Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Stormy end to May

The summer storm season has begun. Over the past few days, a predictable, repeatable weather pattern has set in. The mornings are fine and sunny, with scarcely a cloud in the sky. During the day, clouds build up from moisture evaporating off the ground as the air warms up. By late afternoon, the clouds are pregnant with rainwater, electrical discharges are triggered; thunder is heard.

Below: yesterday, 18:30. A storm cloud moves in from the south-east. Strong winds, caused by the downdraft from the intense rain, herald its imminent arrival. Time to run indoors.

From my bedroom window, looking north, 18:39. Intense rain is lashing down, huge droplets appear as white streaks in the photo below (click to enlarge).

The deluge lasts half an hour, for a further hour it rains less heavily. At 20:00 it's dry enough to venture out, wearing a light shower-proof jacket. It is still very warm. Way too warm for a Barbour. Below: a rainbow over Jeziorki.

Below: the air is fresh and clean, I head along ul. Dumki towards the pond. The sun is slanting in under the northbound clouds.

Below: sunset over the pond, seen from ul. Dumki; the dying embers of the day will soon be extinguished by the rain clouds as they roll on northwards.

It was a similar story today. Bright sunlight through the curtains woke me up some time after six o'clock; shortly afterwards the loudest roar of an aircraft flying low overhead had me rushing to the window - it was a huge Antonov An-124, massive beast, really low over Jeziorki. Magnificent sight.

Sunny conditions remained throughout the early morning, but the clouds began forming and thickening throughout the day, with light rain arriving around lunchtime. By the early evening, the storm clouds were massive. Below: sheltering around the tunnel entrance to platform 3 at W-wa Zachodnia station. People in shirtsleeves and T-shirts - when they left home this morning, who would have thought the same deluge that happened yesterday would happen as well today?

My train raced the stormcloud south. By the time the train had reached W-wa Jeziorki, below, the cloud had vectored southwest, and was dropping its load on Raszyn. I walked home with only a few raindrops catching me.

On my way home I bought 5 złotys (90p)-worth of strawberries. The plate below represents about a third of the purchase. It is the season for strawberries and they should be bought and consumed in huge amounts. These specimens were perfect. Picked today. Tasting of strawberries from our garden back in the Old Country, not of something imported in plastic punnets that visually resemble strawberries. The season will not be long, while Polish-grown strawberries are in season, it is our duty to stuff ourselves with them.

The stormy season seems to be moving earlier in the year. Will we have a repeat of last year, with a dry August?

This time last year:
Where's it better to live: London or Warsaw?

This time two years ago:
Jeziorki, magic hour, late-May

This time three years ago:
Świdnica, one of Poland's lesser-known pearls

This time six years ago:
Spirit of place
[Another 'why I love Jeziorki so' post. Walking around for an hour without bumping into a single soul? Try doing that within a nine-mile radius of Hyde Park Corner!]

Monday, 30 May 2016

Politics - the vital importance of fact

A Retraction.

I was there at the time!

I remember it well!

I was watching it live!

So... does that give me a greater right to claim that I was correct?

A few days ago (26 May to be precise), I replied to a tweet made by former finance minister Leszek Balcerowicz regarding the fall in the value of the złoty since President Duda took office, I tweeted "Warto zerknąć na wykres kursu złotego podczas expose PBS w dniu 18.11.2015. Spadek 8 groszy do euro w ciagu 50 minut." ("Worth looking at the chart tracking the zloty during Premier Beata Szydło's maiden speech on 18.11.2015. A fall of 8 groszy to the euro in 50 minutes."

Now, I trotted out this '8 grosze' fact from memory, having watched her live online while observing the zloty's fall in another window. I pressed 'send' without having checked the facts - which I had on the hard drive of the very laptop from which I was tweeting.

I got the direction right - but the facts wrong. The zloty did indeed fall during her speech, as markets began to size up what those promised social programmes would cost the state treasury. [See screenshot from Stooq.com , below, which I took after the premier had finished her speech.] But it was not a fall of 8 grosze to the euro. There was indeed an '8' in the data - but a) it was not euro but pounds I was following, and b) not an 8 grosze fall but a 2.5 grosze fall (from 6.0552 to 6.0807).

In this day and age, when access to market data from a day half a year ago is instantly accessible, I was brought to account very quickly. The zloty-euro min-max for that day was 4.2439-4.2640. (Thank you Jasiek!) So not eight but two. I exaggerated by a factor of four to make a political point.

Why is this important, and why am I bothering to confess to this? Because political discourse should be based on fact and not on faulty memory, spurred on by personal bias.

It's also important because the business of running a country is exceedingly complicated. Far more complicated than any 'let's tax foreign supermarkets' approach to fiscal policy. If you show disregard for facts and figures, it suggests you can't be trusted with the economy. You'll play fast and loose with statistics to make political statements, rather than to improve the country's macroeconomic condition.

As I wrote a few months ago, the nature of Twitter is such that it's easy to throw in some crowd-pleasing fact that gets retweeted and liked lots of times and adds grist to the mill - but is essentially wrong. Be it "240,000 people marching in the KOD rally", when pro-KOD Gazeta Wyborcza took the trouble to painstakingly count each head, frame by frame and came up with the figure of 55,600. So the Warsaw city authorities overestimated the true number by a factor of four. It was still a big crowd. It was still a big fall in value. But exaggerating wildly, you weaken a good point.

The same thing goes for the Brexit debate, which is heating up in the final four weeks.

The political discourse between populist Hierarchs and the democratic Network is by its nature asymmetrical. If you avoid hate-speech and lies, what are you left with? Patiently expounding the facts. Correctly. Repeatedly.

So it's worth checking the facts before pressing the 'send' button. At least you know you have a leg to stand on.

This time last year:
Rural Mazovian toponyms

This time This time two years ago:
Carrying the weight on both shoulders

This time three years ago:
Railway history - the big picture

This time five years ago:
A new lick of paint form W-wa Powiśle

This time six years ago:
The ingredients of success

Saturday, 28 May 2016

In praise of ELO

Recently I realised the important part that ELO (originally the Electric Light Orchestra) has in the Soundtrack of My Life.

I have never bought nor sat down and knowingly listened to any single or album by this band. None ever went onto my turntable, nor my cassette player, nor CD drive. Yet so so prolific was its output of airplay-friendly songs, that during my peak radio-listening days (early 1970s to early 1980s), ELO tunes were always, unavoidably, there in the background.

No one that I associated in those days with would for one second admit to liking ELO. Especially during the exciting days when punk rock ruled. Here was a band that still wearing flared trousers! With a bearded lead singer with big hair - no. Unacceptable. 1977 was the year of the Pistols, Clash, Ramones, Damned, Stranglers etc - not a year in which one could profess to liking songs like Telephone Line or Turn to Stone and retain any semblance of street-cred. Yet tune into daytime listening on National Radio 1 (275 and 285 on the medium wave band) and you were far more likely to hear ELO than something to which one could pogo along to.

Yet today, in retrospect, I can see that the band had crafted some outstanding tunes that were catchy while not banal - and - most importantly - they had stood the test of time. Take Mr Blue Sky. How many of you who grew up in the 1970s have it in your record collection (as a single, or as a track on the album Out of the Blue, on vinyl, cassette or CD)? Yet how many of you can conjure the song up in your heads now, effects and all, from the beginning right through to the last words, sung through a vocoder - "please turn me over"? Try it now!

The first two singles came from a band that it was still hip to like. 10538 Overture and Roll Over Beethoven - arguably better than Chuck Berry's original. But then Roy Wood left to form Wizzard, trends moved on, fashions diverged, and ELO became spectacularly uncool. Song after song entered the charts and earwormed their way into my subconsciousness. Solid pop tunes that today tower above the corporate, algorithm-generated mediocrity that is foisted onto modern youth.

But hey, these guys were from Birmingham. Not Liverpool, not London. Britain's second city had a thriving but disparate music scene that had neither the glamour of the capital nor the right-place-at-the-right-time cachet of Liverpool. ELO was formed by Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood, both of The Move, a reasonably successful band. The idea was to add electronically-amplified strings to the rock music, cellos and violins, to create a cross between a Phil Spector-style wall of sound and the kind of intricate production that George Martin gave to the Beatles' later songs. Roy Wood left after 10538 Overture to form Wizzard, consigned to the railway sidings of pop history for I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day. (Well, that and Ball Park Incident and See My Baby Jive).

ELO songs are philosophically shallow; do not look for poetry in the lyrics, do not look for insights into the human condition; you will find none. The words merely stop the songs from being instrumentals. The human voice adds another detail, another sound effect in a wall of sound; that is all. Rockaria, a frothy confection, drives along admirably, but the lyrics falter; the last line must rank among the weakest in pop history ("I thought I saw the mayor there/But I wasn't really sure/But it's alright")

ELO tunes figure strongly among those Songs That Remind Me Of Where I Was When They Were Hits. Livin' Thing, for example, along with Joan Armatrading's Love and Affection and Chicago's If You Leave Me Now were played to death on Radio 1 during my first weeks at university, October 1976. Livin' Thing was also played incessantly on the jukebox at the Port O' Call, Earlsdon, Coventry, where I'd pop by for a pint of mild and a bag of pork scratchings of an evening after lectures.

And when Disco arrived, ELO's singles output subtly embraced the genre, with a danceable beat which any DJ could fade in and out of a Donna Summer or Chic twelve-incher. The hits continued. Until 1983, when they petered out, coincidentally at the time I grew out of listening to daytime radio.

I can say that I've always loved David Bowie, James Brown, early Roxy Music; I can say that certain albums hold a special place in my affections - Trick of the Tail by Genesis, Ummagumma, Atom Heart Mother and Meddle by Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen's bleak Nebraska. Vast swathes of soul plus much of the punk canon. But ELO - it was just there, on in the background, the car radio, the kitchen. Today, it can be appreciated for what it is - extremely good pop that had penetrated its way into the library of my consciousness.

Here's a YouTube playlist of 18 ELO songs. [Some may be blocked for copyright reasons in some countries.] If, like me, you lived in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s, memories of those years will come flooding back to you. Rockaria! and Telephone Line, two more that work well on me.

Interesting Rock'n'Roll fact. As of today, Chuck Berry (89), Little Richard (83) and Jerry Lee Lewis (80) are still alive.

This time last year:
Making sense of Andrzej Duda

This time four years ago:
Work starts on ul. Gogolińska

This time four years ago:
Waiting for The Man

This time six years ago:
The Flavour of Parallel reviewed

This time eight years ago:
Twilight in the garden

This time nine years ago:
Late May reflections

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Birds, Jeziorki, late-May sunshine

Left: grey heron on the edges of the southern pond. There is a resident pair of herons here full-time now. Graceful wading birds that live on aquatic creatures, the herons have a five-year lifespan and their young, born and raised in nests high in trees, have a lower survival rate than the swan.

Below: a characteristic of the heron is the way its neck bends into an 'S' shape when in flight, giving it an ungainly appearance in the air, which belies its grace when wading.

Left: a northern lapwing (czajka) at the southern end of the southern pond, where the waters are already receding. Another drought year ahead? The lapwings are more usually seen on the other side of the tracks, in the fields between the railway line and Dawidy Bankowe. This is the first time I've seen them around the ponds between ul. Trombity and ul. Dumki. Note the plume on the back of the head.

Below: the same individual, believe it or not, in flight. Note the plume, which has been tucked away so as to be completely unnoticeable from the ground.

Below: a pair of northern lapwings in flight - the birds are also known as 'peewits' because of their characteristic call. The name 'lapwing' refers to the irregular way they flap their wings. I could see four individuals at the southern end of the southern pond. Quite a rare sight!

On my walk today, I also saw pheasants, coots, black-headed gulls, magpies, jackdaws, sparrows - and of course a pair of swans and their brood of seven cygnets.

This time two years ago:
Call it what it is - Okęcie!

This time This time last year:
Three stations in need of repair

This time four years ago
Late evening, Śródmieście

This time five years ago:
Ranking a better life

This time seven years ago:
Paysages de Varsovie

This time eight years ago:
Spring walk, twilight time

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Swans' ways

Time for a longer post about our Jeziorki swans, a permanent addition to the local wildlife. The first pair flew in towards the end of March 2008, so this is the swans' ninth season in Jeziorki (as far as I know - having only lived in the vicinity since 1997).

Below, photo taken on 5 May 2016. The mother swan is on the nest, waiting for her eggs to hatch. The nest is massive. The female broods for an average of 36 days.

Below: photo from Sunday, 22 May. Hatchlings can be observed. How many? At least four distinct heads were visible in the shots I took that day.

Below: photo from this morning. The cygnets are on open water, paddling ahead of their parents. Standing between parents and children, a grey heron.

Below: as many as seven cygnets! Count them! A marvellous sight. The average clutch of eggs laid by a female swan is four, so this one is particularly fecund.

Below: from last year - photo taken on 21 June 2015. Parents and six cygnets. Note one of the cygnets is whiter than the rest, carrying the gene for leucism.

This photo, taken on 19 August 2015 five of the cygnets - including the whiter one - quite unafraid of me, and their parents to the rear.

The two adult swans who conceived this year's clutch of hatchlings are likely to be the same two adults that did likewise last year. Swans do not reach sexual maturity until they are four, and can live to the age of 20. Below: four swans around the last hole in the ice, 31 December.

Below: parents and six young, photo taken on 25 February. Note three of the young are white, the remaining three still have the juvenile plumage. Now it looks like the parents (the two with their heads in the water) have remained, while the young ones have flown off to find new homes.

Large flocks of juvenile swans of pre-mating age fly around together before settling down in pairs in a pond of their own.

I am delighted that this pair has brought another seven cygnets into the world, and that they will spend the summer in Jeziorki, feeding, swimming - and come the autumn - learning to fly.

This time last year:
Sam Smith, Shepherd Neame and the Routemaster bus

This time three years agor:
Rainy night in Jeziorki - no flood this time!

This time
This time four years ago:
Wide-angle under Pl. Wilsona

This time five years ago:
Ranking a better life

This time six years ago:
Questions about our biology and spirituality

This time seven years ago:
Paysages de Varsovie

This time eight years ago:
Spring walk, twilight time

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The eyes... THE EYES!!!

Twelve years ago or so I met a British businessman at our offices, who had come up by train to Warsaw. He'd flown to Kraków - his first ever visit to Poland - had a few meetings, then travelled to Katowice, then to Warsaw.

I sat him down and made him a coffee, and he began recounting his business trip. "Do you know what I found strangest about Poland?" he asked. "The way people in the street stare at you, but when you get close to buy a ticket, they avoid eye contact."

Wow. Big cultural difference! (This was 2003 or '04, you understand.) I said that I hadn't noticed, but by then I'd already been living in Poland for six or seven years, and being Polish myself , I might well have been guilty of these traits without even being aware of them. An autism-spectrum thing?

Of late I have been thinking about human eyes. (In fact the eyes of all animals - cats, dogs, horses...)

The eyes are the windows to the soul. Some are said to have 'kind eyes', 'cruel eyes', 'hypnotic eyes'; some are said to be 'wide-eyed', 'misty-eyed'... We can tell a lot about our interlocutors by their eyes. Instinctively. It's not something taught or discussed, but subconsciously we tend to judge people by what their eyes are saying.

Yesterday I was talking to the Polish general manager of a very big British investor here in Poland. I was struck by the way he maintained steady eye contact - his eyes conveyed an unshakable air of trust and responsibility. Impressions. Maintaining eye contact - not a rude stare, but then not coming across as shifty-eyed, eyes darting hither and yon - is important in building relations with others.

Yet some of us find it uncomfortable to do this, finding it rude or intimidating.

This is a biology thing. The same way that humans can impose their alpha-ness on dogs with eye contact, thus establishing themselves as leaders of the pack, so it works between humans themselves.

Great actors are good at this. Using eyes to convey mood, atmosphere.

Eye-contact is important. But there's something else about the human eyes that I find really difficult to pin down. Some people have 'those eyes', and others - just don't. Human eyes are remarkably similar size-wise, with (according to Wikipedia) a 2mm variation on an average 24mm diameter, which is around 8%. Given that human height can vary by 50% and weight by 100%, this is not much. Is it that some heads are big, some round, some long - the eyes are framed differently? By the face? By the eyelids? I don't think it's just that. Some eyes are startling, some are wild, some are warm, some are shifty, some are trusting... but how do we assess this?

And why is it instinctive? Is there a spiritual dimension - the window to the soul indeed. We look at faces and make judgments - and the eyes are the point from which we start judging.

Please - accept the mystery?

Or is there something science and scientists have yet to unravel in the complex area of human biology?

This time last year:
New old terminal open at Okęcie airport

This time three years ago:
Arrogance vs. humility

This time four years ago:
Warsaw looking good ahead of the football-fan influx

This time seven years ago:
Heron over Jeziorki

This time nine years ago:
Present rising, future loading

Monday, 23 May 2016

Billboard spirituality

This billboard, on ul. Widok (just off ul. Marszałkowska, near the Rotunda) intrigued me to the extent that I returned to photograph it. The slogan Odróżniaj radość od przyjemności i raduj się też w cierpieniu means "Distinguish joy from pleasure and rejoice too in suffering".

What does it mean? Is this a tease-and-reveal advertising campaign? After two weeks, we learn it's for a beer, a mobile phone network, a life insurance company or a chocolate-coated snack bar?

But no - this is for real. A genuine individual, reaching out with a genuine message - and...?

Not a whole lot.

Googling the slogan I found a Facebook page with five photos of this billboard, one video and four likes. The person who paid (a billboard in this location is not cheap) for this has also previously put up three more in the same convention. One, with the words Nie denerwuj się, Masz kontrolę nad sobą ("Don't get angry, you have control over yourself"), appeared on Al. Jerozolimskie near Blue City retail centre in February 2014. And one bearing the anti-consumptionist message Zwiększając dochód, nie zwiększaj swoich potrzeb ("Increasing your income, don't increase your needs"), appeared in July 2015.  One month later, a further billboard appeared. This one said Przygotuj listę różnych, codziennych intencji. Módl się i obserwuj efekty ("Prepare a list of different, everyday intentions. Pray and observe the effects").

So - four billboards, four Facebook pages. What have we learnt?

Well, I must say I like all four messages. They do tend to square with my personal spirituality. I was rather hoping that a reclusive billionaire from another planet, living in a room in the Novotel Centrum, is buying billboards with cash to promote a more mindful, ascetic and spiritual way of life among Varsovians.

The truth is less exotic - the author, on their Facebook page, mentions the Catholic Church and the Ten Commandments, so a traditional religious approach lies behind this mini-campaign.

The edict to distinguish joy from pleasure is Most sound. Short-term gratification as a substitute for moments of genuine spiritual uplifting - yes. Joy comes from pleasure well earned, truly deserved. A great human truth to ponder. Thank you, whosoever you be, for this message - it has stayed with me.

This time four years ago:
A post about a book about a film about a journey to a room

This time six years ago:
Mr Pheasant trumpets his presence

This time seven years ago:
Balancing on the Edge of Chaos

This time eight years ago:
Zamienie and the encroaching tide of Development

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Beautiful May Sunday in Jeziorki

Hot! 25C this afternoon, marvellous weather, caught the sun (research shows that moderate amounts of sunlight are better for health than smothering oneself in sunblock) and walked over 16,000 paces.
The ballast mountain has become a local attraction, if only temporary, it will disappear when the work on the railway line's done. Nothing much new to report, hardly any activity today. A good vantage point, six metres up, to observe trains. Below: a Siemens Vectron engine hauls a full load of coal along the electrified main line past W-wa Jeziorki...

...and through W-wa Dawidy on its way to the Okęcie sidings, from where a diesel loco will haul the train back down the non-electrified line running parallel to the main line to Nowa Iwiczna, from where it swings off towards Konstancin-Jeziorna sidings and Siekierki power station. Below: note the Warsaw skyline, Warsaw Spire (just) visible on the extreme left of the phone and the Palace of Culture to the right. It's only a 25-minute walk from the Spire to the Palace, but the foreshortening effect of a 300mm lens makes them look equidistant from my vantage point. It would take three hours to walk from here to the city centre.

I was sufficiently intrigued by the power of the foreshortening effect to take the photo, below, and to annotate it accordingly, using the ruler tool in Google Earth. The lens, my Nikkor 55-300mm zoom, is set to 150mm (equivalent to 230mm in full-frame/35mm). Photo taken on 5 June 2016.

Below: the new 'down' platform at W-wa Jeziorki slowly taking shape - about a quarter of its length is now paved. I can see this work taking a long time to complete. Once this platform's ready and the 'down' line is complete, the whole process will have to be repeated for the 'up' line and 'up' platform.

Below: a town-bound train at W-wa Dawidy, where no fewer than six cyclists got ofp. The level crossing is totally sealed off. No vehicle (except perhaps scooters or light motorcycles) can make it over. Beneath the red-and-white barriers is an temporary earthwork bridge connecting the old and new platforms; this is the only way from one side of Baletowa to the other. For all other traffic - it's an 8.5km detour. Am I right in suspecting that a bus loop is being prepared by W-wa Dawidy station? And that a new bus route will run down ul. Baletowa once the new junction at Puławska is ready?

Ul. Karczunkowska, the famously unpavemented thoroughfare, is getting fenced in. Below: A new concrete fence appears on the eastern corner with ul. Pozytywki, facing the PWPW printing works. Aesthetically questionable, it will no doubt make walking past cars inconsiderately parked across the road from PWPW more difficult on dark and wet winter nights.

Another fence, below, on the stretch past the eastern corner of ul. Trombity. A new building, probably commercial or industrial, will be built here, so fencing - uglier even than concrete - has been erected. But at least it is temporary.

Below: I mentioned the golf course a few weeks ago - the land beyond Biedronka and scrapyard was fenced off, now it looks like a driving range will shortly open. Still much tidying up needed, but at least this nieużytek is now being put to good use.

Finally - some heartwarming news. The female swan nesting in the wetlands has raised a fine clutch of cygnets! I took a number of snaps, and looking carefully at the enlargements, it looks like at least four cygnets are visible. As I moved into position to take this shot, I startled a pair of grey herons who were wading between me and the swans. As the took off and flew low over the nest, the mother swan gave them a loud warning not to fly too close!

This time last year:
Three days - three Polish cities

This time four years ago:
Part two of short story The Devil Is In Doubt

This time five years ago:
"A helpful, friendly people"

This time six years ago:
A familiar shape in the skies

This time seven years ago:
Feel like going home

This time eight years ago:
Mr Hare comes to call

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Mszczonów - another railway junction

I have written plenty about the Skierniewice to Łuków railway line, which crosses the Warsaw-Radom line at Czachówek and the Piaseczno narrow-gauge line near Tarczyn. Today I travelled further west, to Mszczonów, where the line crosses the CMK - Centralna Magistrala Kolejowa, or Central Trunk Railway.

As a reminder - the Skierniewice to Łukówe line was built in the early 1950s. Its primarily purpose was military - getting Soviet tanks west, bypassing Warsaw, seen by Kremlin planners as a nest of pro-Western spies and saboteurs. At a time when Stalin was goading the west into war in Korea, building this 100-mile strategic military rail connection of was of utmost importance. No other piece of railway infrastructure investment in Poland, other than the electrification of the Warsaw-Katowice line, was given greater priority during Poland's first Six-Year Plan.

Below: Mszczonów station. Like Tarczyn, it no longer serves passengers. Nevertheless, the place seemed quite busy. The S-Ł line is getting an upgrade, as part of a trans-European transport corridor.

Below: looking north-east, some wagony socjalne, suggesting that there's work going on somewhere down the line. On the horizon, a water tower, built like the station in the mid-1950s.

Below: the line is quite busy with freight trains running east-west and, like this one, from west to east. More cargo is taking to the tracks, thanks to EU funding.

Below: looking north along the CMK, with a single connecting track branching off to the right to join the Skierniewice-Łuków line. Unlike Czachówek, where there's a full diamond offering all directions, there's just one spur, connecting south to west.

Below: the junction is to the left of this Google Earth map, the spur is visible. Msczonów station is to the right. CMK runs north-south, Skierniewice-Łuków line runs east-west. Click to enlarge.

Below: a westbound train passes the abandoned passenger platform at Grzegorzowice station, which closed to traffic in 2002.

This time four years ago:
The Devil is in Doubt - short story, part I

This time five years ago:
Stormclouds are raging all around my door

This time six years ago:
Floods endanger Warsaw

This time seven years ago:
Coal line rarity

Monday, 16 May 2016

Brexit and POTUS Trump - a political fiction

Jeziorki, 17 May 2020

Was that the crump of a distant artillery barrage way off to the north-east or an unseasonal thunderstorm? As I sit at my desk in my Warsaw home, I wondered how it ever got to be like this...

Since last August, when Russian 'little green men' crossed over the border from the Russian republic of Belarus, Podlasie and Warmia-Mazury have witnessed skirmishes of increasing ferocity, some them approaching the city of Białystok. Who's doing the fighting? RT tells us its Polish citizens of Belarusian and Lithuanian ethnicity fighting for their right to self-determination. Poles don't believe these stories. Further west in Europe... well, who knows what the truth is?

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were incorporated into the Russian Federation after a three-week blitzkrieg last spring. Germany and France, the strongest members of NATO after the US and English pull-outs, did not have the stomach for a fight. Polish, Slovakian and Hungarian soldiers gave their lives for the Baltic nations, but to no avail. Germany, France and Czechia have had their morale sapped by extremist parties funded by the Kremlin, no one really knows what's what any more.

President Trump kept his word. He would not spend American dollars or waste American lives propping up effete European nations that can't sort things out for themselves. "Why should American pay for the defence of the world's richest trading bloc?" asked Trump. Within a year and half of taking office, Trump signed the Let Europe Defend Itself Act, ending more than seven decades of US peacekeeping across the North Atlantic.

Inflation in the US has topped 20%. No longer able to source from China or even Mexico, American business has been forced to make everything itself. Factories are booming, and unemployment is at a record low. But wage rises have led to runaway inflation. Ordinary Americans are feeling they are having to run faster to stand still. Prices in the shops are rising faster than pay packets; strikes are breaking out.

England has had a dismal time these past years. Since leaving the EU, the UK has torn apart. The Scots, who voted by 63% to 37% to stay in the EU, immediately demanded to split from the UK and rejoin Europe. Scotland's economy suffered, more so than England's.

The ban on EU workers taking up employment in England hit everyone. A vicious spiral took hold. Seeing the savings that President Trump had achieved by pulling out of NATO, the English government did likewise the following year. GDP growth stuttered to a halt and then slid back into recession following Brexit and Scotland's subsequent independence vote. After several downgrades affecting HM Treasury bonds, there was not enough cash to keep the NHS functioning as the English people would have liked it to. The absence of foreign doctors, nurses and orderlies was also felt - profoundly. But after leaving NATO, England had a sizeable peace dividend to spend on healthcare.

The men and women who had wrested the UK out of the EU now felt foolish; the Remainers vindicated. But it was too late. Across Europe, the lights were going out, once again.

Britain was more secure than its Continental neighbours. The German security services, working with their Dutch counterparts, proved conclusively that attacks on white women by Muslim men were fomented by migrants from the Southern Caucasians, financed and organised by indirectly Russian secret services. The Kremlin's aim was to stir up racial hatred against the refugees from the the Middle East, seeking shelter in the EU from wars that Russia was stoking. In France and Belgium, the Russians did not need to intervene - ISIS was continuing to hit civilian targets time after time, despite mass arrests and, later, internment.

Things are bad and will only get worse.

I was angry when the UK left the European Union. I was heartbroken when the United Kingdom broke up. No more Britain - the land where I was born had become a name to consign to history. Like Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia. I could see why the Scots voted to leave, and this time round, I supported their independence movement. And I support Scotland's efforts to rejoin the EU as an independent nation - which is currently being blocked for the most spurious of reasons.

Here in Poland, things had continued upon their merry way. KOD demos every few weeks, a puppet president, a puppet premier and the man who holds their strings continuing to come up with ever more worrying ideas. Still, unlike the leader next door, he's no murderer. No one had died in any KOD demo; they were always good natured, despite the occasional shows of violence from the nationalist movement. Kaczyński continued to keep the far right under control. But the government... it drifted. There was a distinct shortage of professionals in government. In the foreign ministry, in the ministry of defence, in the economy ministries. Trusted people of Prezes Kaczyński. Lack of experience or qualifications - no big problem - as long as you're 'one of ours'.

And hence the puzzle - Poland's economy just kept on growing, more slowly, but still growth. Exports to the former UK, once Poland's second-biggest market, shrank dramatically after England closed its labour market. But Polish entrepreneurs - who'd lost big markets like Russia and Ukraine before - carried on fighting. By some miracle, Polish consumers kept on consuming, even though the real estate market tanked due to geopolitical worries. Despite everything, EU funds for Poland keep on coming through, some of the money is spent wisely on infrastructure and innovation, some of it not. This year - believe it or not - Poland's GDP is still forecast to grow by 1.8%.

These are not good times for Europe. It was 20 years between the end of the First World War and the beginning of the Second. It has been 75 years since the end of the Second World War and now it does feel like Europe will be in conflict yet again.

Why? Because England voted for some chimeric notion of 'sovereignty' rather than the more practical realities of the economy and security. Because America had dumbed down enough to be taken in by a knave. Elsewhere in Europe, that had happened earlier.

This time four years ago:
The law of diminishing returns disappears up its own fundament

This time five years ago:
A night at the Filters (Museum Night 2011)

This time six years ago:
Warsaw's Museum Night

This time seven years ago:
Exploring my anomalous memory events

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Classic car show, Nadarzyn

On my way to work on Friday I was handed a flyer by the Metro station. Now 99% of flyers don't concern me, as I already speak English thank you and I don't need to borrow money. But this one had a picture of an old car on it. Hmm... at the Ptak Expo Centre in Nadarzyn (never heard of it), on Saturday and Sunday there was to be a huge classic car show and auction - Poland's biggest.

So I did some checking; the Ptak Expo Centre is a mere 23 minutes from home through Magdalenka and Sękocin - over the Krakowska, then the Katowicka - and there it is. Most accessible.

I turned up on Sunday morning, just after the second day of the show had opened. The idea of the early start was to be able to snap the exhibits before the crowds got in the way too much.

And what an excellent show it turned out to be! Two halls filled with really interesting exhibits. To give you an idea of the rarity of what was on display, there were two Pierce-Arrows, American luxury cars from the 1920s (Great Gatsby era). I'd never clapped eyes on a Pierce-Arrow before.

Lots of quality motors from Germany, Britain, the USA, France, Italy, Sweden... but for me, the most interesting stuff was Polish. In particular the prototypes that never made it onto the production line.

Let's start with these. Below: the Syrena Sport from 1960. A fibreglass-bodied two-seater hard-top coupe based on the chassis of the Syrena saloon, powered by a two-cylinder four-stroke horizontally-opposed engine. However, it was just meant to be a one-off project, a test-bed for new technologies, never planned for production. The car below is a replica based on photos of the prototype, which was destroyed in the late 1970s.

Below: the Syrena 110 from 1965. This early hatchback was meant to have replaced the Syrena 104. Had it gone into production, it would have been one of Europe's earliest hatchbacks, but the decision was taken to buy the licence to build the Fiat 126 in Poland instead. More than half a century on, the design still looks fresh, even though panel fit looks iffy. Still - remember this was a prototype.

Below: a similar story with the FSM Beskid from 1983. This prototype appeared ten years before Renault's ground-breaking Twingo. But it was not to go into production; the Polish government instead chose to buy the licence to build the Fiat Cinquecento in Poland instead. Hard to believe that this little car is 33 years old. With a drag coefficient of Cx=0.29, fuel economy from its 650cc engine was a creditable 72 mpg (3.9 l/100km).

Below: a car that did make it into production - the FSO Warszawa, a licence-built version of the Soviet GAZ M-20 Pobieda. More than a quarter of a million of these were produced, from 1951 to 1973. This one is from the early 1960s, thought the authenticity of the paint job is questionable.

Below: a familiar car to me - I used to own one exactly like this back in the early 1980s in London, thought with the steering wheel on the right for the UK market. A lovely example of the GAZ M-21 Volga. In black. Tylko.

The Classic Car show also had a fair number of military vehicles, mainly American WWII models. My favourite today? This beautifully turned out Dodge WC54 Ambulance, below, as would have served at D-Day. It's for sale.

There were plenty of British classics to admire. Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Jaguar, Daimler... for me the wire-wheeled sports cars were the best. Below: an Austin Healey 100 from 1953. Note the fold-down windscreen. Many of these were exported to the US.

Below: an MG TC, a smaller and more old-fashioned sports car, yet oozing with character. Built between 1945 and 1950, these agile sportsters spearheaded the British export drive to the New World. For American drivers, British sports cars (and indeed motorbikes) were an antidote to overweight and less manoeuvrable home-grown vehicles.

The US was well represented at the show. A classic piece of Americana, a 1960 Cadillac Sixty Special. Behind it a pre-war Cadillac V-16, a 1949 DeSoto and a pink 1957 Caddy. Wow. All together in Nadarzyn, just south of Warsaw.

Below: a trio of Ford Mustangs from the mid- and late-1960s. "It's a model made before catalytic converters so it'll run good on regular gas."

Below: Continental Europe's sports cars were on show too. A Volvo P1800 and a Mercedes-Benz SL230, again from the mid- to late-1960s. There were many Mercs, too many for my taste. Unless it's an SL, for me, Mercedes-Benz = taxi.

Most impressive single exhibit? Must be this 1938 Auto-Union Horch 853 Sport Cabriolet. It's from Lithuania.

I was impressed by the quality offered by Polish classic car restorers. There were several stands showing classics in various stages of renovation, the body stripped down to bare metal and rebuilt. The craftsmanship was fine and the prices very competitive compared to the UK.

I spent the best part of two hours at the event, walking over 6,000 paces (5km/3miles), and I've uploaded only a fraction of the photos I took. A truly worthwhile show - I'm glad I was handed the leaflet - without it I would never had known!

This time last year:
Classic vehicles at London's VE-Day 70 celebrations

This time three years ago:
Malodorous passengers on Warsaw's public transport

This time five years ago:
Inside Filtry - Warsaw's waterworks (Museum Night 2011)

This time six years ago:
Warsaw's Museum Night 2010

This time seven years ago:
On Transcendence