Tuesday, 31 December 2019

2019 - a year in numbers

Will 2019 have been my peak year? On every measure, every one has been beaten. Walking more, drinking less, doing more exercise, eating more fresh fruit & veg. Daily walking - I cracked 12,000 paces a day, every day, on average. An hour-and-half to two hours a day, every day. Throughout the entire year.

Six years of daily measurement, augmented in the past three years by the Huawei Health App (according to which, I'm 'better' than 99.99% of users). "Beat yesterday" is Garmin's slogan. "Beat last year" is mine. Long-term rather than short-term metrics count.

So how did I do this year? Pretty good! What's the secret? The key is to never miss a day's 10,000 - with that as a basis, everything else builds up as a bonus. Compared to previous years, this year saw no great walkathons; several 20,000+ days, but nothing spectacular. Not in the table below - was 'moderate to high intensity' walking, of which every day this year I did an average of 24 minutes, according to Huawei Health. This metric was introduced to the app in November 2018. It's made me walk just that little bit faster.

Measurable and manageable
2014   2015  2016  2017  2018  2019
over year)
 9.8k  10.7k10.6k 11.0k 11.4k 12.0k
Alcohol drunk
33.4 19.718.5
Dry days over
course of year
 94 123



Days with zero
physical training

14883 27 17
Push-ups/day N/A

N/A 256090
Sets of weights

N/A2.1 2.2 2.3
Portions fresh


Bit of product placement here - pretty much every one of those 4.3 million paces I walked outdoors this year was in a pair of Loake shoes. No trainers, no wellies, no hiking boots - just four pairs of Loakes. Two pairs black, for office use, two pairs of ankle boots, for country walking.

Less alcohol consumed - still way off the NHS guidelines of 14 units a week, but a huge reduction from my late 50s, when in my first year of monitoring consumption, I averaged over 33 units a week. Key here is not to drink 'empty' units, purposeless drinking from boredom, keep the units for celebrations, for meet-ups, for dinners with friends, for sparkling chat.

More exercising. Planks - this year I managed less than a day's worth (22 hours), so more to do here. Press-ups are improving, as are weights - pull-ups are not so good. Left elbow gets sore if I overdo it on the exercise bar, so I did fewer (five a day averaged across the year) than in 2018 (seven a day). Overall - less 'lazy days' in which I couldn't find the motivation to exercise.

More fresh fruit and vegetables - just a small improvement, but moving in the right direction.

And blogging - second-highest output in terms of blog posts in since 2014, the year Twitter and Facebook caught up with and distracted me.

You may ask - what is the aim? I will answer: Pascal's Wager. In this case, I'm not betting on the existence of God (or otherwise), I'm betting that a healthy lifestyle will prolong years of active life. If I live to 100 in good form, you'll know why. My father set me a good goal - 96 and half years, 94 of which were 'active' (as in walking unaided, driving a car, mental acuity on form). If I sit back and do nothing, I will atrophy, my body will start winding down.

Ah yes - blood pressure. Today it was 116/80; last year it was 123/82. These are both average of three early-morning readings.

This time last year:
2019 - a year in numbers

This time two years ago:
2017 - a year in numbers

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

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

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

This time six years ago:
Economic predictions for 2014

This time seven years ago:
Economic predictions for 2013

This time eight years ago:
Economic predictions for 2012

This time nine years ago:
Classic cars, West Ealing

This time ten years ago:
Jeziorki 2009, another view

This time 11 years ago:
Jeziorki 2008, another view

This time 12 years ago:
Final thoughts for 2007

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Last night in Ealing, Twenty-teens

By the end of the 1920s, the world was slumping into Depression; by the end of the 1930s, it was at war. Eighty years later, we lived through the global economic crisis - ten years on, there's no major European conflict, but things are generally nastier than they were in 2010. As I observed here, we reached a tipping point towards the end of 2012 - that great year of the London Olympics and the Euro 2012 football championships across Poland and Ukraine. Since then - Putin invades Ukraine, Kaczyński, Brexit, Trump. Not unrelated phenomena. Will things get better? Will things get worse?

A new decade beckons - this will be the eighth that has touched my life. Had my father made it a couple more months, he'd have been experiencing his 11th - only his memories of the 1920s are deeper than mine of the 1950s.

I look to the skies and hope - and hope. I live in hope. The sky is clear, the sun has just gone down. A short walk is in order. On another short walk earlier today, I had the insight that maybe Good - the quality of goodness - is a physical property - like mass and energy - a universal goal, a target, an ambition, something naturally striven towards. Three steps forward, two steps back but over the millennia, we're moving in the right direction, haltingly, unsure of ourselves, full of doubts - are we any the wiser? It would be smug to say "I think so"; it would be overly pessimistic to answer "no".

Cleveland Road; come May, it will be 50 years since we moved in. Before that, the Dysons owned the house for 37 years since it was built. Cleveland Rd looked much like it did in the 1930s, here and there the occasional new development (like the one on the corner of Highview Rd), but the spirit of place remains. Bombs fell on Cleveland Rd during the Blitz but spared the houses along this stretch.

Here is Castlebar Park station; I remember one foggy evening in early 1970; my parents were house-hunting and had narrowed the search down to Cleveland Road. My father took me for a walk to see it, half-an-hour from home on Croft Gardens. We did, I liked it. It had atmosphere, it had spirit of place, it was posh, it was 1930s, Art Deco. On the way home, we walked down to Castlebar Park Halt, as it was called at the time. No trees, no CCTV, just two dimly-lit platforms and a footbridge. In the far distance, to the north, lights in the fog, the diesely purr of a green railcar, running the shuttle service between Greenford and Ealing Broadway. We alighted two stops down the line at West Ealing and walked home from there. My mind was full of impressions; Edwardian England, country railway branch lines, clerestory coaches, oil-lit halts, milk churns - and 1930s England, posh houses, cocktail cabinets, zigzag patterns, eau-de-Nil wallpaper, starchy perfumes, proper oak flooring and staircases.

May the 2020s run smoothly, please - no wars, no disasters, no mass outbreaks of evil. A quiet, boring decade will do me fine.

"...Take me back to Ealing/When the evening ends."

- Ian Dury

This time last year:
The Day the World Didn't End

This time four years ago:
Hybrid driving - the verdict

This time six years ago:
Pitshanger Lane in the sun

This time 10 years ago:
Miserable, grey, wet London

This time 11 years ago:
Parrots in Ealing

This time 12 years ago:
Heathrow to Okęcie

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Eighty-five chains to Hazelwood station

An unashamed exploration of spirit of place and landscape for Christmas Day. Down the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway from Duffield to the next station, Hazelwood. My starting point is a footpath that bisects the line west of Duffield, near the cemetery. We are 133 and three-quarter miles from St Pancras, where the old Midland Railway started from. One mile is 80 chains (66 yards) in the Imperial system.

Since earliest childhood, peering down from Jacob's Ladder footbridge, West Ealing, as the Greenford branch curved away from the main Great Western line, I've had a fascination with 'what's just around the corner. Curves like this draw you in; they behove further exploration.

The curve gets tighter, woodland encroaches... (Remember, this line was built with the ambition of linking Derby to Manchester and Liverpool. It got as far as Wirksworth, just nine miles from where it began.)

Yes, and there it is - in the distance, the bridge taking Nether Lane over the railway line.

Two views of the bridge itself - below, looking south. At the end of Nether Lane, 300m away, is the busy Wirksworth Road and at the junction, the Puss in Boots pub. Hazelwood station lies just to the west of the bridge. The only station along the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway not to have been restored back to its original use, it is a private house adjacent to a timber merchant's yard.

Below: looking north, towards (in the distance), Hob Hill (1.6km/1mile) away. It's a vertical climb of 100m.

Below: Hob Hill, a bleak hilltop with Views. A place associated with pagan ritual (as in 'hobgoblin'). A downhill walk from here, a 90m drop in altitude to Duffield.

A good landscape photograph for me is one that evokes the precisely the same emotional response when looking at it as when I took the photo - it's about qualia of memory, the subjective conscious experience of Being There. These work well for me.

This time last year:
Christmas round-up

This time three years ago:
Derbyshire at Christmas

This time four years ago:
Across the High Peaks

This time five years ago:
Derbyshire's rolling landscapes

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

This time seven years ago:
Out and about in Duffield

Christmas Break

This time eight years ago:
Boxing Day walk in Derbyshire

This time nine years ago 

This time 11 years ago:

This time 12 years ago:

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

10,000 paces through Duffield, Derbyshire

And the sun shone over wet Derbyshire fields. As usual, I'm at my brother's for Christmas; the persistent rainfall has made country walks impossible without wellington boots, so I'm keeping to the pavements of Duffield. A picturesque village, 'picturesque' being something that in general Polish villages are not. Maybe it's the geography - all that flatness. Below: the view from the top floor bedroom window looks tempting - but those fields are squelchingly sodden. Between the rooftops in the foreground and the distant ridge runs the River Derwent. Met Office flood warnings are in force.

Up the hill, away from the swollen river. Houses made of traditional materials; stone walls, local brick and timber, houses that have in many cases withstood centuries rather than decades.

The main street in Duffield is the A6, a long road linking Luton to Carlisle. The stretch between Derby and the Peak District is fairly busy. This stretch, limited to 30mph as it passes through the village, is punctuated by many pedestrian crossings.

Duffield's railway station had grand plans to be the junction of the Midland Railway, with one line running north-west all the way to Manchester and Liverpool, diverging here from the existing main line to Sheffield and the north. But the planned route failed to materialise; a line was built in that direction, but it terminated in Wirksworth just 9 miles (14km) away. The line survives as a heritage railway. Duffield being the eastern terminus connecting to mainline services to Derby and Matlock. The rolling stock (which features Britain's largest collection of classic diesel railcars) is stabled at Wirksworth. Below: the recently rebuilt station building at Duffield

A pastoral scene of idyllic village life in rural England, with little to set this corner visually apart from how it would have looked 150 years ago.

Below: the junction of Duck Island, Crown Street and Tamworth Street. Note the profusion of TV aerials. Will these symbols the the 20th century still be a visible feature of our rooflines in 20 years' time?

This time four years ago:
Sizewell B from 20,000ft

This time six years ago:
The start of the annual pilgrimage

This time eight years ago:
We flew into Manchester that year...

This time nine years ago:

This time ten years ago:
Washing the snow away

This time 11 years ago:

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Sentimental stroll

Connection with one's past, connection with spirit of place; a break in the weather was forecast so I made the most of a sunny spell to return to the house in which I grew up. The stroll, from West Ealing to Hanwell, a reverse recreation of our house-move almost 50 years ago.

Below: as I turned the corner into Highview Road, the sky was still threatening to produce further rain. Huge puddles all over the place.

Below: by the time I got to Jacob's Ladder, the footbridge over the Great West Railway between West Ealing and Hanwell stations, the sky had cleared. The footbridge traditionally linked the more affluent neighbourhood to the north with the less affluent neighbourhood to the south. Our family made the move north in 1970.

On the way, into Hanwell now, Grosvenor Road and the site of the former shrine to classic British motorcycling, Reg. Allen. The shop closed in the summer of 2018; when I passed it this summer there were still boxes of spare parts, posters, calendars, helmets etc lying around - all gone now, and awaiting the developers.

Here it is - the end-terrace house on Croft Garden, where I grew up, spending the first 12 years of my life. The garages that my father built in 1967 (for our house and for the neighbours) is still standing, along with the up-and-over doors, although I doubt that today's generation of family cars could squeeze in any longer.

[My parents bought the house in 1955 for £600, at the time when my father (according to a graph he made plotting his income as a civil engineer from 1951 to 1978) was earning £626 a year (net, after tax). So the house cost a multiple of less than one annual net salary. In 1970, my parents sold this house for £6,000 and bought Cleveland Road for £10,000, at a time when my father was earning £2,049 a year - a multiple of five times net earnings. Our Cleveland Road house has been valued at £900,000 today, while a civil engineer specialising in piling with 19 years' experience can expect to be earning around £45,000 gross, which is £34,135 after tax  - a multiple of 26 times net earnings.]

Left: the same house, the same garage, 1 September 1969, my first day at Gunnersbury Grammar Roman Catholic School for Boys. My father's dove-grey Morris 1100 fitted in the garage without difficulty.

Below: before Gunnersbury, there was Oaklands Primary School - my short (350m) walk to school, just round the corner, just one road to cross, would yield this view each morning. My mother would take me to school in my first term, then my brother was born and I'd walk to school on my own - as a five-year old. The school weather vane rising over the Victorian terraces of Oaklands Road gave me flashbacks to another time, another place. "Fox Hall" came spontaneously to my mind. But where? When? I had that self-same emotion when I saw the weather vane today.

Below: the Infants School. Mrs Constance, Mrs Balch and Miss Debonaire  were my teachers here. Mrs Golding was the headmistress.

Below: the Junior School. Miss Hazan, Miss Penn, Mr Vale and Miss Innes were my teachers here. Mr Beckford was the headmaster (he moved to run St Gregory's primary school in 1968 and was replaced at Oaklands by Mr Warden).

I liked my primary school, got on well there and passed my 11-plus exam, one of only three children from my class of 36 to do so. Much of this was down to my mother drilling me every evening with books bought from W.H. Smith with mock exam questions.

That was 1969; all was about to change. In September I started Gunnersbury; in May 1970 we moved to Cleveland Road, we got a colour TV, my father was promoted to a position with a company car (a Ford Corsair 2000E in silver with black vinyl roof), the '70s were quite different to what had come before. My stroll today was a reconnection with those older times.

This time last year
Streets of my childhood
[I did the same walk exactly a year ago!]

This time two years ago:
Jeziorki - swans and bonus shots

This time four years ago:
A conspiracy to celebrate

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

This time six years ago:
Going mobile - I get my first smartofon

This time seven years ago:
The world was meant to end today 
[It may not have ended, but this was a tipping point in history.]

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

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

This time ten years ago:
Evening photography, Powiśle

This time 11 years ago:
The shortest day of the year

This time 12 years ago:
Bye bye borders - Poland joins Schengen

Thursday, 19 December 2019

Driving the Silk Road

As a boy, I was fascinated by cars. I knew every make and model, even the most obscure ones (Lea-Francis, Armstrong Siddeley, Sunbeam-Talbot). My childhood bookshelf was full of books about cars, and I had a great many die-cast toy vehicles. Motorsport interested me, especially endurance races and rallies, from Le Mans 24 Hours to the Monte Carlo Rally, in which a colleague of my father from West's Piling, Vic Elford took part with great success. At the time, I'd read Look and Learn magazine each week, and here I read about the 1907 Peking-to-Paris motor-race, presented as a illustrated story over several issues. This was something vastly more inspiring than the regular saloon-car racing or rally cross on Grandstand each Saturday! The notion of driving primitive vehicles across the Eurasian landmass, largely without any infrastructure or external support, gripped my imagination. One summer I recreated the race making little cars from Lego, complete with spare tyres, tow-ropes and petrol cans, and pretending the vegetable patch in the back garden was the Gobi Desert.

The Peking to Paris was brought back to life in 1997 as an endurance rally for classic cars, retracing the 16,000 km route of the original race. The seventh recreation of the original race was held this year, with over 100 cars, all built before 1977, taking part. Among them was the 1958 Bentley S1 entered by brothers Doug and Mike McWilliams. Now, regular readers might remember Doug McWilliams as author of The Flat White Economy, which I reviewed back in March. Doug and I worked together at the CBI many years ago, so I was delighted to hear that he would be taking part in such an inspirational event - perhaps the greatest challenge of man and machine in the classic-car world.

The McWilliams brothers' Bentley was one of only 21 cars (of 106 starters) to make it across the finish line on Place Vendôme under its own steam - the rest retired or had to be 'flatbedded' on rescue vehicles. Although the Bentley had been thoroughly prepared, the hammering it received in the Gobi Desert and Siberia meant that much went wrong along the way. It's overcoming those frequent issues with fuel pumps, fuel lines, electrics, tyres etc that make the Peking to Paris so challenging.

Below: a colour plate from the book - cresting a pass in the Gobi Desert.

A result of the journey is this book - a book that's vastly more than a chronicle of 36 days on the road (and off-road) in an old car. It's also a book about geography, history and economics. For the rally's route follows the old Silk Road, and the route of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Doug tells a lively global economic history of how China had been greatly advanced compared to medieval Europe, but fell behind as the Reformation unleashed the potential of industry and commerce, and is now rapidly catching up - but in decades rather than centuries. The book is crammed with observations. One I particularly like is how to measure comparative GDP of a country by eye. Look at the people doing the most menial jobs - are they emaciated or well-fed? Are they clothed in rags or well-dressed? Look at the shops. Are they well-stocked, suggesting rapid turnover of goods? And what are people buying - staples to keep body and soul together - or consumer electronics? Next look at cars and infrastructure - and then finally property.

The term 'Silk Road' ('Siedenstrasse') was first coined by German explorer Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen (the Red Baron's uncle) in 1877. How the Chinese are now expanding their trade routes westward along the path of the Silk Road is a major theme of the book.

The biggest single beneficiary of the BRI is likely to be Mongolia. By 2040 its economy is expected to grow by over a quarter just from the direct results of BRI investments. At the moment, Mongolia, sandwiched between China and Russia, is growing at a rapid pace because of the exploitation of its mineral wealth. This will have negative environmental consequences, and changes to the lifestyles of its nomadic people. Doug and Mike witnessed Central Asia in a state of transformation.

Starting in Beijing, the route went through Hohhot, (a Chinese city most readers have never heard of yet with a population of 3m is much larger than Warsaw!), through Mongolia, Siberia, Kazakhstan, back into Russia, through the Baltic states, Poland, Germany, Belgium and France.

Apart from the cars - a wonderful miscellany of classics mostly from the US, Great Britain, Germany and Italy, many over 80 years old - the portraits of the drivers themselves were fascinating. From enthusiasts carrying their own equipment to billionaires spending millions of dollars to win, with their own teams of mechanics able to airlift in complete engines. As Doug says, there were competitors eager to win at any price, and those, like himself, for whom success is getting the car across the finishing line without having to be towed or carried.

No other part of the route tested the cars like the Gobi Desert. The organisers of the rally said that once the drivers got out into the wilderness, a 'red mist' descended in front of their eyes as they could finally unleash their machinery for a blast through the desert. This battering sorts out the solid cars from the ephemeral. The McWilliams Bentley had 'colonial spec' suspension - something that Bentley offered to owners out in the bush, far away from the smooth asphalt of imperial London. They chose the S1, with a six-cylinder engine, over the S2 and S3, which were V8-powered, because the cast-iron lump dating back to the 1920s had powered a whole generation of military vehicles that served in theatres of war around the world.

A Porsche was written off after being rolled six times. An Alfa Romeo was swept away in a river. From Day 7 of Doug's diary: "Mike drove 50 km in the dark across the desert last night with no brakes at all." The engine stalled towards the top of the hill and the car started running backwards - Mike had to put the rear end into a ditch to prevent a catastrophe.

[An aside: riding my two older custom motorbikes, admittedly nowhere near as old at the McWilliams' Bentley, but still 17 and 15 years old, as I travel around rural Poland, I have developed an almost supernatural bond with them; willing them on, willing them not to break down, feeling gratitude towards them when they get me there. With old machinery - anything can go wrong, no matter how well looked-after it is, no matter how well prepared you are.]

The winner of this year's rally - and winner of three of the last four rallies - was Australian driver Gerry Crown, who is 87. An encouraging thought - being a world-class competitor at such an age.

The world's economic centre of gravity is moving relentlessly eastwards. This book should rid the reader of any preconceived notions about China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Russia, by showing how they are changing at ground level. "But the biggest surprise was Russia. I had expected something like Glasgow in the 1960s. Instead we saw a pretty modern state with updated infrastructure and the gangsters at least hidden from display. If you are worried about Russia, you should be even more worried, because they look to be combining their ambitions with competence... What is clear is that the past dominance of the West has ended an we will have to live in future with a very different world."

For the generalist interested in world affairs, economics and classic cars, there could not be a better read this Christmas. I could write far more about this book, so fascinating it is, but I would not like to spoil it for you - I thoroughly recommend it.

This time two years ago:
Snapshots of Lublin dressed for Christmas

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

This time four years ago:
Changes on ul. Baletowa

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

This time six years ago:
Jacek Hugo Bader's White Fever: A Journey to the Frozen Heart of Siberia

This time eight years ago 
Thoughts upon the death of the Dear Leader

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

This time ten years ago:
Progress along the S79

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

South of the river, London Bridge way

Just as there are parts of Warsaw that I totally don't know, despite living in the city for 22 years, there are parts of London I don't know, despite having lived there for 36 years (four in Coventry make up the difference). I have never visited Borough Market or back of London Bridge station - and I find some charming Brictorian British architecture. A plethora of railway viaducts criss-cross the area, creating atmospheric klimat of an earlier London.

Borough Market, like Smithfield and Covent Garden, is a large enclosed space with cast-iron pillars and glazed roof. It has evolved into a foodie magnet, with a large number of stalls selling tasty and specialist foods - and not cheap. Full of tourists and office workers, at lunchtime (I was here around 12:30) it is absolutely heaving with customers.

The roots of Borough Market are clear to see - a family business going strong for nearly 140 years, still there, under the railway line linking London Bridge and Cannon Street stations

Left: under glass, I push through the crowds. There are many street-food vendors, cooking and serving aromatic food in small cardboard boxes to be eaten on the spot. Trouble is, with so many people jostling through, it gets uncomfortable. Staff are on hand to move on diners choosing inconsiderate spots to stand and eat.

The pre-Christmas rush makes things worse, as foodies come here to buy gifts - chocolates, cheeses - it looks like I'm here at precisely the wrong time.

Below: clock on the corner of Borough High Street and Tooley St. Above it, to the left, the very tip of the Shard, at 306m, the tallest building in the EU, about to lose its throne a) because of Brexit and b) because Warsaw's Varso tower (310m) will be taller when completed next year.

Note too the bushes growing above the facade, in the space in front of the railway tracks.

Below: to the left, Southwark (pron. SUTH-urck) Cathedral, to the right, early Brictorian office buildings.

Crossing London Bridge, mistaken by many for Tower Bridge (the next bridge downstream). Note the Brictorian embankment, the slime marking the high-water level (the Thames is tidal right through London). The next bridge, the one with the tower, is the railway bridge to Cannon Street station. The skyscraper to the left is One Blackfriars (170m)

I can see further explorations of the South Bank and Bankside are required on future visits to London!

This time last year:
Brexit going nowhere

This time three years ago:
News from Nowa Iwiczna

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

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

This time six years ago:
Muddy Karczunkowska

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

This time nine years ago:
Matters of style

This time ten years ago:
Real winter hits Warsaw
[Today's daytime high in Warsaw: 13C]

This time 11 years ago:
This is not Mazowsze, no?

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

West Ealing by night

Apart from the calendar with little opening doors revealing chocolates or other treats, the word 'Advent' isn't often used these days. Like Lent, this time of year is an opportune moment to reflect upon the spiritual side of one's nature; the more so when darkness falls so early and there's so little daylight. Below: Kingsley Avenue (not so much an Avenue as a Circus or two Crescents back-to-back).

Below: outside the family home, Cleveland Road. Spirit of Place.

Below: The Avenue, from the junction with Argyle Road. The parade of shops on the left is called Castle Hill Parade. There's no Castle, nor any Hill. To the right, the Drayton Court Hotel, where Ho Chi Minh once worked.

Right: the Drayton Court Hotel from Castle Hill Parade.

Provincial public houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says 'Merry Christmas to you all'.

- John Betjeman, Christmas, 1954

Left: St Stephen's church ["kiedyś to był kościół, teraz to flaty"] and an illuminated tree standing outside a house on North Avenue.

I have taken to shooting at night with fast prime lenses between f/2 and f/1.4 wide open, with auto ISO and shutter between 1/50th and 1/125th sec. This gives more pleasing results than the kit zoom (maximum aperture f/3.5).

Right: house on Rutland Gardens, all lit up for Christmas. If Danes have their hygge, Britons have Xmas. Artificial cheer to lift the spirits on these dark, damp days. Walking around suburbia by night is made more pleasurable when the little lights are twinkling outside, and within the warm houses, through the net curtains.

Below: police patrol car on the corner of Gordon Road and St Leonard's Road. Stay safe!

This time three years ago:
Smog starts getting to be a big problem for Warsaw

This time four years ago:
Snow in December: A memory or figment of my imagination?

This six years ago:
A muddy walk along ul. Karczunkowska

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

This time nine years ago:
Matters of style

This time ten years ago:
Real winter hits Warsaw

This time 11 years ago:
This is not Mazowsze, no?

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Britain for Christmas

Muted, emotions mixed - a new chapter - what it will offer I have not got a clue. No one had a clue as to what would happen at the ballot box; would a youthquake and tactical voting used on a vast scale deprive Johnson of an overall majority? No. Those who predicted a slender majority for Johnson were also wrong.

Now what? Probably neither a descent into fascism, nor a great national revival. It's down to the British Civil Service to keep life normal. My distrust of politicians, my cynicism towards their cynicism, is born of the past four and half years. But here we are, 67 million people trying to get on with their lives in a different climate. May it not be as bad as predicted by some.

Below: flying in. The Thames cuts across, with Cube Ridge carrying the A205 South Circular that snakes its way down to the bottom of the frame. North of the Thames, the dark patch is Gunnersbury Park, Ealing is in the top-left corner of the frame.

Below: the following morning Cleveland Park, drying out after a heavy fall of overnight rain.

Below: essential suburban London; Perivale Gardens W13. Where once might have stood a Hillman or an Austin, there's now a Nissan and a Mercedes.

Below: the River Brent is brim-full, after last night's heavy rain. Here it flows, the border between Perivale to the left and Ealing to the right.

Below: the mighty Western Avenue slicing communities apart with ceaseless traffic. This might look like a weekday rush hour, but it's actually Sunday lunchtime.

Below: across the A40, north of the Central Line, a more rural scene, surrounded by suburbia; Horsenden Hill Lane North meets Horsenden Hill Lane South.

Below: climbing Horsenden Hill - a useful amenity for walkers.

Below: suburbs rising. Looking out south-west from the top of Horsenden Hill towards Southall and Hayes.

Below: portrait of a tree, on the northern slope of Horsenden Hill. In the distance, Harrow spreads out up the next hill.

Prayers for the nation please.

This time three years ago:
IT frustrations
[And right on cue, my Huawei smartphone battery starts dying, aged three years]

This time four years ago:
Wałbrzych's Gold Train - the dream ends

This time six years ago:
Kitten football

This time seven years ago:
The drainage of Jeziorki

This time eight years ago:
The Eurocrisis - what would Jesus do?

This time nine years ago:
Orders of magnitude

This time ten years ago:
Jeziorki in the snow

This time 11 years ago:
Better news on the commuting front

This time 12 years ago:
I no longer recognise the land where I was born

Friday, 13 December 2019

Brexit - what next

I realised that hopes of preventing Brexit were dashed the moment Farage announced that the Brexit 'Party' Co. Ltd. would not be standing against incumbent Conservatives, across their 317 seats. This meant that on those constituencies the pro-Brexit vote would not be split. Yesterday's parliamentary elections in the UK were a straight choice between Brexit and Marxism. Corbyn's Labour got the pounding it so richly deserved. The lowest number of Labour seats since 1935; the first time that a party in opposition for over nine years actually lost seats. An utterly useless, shameful, Brexit-enabling performance.

So what next? Johnson has a 80-seat majority in the House of Commons, easily enough to get the Withdrawal Agreement Bill through Parliament and the UK formally out of the EU by 31 January. (Failure to so, it should be remembered, will lead to a no-deal crash-out).

The Withdrawal Agreement Bill is the easy bit. The hard bit will be to complete an economic Free Trade Agreement and the political Future Relationship Agreement. These will be hard because time is tight. Johnson might be celebrating today, but soon the reality will dawn. The transition period, which follows immediately after the UK leaves the EU, finishes on 31 December 2020. The very same day it was due to finish had Theresa May managed to secure a Brexit on 29 March this year. Unless extended (again, with the agreement of all 27 EU members plus the UK), the transition period will be nine months shorter than anticipated in Article 50 - and all the detailed stuff will need to be worked out during that time. It will need to be done hush-hush, away from the tabloid headline-writers.

If Brexit can no longer be stopped, it needs to be as economically and politically mild as possible. A cold not a flu nor chronic bronchitis. One that does not lead to dismemberment.

I do have faith in Her Majesty's institutions - in the Civil Service - to do the right thing, to provide the right advice, to ensure no cliff-edge, no unexpected no-deal scenario suddenly popping up. Remember - the Civil Service has done right up to now. Yellowhammer. The Civil Service will not allow the UK to be flushed down the toilet by zealots. Wise negotiations leading to a trade agreement that allows for bilateral trade with the minimum of extra red tape or tariffs. And a political agreement that keeps the UK as close as possible to the EU. For the good of all parties.

Remember, Putin has been aggressively pushing for Brexit from the outset. His agenda is to splinter the West, exacerbate divisions. Putin's trolls will undoubtedly still be militating for a no-deal Brexit to happen somehow, and to break up the United Kingdom.

This time two years ago:
Kick out against change - or accept it?

This time four years ago:
Warwick University alumni meet in Warsaw

This time five years ago:
Pluses and minuses of PKP InterCity

This time six years ago:
When transportation breaks down

This time 11 years ago:
Full moon closest to Earth

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Politics and personal responsibility

I've long considered myself more of a conservative than a socialist, a small 'c' conservative believing in a small government that delivers essentials services and regulating a free market, personal freedom and responsibility - but freedom that does not step on the rights of others.

My favourite British politicians were many of those in government between 1991 and 1997 - the John Major years; Ken Clark, Michael Heseltine, Chris Patten, Geoffrey Howe, Malcolm Rifkind - decent, pragmatic men who have left the Conservative Party that it was then, the one I used to vote for.

I do not like any of the current British conservative government; I consider they have taken a wrong turn somewhere along the road and would not (were I still living in the UK) vote for them. Lightweights, lacking moral fibre or any great intellect. The most ideological, the least pragmatic Conservative government of my adult lifetime.

This from David Gauke MP, a former Tory now standing as an independent in South West Hertfordshire:

The fact that John Major, Michael Heseltine, Ken Clarke, Chris Patten, George Osborne, Amber Rudd and Rory Stewart have all endorsed me suggests that the Party we’ve all supported in the past no longer exists.

The alternative in Thursday's General Election* is the Labour party, led by Jeremy Corbyn - who has taken it down another wrong turn. It is not the party of Tony Blair or Gordon Brown, but something akin to the Socialist Workers' Students' Organisation, a bunch of leftie students out of touch with economic reality. Corbyn's ideological proximity to Soviet Marxism repels me utterly. His fence-sitting uselessness when faced with Brexit appals me. He would make a disastrous prime minister.

From the Financial Times:

Rarely have British voters been presented with such stark choices, ranging from Jeremy Corbyn’s hard left economic policies to Boris Johnson’s pledge to drive through a hard Brexit. But the election’s outcome is still in doubt

My personal manifesto is based upon my own dislike of asking others for help. By not expecting help from government, there's more help for those who need it more than I do. Self-reliance rather than entitlement. My freedom ends where others' freedoms begin. Your freedom to roar through Jeziorki regardless of speed limits ends where my freedom to walk safely along streets lacking a pavement begins. Your freedom to burn crap to heat your home ends where your neighbours' freedom to enjoy unpolluted air begins. Your freedom to worship (or not) whatever deity you choose has no end - as long as you don't impose upon my freedom to do likewise.

Brexit is a mistake; I have not had any answers from any Leavers as to how the UK will make up lost economic ground by quitting the EU, the world's richest trading bloc on the EU's doorstep. Nor have any explained in what way being in the EU these past few decades has hurt them in their lives personally, nor what EU law has held them back from achieving their personal potential. Brexit will be bad for the UK, which may well splinter as a result; it is bad for Poland, bad for Europe, bad for civilisation.

Tomorrow's election is pitifully painful. People who wish to stop Brexit (over 220 opinion polls taken since July 2017 show a definite preference for remaining in the EU) are torn between wasting their vote on a party that has no chance of power (the LibDems) or voting Labour with the risk of inviting the Marxist Corbyn into Number Ten to unleash his dangerous ideology on a nation. Tactical voting makes sense in many constituencies - but is there enough discipline among Remainers to see it through?

It is a tragic choice. I'm glad it's not a choice I'm having to make. I'm sad my father won't make it to the polling station this time.

* This is the first UK General Election to be held in December for 96 years.

This time last year:
Consciousness, memory and spirit of place

This time two years ago:
Polish Perivale

This time three years ago:
Power in the vertical

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

This time eight years ago:
Classic glass

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

This time 11 years ago:
"Rorate caeli de super nubes pluant justum..."