Monday, 31 July 2017

Ahead of the Big Day

Monday 31 July, the day before the big commemoration, and there's much to do. After a 6am wake-up call, my father and I travel by Metro to town to meet his old AK comrade from Batalion Odwet, Kazimierz Możdzonek. We are accompanied to the Warsaw Uprising Museum by three reenactors who have driven over all the way from Berlin overnight to be here for the commemorations.

Outside the museum there are speeches from Poland's president, Andrzej Duda and Warsaw's mayor, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz. But the one that really gripped the nation was by 100 year-old General Zbigniew Ścibor-Rylski, the last surviving leader of the Uprising, whose speech was particularly moving. "Poles must have respect to everyone, regardless what their point of view, their nationality or their faith".

Below: after the speeches and the awarding of medals, it's time for food. The food is good, and free, laid on by the City of Warsaw. So there's a scrum. And veterans of the Rising, whose day this is, did not have an easy time getting to the front of the queue for barszcz, pierogi, kaszanka and krokiety. Fortunately, there were many young volunteers on hand to help; a girl guide managed to get hold of a bowl of barszcz for my father.

After the event, crowds of people poured out of the museum; we headed to the bus stop to catch a bus towards ul. Królewska. Lots of people, all chatting and swapping stories.

Below: corner of ul. Świętokrzyska and Jasna. This is the main post office, and it was here that my father's father, Tomasz Dembiński, worked before the war, in PKO (then Pocztowa Kasa Oszczędnościowa - the post office savings bank). My father went to school in the building on the opposite side of ul. Jasna, on the site now occupied by new offices. Funnily enough, I also worked for a while on ul. Jasna, up by Pl. Dąbrowskiego.

Below: back in Jeziorki for a walk, at the northern pond, with Moni, who took these two photographs. Beautiful hot weather, cloudless sky, in time for sunset.

My father is enchanted by Jeziorki, and how beautifully the wetlands have been turned into a park that brings people closer to nature.

This time two years ago:
Once in a blue moon

This time three years ago:
A return to Snowdon - Wales' highest peak

This time five years ago:
On the eve of Warsaw's Veturillo revolution

This time six years ago:
Getting ready for the 'W'-hour flypast

This time seven years ago:
A century of Polish scouting

Sunday, 30 July 2017

My father's return to Warsaw, 2017

My father flew into Warsaw on Thursday night, ahead of him a week spent commemorating the Warsaw Uprising and seeing a bit of Poland. After a day's rest, the first call on Saturday morning was to the Polish army museum, to see the exhibition about the Szkoła Młodszych Ochotniczek (SMO), the school which my mother attended during the war.

Below: my father is greeted by the daughter of the first commandant of the SMO, Ala Szkuta, who was instrumental in organising the exhibition at the museum.

Below: we were lucky enough to have a guided tour of the exhibition by the two women who put it all together; Julia Pronobis, on the part of the museum, and Ala Szkuta representing the association of former pupils and their families and friends. My mother was for many years a member of the association, as were most of her friends from wartime years,

Next visit was to the house on ul. Filtrowa 68 where my father lived before the war and during the occupation. His niece Marynka still lives there, she invited us over for lunch. Below: my father, his niece and grand-nieces, Magda and Dorota.

Below: back in Jeziorki, where my father has a chance to see our new park complete with footpaths, benches, picnic areas, beach and piers.

This morning we set off to Pl. Starynkiewicza/ul. Lindleya for a special mass for the soldiers of my father's Home Army unit - II Batalion Szturmowy Odwet. We arrived early, so a walk around the vicinity was in order. Below: outside Dzieciątko Jezus (Infant Jesus) hospital, where my father was born back in 1923.

Below: inside the church of the Infant Jesus on ul. Lindleya. There's a plaque commemorating my father's unit. It was here that the mass was held.

Below: Band of Brothers and Sisters - six of the seven soldiers and nurses from Odwet who came for the commemoration, first at the church, then by the monument to the unit on ul. Wawelska. My father met most of them at last year's events.

Below: my father particularly wanted to revisit the place where he escaped death on 7 August 1944. He survived this massacre, on the corner of Wawelska and Al. Niepodległości.

This time last year:
My father's first visit to Warsaw in 40 years

This time two years ago:
What's worse - unemployment, or a badly-paid job?

This time three years ago:
A return to Liverpool

This time five years ago:
Too good to last (anyone remember OLT Express airline?)

This time six years ago:
Poland's Baltic coast as a holiday destination

This time eight years ago:
The Warsaw they fought and died for?

This time ten years ago:
Floods, rainbows and hope

Friday, 28 July 2017

What makes scenery scenic?

A thought-provoking article in last week's Economist has stayed with me these past few days - I keep thinking about it and feel I should take up the theme in a blog post.

What makes a scene, a landscape, a view, a vista appealing to the human eye? What makes it 'picturesque'? We have our individual preferences, but in general, a wooded hillside with a church steeple or castle turret will be seen by most people as more appealing than an industrial estate of grey oblong buildings and wall-to-wall asphalt. The former is where people would like to visit on holiday or retire to, the latter where many of us have to work.

Driving the hire car from Heathrow to Ealing, I passed through Hayes, part of the London Borough of Hillingdon, Gold Medal Winner of the Britain in Bloom final, 2015.

Sorry, but Hayes is a dump. Victorian industry - canal, railway, overlaid with 1930s industry and 1950s industry and modern day logistics, Hayes might have the odd bit of Bricktoriana here and there, but the general view as one drives northwards along the A312, the view is of large corrugated sheds on either side of a dual carriageway, electricity pylons marching alongside. Turn off the main road and endless rows of 1930s terraced housing stretch away eastwards towards Yiewsley, northwards towards Northolt and westwards towards Southall, then onward towards Greenford. Ugliness, ugliness and more ugliness.

As London's suburbs sprawled out west in the 1930s, there was no thought to how the human beings that were meant to live and work there would respond to their surroundings. No doubt better, it was thought at the time, than the cramped Victorian terraces from which they aspired to move.

This 80 square-mile slab of sprawl (bounded to the south by the Chertsey Road/M3, to the west by the Thames/Colne Valley /Ruislip Woods, to the east by Ealing and Isleworth and to the north by the Harrow Road/A404) has very little to commend it if you're seeking spirit-lifting scenery. Yes, there's Osterley Park and Horsenden Hill. But Alperton, Ickenham, Yeading, Harlington, Hounslow, Feltham will ultimately depress.

One bright spot is the Great West Road's Golden Mile, still full of wonderful Art Deco architecture, from the end of an era when factory owners cared more about how their industrial premises looked than how much they cost. I've written before about how Spirit of Place affects my mood. Perhaps there are people whose emotional state is entirely unmoved by whether they are surrounded by fine architecture or dismal sheds thrown up for the lowest price, but for me, I will seek out the scenic and choose to live and work in an aesthetically pleasing environment.

The Victorians might have thrown up plenty of jerry-built two-up two-downs, but the reason these were torn down in the second half of the 20th century was more to do with sanitation and damp than actual ugliness. Had those old houses been built to modern standards, but still looking the same, their charm would outgun a modern house of the same size.

After three days in the UK, I'm back in Poland, and I must say that South Warsaw is just so much better than West London from the point of view of the scenery and how it makes me feel.

Happier here.

This time last year:
Theresa May flies into Warsaw

This two years ago:
Announcing the start of the Radom railway line modernisation (not even half completed today!)

This four years ago:
In praise of the (Polish-built) Fiat 500 

This time five years ago:
Llanbedrog Beach and a farewell to North Wales

This time six years ago:
To the Polish seaside, by night train

This time seven years ago:
Accounting for the past - 20 years on from PRL's fall

This time eight years ago:
An introduction to fine British cheefef

This time ten years ago:
Over the Peaks by bus

Saturday, 22 July 2017

My 20 years in Poland

It was on this day, 22 July, in the year 1997, that I did arrive in Poland for good. I had left Britain, my young family was to follow on a month later. A momentous day in my life. And so today marks the 20th anniversary of the beginning of my life in Poland; just over one-third of my life has been spent here. And over one-sixth of my life has been covered by this blog.

Before the end of communism, I had only visited Poland five times - twice as a child (aged three and eight), and three times on the Polish parish youth group holiday Montserrat (see here).

But once the political and economic transformation got under way in Poland I began visiting more and more regularly - visiting family and friends, fact-finding, taking part in conferences, on business. I came as an election observer on behalf of the Polish Government in Exile, to witness the first free presidential elections across southwest Poland.

Coming over with increasing frequency, I found it annoying to have to buy a visa each time; because the UK still required visas from Poles, Poland reciprocated. And so I joined the campaign organised by the Federation of Poles in Great Britain for visa-free travel between the two countries. I wrote a number of letters to the media and to MPs. I pointed out, among other facts, that Russians living in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia who'd been part of the apparatus of repression in those countries could travel freely to the UK, while Poles who'd bravely struggled to bring down communism had to queue - and pay for - visas. The campaign was short but intense; the Foreign and Commonwealth Office gave in to pressure from the politicians. Prime minister John Major announced visa-free entry to the UK for Polish citizens in 1992. The following year, the Polish ambassador to the UK awarded me with a silver Order Zasługi from President Lech Wałęsa for my part in the visa campaign.

Now that travel to Poland became cheaper, I'd fly over more often. In early 1995, I was offered the chance for some communications consultancy work for Centertel, Poland's first, and at the time only, mobile telephone network. After four week-long assignments in 1995 and 1996, I was offered a full-time job in Warsaw as communications director for Poland's largest cable TV network, PTK (now a part of UPC). I jumped at the chance; at the end of June 1997 I left the Confederation of British Industry. After nearly 16 years there, nine of which I was managing editor of CBI News, it was time to move on.

Destiny was calling. All those Saturday mornings spent at Polish school, right through to A-level; Polish cubs and scouts, Polish youth clubs, all that Polishness would come into good use, along with my work experience in a top business organisation. Today I call it 'nation building' - helping to turn Poland into a normal, Western, European nation, ridding it of its old complexes and bad habits.

We moved to a house just across the way from Jeziorki, in nearby Pyry, renting for four and half years until our own house was ready for us to move in to, in February 2002. For the first month I slept on a mattress in a completely unfurnished empty house, waiting for our belongings to turn up with the family. I say 'completely empty', but this was the summer of floods; terrific rainfall and mosquitoes everywhere. Biting me. I'd splat them with whatever came to hand, and soon there were literally hundreds of splashes of my blood  decorating the newly painted white walls and ceiling of my empty room.

I'd cycle to work each day that first month - to an office on Konstruktorska. It was a moist, humid late-July and early-August; the smell of ripening fruit - wild mirabelle plums in the air. And there was much rain. Many of the roads around here were not asphalted back then; when it rained heavily, much of ul. Baletowa was under water between Farbiarska and Sarabandy.

For my first weekend in Poland I decided to get out of Warsaw by train and explore. On my fold-up Brompton bike I cycled to Warszawa Centralna, took a look at a large railway map of Poland, and decided to take a train to Nałęczów, on the line to Lublin, for no other reason than the fact that there was a narrow-gauge train from there to Opole Lubelskie - an interesting thing to see.

By 1997, Warsaw was starting to look modern. There were foreign banks, cash machines, supermarkets (Rema 1000, Billa, Géant - remember them?), mobile phones that no longer required a briefcase-sized battery; but there were still many hangovers from the old days, not least in people's thinking.

The human development I've witnessed in 20 years in Poland has been akin to what happened in the UK over a far longer period. Poland has really done well, all things considered. No country's perfect; most countries have better and worse patches in their history. But strong countries are those that can weather those tricky times and emerge the stronger for them.

After 20 years, I've no regrets about having moved from the UK to Poland. None. Zero.

This time last year:
PiS, Brexit, Trump and cognitive bias

This time four years ago:
Portmeirion, revisited, again

This time five years ago:
Beach day, Llyn Peninsula

This time six years ago:
Down with cars in city centres!

This time seven years ago:
8am and 26C already

Friday, 21 July 2017

Local democracy, winners and losers

After winning bigly in the 2015 participatory budget (budżet partycypacyjny), the finished results of which are our splendid park, this year saw Jeziorki missing out. The results were announced a week ago. The top three projects voted for by residents of Zielony Ursynów (green Ursynów - the part of the district west of ul. Puławska) were all to the extreme north - on ul. Kłobucka. The projects garnered between 700 and 900 votes; the project everyone in Jeziorki was rooting for - comprehensive traffic calming measures - got just 420 votes.

In previous years, 400 votes was enough for one of our local projects to get through. Since then, the urbanisation of Kłobucka - a formerly run-down industrial part of Ursynów - has moved on apace. Google Maps satellite view shows the area as a massive building site. But now the work's completed, people have moved in, and they're voting for pavements and parking bays. And winning. Next year, more people will have moved in, and no doubt because of the housing density (flats rather than houses set in large gardens), they will continue to win projects for themselves. In a few years' time, the notion of Kłobucka being a part of Zielony Ursynów will become patently untrue. It would be fairer to apportion a part of the overall Ursynów budget for the new blocks to the north of ul. Poleczki. Different specifics, different needs.

Still, their need for pavements are greater than ours down here in Jeziorki Południowe. Full list of projects, the winners and the losers, here.

Our greatest need is traffic calming measures. Far too many drivers use the local roads as rat-runs to avoid the notorious Puławska traffic jams. And far too many of those drivers drive too fast. In an area where pavements are few, they have little idea of how stressful it is to walk as a vulnerable pedestrian faced with cars zooming past, not separated from you by a kerb. Sitting protected by a ton or more of metal, it is easy to ignore the fragile human beings walking, or pushing prams, or cycling. And far too many drivers are using their phones while at the wheel.

The answer is more signs limiting speeds to 30km/h, and more speed bumps. Don't like it? Use Puławska. Keeping speed down to 30km/h, massively reduces the chances of injury should a pedestrian get hit.

In the meanwhile, I am deeply thankful for our lakeside park. It is beautiful, it's wonderful for walks, for birdwatching, for exercising, for relaxing. Below: bench and bin, marked with the cogwheel-and-circle logo of Warsaw's Budżet Particypacyjny.

Next year, I'll make a greater effort to mobilise neighbours to suggest and vote for projects. It's worth doing. Just look at that lovely lake...

Below: bonus shot - new industrial premises on ul. Baletowa. Nice neo-moderne architecture.

Finally - a pleasant surprise this evening soon after taking the above shot. I turned into ul. Sarabandy and was warmly greeted by a young man and his mother who are regular readers of this blog. They said how funny it is that the only regular source of local news about Jeziorki happens to be in English!

This time three years ago:
The Second Summer of Cider

This time four years ago:
North Wales in the sun

This time five years ago:
Back at Penrhos

This time seven years ago:
A farewell to Dobra

Thursday, 20 July 2017

And did Her feet...?

William Blake's And Did Those Feet In Ancient Time (known also as Jerusalem) postulates that Jesus visited England during His lifetime, when England was indeed heavenly, prior to the Industrial Revolution, whose mills Blake described as 'satanic'.

And here in Mazowsze, 33km (21 miles) south of Warsaw, is the village of Pieczyska, which, local tradition has it, was visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary. On an erratic boulder, deposited here at the end of the Ice Age, can be seen three indentations shaped like footprints. Around this boulder, a shrine was erected, half a kilometer from the church which dates back to 1452.

At the site of the boulder, a small shrine has been erected, below.

Below: the shrine, the boulder. To the right, you can make out one of the foot-shaped indentations.

Left: the most foot-shaped of the indentations is at the rear of the boulder, facing the shrine. There are over 1,000 erratic boulders across Poland with monument status; many of these have a religious significance.

Below: there is good signage for pilgrims seeking the boulder. 'Boulder so-called Foot of the Holy Mother of Pieczyska'; 'Place of Cult' and simply 'To the boulder'.

Pieczyska itself. A village of just over 100 souls. The church below has two parts, a Gothic presbytery dating back to the mid-15th century, and a neo-gothic main part, built in the early 20th century to replace the original wooden part which burnt down in 1836. View from the south.

Below: view from the west. A good photo opportunity for one of my bikes.

This time last year:
40 years ago - Montserrat, holiday that would shape my life

This time two years ago:
Last night's storm

This time three years ago:
Drifting south with the sun: bicycle hobo

This time five years ago:
Royal Parks in the rain

This time six years ago:
Storm clouds over Warsaw, Dolinka under water

This time seven years ago:
Round-up of pics from Dobra

This time eight years ago:
Conservatism - UK or Polish style?

This time nine years ago:
Wheat and development

This time ten years ago:
A previous visit to London

Saturday, 15 July 2017

What's new on the Warsaw-Mysiadło border

On the borders of Warsaw and Mysiadło, things are stirring. Below: a new junction is being built on the corner of ul. Kuropatwy and Puławska. This will result in another set of traffic lights along the notoriously-choked main road into town from the south. To the left of the photo below - construction is under way of a Selgros cash-and-carry. It will be a big one. It opens in October. If you run your own business, you'll be offered a card without which you won't be able to benefit from the wholesale discounts at this store.

Going right back along ul. Kuropatwy (named after Japanese film maker, Akito Kuropatwa) to a new roundabout, it's clear that this investment is intended to make for easier access to the new Selgros (to the left). Note the electricity pylons, still in use, standing in the middle of the road. These will have to replaced before the road can be completed. Kuropatwy marks the border between Warsaw (to the right) and Mysiadło (to the left).

Below: looking south from the same roundabout, this time with wide-angle lens again. This is the terrain of the old PGR Mysiadło collective farm, which became Eko Mysiadło and went bankrupt in 2000. Legal disputes into the land's ownership drag on. But bit by bit, the plot is being sold off and put to use. The new Selgros will be to the right of this view, occupying a goodly chunk of the old PGR lands.

Below: moving further south towards Piaseczno, the track turned to a morass by rainfall and construction plant. This road will eventually be asphalted/paved; it emerges on ul. Geodetów.

Below: the abandoned admin block of PGR Mysiadło. A magnet for the urban explorer... Venture in at your own risk...

Below: the interior suggests that this is a local teenage drinking den; empty spray tins and beer cans everywhere. The place has been ransacked for anything of value years ago.

Below: a sign on this abandoned building is for drivers of construction vehicles, pointing the way to the Selgros site.

Below: the road continues south towards ul. Geodetów. While Puławska was being modernised ten years ago, traffic was being diverted down this route...

Below: how it looked back then.

While seeing what's new on the Warsaw's southern border - what's this I see from ul. Katarynki? A nuclear reactor? A mosque? No, it's the first new Orthodox church (cerkiew) to be built in Warsaw for over 100 years.

Below: view of what will be Warsaw's Hagia Sophia; trees in the background are over the border in Mysiadło. In bare concrete, it does have the air of an observatory or chemicals plant...

View of the front of the building from Puławska. Construction began in autumn 2015. When completed, it will be painted white with a silvery-blue dome.

To the side of the building is a temporary wooden church, at which worshippers pray while the construction is in progress.

This time last year:
Four stations from Jeziorki to Czachówek

This time three years ago:
High over Eastern Ukraine

This time four years ago:
From shouted slogans to practical policy

This time five years ago:
Who should pay for railways?

This time seven years ago:
Grunwald - the big picture

This time nine years ago:
"Take me right back to the track, Jack"

This time ten years ago:
The summer sublime

Thursday, 13 July 2017

It's just an Ilyushin

"Planning permission has been denied..." Yes, but never mind the bureaucracy - is this a good idea? The fuselage of this Ilyushin Il-14 passenger plane suddenly turned up on the corner of ul. Marszałkowska and Świętokrzyska, just across the street from my office, just after I'd read about it on Twitter. Apparently, it's going to be a themed diner. And I must say, I like the concept. It will play well with the tourists seeking the communist-era vibe. Across the way to the left is the Palace of Culture, from where fleets of Nyskas, Fiat 125Ps, Maluchs  and Ogóreks take foreign visitors on themed 'adventures' around the city. Son Eddie disagrees. He says that for him Warsaw has not a shred of communism left in it - it's now the dziki kapitalizm atmosphere of the early 1990s.

But at city hall, the powers-that-be are not happy. "Mr Restaurateur - your papers are not in order." Or simply not even filed. This large aluminium tube just popped up overnight.

Will it remain? And in time, become another well-loved, must-visit icon of central Warsaw? As I passed it today after work, a guy was busy spray-painting it (note newspapers masking-taped to windscreen). Or will the authorities terminate it with extreme prejudice? If they do so, the view from my window will be just that little bit less interesting...

The Ilyushin Il-14 was a twin-piston commercial and military transport that first flew in the mid-1950s, intended as a replacement for the licence-produced copy of the Douglas DC-3, the Lisunov Li-2. In Poland, the Il-14 remained in service into the 1980s.

If your memories of early 1980s British popular music are waning (or non-existent), let me refresh them. Have a listen to Imagination - Just an Illusion...

Bonus shot, 14 July: an Antonov An-26B (EW-328TG) of Belarusian cargo airline Genex coming into land this evening. A regular visitor to Okęcie, usually before 8pm, photographable at this time of year.

This time two years ago:
Marathon stroll (31.5km) along the Vistula

This time three years ago:
Complaining about the lack of a river crossing between Siekierki and Góra Kalwaria!

This time four years ago:
S2 update (nearly ready, as it happened)

This time five years ago:
Progress on S2 bypass - photos from the air

This time seven years ago:
Up Śnieżnica

This time ten years ago:
July continues glum (2007 - a rainy summer)

Sunday, 9 July 2017

S7 extension - last summer of quiet

Following up on last week's post about the S7 extension from the airport to Grójec, I'll zoom in to consider the local effects on the road. This summer will probably be the last in which the land between the railway line and Dawidy Bankowe lies quiet. Walking there today, not a soul in sight, the sound of skylarks above me, I sensed the end of an era approaching. Next summer, if all goes well, bulldozers will have carved a wide scar through the land, and slowly Warsaw will get its expressway south. I enumerated the benefits last week - losing the tranquil fields across the tracks is the price we pay.

Below: I superimposed the Siskom map onto a Google Maps satellite image. It looks like ul. Kórnicka will once again cross the tracks (though viaduct or level crossing - this is not marked). Just round the back of the Action distribution centre in Zamienie will be a junction, though again, its exact layout is not clear. There will be a network of service roads, and a viaduct carrying ul. Sporna (currently a farm track bisected by the railway line). Will local traffic be able to use the service roads (marked in green)? Judging by the S7 south of Grójec, yes. This will be very convenient.

Below: I've superimposed the above route of the road onto a photo of the fields, with the LogMaster distribution centre on ul. Baletowa top right. The two white lines show the approximate edges of the expressway; the service roads will run to the left and right of them.

Scrutiny of the map suggests that few houses will be bulldozed to make way for the road, mainly on ul. Baletowa and in the village of Nowa Wola. Others will not be touched but will be directly affected. Below: photo taken from ul. Postępu in Zgorzała looking across at houses on ul. Wróbelka. The expressway will cut right through here. There will no doubt be acoustic screens, but even so, quality of life of people living on either side of the S7 will suffer. Officially, the houses are also in Zgorzała, but once the road's built, they will be cut off from the village; it would make sense to append this street to Zamienie.

Progress has a price, the local wildlife will no doubt move somewhere quieter. Talking of which, I caught this pheasant promenading on the wall of the neighbouring farm. Photo taken from my bedroom. You won't see this living in the centre of Warsaw, yet Jeziorki is now just 28 minutes away from the centre by train.

This time last year:
Getting out of Mordor

This time seven years ago:
Ćwilin, conquered

This time eight years ago:
Sunset across the tracks, Nowa Iwiczna

This time nine years ago:
The storm the forecasters missed

This time ten years ago:
Peacocks in the Park

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Trump flies in

Two planes, one carrying Trump.  We followed them in on ADS-B Exchange, filters set to military flights only. One flew in some half an hour before the second. This is VC-25A 82-8000.

The flightpath of the first one approaching Okęcie... Note the zigzag route - this looks like some form of electronic countermeasure. I've never seen this behaviour before on ADS-B Exchange's radar before. Usually courses are shown as straight lines, or if the flight is sensitive, the pilot simply switches off the transponder. Callsign for this plane was SAM45.

And here's the second VC-25A, 92-9000 (officially Air Force One) over our house... 'Aircraft is not transmitting its callsign'.

And the flightpath as it passes over Puławska and Pyry (then the pilot switched off the transponder).

I'll be out of town during Trump's visit.

This time three years ago:
Making Poland's railways safer

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Marks & Sparks is closing down, closing down...

An icon of British clothing retail is quitting Poland. Well, we knew this last autumn, and we've been expecting the store to close with the end of last year. It's soldiering on until the end of this month. Just across the road and a bit from my office, the departure of Marks & Spencers will not go unrecorded here.

But is it a shame? Don't know...


Marks & Spencers could have been massive in Poland today. They could have been what Zara or H&M are. But no. Instead, we have a business-school case-study of how not to do market entry. And the advantage the brand had when the old system gave way to free-market democracy! Marks & Spencers was well known in Poland for decades.

Back in communist days, many Poles had families in the West who'd send them, as my family did, parcels of clothes. Not to wear, but to sell. Polish consumers, starved of anything fashionable, colourful or distinguishing, would go to bazaars (like Skra or Bazar Różyckiego in Warsaw) where people with connections in the West would sell them for hard currency. My parents would regularly send parcels to their families in Poland; parcels would contain clothes from Marks & Spencer (the well-regarded St Michael's brand in those days), carefully wrapped. Well do I remember driving with my parents and my brother after Polish Saturday school in Chiswick to a small Paczki do Polski shop on the Fulham Palace Road from where fashionable knitwear wrapped in brown paper would be sent to Warsaw and to Bystrzyca Kłodzka. And the feedback was the same - 'please send more from 'Marksa i Spencera bo to się najlepiej sprzedaje' (it sells best).

The result is that by 1989, in what had been a 50-year hiatus in consumer consciousness, Marks and Spencer had sky-high brand recognition and positive association as Poland reopened for business. But what did this British retailer do with this brand capital? It sat on its hands for several years.

It sent an executive, who according to expat lore from the mid-1990s, lived in the Marriott Hotel and sent reports each months to London HQ saying why the Polish market wasn't quite ready yet. Finally a franchised operation was opened in 1998 in a flimsy blaszak (temporary tin building) near Warsaw Central station, selling clothes for literally double the UK prices. Finally, in 2008, M&S entered the market in its own right, with store openings in Złote Tarasy and Domy Handlowe Centrum. Eventually, there were 11 M&S stores across Poland. A mere eleven.

Below: Prime Warsaw locations hardly come primer than Domy Handlowe Centrum, across the tram tracks from Pałac Kultury.

A survey carried out in 2006 among Warsaw consumers by students from Warsaw Technical University Business School asked about awareness of British brands. Marks & Spencer came top. Number one in unprompted recall of British brands. Interestingly, most of the top ten were luxury car brands; Tesco - which had a couple of hundred stores at that time to M&S's six came in at number 20. So there we are - a huge opportunity, huge goodwill, squandered. Now M&S will trudge home from Poland, defeated, in the footsteps of other defeated British retailers here, Dixons (as Electroworld), Carpetright, British Home Stores, Topshop and Mothercare.

How will I cope though? The best thing about M&S for me is not having to think. If I need a shirt, socks or underpants, I just go to M&S and buy - office shirts, underpants, socks, trousers (NEVER jeans or anything Blue Harbour - obciach Panie!), the occasional suit. A habit acquired in childhood visits with my mother to the M&S in West Ealing and Ealing Broadway, carried over into adult life.

Suits I now buy from Vistula, they have the edge in cut and quality (my last M&S suit consisted of trousers made in Vietnam and a jacket made in Indonesia. Or the other way round). "Guess how many shirts I got ? How many pairs of shoes? How many ties? Shit, I don't know, must be 25 at least" (Quote from Repo Man, one of my favourite cult films). Well, I just counted my M&S shirts. Forty. Plus the one I'm wearing right now. Some of them are more than a bit worn, but I won't part with them. And there must be several more of my M&S shirts at my father's in London.

Socks. Walking 11,000 paces a day puts holes in socks quickly. M&S socks included. I'm feeling, hey, the quality's not what it was, but I never racked up so many kilometres of walking as I'm doing right now. Socks and underpants I can buy elsewhere - but not shirts.

My shirts must be right. Long sleeves - always. A breast pocket for mobile phones, white, 15-and-half inch collar, regular sleeve length - and slim fit. Not tailored, nor regular - slim.  A three-pack of such shirts costs £15.99 in the UK; but the slim-with-breast-pocket is a hard item to find. But since November, there have been NO shirts that fit these requirements in the M&S in Warsaw. Either 18-inch collars, everything else right (slim fit and 18" collar?) or the right fit but no pocket...

So shirts I will continue to buy at M&S in Ealing, I'm there often enough. Jackets and trousers these days I tend to buy exclusively from the Children's Society charity shop on Pitshanger Lane. Here I bought a beautiful M&S trenchcoat secondhand, with all the details - buttons, flaps etc, in Lovat green, for a mere £13.99. And a beautiful M&S leather jacket, styled like a US biker jacket from the 1930s, for £24.99. Why buy new when you can buy nearly new and support a charity?

Food. Son Eddie is a great fan of the M&S food hall in Warsaw, and says that the retailer should have considered just keeping the Simply Food part of its business going here in Poland. Eddie is too cool and hip to wear M&S clothing himself, but the food from there he loves. Me, I can do without, there's plenty of really good food shops in Warsaw right now, the choice has never been better.

Frankly the demise of M&S in Poland will go unnoticed and unmourned by me. It could have been so much different if only the management had attacked the Polish (and indeed Central and Eastern European) market with sufficient determination back in the early 1990s.

This time four years ago:
Along mirror'd canyons

This time six years ago:
Mad about Marmite 

This time seven years ago:
Komorowski wins second round of Presidential elections?

This time eight years ago:
A beautiful summer dusk in Jeziorki

This time nine years ago:
Classic cars, London and Warsaw

Monday, 3 July 2017

Culvert cuts across the tracks

The culvert built under the tracks while the Warsaw-Radom line was being modernised needs to be strengthened so as coal trains can pass over the (non-electrified) line. So in the height of summer, with adequate stocks at Siekierki power station, the coal line has been closed, the culvert - and indeed the line right back to the Okęcie sidings - is being upgraded.

Below: heavy plant has been traversing the fields between ul. Kórnicka and the tracks. Existing footpaths have been ploughed under by the tracks of diggers and cranes.

Below: tracks lifted for the work. It's taking some time, looks like it'll take more to finish. While the work's going on, the new signalling for the coal train line (just behind the culvert) waits to be swivelled 90 degrees into position.

Below: the level crossing at ul. Baletowa. Still no sign of barriers - probably waiting for the track-work to be completed. Note the puddle on the corner of Baletowa and ul. Hołubcowa; there's a lack of a storm drain here. On wet days, pedestrians have to wander across two lanes of traffic to get to the pavement beyond with dry feet. Dangerous. But it looks like drainage is coming.

Below: the culvert under the north end of ul. Trombity where it meets Kórnicka is also being upgraded. Storms are becoming more frequent with greater volumes of rain, so the drainage system must be ready for them.

Below: a photo with much going on. To the right, behind the trees, the end of the S79 (if you click to enlarge you can see the road lighting). Overhead, a USAF C-17 transport plane, one of several of the retinue of Trump what flies into Warsaw later this week. In the distance, centre right, workmen in orange work on the coal line as it crosses over the S2 on its way to Okęcie sidings. And in the middle of frame, the green light announcing the line is clear for the train to take me to work.

Below: my train home this evening, one of the older three-window EN57 electric multiple units still in service, this one having undergone a gentle modernisation just this year.

The glory that is Jeziorki today. Gladly do I get ofp the train at W-wa Dawidy to walk home 3,000 paces this way, rather than continue one stop to W-wa Jeziorki to walk the 1,700 paces home along pavement-free ul. Karczunkowska. Healthier and safer.

UPDATE WEDS 5 JULY: Coal trains are beginning to run again. Saw one this morning, a modernised TEM2/ST48 hauling (on its own) a massive rake of 50 full coal wagons towards Siekierki.

UPDATE THURS 20 JULY: For a few weeks, a train connecting Kraków Główny and Olsztyn Główny, calling at Kielce, Radom, and Warsaw on the way, has been passing through Jeziorki. Below: taken on 14 July at 19:59, this is the InterCity Orłowicz train between W-wa Jeziorki and W-wa Dawidy.

This time last year:
USAF aircraft over Jeziorki ahead of NATO summit

This time three years ago:
Jeziorki's new Biedronka store

This time four years ago:
In the highways and the hedges

This time five years ago
How Warsaw's public transport authority communicates with passengers

This time six years ago:
Farewell to separate alcohol tills at Polish supermarkets

This time seven years ago:
Twin turboprop cargo planes at Okęcie

This time eight years ago:
To the countryside, Czachówek

This time nine years ago:
Why I feel freer in Poland than in the UK

This time ten years ago: