Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Summer's here and the time is right...

...for cycling to work.

One hour, 15 minutes door to door, 18km, through the Las Kabacki forest, and along the cyclepaths of Ursynów, Dolinka Służewiecka, Belwederska, Agricola, Ujazdowski park. Only two kilometres of my entire journey to work is not along cyclepaths. For days when I don't need to take anything or anyone, and when my journey is not punctuated along the way, the bicycle is ideal for dry spring and summer days.

Today, I took it easy, cycling slow enough not to break sweat. My door-to-door record last summer has been as low as 51 minutes, but I'd turn up at the office extremely sweaty, requiring a wash and change of clothing. That, plus recovery from a fast ride, would take the best part of 20 minutes, so the advantages of haste are marginal.

Above: My way to work. Eight minutes after leaving home, I'm in the forest. A short run along this piece of woodland track and I'm on the main cycle path through the Las Kabacki, ul. Moczydłowska. At this time of year, at 8 am, the forest is gorgeous; the solitude, smells and sounds of nature are infinitely more pleasurable than the traffic jam on ul. Puławska.

Returning home from work in the evening, I did a 5km extension taking in the whole of the forest. On the stretch above, I saw a wild deer, no more than about 50m away, disappearing off into the trees. So today I covered around 40km, not bad for my first cycle commute of the year.

This time last year:
What I miss about England

Park & Ride at Stokłosy

I've not noticed this before - the bus terminus at Ursynów Płn. has been converted into a car park. What clever joined-up thinking on the part of the city transport authorities. The bus terminus was clearly underused - it was big enough for 15 buses, but even in the rush hours there'd not be more than three. So turning this into a Park & Ride facility was a very good idea. Yet a quick glance at the number plates of the cars in it suggests that something's not right with Warsaw's strategic transport planning. Two thirds of the cars are on Piaseczno plates. While it's encouraging that these cars are not going all the way into town, they've already made it more than halfway to Warsaw's city centre from Piaseczno.

This immediately suggests that if Koleje Mazowieckie could lay on not five trains from Piaseczno to central Warsaw between 7am and 9am but say 20 trains, they'd all be full of grateful commuters, who would not have to drive 10km to Stokłosy to take the Metro the next ten.

UPDATE JULY 2009: Number of KM trains linking W-wa Jeziorki to Warsaw between the hours of 8:00am and 9:00am? Exactly ZERO.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

In search of the Sublime Aesthetic (I)

Late April, and the weather has been perfectly cloudless ever since our return from London three weeks ago. Too dry, the meteorologists and farmers say, but to enjoy +23C at this time of year is something very pleasant. Especially with a southern wind to take the edge off the heat. Above: The view from W-wa Jeziorki station shortly before sunset.

I returned home in good time to get the bike out and catch the last rays of the sun. Below: Pigeon tumbling in Jeziorki. The polarising filter darkens the twilit sky making it deeper, bluer; the setting sun throws pinky-red rays against the birds' underside.

Two days earlier, I caught this view of the house lit by the last of the evening sun, picking out the apple blossom agains the deep blue.

Moments like this create a sense of well-being that in conducive to spiritual thoughts, a higher form of consciousness that brings one to that Keatsian beauty/truth, truth/beauty interface once more.

The most beautiful time of year in Warsaw - the ten weeks from mid-April to late June.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Bicycle shake-down day

After the winter break, time to get the bikes out, pump up tyres, lubricate the gears, tighten the brake cables and get set for a summer's riding. Recalling the painful first rides of the season, I decided to replace the stock saddle on my Cannondale Caffeine F2 (above) with my trusty old Brooks B66 sprung mattress saddle - now on its fourth bike. I bought the saddle new in 1986, put it on my first mountainbike, a Saracen Kili Flyer, and the very next day set off for a 1,300km (800mile) ride across the Iberian peninsula, from Santander to the Algarve. Covering up to 160km (100 miles) a day, I had no trouble whatsoever with a sore bum. Just a few weeks earlier, I'd covered the 56miles (90km) from London to Brighton on a charity ride, and my backside was so painful that I rode home from Victoria Station standing on the pedals, unable to park my posterior on my bike's stock saddle. The B66 is heavy as saddles go, but is supremely comfortable - and incomparably lighter than rear suspension. The photo was taken by the pedestrian railway crossing at ul. Kórnicka, behind the bike is the 12:00 Kraków-Olsztyn, less than half way through its 10 hour journey.

Not like the neighbours, indeed

For anyone following the Polish economy, the article in this week's Economist is a must-read. Compared to its neighbours - and indeed to the rest of the world - Poland is doing well. At the BPCC's annual conference in Warsaw last week, four chief economists presented their growth forecasts for this year and next which were as synchronised as an air display team in formation. This year growth will be between 0% and 1%, next year between 1% and 1.5%; a tighter bunch of forecasts than what we'd been used to (last autumn the spread between optimists and pessimists was as much as five percentage points). Bear in mind that Poland's neighbours in the CEE region are expecting their economies to contract by 3% to 15%. Indeed, a perusal of economic forecasts published by The Economist suggests that Poland's economy will grow faster than ANY in Europe - and globally, will only be outperformed by China, India and Pakistan.

Why has Poland managed to avoid the worst of the global downturn? One counterintuitative argument is that because Poland is a difficult place to do business, the size of the pre-crisis 'bubble' was relatively small. And a reason it was smaller than in western Europe and the USA - and indeed in other CEE economies - is that Poland's inflexible financial institutions were not bending over backwards to foist business loans and mortgages to people who could not afford to pay them back. More - banks would not lend to people who could afford to pay them back.

As a result, depending on sources, between 60% and 70% of Polish entrepreneurs have no debts, and finance their ongoing business activities from their cashflow. And while 800,000 Polish households (mostly young and urban) have risky mortgages denominated in Swiss francs, another 12,200,000 households don't.

Poland is ranked 76th in the World Bank's Doing Business survey. Drill down into the data, and you'll see that in see that in terms of 'ease of starting a business', Poland comes 145th in the world (out of 175 countries!) and 'ease of obtaining a construction permit', Poland comes 158th - which places it among the economies of sub-Saharan Africa. Other surveys are less kind. The latest Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom places Poland 82nd in the world.

Poland's obstructive and decision-averse bureaucracy has held back the country from growing at an unsustainable pace. But this 'handbrake-on economy' cannot be held back at this time of global recession. The handbrake must be released if jobs are to be created and the huge demographic potential of Poland's young and well-educated workforce is to be realised.

Twenty years of democratically elected governments (of all hues) have failed to transform a bureaucracy that remains anything but a 'civil' 'service'. Roads do not get built, state-owned enterprises do not get privatised, EU funds do not get spent - because of the mindset of lower- and middle-ranking officials in Poland's ministries and government agencies. Part of the problem is that many of them are political placemen, who get a cushy office job for four years through connections with the ruling party. These here-today-gone-tomorrow bureaucrats are not experts in the area they working - nor do they have any ambition to be. What Poland desperately needs is a thoroughgoing reform of its bureaucratic workings, rather like the one implemented in Britain over a century and half ago - the Northcote-Trevelyan* report which led to the establishment of a Civil Service Commission in 1855. This clearly set out the rules for a professional, apolitical administrative body to implement policies of elected governments.

(*Not to be confused with Northcote-Parkinson, whose adage 'work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion' was coined a century later. It is as true in Poland's government offices as anywhere else on earth)

UPDATE: February 2010. The final figures for Polish growth have been posted; the economy grew by 1.7%! Faster than anyone could have dared imagine.

This time last year:
Jeziorki in bloom
Visitors from the east

Saturday, 25 April 2009

New dimensions to plane spotting

Having grown up not to far from London's Heathrow Airport, and having lived the past 12 years under the flight path to Okęcie Airport's Runway 33, the sight and sound of aircraft overhead is not strange to me. Some people are troubled by the noise of jet engines, not me. (Plus, proximity to the Okęcie flightpath means that Jeziorki is unlikely to succumb to large-scale residential development.)

Virgin Atlantic Airbus A340 en route to London from Shanghai

I blog the more unusual and aesthetically pleasing aircraft movements in and out of Okęcie. Generally, air traffic above our heads consists of, as Eddie says, 'vanilla planes', ie the run-of-the-mill Airbus A320s and Boeing 737s that make up the bulk of commercial aviation world wide. ATR42s and '72s and BAe/Avro RJs are common too. The occasional military flight into Okęcie is worth watching out for (a pair of F-16s, a Hercules, a C-17 Globemaster, old Soviet-era transports).

When skies are clear over Warsaw (as they've been for most of this month), you can look further up - to 38,000ft, where planes that very rarely make an appearance on Okęcie's runways can be seen.

The Internet is wonderful for giving access to all kinds of interesting information. Lately, I've discovered a page with real-time air traffic radars for Warsaw and surrounding area and north western Poland. Most (not all) air traffic is shown - living on the flightpath, I'm aware of movements in and out that are not displayed on the Warsaw radar (mostly 'vanilla planes' of little interest to spotters). Each plane has it airline, flight number, registration number, airspeed and heading shown. From my window I can see, for example, a vapour trail at well over 30,000ft heading south. From the radar map, I learn that this is a Boeing 777, N701DN, Delta Airlines Flight DAL8, en route from Houston, Texas, to Dubai.

Ural airlines Tupolev Tu-154M RA-85833 en route to Ekaterinburg

Emirates' Boeing 777 en route to London Heathrow from Dubai

But is this of interest to anyone? Seeing a Boeing 777 or Airbus A330 in Warsaw (a rare treat for spotters) leaves most people cold. One twin-engined jetliner looks just like any other, surely?

But to die-hard spotters, it's the detail. There's a lot of fascinating metal in the air. Take that Tupolev Tu204 of Russian charter airline Red Wings. I've never seen one close up, but as I write, there's one at 36,000ft on a heading of 247 degrees, north-west of Warsaw...

Boeing 747F cargo flight (operator unknown)

I've mentioned the website before, set up by some guys in south-east Poland where intercontinental air routes intersect. They have ultra-powerful lenses and capture some stunning images of aircraft in flight at cruising altitudes.

The 80-400mm Nikkor even at full stretch cannot do justice to planes at cruising altitude, but even so, it gets you part way there. A 600m f4 Nikkor has just made it onto my wanted list...

This time last year:
First barn swallow of 2008 flies in
Feeding the swans

Friday, 24 April 2009

Toruń views

A busy week means pics from Tuesday's brief stroll around the historic centre of Toruń are being posted today. Above: The fortified town walls facing the Vistula riverfront. Pass through that gate on the right and... below... just inside the walls. Strong sunlight gives the town a distinctly Italianate feel.

Like Lublin, Toruń is town that's partially done up; crumbling historic tenements awaiting refurbishment neighbouring buildings that have been restored to a high standard.

Toruń's slogan is 'Gotyk na dotyk' (Touch the Gothic). Streets in the centre are being pedestrianised, digging is going on everywhere.

Below: Is this Henley? Are we on the Thames? No, this is the Vistula as it flows through Toruń. Like its 'twin city' Bydgoszcz 45km to the west, Toruń is a rowing town. Bydgoszcz and Toruń share the administration of the Kujawsko-Pomorskie* province and there is talk of creating a 'Bi-City' - rather like the agglomeration of Gdynia, Gdańsk and Sopot is the Tri-City.

Really. One can exaggerate with that polarising filter. But it does make the grand architecture even grander.

*The Kujawsko-Pomorskie province does not need translating into English as the 'Cuiavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship' any more than Bedfordshire needs translating into 'Chrabstwo Łóżkowo-Bródzeńskie' for Polish readers.

This time last year:
What a carrion!

This time two years ago:
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

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Do not take this road!

The Droga Krajowa (national road) 10 is a road that makes its way north-westwards to Szczecin and on to the German border, connecting the cities of Toruń and Bydgoszcz along the way. It starts near Płońsk, where it joins the DK7 (E77), the Gdańsk-Warsaw-Kraków road.

So it is a significant road, with transit traffic (especially Germany to the Baltics), and it connects three cities that between them have over a million people living there.

Yet this road (in particular the Sierpc-Skępe-Lipno section between Płońsk and Toruń) is so bad as to be avoided at all cost.

The reason - roadworks. In this 34km section alone, there are 12 contraflow sections. If you hit a red light here - and I hit nine - you will wait up to four minutes at a time. It took me 75 minutes to cover 54 km (average speed 44 kmh/27 mph) where the roadworks were most intense.

When red light shows, wait here

The entire 220km trip from home to Toruń took four hours - thats 55 kmh or 34 mph. This is appalling. It hurts the local economy, the national economy and the European economy.

I was in Toruń for an economics conference; also attending was the Ukrainian ambassador to Poland, who was also held up along this dreadful road. He said that 'at least Poland has roadworks going on' - except the man had never travelled this road last year, in 2007 or in 2006 where the same stretch of road was also being dug up and subject to lengthy delays. The whole process is dreadfully slow, with no end in sight.

A Yot Tse Beh (JCB) at work, outside Toruń

When I last travelled the DK10 two months ago, the roadworks finished at Lipno. Now they extend right up to the border of Toruń powiat (district).

I returned home via Włocławek and Płock (south of the Vistula), with a particularly beautiful stretch of empty road between Płock and Kamion (the 575) This is not a fast road, as it passes through village after village, but it is empty and the landscape at dusk on a sunny day is glorious. From Kamion on to the DK50 (Warsaw transit route) then down to Sochaczew (to the west of Warsaw) and home along the DK2. Also being dug up. Another 40km at snails pace.

This time last year:
Peacocks in Park Łazienkowski

This time two years ago:
Sunset across the tracks

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Pace of development falters

Looking east towards Mysiadło from Zgorzała, the Little Boxes estate. These fields were to be filled with new housing, but I feel that the galloping pace of development around these parts has slowed right down. There's no sign of anything going on at the Rampa site, purchased by Spanish developer Sando Inmobilieria.

While on my walk today, I bump into fellow local blogger Student-SGH who shares my reservations about these new estates. They've been built without any thought as to how their residents will get into town - from here, you have at least a 30 minute drive to get to ul. Puławska during the rush hour - and Puławska is already totally congested without hundreds of new residents' cars adding to the throng.

The new estates will no doubt take longer than planned to complete; longer than planned to sell. And the fields in between will, I hope, remain farmed for a few more years.

One thing that's great about living in Jeziorki is that planning permission is unlikely to be granted for developments of rows upon rows of identical terraced houses. Jeziorki's architectural look and feel is rather one-off detached houses.

Today's mystery bird

Spotted in a field between Mysiadło and Zgorzała. From a distance, I thought it was a bird of prey (drapieżnik), given the large wingspan. Looking at the photos, I can see the head and beak are wrong for family Falconidae. I really can't tell! I cannot begin the think where to look for it in my Observer's Book of British Birds... Dark upper surfaces, white beneath, white cheeks and eyebrows, reddish-brown just ahead of the tail. Call was a characteristic oo-eep! oo-eeeep! Can anyone enlighten me?

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Jeziorki spring scenes

Above: The pond on ul. Pozytywki. Trees are coming into leaf, grass turning very green all of a sudden.

Right: The field that runs parallel to ul. Nawłocka furrowed like corduroy. Apple trees in blossom and a clear blue sky add to the spring atmosphere.

We are entering the most beautiful time of the year in Poland - the ten weeks between now and the end of June. Plenty of sunshine, drier than July or August.

Click on the ul. Nawłocka label (below) for more views along this road.

Left: Ul. Dumki has received a layer of brand new asphalt. Householders living here can now get to and from their homes without having to go axle deep in mud. The asphalt may be new, but the road itself was hardened in June 2007 (residents had to wait nearly two years for the job to be finished).

Click on the ul. Dumki label (below) for more views along this road.

Below: Blossom and birch bark against a blue sky.

Nature notes from Jeziorki

The shift from winter to spring is rapid. After the heatwave of early April (+23C on the 8th), some welcome rain this morning, and nature is in full advance. It's strange having hot days with no leaves on the trees, but now leaves are appearing everywhere as are flowers. By the afternoon the rain had ceased, the sky has cleared, a good time for photographing Jeziorki's wildlife.

Above: A young male marsh harrier (błotnik stawowy) over the reedbeds at the end of ul. Trombity.

Above: the female mute swan that's also at home in the marshes and reedbeds between ul. Trombity, ul. Dumki and ul. Kórnicka. She's standing on one leg, wingtips in the water.

Above: A big thanks to Adam for identifying this small bird as a Yellow Wagtail (pliszka żółta). It was resting on a newly-ploughed field on ul. Trombity.

Above: A year-round Jeziorki resident that's more visible at this time of year is the pheasant. The trumpety mating call of the male is a commonly heard sound around these parts. Photograph taken from our garden.

Right: A skylark over the field behind our house. The skies above Jeziorki are full of the song of male skylarks competing for mates. The ones that sing loudest from highest altitude prove themselves to be the fittest biologically. Often they are so high that although their song is clearly audible from the ground, they are invisible - or at least very hard to spot. Note the breadth of this skylark's torso, which indicates a fine pair of lungs.

Left: Not a moorhen (which has a red face) but a coot, slightly larger and with a white forehead. Coots live in the pond on ul. Pozytywki and in the reedbeds at the end of ul. Jeziorki.

Shyest of all the waterfowl, the coots keep well away from paths used by people.

Below: Eye to eye with a swan. Semi-domesticated, the swans are trusting of humans and will wander up close in the hope that some food will be on hand. The swans are moulting and, according to the RSPCA, need feeding up at this time of year.

This time last year:
Modernist wheels - mod scooter in Warsaw

This time two years ago:
Amazing photos of mammatus clouds over Jeziorki
Apple blossom time 2007
Maps of the area

Friday, 17 April 2009

New life

Contrast in the day in which I meet the oldest person I've ever talked to - 95 year-old General Bałuk (see post below). Tessa popped by the office with baby Matylda, born on 28 March. God willing, Matylda will also attain the age of 95, in the year 2104.

It strikes me today that I'm halfway between parenthood and grandparenthood!

At the General's

A few weeks ago Ziggy (above, right), fellow Anglo Pole hailing from the London Borough of Ealing, called me to see whether I would like to translate the last three chapters of a book by Stefan Bałuk (above, seated). I immediately said yes, having read the book last year when it appeared in Polish. Byłem Cichociemnym... (English title: The Silent Dark Ones: I was a Polish WWII SOE commando) is a remarkable book.

The wartime experiences of the author, now 95, are remarkable for a number of reasons. Stefan Bałuk managed to escape Poland after it was devoured by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1939; through Romania and the Middle East he reached France, joining a Polish armoured unit and seeing action in the French Campaign of May 1940. After the fall of France, he made it to England with Polish forces, where he volunteered for special forces duties. He trained as a secret agent who would be airdropped into occupied Poland. In April 1944 he made his jump, just months before the Warsaw Uprising. Stefan Bałuk participated in the Uprising from the beginning to the end. Because of his training, he was sent on a variety of dangerous missions which gave him what he calls 'a frog's eye view' of the entire tragic battle.

From Wola to Stare Miasto, from there to Żoliborz and Kampinos and back again, to Śródmieście and Mokotów, with many transits through the sewers linking the individual islands of the Uprising, he witnessed far more of the action than anyone else who had chronicled the events.

And as a diarist, his written record of events, aided by a fine memory, and top-quality cameras that went everywhere with him, have provided the raw materials for a testimony that is lucid and tightly written.

My father and mother-in-law are both veterans of the Powstanie. As such I've read many accounts of Warsaw's 63-day doomed rising against the Nazis that delayed the Red Army's advance long enough to ensure that western Europe did not end up under Stalin's domination. Of all the books I've read on the subject, the 31 pages in Byłem Cichociemnym... brings it most clearly to life. The ebb and flow of battle, the inhuman brutality of the Nazis, the visceral terror of moving through claustrophobia-inducing sewers full of faecal matter knowing that at any moment a grenade dropped down a manhole can end it all for you; the heroism, self-sacrifice, dashed hopes and endurance of Warsaw's young insurgents are portrayed with the insight of someone who has had over six decades to consider it all.

The author's experience mirrors that of Poland; after his imprisonment as a German prisoner of war, he returned to Warsaw where he was soon arrested by the Soviet-backed communist authorities to spend a further year and half in prison.

Stefan Bałuk, now General (retired), is in fine form, walking without the aid of a stick and with a memory and wit as sharp as that of a man half his age. An inspirational character.

The book is available in Polish from Askon (publishers Iwona and Ewa above centre); we hope to have it ready in English in a couple of months. With us is Peter (top left), a patron of Polish military history, without whom this project would not have been possible.

This time last year:
Pheasants and swans of Jeziorki

This time two years ago:
The aggregate ramp by W-wa Jeziorki station (now gone)

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Lent 2009 - a summary

At the end of each Lent, I determine not to return in full to my usual pre-Lenten pattern of snacking on salty things and not eating enough fruit. The more effective Lent is, the easier it is to carry on. I have sailed on with the exercises, for example; 160 sit-ups today (80+80) and 50 press-ups (25+25). I must now see how long that goes on for.

I've not bothered to weigh myself at the end, for weight was not the issue (I'm the same weight I was when leaving university - 11 and half stone). Rather it's to do with shifting inches from around the middle, and a two-inch reduction (from 40.25" to 38.25") has been a good result. But another two inches is required (to 36 inches around the fattest part), so the sit-ups will continue. Red wine (glass a night) is good for health as is chocolate (black, low suger and milk content). Butter and cheese I need for the bones. Meat - I shall not go out of my way to avoid if offered, but given a choice, I shall opt for fish. And of course, fruit and veg, in abundance.

And a final Lenten recipe. Alaskan wild salmon is something else. Redder than the farmed variety, gamier in taste, this is gorgeous stir-fried with mixed bean sprouts and served with Tabasco, ground pepper and lemon juice.

This time last year:
The accelerating pace of change

This time two years ago:
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

Saturday, 11 April 2009

That's what I like about the North

Above: Wilmslow Road, Cheadle, Cheshire. Despite the modern facades, I can still sense the Edwardian atmosphere of that much of Northern England still exudes. Below: Former Thornton's chocolate factory, Belper, Derbyshire.

Below: Moss Side, Manchester. Notorious for gun crime. Coronation Street-style terraced housing with front door coming out onto pavement. Polish Church is at the top of this street (just out of sight).

Below: Drill hall, Cheadle, Cheshire - now a community centre.
Below: Victorian railway arches and factory buildings, Stockport, Cheshire.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Is it me or are grey squirrels turning red?

This fine fellow was helping himself to scraps from the bird table in my parents-in-laws' garden in Manchester. This is an Eastern Grey Squirrel, a species native to North America, which had displaced the Eurasian Red Squirrel from much of the British Isles over the past century. Larger and more robust than the red, the grey squirrel is considered a pest. This particular one seems to be turning ruddy.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Needs and wants

Economic growth is primarily caused by sales managers. They drive their sales forces to sell more, and more, and more. To hit the sales target and exceed it in the next quarter. They prepare graphs moving inexorably upwards. Whether it’s expensive watches, loaves of bread, winter sports equipment, painkillers, software, bank loans, bathroom fittings or cars – everyone – the managers, their bosses, the shareholders to whom they report – everyone expects Growth. If they fail to deliver growth, sales managers lose their job.

Traditionally, growth has been fuelled by need. The entrepreneur, spotting a gap in the market, delivers goods or services to assuage that need. As one market becomes saturated with bread or transistor radios, businesses moves on to meet needs in markets emerging. Today’s bonus-driven managers and shareholders are not content with flat markets. So when a need has run out, create a new one. Really smart entrepreneurs invent a need - for Post-It notes or a Sony Walkman. The intensity of modern human living is a spiral of wanting to cram in as much pleasurable experience in one's life-span. Anything that can reduce time spent on non-pleasurable activities - washing dishes for example - gives you time to spend on doing what you want rather than what you have to do.

The sales manager is supported by advertising and marketing, which exists to generate new demand. Look at the ads all around – indeed even those small, targeted ads that pay for the Google and allow me to blog to you for free. Those billboards and TV ads urging you to buy that brand new car even though your old one is fine.

And if you can't afford it - don't worry - the sales manager is also supported by the consumer credit function who will ensure that the wanting customer is extended a loan to help him or her purchase whatever it is the sales manager is selling.

Now here's the problem - American and British consumers went so far into debt to buy the things they wanted (rather than needed) that the whole system ground to a halt. People who'd once told me "well, if the banks want to lend me the money, I'll take it!" are now in deep trouble.

No one wants a return to a primitivist lifestyle – a Pol Pot-style Year Zero in which shopping malls are torn down and replaced by Grain Enfactorment Sectors (fields). And yet the world against which such visions are a backlash, a world of consumer excess, seems to have run its course.

The pendulum must swing back before we return to some kind of stability. Note - stability not growth. The phrase 'sustainable development', which once meant 'focusing on the medium term rather than the short term' will have to take on a meaning more absolute.

Historically, Lent occurred in the lean period of the year in Europe, when much of the harvested food stocks from the last autumn had been consumed, and when there was still some time to go before the first fruits of spring would appear. It was a lean time for all, and a good time to contemplate the Eternal. We're in an economic Lent - one that will not be over for an eighth of a year but for an eighth of a lifetime. We must learn from enforced astheticism; self-denial, deferred gratification. A time to stand away from the treadmill and focus on what life is really about.

Global corporations that pride themselves on their corporate social responsibility should adopt responsible marketing. Selling things that people need (rather than merely want), to people who can afford them (without having to go into debt).

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Seen it somewhere before?

Yes, is the premier English language website for pictures of blazing Warsaw buses! A fire on an eastbound 188 bus at half past three this afternoon on Warsaw's key east-west artery paralysed traffic for hours.

In the office, we could smell smoke. At first, we suspected a cigarette in the bin outside. We went out to investigate. A cloud of black smoke grew ever higher and denser behind the school on ul. Fabryczna - I ran to see where it was coming from - I could see a fire burning on the Trasa Łazienkowska beyond. I dashed back into the office to grab the camera, and ran along ul. Kośmińska to the end, turned left - and saw this sight.

The sound of the tyres popping was heard inside our office 250 metres away! Unlike the fire in June, which happened around 6 am, this one was witnessed by hundreds. I was amazed at how many cameras (proper SLRs and videocams as well as phonecams) were at the scene - pictures were on the TVN Warszawa website by the time I got back to the office. The power of citizen journalism in the online world is astounding.

Above: waiting from the fire crews to make their way through the stationary traffic on Trasa Łazienkowska.

Below: The crowd watched as if this were a family fun-day firefighting display. Within minutes, the blaze is out, and the show is all over, with just a huge traffic jam remaining (for several hours longer).

Fortunately, no one was hurt in the fire, although media reports about the bus driving along while on fire and the driver not wanting to let people out sound a bit alarming.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Six weeks into Lent

No quitting, no caving in, no compromise. Lent continues towards its end. Except I think I shall maintain the exercise and stick with a diet that's rich in fish, fresh vegetables and fruit. Processed meat shall be eaten only in cases of emergency, red meat, fast food extremely rarely. Evening comfort food snacking on crisps and peanuts shall end. And moderation shall accompany intake of caffeine and alcohol. There. Nothing like making one's resolutions public.

Sit-ups - 140 a day (two lots of 70), press-ups - 45 today (23 and 22). Another quarter inch off the middle (38 and a quarter inches - two whole inches lost in six weeks of diet and sit-ups. Men, it can be done).

This time last year:
Foggy morn in Jeziorki
Aleksander aged three weeks

Monday, 6 April 2009

Lenten Recipe No. 6

Tuna and chick pea pesto salad

An easy, nutricious breakfast or evening snack.


One 200g tin of tuna. We buy John West ("It's the fish that John West rejects [sfx clanging tins falling on floor] that make John West [pause] the best"). Third of a 250g tin of Bonduelle chickpeas. Two large teaspoons of pesto. Favourite brand (available in Warsaw) - Gran' Italia. The others on sale are bland, lack the distinctive taste. Note: Pesto contains traces of cheese. This has been my only form of dairy product intake over Lent.


Mix in well and eat, with slice of fresh bread, toast or crispbread. To go with - mint tea and chilled fresh orange juice.

This time last year:
New coal train, Jeziorna sidings

This time two years ago:
Coal train sidings at Okęcie
Google Earth image of Jeziorki from 2002

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Węzeł Lotnisko after site clearance

Further to yesterday's post, here's a view of the future site of Węzeł Lotnisko (airport junction). This view, looking south-south east, shows that the clearance work here has been completed. Until the beginning of this year, this was all trees and summer houses. Cutting across left to right is ul. Karnawał, ul. Złoty Róg runs off it to the south. So - when will the actual road building begin? Below: Looking west along ul. Karnawał. One day, the S2 Warsaw Southern Bypass will run this way towards Konotopa and the A2 motorway to Poznań and Berlin. 2012?

Below: Looking east towards Ursynów. In the foreground the rails that lead from the main line to the Warsaw Metro depot at Kabaty. The new S2 Warsaw Southern Bypass will run to the north of the line, through those houses that are still in the way. Until a few weeks ago, there would have been a lovely old farmhouse in this view (corner of ul. Karnawał and ul. Hołubcowa). The foreshortening effect of the 80-400mm Nikkor at full stretch makes the flats of Ursynów in the distance look much closer than they really are.

The weather today was actually hot (+22C), not just warm. Which is amazing - nine days from heavy snow to shirtsleeve weather.

This time last year:
Classic Polish Car
Quintessential Warsaw vista

Fat Albert over Warsaw

Well I never! I'm a good enough plane spotter to tell a Lockheed Hercules from an Antonov An-12 a long way off, so I was very surprised to see a 'Fat Albert' inbound to land at Okęcie's runway 33. What surprised me more was to see that it was an RAF rather than a USAF aircraft. I can't say I've ever seen an RAF type flying into Okęcie; USAF planes do show up from time to time. The aircraft above is C130K XV305/305.

A bit of research and I discover that another RAF Hercules (XV197/197) had visited Warsaw less than two weeks ago. And click here to see one I photographed flying over Matlock Bath in Derbyshire last August. Below: the Herc goes over the fence to land at Okęcie.