Wednesday, 30 April 2008

What I miss about England

Driving back from Stoke-on-Trent, I took a short diversion off the M40 to the countryside that I loved most while living in London. This is where we used to go cycling and walking many years ago, my favourite landscapes of southern England. South of Junction 5 of the M40, the villages located between the motorway and Henley-on-Thames - Ibstone, Turville, Fingest, Frieth, Hambleden - this is a repository of timeless rural English atmosphere, perfectly preserved. Below: The Crown Inn, Pishill, a Wolseley 1500 Series I parked outside. (The barmaid was from Bratislava.)

I've often thought that when I retire - in around 25 years time, just as Britain is about to join the Zloty zone at a rate of five pounds to the zloty - that I should sell up in Poland and move here to spend my twilight years hiking from pub to pub and reading books of poetry in front of a log fire.

However, I fear that by then these lanes will marked with double yellow lines, bluebell fields (what's the Polish for 'bluebell'?) will be fenced off with barbed wire as designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest, CCTV cameras will be attached to every telegraph pole and hip-hop graffiti will adorn the half-timbered cottages.

Until then, I shall cherish this landscape as I have since early childhood visits to these parts. The essence of England - villages nestling amid the rolling countryside, where decency, fair play, politeness and common sense prevail and strolling down to the local pub for a pint of hand-drawn ale. Above: The village of Turville. Note the old-style road sign. I suspect this unspoilt village is often used as a period location for films and TV series. Below: The churchyard, Turville.

This is what Poland lacks; beautiful historic villages. As I've said - the countryside is where the English want to retire to, where Poles want to flee from. Whether it's physical layout (English villages are clustered around the church, the pond, the green, the pub, Polish villages are strung out along a straight road - no focal point for the community), history (Poland's built landscape has been steamrollered down the ages), or simply the attitudes of the inhabitants, rural England decidedly has the edge over rural Poland. Below: cottages in Turville

But then give me urban Poland over urban England any day of the week.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Ducks in the Ogród Saski

He's sitting there all full of himself, complacent. She wanders up to him with an interested gleam in her eye. But he does nothing. Just continues sitting there. Ducks in Warsaw's Ogród Saski (Saxon Garden). Weather stayed good, +22C high.

This time last year:

Should I stay or should I go?

Sunday, 27 April 2008

I will remember when all this was fields

Across the tracks in Zamienie, I scramble up a hill of earth and stones to take a series of photos stitched together to form the panorama above. One day, this will be a massive logistics centre. From the left: Zamienie, Dawidy Bankowe, in the distance Okęcie and Warsaw's city centre; to the extreme right, Zgorzała.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Jeziorki in bloom

Today was the first day of the year hot enough to leave home without a jacket in the morning. I drove Eddie to school for his his middle school entrance exams (results known on 6 May), and it was already +16C at half past eight. Above: flowers in a grass verge, ul. Nawłocka.

Right: Apple blossom in our garden. Blue sky enhanced with a circular polarising filter. Compare to last year's apple blossom time. The weekend was hot enough for a number of firsts for 2008; the first time the afternoon air smelt of barbecues, the first time a cool breeze was welcome, the first time I found myself getting sweaty while wearing only one layer. Its worth remembering that one month ago, there was still snow on the ground. Having said that, a whole month from snow-on-ground to T-shirt-weather is quite a long time for Warsaw!

A meadow flower conundrum for readers with advanced Polish - the dandelion (above), as we all know, is mlecz. The daisy (below) is stokrotka. But what's buttercup? The latter is also common across Poland, but I can't say I've ever come across its name before. I wonder why?

Visitors flying in from the East

Two rare visitors to Okęcie airport - above, a Tupolev Tu-154M of Belarusian airlines Belavia. I thought that the EU had banned this type from flying into its airspace on account of the noise and filth produced by its engines. More usually, Belavia's Minsk-to-Warsaw service is operated by Boeing 737s. Just three weeks ago, this very aircraft (EW-857 06) lost a tyre while taking off from Frankfurt-am-Main. I must say, I do like the Tu-154M, especially when configured for landing. Below, we see a Embraer EJ-145 of Ukrainian airline Dniproavia, flying in to Okęcie from Dniepropetrovsk.

Friday, 25 April 2008

One swallow does not a summer make

First individual of the year - a barn swallow perched on electricity wires along ul. Trombity. By the summer, this gregarious bird will be flocking to Jeziorki. (See second photo here, from last July). The weather this week has been wonderful, with generally cloudless skies since Monday mid-morning. The English phase, 'one swallow doesn't make a summer', means that the single instance of something doesn't indicate a trend.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Feed the swans, tuppence a bag

The swans at the end of the road have become settled in their new home. A morning ritual has become established; a few slices of stale bread and the swans are getting used to seeing us. Above: Moni and Eddie throwing bread to the swans. It's funny observing the swans making the transition between graceful, effortless motion in deeper water to awkward waddling as they reach the marsh's edge.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

What a carrion!

Returning from lunch at the Asia Tasty (the best bowl of fried beef noodle soup in town - a huge portion for 13 zlotys), we came across this rather unappetising sight - a jackdaw feeding from the flesh of a dead pigeon. This is the park running alongside the Hala Mirowska, where the elderly bring mountains of stale bread for the local pigeons.

This time last year:

Orchard on ul. Trombity - apple trees in bloom
Spirit of place - why Jeziorki's so special to me
Warsaw's Palace of Culture - from Jeziorki and from up close
Large cargo aircraft over our house
A Jeziorki pheasant in springtime

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Another large, charismatic fowl

Work and weather gave me my first opportunity this year to stroll in the Lazienki Park (our annual conference was across the road in the Hyatt hotel). The peacock, close relative of the pheasant, is also in mating mood and its loud cries resound throughout the park. The chap on the right was content to sun himself in the April sunshine (not much of it this month so far), rather than displaying his feathers for the ladies.

This time last year:

Sunset across the tracks, between Jeziorki and Dawidy

Friday, 18 April 2008

Modernist wheels

When I was back in primary school, there were but two youth tribes: mods, and rockers. I am talking mid-1960s London. Mods rode Italian scooters, wore sharp suits and listened to soul. Rockers rode British motorbikes, wore leathers and listened to rock. Every Bank Holiday they'd all roar off down to the coast and have fights. More than forty years have passed, and yet the influence of these tribes lives on. Here in Warsaw, this week, I came across this immaculate Piaggio Vespa scooter, looking pretty much as a mod would have been proud of in 1965. Note the chrome, the lamps, the RAF roundel. (Could do with a few more mirrors, really). It's registered in Warsaw-Bemowo and boasts no fewer than 12 tail lights.

I see many young Poles in Warsaw today carrying on British youth tribe traditions; skinheads with their button-down Ben Sherman shirts, Levi trousers, Doc Marten boots; punks with their spikey hair, ripped attire with safety pins, metallurgists with metal studs, denim, long hair and leather jackets - I've even seen graffiti in Grabów (north of Jeziorki) relating to Teddy Boys. So British youth culture resonates across Europe and down the decades.

Quite why is an interesting point. I believe that unlike most of what defines us, our tastes and preferences come not from our genes, but from the spiritual side of our nature. It is entirely within my belief system to accept that the owner of the above scooter may have been a Mod in 1960s London in his past life.

This time last year:
Amazing photos of mammatus clouds over Jeziorki
Apple blossom time 2007
Maps of the area

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Large, charismatic fowl

From my bedroom window this morning, I espied this fellow (above), making his trumpety noises... It's that time of year; the Jeziorki pheasants strut around in mating mood.

Left: A male common pheasant not far from our house. Note the ploughed field and the apple tree in bloom. Weather, however, colder and wetter than this time last year.

The pheasants will be hatching their young between now and July.

Driving Eddie to school, we found our swans were not there. But on my way home in the evening, I called by, and there they were (below) - and hungry for the two slices of bread that I'd saved for them. The swans will be making their nest in the reed beds; a clutch of cygnets can be expected anytime soon!

Herons - we got 'em too; I just need to find a stork's nest in Jeziorki. Now there's a harder task...

This time last year:

The aggregate ramp by W-wa Jeziorki station

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

The accelerating pace of change

I've been prompted by a couple of things to take stock of how life is changing at an ever faster pace. An excellent special report in this week's Economist looks at how mobile technology is changing the way mankind (half of humanity has a mobile phone!) lives, works, loves and interacts with family, friends, colleagues and strangers. No one could have predicted - even five years ago - how dramatically the mobile phone and it successors will have altered human behaviour patterns.

The other thing is a remark made by Olek, who grew up round the corner from me in West Ealing's Polish community. "When we were children, there were hardly any divorces among our parents' generation", he said. He named one divorced couple, I named another - and, er, that was it. We could not think of any other Polish family we knew, from Hammersmith to Hanwell and all points in between, where the parents had divorced. Yet from our generation, a different story. From the six Andrzejs I knew from west London, four are divorced. Only two are still with their original wives. That's just the Andrzejs. This change has happened in one generation. Why?

Is social change predicated by technological change?

Or something else? To quote the father of one of the divorced Andrzejs, "when I was your age, I was shooting Germans. You are watching Top of the Pops." The father, of course, is still married. I don't think that divorce is merely a peace dividend. Europe enjoyed a century of peace between the Napoleonic Wars and WW1 (the Crimean, Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian wars not withstanding), divorce was still largely unknown.

I think if there were one main factor, it would be consumerism, breeding a restless dissatisfaction in us. The coinciding decline of Christianity in the western world, which has (and you can't deny this) been an effective instrument of social control for the best part of two millennia, has allowed individuals to place their own quest for happiness over and above that of the happiness of other members of their family and indeed social cohesion. Is the pursuit of happiness bound to end in unhappiness? Isn't life paradoxical?

This time last year:

Polish Air Force transport planes flying into Warsaw Okęcie
Field behind our house: ploughed, sown and growing
Hare on ul. Trombity
Roadkill on ul. Trombity
Weather patterns, Warsaw, spring 2007

Monday, 14 April 2008

Still over here!

Yesterday, Eddie and his mum went for a walk up ul. Trombity armed with bread to feed the swans. They were still there. This morning, as I drove Eddie and Moni to school, we stopped off at the end of the road to do likewise. This looks like becoming a daily ritual, weather permitting. Having such lovely creatures to stay is a wonderful privilege for people living in a capital city. Notice how you can see right through the holes in the swans' beaks!

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Pregnant Poland

Today's trip to the hypermarket, and the last few seminars I attended (at which female speakers were either pregnant or just back from maternity leave), make me realise that Poland's undergoing a mini-baby boom. To see where it's coming from and where it's likely to take Polish demographics, take a peek at the graph here. What were seeing is the rising demographic tide of Poles in their mid- to late 20s starting to have more and more children. This baby boom is somewhat different to the one that kicked off in the early 1980s. Now, mums are having their first babies in their late-20s and 30s rather than early-20s as before. Economics are also important. As the Polish economy continues to boom, so couples are feeling more optimistic about future prospects. Poland has a long way to climb. Bottoming out at 1.3 births per woman, fertility rates are joint lowest in the EU. But one can see that a turnaround has begun. Demographic pyramids with a wide base are dangerous, but so are demographic mushrooms.

UPDATE Summer 2008: Three of the 11 women in our office have become pregnant this year.

Magnolia in bloom, Ealing

A flashback to childhood - we used to have a magnolia bush outside our house in Croft Gardens, Hanwell, in London, before moving to posher West Ealing. This splendid tree was snapped on Castlebar Road, between Ealing Broadway and my parents' house. I was over in London for three days. Although spring seems more advanced, this year there's been an unusual amount of snow and hail showers in the UK

This time last year:

Jewish youth flies into Okęcie for March of the Living (El-Al Boeing 747)

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

On the road from Łódź

I travelled to Łódź today to chair a conference on human resources (a hot topic in Poland's high-growth regions). The road linking Poland's first and second city is inadequate. The first 70 km or so is fine (dual carriage way to Rawa Mazowiecka), the remaining 60km is as above, dotted with small towns, traffic jams, roadworks and other distractions that ensure that the time taken to traverse the 130km/85 miles between Warsaw and Łódź by road is 2 hours 30 mins - the same time it takes to do the distance by train.

Right: At last! Today on the road to Łódź I saw the first nesting storks of 2008. This nest is on a man-made platform. Some storks' nests can weigh up to two tonnes, Moni informs me. The return to Poland of these big birds is a sure sign that spring's here in earnest.

This time last year:

Aerial views of the ground

Monday, 7 April 2008

Foggy morn in Jeziorki

Always take your camera with you! I'm delighted to see, driving to school this morning, that the pair of swans that flew in to the wetlands at the end of ul. Trombity over a week ago is still with us. (Proof, Daily Mail reader, that Poles do not live on a diet of swan.) The swans seemed quite tame, this one swimming up to me, without any signs of aggression.

Below: Moni took over the camera to get this shot as I traversed the potholes and ruts of ul. Poloneza in the fog. It hasn't rained properly for several days, making it safe to drive down Poloneza without fear of getting bogged down in a muddy morass.

Miracle of birth

Aleksander, son to Iza and Adam, born 14 March. May God give him a fulfilled life. Looking at his serene little face, I think God will do just that.

This time last year:
Free range rooster across the road from our house
Sixteen poplars - local landmark

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Coal train sidings, Jeziorna

The sidings at Konstancin-Jeziorna (above) where the coal trains swap engines before running on to the power station at Siekierki. [You can find the sidings on Google Earth at 52° 5'46.06"N, 21° 6'33.53"E.] This (below) is the kind of thing I mean... A TEM2 diesel loco in Siekierki livery and a PKP SM48 diesel loco; one's brought the train down from Okęcie sidings, the other will take up to Siekierki. But wait - what's that behind the TEM2?

Below: This is the new face of the coal line to Siekierki. Privately-operated, modern, more fuel efficient, this is a Newag-built 311D class diesel loco operated by PCC Rail. These locos are re-engineered Soviet M62 Gagars with new engines and electronics.

Another sign of the times is the diversity of coal wagons used by PCC Rail. They come from across the CEE region - (below) here's a selection from different operators in Slovakia, Hungary, Germany and the Czech Republic. And several from across Poland. All privately-owned.

This time last year (3-6 April):
Coal train sidings at Okęcie (timely link, this)
Google Earth image of Jeziorki from 2002
Aerial photo of Jeziorki in winter

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Happy birthday, Dziadzio Bohdan!

My father, Bohdan Dembinski, celebrates his 85th birthday today. He was born in Warsaw, just around the corner from where I'm currently working. He lived through the Nazi invasion of Poland and bombardment of Warsaw in September 1939, five years of Nazi occupation, the entire 63 days of the Warsaw Uprising and eight months in Stalag X-B prisoner-of-war camp in before being liberated by allied forces. He lost both his father and younger brother during the war. His life's motto is 'one can get used to anything' ('do wszystkiego można się przywyczajić').

After the war, Dziadzio Bohdan's life stabilised somewhat - he worked for over 40 years for the same company and will have been married 55 years this June. He's physically and mentally fit (no walking stick), and, as in the case of Dziadzio Tadeusz, I'm delighted that our children have inherited such excellent genes for longevity. It's not many children that can boast four living grandparents with a combined age of 337 years!


Friday, 4 April 2008

Classic Polish cars

A Polski Fiat 125P parked by the entrance to Warszawa WKD station. One of the truly iconic cars from the communist days. Once the grandest car a Pole could aspire to. It's a shame that Poland's road licensing authorities do not allow owners to keep period white-on-black number plates. When a car changes owners, it gets a new set of plates. In the UK, a car keeps the same plates for its entire life. So we can see in this case, the car has plates issued between April 2000 and May 2006 (when the Polish flag on blue background in the top left corner was replaced by EU stars). Classic cars can get special black-on-yellow plates (tablice zabytkowe), but only with permission of the Voivodship Conservator of Historic Monuments, and after going through a huge amount of bureaucratic procedures. In the UK, all you need to do is to have a car built before 1973, and you a) pay no road tax and b) get cheap classic car insurance.

In search of the quintessential Warsaw vista

Anyone driving to work up al. Niepodległości will immediately recognise this view. On the skyline from left, the Intraco II tower, the LIM tower and the Palace of Culture. On either side, ministry buildings, separated by six lanes of traffic and tram tracks. This is, I think, quintessential Warsaw, not a beautiful city in the way that Wrocław or Kraków wow the tourists, but a dynamic fast-growing business and administrative centre. The above view has not changed in 20 years, but is likely to in coming years as the Palace of Culture eventually gets surrounded by a ring of skyscrapers.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Papal anniversary

This morning, flags were out all over Warsaw's public transport system, on buses, at Metro stations. The reason - the third anniversary of the death of Poland's beloved Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyła. On my way home across pl. Grzybowski, I saw a huge outpouring of popular emotion marking the day. People young and old would leave votive candles by the statue of the Polish Pope outside the Church of All Saints. I feel that as the years pass, 2 April will enter the calendar of profound Polish anniversaries - like 1 August, marking the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 and 15 August, marking the Polish victory over the Bolshevik invaders outside Warsaw in 1920.

This time last year:
Agriculture on ul. Trombity
An introduction to the wetlands at the end of ul. Trombity (II)
Inbound to land: On the flightpath to Warsaw Okęcie airport

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Crushed velvet dusk in my City Of Dreams

The clocks have gone forward. So when leaving the office (around 7 pm today) there's still enough light for some decent snaps. Since Sunday we've had lovely spring weather. After sundown that clear sky glows iridescent and contemporary Warsaw lights up with a confident radiance. Above, from left: The LIM building (Marriott Hotel) and the Złote Tarasy office and retail centre, undoubtedly boasting a fine array of shoe shops.

Is this Manhatten? Are we in Tokyo? No, this is Rondo ONZ 1; to me, Warsaw's most beautiful modern office development. Standing on the corner of al. Jana Pawła II and ul. Świętokrzyska, the building catches the last rays of the sun as it sets over Wola.

To the left of Rondo ONZ 1 is the Intercontinental Hotel.

Left: The view looking west along ul. Swiętokrzyska. The building in the foreground is the Warsaw Financial Center on the corner of ul. Emilii Plater; in the distance is Rondo ONZ 1.

A 506 bus heading from Wola to Bródno makes its way through Warsaw's central business district. The Hungarian-built Ikarus buses will disappear from Warsaw's streets by 2010 to make way for low-floor, wheelchair access, air-conditioned, low-emission Solarises, Neoplans and MANs. While not as immediately iconic as London's Routemaster double-deckers, the 'Ikars' will be missed.

Above: The Intercontinental Hotel, Warsaw. Another noteworthy modern building. The cutaway 'leg' on which the hotel stands was designed so that inhabitants of the apartment block behind it would continue to receive as much daylight as before. The 'Interconti' is one of the world's highest five-star hotels; its swimming pool on the 40th floor is on the same level as the clock on the Palace of Culture opposite.

We are One

A year ago, I posted my first post on the Jeziorki blog. It was meant to be a year in the life of Jeziorki, but the blog has grown, and will remain. With current traffic between 20 and 40 visits a day (there, I broke the first rule of blogging!), I've decided to stick with it.

Eleven years ago as the internet was just getting going, I opined that "In the future I will have my own global TV station with a worldwide audience of ten people". Well, it's not TV (yet). And my audience figures are slightly greater than ten - but only slightly.