Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Inverted September reflections

Another month hurries to an end, and with it late summer moves hurriedly into early autumn. Each day is four minutes shorter than the previous one; half an hour of daylight gone in a week. Dark when I get home from work - soon it will be dark when I leave work. Never mind, the world tilts as it spins around the sun; it will tilt back to give the Northern Hemisphere more light in six months time.

Two photos that didn't make it into the month's narrative - and a warm, sunny September it turned out to be. So - here they are - one from the centre of town where I work, the other taken eight miles (13km) away, on the edge of town where I live in semi-pastoral surroundings...

This time last year:
Observations from London's WC1
and Observations from the City of London

This time two years ago:
Civilising Jeziorki's wetlands

This time three years ago:
Warsaw's Aleje Jerozolimskie

This time four years ago:
Melancholy autumn mood in Łazienki

This time six years ago:
Autumn gold, Zamienie

This time seven years ago:
Flamenco Sketches - Seville

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Gas - why we should all try to use less of it.

It's that time of year when the evenings draw in; there's a chill in the air, and before long there will be frost (szron) on the lawns. The 'heating season', or sezon grzewczy, is almost upon us. Our house is heated by gas, supplied by PGNiG (lit. 'Polish Petroleum and Gas Mining'); the amount of gas we use depends to a great extent on the temperature outside. In a summer month, we may burn as little as 60 cubic metres of the stuff (cooking); in a harsh winter, it can be up to ten time that amount.

State-controlled PGNiG is changing the way it bills its customers for gas. Rather than charging per cubic metre as it has done from the outset, it will now charge per kilowatt hour, to make it comparable to electricity prices. So the 76 cubic metres we used in August becomes 840 kilowatt hours, at a conversion rate of 1 cubic metre = 11.18 kilowatt hours. Confused? Reading a gas bill is not simple (fixed and variable charges, meter readings, ever-changing billing periods), but you need to understand what they are charging you for. Since 2006, I've been noting these in a spreadsheet, to keep an eye on the billing. "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it."

Thatcherite convictions must be cast aside in the case of the Polish energy sector. It is better that PGNiG is controlled by the Polish state than by some other state; it might not be the best managed company in the world, but at least it's in the right hands.

There's clearly a need to keep an eye on gas consumption from an economic and environmental point of view. Our house is clad in six inches of expanded polystyrene stuck onto the outside of wide Porotherm air-bricks; and we have triple glazing. Despite that, we get winter gas bills of over 1,000 złotys (£180) a month. Remember, if you are reading this in England, winter temperatures in Warsaw can fall to -30C.

Now, in a normal world, one would bite the bullet on this one and get on with life. But PGNiG gets most of its gas from Gazprom, the commercial arm of Putin's foreign policy. Each rouble of profit that Gazprom makes can be converted into bombs, mortar shells, rockets and bullets that the Russian army uses in Ukraine. Putin's wealth does not come from clever software, reliable cars, tasty food or must-have consumer electronics - it comes solely from natural resources. Apart from killing Ukrainians, the money is spent on propaganda, lying to his own people and to the world. And of course enriching himself and his cronies.

When it comes to ethical consumption, buying gas from Putin is on a par with buying trainers made by enslaved children from the Far East or T-shirts sewn in death-trap sweatshops in Bangladesh.

Yet in the case of the latter, we have a choice. With gas, the Polish consumer has none.

So the logical answer is to save gas. Use less of the stuff this winter, and the next, and the one after that. Do yourself a favour - save money, reduce CO2 emissions - and put less money into Mr Putin's war chest.

As I write, the temperature is falling fast from a daytime high of 18C, and by daybreak it will be around 7C. Time to switch on the boiler? No. It's time to put on a warm sweatshirt. Shutters down, curtains closed. Extra insulation; time to close off the loft again with a couple of 3-inch polystyrene panels and an old mattress laid down on top of them.

If you use gas to heat your house or flat, to warm your water, to cook on - remember where it comes from and what political price there is to pay for its use.

This time last year:
Polish supermarket chain advertises on London buses

This time five years ago:
My home-made fixie bike

This time six years ago:
Well-shot pheasants

Friday, 26 September 2014

Between Equinox and Equilux

This wheel's on fire... rolling down the road... From Warsaw to Szczytno (22 September) and back (24 September). No commentary, just the captioned photographs, whacked-up to reflect what I saw and felt.

Somewhere on the Krajowa Siodemka, south of Nidzica
Lovely, vivid, full rainbow - and I left my 10-24mm lens at home!
The road to Szczytno between Nidzica and Jedwabno
The road back to Warsaw between Szczytno and Jedwabno
Re-entering Warsaw's atmosphere, south of Płońsk
Back in Jeziorki; dusk.
This time two years ago:
Heritage or high-rise?

This time last year:
Shopping notes

This time four years ago:
My grandfather

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

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

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Thoughts occasioned by today being Equilux

Ever wondered why 'equinox' (which happened on Tuesday morning at 02:29 as the plane of the earth's equator passed the centre of the sun) does not mean exactly 12 hours of night and 12 hours of night?

It should do - and yet it's not. Because the sun is a disk and not a point of light, because of refraction of light through the atmosphere, the length of day in Warsaw on 23 September is over nine minutes longer than 12 hours. But today, the day is 12 hours, 1 minute and 18 seconds long. The closest it will be to Equilux - that moment when daylight and darkness are equal. Tomorrow the day in Warsaw will be 11 hours, 57 minutes and 16 seconds. That's it - night's closing in.

"And the days grow short when you reach September"

[It's worth visiting the excellent TimeandDate.com website, which answers the question about equinox not being exactly 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night in a very succinct way. It's also an excellent website for astronomical data - moonrises and so on, one to bookmark and visit daily.]

Six dark months, culminating in the winter solstice on 21 December. On that day - and on the next - the Warsaw day will be seven hours, 41 minutes and 57 seconds long. Between now and then, we'll lose over four hours and 20 minutes of daylight.

But hop on a plane to London tomorrow, transfer to one of the long-haul terminals, and fly to Santiago de Chile, Buenos Aires, Auckland or Adelaide, and you'll find that down in the Southern Hemisphere, winter's just coming to an end, and spring is about to burst forth.

We live on a lump of rock, spinning around its own axis every 24 hours, orbiting our star once a year. Our star the sun is one of 100 billion (or even 400 billion) stars in our galaxy, which we call the Milky Way. The Milky Way's one of 200 billion observable galaxies. The number of stars that we're aware of is between two and eight to the power of 22 (that's somewhere between 20,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 and 80,000,000,000,000,000,000,000).

How many of those stars are orbited by planets that host life? Sophisticated, intelligent, sapient life? Maybe just one in every trillion? Does that sound reasonable? If so, we can expect 20 billion stars out there to support life.

Doesn't this place our existence, and the problems caused by Mr Putin, jihadists, the Ebola virus, climate change even - into a wider perspective?

As autumn draws in, man's mind turns to the souls of the departed and the supernatural. It is time to ponder the Universe in its entirety and consider our lives in that context.

This time two years ago:
The magic of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand's Marlborough region

This time four years ago:
Grandson of Poles elected to lead UK's Labour Party

This time six years ago:
Give me sunshine!

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Scenarios for change in Russia

This month I have had the opportunity to listen to two democratic Russian voices speaking in Warsaw, one of which gave me hope that in the long term at least Russia has the potential to become a civilised, well-governed country with independent institutions and a civil society.

Last week, I attended a meeting at Warsaw University at which former Russian premier (2000-2004), Mikhail Kasyanov outlined scenarios for the fall of Putin. The previous week, I was at a business meeting focused on the Russian sanctions and counter-sanctions where the main speaker was the PR director of a Moscow-based consultancy.

Clearly neither man was a Kremlin stooge sent abroad to muddy the waters. This very fact offers ground for hope - people whose minds are beyond Putin's reach are still allowed to exist and travel freely. Russians' freedoms have been curtailed dramatically, independent institutions and media have been subsumed into the Kremlin machine, but things are not yet as bad as they were in the days of the USSR. But they are heading that way.

Mr Kasyanov (above) began his narrative in the early 1990s, when the Soviet Union had fallen apart, the state could not pay pensions or salaries, there was no clear distinction in citizens' minds between public and private. Then along came Putin - for the first few years there was hope, a genuinely reformist government, a desire to integrate with the West. Yet after the 2003 Beslan school massacre, Putin started reining in freedoms, gathering powers for himself and his cronies. Since then - and culminating with the invasion of Crimea - this has intensified.

Putin's system relies on the concentration of power and wealth through all-pervasive propaganda and total corruption of the State, said Mr Kaslyanov, speaking in Russian. The system, however, is only efficient when oil and gas prices are high; should they fall, the entire economy stagnates. Mr Kasyanov believes that had it not been for the instant and massive popularity boost that Putin acquired by invading Crimea, his regime might have held together for two, three years, before the inevitable downward path of an economy buoyed solely by commodity prices starts to hit living standards.

The current sanctions will only serve to accelerate this process. However, Putin's propaganda spin is so strong that the bulk of the Russian population who cheered him on in Crimea may prove more resilient to life without Italian cheese, French wine and Polish apples, knowing that this is the work of the Fascist West rather than home-grown economic mismanagement.

Putin thus finds himself in the same boat at the Argentinian Junta did in 1983 when they invaded the Falkland Islands, said Mr Kaslyanov. Once the British retook the islands, the Junta crumbled from within. But Putin holds far greater sway over his people; he can spin his way out of setbacks. There is no real opposition party. He is the master liar. He can talk about peace, negotiate cease-fires, while his people continue to fight - a fact that he denies as he laughs at his accusers.

Putin is dangerous because this nuclear-armed leader is whipping up Russian chauvinism, 'the virus of post-imperial syndrome - the world should fear us because we exist'. Putin's hold over Russian media is almost total - the internet is closing down, independent media are being closed down, TV - the main source of information for most Russians, is almost totally run by Putin's people - and, said Mr Kaslyanov, mentioning also the corrosive self-censorship among journalists, "who have mouths to feed". The result of this 'group-think' is more dangerous than in the USSR. Soviet citizens were always aware that they were being lied to. Unconstrained by the intellectual straitjacket of Marxism-Leninism, Putin's propaganda is far more agile; perniciously sophisticated, it appeals to base instincts and higher principles at the same time ('Ukrainians are sub-humans' and 'Ukrainians are our brother Slavs'). Russia's corrupt? So's the West. And what about Slavery, Red Indians, Iraq and Egypt?

Change from a Putin-led Russia to a post-Putin Russia can come sooner or later - Mr Kaslyanov claims it will come sooner. Yet Mr Kaslyanov's own political party cannot act. Its candidate for Mayor of Moscow, Alexander Navalny, continues to languish under house arrest. The only parties other than Putin's One Russia are ones that are allowed by Putin to co-exist with his party - rather like in communist Poland where the compliant SD and ZSL parties alongside the Polish United Workers Party (PZPR) to present a false picture of democratic choice. Mr Kaslyanov admits that there's no credible alternative leader to Putin - they've all been emasculated or exiled.

Will the challenge to Putin come from abroad? Mikhail Chodorkovsky is now talking about entering Russian politics - something he promised not to do when Putin let him out of the Gulag ahead of the Sochi Olympics. But hey - lying to a liar is OK, is it not? Especially when peace is at stake. In London, exiled oligarchs meet one another asking "When will Putin die? When will someone kill him?". Being abroad means you can plot in relative safety (relative safety - don't forget Alexander Litvinenko).

At home, oligarchs must be worried by the house arrest of Vladimir Yevtushenkov - a Putin loyalist who evidently stepped on the wrong toes and is now in the process of having his billions expropriated from him.

Putin's personal paranoia is approaching Stalin's levels - no one knows where he sleeps or when and where he will appear in public. He must be living in increasing fear that people who surround him, who've lost billions of dollars of personal wealth since the start of this year, can see him as a problem. Yet Putin is a secret-service man, schooled in deception and self-preservation inside enemy territory. He is far less likely to make a false move than other despots who met a sticky end (Gaddafi's death, pulled out of a sewer pipe in which he was hiding, then beaten to death by ordinary Libyan people, must weigh heavily on his mind).

All in all, Mr Kaslyanov tried to paint a hopeful picture for Russia, but questioned by the audience (mainly academics with an interest in the country), he admitted that as a politician it was his duty to uphold an optimistic view of the future, one in which change would come soon.

In contrast, the Russian PR man who visited Warsaw the week before last stayed firmly off politics. But his economic analysis was accurate and incisive. His English was excellent. His generation, tainted only marginally by memories of early childhood in the USSR, well-travelled, can see with its own eyes the difference between the West (and here I firmly include Poland) and Russia.

Young Russians are aware that all the luxury goods, the trappings of success at home, are manufactured in the West - the same West that is pilloried in daily TV new rants. The next generation of ambitious Russians are likely to emigrate to the West and return only when it their fatherland becomes a safe place to make and save money. Currently, one-fifth of Russian graduates express a desire to leave Russia. But like the Polish diaspora returning to post-communist Poland to nation-build, I'm sure that patriotic stirrings will have the same effect. Who knows - Russia in 2045 an EU member state? Not impossible.

One scenario is that there will not be much change in Russia for the foreseeable future. Putin will continue along of course of authoritarianism at home, baiting the West in Ukraine and in the Baltics, as his country becomes increasingly marginalised in the global economy. China will extract ever-greater concessions from Putin for not ganging up on him alongside the West. Those concessions - based on cheap natural resources - will also help drag Russia down economically. Without new Western investment, growth in Russia will slow, and the new middle class will grumble. Will they take to the streets? Will the buckwheat-beetroot-and-vodka class turn against these pampered, spoilt, traitors? How will demographics pan out - as those recalling the USSR with nostalgia die off? Average male life expectancy in Russia is currently 65.1 years - Putin will be 62 next month. But the guy's rich enough to live into his 90s.

I'm pessimistic on the possibility of change happening any time soon in Russia. For the West, this means a long decade of heightened vigilance (at a time of other global threats), greater defence spending, and above all showing far more resolve in the face of a nasty, belligerent man for whom foreign aggression is the key to retaining power at home. It is time the West - in particular NATO members - upped their guard and prepared to face down a particularly aggressive Kremlin. Once again.

This time last year:
A new bus for Jeziorki - the 809 to Bobrowiec

This time three years ago:
Bunker in Powiśle

This time four years ago:
Sunshine brings out the best in everything

This time six years ago:
There must be a better way (3)

Sunday, 21 September 2014

By train from Warsaw to Konstancin and Siekierki

Local elections must be just around the corner, as this public transport suggestion is being raised once more, as it has done every four years. Yet - could it be different this time? pociąg

The idea is to use part of the coal train line from W-wa Okęcie to Siekierki power station to provide a passenger service between Konstancin and the city centre, calling at Piaseczno on the way. To promote the concept, SSKS, an association of friends of the railway, have put on two special trains from W-wa Zachodnia to Siekierki.

Once on board, passengers had the chance to lend their support for the idea, which had fallen flat after past local government elections. Why could this idea happen this time after having failed previously? Several reasons.

Firstly, the coal line has been re-nationalised; four years ago Swedish utility operator Vattenfall owned Siekierki and its railway line. Today it's owned by PGNiG Termika. It is undoubtedly easier to make the case for the public good when the railway operator Koleje Mazowieckie (owned by the voivodship) talks to state-owned PGNiG under the auspices of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Regional Development. Secondly, over the past four years there's been a large increase in the number of people living in Piaseczno and (to a lesser extent) in Konstancin, while places such as Julianów and Józefosław have burgeoned into veritable suburban dormitories. Most of the residents have jobs in Warsaw - which leads to Point Three - the growth of the office district around Służewiec in recent years. The new line, passing W-wa Służewiec, would be an ideal way to get people from Warsaw's southern exurbs into work. Fourthly - the opening of the spur from W-wa Służewiec to W-wa Lotnisko Chopina station makes it convenient for those wanting to fly from the airport to use a railway connection.

Below: the light green line shows the route of the coal train once it branches away from the main Warsaw-Radom line at Nowa Iwiczna. The proposition is that the line terminates at Mirków, a little to the east of Konstancin. New stations would serve Konstancin-Jeziorna, Kierszek, Julianów, Piaseczno Puławska and Piaseczno Mleczarska; 29 services each way would run daily between Mirków and W-wa Służewiec (in the top-left corner of this map, courtesy of Google Earth. Click to enlarge).

So - on to the photos of today's journey. Below: an opportunity for a press conference to discuss the potential of running passenger trains over the coal line from Nowa Iwiczna to Mirków.

Below: here's the train between W-wa Jeziorki (it is unlikely Jeziorki will be served by these trains as the station has no platform on the coal train line) and Nowa Iwiczna. The train has to be diesel, as there's no electrical traction on this line - in the foreground is the electrified Warsaw-Radom line.

Below: the two-car diesel multiple unit, which usually serves the eastern fringes of the Koleje Mazowieckie network, seen today between Julianów and Kierszek.

Below: looking down towards the sidings at Konstancin-Jeziorna. Two rakes of coal trucks await collection in the two left-hand sidings; the diesel railcar takes a break on the right hand track.

Below: photo opportunity by the bridge at Bielawa. Passenger trains pass this way once every four years, so it's worth recording this event. The plan does not foresee passenger trains going beyond here onwards to Siekierki.

Below: view from the cab, approaching Okrzeszyn (city każdy obcy będzi bity). Out here, between Konstancin and Siekierki, development is sparse, with the occasional new housing estate and scattered farmsteads. Quiet, surprisingly close to the centre of Warsaw, yet the threat of flooding is ever-present.

Below: 500km from where the Vistula rises in the mountains, snapped from the train. The railway line runs parallel to the Wał Zawadowski, the flood protection wall that lines the Vistula's west bank between Siekierki and Konstancin. Ideal for gentle off-road cycling.

Below: not far from Siekierki. We are just a few kilometres from the centre of Warsaw, yet the landscape is quite rural. Passenger trains out here will always be a total rarity.

Below: approaching the power station - chimneys and coal heaps. Passing under the rail bridge a 163 bus heading for Sadyba. The surrounding area has the klimat of the Zone in Tarkovsky's Stalker.

Below:  end of the line, Siekierki, and time for another photo opportunity. Here we are, 29km from W-wa Okęcie, having completed a 'U'-shaped journey.

Below: time to re-board the train at Siekierki and head back towards town. I get off the train on its return journey at Konstancin and walk back alongside the track to W-wa Jeziorki - exactly 10km.

I hope this time the plan prevails. Having this rail infrastructure and keeping it for just a few coal trains a day, while ul. Puławska is choked with traffic, is nonsensical. These rails should be serving commuters as well as the power station. If you live in Konstancin or Piaseczno, or anywhere in between, and wish to get into town quickly and without jams - here's the solution.

This time last year:
Summer's end, Jeziorki

This time three years ago:
Ząbowska, Praga's newly-hip thoroughfare

This time five years ago:
Catching the klimat

This time seven years ago:
Road to Łuków - a road trip into the sublime

Friday, 19 September 2014

One problem less in life

And it would have been a big one - had the 1.6 million Scots wanting to break up the country where I was born actually turned out to be a few hundred thousand more in number.

I'm British - but not English (I'm Polish). A citizen of the United Kingdom, yes - but not English (I'm Polish). So had the Scots voted to leave the United Kingdom - I'd have found myself this morning bereft of my motherland (my fatherland is Poland). The Britain that gave my parents refuge after the war; the Britain that brought me up; gave me free NHS orange juice and check-ups as a child; gave me an education; gave me respect for the rule of the law, private property, fair play, trust in society - the very foundations of a civilised existence. These are priceless treasures, a birthright.

Had the Scots voted 'Yes', the consequences for the Former United Kingdom and all its citizens would have been catastrophic. It would have become overnight a land with no name and no flag. Angry, wounded and introspective, it would have intensified another big problem - the threat of the UK leaving the European Union.

Europe needs Britain as much as Britain needs Europe. Of the EU's 28 member states, the UK (I'm so grateful to be still be able to interchangeably use the two terms 'Britain' and 'the UK') was the only active belligerent in WWII not invaded by another country.

This unique experience should not be lost to the rest of the EU; Britain proved not only to be a gutsy fighter, but also a winner. That spirit of 1940 - that darkest of years when the US was still neutral and the Soviet Union was an ally of Adolf Hitler - should reside within the very viscera of the EU, and not evaporate as the UK drifts off to sulk as an offshore irrelevance. The EU is a mix of big states and little states. The former - Germany, France, the UK, Italy, Spain and Poland. Germany and France need to have their mutual complex-laden relationship balanced by level-headed states with a different historical outlook. Poland and the UK are a necessary counter-balance to the Franco-German axis to keep the EU from straying into fairy-land federalism steered from Brussels. So - a United Kingdom in a strong, competitive European Union.

The next big problem is of the bare-chested imperialist Putin, recently boasting that he could invade Warsaw in two days. How much is this talk is bluff and how much is genuine intent? Only a strong West - a strong NATO and a strong EU - can act as a bulwark and deterrent to a man who realises that he can only remain in power by playing the strongman to his disorientated electorate. And a strong EU needs to be united and determined to face down the bully.

After yesterday's vote, the United Kingdom remains a member of the United Nations Security Council; its nuclear deterrent remains parked in Holy Loch; Alex Salmond's threat to castrate Britain's ability to face down Putin has fizzled out. And to make the point, RAF fighters had to escort two Russian bombers away from the coast of Scotland earlier today. Had those RAF Typhoons not been scrambled - the Russians would have been able to probe deeper into NATO airspace, and found the resolve to defend it weak.

As I wrote back in March this year, European history is at a tipping point. One of the crises has passed - the threat of the United Kingdom breaking up. This makes it less likely that the UK will leave the EU in 2017 (Scots are more likely to vote to stay in than the English, Scotland's propensity to vote Labour reduces the chances of an outright Conservative win next May). And a stronger EU makes it less likely that Putin will fancy his chances against Moldova, Latvia, Estonia - or central Ukraine.

All of this makes more distant problems - Islamic State, Syria, Ebola virus - look marginal from the perspective of Warsaw.

I thank all those who put in such an effort to keep the UK together - canvassing on the streets of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, tweeting and retweeting, blogging; it feels so good that this evening I can still write about a United Kingdom and a Great Britain.

That moment last night when I walked into the TVN24 studios and the first unofficial exit poll result at 54-46 to keep the union flashed up on the monitor behind the newsdesk I shall cherish always.

Over the past two weeks, I did no fewer than 16 live or recorded radio and TV interviews regarding the independence referendum (I still have two more in the pipeline). TokFM, Radio PiN, Radio dla Ciebie, Polskie Radio 24, Polsat, TVN and TVP Info. My key message was - it is absolutely in Poland's interest that the United Kingdom stays together. Thank God it did.

Footnote. I'm less than thrilled by the new Polish government announced today. At a time of external threat, the notion of having a political street-fighter with little foreign experience and language skill like Grzegorz Schetyna running Poland's diplomacy worries me somewhat. Fingers crossed for the new team nevertheless.

This time last year:
The S2 opens all the way to Puławska

This time two years ago:

This time three years ago:
Push-pull for Mazowsze

This time four years ago:
Okęcie runway repairs are complete

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

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

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Weekend cookery

Today's lunch turned out so perfect I thought I'd share it with my readers. I'm a great fan of fresh prawns - true, they need peeling which is a bit of a faff, but they taste so much better compared to the ready-peeled sort. If you've not done it before, each one takes about 20-30 seconds to shell - remove the head (easy), then pull the tail off carefully so as not to leave any meat inside it; then, taking the legs and carapace off one side proceed round to the other in one swift, decisive action; the entire prawn minus shell then pops free. Finally, use your thumbnail to check if there's any carapace remaining around the prawn's spine. There! Then repeat around 25 times, which will produce a goodly portion for one person, and 25 times per person thereafter. Half a kilo is about 50 medium prawns (give or take a few). Auchan has a delivery of fresh seafood several times a week; sometimes the hypermarket is out of them.

Anyway, now you have your peeled prawns, we can begin...

First clarify a knob of butter on a medium to large-sized non-stick frying pan. Now, chop finely some garlic - one large or two small cloves per person - and cut a red hot chilli pepper (about half per person should do, though this may be fiery for some palates) into fine strips. Put garlic and chilli into the clarified butter, then add a generous splosh of dry white wine (any will do). Now, put in your prawns; keep stirring.

Then, transfer your talents to the tomatoes. Small cherry tomatoes (the best are from PGO, an organic tomato grower from Białystok, on the vine preferably) cut into quarters. About six tomatoes per person should yield 24 quarters, around a quarter of a cherry tomato per prawn.

Now, the couscous. Not only is it easier to prepare than rice, its texture goes together better with prawns, and the way it adheres to them gives a better visual impact.

To make couscous simply put about a quarter of a cupful per person into a... er... cup, and cover with freshly boiled water, and give a dash more for good measure. And just let it stand for five minutes! (Should there be no water visible on the surface after two minutes, add a dash more boiling water.)

Once the prawns have cooked through, put in the couscous and mix in. That's nearly it - warm it all through and just garnish at the last minute with freshly cut coriander (I love the stuff!) and serve into a pre-heated bowl.

Drink-wise, a super Portuguese dry white has just appeared in the local Biedronka (owned by Portuguese Jeronimo Martins Distribution), called Barbeitos. At last, five months after opening its store in Jeziorki, Biedronka offers a decent Portuguese wine. To go with this shellfish meal - excellent.

Click on the photo below, of the finished meal; bring your face close to your screen and smell it...

Note the way the couscous clings to the prawns - I used to make this meal with rice, but couscous is a far superior accompaniment, even compared to the fineft Basmati rice. Other than peeling the prawns, very quick to prepare and phenomenally tasty.

The Road - and the lack of it

Yeah. Early morning. Pull over to the side of the highway, Nowy Podolszyn, below, catch that feeling. CLICK! It's back - that split second when my soul recognises some other reality. Just across the brow of the hill - a diner? I once wrote about possessing this wonderful, fleeting, sensation being somewhat akin to an archeologist examining a shard of pottery from some long gone age - not the best analogy. It's far less tangible than that. It's more like the work of a sub-atomic physicist; catching that evanescent moment when two particles collide, and recording the outcome. When that moment happens, as it frequently does, I mull it over in my mind - I try to capture its elusive quality - it is so familiar, yet not from this life.

Below: back to prosaic reality, on the border of Nowy Podolszyn and Zgorzała. The asphalt ends (ul. Złota, Nowy Podolszyn) and the dirt track (ul. Raszyńska, Zgorzała) starts. At this time of year passable (just); but when the autumn rains start to fall, this stretch becomes a morass that will find you axle-deep in mud. You'd think the new housing development over to the left would be a spur to laying down asphalt all the way through, linking the two villages. It really is high time.

Similarly, there's no asphalt south of Podolszyn linking it to Lesznowola. As a consequence, these villages, just south of the borders of Warsaw, are held back in their development.

This time five years ago:
I cycle to work along the cyclepath along ul. Rosoła

This time six years ago:
First apple (today, the same tree groans with fruit)

This time seven years ago:
Late summer spiders webs

Friday, 12 September 2014

Goodbye Premier Tusk, hello President Tusk

The selection of Donald Tusk, until yesterday Poland's prime minister, as president of the European Council was met with the same muted enthusiasm as the election of Tadeusz Mazowiecki as Poland's first post-war non-communist prime minister 25 years ago today.

A deal had been done, a result achieved. Poles felt a subdued sense of achievement then as they do now; the pride of being recognised as an Achiever Nation.

Mr Tusk, Poland's longest-ruling premier since the downfall of communism, will have plenty of people willing to criticise him from the left and from the right - which means he pretty much got things right. He could have advanced further and faster, but the direction of travel was correct. He kept a coalition going for a full term, then got re-elected, the first government to do so since 1989. The knockers may knock, but the macroeconomic indicators and the international rankings - as well as the honour of being selected as one of the EU's three principal leaders - suggest that he must have been doing something right.

Let us hope that in Brussels Mr Tusk will give the EU some backbone when it comes to realising where the big threats are coming from - not only in the form of a resurgent, awkward, nationalistic Russia - but also in the form of threats to Europe's competitiveness, over-regulation, and petty national self-interest.

Let us also hope that Mr Tusk will provide Mr Cameron with the ammunition needed to shut up his UKIP critics - by pushing the EU on a reformist path based on economic goals rather than on top-down federalising ambitions. Let's see the transatlantic trade deal (TTIP) hammered out, let's see Europe's economy becoming more innovative and open. Let's see a Single European Market in goods, services and digital services (why can't I watch BBC programmes online in Poland?)

Let us hope that Mr Tusk has a good English teacher. Stories from his classmates that he used to bunk off English lessons disturb me slightly - bunking off Russian I can understand, but if you were offered the chance to learn English back in the 1970s, Donald, you should have grabbed it with both hands.

Let us hope, too, that Mr Tusk's energy levels, commitment and drive do not dissipate, and that he can be seen by Europe and the world as an effective champion of market-driven solutions and smart regulation. And that Mr Tusk will give the EU some firm backbone in the face of a nationalistic, bullying, cheating Russia.

Meanwhile, here in Poland, Ewa Kopacz has been nominated prime minister. Not my choice - I'd have gone for another woman, Elżbieta Bienkowska, but she's also off to Brussels to serve as commissioner for the internal market (big job to do here, especially in services and digital). Deputy Premier Bienkowska did a great job in regional development, and was doing well running an expanded ministry that also took in infrastructure (a job no man in Poland had ever achieved great results).

Ms Kopacz? Her greatest hour was as Poland's health minister during the swine-flu crisis (remember that, readers?) in 2009-2010. Unlike other European health ministries, who were panicked into buying huge stockpiles of vaccines than ended up unused, Ms Kopacz took the firm line that the threat was overplayed and that the health budget was better spent elsewhere. The opposition demanded her head, she kept cool and saved the Polish tax payer a shed-load of money.

Somewhat she seems lacklustre as a future Polish premier; her job is to keep the PO government going until the next parliamentary elections in the autumn of 2015.

Given the shambles that is Poland's opposition (both left and right), I wish her well and will support her in keeping the country on its current course. "Steady as she goes, Captain Kopacz."

This time last year:
Return from depressing Radom

This time two years ago:
Up up up with the Cosmopolitan

This time three years ago:
New urban toponyms: "P+R Al. Krakowska" = Okęcie

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

This time five years ago:
On preference and genetics

This time six years ago:

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Putin will not heal Russia's tortured soul

The tougher Putin plays with the West, the higher his popularity ratings soar. Why should ordinary Russians consider sacrificing their future prosperity in exchange for some intangible feelings of national greatness?

Is it that Russia desperately needs to believe in itself, beset as it is by so many intrinsic problems such as substance abuse, demographic implosion, low life expectancy, crumbling infrastructure, or a suicide rate among its young people that's two-and-half times the global average? Is it that ordinary Russians can see so many of their educated countrymen emigrating for good? And so many of their wealthy countrymen investing their wealth, pilfered at home, in property on the Cote d'Azure, Cyprus or London?

Russia is a nation tortured by its history. From the Mongol invasion, Ivan the Terrible, the Times of Troubles, the Black Hundreds, the Okhrana, Lenin, Stalin - Russians have been brutally held down by aggressive forces for centuries. This is a nation whose soul was shaped by serfdom, Siberian exile, by the Gulags, by prison gang hierarchies. And today, Russia's intelligentsia is, to quote author Victor Erofeyev, marginalised, brushed out of the way, made to feel an alien, enemy element.

It's worth noting that when serfdom was abolished in 1861, 38% of Russia's population belonged to their landowner. By comparison, at its high-point just before the Civil War, 14% of the population of the USA were slaves. And it was Russians who enslaved one another, rather than people of another race, captured on another continent. Russia plundered itself the way other countries plundered their overseas empires. Communism then came along, played to the masses, promised them paradise on earth as the inhuman system decimated Russia's intelligentsia and crushed any tradition of independent thought.

After the collapse of communism, rather than embrace tolerance, good-will and openness, Russia carried on along the same trajectory as before. Communism's fall led not to the rise a civil society, but to that of a plundering oligopoly, a kleptocracy of ex-KGB spooks well-versed in the techniques of deception; hungry for wealth as well as power. And the wealth was converted to power, the power back to wealth and so on.

Their Russia remains a deeply suspicious, untrusting nation. Much of the distrust that ordinary Russians bear towards the West stems from the propaganda they've been fed for the past 96 years. Propaganda bought by oligarchs' billions from pliant media owners.

Rule of law, balance of powers, respect for private property, distinction between private and public property, distinction between power and wealth, tolerance, fair play - the founding stones of Anglo-Saxon polity - are all nebulous concepts in the Russian mind. The Anglo-Saxon model is also based on the devolution of power from the individual to the committee, and the notion of checks and balances. And as such it is more accountable, more transparent, more civilised.

Back in the 1990s, when I worked in a multinational publishing corporation, I met the country manager of its Russian operation, who happened also to be professor of printing at a Moscow university. With access to the its presses, paper and ink, he quickly came to dominate a lucrative publishing niche, before selling his business to foreign capital. Speaking to him after many fine French wines, I found myself staring into the dark, dark soul of a man who clearly believed in a hundred and one cranky conspiracy theories, a man who had total disregard for his fellow man, and thought everything meaningless because the world was going to end in seven years time in a cosmic cataclysm and everyone would die.

So how should the West see Russia? How should the West respond to Putin?

The solution to the Prisoner's Dilemma offers a powerful algorithm that sets out how we ought to behave toward our fellow man (or indeed nation) for the optimal outcome.

If our fellow man gets along with us just fine, we should never do anything against him. Co-existing with him in honest cooperation, we will both flourish. Yet what happens when he turns nasty on us? The answer is to punish him - instantly and robustly - and to continue to do so until the moment he asks for mercy, and decides to return to a policy of cooperation. And then cooperate with him, continuing to do so - unless there's a further transgression.

The Prisoner's Dilemma has been played out millions of times in computer simulations, using millions of different responses to 'cooperate' and 'defect'. Which strategy is most effective in this game? The scenario that consistently proves to be most beneficial in the long term is to cooperate with the other fellow until he defects, then defect back on him until he relents, then switch back to 'cooperate' mode.

Quoting from the Wikipedia article linked above, these are the conditions necessary for the strategy to be successful:
The most important condition is that the strategy must be 'nice', that is, it will not defect before its opponent does... A purely selfish strategy will not 'cheat' on its opponent, for purely self-interested reasons first.
However [...] the successful strategy must not be blindly optimistic. It must retaliate. An example of a non-retaliating strategy is Always Cooperate. This is a very bad choice, as 'nasty' strategies will ruthlessly exploit such players*.
Successful strategies must also be forgiving. Though players will retaliate, they will once again fall back to cooperating if the opponent does not continue to defect. This stops long runs of revenge and counter-revenge, maximising points. 
The last quality is being non-envious, that is not striving to score more than the opponent.

This strategy worked well for the Western Allies at the end of WWII; West Germany and Japan were created out of two nations that were crushed decidedly; they demonstrated genuine contrition and became close partners of the Western Allies. Note the 'non-envious' quality; within four decades of the ending of the war, Germany and Japan were economically more successful than America or Britain.

The end of the Cold War was rather like the end of WWI. The loser failed to show contrition for its past behaviour (be it invading Belgium or enslaving Central and Eastern Europe). Feeling itself unjustly punished, indeed persecuted, out of a sense of injustice visited upon it, the former loser rebuilt itself as the world's major trouble-maker.

What will heal eventually Russia's tortured soul is a genuine civil society; but this will only emerge after a generation or two has successfully built up and passed on wealth to its children, who will have a stake in preserving it from upheavals - wars or revolutions. Charitable organisations, cultural activities, a vibrant, tolerant, free media; but above all an end to a paranoid vision in which the world's largest nation in terms of land mass feels that it is about to get invaded again.

It is not. NATO leaders realise (even intuitively, if they are unfamiliar with the Prisoner's Dilemma) that 'Nice', 'Forgiving' and 'Non-envious' are the right strategies to deploy towards a non-hostile Russia. They should also realise that 'Retaliating' is the right strategy to deploy towards a belligerent, threatening, bullying Russia.

And Russia, like the educationally challenged classroom bully that, not knowing what to do to find popularity, instead seeks to instill fear into its neighbours, mistaking that with 'respect'.

* Non-retaliating strategies are a bad choice as 'nasty' strategies will ruthlessly exploit those who use them. A lesson for the EU and Barack Obama - being soft on Putin is mathematically, logically, strategically, doomed to failure.

This time last year:
A post from Opole

This time two years ago:
Raise a glass to Powiśle

This time four years ago:
Mud, rain and local elections (Mrs G-W gets a thumbs down)

This time six years ago:
There must be a better way (commuting woes, again)

Monday, 8 September 2014

Scotland alone - catastrophic for all

Yesterday's news that a YouGov poll of 1,084 Scottish voters showed the 'Yes' vote slightly ahead for the first time has provoked a fevered response across the UK - as well it should. I'm amazed reading about how low-key and unemotional the debate in Scotland is. Online as well as in real life.

Having visited Scotland three times this year, I witnessed no raised voices or threatening tones. A measured, indeed too-polite discussion on the niceties of a currency split, on tax-raising and -spending powers being transferred in their entirety to Edinburgh, on the pros and cons of Schengen, on NATO membership and the future of Trident submarine bases.

On the one hand, the 'No' camp (aka 'Better Together') is a coalition of the hated Tories, heirs to the butchers of Culloden, Labour (remember when the UK's premier and finance minister were both Scots) and Liberal Democrats. On the other hand, the Scottish Nationalists, who could muster only 28% support for independence just 11 years ago.  Using a cocktail of emotional appeal and populist rozdawnictwo promises, an independent Scotland will be, the Scots Nats claim, a paradise of free, limitless healthcare, free university education, expanded social housing, no nuclear weapons etc etc.

Who will pay for this? North Sea Oil, which somehow has failed to run out as predicted 20 years ago. And taxation - despite pledges to lower corporate tax rates to among the lowest in Europe. In what currency will all this be paid for? A pound, in which the Bank of England promises to be lender of last resort, propping up Scottish government spending? Or a pound unsupported by the Bank of England - more likely. Or a Scottish currency (like the Irish pound or punt from 1928 to 2002). Or - a long shot - the euro. How much of Scotland's financial and manufacturing sectors stay put, how much would move out, and how  big would the job losses be? Below: Union flag at half mast next Friday week? The Lloyds Bank building, Edinburgh.

The emotional pain inflicted on the rest of the United Kingdom would be tremendous. Worse than losing the American colonies in 1776, says Spectator editor Fraser Nelson, who's doing sterling work in promoting the 'no' position through the social media. Above all, for non-Scottish citizens of the United Kingdom, all 58 million of them - including myself - who have no say in the matter, it would mean the end of the country in which they were born.

No one has yet coined a suitable name for what would remain of the UK after Scotland left. 'Little Britain' or the unfortunately acronymed 'Former United Kingdom' are gallows-humour suggestions. Indeed, the presence of the province of Northern Ireland across the Irish Sea, and therefore not Britain, rules out the first epithet. 'Rest of the UK' would not work as a United Kingdom needs to be composed of at least two kingdoms. One kingdom, one principality and one province is not a UK. We are a little more than a week away from the UK becoming a country with no name other than one that reflects a past state of being (like Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). Come next Friday morning, it is possible that the country in which I was born, the country whose passport I proudly bear - will be no more.

And the flag - the Union Jack - the second-most iconic flag in the world after the Stars and Stripes - worn on T-shirts and handbags globally - what will the flag of the Former United Kingdom look like without the blue of the Scottish saltire?

Tribalism in Northern Ireland will prevent it from being absorbed into the South, while in Wales only those areas where Arawych Nawr comes before "Slow Down" on road signs feel strongly enough to want to break away from England. So, awkwardly, the Former UK will limp into injured irrelevance.

Scots may wake up next Friday week in celebratory mood, but in the coming months the awfulness of what they did will begin to dawn on them; regular runs on the Scottish pound; inflation caused by increased transaction costs of goods imported from across the border; protracted negotiations regarding Scotland's re-entry into the EU and NATO. And there's the prospect that the hated Tories will rule England for ever more now that 41 Labour MPs from north of the border will cease to have a say in Westminster. English politics would shift dramatically to the right - and UKIP, waiting in the wings, may end up being the main opposition party in Former UK by the end of this decade. So the English Left has just as much skin in the game as the Conservatives have to keep Scotland in the UK.

And yet no one other than the 4.5 million Scots over the age of 16 and resident in Scotland will have a say in the matter.

I can only hope that reason triumphs over emotions. Living here in Poland, I do understand how Scots must feel with the prospect of a return to nationhood. But there's no folk memory of Scotland pre-1707, like there was when Poland regained independence in 1918.

From the Polish perspective, with an unpleasant bully for a neighbour, it is far better that the UK remain united and strong, and remain a powerful influence within the European Union. Poles too should watch the last week and half of the referendum with some sense of trepidation.

Finally, happy 87th birthday to my mother, Maria Dembińska - Sto lat!

This time two years ago:
Happy 85th Birthday, Babcia Marysia!

This time three years ago:
Summer comes crashing to a halt

This time five years ago:
The atmosphere of impending autumn - Mono no aware

This time six years ago:
Time to recycle.

This time seven years ago:
Coal train running

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Classic machinery

As regular readers know, I'm no fan of burning fossil fuels in pursuit of pleasure, but I'll make one exception - those wonderful people who maintain classic machinery, keeping it in good running order for generations to come. Modern automobiles fail to stir my soul, but the sight of a Willys Jeep (below) makes me stand to attention. Especially when it's driving down ul. Trombity, past a house that takes me back to old Kentucky.

Below: An E-Type, epitomising Britain in the Swinging Sixties, parked (briefly) on ul. Poznańska, the trendiest of Warsaw streets. Chrome wire wheels and red leather interior make it perfect.

Below: another classic Jag in Poland. This is a beautiful Jaguar 420G, the ever-so slightly facelifted successor to the Mark X - the widest car ever built by Jaguar.

Though not an original, Kawasaki's VN1500 Drifter (below) was for many years the nearest thing to a 1948 Indian Chief (a US manufacturer has since reincarnated the brand again in 2011). The after-market illuminated Indian Chief 'war bonnet' on the front mudguard gives this bike that late 1940s authenticity. Japan's motorbike manufacturers are good at copying the classics - like Yamaha's SR400 or Kawasaki's W800 that hark back to British bikes of the 1960s.

Below: the Drifter's pierwowzór (nice Polish word - literally 'first-pattern', conveying the concept of a 'prototype/inspiration') in my back garden, albeit in 1/6th scale.

And out the front - in 1-1 scale (almost), my Yamaha XVS Drag Star (classic, not custom).

Snapped out of the back of the 709 on Puławska - another gorgeous convertible Cadillac, below. This one a 1968 model (there's a red 1972 model around these parts too!).

To sell 'classic' you have to trade on heritage. The British certainly have it. The USA has it (losing it in the '80s and '90s). Germany has it (though I've never been nuts for das Deutsche autogeist).The Italians have it in two wheels and four. The French had it but lost it as their industry globalised, it lost its unique idiosyncrasies. Japan strives desperately, but Lexus, Accura and Infiniti neither won Grands Prix, 24 Heures du Mans, Monte Carlo rallies, never became screen icons. The rest of the world you can forget about.

Today's car designers are all falling over themselves to make their output look like badly scraped carrots, things drafted with My First Calligraphy Set, whose artily dented steel sides make them look like they've been involved in collisions before leaving the factory. Enough already. So many design classics have already taken to the road - the retro look is what many consumers crave, and yet what so few manufacturers make.

Below: a pair of Harley-Davidson WLs - both are over 70 years old. The 1940 WL was the basis for the US Army's WLA, manufactured in large numbers and supplied via Lend-Lease to the Red Army, hence a fair number ended up in Poland after the war. Some were restored to civilian trim, others left in their military state.

This time last year:
S2/S79 opens partially (not yet reaching Puławska)

This time six years ago:
Recycling time rolls round again

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Around the Czachówek Diamond, again

The sun and wind... I love that combination - a crystal-blue sky, utterly cloudless, and hot; together with a strong, cooling wind in the face, magically together the two elements evoke the Sublime Mood. Time, then, to get on my mountain-bike and head off for the country, to make the most of the late summer. A 12.24 złoty (£ 2.30) day return ticket from Jeziorki to Czachówek Górny gets me out of suburbia and into the Mazowsze countryside for a five-hour, 33km cycling excursion.

Czachówek Górny station lies 17km south of W-wa Jeziorki, in the centre of the 'Czachówek Diamond', where the Warsaw to Radom railway line crosses the Skierniewice to Łuków line. Four rail spurs connect the two lines, allowing trains to go off to all points of the compass (see map from Google Earth, below, with railways marked). It is from here that I start and to here I return.

Below: I head east, into the wind, in the direction of Góra Kalwaria. The road follows the line, then turns into a sandy track with the railway on an embankment, and forest to the south. Though there are few passenger trains using this line at the weekend, there are many freight trains, with varied loads. Below: empty coal wagons heading back east to the Bogdanka mine.

Below: a long westbound train of oil tankers. It is encouraging to see freight returning to the rails. Whether it's EU funded projects or simple economics, I don't know; but just think how many trucks would have to carry this cargo along public roads.

Below: my Cannondale takes a break at an unguarded level crossing. Time for lunch - I buy a quality, high-class length of kiełbasa, a long bread roll to accommodate it, one-and-half litres of Cisowianka mineral water, two lovely large Polish apples and a tin of Warka Pstrąg beer (sadly only mainstream brands out in the country - no craft IPAs or ciders). Total cost of lunch is 13.50 złotys (£ 2.55).

Below: the building of the sołtys (elected village head) in Krzaki Czaplinkowskie. It is part Wild West fort, part radio transmission station, part drop-in constituency surgery, part village store and part metal anodising workshop.

Below: another eastbound coal train, this one coming from Skierniewice, approaching the level crossing at low speed. Lack of gated crossings means trains have to slow down; this hurts their operating efficiency. If we want to see more goods taken off the roads and put onto rail, the Polish state must invest in the safety infrastructure. Today I passed three crosses indicating where people had died under the wheels of passing trains.

Below: a gaggle of geese outside a farmhouse in Uwieliny, to the north-west of Czachówek. As I cycled slowly past, the geese waddled away, honking noisily, evidently irritated.

Left: the worst bit of the journey - soft sand. Time to get off and push. After several dry and sunny days, the paths that are in the open can quickly become impassable to cyclists. Still, I have my pedometer with me, so even if I'm not cranking out the kilometres on my bike, I am contributing towards my daily walking target of 10,000 paces.

Cycling through the middle of the diamond - Pan Heniek (below), equipped with scythe and a bucket for mushrooms. Though my layman's instinct suggests it may yet be too early for mushrooms, his bucket is nearly brim-full.

Nearing Czachówek Górny at the end of my journey, passing through Bronisławów, I see another oil train at the (unguarded) level crossing. This train is using the spur that connects the northbound and westbound lines.

My train back to Jeziorki is on time - it's been a splendid day out - my ticket and victuals coming to less than a fiver in British money, the weather fabulous. I feel a healthy suntan coming on.

This time two years ago:
Second line of the Metro runs into delays

This time four years ago
Army helicopters in action at Kielce defence show

This time five years ago:
World's largest helicopter over Jeziorki

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Riding my Brompton to work

Today, Thursday 4 September, is Cycle to Work Day in the UK. Here in Poland, Monday 22 September will be Leave Your Car at Home Day. So today, along with 73,000 Brits, I'll get to work on two man-powered wheels. The choice of bike? My Brompton, which I picked up from the bike shop (AirBike in Ursynów) 11 months after dropping it off for a major overhaul.

The work has still not been done. No one could find the right chainset; so I'm left with a chainwheel with the wrong number of teeth, which leads to the chain skipping when I'm pedalling hard, and - worse - the chain tensioner snapping in half when the bike's being folded too quickly. Neither AirBike, nor Brompton's Polish agent, nor Brompton could suggest a fix after months of e-mailing. Secondly, I wanted to replace the rusting, heavy, useless rear carrier with a rear mudguard with jockey wheel that allows folding, keeps my back dry and doesn't add an extra half-kilo of useless weight. Again, no can do (after 11 months).

So - my Brompton - bought directly from the factory over 20 years ago, when I used to write for Bicycle magazine, is still not 100% as it should be. But it's had a lot of work done on it - new tyres, new chain, new brake blocks and cables, new front mudguard, new chain tensioner; 920 złotys worth of work.

Anyway - here it is (below) ready to go for a shake-down ride to work. This will be the first time I ride to my office on ul. Marszałkowska, where we moved last November.

Below: close up of the clever bits. Note the non-standard, 46-tooth Raleigh chainwheel - the best the bike shop could do. A 44-tooth chainwheel is needed here. I must source one myself. As well as a rear mudguard to fit this 1991-model Brompton. Second-hand, maybe.

Below: I cycled all the way in, a total of 15km. Up ul. Puławska (still largely bereft of a decent cycle path - the only exceptions are the new bits around the S79 interchange, and the old bits by the race-track and from Domaniewska to Dolna. The city roads authority, ZDM, is building a new stretch along ul. Waryńskiego, from Rondo Jazdy Polskiej to Pl. Konstytucji. Only a short stretch, but welcome. Below: on the last lap, along ul. Marszałkowska, north of Pl. Konstytucji.

Below: at my office, proudly folded up showing the amazing compactness and brilliance of the design - now over a quarter of a century old and never bested by any other folding bike. In terms of size, speed of folding and quality of ride, the Brompton remains unbeatable. Folded up, it sat safely all day long in the corner of my office, out of harm's way.

On the way home, after a few ales with the Błękitna Trójka Warsaw Chapter. I wheeled the bike to the station, and folded in the rear triangle, posed it for a photo while waiting for a train bound for Jeziorki.

Postscript, Friday 5 September: My colleague Ewa calls me at the end of the working day. Someone has stolen her bike, which she parked outside our office, on ul Marszałkowska. Cutting through the chain on Warsaw's busiest thoroughfare, in full view of security cameras. Her bike is a red and grey Gary Fisher Tassajara, with non-standard brass-coloured stem.

Postscript: By October 2014, the Brompton was restored to full functioning, thanks to the direct intervention of Brompton. Thanks guys!

This time three years ago:
Bike ride to Powsin as summer fades gloriously

This time four years ago:
Compositions in yellow, blue and white

This time five years ago:
When the Z-9 used to run, temporarily, to Jeziorki