Thursday, 30 July 2009

The Warsaw they fought and died for?

As the 65th Anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising approaches, some thoughts about my city. My very first impressions (as an eight year-old) of Warsaw's monumental Stalinist architecture were "Wow! This is amazing!" Plac Konstytucji in those days was graced with neons advertising Soviet wrist-watches ('Accurate!') and Soviet railways ('Punctual! Clean!'). I compared Warsaw, with its modern trams and wide thoroughfares, favourably to sooty old London town. And my fascination with post-war Warsaw architecture continued on each subsequent visit.

Today, I find myself more ambivalent. Today, I can also picture Warsaw throught the eyes of the survivors of the Uprising; for five years they fought the Nazi to find one oppressor replaced by another, who persecuted former Home Army soldiers on trumped-up charges of collaborating with the occupant.

To the veterans of the Uprising, the kitch, neo-classical monumentalism symbolised nothing less than the Soviet boot repeatedly stamping brutally down upon the ruins of their beloved city. And at its very heart, Stalin's gift to Warsaw's people, the Palace of "Culture". The culture of the Gulag, of torture, of a lying, stupid, totalitarian ideology that would deprive Poles of the chance to fulfill their potential for a further 45 years.

Below: Symbols of an alien ideology. The 'worker' triumphant. 'Ill-fed slave' more like. Today it's history, thank God. It should be preserved, left for the future rather than torn down as some suggest. But walking around the Plac Konstytucji (named after the Stalinist 'constitution' of 1952), one needs to have an awareness of what it all symbolises.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Lovers of British cheese - your prayers answered

"Do you have supermarkets in Poland?" I'm sometimes asked in London. Indeed we do. At my local one, I have a choice of four brands of pesto (Agnesi, Gran Italia, Barilla and Sacla), three brands of roquefort (La Societe, Verniere, Gabriel Coulet), fresh corriander, freshly-pressed sea-buckberry juice - in other words, Polish supermarkets are well stocked. "Do you miss any British foods?" Well, I dare say I can live without seven-eights of the stuff that graces British supermarket shelves - white sliced bread, Swiss rolls, orange squash, Dairylea, pilchards, Battenberg cake, Carling lager etc - but I do miss GOOD BRITISH CHEESE!

After 12 years in Poland, I'm still really stuck on why British cheese producers have failed miserably to get their wonderful product into Polish shops, when Gorgonzolas, Jarlsbergs, Edams and Feta are so freely available. I am reminded of the Monty Python cheese shop sketch:

Cleese: Aah, how about Cheddar?

Palin: Well, we don't get much call for it around here, sir.

Cleese: Not much call...? It's the single most popular cheese in the world!
Palin: Not round here it isn't, sir.

The British have been terrible at exporting their specialties. Look at the photo (top). Spot the odd-man-out. It's the Irish Kerrygold butter. The packaging - it's in Polish! Available in Poland for at least ten years, we pay a premium price for it because of the taste and because it spreads easily straight from the fridge. Cheddar - you can get 'cheddar' at our local Auchan - but it's Irish cheddar in mild and 'old' varieties. But a decent gum-tingling vintage, extra-mature English cheddar, with a decent rind on it - not a chance. Not to mention Stilton.

Until this year, that is. An enterprising Anglo-Pole has started bringing over the very best of British cheese, a fascinating range at affordable prices (the cheeses above cost me just over 90 zlotys).

Enquiries to - no website, but excellent service, free delivery in Kraków and Warsaw.

The Nairn's Capital Oatcakes, Branston Pickle or Pickled Onions in the photo - I have to bring in myself from the UK. Same goes for Marmite, Tilda Basmati rice, pork scratchings, decent ciders, TCP and Dettox.

For my readers unaware of the wonders of British cheese, I can tell you that they are as rich and diverse as the UK's regional accents. Read the Wikipedia article and sample the delights.

UPDATE 9 August 2009:A visit to Real (a German-owned hypermarket chain) last night revealed that a range of Pilgrim's Choice cheeses are on sale, including Double Gloucester, a favourite of Eddie's, and some organic Cheddars. Pilgrim's Choice came to Poland for the BPCC's annual Agri-Food Forum in November 2007. Good to see their cheeses getting into mainstream hypermarkets.

This time last year:
Through the wetlands, on foot

The time two years ago:
Rainbows and rainfall records
Miserable grey little island

Monday, 27 July 2009

Flashback trigger

I walk into another landscape that's instantly familiar. PAF! Kentucky in the 1940s? No, this is a village called Bombla, some 30km north of Białystok. Click to enlarge photo.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Conservatism UK- or Polish-style?

In the UK my natural tendency is to vote Conservative. The party of small(er) government, low(er) taxes, (more) balanced budgets; devolving responsibility to the citizen rather than garnering power in the hands of the State. And individual freedom. So how do I vote in Poland - where the two largest political groupings are ostensibly both 'centre right'?

My impeccable Tory credentials. Election night, May 1987.

The answer is simple - I vote Platforma Obywatelska. PO has shortcomings, of which the most obvious is its inertia when it comes to reforming a thoroughly inefficient state, but among Poland's political parties, to me it's quite clearly the least bad, and by a long shot. It might not quite 'walk the walk', but it's on message and understands the imperatives of getting Poland's economy right.

So when I read in yesterday's Observer and Sunday Telegraph - about the hoo-hah caused by the British Conservatives being in league with Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, I was deeply puzzled. What on earth have David Cameron's Tories got in common with Jarosław Kaczyński's party? Not a whole lot.

PiS - lazily labelled 'right wing' by British commentators - is a not party I'd naturally associate with Norman Tebbit's 'get on your bike' self-reliance, nor with Michael Heseltine's deregulation nor with Margaret Thatcher's reformist zeal and focus on economic competitiveness. PiS panders to older Poles, nostalgic for the certainties of a time when the state provided everything, yet who were against the communist party, and who were and still are staunchly Catholic and patriotic. [I recommend examining the parallels between General Franco's supporters and those of PiS]

I won't go as far as saying that PiS are national socialists - they are nowhere near that far along the spectrum of human intolerance - but patriotic, religious socialists - certainly. They have a deep mistrust of the private sector. While Kaczyński (J) was in power (his twin's power extends only to blocking legislation, not initiating it), privatisation ground to a halt, public-private partnerships failed to move ahead, roads, railways, bridges, sewage treatment works, power grids, power stations, were not being built because there was always the suspicion that someone would actually profit from it.

Demographically, PiS's voters are generally middle-aged and old. The party makes far less headway than PO or left-of-centre SLD among younger votes.

From the economic perspective, PiS was way to the left of Tony Blair. But from the social point of view, PiS is way to the right of Cameron's Tories - on issues such as religious tolerance, gay rights, abortion, in vitro etc. In both these fields, you'd be hard-pressed to find major policy differences between the Tories and PO.

So why have Britain's Conservatives aligned themselves with PiS?

One word - Europe. Michał Kamiński

The one bit of ideology that PiS shares with the Tories - going back to Margaret Thatcher's days - is Euroscepticism. PO is unashamedly Euroenthusiastic. Yet drill down into the roots of the Euroscepticism and you see two different sets of causes. The Tories of Middle England dislike Brussels bureaucracy, daft regulations, metric measures, Britain being ruled by foreigners with funny names. Prawo i Sprawiedliwość supporters fear Germans buying up Poland, loss of fought-over sovereignty and having secularism, diversity and gayness foisted upon the nation.

David Cameron needs to mull over his party's alliances in Brussels. Britain has always been rather weedy in Europe, tiptoeing around the issues central to the EU's strategic direction allowing the French and others to determine it instead, to the advantage of other global players. British Tories should fight in Brussels for a strong and globally competitive Europe and pick partners with the same vision.

Another way to work

Recent heavy rains and light traffic prompted me to cycle into work along ul. Puławska, Poland's longest street. Despite its length and importance, cycle provision is poor. There's only a kilometre and half of cycle path (between ul. Idzikowskiego and Dolna). Above: The cycle path comes to an end and deposits you on Puławska again.

Above: as it approaches the town centre, Puławska is has provision for six lanes of traffic and two tram lines. Yet pedestrians get less than the width of a car to pass by, along what is a busy shopping street. A cycle path here? Forget it! Where would those motorists park?

As it customary at this time of year, my main concern cycling home was to outrun the encroaching thunderstorm, the clouds busily building up throughout the day. Again I managed. Above: The corner of Puławska and ul. Karczunkowska. Half an hour later, the heavens opened.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

"It's the little differences..." "Example?"

Isn't flying with British Airways to London just infinitely better than with the low-cost carriers?
  • You arrive at Heathrow, not Luton, Gatwick or (worst of all) Stansted a.k.a London Cambridge.

  • You take off at a civilised time (not a 04:00 check-in for a 06:00 take-off which means waking up before three, which remember is two am in the UK). By the end of a long working day in London, you will have been up for nearly 20 hours.

  • You arrive at a civilised time, when cheap day travel cards reduce the cost of reaching the centre of the Capital to £7.50 (compared to £22.50 for peak-time single from Luton plus peak time travel card when you arrive before 8am)

  • You are fed and watered without having to pull your wallet out of your pocket, which let's face it is difficult when you're strapped into a cramped seat
  • Baggage allowance is 23 kilo, not a piddling 15. Which means I can bring large amounts of brochures, magazines and other marketing materials on the way out en route to those business meetings, and a five-kilo sack of Tilda Basmati rice on the way home. And not pay £50 surcharge for the privilege.

  • You get a free newspaper or three on boarding. And two readable inflight mags.
  • Your eyes are not assaulted by garish orange or purple

  • Aircraft windows are not yellowed, crazed, grime-streaked or misted-over, allowing a higher quality of photograph to be taken through them
  • You usually get to fly in over Central London, which often yields spectacular views.
The slight extra cost of flying BA is clawed back by the lower cost of getting into Central London.
This time last year:
Interesting regular visitors to Okęcie
Take me right back to the track, Jack!
This time two years ago:
On The Road Again
Visit to Wrocław
Some family history
Poland's best pub?

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

At the interstices of Warsaw

Along the footpath and under the overpass; up the steps and over the road; beyond the intersection to the bus stop; by bus to the Metro. The path is wide and empty, the river flows beside, the roads roar past and over and under.

Between the river and the landmarks and the public places and spaces are the pass-through places that figure not in guidebook or mind; the interstices, joining/dividing yet overlooked in their own right, with their own klimat.

Down in the tube station at midnight... Warsaw feels a safe city, a perception borne out by statistics.

At bus terminus, with torch at timetable: when's my bus?

Below: I've often wondered what Kabaty was like in the 1920s. Crazy jazz among the farmsteads, I expect. Warsaw's public authority, ZTM, has a bus that will take you there. I'd quite fancy a bus ride to 1960s Hanwell, West London; if only TfL had the same degree of imagination...

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Agricultural notes from Jeziorki

High summer and the fields are full of ripening crop. This year April and early May were very dry; June was extremely wet. Above: the field of oats, behind our garden. This year, I will be in Warsaw to see it harvested (the oats are usually all gathered in by mid-August).

Not so good on the potato front. The field alongside ul. Nawłocka (right) shows signs of being severely waterlogged; the flowers of the plants are withered and the crop is blighted. Meanwhile in the fruit trees, it's a staggeringly good year for cherries - though a bountiful crop is not particularly good news for the commercial growers who have to contend with low, low prices. This was the case with apples last year.

Not every potato field is contending with the consequences of heavy rains; this one looks in rude health. Wherever we can, we support local growers by buying locally. In Zgorzała, there are several season fruit and veg stalls where local farmers will sell their produce. It's better for the local economy and for the environment. And I dare say, Jeziorki potatoes are tastier than ones from Holland or Spain.

Wheatfields look nice too - the stalks are long, the ears are full.

This time last year
The Rampa - going, going...

This time two years ago:
Glum July, dark skies and rain

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Sunset across the tracks, Nowa Iwiczna

I'd not been on a walk south of Jeziorki for a while, so I strolled through Zgorzała and Nowa Wola, turning back through Nowa Iwiczna where I caught the sun setting over the new housing estate, framed by powerlines and under a brooding sky.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Good graffiti, bad graffiti

A stone's throw from my office is the Trasa Łazienkowska viaduct leading to the Łazienkowski bridge. Until last month, the pillars holding up the viaduct were a typical inner-city landscape of brutalist concrete spattered with primitive tags and statements about the parentage of Legia football club's chairman, directors and owners. In other words, not a place one would like to be.

Last week, a group of street artists has reclaimed this area and has painted dozens of excellent pieces of art on what were until now filthy, malodorous, urine- and obscenity-stained surfaces.

Above: Not sure whether this is meant to be the late Michael Jackson in his prime, but it is certainly a whole lot better than how this particular wall looked before. The mix of techniques suggests the amount of care and time taken to do this work. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, "what is painted without effort is looked at without pleasure".

Left: Stalin's gift to the people of Warsaw, immortalised. With a raccoon peering around it (rather than King Kong on the Empire State Building) and a rather fat cosmonaut in orbit overhead. Humour and localisation. Pure Warsaw. I like it. It's great having a free contemporary art gallery so close to my place of work.

I like this pop-art style (right); the artist known as Simpson has a fine line in 1930s and '40s Americana; this Disneyesque laughing horse, roller brush in hand. The technique used (Ben-Day dots) harks back to the comic books of the day and to artist Roy Lichtenstein.

Below: Street art takes on a political dimension - Lukashenka, Europe's last dictator and hilarious mustachio'd comb-over merchant, is sent into orbit by the people of Belarus.

A peacock (left), symbolic of the nearby Park Łazienkowski. Behind, on another pillar, more street art. This is such an improvement over what was here before - guys, keep it up!

Prior to this sudden outburst of quality street art under Trasa Łazienkowska, Warsaw's main claim to fame in this area is the eastern wall of the horse-racing track at Służewiec, running alongside ul. Puławska. I'm surprised I've not blogged this one before.

Since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, this has become legendary as Europe's longest unbroken stretch of street art.

It's been here for as long as I recall - I first remember seeing this back in 1995, and by then it was already established as a local landmark. However, 70% of the content is boring big tags - a few distorted letters, a bit of shading - nothing new or original, but colourful and infinitely preferable to grey concrete. The city gets its public art for free.

Above: This wall goes on for one non-stop kilometre. Here and there, you will find interesting pieces. But they are rare, and typically, works don't stay on for long, they get painted over (so the wall is fresh and lives a dynamic existence). Although the elderly fabric is crumbling.

Right: my current favourite on the Słuzewiec graffiti wall. A reference to American WW2 feminist icon Rosie the Riveter? Work signed Simpson.

As a society, we need to distinguish between primitive graffiti and decent street art. A mindless tag on someone's property, the visual equivalent of a dog peeing up against a wall, deserves punishment: 100 lashes, or being made to inhale the content of your spray can, or being chained to the nearest railing for 48 hours with a sign around your neck saying 'VANDAL'. Yet street art, which elevates passers-by, causing them to pause and reflect, and which brightens otherwise brutalistic grey expanses of concrete, is a social GOOD.

My tips to those wishing to go out and do some:

* Know what you want to do before you start
* Seek to enliven drab expanses of grey concrete but-
* Don't paint on brick
* Don't paint on private property
* Leave public transport - trains and stations - be
* Graffiti in pedestrian underpasses frightens people
* I really don't care who your favourite football team is
* If you can't do anything more advanced than a tag, don't bother.

The street art pictured below fails to make the grade. It's in the wrong place - the beautiful Most Poniatowski bridge, vandalised by graffiti; it's derivative - a second-rate Banksy rip-off, and it's in poor taste.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Regulations, absurdities

"Hang on a minute! I've only got as far as Paragraph 5 Point 2! Stop hooting at me! I must acquaint myself with the Park + Ride Regulations before driving in! WAIT why don't you? "Wyłącza się odpowiedzialność Miasta Stolicy Warszawy z tytułu szkód komunikacyjnych i parkingowych dotyczących pojazdów i osób korzystających z Parkingu" ... Is that good or bad... Better call my lawyer. Where's his number... STOP BEEPING AT ME! ...Need to get to grips with Paragraph 10 Point 1. The one that says it costs 100 zlotys a go to park here - bit steep, eh? It's only 30 zlotys to park right outside my office... But WAIT! Keep your hair on man! Paragraph 10 Point 2 states that if I have a valid ZTM ticket I don't have to fork out a stoover for parking here... What do you mean by 'valid' - Paragraph 10 Point 2 Section 1 says 'został zkasowany...' But not a single-journey or a 20-minute ticket? No, one that's good for at least 24 hours that's been valididated ... well that's clear now STOP GETTING IMPATIENT WITH ME MISTER, ALRIGHT?! I've still got three paragraphs to read before I move any further! OK SO THERE'S NOW NINE CARS QUEUING BEHIND YOU SO WHAT? Paragraph 12 subsection G clearly forbids me from vacuum-cleaning the upholstery of my car while in the car park and LOOK! Paragraph 14 prohibits drivers queuing up to enter the car park from punching in the nose or indeed anywhere else someone who's stopped to read the regulations. And don't even think of leaving your ice-cream van or mobile chip-shop here. Clearly stated in Paragraph 4, Point 1, Section 5) Item d). And don't park overnight, because the P+R is open from 04:00am to 02:30am.

This time last year:
Optimal means of commuting?

This time two years ago:
Sunshine and rain

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Get on your bike and RIDE!

No more excuses. It's healthy, cheaper than driving or public transport, the day is long, and although the heavens are prone to open on July evenings, its warm enough. Today I spent my two commuting hours of the day hugely enjoying my bicycle. BICYCLE BICYCLE I WANT TO RIDE MY BICYCLE I WANT TO RIDE MY BIKE - and the difference between a cheapo supermarket bike and something decent, is that the something decent wants to be ridden. When you mount it, that bike just urges you on, makes you want to spin those pedals and accelerate. Having that thing parked outside the office creates a huge temptation to abandon work and pedal off into to wild green yonder.

My current mountain bike, a 2007 Cannondale Caffeine F1, replaced my 1997 Klein Matra (which Moni had appropriated for herself). The Caffeine is much lighter, being front-suspension only, while the Mantra was lavishly appointed with front and rear suspension. Riding the Klein at speed over the pot-holed and largely untarmacked roads of Pyry in the late '90s was like driving a Citroen DS23 over a ploughed field - comfortable, yet... not a performance ride.

The Caffeine is stiffer, much lighter, but a bit skittier. It comes into its own on the forest trails through the Las Kabacki, which wonderful as it is to ride through, forms only 2.2km of my 18km journey to work. Much of the rest is along cycle paths.

Right: The Las Kabacki, shortly after 8am. Turning off ul. Jagielska, snarled up with a queue of traffic waiting to turn right onto ul. Puławska, I escape from the noise and pollution into a world of sunlight, bird song, peace and near-solitude (there are other cyclists in the forest, and joggers and Nordic walkers). I wonder whether there is any city around the world that has wedges of forest protruding into the very centre, so suburbanites can cycle or walk right into the heart of the city without having asphalt and concrete all around.

But if that's impossible, let there at least be civilised cycle paths, like the one that runs down Al. KEN (below), Ursynów's backbone. Notice how a fenced lawn separates the pavement from the cyclepath, and how shrubberies separate it from the kerb and roadway. This, dear reader, is decent urban planning.

While the sun shone on the way out, the homeward leg was threatened by that daily July meteorological phenomenon, the July storm. All day long, clouds build up, small white ones at first, then getting increasingly large, conjoining, darkening, brooding... As I left the office I could see the horizon threatening. Would I make it home dry?

Well, this evening I was lucky. Apart from a few drops which caught me just before I entered the Las Kabacki, I would get home unsoaked. Rain on a warm summer's evening is not a great deterrent to cycle commuting, unless it's a complete downpour. Consumer electronics (camera, phone) do not like drenchings.

UPDATE: 10 July 2009 - my ride to work this morning took only 53 minutes - beating my 2007 best time of 55 mins.

Classic vehicles around Warsaw's Powiśle

Three classic vehicles caught my eye around the office these past few days. Below: An UAZ-69, a 'Russian Jeep', produced at the Ulyanovsk Avto Zavod between 1955 and 1972, the standard four-wheel drive light truck used across the communist world. Mechanically unreliable, uneconomical on the fuel and prone to leak oil like the Exxon Valdez, nevertheless the UAZ-69 was simple to repair and capable off-road.

Below: A Nysa 522M minibus. This is the smaller of the two Polish designed and built light vans (the other being the more commonly seen Żuk). The example below is local and in recent weeks the owner's replaced the panelling around the radiator grille. I hope this presages more investment into this shapely old timer.

Meanwhile, across the Iron Curtain, even a moderately well-off West German could afford an Opel Kadett fastback coupe(below). In production from 1967 to '73, it was rolling off the production lines at the same time as the Nysa and the UAZ-69.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Oil train passing Jeziorki, dusk

This time of year is great for evening walks, around sunset. It pays to go with your tripod. I caught this oil train, double headed by a an M62 Gagar and TEM-2 Tamara shortly after it passed W-wa Jeziorki station. The cisterns belong to Petrolot, the state monopoly selling aviation fuel to airlines; the train is en route to Okęcie airport.

This time last year:
Bike ride to Święty Krzyż

This time two years ago:
Two years... Lublin and the Road

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Summer dusk, Jeziorki

I could see that photographically, this was going to be an interesting evening in Jeziorki. There was strong light from a setting sun in the north-west, while from the north, a heavy bank of thundercloud moved in a south-easterly direction, crossing Warsaw and giving everything from Bemowo across to Otwock a good soaking, accompanied by much lightning and thunder.

Yet Jeziorki, and indeed I'd guess the whole of Ursynów, was spared a drenching. Above: Fields between ul. Kórnicka and ul. Baletowa. The stormclouds are massing from the left. Below: the railway line from the fields of Dawidy Bankowe. The clouds are now over Praga, the scene illuminated by the last rays of the setting sun.

This time last year:
Classic cars in Warsaw and London
Summer twilight moods, Jeziorki

Friday, 3 July 2009

Another trip to Czachówek

Friday evening and a trip to the shops to buy a paper and a bag of crisps. The railway station is temptingly near... hell, here comes a southbound train. Leap on, buy ticket to Czachówek Południowy (above), return. Eleven zlotys, just over two quid there and back. And when I get there, two hours to stroll around some lovely Polish summer countryside.

And what could be more quintessentially rural Poland than the scene above? A narrow path, a wooden fence - that Polish lovely word 'opłotki' - a lane running between fences or hedges - a white painted cottage, a cherry tree full of ripe fruit, clear blue skies, yet lots of vivid greens for the time of year.

Trains terminating at Czachówek Południowy use this canopied platform (above) to the north of the through-train platforms.

I've mentioned in previous posts the junction layout at Czachówek, where two lines cross. There are four spurs running off the main lines to connect them. The two northern spurs running north-east and north-west are in daily use; the south-western one rarely, but the south-eastern spur is evidently not used at all. Despite that, PKP is still using electricity to light signals on this spur line (something I've also observed on the unused line at Tymbark). Above: A Warsaw-bound Koleje Mazowieckie train between Czachówek Południowy and Czachówek Górny on the main line. The photo was taken from the spur - as you can see, it's totally overgrown.

Above: The concrete sleepers on the south-east spur have been smashed, apparently by accident. Trains cannot use a line in this state. Signalling is still operational, though, at both ends of the spur. A case of one hand not knowing what the other is doing.

And back to Czachówek Płd. for the train home. Strong sunlight from a midsummer sun just before dusk nicely illuminates the facade of the ticket office and waiting room (above).

This time last year:
Piccadilly Circus - mapa mundi

Ghost in the machine

The older I get, the more seriously I take the notion that inanimate objects, well, maybe don't actually "have a minds of their own," but at least have souls.

When things break down irredeemably, the causes can be traced, the breakdowns diagnosed. A radiator hose splits, causing coolant to escape, causing the engine to overheat, the cylinder block to seize up. A malicious virus rips into your hard disk and starts devastating data and starts spreading out across the net.

It's the undiagnosable ones that interest me; it's the maddening 'intermittent faults', the ones that mysteriously cure themselves whenever you take your car/camera/laptop to have it fixed. "Sorry sir, can't find anything wrong with it..." "But it was not working properly only this morning!"

Maddening intermittent faults such as the leakage of light or lens flare (can't even say which!) onto the film frame of my Leica M6 camera. I've discussed this on the Rangefinder Forum, a handful of other members have had similar (though not identical!) flare issues - and no one has been able to diagnose the problem. I snap two frames side by side, one had it, the very next one doesn't. The crankset on my bike. One minute creaking - next minute silent. Can't replicate it.

Or the recent battery memory problem I had with my Nikon D80. Snap a pic, and the battery dies. Cycle on/off and it's working. Happens one in every six shots. Then one in three. One in 20. One in one. I buy another battery. Same story. Then, all of a sudden - gone! Cleared up! By itself!

My theory is that if you care for your stuff, it will repay you with years of good service. I don't mean 'care' as in 'not abuse', I mean care as in 'being emotionally attached to'. My dear, immaculate showroom condition, one owner from new, 16 year-old Nissan Micra is a good example. I feel it knows I care about it and doesn't want to let me down. Despite the fact that I drive it down ul. Poloneza several times a week. And I'm sure Dyspozytor feels that well-maintained Px48 or Ty-2 steam locomotives have souls too.

Does that sound silly?

Everything's made of atoms - you, me, my Nissan Micra, the EN-EL3 battery that powers my Nikon D80, the Magic Flute CD that's kept on being played frequently over 20 years. It was Jonathan Wood who coined the expression 'the atomic will'. What is it, I ask, that keeps ALL the universe's hydrogen atoms' electrons whizzing around their nucleii for the best part of 13 billion years?

It's WILL, I tell you! Tap into that sub-molecular, elemental force and be in harmony with your things!

And, as if by magick, I stumble upon this article linked to a comment to a New Scientist article about consciousness within single-cell organisms. I can't pretend to have read the whole thing, but there are chunks that are philosophically mind-blowing. The history of consciousness bit is fascinating. When - and how - did consciousness first appear on our planet? And when the world of quantum physics starts to intrude upon mankind's understanding of consciousness, then things get really interesting.

To put the centuries-long debate about the nature of consciousness into perspective, it's worth reading the Wikipedia article on the Philosophy of Mind. In a nutshell, there are two schools of thought - dualism, which holds that consciousness and body are two separate entities, and monism, that consciousness is simply a product of the body. I hold the first view.

Readers familiar with the English language will be aware that the German term zeitgeist has come into common usage, meaning 'spirit of the age'. On this blog I've been regularly writing about 'spirit of place' - by inference, platzgeist. Now this, dear reader, is spirit of thing. Dinggeist?

This time last year:
"Be seeing you," land of Big Brother...

Thursday, 2 July 2009

The end of a commuting era

The cars! No! Not the cars!

Is this Pyongyang on Kim Il Sung Day? Are we in Chernobyl? No, it's Thursday lunchtime on ul. Przemysłowa, Powiśle, one mile as the crow flies from the very centre of Warsaw. Normally, you cannot squeeze a paperback between the bumpers of cars parked along this street. OK, we're into the second week of the school holidays - but, like, where have all the cars gone?

I arrived back at the office today knowing that something's changed for ever. Gone are the free-and-easy days of driving to work, when finding a space was the commuter's only worry. As of yesterday, Warsaw's parking meter zone was extended out towards Powiśle (where our offices are). Residents can still park for free, but an eight-hour stay will cost commuters nearly 30 zł, around six quid. A significant chunk of most people's daily earnings around here.

My strategy for getting around this is not perfect, as Warsaw's wonderful Metro runs three bus stops short of my office and starts a long way from home. So I drive (20 mins) to Metro Stokłosy (lit. "Hundred Sheaves") station, which has a Park + Ride facility - free parking for those using public transport to get into the centre. To park for free, you need a network ticket valid for at least 24 hours. As this costs 9 złotys (less than two quid), for which I get parking plus two Metro and two bus rides, it makes good sense. In terms of petrol, currently 4zł 70gr/90p a litre or thereabouts, taking Metro and bus to work from Stokłosy is saving me around a litre's worth a day. So overall I'm less well off and having to make that awkward change from Metro to bus at Politechnika station; time-wise I'm losing out too, and I miss not listening to TokFM (quick plug for EKG with Tadeusz Mosz, an excellent economics talk-show).

So for all my talk about the benefits of cycling to work (which I'll do tomorrow) and public transport, I actually feel a sense of loss at being deprived of the liberty of driving to work and parking outside the office for free. Still, public policy needs to be a mixture of stick and carrot.

I wait for a decent carrot in the form of improved public transport to and from Jeziorki. Above: Stokłosy P+R at 7:15am; plenty of space available.

This time last year:
Towers of London

This time two years ago:
Maybugs in July
High summer in Jeziorki
Wild deer near Las Kabacki forest