Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Red Arrows over Lincolnshire

Flying from Amsterdam to Manchester on Monday morning, I observed several parallel plumes of smoke rising vertically up towards our aircraft. What looked like a battery of surface-to-air missiles turned out to be the Red Arrows aerobatic team practising over their home airfield of RAF Scampton. This must be a rare photo - looking down from 32,000 ft over the Reds practising their manoeuvres! The picture was taken with the lens extended to 200mm, equivalent to 300mm for a 35mm film camera; this gives an indication of how far down from our aircraft the team was.

The map of the area that comes with Microsoft Flight Simulator (excerpt below), shows a Restricted Area around RAF Scampton extending to 9,500 ft. So although the flightpath (marked with a yellow line) crosses into the area, we're cruising well above it.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Of bishops and bands

'Do tanca i do rózanca' - to the dance, and to the rosary, as the old Polish saying goes. Today our children's school marked its tenth anniversary with a special festival. The event began with Mass celebrated by around six priests including Bishop Tadeusz Pikus (above). Afterwards, pupils and parents milled around the classrooms, each decorated in a different theme, offering snacks from around the world. Eddie's class was 'India'. Moni (below, right) and her band, The Crumfel, played a short set in the assembly hall. I'm delighted to say that half the set was songs the band wrote themselves. (Compare to their previous gig at the school talent contest in June)

And a propos of education, this story in Friday's Daily Mail shows the sharp contrast between Polish and British secondary schooling into sharp relief (the 85 comments to the story tell an interesting tale too!)

Friday, 26 October 2007

Google Earth updates Jeziorki map

This is the third satellite photo map of Jeziorki to be published on Google Earth. It replaces an earlier one (click here to see) which was taken in March 2002, before our garden was laid. I'd guess the current Google Earth photo dates from late November 2005. The garden's taking shape, trees are not in leaf, there are no cars around (its a weekday). Shadows are long, the time's around 11:30. A number of new houses have sprung up since 2002, but several new ones are not yet on the photo.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Autumn sun going out

After several sunny days, both in Warsaw and in London, today quickly clouded over and a melacholy air descended. It's getting darker and darker in the mornings, nights are drawing in. Will the sunshine return before the frosts arrive? (Above:) the path between ul. Sarabandy and ul. Trombity. Currently topping my playlist: Ralph Vaughan William's Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. Moody autumnal phrygian modes!

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Last man voting?

Arriving at the airport, I jumped into my taxi waiting outside. It was 19:42 - 18 minutes before the polls close. I bid my driver hurry to ul. Sarabandy, where the polling station for Jeziorki is situated (in the local primary school). The driver did his best. Red lights and traffic slowed us up. We pulled up outside the school, I rushed in at full pelt at one minute to eight. To my delight, I made it - but polling had been suspended. Ours was one of several polling stations in Warsaw where the turnout had been so high that they'd run out of ballot papers. As a result, our polling station would remain open while new ones were being delivered. They finally arrived at around quarter past nine. Voters formed an orderly queue, with me at the end.

This photo (above) was taken at 21:22 and 52 seconds. I was the last person in Jeziorki to vote; three more polling stations closed after ours, the last one being at 22:50.

The elections produced a great result for Poland. A much higher turnout (53.8% compared to 41% last time) showed that democracy is too precious to give away through apathy. Hopefully the result will mean an end to bickering and silliness of the past two years and a return to Poland being taken seriously on the European stage.

London's hidden glories

For reasons I can't really discuss, we missed our flight home to Warsaw from Heathrow this morning. At an internet cafe we found an EasyJet flight from Luton (pronounced either "Loo[']on" or "Leeton"), and took the Piccadilly Line across town to catch the Thameslink service from Kings Cross. But the service was suspended and we had to make our way by Northern Line to Kentish Town, and from there catch the Thameslink train to Luton. A change of tube train at Camden Town meant making our way through a ramification of bifurcated tunnels; this (above) is what I love about London's underground.

One stop later we arrive blinking back on the surface into strong and very atypical late October sunlight. This (right) is Kentish Town. Victorian atmospheres don't quite work in this weather. The Assembly Rooms stand over brick and cast-iron railway infrastructure.

Onwards to Luton, and much, much later we took off for Warsaw, arriving at Okecie after seven pm, and thence - to the ballot box.

Friday, 19 October 2007

London from the air

I'm often flying into London, but rarely is the weather so nice - especially at this time of year. In the foreground (left) we have the Houses of Parliament, across the river is the London Eye. The tall, slim tower block, to the left of centre of the frame, is Centre Point, where I worked for 16 years before moving to Poland.

Compare with this view - same subjects, taken from Westminster Bridge in July. Clicking on the photo to enlarge to full size, eagle-eyed readers will be able to spot Horseguards Parade, Nelson's Column, the National Gallery, the British Museum and King's Cross Station.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

First Frost

Well, nearly - my family tells me there was a light frost last week while I was abroad. This morning, there's a fair amount of ice to scrape off the car. (Above:) Moni clears the screen as the sun rises behind her; it's gone quarter past seven. I'm waking up in darkness now. The clocks will go back an hour in two weeks time.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

A beautiful Sunday south of Warsaw

For much of today, we had lots of bright sunshine broken every now and then by small clouds drifting across from the west. I went for a longish walk across the tracks to Dawidy Bankowe, then onto Łady (pron. 'Wuddy'), Nowy Podolszyn, Zamienie, then back home. (Above:) Many new houses have just been completed on the road from Dawidy Bankowe to Łady, as has the road itself and electricity infrastructure.

(Above:) A field of cornflowers, still in full bloom. I was quite amazed to see them still flowering so vigorously at this time of year. Although visually late summer lingers, the daytime high today was +9C, quite chilly. (Below:) At Nowy Podolszyn I came across a riding school and stables; the white fencing and distant trees lent an air of bluegrass Kentucky to the scene. Once again, a sudden past life flashback has been triggered.

(Below:) Between Nowy Podolszyn to Zamienie, the road is being dug up for new drains. Beyond the excavator in the distance, the road is closed. I wonder whether it will be tarmacked all the way through to Zamienie; if so, another bit of rural atmosphere will go for good.

Rural scenes again; (right) a cow in a field near Zamienie. It was mooing at me in the hope that I would milk it; evidently it had not been milked today. The cow danced around in discomfort. Maybe its owner had had a heavy night!

(Left:) In the next field, I found some pumpkins growing, reminding me that in two weeks time it will be the eve of All Hallows. Look carefully at the pumpkin in the foreground and you will see a harvestman spider.

(Below:) Back in Jeziorki now, having crossed the railway track. The little hillock in the mid foreground makes a great vantage point for taking pictures of trains, ideally before noon when the sun's not behind the subject. The path curving off to the left takes me back to ul. Trombity via Nawlocka.

(Below:) A stand of birch trees beautifully illuminated by the mid-afternoon sun. Time to get home and cook up some prawns, fried in butter with garlic, cognac and fresh corriander. Accompanied by Basmati rice, fresh spinach and courgettes in tomato sauce.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

What a difference a day makes

Making my way from an early meeting back to the office, I find myself pondering on what constitutes an 'ordinary' day; the lifetime mean, the average. Think dull. This, I think, is it (above, ul. Poloneza). An overcast, damp, chilly Friday; heavy traffic, people in a rush. The flavour of everyday life, this is what people go on holiday to get away from.

In Poland, weather forecasters delight in telling their listeners of a 'niekorzystny stan biometeorologiczny', which means 'unfavourable bio-meteorological state'. Whenever the barometer falls, Polish offices and factories are full of lethargic people complaining that they can’t work effectively because of the low air pressure. They call themselves ‘cisnienowcy’ (‘those affected by [air] pressure’) or ‘meteopaci’ (‘those with weather sickness’). Should such medical conditions ever be discovered by British doctors and promoted incessantly by British weather forecasters, the UK's population would be moping around in a state of inertia most of the time, given the climate. (Above right:) Corner of ul. Pulawska and Plaskowickiej.

But a mere 24 hours later, I wake up to a cloudless sky and sunshine that brings out the gold in the autumn leaves. (Left:) The view from the kitchen window at ten to nine this morning. (Below:) The view of our garden from my bedroom window 20 minutes later.

My take on the 'science' of biometeorology (after 40 years in the UK and 10 years here) is that your emotional state when the weather is dull and overcast should be taken as the norm, whilst beautiful sunny days should be seen as uplifting and joyful. Even if they are more abundant here in Warsaw than in London. My belief is that it is sunlight, and the absense of it, rather than air pressure per se, that causes weather-related mood swings.

Meteopaci and ciśnieniowcy tend to believe that their maladies can be cured with magnez (magnesium), conveniently believed to exist in therapeutically-significant doses in both chocolate and cake.

It's not just a Poland thing though. The halny wind that blows down from the mountains causing headaches is the equivent of the German Föhn and the American Chinook. The French Mistral, confusingly, is said to bring good health.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Golden autumn

I can never resist a chance to take a lunchtime stroll through the Lazienki Park, especially when the weather is so clement. In contrast to the damp of Ireland and the heat of Spain, early autumn in Poland offers the right mix of sunshine and comfortable temperatures. Today it was +15C in the early afternoon. The colours of the vegetation are starting to take ever-more golden hues. Compare with the park in mid-September, and in mid-July (Left) Rushes backlit by the sun.

(Right:) The presidential Belweder palace seen from Lazienki park across the ornamental lake. The park is a haven of peace and civilisation, even though there are many tourist groups still pouring through.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

"Ah! 'T is a soft day, sir!"

Monday and Tuesday, I was off to Ireland. I flew Warsaw to Dublin, then took a bus from Dublin to Cork (a mere €13.50 including airport connection). The journey took five and half hours - so much for EU funds and infrastructure ("We spent the money on education", said a company chairman to me over dinner, not unreasonably). This was my first trip to the Republic in over 25 years, and lack of motorway network notwithstanding, the contrast is huge. From being one of the poorest countries in western Europe, Ireland has grown to become one of the wealthiest countries on earth in terms of GDP per capita.

Above: The weather matched the stereotype. Warm, +14C, and damp. Mists covering the hilltops.

Something entirely new, at odds with the traditional-style "O'Sullivan's Bar and Lounge" type frontages, is this west Dublin store (right), reflecting the massive migration of central and eastern Europeans to Ireland since May 2004.

Below: The Millennium Spire on Dublin's O'Connell Street. It is 120m (400ft) high, and stands on the spot where the Nelson Pillar (37m, 120 ft) once stood. The monument to the British admiral was blown up by the IRA in 1966.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Autumnal atmosphere

Autumn has been a long time coming, but its here; the days are closing in - ever-later sunrise, ever-earlier sunset. Vegetation is changing colour, there's more and more dull, overcast days. Above: looking south along ul. Trombity, about halfway down. Below: looking east off ul. Trombity, towards ul. Dumki (just around the corner).

Sewerage for Jeziorki

Could this be a sign that some day soon/I don't know when/ we're going to get connected to the urban sewerage system? Hope so... Right now we're paying well over 30 quid every other week to have our septic tank cleared. Surely it's not beyond the wit of our local authority to connect ul. Trombity to the sewers? Here's ul. Nawlocka being connected to the system. We wait... a year or two? (Below:) Looking down ul. Nawlocka towards ul. Karczunkowska. Residents of ul. Orfeusza are also being connected to the sewerage system.

Saturday, 6 October 2007


Two days after my 50th birthday, I find myself in our car waiting half an hour for my son to come back from his scout troop's bicycle trip around the Las Kabacki forest. Meanwhile, I'm playing about with my new Nokia N95, listening to music on it, checking out its photographic capability. I take a snapshot of myself - it comes out well for a spontaneous test snap on a phone camera. So I'm posting it as a milestone (another reference there to Miles Davis, which happens to be my ringtone) of how I looked, aged 50. This was me.

"You'll look funny when you're fifty" - a line from Nick Roeg's film 'Performance', spoken by James Fox to Mick Jagger (then 25). The line is sampled in Big Audio Dynamite's 1986 hit, E=MC2 (one of my all-time favourite singles), which appeared when I was 28. Now, Sir Mick is 64 and I'm 50!

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Autumn finally makes its presence felt

The morning was decidedly autumnal, the mist bringing to mind Keats' Ode to Autumn. The shrouded biblical figure photographed in the fields next to our house is actually a tree stump, but I often need to give it a double take in the twilight to make sure.

Today's drive to work down ul. Poloneza was steeped in the atmosphere of early autumn. So much so I had to stop the car and snap some photos. Below: The Warsaw Metro's rail link to the outside world. All underground trains running on the Metro have had to travel on this line to get to the terminus at Kabaty, from the sidings at Okęcie. Rail traffic here is exceedingly rare.

Today is my 50th birthday; a dividing line between the first and second half of my life. Late-summer-into-early-autumn is the metaphor - ahead lie many sunny days, like today; a day of brightness, beauty, optimism and peace. May God give me many more like today.

I was born the very first day of the Space Age, the day mankind put its first artificial satellite (Sputnik I) into orbit; Google has marked the day with a special logo (below).

UPDATE October 2008: In a few months' time, the land beyond the railway line will the given up to what will be the Berlin-Warsaw-Moscow motorway; four lanes of traffic will roar along these quiet fields.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Early autumn in Jeziorki

Returning to Warsaw (warm) from Seville (hot) and London (damp, cool), I'm still not catching that autumnal feeling that London's full of right now. Maybe it's because Jeziorki residents are not burning their garden rubbish, maybe because it's still warm and sunny during the day. The pic above is from my new Nokia N95 mobile phone, with its 5 megapixels camera, a huge improvement over my old Nokia 6630 (1.3 megapixels).

Flamenco Sketches, alternate take

Onward from the restaurant Sabina (a wide variety of excellent local dishes washed down with Rioja Crianza) for some Flamenco muy autentico. The place was full of students, eager to see the real thing, not some tourist cabaret. Playing for us that night was a trio (below); a guitarist, palmero (handclaps, vocals) and a huge she-bull of a dancer who first hushed her audience with vehement hisses, then warned us not to make videos of the performance. Seated at first, she roused herself into a footstomping frenzy as the music increased in pace and intensity. Machine-gun like rhythms fired out from her rapidly tapping feet emphasised the passion and power of her dancing, which quickly increased in its hypnotic effect. The audience loved it.