Sunday, 30 September 2012

Civilising Jeziorki's wetlands

Work on civilising the marshland at the end of our road is proceeding apace. At the north end of ul. Kórnicka, workers from MKLbud have made a rapid start on the project to protect southern Jeziorki from the kind of floods that visited us in the spring of 2010 with regular repeats in lower-lying areas.


Above: Standing on top of a three and half-metre high heap of excavated mud, I can take a photo from a unique point of view that Jeziorki has never afforded before nor will ever do so again. You can see how the diggers have clawed back to the edge of the reed beds. I would guess that the area in the foreground is to be excavated and turned into a large, deep pond. Once connected to proper drainage ditches, this should prevent fields off ul. Kórnicka and the lower end of Trombity from ever flooding again.

Above: the trees that stood to the east of the football pitch have been felled. The contract I referred to a fortnight ago calls for the cutting and removal of exactly 1,691 trees and bushes; there's around 30 in this photo, so these logs represent around 2% of the total that will have to go from this 11-hectare site. Below: a few submerged dead trees, drowned by the floods, have been cut down in the pond between ul. Dumki and Baletowa.

And ul. Dumki, for years, Warsaw's only submerged street - present on city maps yet impassably flooded - is being built up (below). First, builder's rubble has been strewn along the route. A word about health-and-safety here. One can see that the surface is uneven. What's less apparent is the fact that here and there, metal rods and wires, once reinforcing concrete or brickwork, are sticking out.

This is dangerous to passers-by. As I walked here, I was passed by a cyclist and a man on a scooter; an accident waiting to happen, especially at night. This bit of road's not closed (nor should it be), nor are there any warning signs. The builders should take more care than a local pedestrian would need to.

Below: a mound of soil, excavated from out of the marshes, awaiting removal by the side of ul. Kórnicka. In the distance, several piles of hardcore which will be used for road-making. The contract mentions 68,000 cubic metres of soil that will have to be removed; I reckon the mound to the left of this photo is no more than 50 cubic metres, a tiny fraction of the total.

I must say I like what the city planners have done across town in Gocław. There, a pond, locally nicknamed, with some affectionate tongue-in-cheek irony 'Balaton' (after Central Europe's largest lake) has been turned into a highly-popular seven-hectare urban feature, surrounded by footpath and cycle path, with a chic cafe, sports facilities including a beach volleyball court, boats for hire, and the statue to Cyril the Independent Cat. (Take a look at Gocław's Balaton on Google Earth on  52°13'44.39"N,  21° 5'16.37"E, and track back over time all the way to 2000, 1945 and even 1935!)

A water feature like Balaton and the surrounding park are both an admirable investments, but not one that would fit in with Jeziorki's current semi-rural status. The population density here is too low, and besides, this is a wonderful wildlife refuge, which in coming years will be surrounded by creeping urbanisation to the south, the new-build estates of Mysiadło and Nowa Iwiczna and sprawling Piaseczno and Lesznowola beyond.

Let's hope the current works taking place on our wetlands fulfil their goal of preventing a repeat of the floods that have hit local residents and farmers alike, but that ultimately, the place keeps its character and remains home for marsh harriers, herons, swans, ducks, gulls, hares and other wild creatures.

This time last year:
Al. Jerozolimskie - Warsaw's main east-west thoroughfare

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Back to Łódź, city of culture

Back to Łódź to drop Moni off at her new flat ahead of the new academic year that starts on Monday. She will be living on ul. Piotrkowska, Łódź's main street, a vastly elongated version of Warsaw's Nowy Świat, a street of shops, bars, clubs and restaurants; crumbling stucco and social housing

Łódź is striving to become noticed as a city of creativity. Above: a mural (one of several in the city) decorates a blank wall overlooking a car park on Piotrkowska. Note the boat - the symbol of Łódź (which literally means 'boat' in Polish, ironic since the city's neither on a river nor by the sea). It's worth clicking on the above image to look at the mural in detail - it really is quite something. Can you see the figure in the blue hoodie squatting at the foot of the statue, gazing into his electronic apparatus?

One of many restored palaces on Piotrkowska (no. 143). Can you see the figure in the blue hoodie, sitting in the foreground, gazing into his electronic apparatus? The architecture is noteworthy. Eddie was impressed by several of the larger buildings in Łódź's city centre.

This could be a much nicer city were it not for the large number of scruffy alcoholics that live (rent free) in social housing provided by the city council right in the centre of Łódź. The city has of a quarter of a billion zlotys in unpaid rent; it cannot re-house these people because it doesn't have the money to provide them with alternative accommodation on the outskirts of town. Were the rent collected, the money could be used to renovate the city centre more thoroughly...

A new phenomenon in Łódź is the rising quality of football graffiti. Rather than merely bandy about aggressive and obscene epithets about supporters of the city's two rival clubs, ŁKS and RTS Widzew, a cleverer sort of name-calling has emerged; "ŁKS supporters drive [Daewoo] Ticos" or "RTS supporters didn't cry when the Pope died" are two we saw today.

Above: inside Łódź Film School, where Moni will start her second year on Monday. The  building in the foreground is an old mercury factory. Post-industrial, moderne and 19th Century palatial architecture constitute the campus.

This time last year:
Nine days before the parliamentary elections: PiS had a chance

This time two years ago:
Melancholy mood in Łazienki park, early autumn

This time five years ago:
Flamenco sketches

Have we reached Peak Car in Warsaw yet?

An interesting article appeared in last week's Economist which indicated that across cities of the developed world, car usage has peaked. Based on my own observations, comments from colleagues and media articles, it looks like there is indeed less traffic on Warsaw's streets than at this time in previous years. Has Warsaw's car usage peaked too?

Yesterday morning, the bus journey from home to Metro Stokłosy took 28 minutes; it has taken regularly taken over 40. This is 15kmh rather than 10kmh. The Park+Ride at Ursynów still had eight free places at 11:20 this morning; last year it would be completely full before ten.

There are many factors which are contributing to the thinning out of Warsaw's notorious jams; soaring fuel prices, economic slowdown, improved public transport, a fashion for cycling. A corollary is falling car crime - far fewer cars are being stolen in Warsaw, in Poland, indeed in the rich world, than was the case a decade ago. Demand is falling, it's not just an economic crisis thing (new car sales are sharply down across the EU).

Above: an electric car tops up on Warsaw's ul. Krucza. It's around midday; traffic's light, there are two cyclists in the background. I hope this is to be what the Warsaw of the future will look like. No big black SUVs. The city is not the place for them (fine if you live in a muddy field and need to transport beetroot and livestock to market).

Meanwhile, out on the far perimeter, the very real human cost of long-distance commuting is taking its toll on the real estate market. Do you remember this new housing development? Well, prices are now plummeting. Below: A billboard on ul. Karczunkowska advertising the new houses. They are now going for 560,000 złotys for a finished house, old price 699,000 złotys.

The difference expressed in sterling is even more profound: Since this time last year, the price has fallen from £141,000 to £108,000.Yet at the same time, flats finding themselves near the new Most Północny or second Metro line are rising in price. People don't want to live more than an hours' drive from the city centre. Developers who've found cheap plots beyond the edge of town are having to sell the houses they've built at a knock-down price.

Cities will grow up rather than out in the future. We'll be living in more densely populated urban centres, with excellent public transport links and cycle paths. The car will be increasingly associated with Hicksville and old people. In Polish, na dziady.

The Economist article linked at the top of this post is a must-read, a defining point of a tipping point in history. I hope the year 2012 was when we reached it in Warsaw; it would be nice to come back to past posts on commuting, motoring and development (see labels) and note that yes, traffic jams used to be far, far worse. And I hope that Pan Heniek Burak will finally get to see that using a huge, gas-guzzling SUV to drag his idle frame a few kilometres across town to that comfy parking spot outside his office is socially acceptable as passing wind loudly in a crowded lift.

This time last year:
A glorious month

This time three years ago:
Order from chaos

This time four years ago:
Well-shot pheasants

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Heritage building or high-rise?

Let's take a look at the heart of Warsaw's Central Business District. Here's ul. Emilii Plater (below), looking north towards the Cosmopolitan building under construction at the north end. In the foreground, the Intercontinental Hotel, with its characteristic cut-out that lets sunlight through to the flats behind it. Further on down the road, the Warsaw Financial Center. To the left, Rondo ONZ 1.

In between all this high-risery, we have a two-story, state-owned furniture shop, Emilia. Well, 'state-owned' for the time being, for the Ministry for the State Treasury is selling it off. The Capital City Enterprise for Internal Commerce 'Furniture Emilia' (Stołeczne Przedsiębiorstwo Handlu Wewnętrznego 'Meble Emilia') is finally being privatised after nearly 23 years of market democracy (can you imagine a chain of stores called 'London Furniture' owned by the British state and competing with Ikea and MFI?). The store itself has shut down and moved on, but the building is currently and temporarily housing the Museum of Modern Art (Muzeum Sztuki Nowoczesnej).

So here it is in close-up (below). There is a buyer - Griffin Investments, which has agreed to pay the Polish state treasury 115m zlotys, nearly £60m, for 11 Emilia stores with over 11,000 square metres of showroom space. Of course, what Griffin is really buying is this prime site on Emilii Plater.

Except there's one tiny problem. While the state treasury was auctioning off its chain of furniture shops, Warsaw's heritage buildings conservator had the given the Emilia store listed building status. And failed to inform its owner, the Ministry of the State Treasury. Who then sold it onto an investor, who was under the impression that Emilia could be knocked down and replaced with another 40+ story skyscraper.

It's things like this that give Poland a bad name when it comes to attracting foreign investment. One public sector body not informing another one of something as fundamental as listing a building that's up for sale. This is another scandalous example of a dysfunctional public sector that hampers foreign investment and costs Polish jobs as a result. A point I made in the Polish parliament today (at a meeting of the Polish-British Parliamentary Group).

Now, as to the actual Emilia building itself, I have a soft spot for it (see here and here), but what I'd really like to see is Stalin's Gift to the Polish People's Republic (right) ringed by a circle of high-rise buildings.

Don't demolish it, but reduce its significance to Warsaw's skyline. Replacing Emilia with another tower would help.

What's likely to happen, however, is another five-year stalemate in the Polish court system, angry investors, a bad press for Poland and a missed opportunity. I hope I'm wrong.

Today, Warsaw enjoyed temperatures topping 24C. Gloriously blue skies, warmth continuing into the late evening. (Just thought you'd like to know that, UK readers!)

This time last year:
Shopping notes

This time two years ago:
My grandfather

This time four years ago:
Surreal twilight, ul.Karczunkowska

This time five years ago:
From Warsaw to Seville, via Munich and Madrid

Sunday, 23 September 2012

A little west of Jeziorki, early autumn

West of Jeziorki, a day after Equinox. Łady (pron. "Wuddy"), the first proper village you get to after leaving Warsaw's borders. The 715 bus passes through here, as it wends its way from Wilanowska to P+R Al. Krakowska (formerly Okęcie). Dawidy-Łady-Nowy Podolszyn-Podolszyn-Nowy Podolszyn-Łady-Dawidy it goes, giving passengers a double chance to gaze upon it.

Below: the centre of Łady, a Marian chapel, and buildings that look something out of a Western. "Sheriff's lookin' for ya, boy!"  A half moon rides a clear sky.

Łady has its own village pond, which gives it a  spirit of place, a focal point.

More ponds, further west. Between Falenty and Janki, one of several large commercial fish ponds, which have been here since Tsarist days. Below: Staw Falencki, looking east.

Below: Staw Falencki, looking west. I wrote yesterday about the low water level in the Vistula, but here in Falenty, there's no sign of drought; the water comes right up to the bank.

This time last year:
The Old Sailor's Tale - part II

This time two years ago:

This time three years ago:
The passing of Lt. Cmdr. Tadeusz Lesisz

This time five years ago:
Summer ends, autumn begins

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Ever lower flows the Vistula

The Vistula is currently at its lowest levels since records began back in the 18th Century. Scatts has picked up the topic at Polandian, referring to the historical artefacts that have surfaced as water levels recede. Today, rather than going into town to snap to our dwindling river, I visited the Vistula downstream at Obory, a favourite spot, and one I've blogged several times before.

Below: Many's the time I've parked my bike here - and always, directly at the bottom of the riverbank was water. Now, it's at least 50m to the water. (Compare to this photo, looking south rather than north, taken in June 2008 from roughly the same spot.)

Below: I clamber down the embankment, and walk over the dry sand to the end of the promontory formed by a sandbank rising out of the river. The last time I was here was when the river froze over earlier this year.

Below: standing at the water's edge. There's a noticeable improvement in water quality when I compare the Vistula from even four years ago. Raw sewage is no longer being pumped into the river in vast quantities. Here, EU money, in the form of structural and cohesion funds, is working its magic as more and more local authorities upstream have built water treatment plants.

Below: the Jeziorka river flows into the Vistula, from the left. Compare to this view from February. On the Vistula's right bank in the far distance - a similar picture - receding water levels, more exposed sandbanks.

This time last year:
Hip, trendy Ząbkowska

This time three years ago:
Catching that Klimat

This time five years ago:
Road-trip into the Sublime

Thursday, 20 September 2012

End of the summer pavement tables

It's late September and I really should be back inside eating my lunch. And yet the pavement tables, that sprang up in May, in joyous anticipation of the Euro 2012 football championships (now a distant memory) are coming to the end of their season in the sun.

In central Warsaw, its a common sight -  not something one sees in damp old London. Below: ul. Wilcza 8. The tables spill out right across the pavements, narrowing access, but adding much to the urban flavour. It's still early (just after 10am) so the chairs aren't yet put out.

I must say, I've never sat outside on any of the pavement tables around our office, mainly because of the wind. Even on hot, sunny days, the wind blowing down ul. Nowogrodzka can be quite unsettling when you have a plate of food and a newspaper. Or else the weather can change and a sudden downpour can give your a drenching. Below: outside our offices on Nowogrodzka; Kasztelan restaurant, and across the road, Namaste India, which also has pavement tables.

My guess is that pavement tables are aimed at the smoking community. How long will they stay on the pavements this season? Another week at most, I'd think - or to the end of September? I wonder which will be the last bar or restaurant to keep pavement tables open this year...

This time last year:
The Old Sailor's Tale - a short story

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Thundering ghost from out of the clouds

Having lived in close proximity to Okęcie airport for 15 years (and not too far from London Heathrow for many more), the sound of an aircraft taking off is rather commonplace. But this one was quite something. At P+R Al. Krakowska bus stop, at the end of Runway 29, where the drivers are inured to the noise of take offs, this sounded extraordinary. They ran out into the street, mouthing expletives of awe.

I readied my camera... Lens zoomed out to 200mm in the general direction of the racket... SNAP! and this (below) is what I caught... Out of focus, blurred, but clearly a huge four-engined beast...

Below: the plane pops through clouds. It is, of course, an Antonov An-124, one of the world's largest aircraft, which does visit Okęcie every now and then. Unlike the Airbus A380, this beast (which had its first flight nearly 30 years ago - December 1982, when the Soviet Union was still a major threat to mankind, is powered by engines designed without regard for noise limits or people living near airports.

Below: the evening was cloudy; within a second or so the sky closed in upon the giant freighter; the sound remained ringing in everyone's ears for some minutes afterwards. Awesome, in the truest sense of the word.

The annoyance factor is easily eclipsed by the sight and sound of the thing ponderously, thunderously, making its way up into the heavens, engines on full blast. Really quite something.

This time last year:
Push-pull for Mazowsze

This time two years ago:
Okęcie runway repairs are complete

This time four years ago:
I know that painting from somewhere...

This time five years ago:
The March of Progress, ul. Postępu

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Food shopping in Warsaw - some thoughts

Where to shop for food? Well, ever since Géant pulled out of Poland to be replaced by Real, the bulk of my retail spend has gone to Auchan, which wins over other shops because it's a) close, b) offers a wide variety and c) is the cheapest.

WHAT??? Well, apparently - it is. According to this story in Friday's Gazeta Wyborcza. Based on extensive research, it appears that a basket of 50 of the most popular products (mainly food but also including cleaning products and cosmetics) is cheapest in Auchan.

Above: graphic from Gazeta Wybocza, based on source data from and PortalSpoż

My first reaction was to check the methodology - Auchan has a wider range of branded products than the others, thus putting it at an advantage; but no - where there's no branded product stocked, the own-brand equivalent would be considered.

So well done Auchan. What is also interesting is that Lidl fares badly on price (where it should be cheaper, given its strategy, that Żabka is so expensive (but then hey, it's a convenience store - it has to pay for its longer opening hours somehow), and that Alma is cheaper than Tesco.

Alma! Foodie shopper heaven. What a delight to step in there - not for a bag of Cheesy Wotsits, a Mars Bar, a can of Coke and some Haribo sour bears' tongues. Heavens forfend! No, Alma is the place to go for smoked Tuna fillet, Spanish goat cheeses, exquisitely smoked hams from Kraków, crema di Balsamico, truffle-scented olive oils - one does not shop at Alma because it's cheaper than Tesco. Alma is the nearest thing you get in Poland to a Harrod's food hall.

So what about Lidl, recently opened in Jeziorki? I go there often, because it's closest - a ten-minute stroll from home. It has very, very few things we want, so I while I shop there frequently, I only buy a handful. Yesterday's trip - no bananas, no lemons, none of the branded products on my list. Lidl does a handful of things I buy. The Best Bread on Earth (currently) - Chleb Drwalski (Dr. Walski's bread?) - rich in taste, multigrain, and utterly wonderful (I'm eating some now with Roquefort, bought at Auchan as Lidl fails to stock any). And Lidl does good, no-nonsense Australian red wine, a Shiraz-Cabernet priced at 12.99 zlotys, around two pound fifty. Plus its own-brand beers ('Argus') come from the Czech Republic and are much better than budget Polish beers.

What's new at Auchan? A pleasing development is the veritable flood of regional beers of all different sorts, smashing the near-monopoly of Lech/Tyskie, Okocim and Żywiec, and the appearance of shandy (beer/lemonade mix). Though it's cheaper and more satisfying mixing your own.

POSTSCRIPT: Can you buy Parmesan cheese in the centre of Warsaw? Other than a four-tram-stop round trip to the Terraces of Gold - no. The laughably-named Delikatesy on al. Jerozolimskie (between Rondo Dmowskiego and Krucza) sells about four types of blando Polish cheese, while the MarcPol round the corner on Marszałkowska does carry grated ersatz hard Italian cheese in a small plastic bag - OK, but not the real thing.

The reason Puławska's being widened

A big thanks to Marcin Daniecki for the tip-off, and for revealing what's been going on these past three weeks on ul. Puławska between the border of Warsaw and Mysiadło.

Below: driving down Puławska past Jeziorki, the road is being widened. At first I thought that this is to accommodate the sheer weight of traffic heading southbound out of town, but no - this is a slip road, which will take vehicles turning right... into what?

Below. Looking from Puławska down what looks like a brand new road, running right through the abandoned site of Eko-Mysiadło (formerly PGR-Mysiadło). What's going on here? It looks like, finally, some good town planning on the part of Gmina Lesznowola, the local authority. What will the new road be called? There's no sign of it on Lesznowola's spatial planning maps... (download the eastern part here - it takes some time, large file).

Below: looking back towards ul. Puławska - three new street lights have appeared in the past few days. The pace of work, looking at the photos that Marcin sent me taken from 3 to 9 September, is brisk. Good news.

Below: the old internal road serving the hundreds of greenhouses is being ripped up. It was made of concrete panels laid onto the soil; these are being removed. The new road will be built according to modern road-building norms, with storm drains, kerb-stones, pavements and asphalt. On this photo, you can just make out cranes on the horizon.

Below: a closer look at the new sports and education centre being built on the edges of Mysiadło. This, presumably, is where the new road will be heading.

In the meanwhile, the huge terrains of the former Eko-Mysiadło to the west of Puławska have been opened up, the fence removed. Anyone can walk, cycle or drive in. For off-road enthusiasts, this is a great playground. And indeed, last weekend there was a off-road motorbike race held here.

Above: full throttle along the unmade new road. Below: two Jeeps heading back to the asphalt of ul. Puławska after testing their suspension on the bumps and ditches of the old Eko-Mysiadło site. Both photos by Marcin Daniecki - many thanks!

This land has been earmarked for scientific and technological use (see this article in Polish). It looks like the local authority has got things the right way round. Build the roads, and the investors will be tempted. Yet there are things not yet sorted, not least the S79 Puławska bis that will link Węzeł Lotnisko with the S7 somewhere south of Lesznowola. And there doesn't yet seem to be any action on the other side of Puławska.

This time last year:

This time two years ago:
Commuting made easy

This time three years ago:
Work starts on the S79/S2 'Elka' (and a year and half to go, I'll bet!)

This time four years ago:
Warsaw's accident-filled streets (same as it ever was)

This time five years ago:
ul. Poloneza's pot holes rip off my car's exhaust (little change here too)

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Draining Jeziorki

Time for some ultra-localist down-your-wayism. No right turn into ul. Dumki from Trombity, something that'll affect but a handful of Jeziorki residents. What's up?

And at the other end of ul. Dumki, signs of construction work afoot. What's going on? A bit of googling informs me that the city authorities have decided to do something about the regular flooding round these parts. A public tender has been issued, and a winning bidder announced. For the price of 5,362,217.62 zlotys (just over a million quid), MKL Bud will do the job. And within less than a fortnight of the bid announcement, the construction teams are on site.

Below: a drainage canal that takes water from the low-lying fields between the railway line, ul. Baletowa and ul. Kórnicka (an empty coal train heads northwards in the distance).

Below: pond between ul. Baletowa and ul. Dumki. This seems to be being deepened, with mud from its bed being piled on to its banks.

Below: drainage ditch on the north side of ul. Dumki, it's been cleaned out and deepened.

Below: drainage ditch on the south side of ul. Dumki, looking towards ul. Trombity in the distance.

Below: translation of the text of the public tender associated with the works which are to be carried out. The deadline for completion of all the works here is Wednesday 30 October 2013.

Reclamation of Lake Zgorzała and development of adjacent land - Stage I

Contract for restoration of Lake Zgorzała along with the development of adjacent areas - Phase I.

Lake Zgorzała is an area of about 11 hectares located in the basin of the canal between ul.Baletową, Jeziorki and ul.Trombity. The main aim of work related to the above-mentioned lake is to ensure proper water retention in the Jeziorki Canal basin, which due to its frequent and severe flooding, is an important for the flood protection of its catchment area, particularly the settlements along the above-mentioned canal and around its basin.

Work included within the scope of the tender:
1) Construction and earthworks associated with deepening the lake's basin and landscaping
2) Removal of soil
3) Demolishing the existing culvert under ul. Dumki that drains water from the lake to the Jeziorki canal (poor condition, inadequate parameters), and the construction of a new one to replace it, which meets the new threshold at the inlet of stabilising water in the first tank
4) Constructing a threshold between the basins stabilising lake water levels in the second reservoir above the lake
5) Constructing a road culvert under ul. Dumki in the southern part of the lake
6) Constructing inlet sections of biofilter trenches to protect the water quality of the lake
7) Removing and replacing power lines
8) Cutting down and removing trees and shrubs.

As well as having a water retention function, the lake will also be a part of the natural landscape and features, maintaining the diversity of fauna and flora.

The roadway of ul. Kórnicka is made accessible to support the construction, and ul. Dumki is made available for the execution of the project. Construction vehicles must meet the requirements of the rules of the road in relation to permissible loads on the axles and other technical parameters. Vehicles not conforming to the above parameters may use the roads after obtaining appropriate permits, provided the restoration of the original road used at the expense of the Contractor.

Scope of work:
1) Preparatory work:
a) measuring work
b) asphalt demolition of approximately 200 m² of asphalt and culverts
c) building and removal of temporary access roads
d) the felling and removal of 1,691 trees and shrubs
2) Earthworks:
a) Removing about 68,000 m3 of soil
3) Construction work:
a) a threshold of gabions damming the top lake and lower lake
b) the culvert under ul. Dumki
c) on the Jeziorki canal passage (214cm x 164cm elliptical cross section)
4) Constructing a water supply treatment plant tank:
a) Two biofilters with stone and wire mesh baskets
5) Restoring the overhead power lines
6) Painting and finishing the fastenings.

So there we are. I shall keep you updated as to how this ongoing work progresses. It should mean that Jeziorki is no longer vulnerable to flooding after heavy rainfall. We can expect more and more anomalous weather events as climate change takes hold, so it's good to know that five million zlotys of tax-payers' money is being spent on ensuring that houses in this part of Jeziorki are not under threat of flooding.

This time last year:
Late summer/early autumn moods

This time two years ago:
Battle of Britain, 70 years on

This time three years ago:
Why I don't watch Polish television

This time four years ago:
Warsaw - a city of car crashes

This time five years ago:
My favourite tree

Friday, 14 September 2012

The Boat That Rocked - review

Over a lifetime, one accumulates a number of works of art - books, pieces of music, films - that one cherishes, drawing pleasure from reading, listening to or watching many times, studying them and getting to enjoy them more from knowing them inside out.

Into this category, I feel I must place a recent (2009) film, The Boat That Rocked (US title: Pirate Radio). It is a film I've only watched four times to date (compared to say, 14 viewings of the Coen Brothers' 2009 film A Serious Man), but it's one that sticks with me and resonates most thoroughly.

Written and directed by Richard Curtis, the film was a box office flop and was not critically acclaimed. I must say like it for personal reasons. A thread running through my other (and far more occasional) blog, Grey Jumper'd Childhood, is that the transformation of life in Britain from the drab, post-austerity, buttoned-down, orderly, country it was in 1960, to the multi-coloured, multi-cultural, modern hip and happening place it became a decade later.

And the music - snips (some longer, some shorter) from no fewer than 60 rock and pop hits from the epoch, and the comedy - bawdy yet intelligent - and that feeling of wallowing in a nostalgia, and in having Actually Been There (though I was nine at the time). And this being a Richard Curtis film, it's tuned to arousing our emotions in a feel-good kind of way.

The film, set in 1966/67, (around the same time that A Serious Man was set) purports to show a pirate radio station in the North Sea, blasting out the rock'n'roll to an eager British public.

The basic premise is accurate, though the details are way off. True, the BBC by the mid-1960s was way out of step with the times. The BBC Light Programme would play endless swing music hits, popular from two decades before, played live by union musicians from the BBC Northern Dance Orchestra, interspersed with How Much Is That Doggie In The Window and other novelty songs. Exciting rock'n'roll received little air-time on the BBC's Housewives' Choice or Music While You Work, daytime staples on the Light Programme. Not much chance of hearing Mr Jimi Hendrix's popular tune, Hey Joe, then.

Meanwhile, across the North Sea, Radio Luxembourg and numerous pirate stations were broadcasting what was really happening - the soundtrack to a civilisational shift.

Historically, the main inaccuracy was the suggestion that it was a reactionary, emotionally-stunted British government that put an end to pirate radio by passing the Maritime Offences Act. Not so - it was a shoshalisht minister, Tony Benn, who was in charge of all things related to broadcasting. And it was not policemen and commandos who put an end to pirate radio - it fizzled into insignificance by a) the BBC turning the Light Programme into Radio 1 (employing many pirate radio DJs in the process and b) by the British government finally taking away the BBC's monopoly on radio broadcasting. By the mid-1970s, I was happily listening to Capital Radio, with some good DJs on Radio 1 as well. Headed by the immortal John Peel.

If you were alive at the time, if you can remember jumping up and down on your bed, pyjama'd, to the sound of rock'n'roll radio, if you can remember the Received Pronunciation of BBC Light Programme announcers suddenly giving way to the wild rantings of BBC Radio 1 DJs, then this film is a celebration - a monumental, 135-minute long celebration - a mythologising, legend-creating depiction - of a moment in history which was there - and yet wasn't.

Poloneza update: ul Gawota opened

Hallelujah! Someone's seen sense at last; the two concrete barriers blocking ul. Gawota from the new viaduct carrying ul. Poloneza over the S2 have been pushed aside. I don't know how long this convenient state of affairs will last, but for the time being there's an open road link between the residential streets of Jeziorki Północne and Grabów.

Left: the absurdity of it all. A mega-over-engineered viaduct linking two dirt-tracks. The cost of the unnecessary lanes, crash barriers, street lighting, etc, could have gone into laying down asphalt on ul. Poloneza. Just look a these puddles - these have appeared after one day's heavy rain. After several days and nights of rain, this stretch of road becomes a bog, capable of trapping the rash driver and his vehicle.

Right: these crash-barriers are built to withstand the impact of a 38-tonne truck hurtling along at 90km/h. And look at the street lighting. Entirely unjustified by the status of this local road. The money spent would have been better spent on the rest of this road, which is a veritable embarrassment to Warsaw.

Above: a no-entry sign at the northern end of the new stretch of road. It should either be enforced or removed; as it is, it stands as a mockery to the notion of regulated public roadways.

I fear that this state of affairs will continue until the road-builders deign to show up again and finally finish what they said they would in December 2010. When they do turn up (next spring?), they will close off access to the viaduct from all sides once again. Still, at least the viaduct is currently passable. To local traffic, in the know.

This time last year:
Fixie composition in blue and red

This time two years ago:
What's the Polish for 'guidelines'?

This time three years ago:
Ul. Rosoła's cycle path - new route to work

This time four years ago:
First apple (then three years without apples, now an overload!)

This time five years ago:
Late summer spiders webs

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Up up up with the Cosmopolitan

Up it goes, bringing pride to Warsaw, the next tall residential development for the city centre. This is the Cosmopolitan building on ul. Twarda 2/4. It will grow to 44 floors/160m, and will be Warsaw's second highest residential building. It is located just a few minutes' walk from Złota 44, Warsaw's highest residential building, 52 floors/192m.

: Cosmopolitan tower, seen from the 14th floor of the Warsaw Financial Center.

Left: Looking west towards ul. Twarda down ul. Prosta. I reckon there's about eight or nine stories still to complete before the Cosmopolitan tops out.

Before long, when it gets dark at going-home time, I'll post a photo putting these two new apartment blocks into the context of the Warsaw skyline, to which they contribute hugely. I'd like to see more. far more tall skyscrapers rising up from the centre of Warsaw!

Same old same old on ul. Poloneza

The bridge was meant to have been ready in December 2010. It still isn't; minor finishing-off work is still needed (to my eye a final lick of asphalt and some road marking). The four-lane viaduct carrying ul Poloneza (nothing more than a dirt-track at its northern and southern ends, but a splendid piece of engineering as it crosses over the way-past-its-deadline S2) is still officially closed to traffic.

Below: the builders have thrown up a rampart of earth and rubble to stop cars from driving onto the 99.9% ready bridge. They are not working to complete it, but in the meantime will not let anyone use it. The alternative, as I have repeatedly written, is a 2.3km detour, having to drive through a far busier building site than this one. This situation hasn't changed in ten months!

Below: this is not stopping determined drivers from skirting round it. Although I heard the sound of the front spoiler on this Opel Astra scraping the hardened ground most horribly. A detour only for four-wheel drives, I fear.

Right: access to ul. Gawota (in the distance) is blocked by two concrete road blocks. For residents and their visitors, this must be utterly galling.The bridge that would connect them to ul. Krasnowolska tantalises them with its almost-readiness. And yet, dog-in-the-manger style (pies ogrodnika in Polish) the builders that are not finishing the bridge are simultaneously not letting locals use it. Most frustrating.

Below: looking south towards Jeziorki. At the bottom of the ramp, the asphalt stops, and ul. Poloneza becomes a dirt-track once more. Warsaw's highways authority, ZDM, has not thought this one through. For a fraction of the cost of this four-lane bridge, ZDM could have asphalted the whole of ul. Poloneza, all the way from ul. Jeziorki to Platan Park.

When will it be ready? No rush. Although the pace of work along the S2/S79 has accelerated, the whole project is unlikely to be completed until the end of next year; I guess Poloneza will wait that long too.

This time last year:
New urban toponyms: "P+R Al. Krakowska" = Okęcie

This time two years ago:
Politics - a change of gear

This time three years ago:
On preference and genetics

This time four years ago: