Monday, 30 April 2018

Weather-wise, the best April ever?

This is an exaggerated stereotype - the way the Polish climate can change from snow and frost to t-shirt weather in a week. Let's compare today, 30 April (below right) with 30 March (below left).

Today, as London shivered (6C), Warsaw enjoyed nothing but the bluest of blue skies and 30C of heat. I can't remember such a sunny April ever. The Polish met office has declared this the hottest April ever recorded as nature exploded into life at an amazingly rapid pace. Today, I feel my face slightly sunburnt; a two-hour walk around midday did it for me. I can't ever remember being sunburnt in April before! It is as though summer has arrived seven weeks early this year.

Below: across the tracks, a field of rapeseed turns bright yellow.

There's been much ploughing going on around Jeziorki (long may it continue!) Here on ul. Dawidowska, the plough has come right up to the fence. In the distance, houses along ul. Trombity, and on the horizon, the chimneys of Siekierki.

Below: two red flowers (not poppies - tulips?) and cherry blossom on ul. Kórnicka; 22 April.

Below: Chynów, two days earlier; perfect skies.

Below: Jakubowiza on Saturday. Apple orchards in full bloom!

Below: back to Jeziorki, today... a new pedestrian crossing was delivered to us on the junction of ul. Karczunkowska and ul. Pozytywki. Guys were painting it yesterday; this morning it was fully in use. Waiting now for the two new bus stops - one across the road, and one behind me. Note speed limits: 50km/h on Karczunkowska and 30km/h on Pozytywki. Abide by them! Especially when there are pedestrians about!

Cause and effect, what goes up must come down etc. I force myself to remember that on the morning of 4 May 2011, there was snow on the ground, minimum temperature 0.6C (this morning's minimum was 16C!). And in two weeks' time the Ice Saints (Servacy, Bonifacy and Pankracy) might visit, followed by Zimna Zośka on 15 May. We shall see!

This time last year:
The search for the Gold Train: Day Two

This time two years ago:
Semi-automatic (short story)

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

This time seven years ago:
At the President's

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

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

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Diverse birdlife returns to Jeziorki

A spring explodes all around, so the rarer birds fly in to join the ducks and coots that life on our ponds here in Jeziorki. This winter saw a shorter period of ice cover than last year; there were only a few weeks without any birds.

Below: this is male mute swan 2KC1, a long-term regular round here (this is him with his family last October)

Below: an adult black-headed gull. In Polish, mewa śmieszka. A long-term resident at the ponds, the gulls were back in March, they are gregarious and noisy.

Below: a pair of black-headed gulls nesting in the reeds on the west side of the ponds, across from the wooden piers.

Below: a male common pochard (Polish: głowienka zwyczajna), a diving duck. It's quite something to see something so duck-like suddenly disappear entirely under water. Female common pochards are as different as ducks and drakes are among mallards.

Finally - the grebes. Rarest of the waterfowl that has made Jeziorki its home. Below: black-necked grebe (perkoz zausznik). The Polish name suits it better - so what that it has a black neck? It's what they have behind the ears that is most characteristic!

And now my favourite - so good to see them back - the great crested grebe (perkoz dwuczuby). Last year there were two pairs, today I saw one pair; I hope more fly in.

Taken a few days earlier, a stork in a field along the north end of ul. Trombity. It stood there for a while before lazily taking ofp and flying across the railway tracks.

This time last year:
Gold train film shoot - day one

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

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

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Karczunkowska's closed again

Coming home after work yesterday, I noticed a new temporary road sign announcing the closure of ul. Karczunkowska (again), so today a walk to investigate was in order. According to local news website, the closure is planned between 23:00 on Friday 27 April and 06:00 on Monday 7 May, in other words the long May week of two public holidays, when many Poles will take three days off work to give nine days holiday. So - good planning... Below: the sign on the road near the junction with ul. Trombity. The message does not seem to get through to drivers, who have to find out for themselves just how closed the road is. To save you the bother - it is closed. Cars will not get through. Bikes and pedestrians - yes.

Below: the next sign is on the road approaching the junction with ul. Nawłocka. But still they come, hoping that there's some way through. There isn't.

Below: across the tracks over the level crossing behind Biedronka and on to ul. Gogolińska. Another sign says the road's closed. And yet those drivers persist.

Below: around the corner, beyond the junction of ul. Gogolińska and Karczunkowska, the road is totally and utterly blocked. Pedestrians and bikes can squeeze through a passage to the right of this pic, but for other road-going vehicles - no. Don't waste your time. Do as you did last time Karczunkowska was closed - go around Nowa Iwiczna or down Baletowa.

Below: a rather crap shot from my Nikon CoolPix P900 (which is never happy in wide angle mode), showing Karczunkowska cut right down its entire width to get at the sewers. Without the ability to shoot in RAW format, exposure is a compromise; the get the detail in the shadows I lost the detail in the highlights.. Still, it shows how serious this work is.

But there are always the adventurous ones. Like the woman in the Yaris on Pruszków plates who first headed south along Gogolińska looking for a short cut, finding none, turning round, to discover that it's impassable to the north too. She sped past me (I was on foot, narrow road, no pavement) with her phone clamped to her ear. The short-cut that people want to make, between ul. Gogolińska and Kurantów, is not on. This bit of Kurantów is formally (and I checked on the land register map) a private road. The main bit of Kurantów runs out of asphalt 200m from this spur; physically impassable to all but off-road vehicles - except that the owners of the land at the top have blocked the path off to stop the rat-runners.

I very much doubt the work will be finished by Monday week. Indeed, I very much doubt the whole project will be completed this year. Even if there are no more major cock-ups such as the failure to detect the clash between sewers and power cables at the railway crossing, even if the guys work weekends and evenings (as they were today), I can't see this happening quickly. It will be fun to come here on Monday morning to see all the frustrated motorists forced to make U-turns.

It's actually comical to see drivers ignoring three, four, five signs saying 'no entry' or 'no through road' or 'diversion' and then being forced to turn around.

This time last year:
Little suitcase in the attic

This time two years ago:
What I read each week.

This time three years ago:
Defending Poland, contributing to NATO

This time five years ago:
Balloon over Warsaw 

This time seven years ago:
Happiness, Polish-style

This time eight years ago:
And watch the river flow...

Friday, 27 April 2018

Working week in town in photos

A very reasonable week weather-wise for the time of year. Below: looking up ul. Emilii Plater towards the Cosmopolitan building, with the InterContinental hotel and Warsaw Financial Centre to the left. Trees now fully in leaf.

Below: many people's first view of Warsaw, emerging from the W-wa Centralna station, the Lumen building to the left, Palace of Culture looming across from the right.

Below: a pair of 1960s Jelcz 043 ogórki ('gherkins'), classic buses from the 1960s with period backdrop.

Below: here's a find - parked (abandoned?) outside the Teatr Polski on ul. Karasia - a 1960 Hillman Minx Series III. Theatrical prop or what? The car has remnants of 'CS' plate, suggesting that it spent its useful life in Czechoslovakia..

Old cars can live again... I snapped this restored and repainted body of a Porsche 356 of similar vintage (below) on ul. Świętokrzyska. The economics of doing up classic cars are simple; it costs just as much to do a bare-metal restoration of a Hillman Minx (if not more, it has four doors) as it does to work on the Porsche. Yet the Porsche will command a price ten times higher than a Minx restored to the same condition; €100,000 or thereabouts. So Minxes rot and die, Porsches live again.

Vistula sunset yeah!

This time two years ago:
Brexit: head vs heart, migration vs economy

This time three years ago:
Golf course update

This time six years ago:
The Shard changes London's skyline

This time seven years ago:
In praise of Warsaw's trams

This time eight years ago:
Plans for the railway line to Radom

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

It's binary, isn't it?

There either is a God or there isn't one.

There either is life after death or there isn't.

It's binary, isn't it? Some people spend their time promoting either view with great fervour and passion. Atheists and the religiously devoted slog it out day and night online trying to convince the other side of the rightness of their arguments. On the one hand - religion - received truth, passed directly from God to man in written form. On the other - science - which tries to explain the universe with a series of defining laws and mathematical constants that rule out the need for divine / supernatural / metaphysical intervention from a supreme being.

But this scientific notion that we just happened to come into existence as an accidental merging of stellar dust which evolved into a conscious being is relatively new one. It only began to take hold during the Enlightenment, as alchemy gave way to science, based on empirical results of repeatable experiments. No more mumbo-jumbo. No more magick spells.

Prior to the Enlightenment, an atheist was someone who didn't believe in the same God as you did. Everyone believed in some form of supreme being or other. Just a question of what He was called. And nuances of doctrine.

Newtonian physics changed all that; no longer was a deity required to keep the universe ticking over. A deity was merely required to set the whole thing off, and then could step back. With the realisation the the universe was not a steady state, but that galaxies and stars formed from out of the Big Bang - was one needed at all?

It's binary, no?

The word 'binary' suggests either a male Godhead, omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient or no God at all. Well, it all depends how you'd define the terms 'deity' and 'afterlife'. Our understanding of the purpose, the meaning, the direction, the relevance of the universe is about as limited as our cats' understanding of electricity. Making the Godhead humanoid ("So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him" Genesis 1:27) smacks more of bipedal aliens doing a bit of genetic engineering on planet Earth than that of a universe unfolding to realise its ultimate destiny.

We humans have a hard time getting our heads around metaphysical concepts such as God or afterlife; it's easier to dismiss them outright or create some simple story around the concepts than it is to dig deeper. Many of us - by no means all of us - feel a natural draw towards the numinous, the mystical, the supernatural; for some, this yearning is assuaged by weekly church-going. For the more intellectually curious, accepting dogma passed on down the millennia is not enough; curiosity means reading around the subject, dipping into the received wisdoms of other faiths, but most of all being open to your own innermost feelings.

You either have those feelings or you don't - that much is binary. What you do about them isn't. For me, it's a lifelong quest, continual reassessment of belief, tested against hard science, seeking answers to the deepest questions concerning the purpose of our existence. It's not yes/no, black/white. And certainly, humanity will have a slightly better understanding in the future, as some of the mysteries of science (dark energy/dark matter, origins of life, seat of consciousness etc) are uncovered. This will help us probe the borders of the natural and supernatural, the physical and the metaphysical.

I believe that at our current human level of spiritual evolution, our supernatural powers are very weak, hardly noticeable, but nonetheless there. I feel it but can't measure it. Experiments into extra-sensory perception, premonition, telekinesis or spoon-bending powers are neither here nor there and belittle the whole field. Scientific experiments designed to prove or disprove such notions are doomed to fail as they are asking the wrong questions and using the wrong methodology.

My lifelong experiences of deja vu will not be put into a box and filed as 'random misfirings of synapses' because they do not subjectively feel like that. There's more to them than something that an experiment with lab rats can prove or disprove.

The shackles of Newtonian reductionist materialism, however, have been removed. Science has moved away from claiming everything can be explained - and if not now, then in a very few years - towards a more realistic view that maybe there are things that we can never know.

For the time being - please, accept the mystery.

In the long term, life after life will bring us closer to a universal unity of consciousness; everything understands everything. For that, you will have to wait an Eternity.

This time two years ago:
Work on the railway line, work on the golf course

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Five closed hectares in central Warsaw

I thought I knew Powiśle well; I'd worked there for five years, travelled through W-wa Powiśle station, walked many walks up and down the Vistula escarpment... and yet only yesterday did I discover a secret, walled-off zone right in the heart of the city - all five hectares of it.

Below: A footpath in the park on the Skwer Bohdana Wodiczko, under a lamp, ends in a gate, shut tight. What's beyond?

The park lies on the escarpment; a high brick wall runs up and along the ridge. Here and there, one can stretch up and peek over the wall. And here's a special vantage point... clamber up and... Let's take a look, shall we?

Looks like some kind of cloisters... On the horizon you can see the national stadium (right) and the Most Świętokrzyski. Below: further along the wall, further along the escarpment ridge, there's some railings, through which I can get a shot of what's within. Trees in leaf, blossom abounds. A lovely walled garden, hectares of the stuff, closed off from the outside world.

Well, I just had to check. This is the convent of the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul (Zakład Sióstr Miłosierdzia św. Wincentego à Paulo w Warszawie) The order is also known as the Szarytki. Well I never!

Here it is on Google Earth; to the left we have Nowy Świat, the right, the Vistula, at the lower edge Al. Jerozolimskie, along the top runs ul. Tamka. And in the middle, the convent. Click to enlarge.

Now, before we start accusing the nuns of hogging prime land in the heart of the city, I did some googling and discovered that they had plans to turn this closed object into an old folks' home. A very worthy use for such splendid land! However, the Szarytki did not reckon with the heritage buildings inspectorate, which didn't give them planning permission. And so, closed off behind walls, unvisited by tourists, unloved by Varsovians, the convent remains a mystery.

This time last year:
Progress by the ponds

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

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

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

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

This time nine years ago:
Views of Historic Toruń

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

Friday, 20 April 2018

Polarized into existence

Spring. An April like no other I can remember in terms of hours of sunshine and temperatures.
I go to Chynów by train to inspect how work's going on my country retreat (below). Having first clapped eyes on this place in late October and bought it in late November, seeing it as spring explodes is a real treat. The kitchen and front room floors have been dug through, the soil beneath is being extracted to be replaced by insulating material before the (heated) flooring goes on.

Plenty of time before the Warsaw-bound train pulls into Chynów, so I explore the rural byways between Jakubowizna and the station. The journey from town took 52 minutes on the Radomiak limited-stop service, which doesn't stop at W-wa Jeziorki, but does stop at Chynów.

Below: Chynów station awaits redevelopment as the Warsaw-Radom line modernisation work moves southwards. The second set of signals is for a freight siding that will no doubt be removed.

Below: earlier today, around 08:20, ul. Świętokrzyska under a perfectly crystalline sky

Below: back in Jeziorki, the low evening sunshine and the fresh greenery puts me in mind of another time and another place... the Sublime Aesthetic.

Below: cherry blossom in my garden.

This time four years ago:
The Road to Biedronka

This time five years ago:
Lighter, longer lens

This time eight years ago:
Making sense of Polish politics

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Approaching a Circular Economy

A faddy business trend, or a sharper focus for the sustainability agenda? The notion of a circular economy lies in opposition to a linear economy (extract-make-use-dispose). It is a regenerative approach that seeks further use for items we no longer need. This means that industry needs to extract from our planet fewer resources to make new things.

The current clamp-down on single-use plastics is a good, though extreme example, with the UK government pledging to ban plastic straws and cotton-wool ear buds next year. Free-of-charge single-use plastic bags have disappeared from shops across the EU. There is still much more to do.

On Tuesday I chaired a small meeting of representatives of business and ecological groups on this subject, and the more one looks into the subject, the more complex and interconnected it all is.

Three groups of players are in this game; consumers, who want things, businesses, who satisfy those wants, and the regulator, who imposes the rules on the game. And, this being circular, the regulator is doing the bidding of the voter, who is the same person as the consumer.

As voters we want a clean planet, clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean food. Yet as consumers, we want convenience. I was talking to a producer of food packaging who said that something like a packet of sliced cheese may consist of ten or more components; the plastic packet itself, a pull-off seal made from a different type of plastic, held to the packet with a special glue; the paper label on that pull-off seal with the product information printed in different inks - the label being attached with a different form of glue, waterproof foil over the paper, sheets of thin plastic separating the cheese slices. The resulting package is impossible to recycle and is fit only for incineration.

We may find (as consumers) that our lives become more beset by inconvenience as we (as voters) tell our regulators to clamp down on the plastics that are despoiling our oceans and our land. It may be a return to older days. Take the cheese, for example. I've swapped my regular brand of Roquefort cheese, packaged in a plastic tray with a plastic foil seal and further plastic inside for cheese cut from the round, with aluminium foil on the outside, and simply shrink-wrapped in clingfilm. To be honest, this works out cheaper (around 63zł/kg compared to 85zł/kg for the packet cheese). But I can only guess the environmental impact of the foil/clingfilm packaging to be much lower than the plastic packet. How is it for health though? All those phthalates and plasticisers and other chemicals are known to be no good for us, and leach into our food.

Cheese predates plastic by a few millennia, so can't we go back to storing it under porcelain in cool, dark larders? And can't we go back to buying it from the block, cut and weighed for us, and wrapped in paper?

As consumer-voters, we should take a more active interest in how our food - and indeed other products we use - is packaged and sold. Food we can't really buy less of, below a biological threshold, but other things we have more control over.

Cars - I set out my precepts regarding car ownership back in 2012:

1. Don't own a car. Go on two wheels, public transport, hire or ride-share instead.
2. If you really must own a car, buy a small car.
3. If you really must have a larger car (large family), buy an economical large car.
4. Whatever you have, drive as little as you possibly can.
5. Invest the money you have saved by following the above precepts.

The automotive industry must change; consumers will force that change. The regulator will not be far behind; a Extended Producer Responsibility Directive will force car-makers (and other manufacturers) to take final responsibility for their product - taking it away and breaking it down for recycling. This is expected within a few years.

Clothes. For the past few years, other than new suits for the office, most of my casual clothing I buy from the Children's Society charity shop on Pitshanger Lane in Ealing, jackets, shirts, trousers. Shoes I wear for a long time and then get re-soled. I am loyal to one brand, a family business around for 138 years that uses traditional materials and methods.

In the presentation at our meeting on Tuesday there was a brilliant slide (by Sarah Lazarovich), entitled the Buyerarchy of Needs.

Based on Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, this makes the point that before buying something, we should first consider the options. Note for non-North American readers - 'thrift' = 'charity shop'; neither really exist in Poland (other than the Sue Ryder Foundation shop on ul. Bagatela in Warsaw - anyone know of any others?).

We discussed the current trend for decluttering, the antidote to stuffocation. Participants in the debate were concerned that after a solid bout of decluttering, the natural tendency of consumers (bombarded as they are by the blandishments of business) is to once again fill those gaps with new stuff. STOP!

The circular economy is about much more than buying less. It is about making more use of what there is (sharing power tools, rather than each household owning a drill that's used for nine minutes in its lifetime), about recycling as much as possible. Business needs to become less short-term profit focused, trying to get people to spend money they don't really have buying things they don't really need.

So where's economic growth going to come from?


What's the outcome of that going to be?

Some of us will end up living extremely long. On a cleaner planet.

This time last year:
Ralph Vaughan-Williams - two song cycles

This time nine years ago:
Spring scenes in Jeziorki

This time ten years ago:
Modernist wheels

This time 11 years ago:
Mammatus clouds over Jeziorki

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Blossoms and pylons

This is the season; oh that it would stay like this, at the start of blossom time, transient yet transcendent, my local walk transformed, mouth gaping wide with wonder.

The great state of Mississippi, 1930s, transported to the edge of Warsaw.

Below: the pond on ul. Pozytywki, corner of ul. Cymbalistów.

Below: the garden suddenly starts to look good.

Below: further along ul. Trombity

Below: how did that get up there? An excavator on a hill of sandy soil, between Biedronka and the railway tracks.

Below: taken from the top of another hill of soil made by builders, this year's Ballast Mountain, a good vantage point to see the coal trains.

Below: blossoms outside my office, the PASTa building to the right.

This time year:
Weather bad, mood SAD

This time five years ago:
Bicycle shake-down day

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

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

This time ten years ago:
Swans still in Jeziorki

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Klimat change

As spring begins to explode around us, the sunshine's warming rays transform my life. After six months in which greyness and damp have dominated, strong sunshine and a cloudless blue sky affect the way I see the world. Shape comes alive, vivid colours emerge from the depth of field in sharp focus, and I take greatly more pleasure in the converging rays of light that make it to my brain.

Sights that were commonplace, that I walked by, suddenly demand my attention; visions become timeless and transcendent. Ealing's different under a crystal blue sky.

Ealing, the Old Country, my home where I am from. On the Sunny Side of the Street.

My favourite time of year - whenever the sun is out, it behoves us to make the most of it, to drink in its rays. It's different in high summer, but right now I feel that the sunlight is precious, and does us good physically, psychologically and spiritually.

It'll be a short while before trees are fully in leaf; the week after the Ice Saints is the most beautiful of the year; cherish this time. The spring is still quite fragile, late frosts are still a possibility; a greater likelihood is, however, a return to dullness, damp and overcast days.

This time four years ago:
Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel

This time five years ago:
Warsaw 1935: a 3D depiction of a city that's no longer with us

This time six years ago:
Cats and awareness

This time eight years ago:
Why did this happen?

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

Monday, 9 April 2018

Work proceeding across Jeziorki

It's all go - on the railway viaduct, the water mains, the bus stops - but further plans are also ongoing. The city hall has just published its zoning plan for the Trombity/Sarabandy bit of Jeziorki, a plan that entails building a dense network of roads where currently are only fields and gardens (including a slice of our garden). Given how long it takes things to get built, this may or may not happen (compare this development plan from 2008 to the actual state of Mysiadło today).

In the meanwhile, there's so much going on... this is the peak of the building boom but there are major constraints on the construction sector - material prices and wages are increasing at an unsustainable rate. Below: new blocks of flats going up in Zamienie.

Below: another crane between ul. Sarabandy and Puławska

Below: cement being poured into the viaduct taking ul. Karczunkowska over the railway line.

Below: view along the coal line under the new viaduct. The line is used as a footpath by rail passengers from west of the tracks heading into town. The 'safe' way is a 120m detour.

Below: water mains being laid along ul. Trombity. It's Sunday, so there's no work going on; during the week, the road's shut.

How many years before these latest plans for Jeziorki realised - if at all?

This time last year:
Karczunkowska reopens to traffic

This time six years ago:
Goodness gracious!

This time seven years ago:

This time eight years ago:
Cycling and recycling

This time nine years ago:
Winter clings on to the forest

This time ten years ago:
Toyota launches the iQ

This time eleven years ago:
Old school Łódź