Sunday, 31 December 2017

Another year in numbers

A good year in terms of health and fitness, all logged for comparison with past years. Walking was good - with a million paces achieved in each quarter, and the four-million pace year cracked for the first time. Walking is good for you!

Less alcohol consumed than for many, many years - I started to keep count in 2014, and each year I've been supping back fewer units and having more alcohol-free days. The 21 units a week was the old NHS guideline (down from 28 units for men); now the guideline is 14 - a tough target but an ambition for years ahead! December, however, remains the least restrained month, with 36 units downed (compared to 56 units in December 2014!). This year, every other day was alcohol free, with two consecutive days off each week as recommended by Public Health England (and 46 days of total abstinence during Lent, as usual).

Measurable and manageable
2014   2015  2016  2017
Paces per day
walked (average
across whole year)
 9,800  10,70010,600 11,000
Alcohol consumed
(units per week)
 33.4 28.025.0

Alcohol-free days
over course of year
 94 123


Days without any
physical training

Portions of fresh
fruit & veg per day

5.0 5.2

A new metric appears this year - number of days of the year during which I did no physical training at all. This means no sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups or weights exercises. The number is successively declining, as I get more self-disciplined. A big thanks once again to Michal Borzyskowski for suggesting my weights routine (now I'm moving up from 1kg to 1.5kg for the external rotations and from 2kg to 2.5kg for the internal rotations and lateral lifts. 15 repetitions of each.

On to dietary matters - the gurus are now telling us to aim for ten portions of fresh fruit and veg with the emphasis more on the veg than the fruit. All well and good, but preparation time is key - on a day off work like today, I managed eight portions, harder when you're on the go all the time. Still, the trend is good, moving up to 5.2 portions. Expect much more next year!

New Year's resolutions must be sustainable if they are to make sense. In 2014, I kicked off enthusiastically with the exercises, then tailed off early. In 2017, I plugged away for longer, setting myself a clear goal for 2018 and beyond.

But our goals must be more than physical, more than just due care for our shell of foam. Our primary goal must be to deepen our understanding of our sentient existence upon this planet - on a solar system within a galaxy of 100-400 billion stars; one of 200 billion-2 trillion galaxies in our Universe.

To further our understanding, we should pursue two strands of thinking - the scientific; drawing on empirical observations, repeatable experiments and peer review - and the artistic; intuitive, emotive, based on sensations and feelings. The two strands should be interwoven, bound tightly together as one. The aim - to leave those who come after us a better frame of reference from which they can continue to explore, and to move along that infinite continuum from Zero to One. From the bestial to the angelic. And this I wish humanity for 2018.

This time last year:
2016: A year in numbers

This time two years ago:
2015 - a year in numbers

This time three years ago:
Economic forecasts for 2014 - and 2015?

This time four years ago:
Economic predictions for 2014

This time five years ago:
Economic predictions for 2013

This time six years ago:
Economic predictions for 2012

This time seven years ago:
Classic cars, West Ealing

This time eight years ago:
Jeziorki 2009, another view

This time nine years ago:
Jeziorki 2008, another view

This time ten years ago:
Final thoughts for 2007

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Eric Ravilious

To my brother Marek - the greatest gift one can give is inspiration...

A cracking Christmas present from Marek - two books of prints by British illustrator Eric Ravilious (A Travelling Artist and A Country Life). Though I'd never heard of the artist, the images, the style, immediately resonated with me, a deep association with the England of my childhood. Despite the fact that he died in 1942 (plane crash off Iceland, one of three official British war artists to die during WW2), Ravilious's style was extremely influential, spawning many imitators.

His engravings could be found in London Transport advertising materials (such as the pre-war Country Walks series) and on the cover of Wisden's Cricketers' Almanack since 1938. The Festival of Britain graphic design aesthetic drew deeply on Ravilious' legacy. But then Ravilious himself studied under Paul Nash, whose influence is clearly visible in Ravilious's work. I can also see similarities with the works of another war artist, Edward Ardizzone, who's illustrated books I'd read as a child.

Perusing the prints, many of which are landscapes, there is a clear bias towards my own visual preferences, rolling roads over folding hills, parallel lines converging in the distance, empty vistas, few people, the light on the land from the moody English skies captured. Ravilious lived for a while on the banks of the Thames at Hammersmith, in a house marked with a blue plaque on the corner of Upper Mall and Weltje Road.  And the rural Sussex and Wiltshire that inspired Ravilious once beckoned me out for many a bike ride when I lived in London.

Below are a few of the images that have struck me with the clarity of their emotional appeal. Having stood where he stood, and felt what he felt, the artist was able to recreate that same sense in another mind at another time in another place. And that is genius.

Below: Caravans, 1936

Below: Chalk Paths, 1935

Below: Train Going over a Bridge at Night, 1935

Below: Wiltshire Landscape, 1937

Below - Sussex Landscape, 1931

Do these images click with you as they click with me?

Thank you Marek for these inspiring books!

This time two years ago:
Dark thoughts at 2015 comes to an end

This time three years ago:
Shots from the sky

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

This time six years ago:
Random year-end thoughts

This time seven years ago:
Beery litter louts

This time eight years ago:
Miserable grey London

This time nine years ago:
Parrots in Ealing

This time ten years ago:
Xmas lites, Jeziorki

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Rural Derbyshire, December sunlight

It's that time of year again, and between a soggy Christmas Day and a rather dismal Wednesday, Boxing Day (drugi dzień świąt) was marvellous, weather-wise. At my brother's in Derbyshire, time to walk off the carbohydrates and booze with two walks each of over 8,000 paces. First was on my own, in brilliant sunshine, the second accompanied by mes enfants and their Cousin Hoavis.

Walk One - from Duffield up Hob Hill then down towards the Ecclesbourne Valley and back along the railway line (no trains running).

Walk two - across the Chevin, cutting across the Hazelwood Road, then once more back to Duffield along the tracks.

England at its finest.

This time three years ago:
Derbyshire in the snow

This time four years ago:
Is Britain over-golfed?

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

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

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Last shots from Ballast Mountain

All good things must come to an end, and my little Ballast Mountain is coming down, as was inevitable... but for a while, I could stand six metres above the pancake-flat Mazovian plain and get a better view. A place for train-spotting, plane-spotting and quiet contemplation in between (the Relevance of Matter), for a enjoying a top-notch bottle of IPA.

So then - it may be (or maybe not) that I can scale the heights once more, ascending the north slope, or the more challenging south face, but in case I don't, some shots of the Ballast Mountain as it disappears. Below: all looks as it did looking north-east. The new signalling now works, the level crossing on Baletowa is functioning. Note the orange sensors between the tracks.

Below: looking north-west, you can see that just a ridge is left, grassy on one side, scooped back ballast on the other. In the distance Dawidy Bankowe.

Below: looking south-east, same story, just a narrow ridge remains. Houses on ul. Trombity in view.

Below: Google Earth imagery from the summer of 2016; I've marked in yellow the crescent-shaped remains of the full mountain, the original size is marked in red. It was once large enough to ride a motorbike up onto.

Now, bearing in mind that PKP owns the land, there's no rush to do anything with this - it's not like PLK leased the land from a private landowner for the duration of the modernisation works. [See City of Warsaw's official map, below, that shows land ownership - it's visible that the ballast mountain was put up on a piece of land that sticks out from but is continuous to the tracks. Click to enlarge.]

Bonus shot, below. There is a rule in railway photography that the entire train should be in frame, from the loco right through to the rear carriage or wagon - this means typically a front three-quarters view. Rules are there to be broken - but only consciously. This shot of an ET22 electric loco hauling empty coal wagons back to Bogdanka colliery in Lubelskie was taken from ul. Baletowa.

Unsurprising update, 30.12.2017 - it's still here. A snap of two engines, running light towards Konstancin-Jeziorna, taken from the ballast mountain.

This time two years ago:
Hybrid driving

This time four years ago:
Convenience vs. Privacy

This time five years ago:
The messy joys of pomegranate eating

This time seven years ago:
Yuletide break

This time eight years ago:
Washing the snow away (temperature rises by 14C in 12 hours)

Friday, 22 December 2017

What did YOU do in the First World Cyber-War?

It's happening - and let's pray that this time the only fighting happens online and not in our physical world. The global battle of ideas is being played out for the first time in human history on hundreds of millions of home computers around the world. No longer battlefields with bullets and shrapnel flying, the fight is now to win hearts and minds without the mass slaughter of global war. The existence of the nuclear bomb has brought grudging peace between the superpowers - the doctrine of mutual assured destruction ensures that while small-scale proxy wars are still fought, Russia and the West are unlikely to go for full-out armed conflict.

Instead, Russia is taking on the West in a different way. It is seeking to fracture social bonds, dissolve social trust, besmirch our institutions using not lethal weapons but using the internet. To create dozens of civil cold wars in countries around the world.

The social media has become a conduit for making ordinary people, with average levels of education - doubt everything they're told. Why? Because if the default position is "they're lying to us, aren't they?" there will be less outrage about Russia's aggression in Ukraine and the Middle East. "Who knows who's right? Maybe they're all lying? We can't trust anyone these days..."

Bombard the West then, not with bombs, but with ideas. Not one simple set of ideas, like in the ideological days of the USSR, when the Soviet Union projected its world view through Marxist-Leninist filters. Today, all sorts of weird and wacky ideas, of far-right, far-left, far-fetched conspiracy theories - anti-vax, climate-change denial - anything with a bit of traction that the credulous can buy into.

It's not about good ideas - it's about the weight and volume of argument. Just because your argument is better thought-through; just because you understand the consequences of what's at stake and can articulate it, doesn't mean that you will win.

They will shout you down by amplifying the voices of the cranks, whose letters in green ink, in upper case, underlined twice, would go no further than the editor's spike in pre-internet days. Today, every crank has a global audience of ten, maybe a hundred people - link them together, foment fake outrage and you can create seismic shifts in social opinion.

Buoyed up by the feeling of being in a crowd, egged on by the Kremlin's troll army, the dissenters get increasingly aggressive towards their perceived enemies.

And here we have the liberal's conundrum - the liberal's enemy can stoop to verbal aggression to which the liberal cannot respond with counter-aggression - only with better arguments. Liberals should not allow themselves to be provoked.

We end up in our bubbles, rarely straying over into the other side. When we do so, it's because we've been outraged (or they've been outraged), and within a few tweets / comments it deteriorates into a slanging match, as our arguments fail to sway the other side. People are banned /unfriended, and it's all over, but the online conflict spills over into the real world as levels of social trust fall.

It's worth looking at 20th Century civil wars fought over ideology - in Russia and in Spain - how the venom turned human beings into murderous brutes - an enemy with the wrong ideology is dehumanised and their life without value. The aftermath of both wars was as bloody as the fighting, the victors spared not the losers. How will this play out in our cyber war?

Persuasion by argument works when you are dealing with a live human being (not an automated bot) who is able to accept logic and cause-and-effect. When your logical response is met with a stream of vitriolic abuse - time to move on.

It's tiring. In last week's Polityka tthere was a piece which suggests that in Poland, this November alone, 30,000 fake accounts were set up on Twitter. Ready for use in next year's local elections? By whom? Party 'A', Party 'B' - or entities directed from abroad?

Should we get involved in the debates? Should we try to persuade others to appreciate why our destiny as a species, our common journey away from barbarism, towards civilisation, away from the bestial towards the angelic is currently at risk? More at risk than at any time since the Cold War?

Or should we just Let It Be? Walk away from it, not caring as to the outcome?

What will you tell your children, your grandchildren decades from today - that you remember a time when The Big Man didn't rule over you, but when citizens, societies decided for themselves what was good - things were better then...

Did you take on the liars, the pedlars of fake news, the trolls, the haters, those that aim to divide and rule our Western democratic world?

Why didn't you do more to hang on to what you had then?

This time last year:
Solstice sunset, Gogolińska

This time six years ago
Extreme fixie

This time eight years ago:
Poland's worst railway station
(and it's no better two years on. Just two years shabbier.)

This time nine years ago:
Last Christmas before the Recession?

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Jeziorki swans and bonus shots

The shortest day. Although the sunset is now getting later, so is sunrise, which will won't start appearing over the horizon any earlier until 3 January. Not much snow compared to Decembers past, and the ice is encroaching the ponds. Below: the swan family, the five surviving cygnets and their parents; soon they'll be having to fly away to find ice-free water.

Hold on - who's this paddling around the middle pond (below)? There were five cygnets with their folks in the southernmost pond - so is this the missing sibling - or has this cygnet flown in from somewhere else, where the water's already frozen?

Below: the photo I'd wished I'd taken but didn't. When I left for London earlier this month, I lent my neighbour Tomek my Nikon  CoolPix P900, and he captured this marvellous picture of a parent swan giving one of its cygnets flying lessons. Perfect composition, focus and exposure.

The new gated level crossings at Nowa Iwiczna and W-wa Dawidy (below) were activated while I was in London last week. Interesting little barrier for pedestrians mounted (to left of frame) for passengers on the 'up' platform. Light dusting of snow, -1C, Tuesday evening. Incidentally, picking up on Ian Wilcock's comment earlier about the premature lowering of the barriers - I timed this, and it was exactly three minutes between the barriers going down and my train town reaching the level crossing. About two minutes too long!

Below: be shocked, Warsaw, be shocked. Monday morning, 18 December, and the PM2.5 particulate concentration is five times higher than the maximum allowable level, while PM10 particulates were three times higher. The result - yellow smog sitting on top of us, the top of Palace of Culture just about clear of it.

Below: final bonus shot - flying in to Warsaw through the fog (smog not too bad this morning), Theresa May and half her government on the RAF A330 Voyager.

This time two years ago:
A conspiracy to celebrate

This three years ago:
The Mythos and the Logos in Russia

This time four years ago:
Going mobile - I get a smartofon

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

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

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

This time eight years ago:
Evening photography, Powiśle

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

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

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Snapshots of Lublin before Christmas

Enter the magic of Lublin's old town as snowflakes fall, with Solstice approaching.

Let's step through the Trinitarian Gate (Wieża Trynitarska) and explore, making the Most of the atmosphere...

Dusk descends upon the town, as it would have done in centuries past, time to settle in for a late lunch after four business meetings... The building to the left is the old town hall.

And then explore the back streets...

Before returning to the main square... Here is the house of the 16th century poet, Sebastian Klonowicz.

Evidence of Christmas festivities in the square, more people...

Brama Krakowska, the Kraków gate, the westerly entrance the old town.

Passing out of the old town, across the way from Brama Krakowska is the new town hall. Beyond is Krakowskie Przedmieście, which leads to Plac Litewski.

Final photo - the facade of the Archcathedral of St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist. And the Glory of God Shone Around.

Click here for more Lublin photos across the seasons of the year (starting with this post again).

This time last year:
The best of Warsaw's Christmas illuminations

This time two years ago:
Changes on ul. Baletowa
[A year later, the 715 and 737 bus routes would  start to serve this street]

This time four years ago:
UK migration - don't blame the Poles

This time fiveyears ago:
Jacek Hugo Bader's Biała Gorączka reviewed

This time six years ago:
Thoughts upon the death of the Dear Leader

This time seven years ago:
Global warming or climate change?

This time eight years ago:
Progress along the S79

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Kick out against Change - or accept it?
Meditations upon West Ealing

Where am I? This could be anywhere in the UK; generic urban scene. Put me back here 50 years ago, and I'd not recognise the place. This is Singapore Road, West Ealing, between the Uxbridge Road and the railway line. Half a century ago, to my left would have been the backs of the shops long gone - F.W. Rowse, Mac Fisheries, Tru-form - and the Green Man pub; to my left, an estate of single-story pre-fab houses. All gone. A new landscape emerges, new blocks of flats are arising in the distance.

Now, this place I'd recognise, the Salvation Army church on Leeland Road, corner of Leeland Terrace. Childhood memories. From here, the Sally Army band would march out and play on the streets of West Ealing, songs of salvation to salve the soul. Built in 1909, my early-'60s childhood was nearer the date of its construction than today.

Going shopping with my mother at Rowses ('u Rałsa'), to Marks & Spencer ('do Spensera') or Woolworths ('do Łulłorsa'). British Homes Stores? We didn't go there. Below: this stylish Art Deco facade once graced Woolworths; I loved going there with my mother; often she'd buy me an Airfix model aeroplane. Today, Woolworths is but a memory, the store divided into three, the largest part of it a Poundworld. The second-hand jewellry shop to the left has closed. Incidentally, does anyone remember the pedestrian crossings with animated stick-men that moved when you were allowed to cross the road? Maybe a failed experiment, in the mid- to late-1960s?

Below: Ealing Magistrate's Court, Green Man Lane - the street named for the pub. The pub sign, a green man's face peering through leaves, used to frighten me as a very small child in pushchair on my way to nursery school.

Below: Felix Road, and beyond Jacob's Ladder footbridge over the Great Western Railway line. Much as it was when steam engines plied the tracks, which I can just about remember.

West Ealing has changed but has stayed the same; the people are different, the cars are different, some of the buildings have gone, new ones have emerged. The spirit of place is there, recognisable from half a century ago; change happens. Useless trying to set the clock back - the forces of globalisation and information technology have changed the way our towns look. Yes, the search for the spirit of age, the nostalgic longing for times past, bring balm to our rushed lives, rushing away from the known towards the unknown. But we can never bring back those exact qualia, those precise emotions we once experienced gazing on a street scene from our childhood.

Politicians who arouse people's nostalgia for times past, when there were fewer migrants on the streets are playing dangerous games. Times change; we must get used to it. The past was never as good as we think it was, we cannot turn back the clock. Move on, make a shrine to the past by all means, but live for the future.

This time two years ago:
Warwick University alumni meet in Warsaw

This time three years ago:
Pluses and minuses of PKP InterCity

This time four years ago:
When transportation breaks down

This time nine years ago:
Full moon closest to Earth

Monday, 11 December 2017

Half An Inch Of Snow Brings Travel Chaos To UK

Pathetic. The amount of snow that fell on London and the south-east of England yesterday would not even provoke the slightest comment in a Warsaw office as staff got into work. But here in London - chaos, pandemonium, drama. The upshot of this chaos is that I'm still in London and will be stuck here until Thursday - while in Warsaw there's work that should be done.

Yesterday, Sunday 10 December, West Ealing, noon...

Knowing that the tiniest amount of snow disrupts London utterly, I check the TfL website to see how my journey to Luton Airport will look. As expected; "Central line - part closures, severe delays on other parts of the line. Piccadilly line - part closure, severe delays on other parts of the line." Metropolitan line - not working at all. The District line is working OK, so I set ofp to Ealing Broadway with the intention of getting to St Pancras changing at Victoria for the Victoria line. All goes well, I reach St Pancras and see the ThamesLink services have been diverted to the East Midlands platforms; in any case I board an East Midlands train to Nottingham, first stop Luton Airport Parkway, it departs on time (14:10) and arrives on time (14:30). Marvellous.

Stepping outside into the snow at Luton Airport Parkway station, I can see three airport shuttle buses standing idly and a huge crowd of people. No bus staff anywhere to be seen, no information - just disgruntled passengers with planes to catch, suitcases, buggies, small children... I walk around the buses to see some guys with snow shovels trying to clear wet snow off the approach road. I know what's going on... the buses don't have winter tyres. The approach road is steep, as is the slip-road linking the station and New Airport Way. The buses are unable to climb either hill. No snow-ploughs, no salt, no pavement clearing.

So I walk - I've done this journey many times before; it's usually 20 minutes on foot. Today, I take the footpath rather than walking alongside New Airport Way for safety's sake - half an hour sloshing through slush and muck, snow and ice. Half way to the airport terminal, I start seeing people coming down the other way, walking towards the station because the airport bus is not running from that end either. Total traffic jam on the roads. At times, I'm walking between the stationary cars rather than risk the treacherous pavements.

Finally reaching the airport, I can see the bay where the station shuttle buses usually stop. Not a shuttle bus in sight, just hundreds of people, in the cold, (some unsuitably dressed having flown home from warmer climes), with luggage and infants and zero information, waiting to get to the station.

The photo (above) shows the amount of snow - not a whole lot by Warsaw standards, yet enough to paralyse Luton. A local bus from the town centre has just arrived (centre left of pic), but it's neither come from nor will it be going to Luton Airport Parkway station. The time: 15:06.

Entering the terminal building, my jaw drops. The departures board is awash with red - cancelled flights. Those that have not been cancelled and are presumably flying were scheduled to depart at 06:30, 07:00 and still have not left. The first Warsaw flight of the day, at 08:10, is showing that the gate will be announced at 14:40 - that is, 20 minutes ago. The next Warsaw flight, 14:20, has been cancelled. My flight, at 17:30, is shown to be scheduled for 17:50 (this squares with information I had online before I left my father's). So I go through security and arrive airside to see what will happen next...

Hours pass, the departures board hardly changing. Flights are being called over the loudspeaker, the departures board seems to have got stuck. Milan, Cluj-Napoca, Lublin... people rushing to gates, somehow things are moving... We wait for further announcements. They are garbled, read out by non native-English speakers, I'm straining to hear what's going on. At one stage, all passengers for cancelled Ryanair flights are called to Gate 16 from where they will be escorted away from the airport. It's 19:30, and finally passengers for WizzAir flight W6 1308 to Warsaw are called to Gate 6.

There we meet passengers from WizzAir flight W6 1302 to Warsaw, which had been scheduled to depart eleven and half hours ago. The mood is turning ugly - the staff on the desk are provided with scant information, and that seems to be contradictory. W6 1302 will be taking off shortly, but W6 1308 is cancelled - or was that the other way round. At last passengers for my flight are told that yes, it is definitely cancelled. Leave the airport, re-book your ticket, WizzAir will reimburse for the ticket and for hotel costs. All flights from the UK for Monday and Tuesday are fully booked.

I leave the airport terminal and catch a Green Line bus to London, which leaves at 20:30, and to my surprise negotiates all the steep slip-roads and gets onto the motorway without any problem. I catch the Central line at Marble Arch ('Expect severe delays' says a board at the station entrance), but by luck there's an Ealing Broadway train on the platform as I reach it. I'm back at my father's at 22:15, and straight away I go online to book my ticket home. Monday - all flights to Poland booked. Tuesday - the same. Wednesday - there's one seat left for the evening flight to Warsaw, but by the time I've reached for my credit card - it's gone. I manage to book a seat on the early afternoon flight on Thursday 14 December. It costs £155, more than three time more than my original Luton-Warsaw ticket (£47).

This morning, British TV news is full of pictures of a snow-bound country beset by traffic chaos. At Heathrow Airport yesterday, more than 300 flights were cancelled. Ealing Gazette's Twitter feed is full of stories about traffic jams and school closures. Poland can have this or much worse weather for three-four months of the year, and schools will only close when temperatures fall below -20C. And here in Ealing, it's +1C and it's raining! Here's a sample Tweet from Ealing Gazette today: "Snow in west London: Vyners School shut amid concerns for 'safety of staff'".

There's nothing new or unexpected about snow in London in December. It seems that year after year, people responsible for keeping the infrastructure going get caught totally unprepared. Where's the training? Where's the process, the systems, the management? Why can Okęcie (or indeed any Polish or Central European airport) keep the airliners flying through the depths of winter, while a few hours of wet snow cripples British airports? Where's the crisis management? Where are the procedures for de-icing runways, taxi-ways, gates and aircrafts' wings? Where are the procedures for keeping passengers informed? This weather had been forecast - why were no steps taken to foresee what would happen and react accordingly? 'Train hard, fight easy' should be the way. Expect the unexpected and plan for it.

Climate change means more extreme weather events; I've observed warmer winters in Warsaw, but here in London heavy snowfalls are become less rare and something that planners need to plan for.

Not least the provision of snow tyres for public-service vehicles. Of course, the UK makes very little snow equipment of any kind, so it will have to be imported from EU countries (Goodyear, Michelin, Bridgestone, Dębica etc all produce winter tyres in factories in Poland).

This time last year:
Łódź Fabryczna station opens again

This time three years ago:
Pluses and minuses of PKP

This time four years ago:
When transportation breaks down

This time six years ago:
Take me back to Tulsa

This time eight years ago:
Another book launch

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

This time ten years ago:
Rotten weather, literally

Polish Perivale

In Tesco Hoover yesterday bulk-buying stuff for Xmas at my father's. Had to put up with It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas played repeatedly for over half an hour before staff changed it to a more varied medley of Yuletide slush (a relief for the chap dressed up as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, who stood in mortal danger of ending up impaled on a pointy Xmas tree). Anyway, Perivale being Perivale, with its diverse mix of humanity, I'm still shocked me by how many Poles were shopping there. I left Perivale 20 years ago after 15 years living there. Back then, there were a few Poles, second-generation like me, and some newcomers, but all in all, not in the least bit visible.

Today there are many, and they most certainly are visible. From young families pushing laden trolleys hither and yon to men in hi-vis jackets placing słoiki of bigos or flaki into their baskets. Polish food is no longer in the 'Food of the World' aisles, but present across the entire store mixed in with other ethnic foods for ethnic groups who are no longer a minority in Perivale. Parents would speak among themselves in Polish, to their children in Polish - who'd reply to their parents in Polish, but speak to their siblings in English - without a trace of foreign accent.

When you see a white face in Perivale, it's likely to be Polish. According to the 2011 Census, 22% of its population are 'White, Other' (read: Polish), while only 20% were English; 'Indian' came third at 15%. I heard one or two middle-aged couples in Tesco (and I was there for nearly an hour and half) talking in native English to one another. To them it must seem strange, to say the least, to have become a minority, but the same process happened in Southall, just down the road, at the other end of the E5 bus route, some 40 years ago. Whereas Southall is south Asian, Perivale is extremely diverse, with peoples from all corners of the world in evidence.

Outside in the car park, vehicles with Polish number plates so exotic, you'd not see them in Warsaw - RRS for example, or RT, or LJA (that one I know to be Janów Lubelski), although of course nary a car on Warsaw plates. Many Poles in Perivale have long settled down, sending their children to the Catholic John Fisher primary school on the Western Avenue, and having bought properties before their reached their current high (half a million pounds for an ordinary three-bedroom terraced house) are paying off mortgages. The ones that run their own businesses, in the construction sector in particular, are doing well. Unemployment is low and hard-working skilled tradespeople are in demand.

Perivale UB6 is downmarket of West Ealing W13, which in turn is downmarket of Ealing W5; clawing one's way up the property market to reach the (literal) peak of Edgehill Road or Hillcrest Road will take some doing, but I can sense the determination among many Polish business owners and self-employed people.

The London Borough of Ealing, which also includes Perivale and Southall, voted 60.4% to stay in the EU, on a turnout of 71%. Given the large immigrant population in the borough - far higher than most Vote Leave districts, one can only surmise that a long-standing exposure to migrants has made Ealing less nativist with the passing of time.

POSTSCRIPT: Round the time I pressed the 'Publish' button on this post, a young Polish man died after being stabbed on Bilton Road, Perivale...

I am troubled by the prospect of the murderer being revealed as an English racist, a Islamist fanatic... but it seems that this was Polish-on-Polish violence. A 23 year-old Polish national was arrested in Edinburgh on Saturday 16 December charged with the murder.

This time last year:
Power in the vertical

This time five years ago:
And still they come [anomalous flashbacks that is]

This time six years ago:
Classic glass

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

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

Saturday, 9 December 2017

The triple benefits of walking

Yesterday evening, I'm on may way to town from my father's house. I pass bus stop CE by Hollingbourne Gardens; the indicator says a bus to Ealing Broadway is due in 10 minutes. A woman in her 40s, a little overweight, is waiting. Probably been there a few minutes... I march on. By the time the bus arrives, assuming it will arrive on time, I'll be more than halfway to its destination. I continue... past the next stop (Kent Gardens SA) and the next one (The Knoll SB) and the next one (Charlbury Grove SD).

And just then, the bus whizzes past me, only to stop a few hundred yards later by the junction of Castlebar Road and Carlton Road as it hits the back of a traffic jam standing all the way back to Ealing Broadway. I overtake the bus (walking pace, no running) as it passes Eaton Rise and reach the destination before the bus.

So the lady who'd been waiting at Hollingbourne Gardens a) took longer to reach Ealing Broadway than me, b) spent £1.50 for the privilege of waiting in near-freezing weather for ten+ minutes then spending a further 12 minutes in a bus, much of the time stationary in a jam and c) missed out on 20 minutes' exercise.

Later that evening, heading back to Ealing from town, I arrive at Queensway station on the Central line to find disruption on the line and a 15-minute wait for the next Ealing Broadway train. Seconds later, a West Ruislip train arrives, and I take than with the intention of taking it to Perivale. The walk to my father's from Perivale station is longer than from Ealing Broadway (around 2,500 paces rather than 2,000 paces), but the balance between an extra 500 paces and waiting 15 minutes is a no-brainer. Even at an unhurried rate, I can walk 100 paces a minute, so 15 minutes = 1,500 paces, therefore I'll be home ten minutes earlier if I do the longer walk compared to waiting at Queensway.

As a youth, I'd do what I can to avoid having to walk, but now that walking has become an ingrained habit, I have no problems with it, spending on average between an hour and half and two hours a day walking. As well as the benefits of moving one's body, walking clears the mind. But in London I find it's saving me money (not having a season ticket, as I do in Warsaw) - and also saving me time.

Finally, a hint for Public Health England: while I value the One You project and the Active Ten part of it, I've long given up on the app - why? I often don't remember to launch the app when I set off at a brisk pace to the station or bus stop - I know I'm doing the walking but not getting the 'reward'. One day, when I knocked out a worthy 16,000 paces without once launching Active Ten (I was travelling - Warsaw - Łódź - Gdańsk, to busy to think about the app), I gave up. If Public Health England wants us to keep tabs on our brisk walking, I'd recommend an app to which you give permission but once to log your brisk walking, and it does so day in, day out, the year round.

This time last year:
W-wa Jeziorki: new 'up' platform nearly ready

This time two years ago:
Tottenham Court Road station revisited

This time three years ago:
Zen and the Art of Publishing

This time five years ago:
Wrocław, another Polish city of neon

This time six years ago:
Ronald Reagan remembered

This time seven years ago:
Accident of birth

This time nine years ago:
Under the Liberator

This time ten years ago:
Jeziorki on old maps

Friday, 8 December 2017


Remember, dear reader, that 14 units of alcohol is the upper limit of 'safe drinking' set by Britain's Chief Medical Officer early last year. Once upon a time it used to be 28 units for men, 21 for women, then it was reduced to 21 units for men, 14 for women, now 14 units for men and women.

It is the run-up to Xmas, the days are short; darkness and cold reign. What better time of year than to meet up with old friends, and raise a cheering glass or five to celebrate a time of Peace and Goodwill to All. But those 14 units...?

Since 1 January 2014, I've been keeping a health and fitness log, entering - literally - every unit of alcohol consumed into the spreadsheet, along with my daily walking and exercising, and portions of fresh fruit and vegetables consumed. If you can measure it, you can manage it.

Here's a sample entry (from Saturday's get-together in Shoreditch):


That's four bottles of Forest Road Work IPA at 5.4% alcohol by volume, each of 330ml, plus one glass (150ml) of red wine at 13% abv. Total = 9.1 units of alcohol. [One unit is equivalent to 250ml of 4% beer, for example.]

Now the social evenings are coming thick and fast at this time of year. Last night a do at the Polish Embassy in London, tonight the PBlink mixer in London, night before last meeting up with old school-friends down the Kent. In each case several beers or wines - hard to avoid and not appear a party-pooper. Plus alcohol is a great social lubricant, making you more garrulous, confident and amiable - of course, up to a point. The trick is to know exactly where that 'point' lies; when you can feel you're starting to lose the logic of your statements, when you're choosing the wrong words. With me, this starts to occur after 10 units, spaced out over an evening. Over 13 units, the helicopters start. And then there's the hangover, which is a combination of factors, including how much water you're taking in alongside the alcohol to prevent nocturnal dehydration, the mixing of grape and grain, and the hangover-generating quality of the alcohol consumed. Plus the last thing one wants to to when crawling towards bed is to do one's evening portion of exercises - weights, press-ups etc.

So ten units is what I can handle and remain sensible, with consciousness working normally. Last night it was 8.1 units - five small glasses of red wine with food consumed over two and half hours. No slurred speech, no hangover, a good memory of the many people I talked to and the conversations engaged in (blockchain, investment in Poland's regions, ethnic food in Poland, business succession and investment, Brexit and the new Polish premier).

But five such evenings over a week equals 40+ units; 50 units according to Public Health England is the dangerous drinking level. And Public Health England discourages us from 'hoarding' our drink-free days so that we can binge-drink and still stay within overall limits.

Looking back over the first 11 months of this year, I consumed an average of 19.1 units a week (below the old 21-unit limit, but much more than the current 14-unit one). And I had 179 alcohol-free days, more than every second day. Two alcohol-free days in a row is recommended by Public Health England, which I generally abide by. And then of course there's Lent (26 years now) during which I touch not a drop. The New Year is a time of resolution, and after Christmas excesses, I treat January as a gentle run-up to the rigours of Lent, slowing down alcohol intake considerably.

Past Decembers look like this:
2014: 56.1 units a week (DANGER!)
2015: 39.8 units a week
2016: 35.2 units a week (still 2.5 times over 'safe' level)

It goes without saying that December is the most intensive month for drinking by far; the most important thing is to be aware of this, monitor it carefully and go for a liver recovery programme in the New Year.

This time last year:
Emilia comes down

This time two years ago:
On being rich in Poland

This time five years ago:
The link between health and happiness explored

This time six years ago:
The black SUV, the black SUV... (with the darkened rear windows)

This time seven years ago:

This time ten years ago:
Where I'm from, and why