Tuesday, 30 April 2019

April's end, the summer's beginning

To T.S Eliot, April might have been the cruellest month, but then he lived in England before climate change had set in. To me, April is the most beautiful month, a miraculous month. From the 1st to the 30th of April, the day's length in Warsaw extends by nearly two hours. The sun now sets at eight; on 30 March it had set at six. The clocks going forward at the end of March yielded an extra evening daylight hour, at the cost of a morning's daylight hour occurring when most of us are asleep anyway*.

The trees, bare at the beginning of April are now fully in leaf; most of the fruit trees have exploded into blossom, bur have by now lost their flowers. Joy, joy, joy - and a whole summer ahead. The warmth returns in April; at daybreak on 1 April it was -1C; by the afternoon of 26 April it was 28C.

The process of spring - the rebirth - is complete. It took a month and it's done, summer is here. Of course there will be colder days (snow on 3 May, the Ice Saints and Zimna Zośka) but in essence spring is over and summer's here to stay - may it stay with us well into October!

But the passing of April leaves me with a feeling of transience; May is lush and green and June is dry, but as summer matures under escalating storm clouds one becomes inured to the heat and light. April, coming at the end of the przednówek is desperately needed. Polish winters stretch out much longer than on the British Isles, where flowers can be seen blooming at the end of January.

Below: trees in flower, Jeziorki, photos taken this week. Most of the blossom has since gone.



I will miss April!

The thought that there is an April keeps me going in those dark months, particularly November - when the hammer of darkness comes down, and in the przednówek of mid-February to mid-March when the Frost Gods have retreated but gloom and damp prevail. My father recalls a prewar saying Na Grzegorza  odpędza się zimę do morza ("On St Gregory's Day, winter is chased off to the sea"). Before the Second Vatican Council, St Gregory's Day was celebrated on 12 March; now the feast falls upon 3 September. Before global warming, Poland's rivers would be generally ice-bound for much of the winter, but by mid-March the ice-floes would make their way to the Baltic.

[*There is still no resolution as to the European daylight-saving time issue; my suggestion is to extend summer time by one month so the clocks go back (as they do now) two months before winter solstice at the end of October, but go forward a month earlier - at the end of February, two months after winter solstice - and not a asymmetric three as they do now. This would lift our spirits on March evenings!]

This time last year:
Best April ever?

This time two years ago:
The search for the Gold Train: Day Two

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

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

This time eight years ago:
At the President's

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

This time 12 years ago:
Why I'm staying in Warsaw

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Building work's almost done

On the działka it's that time when the construction work is almost finished, and what's needed now is tidying. Below: front of house, balcony railings painted silver (about 20 times cheaper than replacing them with stainless-steel ones.


Doo, doo, doo, lookin' out my back door. Below: rear patio completes, railings painted.


Below: the garage is ready! A Wisniowski door in open position, above new concrete floor that slopes downwards and out. Cellar to the left, down the stairs.


Below: Chynów station - the new track bed is ready for ballast. Beyond - apple trees in blossom. This week only.


Below: back in Jeziorki - pavements and asphalt on the stretch of ul. Karczunkowska under the new viaduct between the tracks and ul. Nawłocka. There's ul. Buszycka to the left, road roller standing there. Three days of inconvenience for the local residents. The journey to the platform at W-wa Jeziorki still cannot be made with dry feet on muddy days...


Below: photo taken from ground level, 2 August 2018, my father examines the work.


This time last year:
Karczunkowska's closed again

This time two years ago:
Little suitcase in the attic

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

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

This time six years ago:
Balloon over Warsaw 

This time eight years ago:
Happiness, Polish-style

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

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Electromobility - the last half-mile

We see more and more of them in Warsaw - electric scooters (hulajnogi rather than skutery) available for rent by the minute. This month, two more operators have made their scooters available in Our City, CityBee (from Lithuania) and Bird (from the US). They join Lime (operated by ride-hailing giant Uber) and Hive (a BMW/Daimler joint venture).

My moment of insight came last week when the CEO of an IT company came to meet me at my office - I met him outside as he was parking up his Lime-S scooter. A tipping point has been passed; urban transport is being revolutionised. All over the centre of Warsaw, I can see these e-scooters in use, or waiting for customers.

This is an ideal solution for that last kilometre or mile; to get from the Metro or mainline railway station to your final destination. Leave it (safely) and that's that. Payment is via mobile phone app.

Below: pics of e-scooters in use - exclusively with young people - no business leaders did I see today using this mode of transport. But in three years or so?


Below: the regulations say one person per scooter, and helmets should be worn, but hey, it's a carefree day in April. At least they're on a cycle path.


Below: the system runs on mobile phone apps. These allow users to find, unlock and be metered and charged for use of the scooter. Payment is via pre-paid card or credit card linked with the user's app.


Left: a trio of Birds, the newcomers to Warsaw's streets. Although Bird is the world's largest e-scooter operator, its newness to the Polish market means it will take a while to reach a critical mass of users who've downloaded the app.

The scooters are charged overnight by freelance contractors called 'chargers' or 'juicers' who track down scooters via a GPS-powered app, and charge them at home.

To get paid, the chargers must leave the scooters at designated spots by 7am the next morning, sending a photo to prove they've done it.

Right: a fleet of CityBees parked up between W-wa Śródmieście and Metro Centrum, the ideal place for commuters or tourists to find their wheels. Smooth asphalt is the best surface for running on; the bumpy pavement alongside ul. Marszałkowska between ul. Złota and ul. Świętokrzyska was so rough that some people were actually pushing rather than riding; not good given the prices charged!

It is not a cheap form of transport. Moving at up to 15km/h, covering a kilometre takes around five-six minutes including traffic lights; unlocking the scooter incurs a charge (see below), so covering that kilometre will cost between  5-6zł. This is much more than Warsaw public transport, but you go exactly where you want, not where the bus or tram deposits you.

How they compare: electric scooters in Warsaw

Operator
Units Start cost  Per minute Availability
Bird 100 3.00 zł0.50 zł 07:00-21:00
CityBee800 2.50 zł0.45 zł24 hours
Hive400 2.50 zł0.45 złDaylight only
Lime-S1,5003.00 zł 0.50 zł24 hours

Would I use this form of transport? No. I need the paces. A kilometre takes me around 12 minutes to walk - the scooter would get me there twice as quickly, but it's exercise I need, not small savings in time.

But overall, this is good thing. Young people are being weaned off car use; this is cool, this is hip. Although Poland generates most of its electricity by burning coal, other more enlightened economies don't (the UK hadn't burnt any coal to do so in the 80 days up to Easter this year). I hope in years to come the Polish energy mix will include far more electricity generated from renewable sources.

I remember well the hype preceding the launch of the Segway Personal Transporter, how it would revolutionise urban transport and thus city planning. It was not to be. All that technology (and weight) needed just so that two side-by-side wheels could be made to balance. And yet the traditional two-wheels-in-tandem configuration proves to be so much simpler. The Segway didn't do what it was meant to - but e-scooters may yet have a large civilisational impact. It's not so much adding a small electric motor to the scooter that did the magic - it was the global positioning satellite (GPS) needed to keep track of the fleet, and the mobile phone app that linked to the electric scooter will make the difference.

This time last year:
It's binary. There's either a God or there isn't...

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

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Aviation the theme...

I have a goodly number of aircraft snaps taken this week that are worth posting, so here goes. Below: an Airbus A320 leads a Boeing 787 Dreamliner towards to the runway at Heathrow this morning.


Below: this is a Polish PZL-110 Koliber (licence-built SOCATA Rallye 100ST). Snapped flying over Sułkowice station.


Below: parcels in the sky, one of Sprintair's fleet of a dozen Saab 340s on light-freight duties. Each one has the same livery, but in different colours - lime green, turquoise, orange...


Below: an unfamiliar sight and indeed name - this is an Airbus A220 (that's right - two twenty). As of last April, this is the new nomenclature of what was the Bombardier CSeries, reflecting Airbus Industrie's acquisition of the majority shareholding in this project. Only two European airlines have A220s, both fly into Warsaw - Swiss and airBaltic.


Below: coming in to land over Jeziorki - a KLM Boeing 737. The plane is banking onto its final approach (you can see how bent the wings are during this manoeuvre!)


Below: a vanilla WizzAir Airbus A-320 HA-LYK; what makes the pic is the moon.


Below: one of two Polish government Embraer E175 aircraft, leased from LOT Polish Airlines.


Below: one of several Mil Mi-8S helicopters still flying VIPs for the Polish Air Force.


Below: Sikorsky S76C of The Queen's Helicopter Flight, over Hanger Lane, Ealing. Somewhat newer than the 42 year-old Mi-8 used to fly Polish VIPs.


Below: on approach to Warsaw Okęcie airport, my British Airways Airbus A320 flies over Warsaw Bemowo airport, outside of which stand five communist-era gate guardians (left to right: Sukhoi Su-22, PZL Iskra, Yak-40, MiG-21 and another Iskra).


Below: view of Warsaw on approach into Okęcie airport's Runway 15.


Below: view of Warsaw on departure from Okęcie airport's Runway 33.


Bonus shot, referring to my previous post about Brentham Garden Suburb - while snapping there the day before yesterday, I caught sight of this scratch-built metal-and-wood model (in 1/48th or 1/50th scale) of an Avro Lancaster of 44 (Rhodesia) Sqn. Picture of this model aicraft on Google Maps Street View suggests it pivots around 180 degrees like a weather vane.


This time last year:
Five closed-off hectares of central Warsaw

This time two years ago
Progress by the ponds

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

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

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

This time nine years ago:
That Icelandic volcano

This time ten years ago:
Views of Historic Toruń

This time 11 years ago:
One swallow does not a summer make

Monday, 22 April 2019

More Easter in Ealing

A second day with temperatures exceeding 25C; Easter Monday and the blue sky beckons. Out to the Brentham Garden Suburb, its architecture looking Most fine in such Mediterranean weather.


Below: bluebells along the footpath that runs parallel to Brunswick Road. Because up to 50% of all bluebells grow in the British Isles, this flower, that so beautifies British woodland at this time of year, is unknown in Poland. Dzwonek (Campanula) is bellflower in English. Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) is similar in colour and shape, but not the same flower - a different order all together. Cousin Hoavis and his mum who were down for Easter said that Ealing bluebells are paler in colour than those found in Derbyshire - indeed, comparing my snaps with photos of bluebells online, they are indeed lacking in vibrance.


More heavy-blossomed trees line the streets of the Brentham Garden Suburb. This Arts and Crafts wonderland of 600 houses was built between 1903 and 1915 as a pioneering development following the precepts of garden cities and co-operative ownership.


Houses here are beautifully designed both in themselves and as an ensemble; the architects were mindful of the aesthetic effect that gently curving roads would give; hedges and trees complete the effect... and at this time of year - magic.


Quintessential English suburbia - under a distinctively non-English sky for the time of year. I cannot complain though, for that worry about climate change is somewhat offset by the feelings for the beauty of strong sunlight on the blossom-clad trees of late April. Two days' of walking - 90 minutes both days - and I feel my face slightly burnt by the sun. Who'd have thought I'd ever need sun-cream in London at Easter?


Finally - as used in the soundtrack of Sir John Betjeman's televisual programme, Metro-Land (1973), here is Jack Hylton and his Orchestra performing Sunny Side of the Street. Not the same version as used in the programme, but still a perfect accompaniment to a visit to Brentham Garden Suburb.


This time two years ago:
Litter makes me bitter

This time five years ago:
Lent's over - now what? 

This time six years ago:
Completely in the dark

This time seven years ago:
Ruch Palikota - a descent into populism

This time eight years ago:
I cross two unfinished bridges

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

This time ten years ago:
Do not take this road!

This time 11 years ago:
Seated peacock, Łazienki Park

This time 12 years ago:
Spirit of place: 1930s Kentucky - or Jeziorki?

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Easter in Ealing

It's Easter, and hot. While blogging, I've experienced snow on Easter Sunday in 2013 (31 March, Poland) and in 2008 (23 March, England), but never 24C.

Below: St Mary's Church, Perivale, from the footbridge over the River Brent.


Left: blossom on Cleveland Road; massive, heavy flowers fill the sagging tree; a spectacular sight set against an absolutely cloudless blue sky and strong early afternoon sunlight.

Below: the water meadows of the River Brent at Perivale, part of the golf course, prone to flooding, so left fallow. But I feel once more I am in old Kentucky.

Below: lower end of Cleveland Park, towards Scotch Common. That verdure. Those blue skies. Perfection. I have waited all summer, all autumn, all winter for this moment.


Left: Pitshanger Park, a tree in blossom within a municipal setting; waste bin, bench, railings, all painted Corporation Green; the timelessness of Edwardian Ealing I sense.

I've said this before - days like this in Ealing I don't remember from my youth; days were cloudier then (the summer of 1976 excepted). Prolonged blue-sky periods were far rarer than they are now. Climate change is real - it's a part of our reality. Pleasant though it be to experience hot days in April, it worries me.

As it's Easter, here's Mott the Hoople to Roll Away The Stone (sha-la-la-la push-push). From 1973, when I was 16.




This time three years ago:
WiFi works on Polish train shock

This time four years ago:
My dream camera, just around the corner
[No, the Nikon Z6/Z7 don't make the grade]

This time six year ago:
Longer, lighter lens

This time seven years ago:
New engine on the coal train 

This time eight years ago
High time to leave the car at home

This time nine years ago:
The answer to urban commuting

This time 12 years ago:
Far away across the fields

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Lent 2019 - a summing up


Day 46 - Easter Saturday

By midnight it will be Easter Sunday; the religious aspect of this has passed me by many years ago (or maybe I have passed it by), but Lents have continued and bring me a great deal of satisfaction, not least because they have helped me develop strength of will. Physical strength - health and longevity - but to what end?

A life well lived a life in which one balances peace of mind with optimising one's human potential. Peace of mind within a healthy body, peace of mind based on gratitude. But I've not done enough, not written enough this Lent. I've not been sufficiently productive, I've been distracted - politics mainly; I need focus; I need to get things done, things I told myself I'd do I need to press on with and finish.

Outside my window, the sun still shines, the trees are now in leaf, the garden is in blossom - this is the most beautiful time of the year. Seasonal affective disorder has gone, has faded away, the sunlight and warmth brings joy.

Lack of focus, easily distracted, where's that self-discipline...? What did I want to say? I wanted to ask how you reconcile the knowledge that your consciousness resides within a meat-covered skeleton that's currently sitting on a rock hurtling round a star within a galaxy that's one of billions in our known universe? Does it matter at all? "As the earth just spins in space/People plan their daily race"

Easter everywhere... let Ten Years After count out to the end of Lent - As the Sun Still Burns Away. Recorded nearly 50 years ago!


This time last year
Spring polarises into existence

This time five years ago:
The Road to Biedronka

This time six years ago:
Lighter, longer lens

This time nine years ago:
Making sense of Polish politics

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Helping others? Couldn't hurt


Lent 2019: day 43

Six weeks gone, three days to go. Another Lent is coming to an end, and while I will have succeeded in forswearing the usual meat and drink, and to a lesser extent spent time contemplating the Infinite and Eternal, it occurred to me that helping people is not something I'm good at.

I expect nothing from others, if an unexpected kindness is bestowed upon me, I am grateful - but I don't go out of my way to try to solve other people's problems. Maybe I'm selfish, maybe I'm introverted. Giving money to charity has never been easier - just transfer cash from my account to that of a needy cause - yet I do too little of this.

In my 28 Lents, not once has it occurred to me to use this period to help others more, to measure my charitable output in the same way that I note alcohol-free days and exercises in a spreadsheet. Yet do I feel the need to? Well, not really - the will to help others, the desire - the need - is not there within me. Should it be? I feel no guilt about it, so maybe not.



"Or maybe I'm supposed to help people generally lead a more righteous life? Is the answer in Kabbalah? In Torah? Or is there even a question? Tell me, Rabbi, what can such a sign... mean?"

"Look. The teeth - we don't know. A sign from Hashem? Don't know. Helping others? Couldn't hurt."

This time two years ago:
Local ornithology

This three years ago:
How To Spend It - or not.

This time four years ago:
Blossomtime sublime

This time seven years ago:
Novotel Forum clad in Orange

This time eight years ago:
Prophesies

This time nine years ago:
Icelandic volcano shuts down NW Europe air traffic 

This time 11 years ago:
Large, charismatic fowl

This time 12 years ago:
Antonov An-26 in the twilight of its career

Monday, 15 April 2019

Catholic vs Anglican, Leave vs Remain

Halfway through the second part of Bevis Hillier's magisterial biography of Sir John Betjeman, there's a fascinating chapter that resonated strongly with me; it concerns the poet's long (from 1946 to 1949) and acrimonious correspondence with author Evelyn Waugh about religion.

Waugh - author of Brideshead Revisited, Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies, and Scoop, had been at Oxford with Betjeman, though two years ahead, and like Betjeman was also an 'aesthete' with literary ambitions. Both men were conservative traditionalists drawn to religion. Both like ritual - vestments, incense, bells. However, Waugh converted to Roman Catholicism in 1930, while Betjeman, who'd dabbled with non-conformism (he'd been a Quaker for a while) had by the end of WW2 considered himself a High Anglican - or Anglo-Catholic.

Betjeman liked his services in English, rather than Latin, he loved (since childhood) country churches, sleepy parishes, evensong; in familiarity he found comfort, but he also questioned. Waugh liked Rome, the Mass in Latin, the theological certainty. By nature a self-confessed bully and possessed of the ideological zeal of a convert, he passionately sought to bring others back into the fold. Waugh believed that the rejection of universal Roman Catholicism for a heretical, national, faith would end in Hell's fires.

In the end, it was Betjeman's wife, Penelope, who converted to Catholicism in 1948, though more probably as a result of her own trip to Rome than because of Waugh's persuasive powers. Betjeman remained an Anglican until his death, though always questioning his beliefs. He was deeply touched by Penelope's conversion to Catholicism; it prompted the very personal poem The Empty Pew (1948).

The letters between the two men have been preserved; both - rightly - believed their correspondence to be intrinsically worthy of keeping for posterity. Reading them today is much like reading the online arguments between Remainers and Leavers in the battle for Brexit.

But who was the Leaver and who the Remainer? Betjeman didn't like 'abroad'. He felt uncomfortable there, the natives didn't speak English and the food tasted funny. Waugh was far more cosmopolitan, enjoyed foreign travel and promoted a supranational church. He was concerned about the fate of Roman Catholics abandoned, as he saw it, to Stalin at the end of WW2. Betjeman was more practical, concerned with the fate of his parishioners in Uffington should he and his wife renounce Anglicanism. The church there, wrote Betjeman to Waugh, was the village's "only bulwark against complete paganism". Betjeman bridled at Waugh's suggestion that he chose Anglicanism for aesthetic reasons, saying that his relationship with religion was "a stern struggle". I rather suspect that had they been alive today, both men, born in Edwardian England, would have been mildly in favour of Brexit. But then perhaps Waugh might have been tempted to stay in the EU with Roman Catholic countries like France, Italy, Spain and Poland.

Reading the correspondence and the story in Hillier's telling - how insignificant it all seems today... Why was Waugh so adamant that Betjeman (and indeed his wife), return to the One True Church, the one that Henry VIII had rejected four centuries earlier? Why did Betjeman so vehemently argue with Waugh rather than just ignore his letters? It is difficult for us, seven decades on, to understand how matters of personal faith could once have be taken so seriously. To quote from Blackadder: "Sir Thomas Moore, burned alive for refusing to recant his Catholicism, must have been kicking himself as the flames licked higher, that it never occurred to him to say, 'I recant my Catholicism'. Written in 1987, 32 years ago (!) this line suggests that religion lost much of its popular power over the 40 years since Waugh tried to convince Betjeman as to the superiority of Roman Catholicism over Anglicanism.

Future generations may look upon the Brexit Years and shrug their shoulders in a similar way to that with which the Waugh-Betjeman debate might by looked upon today. "Whatever."

This time two years ago:
Lent's almost over and what have I learnt?

This time five years ago:
Another attack on the car industry - from Forbes.

This six years ago:
Bicycle shakedown day

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

This time nine years ago:
Twenty years, ten months, six days
[Duration of Poland's 2nd Republic/time between restoration of democracy and Smolensk catastrophe]

This time 11 years ago:
Swans still in Jeziorki




Sunday, 14 April 2019

Managing Luck


Lent 2019: Day 40

How lucky are you? Chance acts of chaos - car crashes, unexpected illness, premature death of loved ones, financial troubles, terrorism, war, cataclysm - we live our lives through a minefield of potential disasters. We walk constantly upon the edge of chaos.

Can you want to be lucky? You'd think that no one wants to be unlucky. No one wishes bad things to happen to themselves. But do you want to be lucky? Consciously want to be lucky?

Conscious willing upon oneself of good luck requires one prime ingredient - gratitude. This is something that I've habitified - twice a day, while brushing my teeth, I express gratitude for my teeth, my health, the health of loved ones - and then for peace, for prosperity, and then I wish good upon my environment.

Schrodinger's luck - until you look into the box, you're lucky and unlucky at the same time. What constitutes 'opening the box'? Getting safely through to the end of the day, the end of a year, another birthday, another milestone passed?

This is Ig Nobel Prize territory. How can you scientifically measure luck by any objective criteria?

If I'd have written these words at the age of 31, I might have thought that I'm a bit, previous. Indeed, I have been hesitant is writing these words for this very reason. If I'm mown down by a reckless driver while crossing the street today, or diagnosed with a life-threatening disease a few months from now, the words on this post will have been proved utterly wrong. Chance, I pray, is on my side. It is on my side because I consciously will it be so.

I'm lucky to have been born in 1957 rather than 1927 or 1857. I'm lucky to have been born with good genes. I'm lucky enough to have had a reasonably good education. I'm living in Poland partly out of luck but more out of conscious choice, I am lucky that Poland is in the best economic and geopolitical situation its been in for centuries.

The only way for you, dear reader, to see if I'm right or wrong is to follow this blog for the next 30 to 40 years!

Can you be lucky in your afterlife? The answer to this question will not come to you in this lifetime. Believe it so, and you will see. If you don't - an eternity of nothingness awaits - but then this prospect doesn't bother you.

This time last year:
Blossoms and pylons

This two years ago:
Weather bad, mood SAD

This time six years ago:
Bicycle shake-down day

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

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

This time 11 years ago:
Swans still in Jeziorki

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Construction updates

It's been a highly productive week at Jakubowizna; the external insulation has been plastered and painted, the guttering has been done. What's needed now is the garage door - and the garage floor needs cement screed, painted with a stain-proof coating. The toolshed needs a door too. I'm considering replacing the balcony and stair railings with polished metal stainless steel ones. Then a gravel drive from the front gate, and perimeter fencing, and that's it. Some finishing inside, plus a few bits of furniture.


The place is now habitable, the thermal insulation makes a huge difference. This morning there was snow on the ground in Warsaw, the temperature at dawn just above 0C. By lunchtime it had reached 5C, yet inside the house it was 17C. Warm enough for me not to have to put the heating on!


Below: looking down the track from Chynów station towards Krężel, work is going on to lift the old 'up' track. An eight-car, two-set EN71 electrical multiple unit heads south to Strzyżyna, where the line currently ends; a replacement bus service takes passengers on from there.


Another important milestone back in Jeziorki - the first layer of asphalt has been laid on the east side of the viaduct carrying ul. Karczunkowska over the Warsaw-Radom railway line (below). Locals have taken to using the as-yet-unopened bridge to get to the 'up' platform to town rather than picking their way through the building site beneath.


Below: at the top of the viaduct, two bus lay-bys. Still a vast amount of finishing work required; four wheelchair lifts, pedestrian crossing, permanent railings, more asphalt, road markings and road signs. Three and half months before it's opened? By the end of the school holidays is my bet (the bus loop by the station also has to be completed and synchronised with new bus timetables).


Below: bonus shot: an oil train heads west through Czachówek on the Skierniewice-Łuków line. Note the trees and shrubs in flower in the foreground.


This time six years ago:
The ups and downs of the onset of spring

This time seven years ago:
Pigeon infestation by Dworzec Centralny

This time nine years ago:
Fertile grounds for conspiracy theorists

This time 11 years ago:
Magnolia in bloom, Ealing

Friday, 12 April 2019

Strength in numbers


Lent 2019: Day 38

Yes, Lent is about giving things up, but it can also about forming new habits. It is easier to commit not to do things than to do things which are difficult. Over the years, Lent has been a good time to launch into new initiatives that can then take on the status of a habit. Lent and indeed New Year - resolutions, if broken in February, can be reinstated in Lent. If continued daily, there's a good chance they'll become year-round, a positive part of the daily routine.

For me, the spreadsheet is the key to success. Every single day since January 2014 I've entered data into the spreadsheet, each year it grows an extra column as I log more daily habits. This year, in January, I began doing the plank, adding it to push-ups, pull-ups and weights (5kg lateral, internal and external rotations).

The planking is going well; holding the plank position (forearms and toes on the ground, legs, backs, neck straight) for two and half to three minutes, three to four times a day, with the aim of doing an hour a week. This is a great exercise for strengthening the core muscles of the torso, helps with posture - but reducing belly fat is rather a slow win. Planking is certainly better than sit-ups, which are bad for the spine (all that repetitive bending and straightening the backbone).

Because I'm more consistent than last year, with fewer missed exercise sessions, the numbers are rising, and with them my strength. I've managed 70 or more push-ups on several occasions, and knocking out 60 is now standard - last year I was pushing 40.

So each year, I am increasing muscle mass (the more there is, the more loss can be accommodated with ageing). Yes, there will come a year where for the first time I can no longer do as many push-ups as I was doing the year before, or heave as many weights, or pull my chin up to the bar as often - but the more consistent I am in doing these exercises twice a day, every day, the further away that moment recedes. My slogan is not so much 'beat yesterday', but 'beat last year'. The same goes for paces walked, fresh fruit & veg eaten, and that slow but steady reduction in amount of alcohol drunk.

My father's advanced age offers me a template of how much of life there still lies ahead to be savoured; by investing more in my health since my mid-50s, the genetic factor may be enhanced some yet. My father drove to work every day - his office was out by the airport, there were no direct public-transport routes to get him there. Driving is bad for health; on top of all that sitting in the office, it's another hour-and-half to two hours a day sitting, stressed, in traffic. Driving is the enemy of walking, walking is a great habit.

Walk home from W-wa Jeziorki station, the nicest way. 1.4km, 1,750 paces.


This time three years ago:
Cultural differences: distance to power

This time seven years ago:
Painting the Forum Orange

This time ten years ago:
That's what I like about the North

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Fancy a drink?


Lent 2019: Day 37

As the train pulled into W-wa Jeziorki station, I caught sight of a chap standing on waste ground behind the southbound platform chugging away at a tin of beer. "How pleasant it would be," I thought, "to relax a while at the end of the working day with an ale." And then, "well - as it happens, nearing the end of Lent, actually, no - I can quite do without. Old habits... But then doing Lent for me is nothing new; I've been quitting alcohol for the duration every year for 28 years. Each year it looks daunting at the beginning, but by the end it's easy. Wouldn't quit booze for good though; social occasions (which I eschew over Lent) go much better with a glass or wine or five, or indeed a similar number of beers with the lads, or just the single glass of red with a good meal. No, life is to be enjoyed.

For those who favour a literal interpretation of the Bible, the temperance movement that resulted in American prohibition had to do some convoluted thinking to reject alcohol totally.

In the Gospel of St John, Jesus performs His first miracle, which consists of turning somewhere between 469 and 703 litres of water into wine (the equivalent of 625 and 937 standard 75cl bottles. Up to 150 cases of the stuff!):
St John Ch 2: "1 And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: 2 And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. 3 And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. 4 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. 5 His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece*. 7 Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. 9 When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, 10 And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. 11 This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him."
It's clear from this text that the guests had already worked their way through the wine before Jesus and his disciples arrived at the wedding. Jesus and his disciples wanted wine. Upon hearing from his mother that there was no wine, Jesus used his heavenly powers - for the first time - to perform the miraculous transformation into several hundred litres of wine.

We don't know how many people were at the marriage at Cana. A couple of hundred? Even if the entire village and everyone within a day's donkey ride away turned up, the sheer volume of "good wine" appearing midway through the celebrations must have had a massively intoxicating effect on those guests that partook in the merrimaking.

[*The above text is from the King James version of the Bible; a firkin is 41 litres. The Greek text states 'two or three metretes' (μετρητής); one metrete (amphora) was equivalent to 39.1 litres.]

American evangelical teetotallers tried to persuade their followers that Jesus changed water into grape juice - not so. Wine is wine, it has fermented. Other instances of the Greek word οἶνον throughout the Bible clearly refer to an intoxicating drink, not unfermented juice.

For Christians (at least) this should be a clear sign that drinking alcohol is not frowned upon by God. It is the context in which it is used. A wedding feast - a celebration, a dinner with friends - go right ahead! Knocking back a tin of strong ale on one's own suggests an uncontrollable need.

And so from the Bible to the spreadsheet; from 1 January until Easter Sunday (21 April) of this year, I will have consumed 121 units of alcohol compared to 210 units across the same 110-day period. (Weekly average of 7.7 units down from 13.3 units last year). Public Health England guidelines are 14 units - so once Lent is over, I'll have some catching up to do!

This time last year:
Klimat change

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

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

This time seven years ago:
Cats and awareness

This time nine years ago:
Why did this happen?

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

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

No God for those who don't believe, God for those that do


Lent 2019: Day 34

Consider this possibility: for those who deny the existence of God, who live life without the instinctive feeling that there's something more to life that what's physical, there is indeed no God. They exist in a Godless parallel universe, living side by side with those for whom the presence of God is a given, who exist in a universe filled with Godly wonder. Together on one planet.

For those who believe in God, who accept the presence of a God - the next issue is to define that God. And to define the Afterlife. (A Venn diagram of believers in God and believers in an Afterlife would be to closely overlapping circles - the two beliefs are connected.) Beliefs in God are manifold; religious orthodoxies strive to corral people with the constraints of doctrine, but the individual human mind will usually strive to personalise faith to fit individual convictions.

Then there are agnostics - those living without the conviction of atheists or believers. Some agnostics actively spend their lives seeking answers, but most merely drift along; neither thinking nor not thinking about these questions - just getting on with the day-to-day. Regardless of whether or not they attend religious services. Those agnostics that do not seek also exist in a universe devoid of God.

Life-changing mystic experiences don't happen to everyone; some of us seek them, some of us befall them. Some of us have lived in the presence of a numinous feeling since our earliest childhood, that there is some great unfathomable mystery that overarches everything.

View from my window, early this morning

I know what I'd like from my God. To participate in, to commune with, that eternal process of increasing consciousness, ever-rising awareness, the journey from Zero to One, from life after life after life... But there's a catch. It's that pronoun 'I'.

The human ego is the biggest obstacle to spiritual growth; narcissism eats the soul, draws down the eyelids to the light of God. "Do good, and you will be rewarded with eternal bliss" sounds more like top-down social control than divine inspiration. Desperately wanting to cling on to the youness of you after death makes people adhere to commandments. But the youness of you will disappear, to return in the briefest of flashes, anomalous memories of lives past. At least this is my experience.

Possibilitarianism accepts a multitude of quantum outcomes; the question is - can you influence them through your will? I think there's something in this. I feel comfortable and connected in my worldview, though I believe it needs honing over the coming decades. That is what life is for.

Trying to catch the blossom at its finest, 10 April 2019.


This time last year:
Work proceeding around Jeziorki

This time two years ago:
Karczunkowska reopens to traffic

This time seven years ago:
Goodness gracious!

This time eight years ago:

This time nine years ago:
Cycling and recycling

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

This time 11 years ago:
Toyota launches the iQ

This time 12 years ago:
Old school Łódź