Saturday, 31 July 2010

A century of Polish scouting

Polish scouting celebrates its 100th birthday this year. The movement was set up by Andrzej Małkowski in 1910, influenced of course by Robert Baden-Powell. Every six years since 1969, Polish scouts around the world gathered at a zlot (literally 'a flying together'). There was a shorter interval since the last one (in America in 2006 which Moni attended) to catch up with the centenary. This year it's taking place in Poland. Over 1,500 Polish boys and girls from around the world are present on the zlot at Zegrze, just north of Warsaw.

Above and below: the march-past opening the guests' day at zlot. The Americans stole the show with their drumming; each scout or guide unit was led by a trio of drummers.

The scouts (harcerze) and guides (harcerki) of the Polish diaspora, global in reach, gathered this year in Poland for the eighth world zlot. (The word looks like the one for the Polish currency but has a different root. Lot means 'flight' - as in the airline - whereas złoty comes from złoto - 'gold'.)

The zlot itself consists of several dozen individual camps, each of around 20 to 50 scouts or guides. Each one had an elaborately constructed gate. Above left: Hufiec Szczecin (southern England, all points west of London); above right: Hufiec Wilno (from Huddersfield) and Hufiec Wrocław (from the East Midlands) shared a camp.

Above: The zlot took place on military land; this dummy armoured fighting vehicle is used for combat practice. It was an ideal place for such an event.

Above: Eddie joined his friends from Manchester, with whom he'd gone on many scout-cub camps in Penrhos, North Wales.

The harcerze and harcerki came from America, Canada, Australia, Britain (the largest contingent), France, Argentina, Denmark, Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus (where Poles are routinely persecuted) and Kazakhstan. The boys from Kazakhstan were in the same camp as Eddie; only one of them spoke Polish well enough to communicate with the Mancunian Poles (the rest speaking Russian). And there was a (smallish) contingent from Poland itself.

What makes the zlot so fascinating is what gives the boys and girls their hyphenated identities. Yes, they are proud to be Polish, but they are equally proud of the land where they live. The Australian harcerki had headwear modelled on bush-hats, while the Argentinian guides' hats looked like something gauchos would wear. The American scouts and guides wore neck scarves with stars and stripes, while out of uniform the Canadian contingent wore red t-shirts with the word 'KANADA' in white. We heard a British harcerz saying: "When it started raining I realised I'd left my ręcznik and my materac outside..." which is exactly how we speak in our family - English - with Polish words thrown in for the sake of laziness or precision.

It made us think about identity - we are specifically Poles from the UK. Nothing less, nothing more. We can adapt perfectly into the both nations. I think this is something that most people on the zlot can identify with. Below: the camp fire - the largest I've ever been at in my life. Spot the Argentinian hats - left of centre.

A memorable, thoroughly enjoyable family day out, not least because of the large number of old friends we managed to catch up with - both UK-born Poles living in Poland and those still living in the UK. Greyer.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Accounting for the past, 20 years on

Another blogmeet last night in central Warsaw, featuring Toyah, Adthelad and Lemming. Over curry and beer the conversation was as ever sparkling, erudite and civilised, without a trace of the unpleasantness that one might expect from reading some of the posts and comments at Salon24-land and thereabouts.

We talked about post-war West Germany. My thinking is that if you compare the Federal Republic in 1965, 20 years after VE-Day, and Poland today, 20 years after the fall of communism, you could expect to find certain parallels. None of us confessed to knowing too much about the ins and outs of West German politics, but an investigation into the extent to which former Third Reich allegiances shaped the divide between the CDU/CSU (Christian Democrats) and the SPD (Social Democrats), but the parallels concerning reconcilliation with a guilty past are obvious.

The key is lustracja (screening) of ex-Nazis and former communist apparatchiks. Lemming informed us that out of 12,000 German staff running the death camp at Auschwitz, only 800 – one in 15 – were ever brought to book for their role in the genocide. So the rest were running around being proper West Germans.

Krzysztof mentioned a book, Co u pana słychać?, written by Krzysztof Kąkolewski in 1975. The investigative journalist tracked down prominent Nazis who had managed to settle into comfortable careers in West Germany – a Bundestag deputy, university professors, lawyers – or else were living in comfortable retirement. Among those he tracked down was Heinz Rheinefarth, the SS general whose troops were responsible for countless atrocities during the Warsaw Uprising; mayor of a sleepy village in the Friesian Island.

What difference is there, I asked, between the way Germany handled its Nazi criminals, and the way that Poland is now torn by its reconciliation with its communist-era past? Surely the scale is entirely different ("total war", said Lemming) but I think it's also worth looking (beyond Spain after Franco or Ireland, where the political divide is still 'whose side was your grandfather on in the Civil War') at countries that had shaken free of foreign occupants, and the way they dealt with collaborators.

Poland's communists were in the first instance willing collaborators with the Soviet occupant, but over the decades party-joiners became opportunists, people entirely free of any ideological imperative. This is why I think the PiSite ideology can't stomach them - they are devoid of a moral compass, of virtue. People who could slip into capitalist corporations as easily as into the upper echelons of party cadres.

I guess that when it comes to saying 'forgive and forget', it's not easy for me or Adthelad or any other Pole born and raised outside of communist Poland to imagine the day-to-day humiliations that our countrymen and women would have had to endure during that period. This I can appreciate. But many of the people currently having dogs hung on them (to use a Polish metaphor) by the PiSites - Adam Michnik, Leszek Balcerowicz, Lech Wałęsa, Bronisław Komorowski, Donald Tusk - did their bit (and more) in the opposition, helped to bring down communism. Their sins were either to have (once upon a time) been in the communist party before going into (personally risky) opposition, or to have not distanced themselves sufficiently from the Old Order. I wonder how this looked in 1965 West Germany (indeed 1965 France or Norway, 20 years after the Nazi occupation). Or in 1995 (20 years after the death of Franco).

It would be sad if Polish politics turned out like Ireland's; nine decades of recriminations about what the correct way of dealing with the aftermath of British occupation which ended in 1920 - a fight to the finish ('Ulster for the Irish') or accepting the status quo.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

The new Toyota Yaris - driving impressions

Driving to Dobra and back gave me the chance to assess our new Toyota Yaris and compare it against the previous one (written off on the way to Dobra last November).

The engine of the new one is rougher - to be expected given that it's a new three-cylinder unit, and three-cylinder engines will always sound rougher than fours, which will sound rougher than straight-sixes, which will sound rougher than V12s. But given the near-silence in which the old 1-litre unit worked, the harsher engine note was an immediate, if only slight disappointment.

In the UK, we'd often hire 1-litre engined Vauxhall Corsas, and the name 'coarser' seemed highly applicable when compared to our refined old Yaris and Micra. A shame, then, that the new Toyota's engine delivers a rougher sound than the old one.

On the sounds front, the relative racket is more than compensated by a proper sound system that takes MP3s. Instead of being limited to 20-30 track .wav format CDs, I can now create music on the go that contains 150+ tracks on a single CD. Enough music to get from home to Dobra and back without having to listen to any piece of music on it twice.

When specifying the car, my wife insisted on air-con, and I must admit (grudgingly) that she was right. At dual-carriageway speeds when it's +35C outside, having the air-con set to 1 or 2 is enough to stop the car being uncomfortably hot without having to wind down the windows.

The real Achilles' heel of the old Yaris was its ventillation. With a bit of rain outside, two people inside, external temperature below +15C, the windows would mist up terribly, and the only remedy was to blast the (noisy) ventillation at full power, temperature cranked up to max, to clear the condensation. Which was very uncomfortable. The new Yaris, however, isn't prone to condensation quite so easily, but when it does appear, the ventillation system clears it effortlessly, without having to either blast away so noisily or having to heat up the interior so much.

Electric window opening I don't like; it's an unnecessary gadget and lacks the precision of a manual winder.

My biggest gripe with the new Yaris is with the instrument display. Whenever the headlights are switched on, the the brightness of the display is dimmed. Given that in Poland it is obligatory to have your lights on during daylight - even in summer - this means the instrument panel display is dim by default. In the old Yaris, there was a mode setting that allowed you override this and have a bright display even when headlights are on (which is always). Now, in summer, one tends to drive with sunglasses on. This means - you can't read the instruments. Especially the smaller digits (range, fuel consumption, odometer etc).

Best part of the new Yaris was the price. 42,000 zlotys on the road compared to 48,000 złotys for its predecessor. [This comes from shopping around, waiting to buy the last of last year's models]. And overall a better car. Better build quality. Until the old Yaris was shaken down, there'd be a fair amount of minor rattling coming from doors and windows. The new one feels more solid.

The size of the car is fine for four adults on day trips of up to 150km each way. Luggage space I'd say is OK is you want to take three adults on holiday - four plus four suitcases will simply not fit. Two adults and two children - we've done this many times in the similarly-sized Nissan Micra.

If you look at what driving schools use, you'll see it's Toyota Yaris. Never mind the discounts that other 'B' Segment car manufacturers offer - when total reliability is called for, a driving school business counts on the Yaris, which I think means something when it comes to potential longevity. This, for me, as I've explained, is a key factor in chosing a car. I hope (fingers crossed) the Yaris will serve us as long as our wonderful Nissan Micra - 17 years old and still working well.

On being motivated

A primary question that I'm forever asking is: "Does there exist a gene determining strong will?" I've written about this in the past, in my quest to determine to what extent a person's likelihood to succeed in life is predetermined. For policy-makers this question has huge implications. Do laissez-faire systems encourage an advantaged group to leverage that advantage at the cost of the less-well motivated masses? Do redistributionist welfare systems sap motivation from those whose levels are the lowest? Speaking to many UK employers with Polish migrant workers, I constantly hear the opinion that the British welfare system has created an entire class of people unwilling to cross the road for a job.

In blogging, there's no doubt that prolific bloggers with something to say (viz. Toyah, Charles Crawford linked from this blog) generate ten or even hundred times as much traffic as those who post only infrequently. It's the same in one's career, in one's business - work hard at it, and the rewards will come in multiples. A truism - but then, why is it that some people work their nuts off while others just can't be arsed? What makes a billionaire work 16-hour days to make his next billion?

How much is learned, and how much is innate? The 'muscle memory' of action is something I'm aware of whenever I cycle in town. Unbidden, my head swivels this way and that to see what traffic's coming from the left, from the right, what's behind me. Urban cycling requires total situational awareness. Nine years of riding around central London has resulted in an instinctive reaction to look down sidestreets and across junctions without needing to think before doing so. This is the result of basic, evolutionary self-preservation.

But can muscle memory function in the everyday tasks that face even children? Making your bed in the morning, putting plates and cutlery into the dishwasher, brushing your teeth twice daily? So as to do what needs to be done, without even thinking about it?

There was an interesting book review in last week's Economist (linked here): Choice by Renata Salecl (and a link to a review on Amazon here). The book looks at the choices we have in life and the theory that the more choice you have, the happier you are. Child-rearing in considered. As the Economist puts it, "[p]arents who make their offspring's choices for them create one set of problems; those who farm out choice to their children at an early age risk another." Making children put away their toys after they've played with them does create a sense of orderliness, but is this, in itself, a spur for enhanced motivation in adult life?

Incidentally, how do you say 'a failure' and 'a success' in Polish in reference to people? (don't bother searching the dictionaries - your own suggestions please).

Googling the Renata Salecl book, I came across this fascinating TED lecture on the same subject, but dating back to 2005. In it, psychologist Barry Schwartz argues convincingly that more choice makes us less happy. I tend to agree with him.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Hot in the city

Eight o'clock in the morning and it's already +26C. Right: on my way to my first meeting today, strolling along ul. Piękna, the sun is glaring off the pavement and tarmac. Holidays mean far fewer people around than usual, which is a blessed relief. By mid-afternoon, the temperature will reach +35C; it would not fall back below +30C until ten o'clock at night.

In the office I reflect upon the regenerative properties of a good active holiday (as opposed to the blobbing out in beachfront hotel variety). I feel energetic and in a very good frame of mind, despite the heat. And I ponder upon the following: if atoms can store energy, surely they can also store memory? Remember, the atoms you and I are made of have been around for billions of years.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

And so farewell, Dobra

Today Eddie and I drove home to Warsaw after 13 nights in wonderful Dobra. I would wholeheartedly recommend the place to anyone looking for a genuine Polish mountains (well, foothills) experience, staying with genuine people, eating genuine food, and a great place for starting long steep walks that don't involve crowds (as they do in Zakopane and the Tatras).

Above: Dobra's latest two inhabitants, Rysia and Maks. There's always new life arriving, but life is unsentimental. The previous brood of kittens was killed by a pine marten (finally chased out from under the eaves of the summer house where it lived by all-night radio played loud). Still, the new arrivals were a wow with the younger residents.

Right: Pan Tomek does his party piece - balancing a flaming cone made from rolled up newspaper on his nose. An incredibly fit man, Pan Tomek and his wife walk Poland's mountains from the German border to the Ukrainian one, and were in Dobra to take on some of the longer walks from here.

I look forward to my next stay here - autumn or winter, spring or summer, this is for me an ideal place to recharge the batteries.

And finally a big thanks to our hosts, Zofia and Staszek and their children, wonderful people.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Final pics from Dobra

The arrival of Agnieszka and her family and Krzysztof and his son mean a change of routine at Dobra, and, essentially, less time for blogging. Plus the weather changed on Sunday, a day of intense rain up here. So here's a round-up of the past five day's travels.

Above: a splendid view of the peak of Ćwilin, which I climbed on Friday with Agnieszka and her nephew Bartek. The picture was taken a day later from Łopień which I climbed with Krzysztof and his son Antek.

On our way up Łopień (not the best marked of the hills around here) we take directions from a local resident (right), who explains why I've gone wrong so many times up here in the past. We need to turn left at the ford up ahead, rather than carry on straight.

This time, we get to the top of Łopień without any navigational mishap - but getting down was more complicated. We ended up some 1.5km away from where we wanted to be and had to march down the road to Jurków in the baking heat. Below: Krzysztof and Antek scrambling down a steep ditch

Below: Tatran Gothic on the lower slopes of Łopień - steep roofs prevent snow from settling. A very popular style around here.

Below: Sunday's expedition up Mogielica was marked by two intense rainfalls. The one hit us on the way up was pleasant, as the temperature was still over 25C. The effect was like being in a tropical rainforest.

We reached the top of Mogielica, which was entirely shrouded in mist. My decision not to take a long lens up there was justified - there were no views from the observation platform at the summit (which I climbed anyway). We were utterly soaked through. Standing at the top by the 30m high tower, I had a stream of water running down the sleeves of my shirt. Camera, phone, wallet and other essentials kept safe in a large plastic bag deep in my rucksack. A second downpour hit us on the way down, just as intense though not as warm. By the time we reached Jurków, we were feeling the cold.

Above: Krzysztof and his son Antek in awe at a giant three-foot wingspanned dragonfly that has escaped from the Carboniferous period via a time-hole. Well, whatever it was, it was big enough to cause consternation.

On Monday, the weather remained cool (+15C) and overcast with low cloud and drizzle, so a trip to Czorsztyn lake, Niedzica castle and Slovakia was in order.

Above: Stylish living in Niedzica castle, situated on Czorsztyn lake. We've been here before, a great place. In the past it has marked the Hungarian-Polish border, changing hands many time over the centuries.

From Niedzica castle's battlements, Czorsztyn castle is visible across the resevoir. Czorsztyn castle is not as impressive as its larger neighbour, but a boat travels from one to the other, allowing tourists to compare at first hand.

Niedzica a stone's throw to today's Slovak-Polish border, so a chance to pop across (Schengen zone, no one stationed at the border, no passports to show).

Left: Crossing the border into Slovakia, Eddie concludes that Spisska St. Ves has improved vastly since last summer (new roads, pavements, tidy grass verges), but the shops (below) are rather quiet. We're here on a Monday afternoon. Empty. With the euro at 4.20 zlotys or thereabouts, Slovaks living close to the border are shopping in Poland. The shops remind us of the communist era.

Back to Warsaw tomorrow - five hour drive - then back to work on Thursday

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Grunwald - the big picture

Today Poland celebrates the 600th anniversary of the battle of Grunwald, a victory as important to Poles - and let's not forget our Lithuanian allies - as Trafalgar and Waterloo are to the British.

Here's my big picture of Europe's haplotypic divide. The Nordic people - Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Normans, Vikings, Prussians - have spent the past millennium expanding west (pushing the Celts to the very fringes of the continent) and east (the Drang nach Osten). South they couldn't go because of the Alps - but between the Alps and the English Channel they'd push.

Grunwald - 1410 - the Poles and Lithuanians held back the Teutonic Knights as they pushed north-eastwards. The Germans got theirs back at Tannenberg in 1914, but then again they got slaughtered by the Slavs in 1944-45.

[Nordics and Latins - that's what Belgium (strange place!) is all about. An artificial (and indeed useless - viz. 1914, 1940) buffer between two European haplotypes - it has no true justification to exist. Saw it in half - give Wallonia to the French and the Flemish-speaking bit to Holland, I say.]

Grunwald Station (Dworzec Grunwaldzki). Now that would be a great name for Warsaw's central station (Waterloo Station, Trafalgar Square).

When it's bilberry pickin' time

Today's walk took me to the top of Jasień (1,053m above sea level). This time, I took the right trail and after some 90 minutes I made it to the top. No tourists anywhere, just the occasional... bilberry picker (below).

Below: here's what they are looking for - vaccinium uligunosum - the northern, or bog bilberry. Borówka in Polish. Sold by the roadsides for 9-12 złotys a kilogram jar, a hard way to earn money given the time taken to get to the meadows where they grow.

Below: cornflowers and daisies in the mountain meadow on the western slopes of Jasień. Another gorgeous day in the Beskid Wyspowy, and another 1,000m peak conquered.

A propos of bilberries. The other day, while eating lunch in Gruszowiec, I saw two old ladies selling jars by the roadside. A big red brand-new SUV on Kraków numberplates pulled up. A big fat rich man in his 40s lowered the window of his air-conditioned vehicle and asked the women: "Po ile borówki?" (how much are the bilberries). Fifteen zlotys, they replied. At this, he took umbrage. "You thieving old bags! How dare you? What kind of a sucker do you take me for?" His tirade became more florid and pointless. He drove off in a rage, tyres squealing, having achieved nothing. How typically Polish, lose-lose from the very outset. The correct course of such a dialogue would have been: "How much are the bilberries?" "15 zlots a jar." "15? I'll give you eight." "Eight? We've spent hours picking these from the highest meadows! 13." "13? I'll make it ten." "11.50 and the jar thrown in free". And a deal done. A no-win confrontation scenario is concocted, adding to the general 'two Polands' social divide that plagues this country.

And back to Dobra. Right: Our guest house (one of the houses in the complex) seen from the riverbank, where the children spend the day in a shallow pool between small waterfalls. Something about this scene that reminds me of childhood holidays in Northern France - Maison Maternelle, Stella-Plage, in the Pas-de-Calais.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Cracovia takes on a Mediterranean air

In Kraks for the Andreas Feininger exhibition (a must-see!). It's hot, daytime high +34C, the sky is blue, and generally it doesn't feel like Poland at all. The forecast storm clouds failed to materialise for the third day in a row. European certainly - but Spanish or Italian? Baroque architecture on mediaeval streets. Kraków (compared to Warsaw) is an easy-going town with none of that mad corporate rush. Right: Church of St John, ul. Świętojańska.

Left: The church of the Transfiguration of the Lord on ul. Pijarska. It's the height of the tourist season, but the city's not awash with them.

I hear English, French and Czech voices; maybe it's just too hot (the air conditioned Galeria shopping mall seemed more full than the Rynek Główny). There are plenty of quiet corners to investigate.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Kraks tomorrow

Five days of hill walking has taken its toll. Today was a navigational disaster - I missed the turn-off for the blue trail up to Jasień and ended up going way too far east. Still, another 18km or so underfoot, weather still glorious, if not a little too hot now. Photos - another disaster. I transfered today's batch of 30 or so pics from camera's flash card to pen drive via laptop. When all were cut'n'pasted across, I went to delete one and deleted the lot. Because the transfer process was done directly rather than via the laptop's hard disk, the whole lot went and I could not recover them.

Tomorrow - Kraków and culture. Eddie's staying in Dobra (his friends Sabina and Alex are arriving today), but I'm off to the Andreas Feininger exhibition at the MCK in Kraków's Rynek Główny. After last year's hellish car journey from Dobra to Kraks (traffic jams, trouble with parking, ale-free status etc), it'll be the bus each way, a mere 12 zlotys for the 72km journey.

I'm off to see Feininger's exhibition for two reasons; firstly the show consists of his photos of New York City in the 1940s and '50s. *Paff!* Secondly, Feininger was one of my textbook tutors when I was learning photography 30 years ago. I'd be borrowing his books (the one with this image on the front was a favourite).

Above: Feininger's most famous image? The one on the cover of the textbook that along with Ansel Adam's trilogy The Camera, The Negative and The Print, taught me much of what I know about (analogue) photography.

His New York images are equally iconic (right). If you happen to be in Kraks this summer and share my aesthetic vision, don't miss his exhibition. Open daily (except Mondays) at the MCK, Rynek Główny 25, through to 29 August from 11:00 to 19:00. 8zł adults, 4zł concessions.

Śnieżnica - fourth peak

Off to Dobra town, by way of the railway line to Kasina Wielka, from there up to Śnieżnica's summit, then down to Gruszowiec, the mountain pass that lies between Śnieżnica and Ćwilin.

Just passing Dobra station, I catch a good view of Śnieżnica, with a tethered goat in the foreground, above. It seems that Małopolska (the southern province in which Dobra is located) is in a construction frenzy, both public (everywhere new pavements are being built) and private (houses being built, extended or refurbished).

The lower station for Śnieżnica's chairlift is just above Kasina Wielka. The place is dead. Not a living soul (other than the guy mixing concrete at the building site next door). Mountain bike races take place here during summer weekends, but today, I manage to walk up to the peak and three quarters of the way down the other side before I met any other people.

Right: at the very top of Śnieżnica (1,006m above sea level), there's a lack of a decent view, a crown of high trees surrounds the summit, marked by a simple wooden cross and a trig point, bearing a legend that I can't decypher.
AB 5865')
This is the first peak at which I don't meet any other people.

Above: Gruszowiec, where I take a break for lunch at the Bar pod Cyckiem. A horse-drawn hay wagon stops here too. A large beer and bowl of zupa grochowa (pea soup) full of sausage, bacon and vegetables plus eight slices of fresh bread costs 10 zlotys (two pounds). Back in 2008, Eddie and I climbed Ćwilin (seen here in the background) and Śnieżnica, covering over 20km in one day.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Life returns to the Transwersalka

Another day, another peak. The weekend crowds have dissipated; I walk from Dobra down the railway line past Szkrzydlna (highest station on this line at just over 600m) to Kasina Wielka, our favoured local ski resort, and home of Poland's Olympic quadruple medallist skier, Justyna Kowalczyk.

When walking this line in the winter, it was dormant, likely to be torn up and turned into a cycle path. It seems to have a new lease of life. Reading the railway forums, I read that life has returned to the rails from Chabówka to Dobra k. Limanowej; hopefully the retro steam trains will also return here. Indeed, the tracks were shiny, signs of recent use.

Engineers' trains have been seen along the track, and walking it I was aware of the likelihood of trains. And indeed, I was in luck. Sounding its horn a long way off, I found a good place to snap the train. Sadly, only an engine (SM42-761) running light back to Chabówka.

I hope the sighting of this engine presages a full return to use of this line; as I wrote earlier this year, once it's gone, it's gone for good. The benefits of a regular retro train running to Dobra for the local tourism industry are potentially huge.

Changing times

Things I very rarely normally do - watch TV, drink Coca-Cola, eat Mars bars. I'm on holiday, and find myself doing all three. Coke - I will drink only the bottled (200ml) stuff, in the classic-shaped glass bottle, served very cold, outside the shop in the hot sun. This is the way Coca-Cola should be drunk; I find the sight of large waddly people loading six-packs of two litre plastic bottles of Coke indicative of the way we live today, lives out of balance.

And now the Mars bar. When setting off to climb a thousand metre high peak, you need provisions in the form of a compact sugary confection packing the glucose punch required to move tired muscles. And, atop the summit, taking a rest while eating my Mars bar and enjoying the view, it is a well-earned treat.

When I was a boy, "A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play*" was the slogan.

I think about it. Not a slogan for our times!

Today, the hapless copywriter would be dragged in to his boss's office.

"A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play? What on earth were you thinking? Surely that should read A ten-pack of maxi-sized jumbo Mars bars (buy two get one half-price) helps you... well, you're the copywriter, come up with an ace slogan that will have the consumers driving their oversized butts to the nearest confectionary warehouse and stocking up with as many pallets of Mars bars as the axle load limit of their SUVs permits!"

"A Mars a day" is hardly a stretch target for today's corporates, their growth-hungry managers and shareholders. "A Mars a day" harks back to a gentler era when sustainability was in the best interest of company and consumer.

* Contrary to urban myth, the slogan was not devised by British motorsports commentator Murray Walker.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

If it's Sunday, it must by Ćwilin

Third day, third peak. Ćwilin 1,071m above sea level. I approach the mountain (hill?) from the east; there's no footpath from this side, just a zig-zagging forest road used by the forestry workers.

Above: the view from near the top of Cwilin, looking south. Below: looking down on the DK 28 as it winds its way from Gruszowiec back down towards Dobra.

On the way down: the crossing of the blue tourist trail and the forest road. Something about this view, the trees, blue sky, clouds, the sandy path, that clicked with me. This is not California, no.

Below: On the road back to Dobra, the DK28. Cloud cover increasing, likely to intensify tomorrow leading to storms in the late afternoon. And I've left my tripod at home, necessary for chasing the lightning.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

From the bottom to the top

What is it about peaks that makes us want to climb them? Walking the hills around Dobra, one gets far from the madding crowd - until reaching the summit.

Above: view from our bedroom - visible is the peak of Mogielica (1,174m above sea level). The only peak in the immediate vicinity of Dobra that I've not yet walked up, so it's got to be conquered. Over 20km there and back, whole lot on foot. All the way up, I meet just two people. I get to the top and there's 40 people maybe more up there.

Above: view from the platform at the summit (visible in the top photo); a scary climb to the very top, rewarded by spectacular views.

Right: the High Tatras, some 50km to the south-south west of Mogielica. Snow is still visible, despite the +30C heat. The sky is clear and low humidity means one can see very far in all directions. Looking north-north west, a fellow sight-seer on the platform reckons she can see Nowa Huta, Kraków's industrial suburb. Quite possible; I can see what looks like a huge white cooling tower in the far distance.

Above: houses between Jurków and Dobra, nestling among the lower slopes of Łopień. Once again - no retouching of sky, but maximal use of polarising filter to give the effect of looking at the scene through polarising sunglasses.

Above and below: agriculture is done traditionally. A horse-drawn wagon brings the hay down to the barns; a girl takes two cows to pasture. I think there is a role for EU agricultural subsidies being used to keep farming traditional. In the UK, the countryside has long ago been turned into one great big agri-factory.

Perfect weather in Dobra

It gets no better. Perfect blue skies with just a few wisps of cloud to add variety; dry air, not too hot (low 20s). Eddie's staying back in our guest house helping out in the kitchen, as his throat's not cleared up properly, so I set off alone on my first mountain walk, once again up Łopień (peak at 955m above sea level). Walking alone has the benefit that there's no one to criticise your navigational errors! I've been up Łopień six or seven times, every time I get confused on the way down. Despite the marked szlaki turystyczne (tourist footpaths/cyclepaths), I'm convinced I'm coming down towards Jurków, I end up on the wrong side of Dobra, a full 180 degrees of error.

Above: I'm convinced that I'm coming down into Jurków, with the peaks of Jasień to my left and Ćwilin just out of sight to my right. Wrong. The hill to my left is Śnieżnica, and I'm coming down into the eastern end of Dobra, a full four km from where I thought I was.

The weather is set fair for the entire weekend, so I will aim to conquer some more hills. Today - Mogielica, which I've never climbed before.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Off to Dobra

Eddie and I are off for a Dad'n'Lad fortnight in the Beskid Wyspowy. Dobra again! No bikes (Eddie's getting over a chesty cough), just walking. I shall try to blog from Dobra as and when.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Gone is the threat of Państwo Smoleńskie

The final vote has just being announced - it IS Komorowski, by 53% to 47%. Just six percentage points in it on a 55.3% turnout. A lacklustre campaign by Komorowski, he was outshone by the rhetorically more-gifted Jarosław Kaczyński, who made political capital from the sympathy vote.

Cui bono? asked Adthelad commenting here recently on the Smolensk disaster. It certainly seems to be to the bono of Jarosław Kaczyński's PiS, which has managed to revitalise itself totally, reinvent itself a more moderate voice and make up some 30 percentage points of drift.

How come 48% of Poles voted Kaczynski? asked Scatts commenting here last night on the exit polls. A map of how Poland voted gives you the answer. Rural eastern Poland was massively pro-Kaczyński. Western and urban Poland, massively pro-Komorowski. Lublin, where the antics of PO deputy Janusz Palikot swayed the moral outrage of the local electorate, was the only big city to vote Kaczyński. 66% of university graduates voted Komorowski with only 34% voting Kaczyński, whereas of those with only school education, 62% voted Kaczyński while 38% voted Komorowski. Big cities were 63%-37% for Komorowski, while the Polish wieś (village) voted 58%-42% for Kaczyński.

Map courtesy of Mikrobit/PKW

Komorowski is a safe pair of hands, stability rather than reform. And the slim majority that PO could muster over PiS is a strong signal to premier Tusk that with parliamentary elections next autumn, he had better behave himself and keeps his troops in order.

The result is a good one. No one-party system is good. Checks and balances are needed. With a strong PiS in opposition, PO will not be able to afford any slip-ups.

These elections, despite the circumstances, show that Poland is normalising politically. Go back just ten years, and post-communist Aleksander Kwaśniewski trounced all-comers in the first round with 53%. This time round, the post-communists were said to have had a good showing at 14%. Now, for the first time, we have the same two parties, PiS and PO, contested the presidency as in a previous election. Consistency is taking hold. If this goes on, a normal two-party system will take root.

Some good points made by the Economist's CEE blog:

The big question now is the future of the Polish political landscape. Some suspect that Mr Kaczyński's true aim was to to lose this election by a whisker in order to allow PO a free hand, which would mean unpopular reforms and a better chance for Law and Justice at the parliamentary election in the autumn of 2011.

Another theory is that the fruits of victory may prove not quite what PO wanted. As EU Observer notes, the "veto-wielding, traditionalist late president" was a handy common enemy which preserved party unity. With the Kaczyński bogeyman gone, infighting in the victorious camp may be the result.

Now to get on with it. The government has no excuses - reform of the ineffectual Polish state and its sleepy aparatus must be pushed ahead. There's no need to cut as deeply as George Osborne is proposing in the UK - the Polish budget deficit is nowhere near such a bad way (6.9% vs. 11.1%) but cuts are still needed to get it down to manageable (1.5%-2.5%) levels.

As I've written here many times, the business environment in Poland must be more small business friendly. It must become easier and cheaper for the entrepreneur to hire people. This means reform of ZUS - a huge disincentive for the private sector to employ anyone. And it must become easier and quicker to set up new businesses. Poland needs to shoot up the rankings of the World Bank and other global institutions when it comes to the ease of doing business. Infrastructure delivery needs speeding up especially in the areas of waste treatment, roads and railways. The tax system needs to become more streamlined and user friendly - it costs Poland two and half times more to collect a zloty of tax than Ireland to collect a euro of tax.

Inefficient, over-bureaucratised states are poorer and more corrupt than efficient states with a lean, well-organised public sector. This has been proved time and time again by academic studies and rankings around the world. The obstacle to reform has gone, now it's time to plough ahead.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Algae taking over in Jeziorki

I feel a certain measure of guilt for not having waded down ul. Dumki at the height of the flooding a month ago - I know things were bad (the street was on TV news!). Four weeks on, of which the last was entirely without rain, and hot, I take a look to see what happened here.

Below: the pond at the bottom end of Dumki. Water level still high, the surface covered in algae bloom. This phenomenon, which I've never seen in Jeziorki on such a scale before, has been caused by fertiliser in the water running off adjacent flooded fields.

Below: not all water is affected. In this forest, lying a metre or so higher than the pond in the picture above, you can still see water. Indeed, to help the water find its own level, someone has left a length of hosepipe across the road to move clean water from the woods into the stagnant pond. You can just see the green hosepipe in the middle foreground of the pic above.

Below: I was thinking that finally - for the first time since the snows melted in March - I could walk right through to end of ul. Dumki with dry feet. Not a bit of it. A lot of water has indeed evaporated or soaked into the water table (still alarmingly high - summer storms could yet bring about more flooding), but the road is still impassable.

It may look like the smooth, green coloured asphalt used for cyclepaths, but this is muddy water covered in algae bloom. Way too deep even for the wellied foot. And as the waters do recede, (below) what's left is a grey carpet covering the soil, dead algae.

Worth pointing out for the record that not all householders on ul. Dumki have had running water restored as a blue water cistern is standing on the street. And ornithologists should note that there are more herons flying around the wetlands of Jeziorki than ever before (I counted five today). They are tempted here no doubt by the massive explosion in the local frog population brought on by the floods and general wetness.