Sunday, 30 April 2017

The Shoot - Day Two

It's all starting to get interesting! Naturally, I can't divulge too much, save to say that the programme will be aired in the autumn, part of Discovery Science channel's What on Earth? series. One of the elements of the hour-long show will be my search for the Nazi Gold Train. Today's shooting was conducted close to the Wałbrzych-Kłodzko railway line, where I believe the train could well be hidden. Full health and safety was observed, the upshot of which was - no filming within three metres of a live line, which this one most certainly is.

We set off in the morning to meet the guys from PKP who were supervising the shoot - both of them, local men, told me interesting stories about the legend from the perspective of people they had met. It's clear that something was going on here after the war - the stories of military trucks driving around these parts in the dead of night during the late 1940s and early '50s suggested a top secret and intensive search for something. Was it found back then? Had the Soviets discovered something - would we know about it today?

Below: Marcin, Oscar and Rory set up the kit for filming the line off the bridge. This reinforced concrete bridge is visible in pre-war German maps.

Below: by the reinforced concrete bridge - this reinforced concrete structure. What was its purpose? A storage tank? For what? With such thick walls?

Below: this is a live railway line, with trains running through both bores of the tunnel under the hill. Not somewhere you want to go filming, even with all the permits. This story, of how a crew member was killed by a train in the US three years ago, shows how (rightly) sensitive the film industry is about filming on live lines.

We filmed on top of the hill under which the tunnel goes. In the distance, the Sowie Góry (Owl Mountains), where Hitler's Silesian redoubt, codenamed Projekt Riese ('giant') was under construction when the war ended. More on this tomorrow.

Drone taking off. Stunning aerial footage can now be obtained for a tiny fraction of what a helicopter with crew would cost. It is very battery-hungry; in practice, little more than seven minutes of flight (and filming) can be achieved per battery load. So you need to take five loaded batteries to shoot anything meaningful. In the distance, the snow-covered peaks of the Sowie Góry.

The outdoor footage having been shot, we returned over the highest peaks of the Sowie Góry to our hotel to shoot an interior sequence (in which I explain how I used satellite imagery and pre-war German maps to work out a possible - though logical - location for the Gold Train). Up here in the morning it was just 1.5C.

This time last year:
Semi-automatic (short story)

This time four years ago:
Jarosław Gowin quits as justice minister

This time five years ago:
So good to be back in Warsaw

This time six years ago:
At the President's

This time eight years ago:
Summer's here, and the time is right...

This time ten years ago:
Why I'm staying in Warsaw

Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Shoot - Day One

Back to Wałbrzych in search of you-know-what, this time with film crew. I have a plausible idea of where a Nazi gold train could possibly be hidden...

We fly to Wrocław, pick up hire car and drive to Książ castle; the timing was unfortunate, as it's the first day of the long May holidays, and the castle is overrun by visitors, crammed with booths odpust-style. Additional car parking is in a field; it's raining; our car gets stuck in the mud - by the end of the day, hundreds of cars will be in the same mess. Next location - Walbrzych. We pass the site of Kilometre 65, now debunked as containing neither gold nor train nor tunnel. The town itself continues to exude a sinister atmosphere in the cold and gloom. And finally, on to the wonderful Hotel Dębowy in Bielawa, our base for the three-day shoot.

One thing that struck me after a 30-plus year absence from filming is how technology has dramatically lowered the cost and increased accessibility to broadcast-quality footage. Back in the 1980s, each camera would have three or four people fussing around it. Today, each person on the shoot has several cameras to operate, including a drone, a helmet-mounted Go-Pro, an Osmo gimbal-mounted camera, DSLRs shooting 4K video, as well as handheld smartphones. Each camera has different applications. There is also, compared to 30 years ago, a rigorous yet common-sense attention to health and safety on the shoot.

Below: producer, director, driver, camera operator, clapper/loader, focus puller, soundman, lighting engineer, key grip, best boy, runner - all in the shape of two people - Rory (right) and Oscar, behind the Canon EOS5 MkIII. After Poland and the Gold Train story, they're off to film further episodes in Romania, Barbados, Texas, Canada and Argentina, returning to London in early June. The downside of filming like this is the vast amount of baggage - two guys, seven cases packing cameras, tripods, lighting rig, plus five weeks' worth of clothing. The heaviest load is the ammunition case used to store all the lithium batteries needed. As these can (rarely!) spontaneously combust, they travel in the passenger compartment should anything go wrong, not in the baggage hold. Seven heavy cases/bags, just four hands to carry them all.

Below: overlooking Wałbrzych, and to the left of frame, the foothills of the Owl Mountains (Góry Sowie), one of the presumed locations of the legendary train.

Wałbrzych looks grim and foreboding in the rain. Traces of snow still to be seen here and there. Looking down towards the hills overlooking Wałbrzych; abandoned coal mines stand at their foot, now a museum.

Kino Górnik, a splendid example of Bauhaus protobrutalism from the 1930s, sharing much architecturally with the superstructure of the Bismarck. The cinema closed in 2015.

Wałbrzych's market square and town hall. With a population of 120,000, Wałbrzych is the second-largest town in Lower Silesia after Wrocław. The local special economic zone has lowered local unemployment spectacularly, while Gold Train fever boosted tourist visits to the town by 44% last year over 2015. Below: "Run to the cathedral of Santa Maria Christiana in Brucknerplatz. Buy one of the plain, half-length candles and take back four klubecks in change. Light it in the sacristy, say a brief rosary, then go to Mendl’s and get me a Courtesan au chocolat. If there’s any money left, give it to the crippled shoe-shine boy." This part of Poland just reeks of Wes Anderson's Grand Hotel Budapest.

Bielawa - post-German, post industrial. Round the corner and up the hill to our base, the Hotel Dębowy (recommended). Fabulous food, and a memorable craft ale - Browar Świdnica's Daisy AIPA (7.3% alc.), named after Daisy Cornwallis-West, wife of the last owner of Książ castle.

In Bielawa, we meet up with Marcin, our 'fixer' who's been busy getting all the permissions and lining up the interviews on the ground. Tomorrow we start the search in earnest.

This time four years ago:
Jarosław Gowin quits his post as justice minister

This time eight years ago:
The cycle-to-work season starts

Friday, 28 April 2017

Little suitcase in the attic

My father had a call from the association representing the dwindling number of women who had during the war been in the Szkoła Młodzych Ochotniczek (SMO - in English, the Polish Young Women's Auxiliary Service School). Next month sees the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the school in Nazareth, then Palestine. The association is commemorating the event with an exhibition in the Polish military museum (Muzeum Wojska Polskiego), and asked my father whether my late mother had left any memorabilia from her time at the SMO.

We went up into the attic, and there, stored in a thick plastic bag, a small suitcase of WW2 vintage. I took it down, hoovered the dust off it. The suitcase, made by Papworth Industries for the war effort, was a utility model with a single lockable clasp, with leather reinforced corners and a khaki canvas cover.

Opened up, it shows basic wooden construction and plain brown paper lining.

Inside the suitcase, there were 16 of my mother's exercise books from when she was at the SMO, all filled in in her own hand - maths, history, Polish literature, English.

Below: English grammar lessons. This would have been from the time when my mother was around 16 or 17 years old. [See this post for more about my mother's wartime journey.]

The exercise books revealed to me the strengths and weaknesses of the Polish educational system - a high degree of rote learning, memory-intensive work, learning sophisticated texts and mathematical and scientific formulae without too much attempt to understand or gain meaningful insight into what was being taught. The lack of doodles or other personal touches suggest a high degree of discipline.

Once again, I can see that blending the best of the Polish system (a strong foundation based on memorising facts, rigorous classroom discipline) and the British system (interpreting those facts, tutorial- rather than lecture-based learning) would provide optimal educational outcomes.

This time last year:
Evening moods, springtime, around Cleveland Park

This time four years ago:
Spring flooding in Jeziorki

This time six years ago:
I need a new laptop. But which one?

This time eight years ago:
In search of the sublime aesthetic

This time nine year ago:
Ducks in Ogród Saski

This time ten years ago:
Should I stay or should I go?

Monday, 24 April 2017

Progress by the ponds

I couldn't resist getting ofp the train at W-wa Dawidy and walking back along ul. Dumki to see what has changed today. By five pm the workers had departed, but new progress has been made, with the path extending southwards to join up with the one alongside the southern pond.

Below: view looking north. Once completed, the path will make the walk home from W-wa Dawidy a joy.

Below: view looking west. Note the pier supports that will soon carry a viewing platform out into the pond. Not as good a vantage point as the two platforms further north - that's where the wildfowl is.

When the project is complete, Jeziorki's ponds will become hugely popular. May this not bring litter and vandalism.

Bonus photos from yesterday. Below: American Afternoon 1: that sky... Suddenly, I am transported back to a lesson at primary school with Miss Hazan; she was reading us a Janet and John book (Five and Half Club?) which mentioned the big blue skies over America. She'd just been there on holiday, and said the skies there, in the Midwest, were unlike any she'd ever seen over England. I somehow then (aged seven or eight) knew exactly what she meant. This. [Ul. Karczunkowska, looking east.]

And this. American Afternoon II [From ul. Trombity looking east.] Without polarising filter.

This time four years ago:
Kaczyński's ignorance, deceit or folly?

This time five years ago:
The British electrical plug and socket reigns supreme

This time six years ago:
Easter, and the end of Lent

This time sevene years ago:
That Icelandic volcano (anyone remember what it was called?)

This time eight years ago:
Views of Historic Toruń

This time nine years ago:
One swallow does not a summer make

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Changes at Nowa Iwiczna

Big thanks to Ian Wilcock for the tip-off; I visited Nowa Iwiczna last weekend but nothing was going on; this week work finally started in earnest to complete the modernisation of the Radom line. A week after a change to the timetable and to single-track operations, and finally something's happening other than commuters getting inconvenienced. So I set ofp on foot to see what's new.

Walking south along ul. Gogolińska, I'm overtaken by a ballast train heading south along the 'up' line (below). The power lines over the 'down' line stop short of Nowa Iwiczna station, the tracks themselves run out at the level crossing on ul. Krasickego.

For those interested in such things, the loco is an SM42-2160 operated by Tabor Dębica. Below: it's the wooden-bodied workers' wagon at the back that makes this shot for me, as well as the plethora of overhead wires and cables.

Below: reaching Nowa Iwiczna station, I take this shot from the closed 'down' line, and mark in white the new alignment of the tracks, which will join those waiting for them at the level crossing. But to relay the tracks, the old island platform has to go. The new 'down' platform will be built parallel to the new 'up' platform to the left of the photo. Note the wooden pallet at the end of the platform; given the lack of egress from northern end of the platform, passengers have taken matters into their own hands. This way down saves up to 700 paces of walking.

Meanwhile, across ul. Krasickiego, the last of the island platforms on the line is going under the diggers' claws. I expect the relatively new shelters will be redeployed.

Below: south of Nowa Iwiczna station, the coal train line (Hah! I'm listening to John Coltrane as I write these words!) branches off towards Konstancin-Jeziorna and Siekierki power station. To the right, the main line heads towards the industrial end of Piaseczno, the 'down' line ripped up in the foreground.

Below: rotted, splintered, scorched - the very last of the wooden sleepers on the line between Warsaw and Czachówek and finally getting lifted. Beyond, new track stretches on the Piaseczno. Once this short stretch at Nowa Iwiczna is realigned, and a short stretch of 'down' line is completed south of W-wa Okęcie, all will be good between Warsaw and Piaseczno.

Below: a Radom-bound train pulls out of Nowa Iwiczna, exactly on time. Note the camber of the track, which will allow trains to go through the bend faster.

By the middle of June, Nowa Iwiczna should have two tracks and two platforms. Interesting to see if they'll make it - the platform will take more than eight weeks to build...

Bonus photo below: Jeziorki's first golfer, taking a practice swing at the as-yet unopened driving range behind Biedronka and the scrapyard. It's two years since this blog announced this development. May yet be another whole season before it goes live, don't hold your breaths, golfers!

This time last year:
Tracks to Tarczyn

This time two years ago:
Translation and cultural differences

This time four years ago:
The demand for Park + Ride keeps growing

This time five years ago:
Cycle-friendly London

This time six years ago:
The end of the Azure Week

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Litter makes me bitter.

Here we live, o blessed people of Jeziorki, in a beautiful, magical corner of Warsaw, surrounded by nature, birdsong, wildlife - and filth. For some reason (I'd ascribe it to mindlessness) two specific elements of our local community find it impossible to take their litter with them and dispose of it properly. Element One - Pan Ziutek and Pan Heniek, who meet under a clump of trees on ul. Nawłocka (below) to imbibe. Once suitably refreshed, they abandon their bottles and cans in the grass and stagger off to their hovels.

Element Two is more seasonal, and the approaching spring is drawing them into the open air - teenagers who come to have outdoor picnics by the pond (presumably because it is an attractive place); they leave their soft drink and ketchup bottles making the place look less attractive.

This mindlessness requires punishment - corporal punishment such as being placed in stocks outside Ursynów district hall, where the brudasi can be pelted with rotting onions and eggs by laughing crowds.

In last year's participatory budget (to be spent this year), the number one choice of Jeziorki voters was for a set of 12 dustbins to be placed along ul. Trombity, ul. Dumki and ul. Kórnicka. There already are bins out along Kórnicka and the far end of Dumki, evidently more are needed.

Back in Britain, I am sure that among the 1,269,501 voters who swung it for Brexit at last June's election was a fair number of citizens for whom the daily sight of empty tins of Polish beers strewing the parks and gutters of English towns and villages was the last straw, the tipping point at which they decided to vote leave. Below: one Żywiec, one Warka and four tins of Specjal Jasny Pełny to go. Empties in Pitshanger Park, Ealing.

This, from last week's Economist, which has a two-page story called Migrantland, about those parts of the UK with the fastest influx of EU migrants, those parts that voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU in the referendum":
"We estimate that whereas over 40% of the Poles living in London have a higher-education qualification, only about a quarter do in the East Midlands, where three of our ten areas are. One in 20 people in Boston cannot speak English well or at all, according to the 2011 census. Small wonder that integration is hard. Many landlords do not allow tenants to drink or smoke inside, so people sit out on benches, having a drink and a cigarette. “Because they’re young, not because they’re foreign, they might not put their tins in the bin,” says Paul Gleeson, a local councillor."
I disagree with Mr Gleeson. They don't put their tins in the bin not because of their age, but because no one taught them to put their tins in the bin. I remember when Eddie was small, we'd watch TV together, and often see a Public Information broadcast featuring a Afro-Caribbean dad and his son; the son dropped a soft-drink tin, his father told him to pick it up and put in in the bin. And I, who puts the smallest scrap of paper into my pocket rather than drop it on the street, brought up Eddie the same way - you take your litter home with you. You drop nothing. At all. Ever. Eddie shares my intolerance for litter louts.

How do you stop the mindless from littering? They cannot see or feel the aesthetic damage they do. They come to an attractive place, they leave it less attractive and see nothing wrong. I read recently a text by a writer who'd seen a car full of 'patriotic' youths, sporting Polish flags, Armia Krajowa insignias, patriotic slogans - the occupants chucked out empty fast-food cartons and drinks tins. They claim to love their country, they shit on it.

I would certainly like to see public corporal punishment for litter louts. Economically and socially liberal I may be, but when it comes to protecting our environment, I am robustly illiberal.

This time three years ago:
Lent's over - now what?

This time four years ago:
Completely in the dark

This time five years ago:
Ruch Palikota - a descent into populism

This time sixe years ago:
I cross two unfinished bridges

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

This time eight years ago:
Do not take this road!

This time nine years ago:
Seated peacock, Łazienki Park

This time ten years ago:
Spirit of place: 1930s Kentucky - or Jeziorki?

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Ralph Vaughan-Williams - two song cycles

For over 30 years these two song cycles by Ralph Vaughan-Williams have been among my favourite pieces of classical music. Songs of Travel (1904) sets to music poems by Robert Louis Stevenson. The nine songs are to be taken as an entire work, finished by the short, bleak but ultimately uplifting I Have Trod the Upward and the Downward Slope that talks directly to man's spiritual journey through life, summing up the entire cycle. This version, for orchestra and baritone voice, is sung by Sir Thomas Allen, accompanied by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

The second song cycle is On Wenlock Edge, (1909), the setting to music of six poems by A.E. Housman from his collection A Shropshire Lad (1896). In my mind's eye I have the countryside to the south-west of the Midlands, an elegiac depiction of a rural England before the Great War. This orchestral version, is sung by Robert Tear (tenor), accompanied by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Four songs in the first YouTube clip, followed by the last two in the second.

I really don't know which of the two I prefer - depends on mood probably. Other masterpieces by Vaughan-Williams that have a place in my long-term canon of much-loved music include A Lark Ascending (1914) and Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910).

Vaughan-Williams transports me effortlessly to rural Edwardian England. His music convinces me that great musicians are in touch with eternal insights into the nature of life, and have the gift of being able to communicate it.

This time eight years ago:
Spring scenes in Jeziorki

This time nine years ago:
Modernist wheels

This time ten years ago:
Mammatus clouds over Jeziorki

Monday, 17 April 2017

Local ornithology

While out walking yesterday, I met Pan Przemysław, an ornithologist who'd driven across town to Jeziorki, because word was out that there were some interesting birds, hitherto unseen, on the ponds. So I returned today with my Nikon Coolpix P900 with its 2000mm-equivalent lens. He was right.

Below: a pair of greylag geese (gęgawy). According to Wikipedia, only 1,500 pairs nest in Poland, mainly in western parts. So a rarity around here. They look like they're eyeing up the neighbourhood with a view to moving in. Wonder what he's saying to her... "Those rushes over there look promising... let's hope the swans haven't got there first..."

Now... onto the diving ducks. This (below) is a female common pochard (głowienka zwyczajna)... Seconds later, this one was completely submerged, something mallards can't do.

Below, left: this is the male common pochard (canvasback in North America). To its right, the most common denizen of the ponds right now, a black-headed gull (mewa śmieszka); black tail-band indicating a young adult.

This (thanks A.) is a black-necked grebe (perkoz zausznik) in breeding plumage. Like the pochard, the grebe is a diver, and disappears entirely under water to surface a couple of metres away.

The swans are with us, no doubt busy with nest-making; there are a great many black-headed gulls, mallard ducks (kaczka krzyżówka); and as I mentioned yesterday, swifts (jerzyki) can be seen zooming across the surface of the water (below).

Across the tracks I could hear skylarks, flying too high to be seen. Local birds I didn't see today include the lapwing (czajka), the marsh harrier (błotniak stawowy) and the grey heron (czapla siwa).

A hello to Jeziorki's regulars... A juvenile swan swims up to me on the off-chance that I've got some food (he's in luck - I have some wholegrain bread left from lunch).

And a pair of mallards - drake and duck - making their way out of the main southern pond to cross ul. Dumki to the southernmost and smallest of the ponds.

Apropos of Ornithology - give Charlie Parker a listen: this classic belongs to the ages.

This time last year:
How To Spend It - or not.

This time two years ago:
Blossomtime sublime

This time five years ago:
Novotel Forum clad in Orange

This time six years ago:

This time seven years ago:
Icelandic volcano shuts down NW Europe air traffic

This time nine years ago:
Large, charismatic fowl

This ten nine years ago:
Antonov An-26 in the twilight of its career

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Easter everywhere

Lent 2017 is over. At midnight, I opened the first of three different Chimay beers from the Trappist monastery at Scourmont to consume with Eddie. This morning for breakfast I grilled some English lamb chops (available from Biedronka). The time for self-denial is over, but self-restraint remains important. Above all, being mindful, aware, conscious - for as much of the day as possible.

Weatherwise, it wasn't good today; the temperature struggled to rise above 5C; rain and strong northerly winds and dark clouds in mid-April are unusual. However, in the early evening, as forecast, the clouds rolled southward, the sky brightened and it was time for a walk; time to contemplate in the strong low-angled light of a setting sun.

By the ponds, bird life has erupted; swallows dart across the surface of the water, seeking low-flying insects, they dart this way and that, never touching the pond. The black-headed gulls are noisy at this time of year; coots and moorhens are also to be seen. Spring feels subdued by the low temperatures (at dawn tomorrow, it will be down to below 0C), yet the blooms are on the trees, the hares charge across the fields, the sun sets after half-past seven.

I cross the tracks at ul. Kórnicka and walk across the fields that before too long will be full of road-building equipment as the S79 is extended southwards to join the S7. A huge convenience, bringing the European motorway network to within 2km of our house (it's currently 4.5km from home to the S2 junction with Puławska), but another chunk of rural peace will disappear for good. Such is progress. You win this, you lose that.

Three hillocks of building materials await the road builders. I scramble to the top of the northernmost one and watch the planes flying into Okęcie. While Runway 33 is having its annual remont, planes are landing over Ursynów. Below: familiar landmarks on Warsaw's skyline and a LOT Polish Airlines Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 in Ptasie Mleczko livery coming into land.

Look at the photo above; between the expressway junction (you can see it from the road lamps, click to enlarge) to where I'm standing, the S7 will come charging through those farmhouses and fields.

Lent is over, but we should strive to remain connected with the Infinite and Eternal, we must not lose sight of the connection between our individual lives and the unravelling of the Universe. Take the opportunity of Lent to heal the body - one eighth of the year - to cut out the things that harm your body, keep it in good shape - for a reason. 

For within that body resides a consciousness, a mind that can learn, can teach, can feel, can respond, that can improve our lot on this earth.

Be joyful. But be serious.

This time seven years ago:
Strange days indeed

[link to video of the blog post, courtesy of Nick Morris]

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Lent's almost over; what have I learnt this year?

Lent 2017: Day 46 - Easter Saturday

Just hours to go until I can sip some alcohol and chew on some meat. After doing Lent for 26 consecutive years, it's become an ingrained habit, and the spiritual benefits accrued increase from year to year. Here are my main lessons learned for 2017...

The Lenten abstinence thing is getting easier each year; some of the food items I used to abstain for for Lent - confectionery, sweet biscuits, cakes, salt snacks - have disappeared from my diet altogether.  I shake far less salt on my food than I used to. I'm drinking less that I did four-five years ago (logging that along with health, fitness and diet on a spreadsheet really helps). Giving stuff up, in itself, is not that difficult.

What's harder is willing oneself to do, to act; much harder than to forego. It's easy to say "I'm tired tonight - I'll go to bed without doing my exercises". Or "It's raining, I'll drive". Pushing yourself beyond that point is a worthy exercise. It's harder than just giving something up.

But even harder than making yourself do or act when you don't really want to is... thinking.

Forcing your conscious mind to take over from your instinctive nature. Switch to making everything you to a conscious act. Switching off the cooker. Locking the front door when you leave the house. Driving to the supermarket. Consider the movement; break it down into stages. Whatever smallest thing you do, do it mindfully rather than instinctively. It's what differentiates us from lower animals.

Write down your thoughts. This afternoon, as I went for my daily walk, I had a good thought, so good I thought "I'm bound to remember this, and put it into practice" - sadly not. Despite the fact that, as ever for the past ten years, I had notebook and pen in my pocket, I failed to write it down, because I reckoned the thought was good enough to make it into my long-term memory. It didn't. Something I only realised when I had another good thought... "What was that previous good thought I had? Can't remember." So I this time I took out my notebook and jotted down the new good thought...

I'd just come across a ditch, dug mechanically across the path. It required a jump. It was not particularly wide; instinctively I'd have taken a few paces run-up and leapt across it in one easy bound. That's what a cat would have done, instinctively. But me, I stop. 1) Assess the risk. The ground's a bit wet. What if I slip while taking off? Would I still clear the ditch? What would happen if it went wrong? Something worse than muddy hands and trousers? Bashed camera? 2) Apply one's experience. Have I had accidents like that before? The conscious approach wins out. Apply awareness to the process. 3) Think it through, do it right. I jump. I land safely. Gratitude.

Washing my teeth is something to which I've striven to do consciously for several years; it's a time to be grateful to my health, to pray for the health of my nearest and dearest; and to spend time to ensure the quality of the process. Bottom, top, front, insides, outsides, left, right. Visualise the fruit I've eaten today - the acids and the sugars, visualise the brush getting into all the crevices, visualise patches of plaque still awaiting removal.

"Why have I gone downstairs...? I wanted to do something - what was it? I forgot." Insure yourself by applying awareness to the act. You get up, wander across the house - WHY? Spending a bit more time thinking it through, you'll not forget.

Doing routine stuff on autopilot is suboptimal. Use the time taken carrying out everyday routines to meditate upon them. Meditate upon the sensations of doing everyday things - the wave of cold air on your face as you open the fridge, the clatter of plates and cutlery as you fill the dishwasher, the smell of the soap as you shower. And feel gratitude for the sensations, for being alive.

It struck me this Lent that the main difference between human beings is not rich or poor, well-educated or poorly-schooled, healthy or ill, but between the mindful vs. mindless. People who, for instance, drop litter or use swear-words as punctuation marks do so automatically, without thinking.

Just as it behoves us to exercise our bodies and keep fit and active, we should exercise our minds through the application of thought to everyday actions. My mother's favourite motto, quidquid agis, prudenter agas et respice finem, ("whatever you do, do it with intelligence and with the end in mind" - Ovid) is but the classical way of saying "apply awareness to everything you do".

[Blogging note: as Lent comes to an end, I see I have had over 23,000 page views this past month rather then the 9,000 at the end of Lent last year. Must be doing something right then!]

This time three years ago:
Another attack on the car industry - from Forbes.

This four years ago:
Bicycle shake-down day

This time five years ago:
40 years on - Roxy Music's first two albums

This time seven years ago:
Twenty years, ten months, six days
[Duration of Poland's 2nd Republic/time between restoration of democracy and Smolensk catastrophe]

This time nine years ago:
Swans still in Jeziorki

Friday, 14 April 2017

Weather, mood - particles and waves

Lent 2017: Day 45 - Good Friday

Apologies for not blogging these past few days - for some reason I've been getting home tired. Rather than getting on my evening, I've been flopping into bed at around quarter past eight then sleeping for two hours, then waking and spending two rather unproductive hours before going to sleep for the night at around quarter to one.

Weather and commuting woes take their toll. After a glorious Monday, (the past weekend was rubbish, weatherwise) temperatures plummeted by 11C on Tuesday; out came the winter parka and woolly hat; strong north-westerly winds, regular icy showers, dark, brooding skies. Not only have the past three days been like this, but the long-awaited Easter holiday will be similar, with temperatures around 6C, constant threat of showers, and winds pushing the perceivable temperature below zero.

Two bad days for commuting. On Wednesday, three accidents (tram crash at Pl. Unii Lubelskiej, four-car pile-up on the Wisłostrada, and collision between cement truck and car carrying acetylene cylinders on Trasa Siekierkowska) slowed road traffic down to a crawl. Yesterday my train, the 18:24 from W-wa Zachodnia to W-wa Jeziorki was announced as running 35 minutes late, forcing me to go back into town to take the metro and 709 bus home. At least I had an alternative; those poor commuters living south of Piaseczno just had to wait.

The combination of disappointing weather - that long yearning for sunlight and warmth still unfulfilled - and the frustrations of commuting - hit me physically with an unexpected fatigue and a destruction of any creative urge these past few days. And while last week I was knocking out an average of 32 press-ups in one go, these past few days I'm struggling to get up to 28.

Weather as an external factor over which we have no control plays a great part in one's mood. In particular, the presence of sunlight, stimulates the flow of those feel-good hormones, lack thereof can lead to symptoms associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). To quote from the US National Library of Medicine: "some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy, and may also feel depressed".  I've not felt depression as such, more a lessening of my usual joie de vivre, but certainly the lack of drive and an overwhelming desire to sleep when I get home from work. A mini SAD episode brought on by winter's slight return. Below: Good Friday morning, back garden and front garden.

Our lives take on a rhythm shaped by the seasons. But the climate's wobbly and getting wobblier. Over 20 years living in Poland, the latest snow I've experienced is 4 May, the earliest being 14 October. We expect those seasons to conform to certain familiar patterns. They don't, we become confused. Look here at April 2013, an example of how crazy the weather can get now. The mood-swings of a teenager - an appropriate analogy for this time of year.

My professional year is shaped by three distinct periods of intensive work, corresponding to the three term-times in the British education system (unlike that of continental Europe, which has two semesters). The first, now coming to an end, is between early-January and Easter. After a short Easter break, there's the mad dash to the summer holidays. At school, at university, this was revision and exams. At work it's an intensive period of meetings across Poland and in the UK, with much editing and writing in between. After that - the long rest, under a warm sun (hopefully, not too many rainstorms). The busiest time of year, from early September to mid-December, is a marathon slog. In the Northern Hemisphere, 40% of the year's work is accomplished in just 15 weeks, as autumn turns to early winter. Then the hedonistic escape from the darkness and cold of mid-winter, fuelled by copious amounts of food and drink. The period from January to Easter is thus a counter-balance to Yuletide excess.

My long-phase bodyclock is expecting the glories of springtime; the clocks having gone forward, evenings are long, I no longer return home in the dark, walking should be more pleasurable - but then in sweeps this wave of cold, gusty winds bearing dark clouds and icy showers. What should be a rising wave of optimistic sunshine is nothing but. At sunrise on Easter Monday, the forecast is for -1C. Dense cloud for Easter Saturday and Easter Sunday, with perceivable temperatures below zero for most of the day.

Like wave-particle duality, we progress through life moving at an ever-increasing speed (or so it appears to us), accelerating through the years, ever onward, yet that journey is a wave, with ups and downs of varying amplitudes and frequencies. It is valuable to be aware of that; if you're down today, there will be ups. If you're up today - there will be periods of decline. How you handle that is very much to do with your awareness of the moment; taking it as it comes, and being grateful for being alive, looking forward.

This time four years ago:
Bicycle shake-down day

This time five years ago:
40 years on - Roxy Music's first two albums

This time seven years ago:
Twenty years, ten months, six days

This time nine years ago:
Swans still in Jeziorki

Monday, 10 April 2017

Spring comes to Jeziorki; pond path unfolds

With weather gorgeous again, I walk home from W-wa Dawidy station to see what progress has taken place around out ponds. It's going well. The blue sky, the flowering plants, the trees coming into leaf - all extremely lovely (only sore point is all the litter left around here by the unmindful). Within a few weeks the path running along the east side of the pond will be complete.

Below: from the top of a pile of stones destined for the path, I get a better perspective looking south - and look - there will be a small sandy beach here!

Below: view from the beach, looking across to the backs of houses on ul. Trombity. Just six weeks ago, I was walking over this stretch of water, still frozen.

Below: looking northward from the top of a small heap of stones; to the left of the pic you can see a group of anglers who've come by van for some evening fishing.

Below: the tranquility of Jeziorki on a spring evening. The new path alongside the middle pond.

Below: bonus pic - our office windows were washed today, removing the grime and smoggy particles that had settled on the glass over the winter. Silhouettes of the cleaners projected sharply on the blinds.

The time last year:
Speeches for Leaders, by Charles Crawford, reviewed

This time two years ago:
In Memoriam

This time four years ago:
Warszawa 1935: 3D film reconstructs lost city

This time five years ago:
Cats and awareness

This time seven years ago:
Why did this happen?

This time eight years ago:
Britain's grey squirrels turning red

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Karczunkowska is open (sadly!); Jeziorki ponds path being built; bikes for sale

Anyone who's been away from Jeziorki for several months will hardly recognise the place. Below: ul. Karczunkowska merges seamlessly into Gogolińska, on its way past the new 'up' platform towards the temporary level crossing. The asphalt you see in the foreground will give way under a new alignment of Karczunkowska - this view in a few years time will be of a viaduct carrying the road over the tracks. It will run roughly between where the red Seicento and the blue portaloo are standing.

And here we have the traffic. Four cars in a row indicate the density of usage that'll be expected once drivers get to hear that that road's been reopened. Note the road signs - no trucks (other than municipal services and construction plant), and a 40km/h speed limit.

Further changes to Jeziorki: a footpath is being built around the eastern edge of our ponds, and ul. Dumki will hopefully be closed to motorised traffic beyond where the asphalt currently stops. More on this story as it develops...

The middle and northern ponds will get bird-watching platforms built out into the water. The NIMBY in me fears an invasion of beer-drinking youths who mindlessly discard their litter around here.

In other local news, the pavement along ul. Karczunkowska has now been extended all the way from the junction with ul. Trombity to the PWPW security printing plant. This now means I can walk safely and with clean shoes all the way all to ul. Puławska. Still to do: the entire stretch of Karczunkowska from Trombity to Nawłocka.

Finally, with the bike season almost upon us - two of my vintage bikes have to go to make room in the garage. Both are mega-rare hipster treasures that need an appreciative buyer... Below: my handmade 1989 Pete White urban flyer, designed by me for city streets. Upright frame angles for responsive handling, Shimano hub gears and enclosed brakes for perfect braking even in the wet. Brooks B17 saddle. Frame (22") made of Reynolds 531 tubing. 27" alloy wheels. Complete with London Cycling Campaign sticker with an '01-for-London' (pre-1990) phone number.

Below: my 1984 Holdsworth Triath Elan road bike, 27" alloy wheels, 21" frame, Reynolds 531 frame, Campagnolo groupset, Brooks B17 saddle. Eroica Britannia eligible (bikes have to be pre-1987).

I'm open to offers around 1,000 złotys per bike, free delivery to anywhere within 20km of Jeziorki. Drop me an email ( if you've any questions regarding these two deliciously retro bicycles.

This time four years ago:
Cycling in Warsaw: waiting for the snow to go

This time five years ago:
Progress on the S2/S79

This time six years ago:
Literary flavours of the PRL - Janusz Głowacki's Z głowy

This time seven years ago:
Television - the Drug of the Nation

This time eight years ago:
Needs and wants and economics

This time nine years ago:
On the Road from Łódź

This time ten years ago:
Aerial views of the ground