but correction is not achieved without true understanding.

Perfection, I've long held, is an impossible dream; expecting it from yourself or from others will lead to disappointment. Instead of perfection, focus on improvement - continual (and if possible, rapid) improvement. I am a slow learner, but that's the trade off for a long and easy life.

Why am I writing all this? Readers will have seen my SketchUp pub. Since making that, I've designing something of more immediate practical value, something for this summer - a wall for the frontage of my działka. Now the geodeta (legal land-surveyor) has been and marked out the border between my land and the forest next door, I can move my boundary fence some 12 metres east, and enclose my entire 3,880m2 (just under one acre) of land. Here's how I see the front of the plot, as seen from the south side (from the road). A two-metre wall, stuccoed white, curves in towards the gate, asphalt drive to the house. The wall is rounded at the top.

It took me a while to get here, but as I wrote when doing the pub, I'm a long way from mastering SketchUp. I started in 2007, learning the basics, but never really had the need to create something practical, something that will be actually built. My son, on the other hand, has built hotels, airports and entire cities using SketchUp.

Mastering a digital art form is made easier by access to online tutorials (of varying quality, it must be said). You become the apprentice, but you must also become your own master. SketchUp offers many work-rounds if things go wrong, but soon you become frustrated as one botch leads to another and it's a long way back to undo the initial mistake.

The answer is to build on Little Masteries. Master the most basic skill, make something that works, is 100% consistent, that has all the internal logic correct - and save it as such. Then learn another skill (today I learnt how to use the 'follow' tool to make curved semi-circular sections), then incorporate it on the saved model. Don't pull back from dipping into YouTube tutorials if you are stuck and need help. There have never in history been more willing tutors at your disposal.

In the pre-digital world, if you made a mistake, you'd have to go all the way back to square one and start again from scratch. In SketchUp, the learning process is less frustrating but mastery still takes thousands of hours of practice.

Below: Art Déco house, made by my son back in 2014. Looking at the model today, I can see small flaws and inconsistencies, but still - this is the work of a teenager! 

There's nothing else for it - dive back into SketchUp for another learning session - duplicating fencing posts and chicken-wire along the entire perimeter (two sides and back of plot, around 310m in total). 

This time last year:

This time three years ago:

This time seven years ago:

This time eight years ago:

This time nine years ago:

This time ten years ago:

This time 11 years ago:

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Town and country in summer

Friday - into town to meet Moni for a drink. We start at the new Kufle i Kapsle in Solec... Across Plac Wójcickiej, the railway viaduct, under the arch you can see Most Poniatowskiego. The train crossing is a České dráhy service from Prague to Warsaw.

On to Sen nocy letniej (lit. 'summer's night dream' - makes me reflect there's no translation of 'midsummer' into Polish). This is a boat moored on the Vistula boulevard. The moon rising over the Most Poniatowski bridge.

Under the railway bridge, with the national stadium across the river. People out drinking, but not too crowded. Number of people in Warsaw with confirmed Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic 1,646, slightly more than Ealing (1,553) - figures as of 5 July. [Warsaw's population is 25 times larger than Ealing's)

Saturday - out to the country for a weekend at Jakubowizna. The rains have subsided, but the soil is waterlogged, puddles still extend across the paths.

In the orchards, the cherries are ripe.These are sour cherries (wiśnie), Prunus cerasus - ideal for making wiśniowka - steeping the cherries in spirytus rektyfikowany with sugar (not too much!)

I have never seen an orchard so full of cherries; the hot sun and the wet May and June have yielded results.

Below: on my działka, I've pruned back the leaves and non-fruit-bearing vines to let the sun in on the fruit and give them more nutrients. Ripe in late-September, early-October, by which time they are black. These are Concord grapes; small, with pips and thick skins - good for juice.

This time last year:

This time two years ago:
West Ealing to Castlebar Park - waiting for Crossrail

This time three years ago:
Trump flies into Warsaw

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

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

First half of 2020 - health in numbers

Six and half years since I began a spreadsheet with my exercising and alcohol intake, time for a post-lockdown catch-up at the end of the first half of 2020.

"Beat last year" remains the motto when it comes to staving off the onset of old age. I am stronger and healthier than I was last year; last year I was stronger and healthier than the year before that - and I have the data to prove.

Locking my health and lifestyle into my data-obsessiveness has been a great idea; rarely do I miss out on exercises or skip my walking because there's a spreadsheet that needs filling in, the obsession becomes habitualised, and this builds willpower. 

The outcome is better samopoczucie - how you feel within yourself, physically and mentally. Within myself, I feel like I felt in my late thirties - and consequently am shocked whenever I catch sight of myself in a mirror - I certainly feel nowhere near as old as I look!

Covid-19 is less likely to be an issue if my immune system is strong; exercise, good diet and sleep all help. But autumn is coming; some mutation might be on the way (Covid-22?) that could sweep away all this positive, life-affirming stuff. That or an accident, or some unsuspected tumour or tick-borne brain disease - we totter continuously on the Edge of Chaos. 

Yet there is that strong sense of life, a reason for getting up in the morning, secrets of Life and Universe to be uncovered and shared, an aesthetic, many moments of joy to anticipate in the future - and so health is important, longevity is important, the drive to keep going...

Lockdown has meant fewer paces than last year; my daily weekday walks have been limited to 90 minutes after the end of the working day. My daily average for the first half of this year has been 11,030 paces, compared to 11,804 last year (11,078 in 2018). Weights, pull-ups and planks - I slaughtered last year's numbers. Days when I was too lazy to do any exercises were just five (same in first half of last year). April was the high-point; totally locked down, there was not one day when I didn't complete a full set of ten lots of exercises. Fresh fruit and veg intake was up to 6.4 portions a day from 5.4 portions. Easier to eat well at home than in town, where fast-food tempts.

Press-ups are down on last year - with a good reason. Rather than bash out ever-larger numbers of poor-quality press-ups, I've focused on limiting the number to 30, but making each one perfect - back straight, plank style, then all the way down, chest to the floor, then all the way up until arms lock.

Being on the działka overnight is bad for the numbers, because I don't have weights or a pull-up bar, and the local shops are poor on fresh veg (like no fresh spinach, only the frozen stuff), but I get the paces in. 

Alcohol consumption has been reduced further still, another side-effect of lockdown, with average units drunk per week down to 11.5 (first six months of last year it was 13.9 units), with number of days without alcohol increased to 127 - up from 121 in the first half of 2019. Comparing my consumption year-on-year, in the first six months of 2020, I've drunk the equivalent of three half-litre bottles of vodka less than in the same period last year. (Sounds a lot, but it works out at slightly over an airline miniature a week.)

Blood pressure. This time three years ago, my average readings were 140 (systolic) over 100 (diastolic). I was prescribed pills ("to be taken for the rest of my life"). Which I didn't take. On 30 June 2017 my average reading was 134/95. On 30 June 2018 - it was 112/79. On 30 June 2019 it was 110/79. It has crept up over the past 12 months; today it was 116/84. (I take my blood pressure each morning after getting up.)

I can see a clear correlation between going to bed after midnight, which has been the case these past few days, is not a good thing, and diastolic pressure over 80. [Heart Foundation's guidelines are between 90-129 (systolic) and 60-84 (diastolic) as the acceptable norms of healthy blood pressure.] One to watch more obsessively than the others!

This time last year:
First half of 2019 - health in numbers

This time two years ago:
Key Performance Indicators - health - first half 2018

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

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

This time five years ago:
Venus, Jupiter - auspices

This time six years ago:
Down the line from York

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

This time eight years ago:
Despondency on Puławska

This time nine years ago:
Stalking the stork

This time 11 years ago:
Late June lightning

Monday, 29 June 2020

Private garden pub for the działka

I've been thinking about this for some time - to build a modest, traditional building on my działka in the style of a 18th-century English village pub. Small, simple, using nothing but brick, wood and roof tiles; no electricity, just two large fireplaces to provide heat, and niches in the walls on which to safely place candles. A bar, space for three or for round tables, and plenty of wooden shelves for fine wines and ales. On the basis of how much I paid to have the house done up, I reckon something like this could be built (and well) for around 100,000 złotys (£20,000).

A mere 34m2 footprint (7.5m x 4.5m), one room, plumbing limited to a sink behind the bar, hot water from a back-boiler in the large chimney flue. Outside lavvy, connected to the town drains.

Back view, looking in, showing the back of the bar. 3D model done in SketchUp, which I've not fully mastered (note lack of guttering)

Inside view. To the left, one of the two fireplaces. Brick-built bar topped with granite. 

Rear three-quarter view. Given that my działka is 150m long by 25m wide, there's plenty of place to locate something like this.

Just the thing for creative sessions. What do you think?

This time last year:
(A lot done since last year, but much to do before it's completed)

This time six years ago
Down the line from York

This time seven years ago:
Czester and his sister

This time nine years ago:
The Cold Weather Guys - a short story

This time ten years ago:
Bike ride along the banks of the Vistula

This time 11 years ago:
Three hill walks around Dobra

This time 12 years ago:
90th Anniversary of the Polish Navy

This time 13 years ago:
Memory and comfort

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Gimme the keys to the highway

At long last... the weather's good - no thunderstorms forecast for today - so time to get on my motorbike and R I D E. Out into South Mazovia, where I'm minded as to where my soul is from.

Having a base in Jakubowizna is a Godsend. I don't need to worry about threading my way through traffic on Puławska or through stop-start Piaseczno - half an hour of riding through boring suburbs and exurbs - I roll out of my place, and straight out onto open, empty, country roads.

Below: the Pilica river has burst its banks. This is about a kilometre upstream from its confluence with the Vistula. The drought is over.

Orchard shrine; the Marian month of May and Corpus Christi are now behind us, but the wayside altars and shrines are still decorated.

Below: orchards and a big tank.

Below: crossing the Pilica; could be anywhere in the southern U.S.A.; the Deep South of Mazovia.

Below: but this is clearly Europe - the market square of Warka...

Below: Warka under a Mediterranean sky. The road leads west out into the orchards, following the Pilica towards Nowe Miasto.

This time last year: 

This time three years ago:
Unusual sights on the tracks

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

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

This time six years ago
Yorkshire's smallest city

This time seven years ago:
Cramp in the night

This time eight years ago:
Football goes home

This time nine years ago:
Birds of Omen

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

This time 11 years ago:
Poland could do with some more mountains

This time 12 years ago:
Warmth of the Sun
 - the Beach Boys and Noctilucence

This time 13 years ago:
Polish roads that look like America

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Stormy high summer

I'd started the weekend early in anticipation of a bit of motorbiking - the weather forecasts showed a hot dry day, so I took the train down to the działka to go for a spin. But by the time I arrived yesterday afternoon, it was clear the bike would be going nowhere. Massive clouds were gathering in the sky to the south and east. By five pm, four hours before sunset, the land was plunged into near-darkness. Lightning was followed by ever-louder and ever-nearer thunderclaps, and the wind - the down-draft that's a harbinger of the coming deluge, whipped through the trees, snapping twigs and small branches.

The rain fell with a vehemence. After ten minutes, the electricity cut out. Usually, power outages on the działka, of which I'm informed by my alarm app, last a minute or two. This one lasted over two hours. No light, no internet - but a full battery on my laptop let me get on with office work. The storm passed, the lights came back on. It was quarter to eight. Time for a walk. Sodden fields, broken branches, impassable footpaths.

These summer storms are literally unpredictable, as I wrote recently. Water vapour rises up from the wet soil, heated by a hot sun near its zenith, builds up quickly into towering clouds that hit cold air and suddenly condense back into rain. This cycle can happen two or three times on a hot, damp day. Advancing weather fronts can be modelled by supercomputers with a fair degree of accuracy, but thunderstorms are difficult to pin down.

Below: after the deluge, a wet walk. Because my Loake walking boots are locked down in London, I'm wearing my winter boots - suede and fur-lined, ideal for sub-zero and snow; not so clever when puddle-hopping on a humid summer's evening. 

The orchards are waterlogged. I hope this wet spell - following on from a snow-free winter and dry spring - will not harm the apples. The cherries are around a week and half late this year, and smaller than last year's beauties. 

Wake up this morning to the sound of intense rain. Coffee, wash, breakfast - check weather forecast. Intense thunderstorms with off-the-scale downpours predicted for around eight, nine pm. It's now around 11am, the rain has stopped, the sun is out - into the garage, start up the bike, head off  to the BP station at Grobice to top up the tank, and I'm on my way. My intention is to get to Warka, cross the Pilica river and drift south a while...

Below: between Widok and Piekut. Lovely stretch of road - hardly any traffic, bucolic scenes... but look out to the left - the clouds are building up...

I get to the crossroads past Krężel and decide to turn back. Below: I'm back in Chynów - any minute now... and sure enough, the heavens open. I'm close enough to base to make a run for it; bike back in garage, into the house - and hail. The lawn outside turns white - whiter than at any time over the winter. Two hours of intense rain, thunder, lighting and hail.

At least this time there was no power cut; I have lunch and await the storm's passing... It passes. 

The clouds have emptied, the sun's back. Water vapour rises visibly from the sodden earth at first; time for a walk. It's wetter than ever. Footpaths become impossible to cross without getting my feet wet. Fallen branches suggest that agriculture has taken a belting. This, dear reader, is the climatic new normal. Extraordinary weather events become commonplace. Farmers will have to invest in drought- and flood prevention measures. Food will become more expensive.

Hoping for a settled spell of dry weather before this summer's through. But there's still walking to be done; this evening another stroll to see how badly the soaking affected the other side of the tracks...

Below: this is ulica Działkowa in Chynów; wet all the way up. I could hear many petrol-powered pumping engines in the neighbouring orchards, sucking up water and piping it into fields next door or out onto the street. The damage has been done.

More is to come; on my way back home to the działka, I could see more clouds to the east. The sun was setting, the light has come off the houses and fields but continues to brighten the cloud-tops.

Anyone know of a real-time weather radar covering Poland that I can use to check where the thunderclouds are right now (rather than a forecast from a few hours ago that's invariably wrong in these conditions)?

This time two years ago:

This time five years ago:
The ballad of Heniek and Ziutek

This time six years ago:
Yorkshire's yellow bicycles

This time 11 years ago:
Horse-drawn in the Tatras

This time 12 years ago:
Rain, wind and fire

This time 13 years ago:
The Road beckons

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Return to town after 14 weeks

My last day in the office before the lockdown was Friday 13 March. I came back to the office today, Tuesday 23 June. Several reasons - tomorrow being the AGM, the Chairman's Report to proof-read and finalise (I was working on it yesterday, but because of the incessant rain, the internet at home kept cutting out, so to be on the safe side I decided to go in because the network was more secure). Then there was a letter to London that I didn't trust the local post office with, a suit that had been waiting for me at the dry cleaners for 14 weeks, various bits and pieces to pick up from my office desk...

It was a strangely unstrange sensation, seeing my colleagues in the flesh after 14 weeks of WebEx meetings; seeing my desk, untouched; on the other hand, new rules in Reception and kitchen area, a safety zone marked around the front desk, anti-viral hand sanitiser as you come into our office. 

Outside in the streets, few people bothering with masks (still the majority on the train, which was running almost empty from Jeziorki - maybe six people in my carriage at 10am). The biggest change was in construction. Varso tower is starting to be cladded; there's a whole new development rising behind the Mercedes-Benz building on Aleje Jerozolimskie, and from outside our office, the new Central Point tower is beginning to rise.

This is how it looks today, it is due to rise to just over 20 stories (the same height as the building on the horizon)

And this is how it looked before the lockdown - still little more than a hole in the ground.

My last photo of central Warsaw before lockdown - little did I know going home that this would be my last trip to town for 14 weeks!

I lunched at the Scottish restaurant on the corner of ulica Marszałkowska and ul. Świętokrzyska; every second seat removed; customers wanting to come in without masks were turned away. Staff with sterilising fluid cleansed every table between customers. The place was two-thirds empty at peak time -- best of all - no noisy school outings which make Maccy D's insufferable in June. Prices seem higher, but then profit = volume x margin; I'm happy to pay more for a less crowded, safer dining experience.

Graffiti pest Fukow noted the 42nd day of the pandemic. This is the chipboard wall around the Central Point site which will be torn down as soon as the offices are ready. Fukow, whose 'works' can be seen along the tracks from W-wa Zachodnia to Wschodnia, has started printing stickers to save the trouble of spraying his tag on walls.

Did I miss town for 14 weeks? I don't know... the longer you're without something, the less you miss it - maybe I'm turning into a country boy in my old age. Or maybe its a summer thing, and come the winter, I shall again pine for the city streets.

This time last year:

This time two years ago
Last summer before S7 works begin
[Actually it was last summer.]

This time three years ago
Nostalgia, ideology, aesthetics, emotions

This time five years ago:
Civilisation and barbarism - how the former deals with the latter

This time six years ago:
Ahead of the opening of Jeziorki's Biedronka

This time seven years ago:
New views of Jeziorki

This time eight years ago:
Motorway finally links (the outskirts of) Łódź and (the outskirts of) Warsaw

This time 11 years ago:
Kraków Air Museum

This time 12 years ago:
Quintessential Jeziorki

This time 13 years ago: 
Little boxes, Mysiadło