Monday, 31 December 2018

2018 - a year in numbers

It is now exactly five years since I began tracking - on a daily basis - my key health and fitness metrics.

It's been another good year for health and fitness, logged over time since 2014. Another record year for walking - 11,400 paces a day every day on average across the entire year! Since I started keeping tabs every day, on 1 January 2014, I've walked over 1.9 million paces, which is around 15,600km. The equivalent of the distance from London to the Bering Strait. It's also around two hours of walking a day, every day. A bad dose of flu in January resulted in a monthly average of less than 8,000 that month, but I still caught up and easily exceeded 2017's total.

Reduced alcohol consumption is the result of Public Health England nudging me down from its old guideline (28 units a week for men, which I exceeded anyway), down through the more recent 21 units a week target two years in a row; now the guideline has been set at 14 units a week - a tough target but an ambition for years ahead! This year, I downed 1,025 units of alcohol, the equivalent of 25 litres of vodka, 105 bottles of wine or 410 half-litre glasses of beer (5%). Average weekly intake, 19.7 units. Strip out those non-drinking days, and on the days I am drinking, my daily average is 6.1 units. "The Lord above made liquor for temptation but/With a little bit of luck, with a little bit of luck/When temptation comes you'll give right in!" My guide is not to drink empty units - drink with friends, drink to celebrate (indeed, life should be a celebration), and drink to release the creativity and write. But never out of boredom.

Measurable and manageable
2014   2015  2016  2017  2018
Paces per day
walked (average
across year)
 9,800  10,70010,600 11,000 11,400
Alcohol consumed
(units per week)
 33.4 28.025.0


Alcohol-free days
over course of year
 94 123



Days without any
physical training

14883 27
Push-ups per day N/A

N/A 2560
Portions of fresh
fruit & veg per day

5.0 5.25.3

The number of days of the year during which I did no physical training continues to fall. This means zero push-ups, zero pull-ups and zero weights exercises. The number is declining as I get more self-disciplined. A big thanks once again to Michal Borzyskowski from Australia for his continued encouragement. My weights routine has seen me move up from 1kg to 1.5kg to 2kg to 2.5kg and now up to 5kg weights for internal and external rotations, and the lateral lifts. Nine repetitions of each. Pull-ups (chin-ups) - my best for this year is 16, but 10 is a good number. Push-ups - these have gone well, requiring no apparatus, I can do them wherever I am on my travels. Average daily number for 2018 was 60 (30 each morning, 30 each evening - that's an average remember, with a maximum of 50 which I managed twice. And that's an average of 30 despite those 27 days during which I did none).

On to dietary matters - we're still being told s to aim for ten portions of fresh fruit and veg with the emphasis more on the veg than the fruit. Still, the trend continues to be good, nudging up to 5.3 portions per day, averaged across 2018.

New Year's resolutions must be sustainable the whole year round if they are to make any sense. In 2014, I kicked off enthusiastically with the exercises, then tailed off early. In 2018, I plugged away for longer, setting myself a goal to beat 2017 in every metric. It's not about perfection - it's about improvement; constant improvement.

But our goals must be more than physical, more than just due care for our shell of foam. My primary goal remains to deepen my understanding of our sentient existence upon this planet. Consciousness, memory, self, purpose - the universe. More reading, more writing. More questioning, more observations. More interesting conversations.

This time last year:
2017 - a year in numbers

This time two years ago:
2016 - a year in numbers

This time three years ago:
2015 - a year in numbers

This time four years ago:
Economic forecasts for 2014 - and 2015?

This time five years ago:
Economic predictions for 2014

This time six years ago:
Economic predictions for 2013

This time seven years ago:
Economic predictions for 2012

This time eight years ago:
Classic cars, West Ealing

This time nine years ago:
Jeziorki 2009, another view

This time ten years ago:
Jeziorki 2008, another view

This time 11 years ago:
Final thoughts for 2007

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Explorations of a largely unknown Ealing

Today I directed my walking south of the Uxbridge Road, between Northfields and South Ealing stations, discovering local streets and footpaths that I have never walked along, despite them being little more than a mile from where I spent a significant part of my life.

Some of the streets around here are well known to me; there's Elers Road - on the corner with Northfields Avenue, Pan Rozwadowski had his Polski Sklep here back in the 1960s and '70s; there's Walpole Park, backing on what used to be the main Ealing Public Library until the shopping centre opened in the 1980s; there's Lammas Park between Northfields Ave and Walpole Park. These two adjacent parks allow one to walk all the way from Northfields station to Ealing Broadway through greenery, away from the traffic's incessant roar. However, I had many streets to explore around here.

I turn off the main thoroughfare to seek out the paths less trodden. Mattock Lane yields the sight of St John's church, built in 1876 to accommodate the newcomers to West Ealing as working-class housing expanded into fields and orchards. Click to enlarge - look at the seagulls on the ridge of the church roof.

From Mattock Lane, I turn down a footpath named Radbourne Walk, separated from the busy Northfields Avenue by allotment gardens. And here I chance upon a row of Victorian 'model cottages' (below) - they are tiny (two small rooms on a single storey, another row on top). Built in 1869.

Below: corner of Carew Gardens looking into Lyncroft Gardens and an Edwardian pillar box - note royal cypher E VII R - serving Edwardian housing. "It's grand to be an Englishman in 1910 - King Edward's on the throne, it is the age of men", to quote the Sherman Brothers' libretto to Mary Poppins. For the reasonably well-to-do who lived here in those days, it was a splendid place; electric Central Line tube trains could take them to the City from Ealing Broadway in a little over half an hour, and the surrounding parkland gave a semblance of countryside.

Below: north-east corner of Lammas Park; note the turret feature on the house across Elers Road; many Ealing houses at ends of roads have turrets to this day. So much greenery, even in midwinter. British gardeners were always adept in choosing evergreens to give year-round verdure.

Below: cheaper late-Victorian or early-Edwardian housing across the road from Lammas Park, its gates protected by a small lodge house.

Below: St Mary's church, dating back to the 12th century, was Ealing's original parish church. Falling into disrepair in the 18th century, it was rebuilt in its current shape in the 1870s. In the foreground, the Rose & Crown; the atmosphere here resembling a village rather than a suburb.

Below: corners of quaintness are still to be found in Ealing. This is St Mary's Square, the building to the left being the old fire station. Reminding us of times when Ealing was still a village, before the railway came and began to turn it into a suburb from the 1840s on.

Left: how many lifelong residents of Ealing can say where this row of almshouses is located? South of St Mary's church, Little Ealing, it was built at the very end of the 19th century to house the elderly of the parish. These replaced mid-18th century almshouses that were knocked down to build a parade of shops, one of which features in the next photo...

Below: looking like it might have done 80 or 90 years ago, the North Star pub and next to it, a restored 'ghost sign' above the side of Flight Centre, a travel agent's shop on the Mall, where it meets the Broadway, on the Uxbridge Road.

The area around South Ealing and Lammas Park often appeared in Monty Python sketches. In 1999, Michael Palin (now Sir Michael) shot a short documentary entitled Pythonland, in which he revisits the locations of several well-loved sketches. The sketches were filmed nearly half a century ago, Pythonland was made nearly 20 years ago - interesting to see how this part of Ealing has changed since then.

Well worth watching - and proof is offered to those who doubt me, that 'the Uxbridge Road' is always preceded by the definite article.

Bonus quiz: two old(ish) cars, one a classic, the other less so. Name them (winner is the person who provides most details). One looks longer than its owner's house is wide!

This time last year:
Eric Ravilious

This time three years ago:
Dark thoughts at 2015 comes to an end
[Got that one right then, eh!]

This time four years ago:
Shots from the sky

This time five years ago:
One-millionth of a zloty 

This time seven years ago:
Random year-end thoughts

This time eight years ago:
Beery litter louts

This time nine years ago:
Miserable grey London

This time ten years ago:
Parrots in Ealing

This time 11 years ago:
Xmas lites, Jeziorki

Saturday, 29 December 2018

The world didn't end on 21 December 2012.

But did it start to end then?

Just over six years and one week ago, on 21 December 2012, the world was going to end, according to those who believed in a apocalyptic interpretation of the Mayan Long Count calendar. As it moved from the 13th into the 14th b'ak'tun - a change that happens every 5,126 years - expectations of cataclysmic or transformative events were raised.

Of course the world's sophisticates poo-pooed such primitive nonsense. Nothing happened of note happened that day.

And yet, and yet... Life is cyclical in nature, there are indeed many long waves - economic, political, historical; what goes round is said to come around. It could well be that 21 December 2012 marked an inflection point, a tipping point, anacyclosis, in the historical era that we are currently living through.

I'd posit that the world as we knew it ended on or about 21 December 2012. We stepped into a new world in 2013, and it's not been as nice.

With each passing year, 2012 looks like a golden time, marvellous, happy and peaceful for much of the world - certainly in Poland and in the UK. The word 'Brexit' had only just been coined (a portmanteau word copying the word 'Grexit' - Greece's putative departure from the eurozone). The first use of the word Grexit occurred in February 2012, 'Brexit' was coined in May 2012, to be used, at that time, almost exclusively by political pundits. And one year earlier, Trump announced that he would not be running in the 2012 presidential race. Meanwhile in Russia, Putin eased himself back into a warm seat at the Kremlin, following an election tainted by accusations of vote rigging and by widespread street protests.

In the heavens above us, the Curiosity lander began sending us amazing pictures from Mars, as it continues to do (latest uploads last week). On earth, the Higgs boson is found, as predicted, by scientists using CERN's Large Hadron Collider; another subatomic particle that pieces together to form the Standard Model framework.

Meanwhile, the summer of 2012 was one of joyous sporting events - the London Olympics, preceded by the Euro2012 held jointly by Poland and Ukraine. In the UK, the opening and closing ceremonies brought a nation together so brilliantly that few could have predicted how much social hostility has been brought about by Brexit, the consequence of a referendum that few today can deny was influenced to a significant degree by Russia. And in America, Barack Obama was on course to be reelected; a good man (though perhaps one who dangerously underestimated the Russian threat), a thoroughly decent human being.

Today the Western world is far, far messier than it was on 21 December 2012. Brexit is impending, and seemingly there's no way out. Either the economic disaster of a no-deal hard Brexit, or Theresa May's negotiated withdrawal that robs the UK of its say within the world's wealthiest trading bloc while still following EU rules and contributing to its budget, or scuppering the whole bent enterprise, which will annoy a significant minority. In the US, the Democrats take over the House of Representatives, while Special Counselor Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election - and Trump's alleged collusion, grinds on.

It may well be that by the end of 2019, Trump will no longer be in the White House, and will be occupying a different government building. And if so, and if it can quickly - and without any shadow of a doubt - be shown that Russia swung the November 2016 election - it will then be up to the UK government to prove that similar mechanisms were at play in the run-up to the Brexit referendum. No government has any mandate to deliver the result of a referendum blemished by the wide-scale interference of an unfriendly foreign power.

I keep my fingers crossed; up till the end of 2012, I have witnessed life getting better, year on year; the fall of the Berlin Wall, Poland's spectacular economic rise, the continued new benefits brought to us by technology; as I have written, I am the first generation of Dembinskis not to be caught up in a war for over 100 years - how long can the good times last?

War and inequality are part of the human condition. Wars in the traditional sense of mass mobilisations of men to go and shoot at one another seem to have subsided - no two nuclear powers have yet gone to all-out war. However, Russia is now effectively fighting the West with unconventional means, using the very tools the West has provided it with - technology. Social media, computer hacking, data analysis, off-shore banking, are all in everyday use against us, against our societies, driving wedges into differences among Western people, making us doubt and disbelieve, making us lose trust in our leaders and our political systems.

Putin - the master of judo - is playing opponents many times his weight and size by exploiting their weaknesses - and those weaknesses are not military by nature. But Putin can only play as hard as his budget allows. The Russian economy is desperately dependent on high raw-material prices. Cheap oil hits his military muscle. Unable to expand through innovation or consumer spending, Russia's GDP is unlikely to grow at more than a 1.5% to 2% crawl in 2019.

Watch Belarus. Watch Putin trying to strong-arm Lukashenka into ceding Belarus to Russia in some kind of fictional closer political union that will be tantamount to Anschluss. This will give Putin a direct land-bridge to Kaliningrad, allowing him to conduct more mischief against Poland and its Baltic neighbours. In particular, be mindful of Moscow's pernicious propaganda - useful fools are cheap to buy and easy to manipulate. Lech Wałęsa's warm words for Putin immediately put up my guard - all of a sudden he has become Agent Bolek, his legend flushed down the toilet.

Putin is a loyal scholar of Lenin. "When you push in the bayonet and feel mush, keep pushing. When you come across steel, withdraw." In 2019, the West must show more resolve, in particular around economic sanctions targeting oligarchs and Putin's cronies, hitting their Western bank accounts.

Are we in the early days of a 'bad' long cycle, coming after a quarter-century-long 'good' long cycle? Will 2019 see the ebbing of a bad tide? It is what I wish for all of us.

This time three years ago:
Hybrid driving - the verdict
[Sadly, my hopes expressed here of being able to hire an electric car to do London-Derby "in a few years' time" have come to nought...]

This time five years ago:
Pitshanger Lane in the sun

This time nine years ago:
Miserable, grey, wet London

This time ten years ago:
Parrots in Ealing

This time 11 years ago:
Heathrow to Okęcie

Friday, 28 December 2018

2018 - a year in journeys

Since giving Google permission to follow me via my Android smartphone (in November 2013), my Google Maps timeline has been building up. Over those past five years and two months, I have a pictorial record of my travels, and an interesting picture it is too.

Here's the map (below), with the red dots representing a place at which I spent at least a couple of hours. Most obvious point - I have not once in those five years travelled outside of this box. A lot of travel around Poland and the UK, two brief business trips to Germany - and that's it.

My last summer holiday was in July 2014, in North Wales. Since then short breaks in Poland, Christmas visits to my brother in Derbyshire, regular visits to my father in West London, and a vast amount of business travel.

Looking at Poland, the map shows far more visits to the south of the country than to the north. This is mainly work-related (most UK manufacturing investment in Poland is stretched out along the A4 corridor from Wrocław to Rzeszów via Katowice and Kraków).

Other interesting facts - in five years I flew through Warsaw's Okęcie airport 96 times, 'London' Luton Airport 64 times (that's 64 times too many); I visited Auchan 96 times, with Lidl in second place (81 visits), while Waitrose in West Ealing was my top UK supermarket destination with 22 visits.

And how did 2018 fit into the scheme of things? Less dense, but a similar picture. (The blue circles represent a business trip.)

My guess is - barring accident, war or other catastrophe, 2019 will look pretty similar to 2018!

This time six years ago:
Wise words about motoring

This time seven years ago:
Hurry up and wait with WizzAir at Luton

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Christmas round-up

A much shorter visit to my brother's in Derbyshire this Christmas, but enough time to go for an hour-long country walk with Moni before Boxing Day gammon. Not a record-breaking warm day (that was 2015, when 14C was recorded), but a pleasant enough afternoon.

Left: "Run at it, shouting!" We had to make it through a field with a bull in it, but despite Moni's red coat, it left us well alone as we descended across increasingly muddy fields towards the heritage Ecclesbourne Valley railway line (nothing running between 24 and 29 December).

Below: one of the most photographed scenes on my blog! This classic gate'n'valley shot makes its fourth appearance [previous ones here, here and here].

Below: "Drive me back to Ealing/When the evening ends." Pitshanger Lane looking festive.

Hire car this year was a five-door Mini. Biggest gripe with it - reverse gear being immediately to the left of 1st, without a detente or notch protecting it. All too easy to shove the car in reverse at traffic lights. Second (smaller) gripe - where the audio volume/channel control is on the steering wheel on most cars, Mini has placed the speed limiter. So there I am trying to adjust the volume on the car radio, and what I've done is limited the speed to 36 mph as I'm accelerating onto the motorway... A mistake one makes once (had to pull into services to check the manual), but the reverse gear thing was a constant issue. Otherwise, a nice car for the purpose.

This time two years ago:
Derbyshire at Christmas

This time three years ago:
Across the High Peaks

This time four years ago:
Derbyshire's rolling landscapes

This time five years ago:
Our Progress Around the Sceptr'd Isle 

This time six years ago:
Out and about in Duffield
Christmas Break

This time seven years ago:
Boxing Day walk in Derbyshire

This time eight years ago 
This time ten years ago:
This time 11 years ago:

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Betjeman and spirit of place

A lifetime during which my favourite poet has been and will be John Betjeman; the poet of suburbia and social insecurity, transience of life, nostalgia, and yes, spirit of place.

My introduction to the works of Betjeman came in September 1972; I had just started the fourth year at grammar school, and English literature classes kicked off in the autumn term with an anthology of poetry entitled Poets of our Time (edited by F.E.S. Finn). The first poem by the first of the ten poets was Betjeman's Upper Lambourn, and it immediately resonated with me in the way that no poet before had ever done (and by then, we'd covered Wordsworth, Keats, Byron, Tennyson etc).

Here was something tangible, familiar, a sense of being there, having not been there... from the first very lines I'd read;  "Up the ash tree climbs the ivy/Up the ivy climbs the sun..." I liked all the Betjeman poems in the book and only a handful of the rest (by Charles Causley, Ted Hughes, Laurie Lee).

A month later, in October 1972, Sir John Betjeman was appointed Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, and was considered at the time the nation's favourite poet. Certainly by then, mine too.

And on 26 February 1973, the BBC showed Sir John Betjeman's Metro-land, a televisual poem. This took Betjeman up to another level for me. Metro-land, his exploration of the Metropolitan Railway, from Baker Street all the way out to remote villages in deepest Buckinghamshire, was a revelation. It prompted a long series of journeys - by family car, by train, by bicycle, later in my own car, to seek out the spirit, the mood, the atmosphere of place that Betjeman had captured.

As I wrote yesterday, the qualia, those moments of subjective experience of consciousness, are of vital interest to me in terms of who we are, our place on earth, associations of where we are from.

Betjeman could conjure up those feelings with a run of a few words, like a great painter bringing to mind the experience of being there with a few brush strokes, or a great musician painting a picture with a short series of notes. Betjeman was more about place than people; and so am I (in contrast to my daughter, an avid student of people's stories, soap-opera construction and the human condition. My son, like me, is acutely conscious of spirit of place). Like Betjeman (as you will see in the Summoned by Bells TV programme linked below), I am perfectly happy in the solitude of my own company, moving around the landscape, observing, sensing spirit of place.

And set those words to moving pictures, and as I watched Metro-land for the first time, I wanted to head out there and feel it myself, an atavistic yearning for Edwardian England, the 1910s, an era I could feel in the stones and bricks of the Hanwell and Ealing in which I grew up. Below: Cleveland Park, a view I remember from childhood, long before we moved here (though the bench was different - green-painted wrought-iron frame, darker wood planking). And I remember the aluminium-tubed bus shelter, from where the 65A would set off on its long journey to Chessington Zoo, Copt Gilders Estate or Leatherhead. Which Sir John would have no doubt pronounced with a stress on the head.

Does Poland have a Betjeman? Well, we have our literary reportagistes - Jacek Hugo-Bader, Filip Springer, heirs of the great Ryszard Kapuściński - but poets that revel in the everyday, with a hankering for the near-bygone? Poland's 'near-bygone' is the communist era, and among those who lived through it there's little positive sentiment. True, today's hipster designers draw on the visual styling cues of 1950s and '60s Poland, but a belief that a golden age has just slipped by and that Poland should draw on the values and culture of the immediate past belongs to a rather odd fringe.

But will Poland have a Betjeman? Betjeman was an Edwardian who looked back at the Victorian era with nostalgia, and then, in later life, looked back at the 1930s as a golden age. He saved St Pancras Station, but did not live to see it reemerge in glory. A Polish Betjeman may emerge in 20 or 30 years' time, fascinated by the chaotic jumble that was the 1990s and the great leap forward that followed Poland's EU accession. Spirit of place - yes, it's there to be found, documented, captured in poetry, music and the visual arts.

What would Sir John have made of Brexit? What poems would have poured from his pen? We don't know - his voice today would be irrelevant in this age of social media and instant gratification; we can of course readily knock out some parodies in his style - but that's all they would be, for he is a poet of his age, his time, and his place. "Largely, it was a longing for the past/With a slight sense of something unfulfilled" [Summoned by Bells, 1976].

Watch it, and enjoy being taken back to Edwardian England.

This time last year:
What did YOU do in the First World Cyber War?

This time two years ago:
Solstice sunset, Gogolińska

This time seven years ago
Extreme fixie

This time nine years ago:
Poland's worst railway station

This time ten years ago:
Last Christmas before the Recession?

Friday, 21 December 2018

Streets of my childhood, again

Spirit of place, flashbacks to childhood memories. When I'm at my father's and I have a bit of time, I will wonder down through West Ealing to Hanwell to connect with where I am from. I walked this way to school each morning as a small boy for seven years, observing. Crucial to spirit of place is the texture of reality, those qualia, those moments of conscious experience of being there. And I am drawn to relive those qualia... Sensory inputs and their effect on emotion, on the me-ness of being me. Knowing where one's from is essential to rooting your consciousness's place in the universe.

Below: Oaklands Road Primary School, which I attended from September 1962 to July 1969. Happy days!

Below: this was the parade of shops, just round the corner from our house on Croft Gardens. From left to right: Lawrence the Butchers (now a private house); Oaklands Hardware; DeVee Hair Fashions...

Below: a 'Polski Sklep', this used to be Tanner's newsagents and confectioners; then W.J. George the grocers; and then with brown paper bags, earthy spuds and chromed scale-pans, the greengrocers.

Below: and on the corner of Oaklands Road and Grosvenor Road, the Grosvenor pub, the air outside heavy with the smell of spilt ale and stale tobacco smoke. Built in 1904, by the time I was a boy, the pub was just over half a century old; a passage of time lesser than that which has elapsed since the early 1960s. Up Grosvenor Road, I discover that legendary British-motorbike shop Reg. Allen on the corner of Hatfield Road, closed this summer after 60 years in business; the premises will be turned to flats.

Hanwell of my childhood - below, the public library on Cherington Road. I walked in expecting to be greeted by the smell of floor-polish and well-thumbed books, the sight of elderly gents browsing the day's newspapers in silence, but was disappointed - the building's interior no longer contains that smell which I can so vividly recall and can so readily bring to mind. Much as level-access is welcome, the ramp does upset the visual proportions of the front elevation.

Below: next door to the library, another building that was important in my childhood. This is Cherington House, built in the late 1830s, which during the 1960s served as an NHS paediatric clinic. I'd come here with my mother to collect bottled orange juice and cod-liver oil, and to have my baby brother weighed.

Below: usually we'd go home along the Uxbridge Road, sometimes down Boston Road (below), a run-down area then as it is now.

Below: a brief familiarity; from September 1969 to May 1970, I'd travel dach day to my new school, Gunnersbury Grammar, by Piccadilly line train from Boston Manor station to Acton Town. Paint Your Wagon was showing at the cinemas. The smell of that early autumn, my last in Hanwell, 1969, I can recall it as though it were yesterday. And then we moved to West Ealing, and new routes to school were found. But for nine months I'd stand on the platform here every morning and await the Cockfosters train.

The platform dates back to 1883, while the station building on Boston Manor Road is a Grade II-listed Charles Holden design from the 1930s.

This time last year:
Jeziorki - swans and bonus shots

This time three years ago:
A conspiracy to celebrate

This time four years ago:
The Mythos and the Logos in Russia

This time five years ago:
Going mobile - I get a smartofon

This time six years ago:
The world was meant to end today 

This time seven years ago:
First snow - but proper snow?

The time eight years ago: 
Dense, wet, rush hour snow

This time nine years ago:
Evening photography, Powiśle

This time ten years ago:
The shortest day of the year

This time 11 years ago:
Bye bye borders - Poland joins Schengen

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Manhole Covers of Hanwell and West Ealing

As then as today; Old Manhole Covers of Hanwell and West Ealing. Look down to seek your heritage. This is the texture of reality; small eyes in a pushchair gazing down on the pavement as it trundles underneath - and then these...

Left: Borough of Ealing (not London Borough, you under- stand, so 1926-1960), with the name of the makers of this fire hydrant.
Right: METESCO, the Metro- politan Electricity Supply Com- pany, active between 1899 and 1926. The electricity came from the Acton Lane Power Station.

Incidentally, if you think being interested in manhole covers is a bit odd, this is a hobby of Jeremy Corbyn...
Left: Post-Office Telegraphs, manhole cover from between 1896 and 1912 (when the telephone network was nationalised).

Right: post-1912 Post Office Telephones manhole cover. The streets of West London - history beneath your feet. Click to enlarge.

Left: maker's mark on a pavement, Clitheroe Road, Hanwell. As increasing stretches are being relaid, with ordinary asphalt rather than paving slabs, the character of the street subtly changes, and with it, inexorably, does spirit of place.

This time last year:
Lublin, just before Christmas

This time two years ago:
The best of Warsaw's Christmas illuminations

This time three years ago:
Changes on ul. Baletowa
[A year later, the 715 and 737 bus routes would  start to serve this street]

This time five years ago:
UK migration - don't blame the Poles

This time six years ago:
Jacek Hugo Bader's Biała Gorączka reviewed

This time seven years ago:
Thoughts upon the death of the Dear Leader

This time eight years ago:
Global warming or climate change?

This time nine years ago:
Progress along the S79

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Brexit: the price of populism

There are but three scenarios, all three look impossible.

1) Mrs May's deal pays money to the EU, keeps the UK under EU laws for some while, threatens to split the United Kingdom, while at the same time taking the UK out of the EU's decision-making processes. It is stupid.

2) The no-deal scenario sees the UK crashing out of the EU from one day to the next, without regard as to how trade will flow - things like food and medicines and bank transfers and pensions. It is suicidal.

3) The UK comes to its senses, realises that it was lied to by charlatans, disaster capitalists, unfriendly foreign powers, and that being a member of the EU was no bad thing. But this means going back on the referendum result.

After two and half years of hapless negotiation, with an unhealthy rotation of key ministers, the UK has a withdrawal agreement that satisfies neither the 'hard' Brexiteers who demand a clean break with the EU and its institutions, and the Remainers, who, well, want the UK to remain in the EU. The result is that Mrs May's deal commands neither a parliamentary majority nor popular support.

Current polling (poll of polls) shows that in a three-way referendum, that is Remain vs Leave with Deal vs Crash out with No Deal, Remain comes first, followed by no deal, with deal somewhere down there at the bottom. In a two-way vote, Remain beats No Deal, but No Deal beats Leave with Deal, and Remain beats Leave with Deal. Were there to be a second referendum, the key issue would be - "what's the question". The second issue would be "is there time to prepare a referendum before 29 March, the day when, should there not be any agreed deal in place, the UK crashes out of the EU.

The prospect of a general election could break this log jam, but the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011 requires a vote of no confidence in the government, or a two-thirds majority voting for an early general election [the English language lacks the word przedterminowy - 'before the due date']. The chance of Tory rebels voting against their party and government to create a situation in which Labour - headed by the most left-wing party leader since Michael Foot - could win power - is slim.

And so the logjam continues, with no direction shown. Meanwhile, business is taking steps to avoid the disruption that sudden customs checks would cause at the border ports, and the regulatory disruption of the financial services sector losing passporting rights. Thousands of UK manufacturing firms have already set up production and/or logistics facilities on the continent to ensure continuity of supply to their clients. Many large UK financial institutions established new business entities on the continent (or Ireland) which are fully compliant with EU regulations. London's loss is Brussels' or Paris's gain.

These two and half years of uncertainty have also held back investment in the UK, have dented consumer confidence (November 2018 was the worst month for retailing 'in living memory') and have focused the attention of government on Brexit at the expense of other problems, social and economic.

A country which once led the G7 in terms of economic growth has become the rich world's laggard.

And over in the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin is feeling very satisfied. He loathes the EU - loathes the way that 28 countries can cooperate peacefully to construct a single market - and has been doing his best to rip it apart. And it's working. Strikes in Paris, Merkel leaving the stage - and at this time when the UK and its allies in Scandinavia and Central Europe could be recreating the EU, no longer in the direction chosen by the Paris-Berlin axis - the UK is leaving. And the UK faces the threat of falling apart itself. Putin's long-term hybrid war with the West is paying off; his agents, his slush-funds, his troll armies, his useful idiots, all weapons in his armoury, have helped fragment the unity of the West that acted as a bulwark against Russian revanchism for so long.

There is hope, and it's to be found in Washington. Three of Trump's people will be starting prison sentences. More will follow. The investigations into Trump's links with Russia (that go back to 1984) will undoubtedly reveal the seriousness of Russia's plot to install Trump into the White House. And there are many links between the way Russia did that with the way Russia worked to ensure a Leave win in the Brexit referendum. Should these facts come out into the open by the the middle of January, when Mrs May presents her Withdrawal Agreement to Parliament for a vote, new facts that by then might have come to light may change the outcome.

This time two years ago:
News from Nowa Iwiczna

This time three years ago:
Modern governance for a complex world (prescient post!)

This time four years ago:
Contagion - CEE's foreign-exchange markets 

This time five years ago:
Muddy Karczunkowska

This time seven years ago:
Ul. Trombity - a step closer to dry feet?

This time eight years ago:
Matters of style

This time nine years ago:
Real winter hits Warsaw

This time ten years ago:
This is not Mazowsze, no?

Friday, 14 December 2018

Alcohol - your servant, not your master

The quote is Churchill's. I cannot envisage a life without alcohol, but then nor can I contemplate being dependent on alcohol. December is a month for knocking it back - but in measure. Indeed, if you can't measure it, you can't manage it.

This afternoon, after four days without any drink whatever, I was imbibing copiously at our staff Christmas party, an occasion to let the wine flow and the Slavic souls to open to one another. Splendid stuff! Such is the essence of human life, the tribe together, celebrating, encouraging, expressing gratitude. Plentiful wine (seven generous glasses), denied by none, an essential ingredient. A great bunch of people I work with!

In the big picture, I have scaled back my alcohol intake. I've been doing so over the past five years, since I began logging paces walked, exercise, diet and drink, and I'm nicely on target to be below 20 units a week over the course of this year. This is, however, well above the new NHS limit of 14 units for men and women, but well below the 28 units for men that used to be the norm for years since a new puritanism took hold in the health service. 14 units or below is for, well, Mormons.

I've stopped buying wine or beer for home consumption - these days, I generally limit drinking to social drinking, a glass or two of wine with dinner, the infrequent beer night with the London boys, a family celebration.

Does alcohol make one more creative? I find that it does, but again there needs to be an aim - if I know I'm going to be writing, a glass of wine or a bottle of beer does open new perspectives, make my mind more apt to coin new metaphors... I can't remember which Polish writer it was, but asked about drinking and writing, she said that she writes sober, but edits her texts under the influence. With me, it's the other way round!

Being in control is the thing; not so much knowing when to stop, as knowing at what rate to pour it in to achieve an optimal effect. In other words, the measured approach. Know when to drink, how to drink, and why. I've pretty much stopped drinking altogether when there's no reason. I don't reach for the bottle of an evening at home after work any more - it's an easy and lazy routine to get into. This year I'll have had quite a few more drink-free days than ones when I knocked something back.

But it is, if treated correctly, a spiritual thing - note the importance of wine in Catholicism and Judaism. It opens the Doors of Perception, it allows for a different perspective that enhances creativity. I find those anomalously familiar qualia flashbacks [past-life experiences] happen more frequently after a few wines or beers, but this is not to say they don't happen when sober.

Finding that balance is the key - it's easy not to drink at all, but that's a killjoy approach to life. I've managed 26 consecutive Lents without a drop of alcohol, each one being 46 days on the trot - it's no big deal. Not drinking during Lent is hugely beneficial to body and soul.

It's so much easier, however, to let oneself go and hit the bottle at every opportunity - this carries obvious health risks - but above all, the over-familiarity with intoxication takes away its essential magic. Don't drink empty units - in other words don't drink out of boredom, do not drink because 'drink'. Drink for companionship, drink for the new insights and perceptions that can be turned into creative uses. Like with many aspects of life, there must be a purpose.

A propos past life... This morning I woke around 4am with the words 'Jerome Camp' in my mind. Just those two words. "Interesting," I thought, as I dropped off back to sleep. I woke up finally around 7am remembering those two words. "Must mean something. I shall google them". I did. Wow.

This time three years ago:
Classic car quiz, 2015

This time four years ago:
Classic British Car Quiz, 2014

This time five years ago:
The poet's gift - an exploration into Why One Writes

This time six years ago:
Advertising H&M on Warszawa Centralna station

This time nine years ago:
Jeziorki in the snow

This time 11 years ago:
Staying Underground: Piccadilly Circus

Monday, 10 December 2018

Consciousness, memory, spirit of place and the Youness of being You

Back briefly in Ealing, I'm strolling again through those familiar streets of my childhood, passing my old nursery school on the corner of The Avenue and Arlington Road, West Ealing. A drear December day, none too cold, generic enough to put me in mind of many such days between late autumn and early spring from yesteryear. Grey skies, wet pavements, damp and leafless London-plane trees. The memories of childhood evoked by sights that had seeped into my subconsciousness many decades ago - not things I'd consciously observed and memorised as a child - more the klimat, the atmosphere of what I saw and felt. Memories of place that had seeped into my subconsciousness many decades ago [intentional repetition].

This is extremely important in understanding who you are. Freudians may look back at incidents involving you and your mother in your childhood, incidents that you may, or may not, recall. For me, it's spirit of place, where you are really from, that anchors your soul, if you will. For what is soul, spirit, if not the immaterial essence of your existence?

As I have written may a time before, science - for all its glories, for all the progress it has granted us - has yet to discover the seat of human consciousness. Crucial to consciousness is memory, and again, science has yet to explain how or where or by what process these deepest memories - memories of qualia - are formed or stored. Memory to do with movement, reaction, speech - instinctive memory, muscle memory - yes, this has been thoroughly researched and mapped. It's used all the time in daily life; you don't 'remember' to breathe, nor to command your heart to beat; it just happens. Movement is a constant occurrence. But in terms of memory, within a body in which molecules are shed and replaced continually, where are those oldest recollections stored? They are at the heart of the youness of you.

The subjective experience of you being you and no one else remains, in scientific terms, a mystery.

It is down to the artist, then, to capture those fleeting moments of consciousness and those subconscious memories, evocations of qualia; in watercolours, in words, in music. In the search for what it means to be human, creating a work that will resonate with audiences across geographies and ages is proof that the artist possesses a consciousness. And proof that the artist has that rare ability to project from it, to extract from it from the depths of memory, and mood with which the audience can associate. And build on it, as we as a species, rise from the bestial towards the angelic.

This time last year:
Polish Perivale

This time two years ago:
Power in the vertical

This time six years ago:
And still they come [anomalous flashbacks that is]

This time seven years ago:
Classic glass

This time eight years ago:
What's the Polish for 'pattern'?

This time ten years ago:
"Rorate caeli de super nubes pluant justum..."

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Still takes time to collect fares...

I boarded the southbound train for Chynów at W-wa Jeziorki, and being without a valid ticket for the whole journey, I made my way bezzwłocznie (immediately, without delay, forthwith) to the first compartment of the first carriage from the front of the train to buy said ticket. This is because there's no ticket machine at W-wa Jeziorki. There were four people in front of me queuing for tickets. At Nowa Iwiczna, a woman asked whether she could get her ticket before mine. "Of course," I replied, not being in a hurry. As of September, I can now travel down to Zalesie Górne for free on my Karta Warszawiaka travel pass, so I only need to buy a ticket for the stretch between Zalesie Górne to Chynów and back.

It turns out the woman has a baby in a pram at the back of the train. She boarded at W-wa Okęcie; no ticket machine there either. So station by station, she's made her way from the back of the train to the front to buy her ticket, leaving the baby under the trustful eye of some babcias. She was heading to Zalesie Górne, two stops beyond Nowa Iwiczna. The train headed south as our conductor issued a couple of tickets. Soon, we were approaching Piaseczno station. There was still one person ahead of the woman. She was evidently stressed. At Piaseczno, ticket or no, she had to return to the rear part of the train to get back to her baby in the pram in good time to alight at Zalesie Górne, the very next stop. Her worry was that ticket inspectors would board at Piaseczno and fine her for travelling without a ticket. I could appreciate her predicament. These guys don't take any excuses.

The train slowed down and stopped at Piaseczno. There was still one passenger having his ticket issued. At this point the woman made the decision to go back to her baby and risk getting a fine on the final hop to Zalesie Górne. I watched her run to the back of the train and board just as the conductor blew the whistle. The train departed, the conductor returned to issuing tickets. At the next stop, I looked out and saw the woman being helped with her pram down onto the platform. Looks like she'd make it OK - there were no ticket inspectors working this particular train. And so Koleje Mazowieckie loses revenue from a passenger who was entirely willing, but unable to pay.

It was my turn to buy a ticket. "I would like a ticket from Zalesie Górne to Chynów and back, returning today. I have a Karta Warszawiaka, entitling me to free travel from W-wa Jeziorki to Zalesie Górne, and here is my ID card to prove that I'm entitled to a 30% discount on account of my advanced years." The conductor scans my Karta Warszawiaka, indeed, it is valid. She examines my ID card. "Year of birth, 1957 - yes, that's OK," she says. Now onto the ticket. "Cash or card?" she asks. "Card would be better, as I'm entirely out of loose change," she adds. "Card it must be then!" I reply, having a ten-zloty note and nothing smaller for the 8.84 zł fare. "With a card, I have to do this as two separate transactions," she says. Tapping away at the buttons of her hand-held online ticket machine, she enters the distance of the journey and discount codes, which takes a while, then prints out a single ticket, for which I pay 4.42 złotys with a tap of my credit card on her ticket machine. It prints a confirmation. The whole process is repeated for the return leg of my journey. Again, I touch the machine with my credit card, and a ticket with receipt for the remaining 4.42 zł is printed out.

By this time, the train is arriving at Ustanówek, the next stop. A queue of six people is now standing behind be, each with their own particular ticket with its own discount code. At the rate of one or maybe two passengers served between each station, it's obvious that not everyone will be able to buy a ticket before they reach their destination. Most stations on the Warsaw-Radom line do not have ticket offices or ticket machines.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in this situation myself - it was a weekday morning, I boarded at W-wa Jeziorki and waited obediently in the first compartment of the first carriage from the front of the train for the conductor, who never came. Working their way up the train, they didn't manage in time to get back down to the front before it drew into Chynów. So I got ofp without paying - although I had every intention of paying.

My point is this - train operator Koleje Mazowieckie is losing significant revenue as a result of clumsy ticketing. Things have moved on - 12 years ago I wrote (here, on my proto-blog) how all this looked before the advent of online handheld ticket machines, and every ticket sold on the train had to be physically written out by hand. In all honesty, it didn't take that much longer!

How many passengers will travel on beyond Chynów - which does have a ticket machine - from all those stations that don't down the line to Radom? Krężel, Michalczew and Gośniewice, the next three, don't... Below: the 11:46 train leaves Chynów for Radom.

If Koleje Mazowieckie needs some best practice to follow, may I recommend Wrocław's trams. The cashless unmanned ticket machines are simplicity themselves. The fare structure is simplified as far as possible, the passenger chooses which ticket to buy on a touch screen, taps the ticket machine with their credit/debit card, and the contract between the passenger and the tram operator is stored on the passenger's credit/debit card. Paperless. These machines are cheap enough to install two to each tram; no cash, no change, less security, more robust, no moving parts... Koleje Mazowieckie would do well to have these on board the train and leave the conductor to focus on safety and punctuality, rather than fumbling around for small change.

This time last year:
The triple benefits of walking

This time two years ago:
W-wa Jeziorki: new 'up' platform nearly ready

This time three years ago:
Tottenham Court Road station revisited

This time four years ago:
Zen and the Art of Publishing

This time six years ago:
Wrocław, another Polish city of neon

This time seven years ago:
Ronald Reagan remembered

This time eight years ago:
Accident of birth

This time ten years ago:
Under the Liberator

This time 11 years ago:
Jeziorki on old maps