Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Opole in the late October sunshine

A few beautiful days in late-October; on Tuesday 30th, the daytime high in Warsaw was 21C. Wednesday 31st, and a trip to Opole beckoned. Time to wake up at 03:45, catch the 05:11 to Zachodnia and the 06:05 from there to Opole. Train arrived on time; on the way back I had an hour before my train home, so time for a nose around the vicinity of Opole Główne, a junction station lying where the lines from Katowice and Częstochowa join the line to Wrocław.

Approaching Opole Główne station by rail from the east, one passes a multiplicity of sidings, train sheds and marshalling yards. Below: a long line of ET22 locos have stood here forlornly for a number of years, awaiting the scrapper's torch. The ET22 was the most numerous class of electric locomotives ever built in Europe, with 1,183 units built between 1969 and 1989. Around half are still in service.

Below: looks like a scene from a model railway - ET22-250. Note the steel grating protecting the cab side windows from break-ins.

Below: an EN57, Poland's ubiquitous and long-lived electric multiple unit train. It is said that after humans become extinct, and rats and cockroaches evolve to take over the earth, they too will travel to work on EN57s. This one is in PolRegio livery.

Below: a Deutsche Bahn freight train heads west through Opole Głowne station; note the original cast-iron canopy supports, which survived the station's recent modernisation.

This bright yellow-tyred, red-wheeled barrow in the strong late-afternoon sun caught my eye.

Architecturally, Opole's Centrum is an eclectic mix of styles, not all of which please the eye. I have snapped nicer bits of Opole before [here], so here's a more representative view. Below: the local government and tax offices, a piece of nondescript 1960s architecture.

Below: more pleasing to the eye, surviving German architecture on ul. Reymonta, looking resplendent in the sunshine.

Below: some late 1990s Połlysz Arkitekczer - all arches, glazed cylinders, aluminium facings - a style that in time may arouse some feelings of sympathetic nostalgia - "We once thought this was modern?"

Back to the station to catch the train back to Warsaw. Below: A modernised PolRegio EN57 arrives from Kędzierzyn-Koźle, and draws into Opole Główne

I board my train, the Fredro (Fred Roe?) which soon passes those two stations with names in Polish and German (Chrząstowice/Chronstau and Dębska Kuźnia/Dembiohammer). Below: wet fields between the two stations.

The sun set shortly after, bringing the last day of October 2018 to a most clement end.

This time last year:
Work begins in earnest on the Karczunkowska viaduct

This time three years ago:
Sublime autumn day in Jeziorki

This time four years ago:
CitytoCity, MalltoMall

This time five years ago:
(Internet) Radio Days

This time six years ago:
Another office move

This time seven years ago:
Manufacturing a City of Culture

This time eight years ago:
My thousandth post

This time nine years ago:
Closure of ul. Poloneza

This time ten years ago:
Scenes from a suburban petrol station

This time 11 years ago:
Red Arrows over Lincolnshire from 30,000 ft

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Hammer of Darkness descends one last time

It's quarter to four in the afternoon. I ate a hot lunch less than two hours ago - and I'm ravenously hungry. It's gloomy and wet outside - in half an hour it will be dark. Yesterday, the sun set at 17:16; today it sets at 16:14. An hour has been stolen from my evening and I won't get it back until the end of March. This whole business of clocks going backwards and forwards is disturbing - the autumn time-change gives us an hour's more sleep but plunges us into darkness an hour earlier. The spring time-changes returns to us that precious hour of evening daylights, but robs us of an hour's sleep.

I am delighted that the EU has - after widespread consultations - decided to do away with this time-change nonsense. For those who suffer (however mildly) from seasonal affective disorder, the continuation of Summer Time into the autumn and winter will be a blessed relief.

Our planet is inclined at 23 degrees to the sun; were it upright to the sun, the entire planet would get 12 hours of day and 12 of night right across the year - equinox would be the norm. Like a stop clock, we get two equinoxes a year, for us here in the Northern Hemisphere, day length varies. From Winter Solstice to Summer Solstice, the day in Warsaw length between a couple of seconds (after and before each solstice) and over four minutes (around the Spring Equinox) a day. From the Summer Solstice to the Winter Solstice, the day in Warsaw shortens, again much more noticeably around the Autumn Equinox than around the time of the solstices.

Below: sunrise and sunset chart for Warsaw ( Click to enlarge.

The loss of a couple of minutes a day I can deal with - it's the loss of a whole hour that hurts, especially during the first two working weeks after the time change. The sun sets three quarters of an hour before the end of the working day, rather than shortly after it. Warsaw's earliest sunset is at 15:23, between 8 and 18 December (not the shortest days, because the latest sunrise is not until 27 Dec - 2 Jan, at 07:45). The shortest days of the year (21 and 22 Dec) are just over 7hrs 42mins long. The longest days of the year (18-24 Jun) are over 16hrs 46mins long - a difference of over nine hours, (more or less) equally split between sunrise and sunset.

One way or another, here at 52°, we are condemned during the late autumn and winter to leave home and go to work in darkness, and to leave work and go home in darkness.

Is there a better way? I have postulated using technology to change the time of sunset each day, just slightly, by no more than four minutes at equinox, so that at a given latitude we can all enjoy the same amount of after-work daylight the whole year round. How would this work? Let's take 9pm as an arbitrary time (coinciding with the latest sunsets in Warsaw in midsummer). We'd agree that sunset is 21:00 exactly, each day of the year. And adjust sunrise each day in line with that.

Nine pm is four hours after most people finish work - four hours for walking, jogging, cafes etc. It's two hours before most people go to sleep. All year round, we'd have a 9pm (21:00) sunset. But whereas in midsummer, the sun would rise at quarter past four am, in midwinter, it would rise in the early afternoon (around 13:15). Our smartphones, smartwatches and laptops would compensate automatically. Our winter journeys to work would be in the darkness - but they are anyway. All we'd lose is daylight hours while we sit at our desks on winter mornings. But those winter evenings would be long and light!

This time last year:
Big news for Jeziorki
[the housing estate for 8,000 people. Still pie in sky.]

This time two years ago:
Autumn in Warsaw

This time three years ago:
Inside the Norblin factory 

This time five years ago:
Sadness at the death of Tadeusz Mazowiecki

This time seven years ago:
More hipster mounts (Warsaw fixieism)

This time eight years ago:
Welcome to Warsaw

This time nine years ago:
Just like the old days

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Metro rail-link bridge over Puławska: jams ahead

News is that ul. Puławska, - that inescapable, unavoidable road into central Warsaw from the south - choked up solid as it is, will get worse. The bridge taking the single track linking Warsaw's Metro to the outside rail network is due for a major remont. Built in 1984 (11 years before the Metro opened), the line links the Metro depot in Kabaty with the railway sidings at W-wa Okęcie. The bridge, spanning eight lanes of traffic (three plus three and two slip lanes) is in poor condition.

Below: from left to right - the acoustic screen of the S2 expressway; the S2 as it reaches its double-hairpin junction (where the traffic lights are); in the distance the work is under way to extend the S2 under the blocks of Ursynów, and the bridge, spanning Puławska.

Below: the bridge was built with walkways on either side. These have been closed off to pedestrians (indeed in the photo above, you can see a chap vaulting over the barrier). While there are steps at the other end of the bridge, there is no access on this side. The railway line itself is extremely rarely used; these days major movements of Metro rolling-stock are done by road (sadly). The only traffic I've seen on this line has been maintenance draisines, maintaining the track for the sake of keeping it maintained. Question - will the bridge continue to provide pedestrian access after the remont?

Further east, where the Metro rail link approaches the main Warsaw-Radom line, and the parallel coal train line. Below: in the foreground, the Metro line curves north, while in the background a bit of a rarity - a former East German loco developed from the Soviet-built M62 (in Poland known as the ST44). Post-unification, the Germans called this class of diesel freight locos BR232; this one is in the livery of CargoUnit, a rolling-stock rental firm, and is heading a rake of empty coal wagons back to Okęcie sidings from Siekierki power station.

Below: the Metro rail link, having crossed Puławska and skirted around the south-western outskirts of Ursynów, cuts through the edge of the Las Kabacki forest before reaching the Metro depot. This is a popular spot for recreation.

Below: a mountain for bikes - Bike Park Kazoora, one of Ursynów's two artificial hills made from builders' spoil from when the blokowiska were being built.

Below: the S2, meanwhile, heads east towards the Vistula (work on the new bridge is continuing on both banks); to get there, the S2 must dive under Ursynów - and indeed, under the Metro. Cut and cover by ul. Płaskowickiej, looking east.

Back by bus to W-wa Okęcie, I walk back along the Metro rail-link from where it starts. The buffers (below) are the symbolic end of the line; the link itself to the rest of the railway network runs to the right of the photo.

Just before I reach the S2 by Węzeł Warszawa Południe, I see a rare sight - a four-engined plane coming into land - an Airbus A340-300. Owned by Maltese airline Hi Fly (registration 9H-FOX), it is currently on lease to LOT Polish Airlines, and has been recently flying the Warsaw-Toronto route. No livery - just plain white. LOT is experiencing difficulty at present, with a pilots' strike and maintenance issues. Leasing planes from other airlines is a stop-gap remedy for the moment.

Below: a LOT Boeing 787 Dreamliner crosses the S79 on final approach to Okęcie.

Back at W-wa Dawidy, I catch a rake of aviation fuel cisterns heading up the coal-train line towards the airport. No longer are the cisterns taken all the way into the fuel depot by rail - a new oil terminal has been built alongside the main railway line (south of the Poleczki viaduct); the fuel is pumped via an underground pipeline to the airport a kilometre away.

Hauled by a NEWAG-refurbished SM42 (now known as a 6Dg) in Lotos livery, the train has just passed three signs warning the driver that the train will be passing points that lead onto an electrified section.

Below: a full load of biomass for co-firing with coal at Siekierki, on its way to Okęcie sidings, hauled by an ET22 loco through W-wa Dawidy station.

It is quarter past five and still light; by tomorrow the clocks go back and the sun sets an hour earlier - 16:14. The hammer of darkness is about to come down once more.

This time last year:
We are what we read, what we watch, what we listen to

This time five years ago:
Extraordinarily warm autumn

This time six years ago:
On behalf of the work-shy community

This time seven years ago:
Classic truck cavalcade

This time eight years ago
Suburban back-roads clogged with commuters

This time nine years ago:
Autumn gold, Łazienkowski Park

This time ten years ago:
Quintessential autumnal Jeziorki

This time 11 years ago:
Google Earth updates its map of Jeziorki

Friday, 26 October 2018

The possibilities deriving from a quantum multiverse

On the borders of respectable physics and oddball philosophy lies the concept of the quantum multiverse, the notion that there is an infinite number of universe, which brings with it the possibility of an infinite number of possibilities.

To get a grasp of what infinity means as a mathematical concept I take you back to an early 1980s Not The Nine O'Clock News sketch which mentioned a parallel universe identical to this one, but in which the gear-stick of the Mini Metro was one millimetre shorter. Now extend that idea to include a parallel universe identical to this one, except that in it your breakfast this morning contained one fewer cornflake. And so on, you get the idea ( a parallel universe where on some planet on a star in a galaxy 7,000 light years away a amoeba-like creature has one more flagellum than in this universe).

Now imagine a parallel universe in which your parents never met. It exists - indeed, a near-infinite number of these parallel universes exist, but you cannot be aware of them, as in them, you don't exist.

This is the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics, which has been around since first posited in the early 1950s. It has implications for those interested in the spiritual side of things. Recall that Schrodinger's cat is alive and dead until the observer opens the box and looks in to see which quantum state the radioactive particle is in - whether it has decayed or not. Now, you are the observer of all that is around you, you are alive and conscious. Now consider the many occasions since Big Bang that could have caused your parents not to meet; going back to before the dawn of Homo sapiens, to before the mammal evolved, to before life first crawled out of the oceans, to before conscious life first appeared on our planet, to before our solar system was formed.

More - there could be multiverses in which a 'parallel you' has already died - others have observed your passing, but not you, as the 'dead you' is no longer conscious.

But the 'live you' is very much conscious, reading these words and observing life and the universe. Could it be that you could go on observing it forever in at least one universe - the one you are observing?

Science is not tolerant of whacky ideas that cannot be subjected to scientific method - repeated in different labs by different scientists. The story of PEAR - the Princeton Engineering Anomaly Research lab is a cautionary tale for those who push the spiritual/parapsychological agenda too hard into the scientific world. There is a multiplicity of theories on the borders of what science considers to be acceptable. The nature of dark energy and dark matter, for example - substances/forces that remain undetectable - is one that generates many theories, which for the moment cannot be proven or disproven.

These leave open a window for unconventional thinking, as do the myriad possibilities that quantum uncertainty brings. Can we control quantum outcomes by thought? The PEAR lab debacle shows that even if one tenth of one percent of quantum outcomes can be altered by the observer, unless the experiments are repeatable, the theory is bunk.

The border between hard science and spirituality is a rigid one. But we must follow our instincts. Perhaps two multiverses coexist side by side - one in which magic happens, and we feel it, we know it's there - and another one, in which it doesn't, because it can't be proved.

The beauty of the quantum multiverse and its many-worlds interpretation is that everything is possible - but not always in the here-and-now.

This time last year:
More about sleep

This time six years ago:
On behalf of the workshy community

This time seven years ago:
Classic truck cavalcade

This time eight years ago
Narrow back-roads clogged with commuters

This time nine years ago:
Autumn gold, Łazienkowski Park

This time 11 years ago:
Of bishops and bands

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Track modernisation south of Czachówek going well

Tangible progress in five weeks; on the train to Chynów I could see that work is moving ahead at a good pace. New overhead power line pylons are up on one side of the track all the way from Sułkowice to Chynów. Both platforms are in operation, it looks like Chynów is a passing point for trains between Warsaw and Radom.

Below: a Warsaw-bound EN71 leaves Chynów and crosses from the 'up' track to the 'down' track.

Below: at Chynów itself, the goods siding to the east of the main line has been lifted. It will be here that the 'up' platform should be located once the island platform disappears and the main line is straightened. This will mean a shorter walk from my działka to the station.

Below: this is odd - the town-bound 15:34 train is heading up along the 'down' line; unusual, because the two pics up you can see the previous train to town moving along the right track.

And what's this? Below: A Radom train heading down on the 'up' line - most unusual.

Passing through Sułkowice, the platform has been dissected with a wire fence. This is what happened at Jeziorki and other stations between W-wa Okęcie and Czachówek; half the platform is demolished; the remaining half serves trains in both directions while one of the two brand new platforms is built on the outside of the tracks, relaid to run straight rather than curving around a single island platform.

Below: a woman with a bicycle and shopping bags struggles to get up into the train. Once the new platforms have been built, this inconvenience should become a thing of the past.

Bonus shot: autumn view from my balcony. Lovely place, Jakubowizna.

Update: Wednesday 24 October 2018 - shortly after 06:30, a Warsaw-bound train departing from Chynów station ran into a pylon that was lying by the track-bed too close to the rails,which resulted in the overhead power cables being ripped down. Rail chaos ensued, with some trains running nearly two hours (!) behind schedule; a replacement bus service was laid on between Chynów and Czachówek Południowy while InterCity trains were diverted via Grodzisk Mazowiecki, first stop after W-wa Zachodnia being Radom.

This time last year:
Swans growing up

This time three years ago:
On the eve of Poland's change of government

This time four years ago:
Bilingualism benefits the brain

This time eight years ago:
Crushed velvet dusk in my City of Dreams II

This time nine years ago:
Going North, the quick way

This time ten years ago:
Glorious autumn dusk

This time 11 years ago:
Last man voting?

Friday, 19 October 2018

Ealing - West Ealing - memories and reality

"Me, I walk home on the same dirty streets where I was born", sang Bruce Springsteen in his song Used Cars on his album Nebraska. What's changed since the 1960s and 1970s when I was growing up round West Ealing? Some things change, some things are the same. The timber merchant on the Uxbridge Road is as it was; the offices above offer new services such as DNA tests.

Below: Jacob's Ladder - I remember steam trains rushing under this footbridge, suddenly enveloped in damp fog as my mother and I would cross over, on our way to my nursery school on The Avenue. Today, a new GWR Hitachi Class 800 IET hurtles through from Cheltenham to Paddington.

On my way home from Gunnersbury Grammar school in the early 1970s, my journey would begin with a walk from school to catch the District Line back to Ealing Broadway. Same station, new platform furniture.

Below: the intermediate station along the route, Ealing Common, still looking as it did in the 1930s, when Charles Holden's architecture was modernising the outer fringes of the London Underground.

Below: I look down and paff a powerful flashback to childhood. On the corner of the Uxbridge Road and Hartington Road - Daniel's department store, beds, prams, that sort of thing - back in the 1990s I was surprised it had survived as long as it did - it's still in business today. The texture of reality.

When seeking those flashback memories in the future, I will be met by a mix of immediate familiarity and the out-of-place; a newness that defies expectation and the closeness of old memories.

This time four years ago:
The autumn sublime in Jeziorki

This time five years ago:
Enduring Ealing - Victorian and Edwardian klimats

This time six years ago:
Krokowa, Poland's former northern borderlands

This time 11 years ago:
Aerial photograph of Central London

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Ideology & ideologists; pragmatism & pragmatists

Another ‘life in balance’ piece. We all need a compass by which to set our course through life.

Pragmatism. Does a given thing work? No – then reject it. Does it work? Yes – then adopt it. Adopt and improve, with each improvement being introduced as the result of a subsequent round of asking ‘does it work’.

Ideology. Is the given thing ideologically correct? Does it meet the Precepts of the Guiding Principles? Which principles? Those principles that govern the particular -ism is -isms to which one is wedded.

We seem to have drifted into an era of ideology. Rejecting things that work (sort of) but don’t fit the Principle. Brexit is a case in point.

Brexiteers seem incapable of highlighting the ways in which EU membership has hurt them in their personal lives, nor are they able to put forth a cogent strategy for how the UK will emerge from this bałagan stronger, wealthier and more influential globally. And yet they will  shout ‘Sovereignty!’ when asked what it’s all about. Ideology ahead of pragmatism.

Trump too – it’s about sticking it to the lefty-liberals, an ideological reason, rather than about some coherent framework of policies with clearly defined aims.

Nationalism, into which both Brexit and Trump tap into, is a particularly pernicious ideology which depends on differentiating ‘us’ and ‘the other’. Inciting hatred of other races, religions, nationalities – people you don’t know, people you've never met, who you cannot possibly judge on human terms, and yet they must be bad because they are not ‘ours’. In person, they may be polite, kind, witty, intelligent – and yet because they are ‘the other’, they are said to be bad.

Preferring ‘ours’ over ‘theirs’ is a natural biological reaction, one that we really should have learned to rise above; it is a base one. We don’t understand; we close in upon ourselves.

But tolerance as an ideology, foisted onto people who are told they must tolerate what they instinctively feel uncomfortable with, is not the answer.

Tolerance and openness work better when they are shown to work. National pride in Britain or France, say, is boosted by black athletes or footballers achieving success for their country in international sporting tournaments. This works better than enforced political correctness.

Religions have their doctrines, their theologies, which spill over into public policy; belief turns into ideology. How on earth do American evangelical Christians manage to square their religious beliefs with support for that unredeemable walking collection of the Deadly Sins, Trump?


My enemy’s enemy is my friend. In this case the counter-ideology of lefty-ism and all the baggage it bears. The Middle East, with its Sunni/Shiite split, is similar. Which is the greater Satan? America, or Shiite Iran? Religion is often the deepest ideology of them all.

A few months ago, I had a dream in which a Chinese journalist told me over a pint of beer in a London pub that China is planning to move from being a one-party state to a no-party state, and that this process is likely to take around two hundred years. This dream/prediction/wish is predicated by the notion that political parties, as groupings of public-policy creators, are ideological creations and should be replaced by pragmatists. The idea that decent people, with the best interest of their townsfolk/countrymen at heart, work diligently to create a continually improving society, without feathering their own nests, without furthering ideologies, is indeed my dream.

“I don’t like X, because X insulted Y, a politician I like.” I hear this often in Poland “Yes,” I reply. “But who is more effective at delivering water treatment plants, effective public transport and decent recreational space – X or Y?” It is easy to abrogate one’s own thinking to an ideology. Left-wing comedian Alexei Sayle says that when doing gigs for left-wing audiences, after he cracks a joke there’s a time delay between the punchline and the laugh, during which people are silently deciding whether the joke is ideologically correct and whether it’s OK to laugh at it in public, among all their peers.

I look at people and I see ideologies of one form or another present to a greater or lesser extent in their thoughts, words and deeds. The ones who live happy lives are those who generally are less troubled by ideology and go through life guided by pragmatism.

As Poland heads towards its local elections on Sunday, I’d make the point that I am not voting for any political party but rather for programmes most likely to deliver on the basis on past performance.

This time four years ago:
Nocturnal mists descend upon Jeziorki

This time six years ago:
Heavy rain hits Warsaw 

This time eight years ago:
The autumn sublime in Warsaw

This time ten years ago:
Lublin and its charm

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Autumnal landscapes with a railway theme

In and around Toruń station on a gorgeously sunny day in mid-October. Below: approaching the station from the east, the railway cuts through wooded parkland. The colours of the trees and sky - and the low-tension power lines atop the catenary gantries puts me in mind of the Penn Railroad, mid-20th century.

Below: a bit further back from the station, before the third track joins the 'up' and 'down' lines, I am passed by the Warsaw-Berlin express, still be diverted via Toruń and Gniezno. Hauled by an EP44 loco in Poland's independence-centenary livery.

Below: the more popular paths leading through the woods that cross the railway line are protected with metal barriers forming chicanes that force cyclists to dismount and pedestrians to slow down. This photo would have been so much more effective had the red paint on the barriers and signs not faded to pale pink.

Below: the nearer you get to any major railway station, the denser the profusion of tracks leading into it. A Polregio modernised EN57 leaving Toruń Główny on its way to Łódź Kaliska

Below: a Polregion PESA Elf approaching Toruń Główny from Włocławek.

Two tracks run into Toruń Główny from the east side of the platforms; one is the line from the south-east (from Włocławek), the other from the north-east (crossing the Vistula to Toruń Miasto station). The tracks converge on either side of this signal box below. The approach road to the station lies immediately behind me. I was here a year ago, and before that two years ago; both times the station was a confused mess of temporary walkways, closed tunnels, scaffolding and diggers, now all is complete, a good and worthy station has emerged.

Below: view of the eastern ends of the southern platforms, Toruń Główny

The last photo was actually the first one I took in the morning as I arrived. Train times to Toruń are very strange; two trains from Warsaw Zachodnia are both scheduled to arrive at the very same minute (09:32). One train takes just under two and half hours, the other takes over three hours. The slower one leaves Warsaw from the east, heads up to Iława, curls around Toruń from the north via Jabłonowo, then continues onward to Bydgoszcz. The quicker one leaves Warsaw from the west, goes through Kutno and Włocławek, then continues beyond Toruń to Gniezno, Poznań and over the border to Berlin.

My train back to Warsaw took the long and circular route; why it must be this way I cannot tell.

This time last year:
A few words about coincidence

This time four years ago:
Hello, pork pie [my week-long pork-pie diet]

This time six years ago:
The meaning of class - in England, in Poland

This time seven years ago: 
First frost 

This time 11 years ago:
First frost 

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Whoops... Clumsy

Clumsiness is not an attractive trait. The clumsy child lacking in coordinated motor skills is prone to systematic bullying at school, all too often instigated by mocking from the teacher.

"Fajtłapa: butterfingers, klutz (US), loser, deadbeat" - PWN Oxford dictionary.

Note the descent from inability to grasp to being written off as a human being.

Clumsiness is equated with weakness. The clumsy generally end up at the bottom of the ladder of authority. Few leaders in politics or business are seen with spaghetti-stained shirts. (Though Trump walking up the stairs to Air Force One with a bit of toilet paper stuck to his shoe provoked global hilarity. This was not fake news).

These are words in Polish I remember from Polish cub scouts (zuchy) and (to a lesser extent) Polish Saturday school, regularly used to denote children with less than perfect coordination: ciamajda; gamoń; niedołęga; niedorajda; niezdara; noga; oferma; ofiara; safanduła; ślamazara; trąba. Stanisławski and PWN Oxford both show an overlap between being clumsy and being slow; slowcoach being another English primary school word I recall my teachers using along with butterfingers. Though these words were used affectionately, rather than chidingly.

Clumsiness is a source of comedy; viewers find it amusing to watch people behaving in a clumsy, inept or gauche manner. It is still not considered politically incorrect to laugh at others' clumsiness. Much comedy derives from this (Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em)

Wikipedia directs the words 'clumsy' and 'clumsiness' to either Developmental coordination disorder or Accident-proneness. Both are too strong to define everyday clumsiness, which we observe in those around us and indeed, in ourselves.

Clumsiness has a number of causes; in my case (never too bad, never a defining characteristic) it was physical (my left eye has always been far weaker than the right one, leading to poor hand-eye coordination; secondly a lack of focus (my mind being somewhere else rather than on the task in hand). Another life-long problem I have is an inability to instinctively tell left from right; I have to concentrate for a split-second before telling the driver, authoritatively, to turn left. So often I mean 'turn left' but I end up saying 'turn right' or vice versa.

The other day, while excitedly ripping open the polythene bag wrapper of The Economist, I dropped the magazine into a full bowl of cat food. Fajtłapa! No harm done, a few minutes spent cleaning the pages and then reading a gravy-stained magazine for a week. But - a timely warning.

Bumble... stumble... mumble...

In the bus, not thinking about anything in general, bumbling around, bus surges forward/stops suddenly, fail to grasp a hand-hold, stumble into someone, mumble an apology... Need this be the human condition?

Clumsiness is an issue for an ageing population. Minor accidents caused by a wrongly placed foot or a missed grasp can lead to hospitalisation and long-term health issues. In England, the National Health Service has invested in an app designed to help carers reduce the number of hospital beds taken up by old folk with broken hips - the biggest single cause of hospitalisation. The app helps identify trip hazards around the house and in one's daily routine. Prevention rather than cure, raising awareness; investment in such programmes makes sense for public healthcare.

My personal approach is one of raised consciousness, seeing it coming and being prepared. Think, think, think. Ladders, tools, lifting, climbing, jumping; coordination requires more focus with age.

Far Eastern societies schooled the clumsiness out of children; unfocused action would be punished with a cane across the back. "A movement is accomplished in six stages/and the seventh brings return." "Change returns success/Going and coming without error." So sang Syd Barrett (Chapter 24 from Pink Floyd's first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, referring to the 24th chapter of the I Ching). Do, but think about what you're doing. Don't do things on autopilot, consider.

In Western culture too, "Quidquid agis, prudenter agas et respice finem." Whatever you do, do it with intelligence and with the end in mind, as my late mother used to say.

This time two years ago:
Mystical experiences at 37,000ft

This time three:
The staggeringly high cost of tax collection in Poland

This time seven years ago 
One stop beyond

This time eight years ago:
Who am I? (Kim ja jestem?)

This time nine years ago:
First snow, 2009. Ghastly!

This time ten years ago:
Train links to town improving

This time 11 years ago:
A beautiful Sunday, south of Warsaw

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Pavement for Karczunkowska - what's next?

Popped in after work for a local residents' meeting re: the planned development of ul. Karczunkowska. Not a minute too late... At the primary school on ul. Sarabandy, best known to me as polling station for elections local, parliamentary and European, a full hall. Big interest.

The lady from City Hall running the meeting announced that proceedings would be recorded with a little camera, to accurately gather the views of residents; once noted down, the recording would be erased. All in keeping with the new General Regulation on Data Protection. "I have to ask - does anyone have any objections?"

One voice at the back said that he absolutely, totally refused to be filmed. So the speaker dutifully began taking down the small camera. "Because of one man's veto, this event won't be recorded? And that's democracy?" asked a lady sitting in the row in front of me. And so a massive debate broke out - before the meeting had even started - about the rights and wrongs of this particular situation. "You don't want to be filmed? Go outside then!" "Liberum veto, cholera!"

We get going. "This is a concept [koncepcja] not a project [projekt], explained the lead architect who gave a short presentation showing plans and 3D renditions of Karczunkowska as it would eventually look when finished. "How long would all this take, roughly?" asked a neighbour. "Couldn't possibly say," said the architect. It then turned out that this concept, ordered from an urban planning bureau by ZMID (Zarząd Miejskich Inwestycji Drogowych, the Board of Urban Road Investments) had missed one almighty elephant in the room - the fact that the Polish state intends to build an estate for 8,000 people behind Biedronka, and that even with limited car parking, this estate would soon choke Karczunkowska down to a standstill.

The meeting was a prime example of the lack of joined-up local government. There's ZMID, there's Zarząd Dróg Miejskich (ZDM, the Board of Urban Roads), MPWiK (the Urban Enterprise of Water-pullings and Canalisation), the District of Ursynów, the Capital City of Warsaw, BGK, the state-owned enterprise behind the Mieszkanie+ programme that will be building the estate, and the neighbouring local authorities, the municipality of Lesznowola in the poviat of Piaseczno. Ah, and PKP PLK, which administers the construction of the viaduct carrying Karczunkowska over the railway line. So that's eight different institutions that need to coordinate this particular investment. Sorry - I forgot GDDKiA, the General Directorate of National Roads and Motorways (the highways agency, responsible for the S7 extension, its junction at Zamienie feeding into Karczunkowska. So that's nine.

Example: the spectre of a brand-new road surface being torn up to allow households adjacent to Karczunkowska to be connected to the new sewer because the road-builders and sewerage-builders were not talking to each other was not satisfactorily rebutted.

The clash of competencies between ZDM and Ursynów was evident when it came to the infamous lack of pavement Karczunkowska. Buck-passing par excellence. Somehow a pavement came be built in stages from ul. Puławska to ul. Trombity, but one cannot be built from Trombity to ul. Nawłocka.

So while things are not as bad as they were, getting to work and home again with clean shoes is still an impossibility in the wet months, while when snow is on the ground I'm forced to walk in the roadway. I raise the issue of road safety, of speeding cars, the need to calm traffic down to a safe 50km/h. No reply from the deputy mayor of Ursynów, present at the meeting.

The new Karczunkowska is meant to remain a single-carriageway road, 6.5m wide, with a pavement on either side and a bicycle path along the south side. But once the S7 is ready (2022?), traffic will come pouring off Węzeł Zamienie onto Karczunkowska, which will be limited to a single carriageway in each direction because that's how wide the viaduct over the railway line is. And then a few thousand extra cars in the Mieszkanie+ estate behind Biedronka joining the traffic after 2024?

The architect said he wanted to preserve Karczunkowska's character. But how can he do that if he didn't model traffic flows, asked another neighbour.

One answer is to build a road that's been on the plans for a decade - ul Agaty (see this post from May 2009). Agaty is planned to run from the railway line and the Mieszkanie+ estate parallel to the border between Warsaw and Mysiadło (the long straight drainage ditch) on the Warsaw side. This is now envisaged as being the dual-carriageway feeder for the estate. This suggestion was very popular at the meeting, as it would resolve the status of Karczunkowska.

So when will things start to happen? When will a pavement link ul. Trombity and W-wa Jeziorki station? When can Mr Dembinski arrive at the office in a clean pair of shoes after a few days' rain? Or have to share the asphalt in winter with rushing motorists?

I'm not optimistic. Poland really needs to learn joined-up government at local and national level.

This time two years ago
On relevance and irrelevance

This time four years ago:
Poland gets anglicised as Britain gets polonised

This time five years ago:
Ale, architecture and city politics

This time six years ago:
The pros and cons of roadside acoustic screens

This time seven years ago:
Moaning about trains again

This time eight years ago:
Warsaw street names - Dolna, Polna, Rolna, Wolna, Smolna. Lost?

This time nine years ago:
Ditches, landscapes, autumn

This time 11 years ago:
Golden autumn in Łazienki park

Monday, 8 October 2018

W-wa Zachodnia's Platform 8 to reopen

Over six years ago, the station once named W-wa Wola became a part of another station altogether. Renamed W-wa Zachodnia Peron 8, this bizarre outpost of Poland's busiest station (over half a kilometre away from Platform 1) has been closed for since March 2017  It will reopen later this month (on 21 October, the day the amended railway timetable comes into force), as modernisation of the peripheral line around the north-west and north of the capital nears completion. So let's have a look at the place...

Below: to reach the platform, passengers will have to cross live railway tracks, though the crossing will be protected by barriers, currently wrapped in black plastic. The new platform conforms to modern safety standards. From this point, it is 250m to the western entrance of W-wa Zachodnia, the actual distance from Platform 8 to the nearest platform of the main station, number 7, is nearly 400m, or a five-minute walk. From Platform 8 to Platform 2 (eastbound suburban services) is over 500m.

Below: general view of the platform, now under a canopy. Ah! and worth noting that the old station name, W-wa Wola, has been moved one stop up the line to what used to be called W-wa Kasprzaka.

Below: view of Platform 8 from an eastbound suburban service - you can barely see it in the distance, as one set of tracks curves away northward from the main line.

Below: looking from the far end of the platform. The nearness of the station to the Expo XXI conference and exhibition centre has been put to good use - there's a proper footpath that will link the platform to ul. Prądzyńskiego (I hope there will be a good pedestrian crossing on this busy street).

I can't see this footbridge linking the path between Platform 8 and ul. Prądzyńskiego being open anytime soon. A wheelchair lift on either side is required. Another year, optimistically?

I'm delighted that the PKP  PLK planners have seen fit to connect the north end of Platform 8 with the Expo centre. PKP PLK evidently did not believe that passengers using W-wa Jeziorki station would want to come to the station from the south - from ul. Gogolińska or Kurantów, or from the Biedronka supermarket. This poor guy (below) has to pull himself and his bicycle up to the platform from the track bed - why could PKP PLK not have left one barrier off the end of the platform and built a set of steps here? The alternative to clambering up onto the platform here is a 420m-detour via Gogolińska, or an 800m-detour via ul. Nawłocka. This is just an insult to locals who happen to live at the wrong end of the platform.

Please please PKP PLK - when planning station modernisations, don't force passengers to have to do this so that they can pay you money to use your services! I hope this gets sorted at PKP Chynów station first time round!

This time last year:
Learning to fly (swan pics)

This time three years ago:
Scotland's answer to the Hoover Building

This time five years ago:
In which I don't vote in the mayoral referendum, thus helping to save HG-W's job

This time six years ago:
Gorgeous cars from Czechoslovakia

This time seven years ago:
Donald Tusk and Co. get re-elected 

This time eight years ago:
Poland's wonderful bread

This time nine years ago:
An October Friday in Warsaw

Sunday, 7 October 2018

A short essay on Economic Patriotism

Take a look at the picture below, and consider how likely the following scenario could have been...

The year is 1978. British Petroleum (BP) is still a state-controlled company. BP launches an advertising campaign to convince British consumers to drink British juices. An unlikely conceit? Very much so.

Here in Poland, oil company PKN Orlen, like many other companies controlled by the Polish state, dabbles in activities that are well beyond the scope of its activities. (PKO Bank Polski promoting historical remembrance of the Accursed Soldiers springs to mind.)

Good thing or bad thing? One of the results of Margaret Thatcher's liberalisation of the British economy is that so much of the British economy is no longer British. Jaguar LandRover? Indian. Rolls-Royce Motors? German. LTI, makers of the iconic black London taxi? Chinese. Cadbury's? American. Bus and train Arriva? German (Deutsche Bahn). Jiffy - makers of the Jiffy bag? Italian. Pilkington Glass? Japanese. British Oxygen? German. ARM - makers of semiconductors and microprocessors? Japanese. Freightliner? American.

Good thing or bad thing? Britons will find out soon enough in the eventuality of a hard no-deal Brexit, when many foreign-owned corporations will leave the UK's shores for somewhere with easier access to the world's most prosperous trading bloc. British stakeholders in these businesses will have little to say should they decide to up roots and move elsewhere.

The year is 1991. Poland is on its knees. Poland is in ruins. The only way is up. But how? The answer then was foreign direct investment. Without the inflow of foreign capital, technology and management know-how, Poland's GDP per capita would be on a par with that of Kazakhstan. In 1991 there was no Polish capital around to fix all the things that were broken in the economy. People's savings had been devastated by inflation that peaked at over 800%.

Foreign money turned the country around. But today? Over the years, Polish business, companies owned by private Polish individuals, have done very well. Determined and energetic, with no inherited wealth to fall back on, Polish entrepreneurs have built strong companies that are resilient and expansive. Many are exporting, some are even investing abroad (Telefonika Kable, for example, bought the British firm JDR Cables, SKB Drivetech of Radomsko bought Webster Drives of Bolton).

In 2004 as Poland joined the EU, around 85% of Polish goods exported to the UK was manufactured by foreign-owned factories in Poland - cars, car parts, white goods, electronics. Today, that percentage had fallen to around 55%, the rest being made by Polish-owned factories. So Poland is getting stronger, more self-reliant, Polish capital is being re-invested in Polish business.

Foreign capital should still be welcome, but foreign technologies more welcome than just plain jobs.

But should PKN Orlen be advertising Polish juices?

Why not? Can't hurt. It can help. Poland is suffering from a glut of apples this season; turning them into juice and selling it at petrol stations is one answer to the apple-farmers' woes. Use state-directed money to tackle a social problem might not be Thatcherite, but it's practical.

My bottom line is this: I love patriots, hate nationalists. What's the difference? Patriots love their country rather than hating others. Nationalism is about raising one's national self-esteem at the expense of other nations, other human beings. Economic patriotism is thinking "what can I do with my money to help the nation's economy?" while economic nationalism is about hurting foreign capital with phoney barriers to business, unfair court rulings, or fiscal treatment. Different, unspoken, rules of the same economic game for outsiders. No, the playing field should be level. As Poland gets richer, Polish firms grow, employ more people, add more value, pay more taxes. But not at the expense of the foreign investor.

This time last year:
Things pass, things go, things remain the same

This time two years ago:
Feels like the U.S.A. again

This time three years ago:
In search of Wałbrzych's Gold Train

This time five years ago:
Warsaw's craft ale revolution kicks off

This time seven years ago:
Poland's president inaugurates Moni's academic year 

This time nine years ago:
Autumn evening, central Warsaw

This time ten years ago:
Short-term future of suburban development

This time 11 years ago:
"You'll look funny when you're fifty"