Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Economic forecasts for 2014 - and 2015?

It's that time of year to cast a macroeconomic eye over Poland, the UK and the eurozone (which hasn't fallen apart yet, despite the predictions of many highly-paid soothsayers). It has been a difficult year, not least because of the behaviour of Vladimir Putin.

Let's see how my forecasts for 2014 (links below), prepared a year ago, panned out...

First, a look at the Polish economy. Despite the massive exogenous shock that was the Russian invasion of Crimea and the Donbass, which had a negative effect on Poland's manufacturing and exports, growth was better than I'd expected. Had it not been for the ongoing Ukraine crisis, the GDP might have grown by nearer to 4%. Unemployment remains stubbornly high, although the informal economy is estimated to be soaking up around one-third of those claiming unemployment benefits. Inflation was a bigger surprise. The drop in world oil prices and the glut of food competing for buyers on the Polish market (both side-effects of the Ukraine crisis). Few would have expected that a basket of products and services would have been cheaper today than a year ago.

Key economic indicators: Poland

My forecast Outcome
GDP growth 3.1% (Q3 y-o-y)
3.3% (Q3 y-o-y)

Unemployment 11.0% (Nov)
11.4% (Nov)

Inflation 2.4% (Nov)
-0.6% (Nov)


Next up, the UK. The outcome was much better than I'd forecast - the rapid rise in GDP was something that caught me (pleasantly) by surprise. Despite the downward revision of Q3 year-on-year growth from 3.0% to 2.6%, it was a whole lot better than the mild contraction I was anticipating (the British economy was teetering on the edge of a triple-dip recession this time last year). While unemployment has fallen nicely, there are major questions to be asked about job security and pay rates; zero-hour contracts and low pay are exacerbating inequality, a big socioeconomic issue in Britain. Inflation, however, is much lower, again, a by-product of tumbling oil prices.

Key economic indicators: UK

My forecast Outcome
GDP growth -0.3% (Q3 y-o-y)
2.6% (Q3 y-o-y)

Unemployment 6.8% (Aug-Oct)
6.0% (Aug-Oct)

Inflation 3.5% (Nov)
1.0% (Nov)


Finally, the bits in the middle - the eurozone (augmented from tomorrow by a 19th member country - Lithuania). Here the story has not been at all rosy. My pessimistic forecast for sluggish GDP growth proved to be spot-on, while employment across the eurozone is now officially higher than in Poland. The effects of the Russian sanctions and low oil prices have knocked back inflation way below my forecast.

Key economic indicators: eurozone
My forecast Outcome
GDP growth 0.8% (Q3 y-o-y)
0.8% (Q3 y-o-y)

Unemployment 10.0% (Nov)
11.5% (Nov)

Inflation 1.8% (Nov)
0.3% (Nov)


Currencies - 12 months ago today I predicted that 1 GBP would be 5.10 PLN (it's 5.46); 1 EUR will be 4.25 PLN (it's 4.26), and 1 GBP will be 1.20 EUR (it's 1.28). So sterling has made the biggest gain.

Forecasts for 2015? Not me, mister. Too many known and unknown unknowns. The known unknowns are the elections taking place in Poland (presidential and parliamentary) and in the UK (parliamentary). In both cases, the results are too close to call and on both cases may result in a nutty party or a nutty coalition focused on the wrong agenda making major macroeconomic blunders.

Secondly, the big global worry - the reemergence of Russia as a rogue state - may have macroeconomic effects that 12 months from now will be completely unpredictable from today's perspective. And the unknown unknowns - who could have predicted a year ago the impact that Putin's Ukrainian incursions, Islamic State and the Ebola virus would have on the world. [Indeed. Have a look at what the BBC's experts focused on as the Big Stories coming up in 2014 - none of the above were mentioned.]

Property prices are extremely interesting, especially for those with a foot in both Poland and the UK. Britain's property market is slowing down, although London continues to be a magnet for flight capital. The prices that the wealthy from around the world are prepared to pay for prime Central London property ripples out to the suburbs. This causes run-of-the-mill terraced housing in places like Greenford and Ickenham to cost as much as three (or even four) such houses in Derby or Nottingham or Hull. The effect is that young people are fleeing London; before long, London will hollow out as no one serving the hyper-rich residents in the city's centre will be able to afford to live even in Zone 6. Plus, George Osborne's new taxes on non-domiciled property owners (capital gains tax on sales, no tax breaks on rental incomes) will make it less attractive to own London property as an investment vehicle.

Meanwhile, a thousand miles to the east, property prices in Warsaw continue flat, despite the rapid growth in GDP. My guess is that wealthier Poles would rather invest in their businesses than in real estate at this moment in time.

This time last year:
Economic predictions for 2014

This time two years ago:
Economic predictions for 2013

This time three years ago:
Economic predictions for 2012

This time four years ago:
Classic cars, West Ealing

This time five years ago:
Jeziorki 2009, another view

This time six years ago:
Jeziorki 2008, another view

This time seven years ago:
Final thoughts for 2007

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Shots from the sky

Some aerial shots to share - taken from the BA flight from Warsaw to London, then from London to Warsaw. Flying on the left side of the plane (an 'A' seat) both ways. Below: Crossing the English coast; in the centre of the photo is Foulness Island; the Thames Estuary glinting gold in the distance. "Cabin crew prepare for landing."


Below: on final approach, over Wimbledon. Running through the frame is the London and South West railway line with its depot between Wimbledon and Earlsfield. "Please ensure your seatbelt is fastened, your tray table is in the upright position and your armrests are down."


Below: flying home to Warsaw, with the sun on the other side this time. A circular rainbow preceded the plane for much of the way back. In fact two - and you can just make out a third - and even fourth rainbow, projected over the blanket of cloud covering central Germany.


A rarer phenomenon, below. Looking like the massive stationary ripples of a rainbow explosion in 2D, the multiple circular rainbow flares out towards the bottom as it merges into the clouds over north-west Poland. Contrast and saturation enhanced with Photoshop.


Below: approaching Warsaw, with Puszcza Kampinoska to the left, and in the distance the steam from the power stations at Żerań (centre) and Siekierki (right). That's Al. Jerozolimskie heading into town from the bottom right of the picture.


Below: now the plumes from Siekierki are on the centre of the horizon as the plane turns south to make a north-westerly landing on Runway 33, which means some good aerial views of Jeziorki...


Below: and indeed, there's ul. Trombity, the lakes frozen over. Snow and ice had not been forecast before we left for England a week ago, but a light dusting coats the land, with temperatures steadily falling below zero since Christmas Day and hitting a low today of -8C.


Good to be back in Jeziorki!

This time two years ago:
One-millionth of a zloty

This time three years ago:
Random year-end thoughts

This time four years ago:
Beery litter louts

This time five years ago:
Miserable grey London

This time six years ago:
Parrots in Ealing

This time seven years ago:
Xmas lites, Jeziorki

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Yesterday's walk revisited, with snow

The Met Office issued a yellow warning, with snow forecast for much of the UK. And so it was; soon after darkness fell yesterday, it started snowing here in Duffield - great, wet snowflakes. Would they melt by the morning?

I beheld the answer as I opened the bedroom window... wintry gorgeousness, served English style.


After a spot of lens-shopping in Derby a trip back up Hob Hill, Hazelwood, in my brother's car - fortunately fitted with winter tyres (still a rarity here - our rented car doesn't have them). Without winter tyres, the ascent of Hob Hill would have ended in failure. Snow-plough gritters were out and about, making the going a bit easier on the main roads. Below: the churchyard of St. John the Evangelist. From here I shall walk back to Duffield.


Equipped with 55-300mm zoom lens, I can pick out distant features across the landscape.


And when the sun lights up the distant slopes, the Derbyshire winter looks Most agreeable...


Below: the crossroads between Hazelwood and Duffield


For those readers who saw the film Papusza, this field reminds me of the final sequence, with the gypsy caravan moving slowly away from camera as the closing credits roll.


Below: blue sky over a working farm in winter. There's livestock to be fed...


Below: it's that 2CV again, this time under a few inches of snow.


More snow expected overnight, and tomorrow's temperature as low as -5C. Warsaw, meanwhile, is experiencing -6C (no big news there).

This time last year:
Is Britain over-golfed?

This time two years:
Everybody's out on the road today

This time three years ago:
50% off and nothing to pay till June 2016

Friday, 26 December 2014

Derbyshire's rolling landscape

In Duffield at my brother's. Boxing Day, traditional time for a longer walk to work off the over-eating (and ale-quaffing) of the festive season.  I ascend the hill to Hazelwood, for a 5km/3 mile walk rising over 100m. The scenery of this part of Derbyshire, where the Peaks give way gently to the plains of the East Midlands, is unmistakably English, its man-made decoration - architecture and infrastructure - add flavour. Below: looking down towards Duffield from the edge of the town.


Below: hedge, gate, field, valley, ridge rising beyond; characteristically English landscape. Somewhere in that valley runs the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway, between Duffield and Wirksworth.


Below: between Hazelwood and Duffield.


Below: between Hazelwood and Duffield, upon a brow of a hill, hedgerows to one side. No footpath, fortunately drivers around here take it easy.


Below: the Church of St. John the Evangelist, Hazelwood. Standing on the crossroads at the top of a hill, the site was evidently associated with pagan ritual before Christianity reached Britain's shores. The church is on Hob Hill - hob being an archaic name for the devil. Standing on the hilltop, I could feel a strong spirit of place, though it was not malign.


Below: Gallic engineering looking incongruous against a British backdrop - a 30-year-old example of a 66-year-old design, a late production Citroen 2CV Charleston.


Below: entirely congruous in rural Derbyshire - a 60-year old Morris Minor van (Series II, split windscreen, grated grille), looking the part against stone walls; Hopping Hill, Milford. The Minor and 2CV both entered production in 1948.


After the walk, some more glorious food (honey-glazed ham with all the trimmings), mince pie and more fineft alef from the Great Heck Brewery in Yorkshire.

This time last year:
Our Progress Around the Sceptr'd Isle

This time two years ago:
Out and about in Duffield
and
Christmas Break

This time three years ago:
Boxing Day walk in Derbyshire

This time four years ago
This time six years ago:
This time seven years ago:

Sunday, 21 December 2014

The Mythos and the Logos in Russia and the West

All nations, all groups of people, have their myth, their shared narrative of how they came to be, what they are and why they are. And they have their sacred words - a constitution, the Rule of Law, around which social order is maintained.

Or at least they should do.

Britain - the mythos - a Celtic island nation formed by numerous invasions (Romans, Angles, Saxons and Jutes, Normans); Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus, maritime exploration, the Mother of Parliaments, the Empire Upon Which The Sun Never Set, Industry, Britannia Ruling the Waves, the tragedy of the Great War, Standing Alone in 1940,  Royal Family, the Welfare State, a Free Media, Tolerance, Common Sense, Good Manners and Decency. The logos is based on an unwritten constitution; absolute respect for private property, Common Law and precedent; parliamentary procedures, Green Papers, White Papers, Bills and Acts. Separation of the judiciary from the legislature, independent institutions.

America - the mythos - Pilgrim Fathers - civilising the savage wilderness, no taxation without representation - the primacy of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, rugged individualism, right to bear arms, Just Wars to Free the Oppressed, from the Civil War to WWII, the City on the Hill, the refuge for the Huddled Masses, the bringer of innovation to the world. The logos is firmly rooted in the Constitution of 1776 and its amendments, the division of the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary, Allegiance to the Flag.

Poland - the mythos - the Piast dynasty and the creation of a Polish, Christian nation state; alliance with Lithuania to form Europe's largest land empire, from the Baltic to the Black sea; sold out by self-interested magnates and carved up by Prussia, Russia and Austria, off the face of Europe for 120 years to re-emerge only to be tragically partitioned once again by Hitler and Stalin; occupied by the Nazis for five years and under Soviet domination for the next 45 - free at last and determined to make up lost ground. The logos - the legacy of the Constitution of 1791, the current constitution of 1997, the European Union Treaty, the ongoing nation-building work to improve the legislative process and build strong, independent institutions.

Russia - the mythos - Kievan Rus', Orthodox Christianity, a golden age before the Mongol hordes swept across from the East; 260 years of suffering under oriental despotism, before home-grown autocracy in the form of Ivan the Terrible took hold. And via Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, a Eurasian empire stretching from Central Europe to the Pacific Ocean was formed, on the back of a vast army of serfs. All the while Russia was being invaded by foreigners - Swedes, Poles, Turks. The Romanov dynasty was either a) the Successor of Byzantium or b) the Oppressor of the Masses. So in 1917, it was overthrown either a) by a band of gangsters driven by a misguided ideology or b) the Vanguard of the Proletariat. Then Stalin collectivised the peasantry of the Russian Empire (including Ukrainians, Belarusians, Georgians, Armenians etc), and enforced industrialisation upon a backward nation - doing this well enough to drive out Hitler and his Fascists. But Russia continues to be set upon - by America, NATO, the EU, Fascists, Liberals, Catholics, Muslims... and only one man can keep NATO's missiles away from Russia's frontiers - Russia's Man of the Year for the past 15 years.

The Russian logos? It's whatever Putin says. Close down McDonalds? The sanitary inspectorate will willingly come up with the right papers. Seize the assets of Yevtushenkov's Sistema? Get the procurator to place its owner under house arrest. Invade Crimea? Eastern Ukraine? Not me mister, he bravely lied. Russia so demands a strong man, the logos resides with, and is, the strong man. Unlike the West, the logos belongs to whoever happens to be running Russia. Not a good thing for Russians.

This time last year:
Going mobile - I get a smartofon

This time two years ago:
The end was meant to end today (remember?)

This time three years ago:
First snow - but proper snow?

The time four years ago:
Dense, wet, rush hour snow

This time five years ago:
Evening photography, Powiśle

This time six years ago:
The shortest day of the year

This time seven years ago:
Bye bye borders - Poland joins Schengen

Saturday, 20 December 2014

There won't be snow in Jeziorki this Christmas

There's little doubt, the climate is changing. Last December was almost snow-free, the forecast for Warsaw unto the end of the year does not forecast snow. Yesterday, although it was rainy for most of the day, the temperature hit a staggering 12C, while today on my walk around Jeziorki, the day's high was 7C. Note that Warsaw's average daytime high for December is around 2C (sources vary from 1.9C to 2.1C).

Once upon a time, snow could cover Warsaw from the end of November through to early April. Since I started coming to Poland in winter, in the early 1990s, there have been thaws (odwilże) punctuating the snowy season. December has usually been snowy (check back past Decembers on this blog). The planet is warming up.

On today's walk, there was a distinct feel of spring in the air; like the przednówek season when nature is waiting patiently to explode back into life - but we've not had winter yet - real winter, with frosts of -20C and a 15cm (six-inch) layer of snow over everything.

So - onto the photos. I set off, turn into ul. Dumki. Below: the birch trees have been bare for a month. In the distance, ul. Trombity.


Below: a cygnet (left) and its parent swimming on open water. In past years, they'd have been long gone, migrating south to return in late March. The recent warmer winters have persuaded them to stay in Warsaw. Click here to see swans in ice on 7 December 2012.


A view across the lake; when the sun appears from behind the clouds, in the strong westerly wind it feels exactly like March. No different. A few more weeks like this and buds will be appearing on trees...


Across the lake, this is the reverse view of this photo, albeit taken with a telephoto rather than wide-angle lens.


Below: After a few weeks of rain, ul. Dumki has become impassable to motorised traffic (a good thing) and to those not wearing the stoutest of footwear.


Below: across the railway tracks towards Dawidy Bankowe, the low winter sun highlights the unseasonal verdure of the arable fields.


Below: a panorama of Warsaw city centre from Dawidy Poduchowne (just within the city boundary). Second skyscraper from the left is Warsaw Spire, under construction. The gap in between is the Wola district, which should fill up with high-rise developments. Warsaw is already ranked fourth in the EU (after Paris, London and Frankfurt) in terms of cities with buildings over 150m high. Click to enlarge.


And a follow-up from Sunday, 21 December, the shortest day of 2014. I cross the tracks and spot new-style PKP PLK SA snowdrift screens, replacing the wooden ones which were rarely used in recent years.


Poland's railway management is increasingly sensitive to bad PR typu 'Sorry, taki mamy klimat'. Good to see that action is being taken in good time to prevent mishaps and delays.

This time last year:
Man falls under train at W-wa Żwirki i Wigury

This time four years ago:
Kidnapped by Koleje Mazowieckie

This time five years ago:
Google Earth updates Jeziorki

This time six years ago:
Out and about with two foot of glass

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Contagion - contagion - contagion - CONTAGION

Yes I did once take a phone call from someone in America convinced that Yugoslavia is the capital of Poland.

The Russian economy is tanking - estimates of a 4%-5% contraction of GDP next year coupled with 10% plus inflation. The Polish economy is sturdy - analysts are still holding to a forecast of 3% GDP growth next year while inflation is invisible. So why did the zloty perform so strangely today?

Opening at 5.34 to the pound, at the time I write it is 5.42, a change of over 1.5% in a day. (How would you like to earn 1.5% return on your capital - not over the space of a year, but during one trading session?)

The word is 'contagion'. Look at these graphs: The first one shows the rouble's performance against the pound today. Note what happened when Putin began his press conference this morning - the rouble began to slide (shown as a rise in the value of the pound on this graph). The pound cost eight roubles more by the middle of the performance than it did when he started. After he announced no foreign exchange controls on exporters, the rouble regained its composure somewhat. [All graphs courtesy of Stooq.com.]


The zloty (considered by FX traders in New York and London as the currency of a former Soviet republic or something like that) did that same dip as the rouble - but then kept on falling. The zloty is traded around the clock, so while rouble trading ceased for the day at 18:00 CET, zlotys are still being bought and sold as I write.




Let's look at other parts of the former Soviet Union, as perceived by dimmer members of the foreign exchange community... Czechoslovakia - (hang on - consults Wikipedia) - er... Czech Republic...



Uh... and...err... Hungaria...



See the resemblance? What's the difference between these countries? They are somewhere between the eurozone and Russia. Never mind the different fundamentals and forecasts, it's perceptions that count.

Having galloped along towards their Christmas bonuses, the FX traders sniffed an opportunity to make a very quick (and not insignificant) buck. The weakening of the three Central European currencies are good news to exporters in the region, but somehow I doubt it will hold. Having breeched the 5.40 = 1 GBP barrier, the zloty is stabilising and my bet is that market fundamentals will see some profit-taking and a return to 5.25 = 1 GBP before the New Year. The strong pound is also good news to the hundreds of thousands of Poles working in the UK who remit money to their families in Poland - an extra 15 grosze for every pound they send home.

I took advantage of today's sharp move spotting an opportunity to sell sterling at the top of the tree. If you want to shift GBPs into PLNs, don't - whatever you do - use the services of the UK high street banks - they will fleece you. I used the services of OneMoneyMail (Sami Swoi), negotiating a far better exchange rate than the high street banks would offer (like 10+ grosze to the pound better), and a mere fiver for next-day transfer to my Polish bank account. Very easy and convenient service - I was amazed at how quickly it all went.

Back to macroeconomic fundamentals though. Politicians can huff and puff and make all sorts of pronouncements. But, to quote Daniel Gross from the Daily Beast: "The currency markets can't be bought off... They are faceless, merciless and swift. Every day, they are passing judgment on regimes around the world. Russia's caving rouble doesn't just make Putin look bad, it has real and instant effects at home...
[the] hedge funds, financial institutions, individual investors, companies and central banks that make up the vast foreign-currency exchange market are turning against Putin. They are not punishing Russia because they don't like the country's geopolitics. They are doing so because they don't like the underlying trends that dictate the relative value of the rouble."

So - are the markets punishing Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic because of their underlying trends?

In Poland's case, the value of exports match the value of imports. There is good economic growth (3.3% in the third quarter of this year), falling unemployment, price stability and political stability. Which is why I've bet on the zloty regaining its lost ground by the end of this year.

Let's take a long-term view then - here's the Polish zloty against the pound over the past ten years:


...And here's the rouble:


This is the underlying fundamental story - one economy has diversified, globalised, opened up to foreign investment, innovated - the other is totally dependent on the sale of natural resources, plundered from the state by a gang of ex-spooks hell-bent on enriching themselves.

This time last year:
Muddy Karczunkowska

This time three years ago:
Ul. Trombity - a step closer to dry feet?

This time four years ago:
Matters of style

This time five years ago:
Real winter hits Warsaw

This time six years ago:
This is not Mazowsze, no?

Sunday, 14 December 2014

End-of-year classic car quiz

Eight British classics snapped in the UK over the course of 2014. Can anyone accurately say what they are? Extra points for model year plus any additional info... A chance for the Inner Anorak to emerge and shine!

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8
This time last year:
The poet's gift - an exploration into Why One Writes

This time three years ago:
Advertising H&M on Warszawa Centralna station

This time five years ago:
Jeziorki in the snow

This time seven years ago:
Staying Underground: Piccadilly Circus

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Snow or no snow?

A catch-up post from Wednesday, 10 December. I wake up, look out of my bedroom window and see - snow? Not forecast for today... strange. I get dressed and set off for work.


Stepping outside - a light dusting of snow - or freezing fog? Or a bit of both?


I wait for the bus. It takes me to Ursynów, where there's no snow on the pavements - only frost on the trees. So it looks like Jeziorki did get a light dusting today.


Sub-zero all day long. By the morning of Thursday 11 December, back above freezing. And on Saturday 13 December, the temperature briefly nudged +10C. Below: the corner of ul. Kórnicka and Trombity.


A long time-exposure, ul. Trombity looking towards the lake in the distance.


This time three years ago:
Old manual-focus Nikkor 28mm lens attached to Nikon D40

This time four years ago:
What's the Polish for 'pattern'?

This time seven years ago:
"Rorate caeli de super nubes pluant justum..."

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Pluses and minuses of PKP InterCity

Another day trip, this time to Kraks. On the 08:35 from W-wa Zachodnia to Kraków Gł. And Ekspres InterCity (EIC), 120zł (£21.40) ticket, twice the price of a TLK train between the two cities. Tickets booked online; PKP has got over its great Spendolino ticket reservation debacle. Train arrives on time, not a great achievement, seeing as it started at W-wa Wschodnia, with only W-wa Centralna in between. I board, carriage 9, seat 16. Newish carriages, airliner-style, no compartments - windows plastered over with huge adverts for T-mobile's free on-board wi-fi service.

So far so good. Now for my my litany of woe...

My seat is in the second row from the front of the carriage - the automatic sliding glass door is stuck in the open position. As the train picks up speed, the wind begins to howl mercilessly through the gaping aperture and into the open carriage. Passengers have allocated seating - and anyway, the train is full so you can't just get up and wander off in search of a warmer seat. Fortunately I'm wearing my M-65 parka, which I use to protect myself from the elements. When the guard finally arrives to check our tickets, he admits that not even he can shut this door.

The much-touted wi-fi. There's a T-mobile ad in front of every seat in the train. It's a pity, then, that on both of my devices, laptop and smartofon, the bloody wi-fi doesn't work at all. Neither on my laptop nor my smartphone. And the new airliner-style carriages, which have electrical sockets between each seat - well, the one by my seat didn't work. The passenger sat next to me set off down the train in search of a free seat with no howling gale and a working socket. I slept comfortably for an hour and half snuggled into my parka.

Because I'm sleeping, I'm not too fussed that what is shown on my ticket as a 'window seat' is actually next to a windowless wall; and even if I were sat next to a piece of translucent glass, the view would be somewhat limited thanks to those huge adverts for non-working wi-fi applied to the entire outside of the carriages.

Each EIC carriage has a digital indicator telling passengers how fast the train is going, what the temperature is outside, when the train is due to reach its destination, date, time, whose imieniny it is today etc. Fine, except the indicator is not working in our carriage.

On the plus side - this being an EIC train, passengers are entitled to complimentary tea and biscuit. And - to my great surprise - our train arrives in Kraków on time. And - to my great surprise - the toilet was clean and worked. Soap, hot water, paper towels. A small miracle. At Kraków I pop into Companeros for three crispy-shelled tacos filled with beef, salad and jalapeno peppers.

Right then - train home. Leaving Kraks Gł at 18:18, I find my seat. Carriage 9, seat 25. This time, the carriage is not plastered with an ad for wi-fi (all the other second-class carriages making up this train are). Again, the door is broken. Not so badly broken as on the trip down, as it will, with a bit of puffing and pulling, close and open. (Now I think back, on my last trip up from Kraks to W-wa, the door of my EIC carriage was spontaneously opening and closing all the time of its own accord.) Something very wrong with these automatic sliding doors. The wi-fi is still not working. Below: Your Application's Failed. 'Network disabled because Internet connection is slow'



The socket (now that I do need it, with my smartofon on 5% charge) is working. Hurrah! I get my tea and biscuit and all is well with the world. Now I have a proper window seat, I can't see squat through it, but that's because it's dark outside.

I look at the train timetable on my phone via the excellent Bilkom app. It says our train is due in at W-wa Zachodnia at 21:19. My train from W-wa Zachodnia to W-wa Jeziorki is due at 21:24. Just five minutes margin. If the InterCity from Kraks is more than five minutes late, it's an hour's wait for the next train home. Worry worry worry. Especially when the train is crawling through Grodzisk Mazowiecki at walking pace (again the indicator in the carriage with speed, expected arrival time etc is not working). But then after Grodzisk we speed up. Indeed, the train is doing great. We arrive at W-wa Zachodnia ten minutes ahead of schedule - so I have a full quarter of an hour to make the leisurely stroll across the platforms to catch the train to Jeziorki.

So, Mr Dembinski - what's your point? My point is that rather than spending squillions on the Spendolino trains, PKP should focus on getting right the existing services. Not sending out broken carriages, not advertising wi-fi before they get it working.

Just under three hours to cover the 300km between Kraków and Warsaw is not good enough. I'd be happy with two and half in a train that worked properly. Beats driving, taking a bus or flying.

Polish railways will be getting a lot of EU money - this means the public eye and political scrutiny will glaring at them intensely between now and 2020. Will they be greatly improved by then? Or same old story as before? I'm slightly more optimistic - but only slightly. I really hope that this time, they get it right.

This time last year:
When transportation breaks down

This time This time three years ago:
Take me back to Tulsa

This time five years ago:
Another book launch

This time six years ago:
Jeziorki in the 16th Century

This time seven years ago:
Rotten weather, literally