Sunday, 25 January 2015

Winter woes and a creativity crisis

First new post for a week - I'm slacking. I come home from work feeling I have nothing new to say or to write, museless; I postpone writing for another evening, then yet another one. This is not to say that I'm beset by depression or seasonal affective disorder, but I do feel spectacularly bereft of creative drive right now. Have I passed 'peak creativity'? Is it all downhill from here? No - as the Rabbi says, if you're having a bad patch, remember, there will be good times up ahead - but be aware when times are good, that bad patches loom. That's life.

So then, a rather pedestrian catch-up.

The weather. 

I'm surprised if this doesn't turn out to be the warmest January on record in Warsaw. The temperature has rarely dipped below freezing; since returning from London last week the sun has not ventured out. It is dull, damp and when the snow falls, it is wet and unpleasant and soon disappears. The constant rain, drizzle and wet snow have turned the unpavemented verges of Jeziorki's roads into a muddy morass; my footwear is perpetually filthy. Cars splash pedestrians with icy water from the edge-to-edge puddles on the poorly drained asphalt. My camera, always around my neck, rarely strays to my eye - there's little that attracts my eye.

It's difficult to do one's 10,000 paces a day when it's raining, so to catch up on below-average walking on Thursday and Friday, yesterday I walked from home to Zalesie Górne, a distance of about 15km, past Mysiadło, Nowa Iwiczna, Piaseczno and Żabieniec, parallel to the railway line. The weather was so miserably indifferent, I was not moved to take any photographs.


Do go to Lidl - the for-special-occasions Deluxe range, which offers delicatessen fare for a budget, has Christmas left-overs at amazing prices. Roquefort cheese, my favourite blue cheese (even beats Stilton say I), is on sale at 4.99 złotys for a 100gm pack (89p), down from the old price of 6.65 złotys (£1.19). Now, this is the real thing - PDO, DOC whatever, matured in caves, made of ewes' milk. Given that Auchan sells a Roquefort for 13.99 złotys (£2.49), this is an offer not to be sniffed at. But like all good things, there's a catch - the sell-by date is 22 February. Still, this is a cheese that does not go off; it matures even further.

The Lidl formula works just the same in Poland as it does in the UK, though with different marketing. In Britain, consumers are exhorted to 'join the Lidlers' and go Lidling with them, rooting out those amazing surprises that appear each week. In Poland, Lidl ads are just a forgettable list of commodity prices which go in one ear and come out the other. Obviously, Poland is considered to be at a 'different stage of development' by the admen; but people like surprises and bargains wherever they live.

Don't go to 5áSec, the French dry-cleaning chain. High and opaque pricing. My three pairs of trousers and a jacket, according to the price-list prominently displayed, should cost 95.96 złotys to clean (£17.29). When it came to paying (up-front, of course), I was asked for 129.96 złotys (£23.16), despite having turned down all attempts at up-selling me with 'fabric treatments' and other tosh. I asked why the price is different to the one advertised. "That is because we'll have to use a different process for these," said the lady at the counter. "And anyway, the trousers may return 'not fully clean', because they have muddy stains around the ankles". I said that if they weren't stained, I wouldn't be taking them to be dry-cleaned. I've used 5áSec before and was disappointed; if it wasn't for the fact that French dry-cleaners go hand in hand with French retailers (Auchan in this case), I wouldn't use this price-gouging bunch of rip-off artists ever again.


Polish railways are unlucky when it comes to taking on new rolling stock. On Thursday I boarded a Koleje Mazowieckie train bound for W-wa Jeziorki at W-wa Śródmieście. It looked new; it smelled new, it boasted that it had WiFi; it had features that I'd not seen on the commuter trains on the Radom line*. The seats were comfortable, there was a flip-down tray-table, like on planes, but made from real wood. Luxury! Except that after two stations, at W-wa Zachodnia, it broke down.

After some ten minutes, the guard decided to inform the passengers - not via the public address system, which was evidently not working - but by walking down the train. It was going nowhere. Another train will be brought onto the adjacent platform, in the meantime, please remain seated, it's warm inside and snowing outside, large, heavy flakes of wet snow. So we all waited. Some 15 minutes later the relief train appeared, pulled into the track across the platform, we crossed over and boarded the empty train, waiting for something to happen. No announcements... But among the passengers were canny folk who knew that at 18:22 the next train for Piaseczno and Radom was due at W-wa Zachodnia. Duly the 18:22 arrived on the next platform. No announcement as to which would leave first. One by one at first, then in a massed rush, passengers left the train I was on and made their way, via the underpass, to Platform 4 to board the 18:22 train. It was already quite full by the time it rolled into Zachodnia, so by the time that three-quarters of the passengers from my train had boarded the other one, it was totally packed. But which one would leave first?

My one. YES! There was a short spontaneous cheer among those who, like me, had decided to stay rather than to risk boarding the 18:22. Lesson? Preserve a zen-like calm, and don't follow the masses.


This study into ageing and exercise gave me a reason to be cheerful. "A study of super-fit cyclists" aged over 55... What do you need to do to prove you are "super-fit"? Cycle 100km in six and half hours. I'm sure I can do that. If - back in 2010, at the age of 52, I managed 135km in seven and half hours, and last year, at the age of 56, I managed 84km in seven hours (including two half-hour breaks and a significant amount of walking a heavy, fat-tyred mountainbike over stretches of soft sand), it should not be too hard to crack 100km in six hours along roads. Roll on the spring! Roll on the re-birth of creativity!

So. That's it - this represents the sum total of what I've had to say all week. Boring, eh?

I just hope that my creativity will return...

This time last year:
At last! Wintry gorgeousness arrives in Jeziorki

This time two years ago:
Warsaw - the more it snows

This time three years ago:
Get orf my lairnd!

This time four years ago:
A Dream Too Far - short story

This time five years ago:
Compositions in white, blue and gold

This time six years ago:
Dobra and the road

This time seven years ago:
Polish air force plane full of VIPs crashes on landing in fog


student SGH said...

Brilliant stuff...

Very wise introduction. I know the feeling, had it most of the time over the past months, but since the beginning of the new year I feel much more motivation to write and draw more pleasure from writing.

I'm surprised if this doesn't turn out to be the warmest January on record in Warsaw. Sir will be surprised. Mean temperature over first 24 days of January was +1.8C. In January 2007 temperature averaged out +3.7C and this January will definitely be short of this record. In stands a chance of beating January 2008 (+1.1C), January 1990 (+1.7C), January 1989 (+1.6C), but not January 1983 (+3.2C) or January 1921 (+2.5C).

That represents the sum total of what I have had to say all week. Boring, eh?

I just hope that my creativity will return...
Życie. I can tell you it certainly helps to take a break from the daily grind and indulge in writing... Against all odds...

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Student SGH - thanks for the encouragement, and thanks for the data. Without this, I'd be convinced that in another few Januaries we'll all be boiling to death in Warsaw, the ice caps will have melted and humanity would be on its last legs:-)

Unknown said...

:) even when you're not inspried you're interesting reading for a Monday morning. And I liked your train story. Zen for the win.

Paddy said...

Very boring! (Only kidding!)

Anonymous said...

this very evening I have thus sat at my laptop to compose from the fragments of a short story yet to emerge. I have composed at least 200 words and this increment spurs me on!

I hope this helps the late January gnaw.

Frater Positivity III [Heiddegger Institute]

KrakowJosh said...

Cinq à sec sucks!

Ian Wilcock said...

Agree on 5aSec but are there any alternatives and it wins on convenince most fo the time.

student SGH said...

Seemingly a dull post, but brings on so many comments.

Regarding dry-cleaning. 5aSec is a no-go! I carry my suits for dry-cleaning to near-by Super Tara, Nowa Iwiczna, ul. Mleczarska. Dry cleaning a suit (trousers + jacket) costs mere 38 PLN and effect are incomparably superior to more expensive 5aSec!

KrakowJosh said...

The principle gripe with 5 à Sec is not the displayed prices, which are somewhat higher than independent non-mall operations offer (but can nevertheless be justified on the grounds of convenience for many customers), but the fact that - as Michael pointed out and I, and no doubt many others, have experienced - the price you pay (again, in advance) is higher, even when one firmly resists any of the "extras".

I don't have sufficient Polish, nor have I found that arguing with an undoubtedly lowly-paid employee of a conveniently remote large corporation offers much relief. I can't speak for Warsaw, but here in Krakow there are alternatives (pralnia ekologiczna) away from the malls that are cheaper, better and charge you exactly what is written above the counter.

I should also add that I had to discover this for myself: none of my friends or acquaintances, whether Polish or foreign, have been sufficiently exercised by this egregious gouging (perhaps because dry-cleaning is an infrequent chore - Polish pun intended) to try elsewhere. Having found somewhere local to me that behaves as a proper service business should (and throws in the occasional smile for no extra charge), I am not delighted but simply happier; and the innumerable occasions when I am able to recommend this better alternative to anyone who asks me demonstrate that “five to dry” is doing just fine with its shoddy business model.

And … relax :)

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Ian Wilcock, Student SGH, Krakow Josh - 5àSec's biggest problem is lack of staff training; a bit of empathy would go a long way.

Lady at 5àSec: "Tut tut! Sir has got sir's trousers filthy again! We CANNOT give ANY guarantee that even after spending 29 złotys with us, these trousers will EVER be clean AGAIN!"

What she should say is... "Ah... Such a dirty country we live in... no pavements... We'll do what we possibly can to return your trousers back to their original state. And if you spend an extra 5zł, the chances they will come back pristine are even higher!"

But then why waste money on training staff when you can gouge the saps.

Super Tara in Nowa Iwiczna it will be next time!