Wednesday, 31 May 2017

My mother's school in Nazareth subject of exhibition at Polish Army Museum

To Muzeum Wojska Polskiego yesterday  for the opening of an exhibition, the first ever, about my mother's secondary school - in Palestine. How my mother, and several hundred girls deported by Stalin to the north and east of the USSR came to have been educated in the Middle East is an amazing story, and to a great extent the result of the determination of the father of the lady below, Anna Anders. For her father, General Władysław Anders, not only managed to arrange for 77,000 Polish soldiers and 43,000 civilians to leave the Soviet Union - the largest exodus of people to leave Stalin's Gulags - but also to ensure their education.

Senator Anna Maria Anders, Minister-Plenipoteniary for International Dialogue, opened the exhibition, which commemorates the 75th anniversary of the founding of the school - Szkoła Młodszych Ochotniczek, in May 1942.

Below: the choir of the Polish Army sang three songs. Fine voices!

The choir sang Karpacka Brygada (words and music: Marian Hemar), which we'd sing as Polish scouts in London. Particularly moving.

Below: the cutting of the ribbon. Nearest the camera, the exhibition's initiator, Alicja Szkuta, daughter of the director (headmistress) of the school. Third ribbon-cutter is Julia Pronobis, who put the exhibition together, based on exhibits from families of old girls from SMO, including my mother. Alicja and Julia did a great job in ensuring that it all happened, and so well.

Below: among the visitors attending the opening was the German military attache (right).

Left: my mother's suitcase appears in a diorama portraying the sanatorium through which many of the girls would have passed on arrival in Nazareth. After a 12,000 km journey from Soviet Central Asia, across the Caspian Sea, through Persia and Iraq, some 15% of them were suffering from illness or malnutrition. They were nursed back to health before engaging on their studies.

Below: schoolbooks, including my mother's 15 exercise books. The question of how the text books - including the great works of Polish literature - turned up in wartime Palestine is very interesting. By the beginning of WW2, many Polish Jews had made their way to the Holy Land, bringing with them Polish books. There were Jewish publishers and printers in Palestine who ensured that the newly-established Polish schools had the text books from which the pupils could study.

Below: many personal mementos are on display, giving a sense of what it meant to be torn away from your homeland, living away from one's family without a clue as to how all this is going to end. To the left, a portrait of Gen Anders.

There were only three pupils from SMO present at the opening - all of them were from Warsaw; their story is fascinating. Aged 14 at the time of the Warsaw Uprising, the girls served with the Szare Szergi, the boy-scout and girl-guide formations that acted as messengers. At the end of the Uprising, they were taken by the Germans to the female prisoner-of-war camp at Oberlangen, which happened to be liberated by the Polish 1st Armoured Division led by Gen Maczek. Not knowing what to do with the girls, on their own, too young for military service, the Polish authorities sent them to the Middle East to continue their education at the SMO. After the war, all three chose to return to Warsaw.

It's not a big exhibition (just two halls), but it is well arranged and properly thought through. A fitting testimony to the memories of the girls who made it through the war, and received a solid education despite all the turmoil around them. An education that would serve them well in peacetime. Most of the girls made it (as did my mother) to Britain, some (like my aunt) to Canada, others to the US.

The exhibition continues through June and ends on Sunday 30 July at the Polish Army Museum. Covfefe

My mother and her family were deported from their home in Horodziec (powiat Sarnieński) on 10 February 1940 to a labour camp in Russia's Vologda Oblast (near a place called Punduga). The family was set to work along with other Polish deportees in chopping down trees. My mother, 12 at the time, was spared the physical work of the adults, but had to look after the family - cooking and cleaning for her parents and elder sisters.

After journeying to Tashkent from the lumber camp with her family following the 'amnesty' of August 1941, my mother and her middle sister Irena managed to leave the USSR along with the Polish divisions led by Gen Anders in spring 1942. A total of 77,000 soldiers and 43,000 civilians  made their way to join the British High Command in the Middle East. The boys and girls of 16 and up were educated in two schools in Palestine - the boys in Szkola Junaków (Polish Young Soldiers' School) and the girls in Szkoła Młodzych Ochotniczek (SMO - in English, the Polish Young Women's Auxiliary Service School).

Below: my mother's school legitymacja (ID), issued by the SMO in 1946, giving my mother the right to wear the school's insignia.

Below: the front and back cover of the document, depicting the schools' (SJ and SMO) insignia - a Polish eagle standing on a globe with crossed rifles and a book (with a cross on it).

Below: my mother's school Identification Card, valid from 23.9.1945 to 23.9.1946. Note her date of birth is given as 8 September 1926; she gave a false date of birth so as to be over 16, the age from which Polish children could join the British forces in the Middle East. Younger children (the few that survived the Siberian deportation) were shipped to centres in India and Africa.

Another document in the collection is my mother's matura certificate - the equivalent of A-levels, issued by the Polish Ministry of Religions and Public Enlightenment (in exile, of course), issued in 1945. Left: my mother receiving her matura certificate from Gen. Anders.

My mother remained in the Middle East for two years after the war, being shipped to England in August 1947 as part of the UK's resettlement of displaced persons. On arrival, she enlisted in the Polish Resettlement Corps.

Left: the cover of my mother's Army Book 64 Soldier's Service and Pay Book, interior below. She enlisted in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (Polish Resettlement Section) as Private W/3003654 Bortnik Maria, based at Witley Camp, Godalming, Surrey, from 21 August 1947 to 20 August 1949, when she was discharged (with Military Conduct 'Good'). Medical classification Grade 'A'.

Postscript: Wednesday 7 June, Św. Andrzeja Boboli church, Hammersmith - I attended the funeral of Pani Skąpska, one of my three Polish Saturday school teachers between 1965 and 1974. Like my other Polish school teachers, Pani Szkoda and Pani Wolańska, Pani Skąpska attended SMO. At the end of the funeral, Alicja Szkuta said a few words about the school, and its influence on the work its graduates carried out in teaching Polish to the next generation, already born in exile.

This time last year:
Stormy end to May

This time

This time two years ago:
Where's it better to live: London or Warsaw?

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

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

This time eight 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!]

Saturday, 27 May 2017

The Year of the Grebe

The combination of two hitherto-unseen around these parts species of waterfowl plus the long reach of my Nikon CoolPix P900 and its 2000mm (equivalent) lens has made bird-watching a more serious hobby for me. Jeziorki's wetlands beckon to me every day; I must pop down to see how our grebes are getting on.

Below: there are four or five pairs of black-necked grebes who have between one and three chicks. Grebes carry their young on their back until they are fledged. This family of black-necked grebes are doing well, one chick already seems happy enough on its own in the water, the other growing rapidly.

The chick riding on its mother's back has grown a long neck; it's looking like some two-headed beast.

Father looks down into the water for food for the independent chick.

Meanwhile, no young yet over at the southern pond, where the great crested grebes are nesting. The birds take turns to incubate the egg (which to my surprise takes between 27 and 29 days to hatch, so it'll still be some time). The parents bring vegetation with which to cover the egg(s) - I've only seen one from the shore, but maybe there's another one or two in the nest.

Both great crested grebes seem to have noticed something moving in the rushes...

All's well, time to return to incubation, and bringing more vegetation to the nest.

Here's another great crested grebe at the northern-most pond. I haven't seen its mate, nor nest; I hope there is another nest at this end of the pond too.

UPDATE 28 MAY 2017:

Below: two black-necked grebe chicks. one on its mother's back, the independent one giving its wings a stretch. Grebes are not very good flyers, and tend only to fly for migratory purposes. They swim well under water.

Below: the male black-necked grebe has some food in its bill... destined not for its mate, but for the chick on its mother's back (you can just about see it tiny bill behind the mother's neck)

Meanwhile, over at the greater-crested grebes' nest - still no hatching. We wait.

This time last year:
Jeziorki birds in the late May sunshine

This time two years ago:
Making sense of Andrzej Duda's win

This time three years ago:
Call it what it is: Okęcie

This time four years ago:
Three stations in need of repair

This time five years ago
Late evening, Śródmieście

This time six years ago:
Ranking a better life

This time eight years ago:
Paysages de Varsovie

This time nine years ago:
Spring walk, twilight time

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

That tune... going round your head now...

What's that tune going round your head right now? That song that keeps on pestering you? It's called an earworm. This mental phenomenon is a part of the human condition. Most of us get affected by this from time to time, to different degrees of annoyance.

Today, we're assailed by music from every corner - mobile phone ringtones, adverts on the radio with simple, whistled tunes designed to be catchy; snatches of pop songs in shops. But can you imagine the silence of the Middle Ages, where your communion with God each Sunday in the village church would bring hymns into your life that you'd hum and repeat over the week, or earlier still, in the African Savannah, literally inventing rhythm and song with the birth of humanity.

I remember discussing this phenomenon while at primary school with Raymond Guyon, who told me that the best remedy was to blast it out of your head was with a mental rendition of the Dambusters' March. Did the trick for me when that odious TV advert for Rowntree's Jelly Tots pestered my brain in the early 1970s.

My brother wrote to me the other day about an earworm that had been going around his head over the past few days - a section of the Roxy Music song Editions of You from their eponymous first album. It occurred to me as I read his email that I usually find myself with earworms at any time. If the song or tune is good, it will last with me for several days.

James Brown's A Blind Man Can See and David Bowie's TVC15 are two current earworms that have been with me since the weekend. You can guarantee that when I write about music on my blog, the song or classical composition in question has been going round my head enough times for me to want to write about it. Ralph Vaughan Williams, Genesis' Trick of the Tail, Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska... And if a tune has with it lyrics of profundity that touch on the essence of what it is to be human - then so much the better.

Returning to an earworm from years gone by brings back that precise atmosphere. If that song had been going around your mind over and over again for several days or longer, the memories of that time and place will return. There's a strong sense of seasonality to this - there are autumn songs and summer songs, and have been since I was a teenager. Roxy Music in the autumns, Pink Floyd for the summers. [Winters? Never really had them in my London years.]

As my brother points out, it's been 50 years since the Jimi Hendrix Experience released Are You Experienced - a milestone of rock music history. As with many other great musicians, the consciousness of Mr Hendrix transcended mere time and place, he is gone but that consciousness will be back again and again, on the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth that connects an evolving universe.

Below: my brother's take on a legendary album cover... Are You Employed, Sir?

Last month I woke up with a wonderful tune in my head - something composed in my subconscious mind. Determined to keep it, I tried to turn it into an earworm; this worked for a couple of hours, until... another song crept into my head, and I promptly forgot it, lost to the ages.

This time last year:
The eyes... the eyes... 

This time two years ago:
New old terminal open at Okęcie airport

This time four years ago:
Arrogance vs. humility

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

This time eight years ago:
Heron over Jeziorki

This time ten years ago:
Present rising, future loading

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

More birds and their young in Jeziorki

These days bring much marvel. Whether returning home from work the long way, or just going for a walk from home, when the sun shines, I must go and see what's happening. I must say, the Nikon CoolPix P900 with its superzoom lens is magnificent for taking photos of the birds on the wetlands.

Below: there are several breeding pairs (at least three) of black-necked grebes (perkoz zausznik). This pair has three chicks, sitting on the mother's back

Below: the father has returned with food with which to feed the chicks.

Below: in the middle pond, another pair of black-necked grebes are raising a single chick.

Meanwhile, the one pair of great crested grebes (perkoz dwuczuby) that I've observed are still waiting for their clutch of eggs to hatch. Below: picture taken today...

...and below, taken yesterday. The female grebe is impatiently looking at the egg(s). Note how far back along the body the grebe's legs are. This gives excellent leverage when diving; not so good for walking though.

Meanwhile the male greater crested grebe is close by (below), frequently disappearing underwater and popping back up with a mollusc or piece of pond weed. Once hatched, the greater crested grebes' chicks, like those of their black-necked cousins, will ride around on mother's back.

Meanwhile, back to the perennial denizens of Jeziorki's ponds - the coots. The pair at the southern end of the pond have had eight chicks (one's out of frame in this shot). Other coot pairs have five or fewer chicks.

The black-headed gull (mewa śmieszka) makes a good neighbour for coots and grebes - the gulls flock in large numbers and behave raucously when a potential predator approaches, warning the other birds with whom they share the pond. The gulls' eggs hatch in the first half of May - but I've not seen any chicks around. Unlike the ducking and diving water fowl, gull chicks are not precocial - that is they are unable to fend for themselves at birth.

The first clear shot of this year's brood of cygnets. There's six of them, they are now four days old and totally mobile. Even at a day old, they managed to traverse half of the length of the northern pond.

Below: mother swan shakes the water off her wings, her flotilla of cygnets remains unflustered by the sudden commotion...

UPDATE: Wednesday 24 May - Greater crested grebes' egg (singular) has not hatched.

This time last year:
"Distinguish joy from pleasure" - wise words

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

This time seven years ago:
Mr Pheasant trumpets his presence

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

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

Saturday, 20 May 2017

To Warka in the sunshine

The mid-May sunshine spell continues - time to get out of town and hit the road. Today's destination, on the banks of the Pilica, was Warka - home of Warka Strong - Pan Ziutek's beer of choice - and Warwin's ciders and fruit wines.The sunshine makes Mazowsze look like a cross between the Midwest and the Med. The country roads south of Czachówek have a 1930s American feel, while the town of Warka under an azure sky could be on a Spanish costa.

This is Warka's Rynek (market square). Beyond the customs house to the docks and sea?

Hairdressers, banks and a fruit & veg stall... As I was passing, a lady asked the hairdresser whether she could do her husband (whose hair was like mine if I'd let it grow for many months). The hairdresser said yes, so the lady left her husband in her care and went off alone to do some shopping.

Below: take me home country roads - between Broniszew and Jozefów. Or Kentucky?

Below: looking west along the Skierniewice-Łuków line at the Czachówek junction. Or the Pennsylvania Railroad, electrified in the mid-1930s?

Below: the Marian sanctuary at Pieczyska, would look at home in a Midwestern county township.

And back home after my foray into southern Mazowsze I took an evening walk to the ponds to check the latest news. YES! The swans' eggs have hatched! Six cygnets! (I hope they all make it to maturity...)

This time four years ago:
The descriptive vs. the prescriptive

This time five yeas ago:

This time nine years ago:
Why Poland can no longer afford to keep the grosz

Friday, 19 May 2017

Heavenly Jeziorki

I meet St Peter at the Pearly Gates. "Where are you from?" he asks me. "Jeziorki," I reply. "Proceed. You'll know what to expect."

I look out of the kitchen window and see a black-headed gull, it's underside lit up by the rays of the setting sun. Yes. Good to be here - my spot on Planet Earth.

Rather than take the 209 home from Metro Wilanowska, I take the 715 to Kórnicka, to have yet another chance to walk by the ponds, making the most of this sublime time of year.

Below: looking across from the new footpath alongside ul. Dumki towards ul. Trombity. Heaven.

Below: the coot chicks, aged two days. Mum is teaching them how to look for food. They will not starve - food is plentiful.

Below: the great crested grebes (as seen in yesterday's post) are nest-building on a tiny island.

Meanwhile, the black-necked grebes' chicks have hatched, which you can see the adult's back (below). Note the black-and-white stripes on head and beak. These may be less than a day old - these grebes were chickless yesterday (see previous post).

Below: one grebe has just dived for food and has popped up to feed the young. Grebes and coots, unlike ducks, are sexually monomorphic - it is visually difficult to tell a male from a female.

Like the familiar mallard, with its green-headed male and the dowdier female, the common pochard is sexually dimorphic, with the males displaying more flamboyant plumage. Below: a male and female common pochard. New to Jeziorki this year.

The weather continues to be perfect; sixth day in a row. Long may it last thus.

This time four years ago:
Why are all the shops shut today?

This time five years ago:
Jeziorki at its most beautiful

This time seven years ago:
Useful and useless in my wallet

This time eight years ago:
In search of the dream klimat - remote viewing made real

This time nine years ago:
Zakopane to Kraków in 3hrs 45min

This time ten years ago:
The year's most beautiful day?