Monday, 2 August 2021

Poles' tastes become more cosmopolitan

About ten years ago or so, while visiting Polish food producers in the east of the country, it occurred to me that Poland was absolutely ready for a convenience food revolution. Poles were getting more time-poor as they become more money-rich, and had unprecedented experience with foreign travel. Growing and selling wholesale veg is a low-margin business compared to preparing it in interesting ways for easy cooking. For a while, nothing happened in this direction; on my regular visits to Auchan Piaseczno (one of Warsaw's best hypermarkets) I'd note a chilled 'ready meals' section growing at glacial speeds, with easy-cook pierogi being the top seller. Frozen pizza has long been a staple in Poland too.

So imagine my surprise when in Chynów - a small town of just over 1,000 souls, seat of a third-order administrative division, I came across these - the Hortex 'Street Food' range of oriental ready meals. These are to be found in the frozen, rather than chilled food, section.

Wow! Chicken Tikka Masala from India, Sweet and Sour Chicken from China and Coconut Chilli Chicken from Thailand. Bravo Hortex! I just had to try them all... (my usual działka fare are lentil- or chickpea-based stews served with rice or bulgur wheat, so these exotic meals make for a bit of contrast, and can be cooked in the oven rather on the limited gas I have). Now these dishes cost 10.98 złotys from the Top Market in Chynów, or 9.98 złotys from Auchan (including Auchan Direct). So just over £2 at the local price.

Taste-wise, not as good as Co-op's Asian ready meal range, which cost £2.75 or two for £5 - but they are bigger portions (475g vs 350g), which makes a difference, and they're chilled rather than frozen. I'm not entirely filled by 350g. And the UK market, having a significant Asian population, makes sure the taste is more authentic. 

Still, it's a start. No doubt ready Asian meals will catch on in Poland, competition will pop up, sales volumes will rise, the two factors will lead to lower prices and greater choice.

I look forward to the day when Polish consumers can have something like the wide variety of ready meals to choose from - though I'd add that these should be considered as something special, a bit of variety in the diet, rather than a staple.

Was a time when looking for salsa dips at Auchan I'd be hard-pressed to find one labelled 'hot'. Of the 20 or so in stock, nearly all were 'mild' or 'medium'. The same went for other foods that were offered in different taste strengths. Poles, it seemed, did not go for spicily hot food. Spicy in Polish is 'ostre', which means sharp, as in razor, rather than 'hot' as in 'my mouth is on fire'.

So the appearance of Tarczyński's Extreme range of kabanos (thin sausage) impressed me. Sold alongside vegan kabanosy, of all things! Both were indeed spicy, though not excessively so (for my robust taste-buds anyway). The jalapeño ones had a drier flavour - I must say I did like both of them! It will be interesting to see whether these catch on (bought at the Lewiatan supermarket in Nowe Grobice).

I noted back in 2016 the presence of a restaurant called Thai Thai within the building of the Polish national opera, and wondered whether the Thai national opera reciprocated by hosting a restaurant called Polak Polak in its building. Well, five years on - and two years into the pandemic - Thai Thai is still open, and from looking at the reviews, it's as popular as ever with Poland's cultured classes. If the comments are anything to go by, the main criticism of Thai Thai is that it's not authentically Thai enough!

Poland is changing, Polish consumer tastes are changing. A good sign that the country is becoming more open, despite what its ruler is trying to achieve.

This time last year:
Rososz and the toponymy of the Polish countryside

This time two years ago:

This time three years ago:
In praise of Polish mineral waters

This time four years ago:
Going back to my roots - Mogielnica

This time five years ago:
My father's walk around Jeziorki

This time seven years ago:
What's the Polish for 'sustainability'?

This time nine years ago:
Last chance to see Amber Gold's billboards in Warsaw

This time ten years ago:
The Twilight Rambler

Sunday, 1 August 2021

A meaningful anniversary

Today marks the second 1 August without my father here in Warsaw. For the last four years of his life, he'd visit the city of his birth to commemorate the outbreak of the Uprising. Until my mother died in 2015, he'd never leave her side, and because of her claustrophobia, she could not fly. So after her death, my father was at last able to return to Warsaw - for the first time in 43 years. His last visit, in 2019, was the most poignant, not least because it was the round 75th anniversary. The City of Warsaw paid for his travel and accommodation, my daughter's fare flying out with him from London, and my fare flying back home with him - for what would be his last flight. It was such a special week, just three months before his death. 

For many people, the Warsaw Uprising remains controversial. Should it have happened? My father was clear. The people of Warsaw, who'd endured four years of German occupation, had simply had enough. He had himself personally witnessed a street execution; he had narrowly escaped a round-up, he had endured the day-to-day humiliations at the hands of the 'master race'. Like many young men of his generation, he was itching to get even with the occupier as the Eastern Front pressed ever closer to Warsaw.

Chance would have it that Colonel Antoni Chruściel - 'Monter' - gave the order to launch the Uprising from the very same building in which my father lived before and during the occupation - ulica Filtrowa 68. As a result, each 1 August would begin here, at the laying of wreathes in front of his house. My father was unaware that 'Monter' was operating from the building; he suspects it was from the flat belonging to his former scout master. Asked by the Polish media if he knew, my father replied that he didn't know that both his brothers were in the Conspiracy, and neither of them knew that he was in the Conspiracy, so deep was the secrecy.

Below: my father kneels at the grave of his brother Józef, who died during the uprising, aged 19.

These annual pilgrimages to Warsaw were extremely important for my father in his last years; a chance to reflect upon his own personal journey through life, meet family, friends and old comrades - and to see how his dear city had so vastly improved since his infrequent visits in the 1960s and '70s.

Each year, I accompanied my father, the last two years in a wheelchair it must be said, as well as the official events, we spent time visiting the places where he fought during the Uprising - from ul. Filtrowa 8, where his unit waited for the orders to commence, to the Pole Mokotowskie park where he'd made his way across to the Polish barricades by moonlight, under German machine gun fire, to the building of the architectural department of the Politechnika, where he was briefly taken ill with gastric fever, and where legendary singer Mieczysław Fogg sang to the insurgents on 15 August 1944; to the building on ul. Noakowskiego 18 where he saw out the last weeks of the Uprising, holding the line that the Germans never breached.

Each of the four visits were recorded in detail on this blog - you can see them all by starting from the 'this time last year' links below, although because 1 August falls on different days of the week, the programme of the commemorations varied from year to year. You can also click on the label 'Bohdan Dembinski' for more posts about my father.

Finally, we moved offices last year, from the 9th floor to the 4th floor - and from the new extension of the building, to its original historic heart. This is the PASTa building, which was built before WW1 by the Swedish firm that operated Warsaw's telephone network. Not only is it where our office is now located (in the south wing), it is also home to the association of Home Army veterans (in the north wing). The photo below was taken on 3 August 2016 - my father (seated) and his comrades from Batalion Odwet. 

Here's how the building looked during the Uprising. My window is just to the left of the main tower, above the dense, dark plume of smoke.

This time two years ago:
W-Hour on the Big Day

Saturday, 31 July 2021

Stewardship of the land

It occurred to me one morning as I took an early stroll around my acre of land in Jakubowizna, that I didn't just buy land - I bought somewhere in the region of a million plants. Think of each individual grass plant or weed, a few hundred growing to the square metre. Some of these plants give fruit (apples, cherries, wild strawberries, plums, raspberries, blackberries), some flower nicely, some sting or prick (nettles, thistles, brambles), some carpet the ground (grasses). Some are big trees, some are seedlings or saplings - I decide which ones will grow into mighty oaks, and which should be pruned back. I decide which weeds to pull up, and which to leave unharmed. As well as the plants, there are also the insects - maybe a similar order of magnitude. Ants, spiders, flies, gnats. My decisions should be carefully taken, balancing environmental and aesthetic considerations. 

Lawns are bad for the environment. They are aesthetically pleasing - indeed, they are a powerful reminder of 1950s America, a symbol of good times, when materialist plenty didn't have to be tempered by environmental concerns. Petrol-engined lawn mowers keeping those individual grass plants short, then rolled this way then that to give those distinctive stripes. The cost to the environment of hundreds of millions of lawns world wide is immense. Consider the grass plant itself. Capable of producing several leaves (or blades), as well as reproducing daughter plants nearby, it does its bit for the environment by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. And think of the energy (typically fossil fuels) used to cut it. An eight-inch blade of grass is four times as useful to the environment as one that's been cut back to two inches.

Lawns are symbolic of man's taming of nature - bending the environment to man's will. They exact a heavy price on us all. My neighbours mostly keep their large lawns short and tidy - it pleases the eye, but I worry about the climate. The pattern is there - hotter summers, more convection rainfall, intense deluges, flash-floods. Yes, they used to happen before, but they are far more common occurrences today. When was the last time 177 people died as a result of heavy rains in Germany, as happened earlier this month? [Answer - 1910; around 200. This Wikipedia list shows clearly how destructive heavy rains are occurring with increasing frequency in Europe.]

There's a clear correlation between increasing concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and the frequency and intensity of floods, heat waves and drought periods. How we look after our land is an important factor. Decisions have to be taken, how to live.

The grass immediately surrounding my house is kept reasonably short using only a scythe. This limits the amount I can - and I want - to mow. Paths are kept open - to the garden tap, to the fruit trees and bushes. The gravel drive is kept as free of weeds as possible - not using herbicides, but by me uprooting the weeds as they start to grow big enough to pull out easily. Until then, they just grow, naturally.

Grass plant, uprooted from drive, awaits replanting

By not using petrol to mow or weed-killer - or indeed pesticides - I am keeping the działka as chemical-free as possible. This is a policy decision. My vista, as I write these words, is of a meadow full of flowers and tall grasses, rather than a neatly-kept lawn. Apples ripen on a row of trees, unsprayed.

The back garden, untamed.

A part of me is there on the forecourt of Leroy Merlin in Piaseczno, eyeing up the ride-on lawn-mower/tractors, imagining one in my garage among the motorbikes, spending the summers going around the estate twice a week, keeping it all neat and tidy. Hacking away at the spreading boughs with a two-stroke chainsaw. The hallmarks of a 'dobry gospodarz'. But is it? We all need to change the way we look at our gardens.

There's 7.8 billion of us. Each one takes personal decisions that impact the environment and climate. I cannot stress enough the responsibility each one of us bears for ensuring that our impact on the planet is minimal. Each decision - whether or not to buy something, where that something comes from (near or far), how much we drive, how much we fly, what we eat.

On the działka, life is predicated by eating, eating by shopping, and shopping by walking - the trip to the shop/s is nearly always on foot. I therefore buy no more than I can comfortably carry in my rucksack for half an hour, enough food for up to two days. Rubbish is dutifully sorted, with anything compostable returning to the soil. Cooking requires gas for the rings - this comes in a bottle, which is still the original one from 2018! I use the gas as sparingly as possible. Cooking rice or lentils entails boiling half a kettle of water, soaking the rice or lentils in boiled water for five minutes or so, which halves the amount of time needed over the gas hob. One day, the gas will run out - and it will be while I'm cooking lunch or supper. Then I'll have the problem of getting it to one of many refill points for a top-up.

All in all, I have intended to make life on the działka as eco-friendly as possible, taking the greatest of care to minimise my eco-footprint. 

This time last year:
The cost of Covid complacency

This time two years ago:

This time four years ago:
Ahead of the Big Day

This time five years ago:
Once in a blue moon

This time seven years ago:
A return to Snowdon - Wales' highest peak

This time eight years ago:
On the eve of Warsaw's Veturillo revolution

This time ten years ago:
Getting ready for the 'W'-hour flypast

This time 11 years ago:
A century of Polish scouting

Friday, 30 July 2021

New phone camera vs. Nikon D3500

The downside of travel on a motorbike with a camera is it must either be around your neck, where it can be a nuisance - banging into fuel tank every now and then - or tucked away in the rucksack. My Nikon D3500 is not a heavy camera, but its presence around my neck is not welcome while out riding. My Nikon Coolpix A is smaller and lighter, but it lacks telephoto capability. It's great for landscapes and architecture but little more. So my new Samsung Galaxy S20FE looked like a promising answer - not least because it has three lens built in, wide, ultra-wide and telephoto. On Wednesday, I left the Nikons on the działka and set off for a ride. 

To my huge disappointment, only one photo I took actually registered on the phone's memory! I assumed that, just as on my Huawei P9 Lite, the simple act of touching the white button centrally located on the bottom panel under the image would capture it. The Galaxy S20 vibrates - there's the impression of the image coming into focus - but it turns out that this isn't enough. You need to ensure that the tiny icon to the left of the white button is filled with a thumbnail of the image. Only then do you know you've got your snap. Which means pressing the white button twice after an unlock.

So the following day I went out for another ride, having taken some test photos the previous evening. It's not all that intuitive! This time, I took the Nikon in the rucksack as a back-up.

Below: where the orchards end and the forest begins; my evening walk, Jakubowizna. Still not convinced by the blueness of the blue in this image taken on the Galaxy S20FE, on this walk I left the Nikon at home to test the universal suitability of the smartphone and its camera. Taken with the ultrawide lens, the equivalent of 13.5mm on a 35mm camera. Given that the number of pixels is half of that in the Nikon, and that the sensor is much smaller, it stands to reason that the image won't be nearly as good if blown up to 30" x 20". However, as an image on a blog page - it will do more than adequately.

Now for a shot using the telephoto lens (below). This is the equivalent of 76mm on a 35mm camera, so a very mild telephoto, more of a portrait focal length. There are also digital (rather than optical) zoom possibilities, but because of potential camera shake it makes more sense to crop the image in Photoshop rather than to zoom in digitally. This is the farm track leading up from Grobice towards Adamów Rososki.

Let's look then side by side, how the camera and the phone compare. Below: not identical shots, but you get the picture. On the left, the Nikon D3500 with lens set at 27mm (35mm equiv.), with polarising filter. To the right, the Galaxy S20FE image taken with its ultrawide lens (13.5mm in 35mm equiv.), and taken from closer in. The .RAW image was processed in Photoshop Camera Raw, something you can't do when shooting .jpg-only shots on the Galaxy S20FE. Yes, you can use Photoshop - but compared to Camera Raw, Photoshop lacks the fine control when it comes to extracting the most detail from highlight and shadow areas, as well as colour balance and saturation. In the final analysis, the better image is the one that most accurately matches what the photographer saw and felt at the time - the one that better reflects the qualia experience of the moment. In this case, for me, it's the Nikon image, left.

Below: the other great plus for the Nikon is the ability to use filters. The circular polarising filter is an essential part of my photographic style, bringing out a Kodachrome-like crystalline blue from the skies. For me, this is an integral part of my sublime aesthetic.

Opożdżew, Nevada. I do like it when local wags play around with the road signs this way. Incidentally, the shot above was the reverse of this one, the one I stopped for. Also taken on the Nikon.

On the plus side - the Galaxy S20's size and universality mean that if I'm ever forced to leave the camera, for whatever reason, I will be always able to get a reasonable shot for the archives, even though it's not as perfect as my soul would like it. The pictures are qualitatively better than the snaps taken on my old Huawei P9 Lite for one main reason - three integral lenses rather than just the one, even if the process of shooting is more complicated.

This time three years ago:
Karczunkowska viaduct takes shape

This time four years ago:
My father's return to Warsaw, 2017

This time five years ago:
My father's first visit to Warsaw in 40 years

This time six years ago:
What's worse - unemployment, or a badly-paid job?

This time seven years ago:
A return to Liverpool

This time nine years ago:
Too good to last (anyone remember OLT Express airline?)

This time ten years ago:
Poland's Baltic coast as a holiday destination

This time 12 years ago:
The Warsaw they fought and died for?

This time 14 years ago:
Floods, rainbows and hope

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Habit or obsession?

When do good habits become obsessions? When does normal behaviour cross the boundary into what society considers abnormal? Obsession is commonly considered to be when one no longer has control over an action - but then habitual behaviour is also a form of autopilot.

At the end of 2013, I set myself a resolution to maintain my health through middle age. Based on a pedometer and spreadsheet, this involved logging my paces and other health inputs every day. My father used to ask me: "What would happen if you didn't do your 10,000 paces today?" I think about his words from time to time when I glance at the health app in my smartphone (which replaced the pedometer years ago) and I see I'm several hundred paces short of my target. So I set off to the end of the drive and back, or go round the garden. Or simply go upstairs and downstairs a few times if it's cold or wet outside. 

Sounds obsessive? I'd justify this to my father by saying that if I were a thousand short today, I'd need to do 11,000 tomorrow, so it's best to get one's duty done now rather than put it off. Makes sense, I'd say. The spreadsheet now has come to play an important - even dominant - role in my life, with daily inputs and regular views telling me how I'm doing. In my eighth year of filling in the spreadsheet, it lets me know when I have to up the pace, do more exercise, walk further, faster - and also when I can slack off a bit - do less of one sort of exercise and still be ahead on last year's total. And have a drink. 

When drinking socially, people are sometimes amazed that I take care to remember how many millilitres of alcohol - and at what strength (I look at the label/ask the barman). Especially on a Big Night Out. And at home afterwards, I'd log the number of units. It's working well - coming up to the end of July, I can see I've consumed 10% fewer units than to the end of July last year - and 60% fewer units than I did between January and July 2014!

Self-discipline can be hard to achieve. What's stopping me from having that cold beer in the fridge or pouring myself a wee dram of single malt? The spreadsheet helps. I look at the numbers. Have that beer now, and it means I'll have to say 'no' at some social occasion next month. Do I need that beer, or is it only out of boredom? Will it help me be more creative if I sip back that Islay whisky? The spreadsheet has quite clearly helped.

So - good habit or obsession? Why bother logging it at all?

One good habit I don't need to log is sugar intake. Other than that which is present in fresh fruit and vegetables, I avoid sugar in the main. Sugary fizzy soft drinks? Literally zero. A rare bar of halva, a cake at a social occasion that would be churlish to turn down, the odd morsel of dark chocolate - very, very rare. Too rare to note - maybe one or two times a month, if that. Similarly for salt snacks, other than nuts (macadamia nuts I enjoy). 

If I'm not noting my sugar and salt-snack intake - why should I do so for alcohol and portions of fresh fruit and veg? Force of habit. Habit or obsession?

Clearing out my father's house, my son and Cousin Hoavis came across my father's daily records of his blood-pressure readings. Like me, he did this obsessively - though on small squares of paper. Because it was not kept in digital form, the dated records are of little value to posterity, with no links to external factors. My blood-pressure readings are kept as a separate sheet on the same spreadsheet file, allowing me to cross-check anomalously high readings with other factors such a exercise, diet, alcohol intake - and indeed, a very important factor - the time at which I went to bed.

These days, wearable devices make all this logging much easier - but the danger is that without conscious input, the data will just pile up, unobserved, unacted upon. 

My father did keep his financial affairs on spreadsheets, in particular the value of his share portfolio. Each day at the close of the trading day on the London Stock Exchange, he'd enter the price of each of the shares that he owned, and would track their performance over time. He'd keep a note of all cheques he'd write out, keeping real-time note of his bank balance. I'm not that obsessive about money, as long as I'm in the black, it's OK.

Obsessions can be traits linked to psychiatric disorders, but this one is very mild; more a harmless quirk of personality, inherited genetically. Harmless? I'd say healthy - keeping habits good and bad under a daily watchful gaze.

This time last year:

This time two years ago:

Monday, 26 July 2021

Unpicking the Rational Revolution

The world - the universe, life, indeed - are all explainable. The rational human being, raised on the thinking of Plato, Newton and Darwin, has no room in their worldview for ghosts, astrology, spiritualism, alchemy, palmistry, hermeticism, gnosticism, occultism, channelling aliens - or indeed for organised religion. There is no such thing as the 'supernatural' or the 'metaphysical'. All is matter or energy. All these outdated forms of thinking were merely the products of irrational minds that sought answers to questions which science has now successfully answered.

Mysticism, in all its forms, is bunk.

Our rational, scientific worldview - the one in which we've been raised - tells us that all natural phenomena can be reduced to mathematical formulae, These, we believe, can successfully predict the motion of the stars and planets, the properties of DNA, the workings of the mind, the innermost secrets of the electron, and the forces at work within the expanding universe.

Not entirely.

For the past 90 or so years, science has been pulling back from assertions such as "we just have a couple more formulae to crack, and then we'll know literally everything." From its inability to pinpoint the seat of consciousness or identify dark energy and dark matter (and how they interact with gravity), the world of science is less and less confident that It Knows It All. And will there ever be an end to the weirdness of quantum physics? Given that our intuition has been shaped by classical physics for centuries, how long will it take humanity to absorb the weirdness of quantum mechanics - the Wave Function of the Universe, for example, into the way we see the everyday world around us?

And now we are seemingly faced with unidentified aerial phenomena, witnessed by credible observers and recorded across multiple sensor platforms - craft performing feats that science cannot even begin to explain. Acceleration from stationary to hypersonic speed in two seconds. Plunging from space, through the atmosphere, into the ocean. Doing this with no visible means of lift (no wings or rotor blades), nor visible means of propulsion (no flames, no vapour trail, no wake). Much of science is dogmatically closed against such claims, digging itself in against UFO conspiracies.

Suddenly, faith in science begins to waver - and at a highly dangerous time, what with anti-vaxxers talking rubbish about the Covid-19 vaccines that are already successfully combating the virus.

Classical science works at our human scale, but fails to cohere at the subatomic (10-27m) and galactic (1027m) scales. It is here that our knowledge starts to fray at both ends, without a unifying theory to bind them. And here, the magick steps back in to fill the void. The world of the metaphysical - that which is above, or beyond, physics. In earlier days this would have been packaged as the occult - hidden knowledge - secret mysteries that only the Initiated can learn and pass on down the ages. All this begins to be just as valid - though at the metaphysical level, couched in arcane language that works differently to the language of science.

Cognitive bias, however, should always be at the forefront of one's mind when cutting a new path through the undergrowth of mysticism. And, it must never be forgotten that it was the scientific method that brought us the comforts of modern life, including healthcare and electricity.

It does seem more and more likely that we are being visited by beings from different worlds. We know not whether these worlds are planets circling other stars in our galaxy, or other dimensions, or from other times. We do not know whether these craft are probes or whether they contain living beings. Science is wholly unable to explain the phenomenon of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. 

Of the 145 cases investigated by the US Navy, only one could be successfully debunked as something familiar.

Whatever is out there, watching us, has evidently mastered physics at a level that we cannot even begin to imagine. In the meanwhile, the notion of channelling these entities using telepathy makes as much sense as dismissing the phenomena as weather balloons.

Our own personal routes to Understanding, to Purpose are individual. Seek your own way. Like the excited electron which making its way through a molecule. It doesn't just follow one route - it follows all the possible paths - and then recalculates the most efficient one and says: "that's the one I have taken," as it if has worked this out backward in time. This is quantum superposition, and it stands as a good analogy for our own paths to God.

This time last year:
Ride to Roztocze

This time two years ago:
Poznań and Wrocław - two boomtowns

This time eight years ago:
Scaling the highest peak in Wales

This time nine years ago:
Beaches of the north coast of the Llyn Peninsula

This time ten years ago: 
The Accursed Soldiers - a short story

This time 11 years ago:
Driving impressions of the Toyota Yaris
[11 years on - still rock-solid]

This time 13 years ago:
Poland's dry summer

This time 14 years ago:
The UK's wettest summer ever

Sunday, 25 July 2021

New phone, new laptop - Part II

This stinks. Migrating to a new laptop with a whole lot of unfamiliar software is such a huge waste of time, serving only to raise my blood pressure and anger. At every turn, this doltish operating system does nothing but frustrate me with some fresh idiocy. Like serving up the temperature, by default, in degrees Fahrenheit. The scale in which water freezes at some random number and boils at another random number. Or insisting on US date format. July 25th, 2021. Or the need to change 'language' to UK English in about 150 different settings folders, manually. Or an entirely different, and simplified to the point of uselessness Network & Internet settings interface.

Hence my new Microsoft password is a stream of obscene invective aimed at the corporation. I was expecting a message from it such as "The password you have offered is offensive to Microsoft and can be construed as constituting abusive behavior. Please devise a new password or face possible legal action." But no - to my surprise, my new password was meekly accepted, having the requisite uPPer- and loweR-case letters & symbo1s and numbers. So much for artificial intelligence.

Maybe this time the process of migrating to a new laptop will be different. Maybe I'll get used to it sooner rather than later. Maybe I'm just suffering from a decades-long prejudice against Microsoft. 

My first contact with the firm was in the form of MS-DOS with its typed prompt commands. Enough to stop the IT revolution in its tracks. This was during an early attempt to digitalise production of the magazine I was managing in London in the late 1980s. Fortunately, nothing came of it. Within a few months, however, I entered the shiny, happy world of the Apple Mac, all icons, point-and-click graphic user interface. It worked. It worked perfectly. I became a convert. Unfortunately, after moving to Poland in 1997 I discovered that an Apple Mac cost the same as a working furniture factory in Mińsk Mazowiecki. And then a miracle happened. Microsoft released its second iteration of Windows, and this could be used to do desktop publishing with almost Apple-like efficiency. Windows-compatible machines were put together in Polish basements from components flown in from Thailand, and worked well and were reasonably priced. Windows got better and better with XP, reaching a peak with Windows 7. (Nobody mention Windows Fista, utter crap.) Windows 8 was a retrograde step with cute little pictures taking over from the mouse and keyboard commands which by now had become habitualised. Windows 9 was skipped, then came Windows 10 which will soon be replaced by Windows 11. 

Windows 10, with its constant upgrades and smartphone-like graphic interface, was not something I ever wanted, being entirely happy with Windows 7. When I bought my previous laptop (a used ex-leasing Dell), it came with Windows 10, and so I had to learn how to work with the new operating system. It was not an easy process; over three years on, I still struggle from time to time to carry certain actions.

This time round, however, I shall intend to try something new - to run this new laptop using as much Microsoft as possible. So hello Edge, hello Outlook, hello MS Office, hello Teams, hello Bing, hello MS Maps, etc. And farewell (here at on this laptop at least) to Chrome, Mozilla Thunderbird, Libre Office, Zoom, Google Search, Google Earth etc. 

I have spent 22 years ducking the moment that I have to use MS Outlook. I remember when it was installed across my previous employer's devices. It was universally hated, and nicknamed MS LOOK OUT! (warning ahead of a crash). It is still unpopular. Why does Outlook not work well with MS Teams running? I haven't met anyone who raves about Outlook being the answer to workplace productivity.

Can I get used to it and to the other MS products? If so, how long will it take me to adjust? I'm writing this blog post using Blogger (a Google product - no alternative here), yet things look different in Edge.

Having two laptops - like having two phones - means the process of adjusting to the New Reality will take much longer. How much longer - I'll write about it at some point in the future. By which time I will have to start learning to get used to Windows 11.

This time last year:
Two images from my early childhood

This time two years ago:
How PKP PLK's planners should treat pedestrian station users.

This time three years ago:
Foreign exchange: don't get diddled!
[for the saps who pay £250 for €200 at the airport]

This time five years ago:
Defining my Sublime Aesthetic

This time seven years ago:
Porth Ceiriad on the Llyn Peninsula

This time nine years ago:
Jeziorki sunset, late July

This time ten years ago:
Jeziorki sunset, after the storm

This time 13 years ago:
Rural suburbias - the ideal place to live?

Friday, 23 July 2021

My first experience of W-wa Główna station

Re-opened to passenger trains on 14 March, Warsaw's new old station remains functionally unfinished after over four months. A short walk-through, but first, some history. 

Until Warsaw's main railway station, W-wa Centralna, or Dworzec Centralny, was completed in 1976, Warszawa Główna Osobowa served as the main terminus for passenger trains entering Warsaw from the west. Once W-wa Centralna was opened, W-wa Główna remained in use for another 21 years but only as the terminus for trains on the Radom line. It closed in 1997, around the time I moved to Poland. I remember the station in 1966, peering over the bridge on ulica Towarowa, seeing many EN57 electric multiple units, then painted navy-blue and cream, standing at its many platforms. From 1972, the northern platforms of W-wa Główna Osobowa were given over to the railway museum. Beyond that were the goods platforms. These now serve as the location for Warsaw's Nocny Market. [Click here to see Towarowa before hipsterification.]

The reopened W-wa Główna station has, as yet, no working signage - just two sets of paper timetables posted in the display cabinets. From the one street entrance, on ulica Towarowa, you can only guess from which of the four platforms your train will depart (its destination is on the head of the train at the other end). There's no ticket office or even booth, no station personnel. I called in to have a look and was disappointed by the prowizorka of it all. The passenger footbridge at the far end of the platforms is still unfinished; all that is ready are the four platforms and their canopies.

The purpose of the reopening of W-wa Główna lies in the impending modernisation of the Linia średnicowa - the transversal railway line that cuts under central Warsaw in a tunnel, with the two stations W-wa Centralna for long-distance trains and W-wa Śródmieście for suburban trains. The modernisation will entail the replacement of W-wa Powiśle suburban station for two new ones - W-wa Muzeum Narodowy (by Rondo De Gaulle'a) and W-wa Solec nearer the river.

Below: looking west, the footbridge visible in the distance - though I could see no work going on (it's ten past three in the afternoon on a weekday). Note the two electronic indicator boards - both blank. One double-decker train is heading to Radom via Chynów, the other is heading to Skierniewice. Which is mine?

Below: looking east with Warsaw's skyline on the horizon. The display cabinets at this end of the platforms contain no timetables (on the basis that footbridge access is not yet ready, so no one needs them here). A curiosity - note the kilometre markers; the one on the left of the photo below says 1.7, one nearer the entrance on ul. Towarowa says 1.6. So counting up from Kilometre Zero at W-wa Centralna, it seems, rather than from the junction back at W-wa Zachodnia? The two double-decker Koleje Mazowieckie trains are flanking a ŁKA (Łódź Agglomeration Railways) train that also terminates at W-wa Główna.

Below: "Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day" - so two stopped clocks will be right four times a day. Why two analogue clocks are needed here is beyond me - presumably one is needed in case the digital displays aren't working - but two? Note the steam engines in the distance - these are open-air exhibits at Stacja Muzeum, the PKP graveyard for once-magnificent locos, now left to rot, exposed to the elements for almost half a century. They should be indoors and looked after the way the National Railway Museum in York does.

Below: I hear a station announcement - the double-decker train that's leaving first is the one for Skierniewice, so I board it to travel the one stop to W-wa Zachodnia, where I shall change trains. I take this train because it is on the right-hand track, giving a better view of the works. I note the 'kiss and ride' drop-off points by W-wa Główna - curious, since pick-up points are needed, given that this is an inner-city terminus station, not the place where someone is likely to be dropped off. At first sight, I thought this was a driving school.

On the way from W-wa Główna to W-wa  Zachodnia. The acres of sidings are being rationalised, unnecessary tracks ripped up. Note the curved window line - I'm sitting upstairs on the double-decker. And note Warsaw's new skyline. When I moved to Poland in 1997, none of these towers existed.

Below: I change trains at W-wa Zachodnia, which gives me a chance to get an update on work going on here. A cracking pace. Every time I pass through, it's advancing. Note the roof structure taking shape.

Bonus shot: another change of trains, this time at W-wa Jeziorki, onward bound to Chynów, and I am surprised to see this brand-new rolling stock headed for Piaseczno. This is the Siedlce-built ER160 Statler FLIRT 3 (Fast Light Innovative Regional Transport), one of 18 units ordered by Koleje Mazowieckie in 2019.

Progress - it could be faster. And yet, despite my impatience, it is clearly visible. I might be having a cobble*, but Poland's railways - and indeed Warsaw, and Poland - have all come a long way in a short time. But there's always more that we want!

*cobble stone = moan (Cockney rhyming slang)

This time five years ago:

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

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

This time nine years ago
More from Penrhos