Sunday, 31 March 2019

Dissecting memories as the basis of personality


Lent 2019 - Day 25

The halfway stage of Lent has been passed; resolve - strong, will - iron. No meat, no alcohol, no salt snacks, fast food - confectionary, biscuits, cakes I avoid anyway. More vegan elements to my diet, lentils, tofu, chickpeas interspersed with the fish and cheese. And lots of exercise, twice a day, full set of press-ups (60 a doddle, 70 at a stretch), pull-ups (10-11 in one go). 11,000+ paces a day, every day.

A healthy body is home to a healthy mind, and peace of mind comes from a healthy soul. The deeper aspects of Lent are as important. Today, I want to look at the role that memories play in the shaping of our personality, and how our conscious - and indeed - subconscious observations - make up an important part of who we are.

In particular, I want to write about involuntary memory, sometimes known as Proustian memory, after novelist  Marcel Proust. He posited in his novel In Search of Lost Time that involuntary memory contained the 'essence of the past', stating that voluntary memory lacked accuracy and authenticity. In the novel, he describes eating a tea-soaked madeleine biscuit, an action which powerfully brought back to him a childhood memory. From that memory, he rebuilt in his mind his childhood home. This becomes a recurring theme throughout In Search of Lost Time, with sensations reminding Proust of previous experiences. He dubbed these  sensations 'involuntary memories'.

I have frequently written about flashbacks, ('PAFF!' moments) unbidden or triggered by sensory stimuli. Smell, as Proust points out, is a great evocator of deeply buried memories.

A child of what author Geoff Dyer calls the Airfix generation, I was a virtual one-boy production line assembling an endless succession of plastic kits; warplanes, warships, armoured vehicles and cars. Since the age of five, I must have made hundreds of them. Assembling these models, glued together with polystyrene cement and decorated with enamel paints was an aromatic experience, not appreciated at the time. To this day, I have flashbacks linked to the smells of individual paints, and the kit I was using it on - Airfix Matt Brick Red (Bristol Beaufighter), for example, or Humbrol Matt Sea Grey (A-7 Corsair II) or Gloss Brunswick Green (HMS Victorious). And the exact shades of the colours too - from Olive Drab to Dark Earth, from Duck Egg Blue to Insignia Yellow. How my eyes reacted to them, I can recreate those memories without any external stimulus. It's there in my memory, and still strong.

But smells are fiendishly complex - the smell of a house, for example, or a cupboard or garage... very unique. The smell of mothball on a winter coat taken out of the wardrobe for the first time that season - and PAFF! There it is. I am transported from a Warsaw bus in October to an ex-military barracks in Gloucestershire in the summer of 1967.

These triggered memory flashbacks are wholly spontaneous; trying to recreate them with deliberation is difficult. I am trying, for example, to summon up the smell of my late parents-in-laws' house - now sold, refurbished by new owners - that atmosphere - those qualia - lost. I cannot just bring it back. No doubt at some time in the future, it will return, be it unbidden or triggered...

I am who I am because of an accretion of memories built up over my lifetime; sounds (a front-garden gate latch clicking shut, a Morris Minor changing gear from third to second, pop hits of the 1960s and 1970s), sights (a Belisha beacon by the kerb, a Routemaster bus, an old copy of Look and Learn) - the itchy feel of a British battledress top, as I wore in Polish scouts, the acrylic plate attached to my dental braces pressed against my palate, the sweaty feel of a bicycle helmet on my head in summer, the taste of Lyons Maid Strawberry Mivvi,  Olde English Spangles, grilled sardines with cuentros on a Portuguese beach - and then all those smells... Communist Poland in summer, klatki schodowe, the back of a kiosk Ruchu - cheap newsprint, cheap tobacco, cheap plastic toys, the smell of two-stroke exhaust...

Another smell memory that has stayed with me (for 56 years!) was the smell of my First Day in School - September 1961, Oaklands Road Primary. The smell of Magic Marker ink on handwritten signs naming things in the school building: 'Door', 'Nature table', 'Class 3', mingled with the smell of fresh wooden-floor varnish. I say first day in school, but each return to primary school had those exact same smells. And from that era, the autumn of 1962 - around my fifth birthday - a piece of pop music ingrained in my deepest memory. The sound of the (then) future.



But my strange, unexplained, anomalous qualia memories of other, earlier lives, are not memories of sensory sensations - they relate to spirit of place in another time, clear yet ephemeral; fleeting - I try to parse them, to dissect them - trying to relive them by returning is impossible. Time has moved on; the spirit of place evolves over time; the billboards, the street furniture, the clothes, the cars. But it's real; I savour and cherish these briefest flashes, insights into an atavistic past.

I shall return to memory with a review of Adventures in Memory, by Hilde and Ylva Østby, two Norwegian sisters - one a novelist, the other a neuropsychologist. And yes, Proust's madeleine biscuits get a mention.

This time last year:
Winter returned for a morning

This time two years ago:
Globalisation and the politics of identity

This time five years ago:
More photos from Edinburgh

This time six years ago:
Edinburgh continues to fascinate

This time seven years ago:
Ealing in bloom - early spring

This time 11 years ago:
Swans arrive in Jeziorki



Thursday, 28 March 2019

Warsaw - oblique views from the air

This is little short of amazing - Warsaw from the air like you've never seen it before. Photos taken on six clear days between 8 and 15 April 2018, with astonishing resolution, covering the entire city within its limits. Below: here's an example (for my father) of the building in which he lived before and during the war, on ul. Filtrowa 68...


There are five sets of photos (thumbnailed to the left). The main one above was taken looking north, the others were taken from directly above (which is what you get in Google Earth satellite view, only in higher resolution), looking east, south and west. Lots of interactive fun - the only constraint is the city's boundary.

Below: my office window (middle block, four floors down from the top).



Here's the link - click, explore and enjoy! (lots to find for train and plane spotters!)

This time five years ago
On Calton Hill, Edinburgh

This time six years ago:
Doomsday - the Last Judgment

This time seven years ago:
Sunny Scotland at +23.9C 

This time eight years ago:
The iconic taste of Marmite

This time nine years ago:

This time ten years ago:

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

SO...?


Lent 2019 Day 22

You have nine trillion (9 x 1012) ancestors, if you trace your lineage back all the way to the Universal Common Ancestor, the first life form to appear on our planet 4.1 billion years ago. Each of those nine trillion ancestors had to reproduce successfully for you to be alive today. Just one broken link in that chain - just one ancestor that failed to reproduce - and there'd be no you.

SO?

................................................................................................

Every atom (and there are around 7 x 1027 of them within you), has been around for billions of years. The seven kilos of so of hydrogen atoms within you have been around since 378,000 years after Big Bang, pretty much of all of the 13.8 billion years of the lifetime of the universe. The heavier elements in you were ejected from stars. You are stardust, indeed. Over that time, within each of the 4 x 1027 of hydrogen atoms inside you, the electron has been whizzing around the proton. Tirelessly. Eternally.

SO?

................................................................................................

After you die, each one of those 7 x 1027 atoms within you will remain in existence in our universe, until - who knows? The universe, currently expanding at an ever-accelerating pace, would slow down, stop, and then, eventually all matter would collapse into black holes, which would then coalesce, producing a unified black hole or Big Crunch singularity. But until then, the atoms would continue. For a brief moment in time, they came together to form you.

SO?

................................................................................................

Can you see the magic in all this? Did all that successful reproduction that brought all those atoms together to form you happen by accident or design? Is your consciousness a phenomenon that exists within your skull specifically because of a vast series of happy coincidences - or is it somehow linked to a grander universal purpose?

This time last year:
A Brief History of Time reviewed

This time two years ago:
Eyes without a face

This time three years ago:
London blooms in yellow

This time four years ago:
London's Docklands: a case-study in urban regeneration

This time five years ago:
Scotland and its language 

This time six years ago:
Death, our sister

This time seven years ago:
First bike ride to work of the year 

This time nine years ago:
Poland's trains ran faster before the war

This time ten years ago:
Winter in spring: surely this must be the last snow?

This time 11 years ago:
Surely THIS must be the last snow?




Saturday, 23 March 2019

Marchin'

A few observations from today's march. The first was that I was totally unaware of the scale of this protest. People as far as the eye (aided by a 300mm zoom lens) can see, but as I arrived over an hour late (having taken my father to the cardiologist in the morning), I was somewhere at the back, not realising that the front of the procession was by then at its destination - Trafalgar Square. I covered the two miles from Marble Arch Tube station to Trafalgar Square in two hours and twenty minutes - three quarters of a mile per hour, the pace was very slow. So slow that my smartphone pedometer didn't even recognise my motion as 'walking'.

The crowd was very diverse - many families with small children, even the smallest of whom demonstrated great resilience - there was no crying or messing about. And some very old people, some on wheelchairs, some with walking sticks.

The crowd was good natured and peaceful. The police were prepared for such a crowd - I must have seen between 15 and 20 policemen, mostly community officers (volunteers) on the route to Trafalgar Square. There were more down by Parliament and a small group of armed officers outside Downing Street. But compared to London's 'yellow vest' protests, where police almost outnumbered protesters, this was a clear sign that the police expected no trouble and had no trouble. No one was heckling or jeering this massive parade as it passed.





Below: referencing Father Ted and Withnail and I (oft-quoted on this blog).


My personal favourite banner from the march. There were many amusing banners showing whimsy, wit, political awareness and love of the EU. Much more than I'd have thought possible before the referendum; a new political awareness has been generated - and I'd agree with commentators who are saying that this is the beginning of the end of the UK's two-party system that goes back around a century.

Of great concern to Labour Party activists on the march was the whereabouts of leader Jeremy Corbyn. He's not popular among the stop-Brexit crowd. He's losing a lot of votes - the worst government in living memory, and the opposition Labour Party is four percentage points behind the hapless Tories...


Below: there has to be a Polish angle... The Solidarność banner reminded me of the last time I was in Hyde Park on a political protest - December 1981. We marched from here to the embassy of the People's Republic of Poland... "Mr Tusk was right!" - reference to his line about the special place in Hell reserved for those promoting Brexit without a sketch of a plan of how to go about doing it.


Below: the only Brexit-related celebrity I encountered today - the heroic Steve 'SODEM' Bray (Stand of Defiance European Movement), who's outside Parliament every day (when MPs sit). I stuffed a tenner into the box to help fund his ongoing protest.


Below: by the time I'd got to Trafalgar Square, it was half an hour after the speeches had finished...


Left: looking across from outside Big Ben as the crowd disperses. One tech problem I had today was that trying to live Tweet photos from the march, there was evidently insufficient bandwidth. My phone froze and then died, I was unable to restart it. Only after plugging it into the mains at my father's did it finally respond to my button-pushing. With probably tens of thousands of people uploading to the social media at the same time, the mobile network was obviously overloaded.

A great day - let us hope that good prevails over bad. And if you're a UK citizen or resident, and you haven't done so already, please sign the online petition to revoke Article 50. It's really easy to do. As of the time of writing, 4.7 million people already have.

This time last year:
Edge of town

This time three years ago:
The Name of God, Consciousness and Everything

This time five years ago:
The clash of narratives

This time six years ago:
The Church and democracy

This time seven years ago:
Prime lens or zoom?

This time eight years ago:
Warsaw's failed bid as City of Culture, 2016

This time nine years ago:
Stalinist downtown at dusk

This time ten years ago:
The End of an Age of Excess?

This time 11 years ago:
Snowy Easter in England


Friday, 22 March 2019

Peace of Mind


Lent 2019, Day 17

Peace of mind, whatever your age, state of health, and income, is the most important element in your life. Some of the factors are within your control, but others lie beyond. For me, now, the impending fate of the United Kingdom with Brexit looming, is a major factor depriving me of peace of mind. A crashing pound may wipe a quarter off the value of my savings and pensions; travel difficulties may emerge; mobile roaming charges would apply; two-way trade and investment between the UK and Poland - essentially my bread-and-butter - would decline; the UK would no longer be seen as a global exemplar of best practice from whom to seek instruction.

I'm doing what I can - encouraging people to sign the online petition to stop Brexit, and marching tomorrow in Central London. And fighting daily on Twitter (usually under a nom-de-guerre). But these are things about which the individual can do little.

My father, who lived through the German invasion of Poland, the occupation, the Warsaw Uprising and a prisoner-of-war camp, says that 'one can get used to anything'. That attitude - a mix of acceptance and fortitude - saw him through those tragic years. He is a constant reminder of me of the importance of peace of mind, staying strong in the face of adversity - which today is coping with the practical difficulties associated with being at a very advanced age.

In normal times, achieving peace of mind, being able to sleep soundly, I associate with the feeling that I have accomplished my daily goals, that I have spent the day moving in the right direction towards fulfilling my potential as a human. If there's one thing that deprives me of peace of mind when I retire, it's laziness. A feeling of too many things left undone.

I am well aware that laziness has held me back - has held most of us back - from getting closer to a fulfilled potential in life.

My life goals today are mainly metaphysical, reaching out for a greater understanding of what it is that makes us human, where our spiritual needs come from, searching for that among the memory of qualia, seeking out spirit of place, seeking those places that bring peace of mind.

Meditation helps, a short, simple moment of calming oneself down, focusing on breathing, on existing - something that can be done on the bus, in the office, in bed - a quick, easy way to regain peace of mind.

Calling on the Love of God, that inner hug, that welling up of tears of joy - it's not something that everyone can do; and not always are you in the right mood, but try, and you may be able to surround yourself with an aura of universal peace. Then is the time to pray for the world.

This time three years ago:
The Name of God and the Consciousness of Everything

This time five years ago:
The clash of narratives

This time six years ago:
The Church and democracy

This time seven years ago:
Prime lens or zoom?

This time eight years ago:
Warsaw's failed bid as City of Culture, 2016

This time nine years ago:
Stalinist downtown at dusk

This time ten years ago:
The End of an Age of Excess?

This time 11 years ago:
Snowy Easter in England

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Young Betjeman by Bevis Hillier


(By coincidence, I discover that today is World Poetry Day...)

It's been so long since I last read a biography - that I can't be certain who it was of. I believe may have been of Adam Smith. So maybe 12 years ago...? Not my most favoured genre, then. Yet I recently acquired (used of course) a three-volume biography of my favourite poet, John Betjeman (1906-84) by Bevis Hillier.

A real heavyweight of a read, over 1,600 pages plus footnotes and indices, but a literary tour de force, incredibly well researched - so many references to private letters, student magazine back issues, interviews from people who remembered the Betjeman from his youth - so much detail, gathered over 25 years. Hillier's biography was published in three parts. Young Betjeman (covering 1906-33) was published in 1988, New Fame, New Love (1934-58) in 2002 and The Bonus of Laughter (1959-1984) in 2004.

Having read the first volume, I look forward to starting the second one tomorrow. The biography - which Betjeman approved of, cooperating fully with the author - brings a familiar life story into much sharper focus for me.

Born into a well-to-do middle-class family, the son of a third-generation entrepreneur running a successful luxury goods and cabinet-making business, Betjeman was obsessed by social class - convinced that he was looked down upon by the upper classes of similar wealth but of longer standing aristocratic families. His childhood had everything that a young Edwardian gentleman should have enjoyed - a family car (before WW1!), nannies, private education, a pheasant-shooting and golfing father - and yet he was petrified of being thought common by his social betters.

Betjeman was incredibly well connected; even before his time at Oxford - a gay social whirl, luncheons and cocktails and a famously failed degree - he was schooling with boys and young men that would 'rise and rule' in the words of the Harrow School song. He was friends with Randolph Churchill (Winston's son), the Mitfords, Lord Longford (as Frank Pakenham), W.H. Auden, Hugh Gaitskill and Tom Driberg. He was taught by T.S Eliot and C.S. Lewis.

Such connections helped him enormously in getting jobs - and getting published - and getting good reviews. But his early success was due not only to being in the right place at the right time, it was also - as in any success story - down to his focus and work-rate. Even as a child, he knew he wanted to be a poet; armed with pencil and notebook, he'd set off to Hampstead Heath and record his feelings watching the sunset. As a ten-year old, he gave a handwritten booklet of his poems, entitled The Best Poems of Betjeman, to his teacher, T.S. Eliot, who had just published Prufrock a year earlier.

Socially, the young Betjeman strove to be popular, overcoming his perceived inferiority by playing the clown, using humour as a defence mechanism. He used his innate intelligence and quick wit to create for himself a persona that would see him invited to the best parties in stately homes. Bevis Hillier interviewed scores of people who knew him from school, from Oxford and from his early years as a teacher and journalist before be became a published author. The overall picture of him as a young man turns out far more complex than that which Betjeman himself presents in his autobiographical poem, Summoned by Bells (1960). Young Betjeman covers much the same ground, ending the story a few years later than the poem, up to the publication of his first tomes and his marriage to the Hon. Penelope Chetwode, daughter of Field Marshal Philip Walhouse Chetwode, 1st Baron Chetwode, 7th Baronet of Oakley, GCB, OM, GCSI, KCMG, DSO, and Lady Alice Hester Camilla (née Cotton) Chetwode, daughter of Hon. Richard Cotton. The son of a tradesman, as John Betjeman thought the aristocracy saw him, had climbed the social ladder.

The book's rich detail of upper-class life in pre-war England fascinated me - looking at matters through a Polish prism, I can see just how different, and unique, England is.

England's nobility, with their estates, wealth, learning, aesthetic pleasures, untroubled by invasion, occupation or revolution, conferred upon the country a set of solid foundations upon which to create great literature - helped by a language that lends itself to the clear communication of deep ideas. Continuity, tradition, security - and class division, that broadly-accepted creativity could overcome. Then there is the overwhelming advantage of English, which by a series of historic processes (empire, Hollywood, rock'n'roll and the internet), has become the de facto global language.

Poland's inter-war culture was so different - a state trying to reestablish itself after being off the map of Europe for 123 years, a nation rebuilding a single cultural identity from people who grew up in three different occupations in a country that had been crossed by the front line several times during WW1. Then there's Oxford - a seat of learning without parallel, producing the nation's talents on an industrial scale, creating more Nobel laureates in literature (5) than Poland (4). And Poland's number 8 in the global table for Nobel laureates in literature!

Forgive the Poland digression - it reminds me of the 19th-century joke about the French, the English and the Polish students who had to write a dissertation about the elephant. The French student's dissertation was The Amorous Life of the Elephant. The English student's one was called Class Stratification in Elephant Society; the Polish student titled his dissertation: The Elephant and the Polish Question.

This time two years ago:
The mature mind's power over the instincts

This time seven years ago:
Welcome to spring

This time eight years ago:
Giving way or standing firm?

This time nine years ago:
Summerhouses near Okęcie

This time ten years ago:
A truly British icon


Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Intensive and extensive living


Lent 2019, Day 14

A 'life in balance' piece here. How do you live your life - intensively or extensively? Do you live in a small flat, on a tight budget, and constantly battle to save money wherever possible? Or do you live in a big house, with ample funds and are carefree when it comes to spending the dosh?

The notion of 'intensive' and 'extensive' comes from farming; it is the contrast between an agriculture like that of the Netherlands or Israel, where resources are limited and the land is worked hard to produce sufficient yields, and that of say, Russia or Brazil where land is endless and a wasteful slash-and-burn approach is often taken - take what's easy to take, and move on.

Money is not our only resource - the other is time. Time is something that the intensive-living person spends wisely, while the extensive-living person tends to squander. And as the rich tend to squander their wealth, so the young tend to squander their time. As I get older, I realise that - the clock has been ticking at the same steady pace since my youth, but like a big fat bank account, it's only when you see that your income is not infinite do you start trimming back on the expenditure.

Saving time and money is all well and good, but there's another resource we must watch - our environment. The intensive-living person will shun meat, recycle religiously, use as little fossil-fuel-based energy as possible, mindful that the earth needs to be passed on to the next generations.

Balancing our resources to maintain balance is the key; people often waste time trying to save money (driving across town to do shopping somewhere that's, yes, cheaper, but takes a hour longer to do), or waste money trying to save time (driving from A to B when walking gives good exercise, buying more expensive products rather than scan the shelf to see if there's a better offer). Or waste the environment trying to save time (bunging all the household waste into one bag to save segregating it, driving a car anywhere).

I am mindfully trying to find a balance, though I am coming at things from the extensive approach, and intensifying. In past years, I'd work much harder, managing several gigs as well as maintaining my main job with the chamber - some years I'd have six or seven PITy (tax returns) from different companies to submit with my annual tax declaration. For last year - for the first time - there's just the one. I'm earning less, but working less - and making the most of the time that I'm not spending working. As energy levels and physical stamina diminish, self-discipline is required to stay strong. My daily exercising routines - recorded in a spreadsheet daily since 1 January 2014 - prove that I am indeed becoming more intensive with my use of time, investing in a long-term goal.

Self-discipline grows with time, which is handy as time gets shorter. I find it's easier to push myself to spend less, eat healthier and exercise more - but the key metric that's impossible to quantify is creativity. How much writing - and snapping - yes, I can see how many blog posts I've churned out, how many articles - but what about the quality?

Intensive living tends to be more sustainable for the long term. It is less wasteful - of time, of money (above all money = choice), and of the environment.

And intensive living also tends to be more ascetic, and with asceticism come the insights so necessary to contact the spiritual side of life.

Lent is a good time to review one's direction in life, check and take appropriate action.

This time three years ago:
Before Spin by Keith McDowall

This four years ago:
Mill town Łódź 

This time five years ago:
Today, a tipping point in European history

This time six years ago:
Church and state

This time seven years ago:
Scrub fire in Jeziorki

This time eight years ago:
Airbus A380 visits Warsaw

This time nine years ago:
Lenten recipe no. 7

This time ten years ago:
Poland's economy - upturn in sight? (answer of course: yes!)

This time 11 years ago:
Spring? Feels like Christmas in the snow...


Sunday, 17 March 2019

New views, Jeziorki

Although the new viaduct carrying ul. Trombity over the railway line is still months from being opened, it's possible to walk up several of the sets of stairs to the top, and this opens up completely new vistas of Jeziorki.

Below: where once the highest view of the railway line was from platform level, now the viaduct offers a great perspective... looking north with my telephoto lens zoomed out to 300mm. An Emirates Boeing 777 is coming into land; to the left Warsaw Trade Tower and the Spire, with the Hub under construction, plenty of other cranes along the skyline. This shot places Jeziorki nicely in its place in Warsaw.


Below: a former EWS (England, Wales and Scotland) Class 66 loco, still in old livery but now hauling coal to Siekierki power station for DB Cargo Polska. From the same viewpoint as the above photo, but this time with 18.5mm lens of my Nikon Coolpix A. To the left, the 'down' platform at W-wa Jeziorki station.


Below: looking down into the same train as it heads south towards Nowa Iwiczna. To the right, the 'up' platform of W-wa Jeziorki station.


Below: a sad farewell to the house next door, abandoned these past 20 years or so; pulled down to make way for a new house with outbuildings. Last Wednesday morning.


Below: by today, nothing left except the front fence and the electricity meter. Brick wall behind the house also torn down.


Time to reminisce, how it once was, the empty house on ul. Trombity... in summer...


...in winter...


...with the old barn behind it (demolished in November 2014)


...the old barn in high summer...


...evoking another time, another place...


...linking Jeziorki, Warsaw, Poland, with Kentucky in the 1930s...


...at midnight, under sodium lighting...


...farewell, old friend. You were a part of the neighbourhood for so long; we mourn your passing.


There's an upside to the loss of this local landmark - it suggests that the fields around it will not be cut up by new roads. The planning application (to which immediate neighbours were party) was made in January 2018, and now it's through it suggests that the zoning of our neighbourhood (Rejon Sarabandy), though still 'in progress', will spare these fields at least.

This time last year:
Humanity in a Creative Universe: a summary

This time six years ago:
Always let your conscience be your guide

This time seven years ago:
Lenten recipe with prawns 

This time ten years ago:
Polish economy - recession thwarted

Saturday, 16 March 2019

In search of spiritual immortality


Lent 2019, Day 12

To live forever, you must forget who you are. The flashbacks are rare, but they happen too often to be dismissed; atavistic echoes, anomalous flashes of familiarity about times that have no right to be familiar. Continuity, a continuous whole, a metaphysical progression - our [current] bodies are but flimsy vessels, vectors carrying consciousness onward and upward, consciousness that has evolved through myriad creatures going all the way back to the earliest, simplest life forms on our planet -

- And then? Was there consciousness before life, or is consciousness an emergent property of life?

This, dear readers, science has yet to establish. My own instincts tell me that consciousness is as much a property of matter as mass or energy. Panpsychism: the notion view that consciousness, mind, or soul (psyche) is a universal and primordial feature of all things. [My brother reminds me to distinguish between panpsychism and hylopathism - the belief that matter is sentient. Hylopathism is opposed to the assertion that consciousness results exclusively from properties of specific types of matter such as brain tissue.]

Yet just as we can only perceive, at our human scale, the tiniest fraction of the difference between the radius of a hydrogen atom (5.3 x 10-11 m) and the radius of the observable universe, (8.8 x 1026 m), so our perception of consciousness is firmly rooted at the human scale.

We appreciate that lower-order mammals - our pets - display irrefutable hallmarks of consciousness as do cephalopods - octopus and squid. But just as we cannot peer into the inner shell of an atom with our own eyes, so our own consciousness finds it impossible to perceive consciousness innate within single-celled organisms. While biologists are beginning to appreciate that signs of consciousness can be found within amoeba and paramecium, which can show feelings and can learn. Very well. But below that level? If (and it's one of the greatest ifs we can ponder!) consciousness exists as a universal property - a proto-consciousness, a building block, like an electron or proton - then what's at that macro, galactic level? I would like to posit the notion of consciousness evolving, reaching ever-higher levels, and that such an evolution is nothing less than the purpose of the universe.

And the highest order of consciousness - that is what we humans have tended to call God.

What holds us back from moving towards greater proximity to God is our biologies, our complexes of inferiority or superiority, our ego, narcissism. The 'I' in our daily lives. Try to shed as much of this human baggage, experience the qualia that come from the observation of one's purest consciousness, and the way to spiritual evolution opens. It is a slow path of growth, yet we have all the time in the Universe.

This time last year:
Knowing and being and intuition

This time two years ago:
Rzeszów - capital of Poland's south-east corner

This time five years ago:
A tipping point in European history

This time six years ago:
Random sentiments from London suburbs

This time seven years ago:
Stalinist neo-classicism in Warsaw

This time eight years ago:
A week into Lent

This time nine years ago:
Afternoon-dusk-night in the city centre

This time ten years ago:
A particularly harrowing reality

This time 11 years ago:
Wetlands waiting for the spring




Friday, 15 March 2019

Rzeszów and Poznań

Apologies for not posting much - I have been travelling and doing TV and radio appearances (about Brexit, what else?). Before returning to blessed Lenten topics, a quick round-up of snaps from my trips to Rzeszów (Tuesday) and Poznań (Friday). First, Rzeszów. A 40-minute hop from Warsaw. Unlike Wroclaw and Tri-City where the rail modernisation means you can do a day's business there from Warsaw leaving and returning the same day, Rzeszów and Szczecin remain beyond the range of the railways. One way from Warsaw to Rzeszów by train (change at Kraków) is around five hours. But by air, from home, two and half hours.

Below: my seat on the way out, right at the very back of a LOT Polish Airlines Embraer E175 (20A). Nice to get some sunshine, albeit through thick glass! Note the LOT logo on the winglet - designed by Tadeusz Gronowski in 1929, could this be the oldest airline logo in continuous use (90 years this year!) anywhere in the world?


Weather in Rzeszów - snow still on the ground, sunshine alternating with dark clouds rushing in on strong winds bringing more snow and hail, only to rush past leaving sun before next belts of clouds hurry on.


Rzeszów is the capital of Poland's Aviation Valley - many aerospace manufacturers, large and small, have clustered here. British firms too - McBraida, Poeton, Bodycote - working for the big international players. Not just building planes, but teaching aeronautical skills takes place in Rzeszów; below: a Cessna 152 basic trainer was doing touch-and-goes at the airport.



Today's meeting was at the McBraida factory, which makes made-to-order aeroplane parts from hard-to-machine materials such as titanium. The factory is just a short (but muddy) walk from the airport in the adjacent technology park.The flight back was in a LOT Polish Airlines Bombardier Q400 (below). Take-off was at 18:00; I was home at 19:45 - which included a walk from the airport to W-wa Okęcie station and the walk home from W-wa Jeziorki station (around 3,000 paces / 30mins walking).


On to Poznań, for the opening of GlaxoSmithKline's new global business centre. By next year, it will employ 300 people in high-end accountancy and finance roles serving all of GSK's European operations. The biggest concern is finding and retaining skilled people in a city where the registered unemployment rate is just 1.3%, and the economically inactive rate (strip out the cash-in-hand workers) is around 0.8%. The city of Poznań has the lowest unemployment in Poland... and yet, I can't help noticing that compared to other big Polish cities, it's a bit scruffy...

Below: I seemed to have stopped doing Old School Photochallenge posts around 2011, but - well, look you here! There is literally not a single hallmark that would prevent one from placing this photo back in 1989. And yet. Ul. Konopnickiej, Poznań. Friday 16 March 2019.


Below: more old-school retailing; this is the factory-shop window of Herbapol Poznań.


Below: this is more like the Poznań of my imagination - dour Germanic architecture, modern offices and green trams - looking down ul. Fredry, leading (eventually) to the Old Market.


Below: wide streets, good public transport, yet I'm getting the feeling that Poznań could do with a major wash-and-brush-up. It's a wealthier city than it looks.


Usually, I remove grafitto from my published photos with Photoshop, so as not to give vandals any more undue exposure for their uncivilised behaviour than necessary. But this piece (left), on a historical landmark, the Zespół domów urzędniczych on Ul. Marcelińska, is one for metaphysicists to ponder: never mind that energy = mass times the speed of light squared - here in Poznań we learn the equation that time = joy. Heraldicly crossed in saltire, two Camberwell Carrots (or more likely Marchewki Marcelińskie) rather suggest how the artist prefers to spend their time.

Today, I covered 14km around Poznań on foot - the best way to really get to know a city. It occurred to me a while back that the reason my spacial awareness of Poznań for many years was poor stemmed from the fact that I associate the Warsaw to Berlin railway line as one that runs from east to west. Yet as it passes through Poznań - near enough the midway point, it does a little zigzag; the rails running through the city's main station are aligned north-south. So the Poznań Trade Fair buildings are west of the station - not north, as I'd imagined them. And the old town is north-east of the station - and not south-east. This insight only came to me when I got a smartphone with Google Maps in it; prior to that, I'd never noticed!

This time four years ago:
Spiritual mentors and spiritual leaders

This time five years ago:

This time six years ago:
In memory of me

This time seven years ago:
Cleaning sensors on my Nikons

This time eight years ago:
Changing seasons and one's samopoczucie

This time nine years ago:
Stunning late-winter beauty
[these are among my most gorgeous winter photos ever]

This time ten years ago:
Lenten fare - Jeziorki gumbo

This time 11 years ago:
Digging up Dawidowska


Sunday, 10 March 2019

Photo round-up of the week

A busy week - a quick catch up from Jeziorki, Warsaw and Gdynia. Below: progress on ul. Karczunkowska's viaduct - will it be ready and open by the end of June, or will yet another deadline slip?


Below: what on earth is an Air Belgium Airbus A340 doing over Warsaw? Turns out its been leased by LOT Polish Airlines to stand in for one of its Dreamliner fleet that's currently undergoing routine maintenance. Last October I snapped an A340 from Maltese airline Hi Fly stepping in for another Dreamliner.


Below: the new face of Nowa Iwiczna - new station, new signage, new(ish) houses, still displaying 1990s-style pasteloza ('pastelosis'). The whole thing fits together well; my tastes are not offended. It would have been even nicer for the houses to have had another floor, raising them a bit higher above the platforms.


Left: the Błękitny Wieżowiec ('Blue Skyscraper') on Plac Bankowy. It stands on the site of the Great Synagogue of Warsaw, blown up by the Germans in 1943. Construction of the skyscraper began in 1965, but was suspended shortly after the main structure was erected. Work resumed in 1988 and was completed in 1991. The facade, made of reflective float glass (the first in Warsaw), reflects the blue sky on clear days, giving rise to the building's name. The skyscraper is 120m high and has 28 storeys. Currently owned by UK firm First Property Group, managing part of the Universities Superannuation Scheme - the pension fund for British professors and lecturers.

Right: the Palace of Culture seen from the base of the podium where communist dignitaries would take the salute during military march-pasts and 1st May parades. Now Plac Defilad functions as an open-air long-distance coach station, lacking the amenities (and it must be said, the smells) of Warsaw's Zachodni coach station. The temporary structures at the north end of Pl. Defilad have all been pulled down; we still await the rebuilding of Dom Meblowy Emilia to the north of this space.

Below: Varso tower (cranes, blue sheeting around uppermost stories) nears the half-way mark (I can count around 25 floors - it will end up having 53). Snapped from 22nd floor of Rondo ONZ 1 tower.

Below: back to Jeziorki. 06:50, Friday, 8 March, International Women's Day - and someone has decorated the Trombity bus shelter with drawings of flowers in the frost and dust.


Below: the major water retention and drainage project halfway down the line between W-wa Dawidy and W-wa Jeziorki. Nearing completion, but still a lot of finishing work to do.


Below: on the site of the former ballast mountain (land owned by PKP PLK), a new hill has arisen, this time made from spoil from various earthworks around here.


Below: on Tuesday night I arrived in Gdynia for a conference, and I had just enough time over lunch to pop out and snap the ORP Błyskawica, on which my late father-in-law served as artillery officer. Good to see the ship - now a museum - looking so well!


The Błyskawica played a major part in beating off a Luftwaffe attack that would have devastated the port of Cowes on the Isle of Wight on 4-5 May 1942.


This time last year:
Do the laws of nature govern or describe our universe?

This time six years ago:
A selfless faith

This time seven years ago:
Ul. Profesorska after the remont

This time eight years ago:
Lent kicks off again, for the 20th year in a row for me

This time nine years ago:
Half way through Lent

This time 11 years ago:
Spring much closer