Saturday, 31 August 2019

If you're really concerned about global warming - rein in your consumption

The UK's chief environment scientist last week suggested that to halt climate changing emissions, we need to change our lifestyles dramatically. We need to use less transport, reduce our red meat consumption and buy fewer clothes. I entirely agree.

Lifestyle changes must be made according to Professor Sir Ian Boyd, who gave an interview on the BBC, suggesting that every consumer has a part to play to avoid the climate change situation worsening. This graphic (below), prepared by the UK government, shows how CO2 emissions have changed over the past 28 years. It's clear that the two biggest producers of CO2 - industry and energy generation - have made significant progress. Government action - the drive for renewable energy sources and environmental regulation aimed at manufacturers - has had an impact. Buildings are greener too, as is waste - again, regulation has worked.

But look at 'surface transport'. Even though more Britons are taking the train than ever before (1.8 billion passenger journeys in 2018-19 compared to 1.1 billion in 2002-03), CO2 emissions from surface transport have been rising. The passenger car and the delivery truck are the culprits.

[F-gases = Fluorinated gases that stay in the atmosphere for centuries and contribute to the greenhouse effect.]

During the interview, Sir Ian said that polluting activities should be taxed further, and that the government should nudge citizens towards a lower-emission lifestyle by offering rewards to those who go for low-carbon choices. He said: "The way we live our lives is generally not good for the environment…We like to consume things, but the more we consume the more we absorb the resources of the planet. That means we have to grow those resources, or we have to mine them - and in doing that we generate waste. And consumption is going up all the time."

Technology is part of the solution towards reaching the goal: "We need to make major technological advances in the way we use and reuse materials but we ... need to reduce demand overall - and that means we need to change our behaviours and change our lifestyles."

Are you ready to do that?

Well, I have not owned a car for six years, use public transport and walk a lot; I buy used clothing from charity shops; my appetite for consumer goods is low. But one area where I am an above-average emitter of CO2 is in my frequent flying between Warsaw and London to visit my father. A single return flight is responsible for half a tonne of CO2 put into the atmosphere, so my flying (including the occasional business flight) generates some six or seven tonnes of CO2 a year - the equivalent of driving myself around in a petrol car consuming 7.7l/100lm (37mpg) for 24,000km (16,000 miles).

So I should not feel so smug about foregoing a car - my flights generate more CO2 each year than driving an average car over above-average annual mileage. But going by train from Warsaw to London is totally impractical requiring changes at Berlin, Cologne and Brussels, a journey of 20 hours and 39 minutes, as well as being hideously expensive. The Warsaw-Berlin leg alone (2nd class) costs the same as a Warsaw-London flight.

Governments have been effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from energy generation, industry, construction and waste disposal, but tacking aviation is a bigger challenge. Massive investment in high-speed rail is needed to shift short- and medium-haul airline passengers to less polluting forms of transport.

A useful (if continental European) website with CO2 calculator can be found here.

We are in a free-rider or 'tragedy of the commons' situation vis-a-vis our less environmentally aware friends, neighbours and colleagues - we all share a common resource - our planet - and where's the individual benefit of acting responsibly towards it if others don't? How can I fly less right now?

This time last year:
The balance between the spiritual and the material

This time two years ago:
End of August, end of summer?

This time three years ago:
Pavement for Karczunkowska... a bit at least

This time four years ago:
Gold Train update (the hope! the expectations!)

This time six years ago:
Poland post the Rubbish Revolution

This time seven years ago:
Poland's most beautiful street

This time eight years ago:
Getting to grips with phrasal verbs

This time ten years ago:
What Putin wrote about Molotov-Ribbentrop

This time 11 years ago:
Summer Sunday in the city

This time 12 years ago:
Last bike-ride to work of the summer

Friday, 30 August 2019

Let's stop spitting at the other tribe

If you're in Poland today and you don't like PiS, you will be revelling in the fact that Trump won't be coming to Warsaw to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the start of WW2. If you're in Poland today and you don't like PO, you will be revelling in the discomfort caused to Warsaw's local authorities by the sewage leak into the Vistula.

I don't like Trump and I don't like Kaczyński, but the reason given for Trump staying stateside this weekend seems plausible. This, from the BBC..."Hurricane Dorian has maximum sustained winds of 130mph (215km/h) and is expected to grow stronger before making landfall in Florida... A state of emergency has been declared in Florida, where residents have been urged to stock enough food, water and medicine to last at least a week. Forecasters warn Dorian could be the state's worst storm since  Hurricane Andrew killed 65 people and destroyed 63,000 homes in 1992." Anti-PiS commentators see Trump's excuse as a sign that the US doesn't take the Polish government seriously.

Meanwhile, the sewage leak from the Czajka ['Lapwing'] water treatment works is being used by anti-PO commentators to attack the PO-led city hall, in particular, Warsaw's recently elected mayor Rafał Trzaskowski. The sewage plant was massively extended in 2012, and on Wednesday this week a pipe under the Vistula bringing sewage from the left bank to the Czajka plant for treatment sprang a leak. The ensuing fuss was not so much about engineering as about mud slinging. Cue someone who worked on the plant extension in 2012 and said (on the pro-PiS media) that it was an environmental disaster waiting to happen. "Why did you stay silent for seven years then?" replied pro-PO commentators.

Turning events into triggers for splitting society, by dishing out the hate, is not the way forward. Rather, one should acknowledge the positive aspects of the other side whenever it merits doing so.

I don't like Kaczyński, but I absolutely see the improvement in the Polish labour market during the time of the PiS government. Unemployment is down to 5.2% (registered unemployed) or 3.3% (economically inactive). When PiS took office in the autumn of 2015, it stood at 9.8% (registered unemployed) or 7.1% (economically inactive). GDP growth (4.5% in the second quarter of this year) remains strong by the standards of western economies. This is a positive achievement for Poland and should not be ignored or belittled. Part of the praise here must be directed at prime minister and former finance minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, who understands economics and is careful not to unduly worry investors. However, much remains to be done with Poland's economy, not least making doing business easier for the entrepreneur.

We are getting more tribal. We can see the mechanisms for stirring up division at work - be they politicians at home, geopolitics, social media amplifying voices from far left and far right, making it seem more acceptable to deploy extreme language and outright lies in the pursuit of political goals. And it is all too easy to slip that way, towards the barbarian, away from truth and light.

Sometimes its difficult, when facing an existential threat from people who don't even know why it is that they are threatening you - Brexit being my chief worry at this time. But let us not descent into barbarism, even if it is to defend that which one holds dear.

This time last year:
Progress on the Działka

This time five years ago:
Changes to Poland's traffic regulations

This time eight years ago:
Teasers in the Polish-English linguistic space

This time nine years ago:
Summer slipping away

This time ten years ago:
To the airport by bike

This time 11 years ago:
My translation of Tuwim's Lokomotywa

Flying into Heathrow

A lovely day for flying - clear skies over Warsaw, clear skies over London. And a nice window seat, right at the back. BA into Heathrow - so much better than WizzAir to Luton.

Below: PZL W-3 Sokół helicopter configured for flying VIPs, 1st Transport Aviation Base, Warsaw-Okęcie. It was taxiing just as our Airbus was pushing back from the stand.

Below: two USAF C-17 Globemaster II aircraft, in town for the commemorations of the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of WW2. Trump's not coming, so the hardware that these transport giants have brought along will be for the use of the vice-president, Pence.

Below: take off, and immediately visible to the east is the path of the S2 expressway, crossing Ursynów on its way to cross the Vistula. Eventually, the S2/A2 will continue on to the Belarusian border. But just for it to cross the river would be useful.

A thousand miles fly past, under the wings of our plane.

Left; estuarine Essex - this is Foulness. where England meets the North Sea and the highest elevations are two metres above sea level. Will this be under water in fifty years' time?

Flying into London in the early afternoon, sun still high in a cloudless sky, gives good opportunities for photos.

Below: the new Tottenham Hotspurs football stadium, opened four months ago.

Below: Richmond Bridge, catching the sparkle of the River Thames.

Below: homage to 1969, Heathrow, today. This is British Airways' retro-liveried Airbus A320, G-EUPJ, sporting the colours of British European Airlines from the 1960s. A bit of manual de-focus to get a softer image, run through VintageJS software (available free on to give that old-timey look, capturing the excitement of the start of a childhood continental summer holiday.

This time four years ago:
The search for the Gold Train intensifies

This time five years ago:
The Vistula from on high

This time eight years ago:
Bad car day

This time nine years ago:
Dragonfly summer

This time 11 years ago:
"What do we want?" "Early retirement!"

This time 12 years ago:
Greenhouse sunset

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Further on to Radom - Dobieszyn bez szyn

Continuing my irregular visits to stations along the Warsaw-Radom railway line as it undergoes modernisation. Last time, I visited to the last two stations still blessed with a rail service (Warka and Strzyżyna). From there on, trains have been suspended and replaced with buses for the duration of the works. Today, on to the first station deprived of trains - Dobieszyn.

Below: the station building, built in 1934. Although the line from Warka to Radom was single track (this is to be remedied), at Dobieszyn station there were three tracks, three platforms with five platform edges. All platforms ripped up. The replacement bus stops on the main road outside the station - but tickets need to be bought at the machine on the other side of the building, visible in the mid-ground.

Below: derelict signal box beyond the southern end of the old platforms, where the three lines merge back into one, running south towards Kruszyna (lit. 'Crumb'), the next station along the Radom line.

Below: the station building seen from the north, an ample car park for the commuters. The village of Dobieszyn consists of some 500 people, but the DK48 brings in motorised commuters from a wide catchment area.

Below: the level crossing that takes the DK48 across the Radom line. Droga Krajowa 48 runs from west to east, much of the way from Łódź to Lublin.

Below: view looking south from the level crossing, towards Dobieszyn station. The widening of the trackbed is evident here; before work started it was just a single line.

Below: view looking north from the level crossing, towards Strzyżyna; no sign of any work going on here. The old power line gantries have gone.

Below: heading back home to Jeziorki. First view of Warsaw from Lesznowola; Nowa Wola and Zgorzała on the way to the edge of town.

Below: back in Jeziorki; sunset is clearly getting earlier with each passing day. An hour and 20 minutes sooner than at summer solstice two months ago. We'll lose another hour and 14 minutes before equilux in one month's time. In two months' time, the Hammer of Darkness will descend.

Update: Sunday, they were working on the line at Chynów station. Flat out. Yet on a Saturday at Dobieszyn - no work was visible at all.

This time last year:
Faith and instinct

This time two years ago:
Tunnel (further searches for the Nazi gold train)

This time three years ago:
Planes and trains on pedestals around Poland

This time seven years ago:
Twilight, ul. Karczunkowska

This time ten years ago:
First hints of autumn in the air

This time 11 years ago:
Slovakia - we were not impressed

This time 12 years ago:
Jeziorki - late August cultivation

Friday, 23 August 2019

Best and worst railway journeys in one day

Kraków - there and back in a day on business not too difficult... I left home at 05:15, by taxi (using the FreeNow ride-hailing app), arriving at W-wa Centralna with 15 minutes in hand for my 05:50 Pendolino train.

Below: sunrise over Warsaw from W-wa Centralna station.

The journey to Kraków was comfortable and, just 2hrs 18mins, the shortest and fastest I'd ever undertaken between these two cities. Indeed, counting check-in time, it's faster than flying for a city-centre to city-centre journey. Below: outside the shopping mall that flanks Kraków Główny station's to the west. New buildings in the distance; our new office is to the right.

Below: view of the Camaldolese Hermit Monastery, Bielany, Kraków, a closed monastery (women admitted 12 times a year). Built in 1630. Sadly, this view from the Kraków Technology Park will soon disappear as new offices and flats will appear in the intervening fields.

Another building that's visible from the Kraków Technology Park is Kraków's legendary Szkieletor (below), a building that's stood in skeletal form since the early 1980s, and is finally being completed. Standing 30 floors high, its opening will take some pressure off the city's requirements for office space. Kraków gives the impression - as does Warsaw - of a boom town with a dynamic economy reaching the limits of available manpower.

Heading out to the south-east of the city, and here's a tram (below) with an advert in English - a recruitment company is looking for recruiters to recruit people for other companies!

Below: returning to Kraków Główny station. Outside stands a bus with an advert in Ukrainian, giving me a similar culture shock to that of seeing a London bus with an advert in Polish on the back.

Below: one more Kraków tram shot - this is the underground tram station directly beneath Kraków Główny railway station. The railway tracks run at 90 degrees to the tramlines.

Finally, I turn up to Kraków Główny to find that my train back to Warsaw will be delayed by 20 minutes. Then 40 minutes. Then an hour. Then a hundred minutes. Then 120 minutes. The inbound Pendolino services from Gdynia is advertised as arriving 185 minutes late. Total chaos. The explanation is simple - 300m of overhead electric cable has been stolen from the main trunk line between Sztrałki and Idzikowice. All express trains between Warsaw, Kraków, Katowice and Wrocław that use the CMK trunk line are diverted via Skierniewice and Piotrków Trybulanski.

Below: the delayed arrival of the Pendolino service from Gdynia to Kraków. It was due at 13:15; it arrives at 18:20. The train is turned around in 18 minutes, and we depart at 18:38, nearly two hours after the scheduled time of 16:40.

Below: sunset from the train.

Below: arrival back at Warsaw Central, 22:50. Three and half hours late. For a journey scheduled to take two hours and 40 minutes.

My travel woes were not over. I elected to return home using the FreeNow app to hail a taxi. I tried five times, each time giving up as no driver was picking up my hail. But I was walking south - I made it all the way to Pole Mokotowskie Metro station, before reasoning that at around 23:30 most taxis had left central Warsaw taking late-night revellers home to the suburbs. The taxis are all out there! So I jumped on a Metro train, got opf at Wilanowska, hailed a FreeNow taxi from there - and had one within minutes. Home at 23:45, 18 and half hours after setting ofp.

The big question remains - how on earth did thieves manage to steal 300m of overhead powerlines from on of Poland's busiest and fastest railway lines? I reckon it's an inside job - someone who knew when the trains were running, who knew about the remont of the line around Idzikowice, someone who could pass unnoticed along the track. Where were the SOKiści - the railway watchkeepers?

I am an opponent of capital punishment, but in favour of corporal punishment for such crimes, 99 lashes, each administered by someone who'd been put out by the thieves' actions. Like the lady sitting opposite me in the Wars restaurant carriage, who'd gone to Kraków to visit a medical specialist; arriving three hours late, she merely stayed on the same train to head back home without having seen the professor with whom she'd missed a long-awaited appointment.

Flogging is too good for overhead powerline thieves. Broken bones all round. Robust retribution.

UPDATE 10.10.2019: Pendolino service from Wrocław to Warsaw has to do a detour between Opole and Częstochowa Stradom because of a derailed freight train. Delay: one and half hours. Shit happens all too often.

This time last year:
What's new around Jeziorki

This time four years ago:
Hydrology - droughts, floods and sandbanks

This time six years ago:
Radom air show - Part 1

This time seven years ago:
Restricting passenger movement and safety

This time eight years ago:
Seasonal fruit - eat it in bulk, while you can!

This time ten years ago:
Russia-Polish 'unification', 1939-style

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Three years on, still no viaduct for Karczunkowska

To no one's surprise let alone mine, the third anniversary of the closure of the level crossing on ul. Karczunkowska, has come and gone and there's still no sign of the viaduct opening any time soon.

So I shall mark the occasion with the third in a series of commemorative postage stamps.

My previous forecast of the viaduct being open in time for the start of the new school year on 2 September (which would coincide with the new bus timetables) is unlikely to be proved right. More likely is this conspiracy theory currently doing the rounds. All infrastructure projects are to be finished ahead of the parliamentary elections (on Sunday 13 October), so the nation can give thanks at the ballot boxes to the genius who made all this happen! But still that's leaving it a bit late - there's so much to do, not least the road signs, road markings and 13 pedestrian crossings.

Most of all - the level-access lifts. There are four of them, and in every new rail infrastructure project, they are the Achilles heel - for some reason, there's always delay in getting the lifts approved once installed.

December 2019? Anyone for a bet?

This time last year:
Two years on: Karczunkowska's still closed

This time two years ago:
That's it! the level crossing's closed.

This time three years ago:
That's it! the level crossing's closed.

This time four years ago:
What happened to Poland's Amish?

This time five years ago:
PKP publishes plans for upgrade of Warsaw-Radom line

This time six years ago:
World's largest ship calls in at Gdańsk

This time eight years ago:
Raymond's Treasure - a short story

This time nine years ago: 
Now an urban legend: kebab factory under W-wa Centralna 

This time ten years ago: 
It was twenty years ago today 

This time 12 years ago: 
By bike to Czachówek again

Monday, 19 August 2019

Loss, faith and consolation

As many of readers of this blog may know by now, Ziggy Chodzko-Zajko died two weeks ago on 6 August while walking on was to be his 34th pilgrimage from Warsaw to the Jasna Góra monastery in Częstochowa. He was 60. I heard the shocking news the day after his death from his widow Ela, who broke the news as we flew back from London to Warsaw. I was surprised by her composure given the unexpected nature of Ziggy's death; he'd been supping back a few ales with us Warsaw London boys just three weeks earlier.

I was also surprised by the massive turnout for Ziggy's funeral in Góra Kalwaria - it was a most beautiful mass; maybe three hundred mourners, a good number of whom had flown or driven over from London. Ziggy and Ela were a deeply religious couple, and I had a sudden insight today into just how powerful shared belief in God and being part of a spiritual community can be at a time of grief. This was a well-liked man, whose passing became an occasion for coming together to celebrate his life.

At the wake there was an excellent audiovisual summary of Ziggy's 60 years among us - I was particularly impressed by the recollections of his time spent with Ela as lay missionaries in the Philippines. Here they helped build a community centre on the island of Mindanao, at a time when massacres of civilians and kidnapping for ransom were commonplace. Ziggy's willingness to help others was legendary; this came out time and again in the eulogies spoken at the funeral mass and wake.

Ziggy was a member of Błękitna Trójka, the 3rd London Polish scout troop back in the 1970s which is where I first met him, he later went on the Montserrat holidays to Poland which resulted in more than a few of us deciding to move to our fatherland after the fall of communism. I counted eleven Błękitna Trójka old boys at the funeral (three of whom appear in this photo from 50 year ago). Some familiar faces I'd not seen for over 40 years!

Here's an interview with Ziggy (in English) for Poland In about his pilgrimage, just days before setting off. Incidentally, the 243km between Warsaw and Częstochowa takes 10 days (around 30,000 paces a day, sleeping in tents every night). Physically challenging.

Reading Prof Richard Swinburne's excellent Are We Bodies or Souls the other week has given me a fresh perspective on how Christian belief in the Afterlife can square with science and be explained by logic. Although my own convictions on the Afterlife are more eastern (and quantum-physics based) in nature than Christian, one way or another I too am certain that Ziggy's spirit lives on, eternally.

Ziggy played guitar [May 2007]

This time two years ago:
Summer's wasting away

This time three years ago:
Warsaw remembers the PASTa building capture

This time four years ago:
Drought. It was a dry summer.

This time six years ago:
Warsaw's ski slope at Szczęśliwice

This time seven years ago:
On the road from Dobra, again

This time eight years ago:
August storm, ul. Targowa

This time nine years ago:
Warsaw Central's secret underground kebab factory

This time ten years ago:
Cheap holidays in other people's misery

This time 11 years ago:
Steam welcomes us to Dobra

This time 12 years ago:
New houses appear in the fields by Zgorzała

Thursday, 15 August 2019

My summer space

To my father, who can't wait to return to Jakubiwizna

August the fifteenth. A religious holiday - day off work (tomorrow too). So down to the działka, down to Jakubowizna, to feel the Polish summer in its later stages. The sun's still strong, it's still hot outside, the light's bright, and all is well. Vegetation remains bujna - luxuriant, lush. The good earth. My meadow, full of flowers.

Walking time, contemplation. Flashbacks - this is Mazowsze, it's also Kentucky. I'm just 22 miles (35km) from Mogielnica, where my paternal grandmother was from. Atavistic resurgence.

I've trod this earth before, experienced this before, just not here... but I am back. |And I love it here.

Out where the pine trees grow wild and tall...

Below: apples - what made Mazowsze famous. Still six weeks to two months from being ready for picking.

Below: I hear a 'krahhh!' to my right. I look round - and see no one, nothing... A bough has broken. The weight of apples was too much for the tree to bear.

Below: lines in parallel I - the orchard at the corner of my street.

Below: lines in parallel II - the modernised railway track from Chynów all the way up to Sułkowice - still much work to be done (I guess a year and half) before both 'up' and 'down' lines have been relaid, new platforms built and new electrical cables suspended over the tracks. The new ballast is like snow.

It's six o'clock, the sun is lower in the sky; but summer is still there in my nostrils, bringing back memories of those tail-end days of childhood summer vacations, when the joys of the beach were tempered with the knowledge that good things must come to an end - to return once more, after another winter.

This time last year:
Another Romanesque church dedicated to St Giles

This time three years ago:
Armed forces day flypast seen from Jeziorki

This time five years ago:
The ground parade part one: 1939

The flypast

This time eight years ago:
Dworzec Zachodni ('West Wailway Shtation') before the remont

This time nine years ago: 
90 years ago today - Bolsheviks stopped at the gates of Warsaw 

This time ten years ago: 

This time 12 years ago: 
Armed forces day parade in Warsaw

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Are We Bodies or Souls? by Richard Swinburne

A new book by British philosopher Richard Swinburne looks at the most fundamental question facing us - do we possess an immaterial soul, and if so, does it live on after our physical body dies?

I fear that the book won't sway anyone who believes (and it's just a belief) that once we die that's it. It will, however, bring succour to those who do believe in the eternal life of the soul. Good news indeed!

Are We Bodies of Souls? takes the approach of a logician to argue in favour of the separation of the material body and the immaterial, eternal soul. Prof Swinburne adheres most closely to a (modified version) of Rene Descartes' famous statement, "I think, therefore I am." The thinking part of the brain can, reasons Prof Swinburne, carry on thinking in the non-material world after the body dies. The arguments deployed by Prof Swinburne indeed make logical sense.

It is an interesting book, though by the very virtue of the inductive logic that Prof Swinburne employs, it's not an easy read. Sentences are by necessity long, as propositions with many conditions and negations have to be rolled out - chopping them into bite-sized chunks renders the argument's structure illogical. But the reader needs to take the trouble to truly understand them before moving on - it's not easy, but for me easier than the mathematics of Fr Michał Heller, for example.

Prof Swinburne is a Christian, although of choice, by reasoning, he has elected to follow the Eastern Orthodox rite rather than Catholicism or some brand of Protestantism. He postulates that the human soul is 'born' as the neurons in the foetus come together in the seventh month of pregnancy and lives eternally, and he refuses to consider in any detail the possibility of reincarnation.

I like this book for its open acceptance of modern science; there is plenty of reference both to subatomic physics and to the likelihood of sentient life existing on other planets in this an many other galaxies. I like the author's rigorous academic approach, in contrast to the wishful thinking and fluffy woo found in the writings of lesser intellects. I also like the lack of any reference to any religious text, to Jesus Christ or to Mary, the Mother of God. Prof. Swinburn, author of The Existence of God and Faith and Reason, Was Jesus God and The Resurrection of God Incarnate, keeps to science and philosophy in this title, making it more accessible to the non-Christian reader.

However, there is still a distance between Prof Swinburne's book and the cutting edge of consciousness studies. My personal spiritual quest is more closely aligned to the thinking of Prof Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff - who dispute the dualism of body/soul but rather consider that consciousness is a property of matter, like mass and energy, and that the consciousness that we experience is a quantum effect - which can survive the physical death of the body.

My reasons for siding here with the monists rather than the dualists is a lifetime of personal observation of experiences of anomalous qualia memories - ones that feel just like current-life qualia memories but which seem associated with a time and place from beyond my lifetime.

Prof Swinburne devotes a couple of chapters to the formation of our personalities through memories - in particular the memories of events. He notes that there are no atoms in our bodies that have been a part of us for more than seven years (he doesn't cite where this number comes from - I've also read nine years), but that the present 'I' is a continuation of the old 'I', and that memory is the link. This defines the 'thisness' of 'I' is the soul. Here I entirely agree. While believing that each morning we return to consciousness with our past nothing more than a toolbag of practical experiences to be put to use in the future, I often react with embarrassment or shame at memories of an event from my youth that pops up, unbidden, in my consciousness. This proves to me my mental/spiritual continuity; here I'm entirely in agreement with Prof Swinburne. However, my life-long anomalous unbidden memories of qualia from beyond my experience (who knows? The past? Leaks from parallel universes?) cannot be dismissed.

Prof Swinburne makes the point well that whereas several independent scientists can measure the physical properties of pretty much anything and agree on its fundamental parameters - size, weight, chemical composition and arrive at exactly the same results - literally no one can in any scientific sense feel what is going on in your consciousness. The trains of thoughts your mind creates while sensing something are unique to you to experience. They form the 'youness' of you. This is your soul.

The author also ponders on whether higher-order animals - dogs, gorillas, for example, have souls. He asserts that as they are conscious, and so yes, they probably have souls. I'd argue that lesser beings are less-evolved spiritually than we are.

How the soul gets to live forever - and why - remains open for debate, scientific and philosophical. I believe in spiritual evolution - I believe that consciousness is a property of matter along with mass and charge, and just as atoms clump together to form molecules which in turn can go on to create living cells, from which grow living organisms of increasing sophistication - consciousness evolves to ever higher levels as it spreads out throughout the universe. This is an eternal journey, the journey from Zero to One, from Nothing to All, from the beastly and barbaric to the angelic and Godlike. From being aware of the smallest discrete unit of consciousness, to being aware of infinity itself. It is a journey that we are all on. It does not end with our lives.

Are We Bodies or Souls - Oxford University Press, 2019.

This time three years ago year:
Popping out for a drink

This time nine years ago:
In search of happiness

This time ten years ago:
Mercenaries and missionaries

This time 11 years ago:
Spectacular sunrise, Jeziorki

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Fifty years on, Stella Plage, my last kolonia

Fifty years. Rites of passage. The summer of 1969; I had just finished Oaklands Road Primary School and was ready to start my secondary education at Gunnersbury Grammar School in September. But first, I was about to leave my zuchy (scout cub) gromada (pack) and be inducted into the 3rd London Polish Scout Troop, Błękitna Trójka.

My last kolonia (summer camp with the zuchy) was in northern France, in the resort town of Stella-Plage. The kolonia was based in Maison Maternelle, a former maternity hospital that had been bought by the Polish community of northern France; the Polish scouts and girl guides (harcerki) would holiday here. Indeed, my parents spent part of their honeymoon here in 1952.

My family first came here in 1967 with friends; I was to return in 1969 for the kolonia in which I would be pasowany (inducted) into the scouts (harcerze).

Below: a group photo of the zuchy, taken by my father; so many familiar faces here - Stan and Adam who were to start at Gunnersbury with me weeks later and stay there for the next seven years; my brother near the front there, my father's dentist for the last 20 years or so, Andrzej and his twin brother Ryszard; there's Rysiek, AdTheLad and both his brothers, boys from my class in Polish Saturday school; and a few here who moved to Poland after 1990 - faces, memories. I'm not in this shot, neither are several more boys who were soon to become harcerze in Trójka.

Fifty years. The Rolling Stones were no. 1 in the pop charts with Honky Tonk Women. Ford had just launched the Capri (my father would later have a 1.6 GL in red; we'd return in it to Stella Plage in 1971) and London Transport had just launched single-decker, one-man-operated E-buses (E for Ealing), the E1, E2 and E3, with a flat-fare, turnstyle payment system (6d adults, 3d children).

This was the cusp of two ages; the sixties, in black and white, were yielding to the colourful seventies; glam rock, Hot Wheels, tank tops and stack shoes. Childhood was giving way to adolescence, primary school to grammar school and cubs to scouts.

It was a momentous time, I could feel the changes coming on. Changes that come in waves, roughly ten years apart. In the summer of 1979, I'd finished my studies at Warwick University; in the summer of 1989, I was visiting Poland just as communism was toppling; by 1999 I was living permanently in Poland.

This time six years ago:
Grodzisk Mazowiecki's pretty station

This time seven years ago:
Exorcism outside the President's Palace

This time eight years ago:
The raging footsoldier - a story about anger

This time nine years ago:
Graffiti and street art 

Saturday, 10 August 2019

One man went to mow...

One of the founding precepts of my działka was that it was to be as ecological as possible. Keep the carbon footprint of land ownership to a minimum. So I had the old wood-burning kitchen stove and fireplace removed, made a massive investment in thermal insulation, and I use public transport to get as often as possible. And around the house there will be meadow rather than lawn. A policy decision.

Looking after 4,000m2 of land is a responsibility to the planet; functionality needs to be balanced with environmental concerns. I have 80m of path between the porch and the front gate; over time the drive has become overgrown with weeds, flowers and tall grasses, bonnet-high to a car. Buying a fossil-fuel lawn mower is out of the question. The answer is a traditional scythe (kosa). I ordered one online, it arrived last week,

Today, I took it down to Jakubowizna and gave it a try-out. First of all, assembly. The blade attaches at one end of the shaft; one handle sits at the other end of the shaft, and a second handle about halfway down. Included with the scythe - a whetstone (osełka).

Left: La kosa ostra. It's all about the design and ergonomics. It is crucial to buy the right size (a 50cm blade is too small, a 100cm blade too heavy; I ordered a 70cm blade but my scythe arrived with a 60cm blade. As it turns out, it's entirely adequate for my requirements; this is for a garden, not a field. Once set up for my ergonomics - in particular height of the lower handle, the next thing was to get the blade razor-sharp. This required the use of the aluminium oxide whetstone, getting the blade's cutting edge sharp enough slice right through the most robust of stalks. There are a few good YouTube tutorials about mowing with a scythe.

Right: here's the task in hand. In the house next door my neighbours are having lunch; a petrol mower would be so antisocial! An electric lawnmower would need 80m of cable. So don't fear the reaper. Good exercise after a week's sitting at an urban desk.

Mowing with a scythe is an interesting experience. You get into the groove, the rhythm; you focus - to get the swing right, the height, the angle - you watch out for irregularities in the ground, for molehills. After a while, it becomes hypnotic; step - step - SWING - step - step - SWING; a cross between batting in cricket and waltzing.

But scything is by definition an asymmetric activity. I can feel the muscles of my lower left back aching somewhat while my right side is fine.

Left: Reaperbahn. All clear. I reach the gate and mow my way back up to the house again, looking out for tufts that missed the blade first time round.

Time to do the path through the back garden. This is longer - 104m from the garage to the fence. Here, I feel regret as my scythe slices through goldenrod, chamomile and young oak saplings; everything on either side of the path, however, is spared.

Below: my favourite view of my działka; a peaceful summer's day, the afternoon sun still high and the back of the garden far out of sight. The two cherry trees are past their productive peak; replacement beckons.

As I mowed down the weeds and flowers and grasses and saplings, I recalled this old children's folk song...

W poniedziałek rano,
kosił ojciec siano,
Kosił ojciec, kosił ja,
kosiliśmy obydwa.

["On Monday morning, my father mowed the hay. My father mowed, I mowed, the two of us mowed."] Subsequent verses tell of the raking, drying, carting and selling of the said hay on subsequent days. And on Saturday, the money was spent on drink; so Sunday was spent weeping.

Such is life. Niedola, Panie! 

The scythe plays an important part in Polish national consciousness; the kosynierzy ('scythemen', infantrymen armed with scythes) were associated with the battles for Poland's independence in the late 18th and 19th century, the Kościuszko insurgency and the November and January risings of 1831 and 1863. And in a country where very few people can claim not to have rural roots, being able to handle a scythe in a field of wheat or hay is the attribute of many a Pole!

This time last year:
Poland's economy hits its peak

This time five years ago:
Eat Polish apples, drink Polish cider

This time six years ago:
Hottest week ever (37C)

This time seven years ago:
Progress along the second line of the Warsaw Metro 

This time eight years ago:
Doric arches, ul. Targowa

This time nine years ago:
A place in the country, everyone's ideal

This time 12 years ago:
I must go down to the sea again