Monday, 30 September 2019

Parliamentary train at West Ealing

Have you ever heard of 'parliamentary trains'? This definition from Wikipedia: "A parliamentary train is a passenger service operated in the UK to comply with the Railway Regulation Act 1844 that required train companies to provide inexpensive and basic rail transport for less affluent passengers. The act required that at least one such service per day be run on every railway route in the UK. No longer a legal requirement, the term currently describes services that continue to be run to avoid the cost of formal closure of a route or station but are often reduced to just one train per week."

Since last December, one such parliamentary train has been running from West Ealing to High Wycombe, once a day during weekdays. Leaving West Ealing at 11:47, it is not an overcrowded service, particularly given that it is not advertised anywhere. Indeed, searching Trainline, you will be directed from West Ealing to Paddington, round the Circle Line to Marylebone, and on from there to High Wycombe for £18.80, journey time between one hour 15 mins and one and half hours. The direct train from West Ealing to High Wycombe takes just 38 minutes and is not shown on Trainline. But how much does this cost? One to work out with the guard... The train runs to High Wycombe with a stop at South Ruislip to change crews, but passengers cannot alight there.

Below: a strange sight befell me as I strolled down the platform to await my TfL Rail train to Heathrow. It's a Chiltern Rail train! Goodness - what's it doing here?

And then I remembered that in December the parliamentary (or 'ghost') train running from Paddington to High Wycombe had to be rerouted to start from West Ealing because of engineering works at Old Oak Common (to do with HS2). Chiltern Rail trains normally run in and out of Marylebone; this 'ghost train' is used to keep the line between Paddington and South Ruislip open to trains from that operator.

Below: three operators' trains at West Ealing; from the left, the TfL Rail service from Heathrow to Paddington; the Great West Railways shuttle service from Greenford to West Ealing, and the Chiltern Rail ghost train. TfL Rail's web page for West Ealing mentions GWR and acknowledges the presence of Chiltern at the station, but won't show you any timetables.

Below: bonus shot. I changed trains at Hayes & Harlington, where my off-peak TfL Rail train terminated. While I waited for the Heathrow train, I could see in the distance a Class 37 diesel loco hauling a rake of what looked like passenger coaches. "An enthusiasts' special," I thought at first. But no  - this was a Great Northern electrical multiple unit that looked like it had broken down and was being loco-hauled on its way to the repair sheds.

This time last year:
Progress in Jakubowizna

This time two years ago:
Miedzianka by Filip Springer

This time four years ago:
Out of the third, into the fourth

This time five years ago:
Inverted reflections

This time six years ago:
Observations from London's WC1
and Observations from the City of London

This time seven years ago:
Civilising Jeziorki's wetlands

This time eight years ago:
Warsaw's Aleje Jerozolimskie

This time nine years ago:
Melancholy autumn mood in Łazienki

This time 11 years ago:
Autumn gold, Zamienie

This time 12 years ago:
Flamenco Sketches - Seville

Saturday, 28 September 2019

A Change in the Weather

Whenever I'm thinking about the weather, I get drawn into thinking about the climate, and how its changing, whether the change will accelerate or slow down, whether our actions can hold back a process that threatens mankind.
"A terrible signal
Too weak to even recognize"
"A change in the weather"
[Talking Heads, The Overload, from the 1980 album, Remain in Light]
Freak weather events - even non-threatening ones - are happening more often. My last few posts were the result of a five-day-long spell of cloudless skies over London - spiritually uplifting, gorgeous days that boosted my well-being. Since then, unsettled weather has been punctuated by frequent cloudbursts of torrential rain. Below: caught by a downpour near St Paul's.

On Tuesday afternoon, sitting outside a pub in the City, rain fell so hard and so quickly, that water rushed down the steps into the basement, flooding the floor and short-circuiting the electrics. The beer pumps and cash tills didn't work so we had to go to another pub once the rains eased. Yesterday, returning from Pitshanger Lane with our fish-and-chip supper, I was caught in a similar deluge. Rain of such ferocity that I was soaked to the skin after a ten-minute-run home despite wearing a 'waterproof' jacket. The inside of my Samsonite rucksack became damp as were the fish and chips stored within.

Hotter oceans mean more energy stored in the waters, greater evaporation of water vapour stored in clouds, heavier rainfalls. It's just that simple.

Not usual September weather for London - certainly not weather like I remember from my childhood or my youth.

Climate change is happening. It's my duty here to nudge my readers - drive less, fly less, source locally, turn down the thermostat, buy less - think about what you're doing through the prism of the earth's ecosystem.

I am all in favour of Greta Thunberg and the whole movement to take urgent action to halt climate change. I do, however, worry about the extreme end of this movement which talks of 'climate reparations' and 'climate justice' - the latter slogan a throwback to the 'class justice' of the Russian Revolution. Getting it right is all down to us - seven billion people making more educated decisions - and to our governments, which can take more decisive action at the macro level.

In a dystopian future, I can see an autarkic England in a civil war between 'green Brexiteers' and 'brown Brexiteers' - the former seizing the chance to impose a ruthless environmental agenda on a sealed-off island economy, the latter denying any climate change and wanting the right to hang on to their increasingly elderly foreign-made SUVs and to continue driving them wherever they want, however they want.

"Excuse me Sir, we're from the Department for Exiting the EU. I see you have an Audi Q8 parked on the drive outside your mansion. This is in direct contravention of Article 22 of the Foreign-Made Vehicle (Climate Protection) Act of 2029. Your car will be taken to a scrapyard for recycling, you are under arrest and will held in custody until your trial - the maximum punishment should you be found guilty will be five years in prison and a £5 million fine."

This time last year:
Zamek Topacz classic car museum

This time four years ago:
Curry comes to Jeziorki
[didn't stay long - but then not a good one]

This time five years ago:
Why we should all try to use less gas

This time six years ago:
Polish supermarket chain advertises on London buses

This time 11 years ago:
Well-shot pheasants

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Sublime September sun

Obviously I'm not a golfer. But I do appreciate the aesthetics of golf's spirit of place, that man-made contrivance of tees, fairways, water hazards, bunkers and putting greens, perfectly maintained lawns and the play between shade and light. And all the more so when the sky above puts one in mind of a Palm Springs country club. But here I am, on the banks of the River Brent, the border between Perivale up there to the north and Ealing, here, to the south.

This is Ealing Golf Club, looking distinctively unEalingy under crystalline blue skies.

Bordered to the south and east by Pitshanger Park and the River Brent, to the north by Perivale Lane and the A40, and to the west by playing fields and allotments, Ealing Golf Club has an 18-hole course opened in 1898. A footpath between Perivale Lane and Pitshanger Park cuts across it. Another footpath branches off and forms the western boundary of the golf course. The photos left and below were both taken from these footpaths.

Below: south of the Brent, in Pitshanger Park, the golf course is to the left, through the trees and across the river. Running twins or double exposure?

Another oft-taken photo, St Mary's Church, Perivale in the sun under a cloudless sky. Behind the church, the golf club buildings.

The church itself dates back to 1135. Today, the footpath that cuts across the golf course was full of runners, walkers and cyclists, making the most of the last day of summery heat. Maximum temperature today was 25C. Tomorrow, for the first time in a week, it will rain heavily.

This time two years ago:
Stepping up the pace

This time last year:
Evolution of human consciousness

This time two years ago:
Farewell to Ciocia Jadzia

This time three years ago:
By train from to Konstancin and Siekierki

This time four years ago:
Summer's end, Jeziorki

This time six years ago:
Ząbowska, Praga's newly-hip thoroughfare

This time nine years ago:
Catching the klimat

This time ten years ago:
Road to Łuków - a road trip into the sublime

Friday, 20 September 2019

Suburban sunshine

The fourth day of unbroken blue skies over London - at this time of year, a phenomenon that lifts the spirits to exalted heights. Below: Highview Road; note the 20mph/30kmh speed limit - as much about emissions as road safety, and the rowan berries (jarzębina) on the tree to the left.

Below: Highview Road. My father pushed his wheelchair all the way home from Lidl in Hanwell, a distance of 1.5 miles/2.5km, without a break, an amazing feat for a 96 year-old man.

Below: junction of Drayton Bridge Road and Cavendish Avenue. Note the zebra crossing - zigzag approach markings, Belisha beacons and barriers to stop children from dashing out of the park into the roadway. And this is a 20mph zone.

Below: another zebra crossing; the junction of Church Road and Greenford Avenue. Pedestrian fatalities in road accidents in 2017: UK 470. Poland 861. Per million: UK 7, Poland 23. More than three times more pedestrians killed per million in Poland than in the UK.

To the right of this frame once stood the legendary Park Hotel, a large Victorian pub with dance floor. Demolished to make way for flats.

Left: Where Church Road, just north of the railway viaduct. A traditional shop front of an upholsterer's business.

Below: Hanwell Methodist church, one of three churches within 150m of each other.

Below: quintessential Ealing; the bottom of Barnfield Road where it meets Meadvale Avenue.

This time six years ago:
The cat that came back

This time seven years ago:
Farewell to the summer pavement tables

This time eight years ago:
The Old Sailor's Tale - a short story

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Spectacularly glorious day, Ealing

The Brentham Garden Suburb looks amazing on such a day. Below: corner of Neville Road and Brunswick Road. [It seems I've taken a photo of these very houses before.]

Below: Meadvale Road

The extreme end of my 70-300mm zoom captures some detail on an RAF Puma HC2 helicopter on its way to Northolt Airport.

The alley round the back of Brunswick Road and the gate to the Brent River Park footpath, below. Looks rural, but as I took this photo, I could hear a Central Line train rushing westwards towards Ruislip.

Across the A40 Western Avenue, that mighty river of motors that divides Alperton from Ealing. Below: the entrance to the pedestrian subway on north side of the A40

Only a mile and half from my father's house, and yet not only have I never been here before - I never knew of its existence, despite commuting in via Hanger Lane tube station for several years. Below: this is the footpath in the island in the middle of the Hanger Lane Gyratory System, accessible from the north side of the A40. In the late 1980s, I'd cycle from Perivale to Hanger Lane, leave my bike in the bike shed here, and go into town on the Central Line from Zone 3 (Perivale being Zone 4). And yet I knew not what lay just beyond my regular route.

Below: corner of Dennison Road and Pitshanger Lane. The sky remains cloudless.

Below: lengthening shadows, Cleveland Park. Twilight soon.

This time three years ago:
Evolution, the future and us

This time five years ago:
Relief as Scots vote to remain in UK

This time six years ago:
The S2 opens all the way to Puławska

This time seven years ago:

This time eight years ago:
Push-pull for Mazowsze

This time nine years ago:
Okęcie runway repairs are complete

This time 11 years ago:
I know that painting from somewhere...

This time 12 years ago:
The March of Progress, ul. Postępu

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

The City in its Morning Glory

Climatically, the tables are turned - London's getting better weather this week than Warsaw (22C in London, 9C in Warsaw). Glorious autumn sunshine, low, strong rays lighting the way to work.

I'm wandering around Clerkenwell, down towards Holborn and back to Farringdon, retracing my old route from the Underground station to the journalism department at The City University (as it was styled back in 1980).  For a year as I did my postgraduate studies, I'd pass through here each weekday from Paddington station. But wait! Not once in my daily commutes did I notice that Farringdon station was originally named Farringdon and High Holborn (below)!

Left: looking down White Horse Alley from Peter's Lane, strong sun from the east augmented by sunlight reflected from the Save The Children building (out of shot to the right).

Clerkenwell has changed much since I studied around here; it was a run-down, slightly seedy part of London in the early 1980s. The last bowler hats had all but disappeared by then; today Clerkenwell is trendy and Millennial-friendly, a good place to work.
Right: each successive train unloads hundreds of commuters who spill out onto the streets radiating from Farringdon station, office-bound, skinny latte and hummus and wheatgerm sandwiches in hand. Rapid reinvention of properties, new shops and cafes replacing those that struggled to maintain footfall, ensures the dynamism of street-level London. Time passes quicker than in the suburbs.
Left: a relic of the 1960s - the ghost shop sign of E. Higgs Air Agency Ltd, which according to Companies House was established in 1965 and was wound up on 1 January 1989.

Thirty years out of business but the sign's still there, surely the only shop sign showing a Vickers VC10 in existence.

Below: I find it hard to resist strolling around Smithfields Market. This is new to me - the Port of London Authority cold storage, to the north of the market buildings.

Next door to the PLA's cold stores, the Central Cold Storage (below).

Below: Smithfield Market's Meat Inspectors' Office, 79-83 Charterhouse Street, the frieze carries the crest and motto of the City of London corporation - Domine, dirige nos - 'Lord, lead us', flanked by fattened livestock being led to their slaughter.

Left: Snow Hill police station, manned by the City of London Police (as opposed to the Metropolitan Police). Built in 1926, the Grade II listed building is a mixture of moderne and Arts & Crafts; very unusual. It was built on the site of the Saracen's Head Hotel, a famous coaching inn.

It's name lingers on; below - this is Saracen's Head Buildings, Cock Lane, E.C. 1, former London offices of John J. Royle of Manchester, a teapot manufacturer.

The weather is set fair for another four glorious days of cloudless early-autumn skies - I must make the most of such moments!

This time eight years ago:
Waiting for autumn

This time nine years ago:
Made in England to last

This time ten years ago:
How the S2/S79 looked back then...

This time 12 years ago:
Endless summer, Park Łazienkowski

Monday, 16 September 2019

Resting with the heroes

Colonel Ździslaw Picheta died on 23 August in London at the age of 96; his funeral and cremation took place on 5 September - my father attended. The ashes were brought to Warsaw for interment in Powązki wojskowe cemetery today, preceded by Mass at the Field Cathedral of the Polish Army.

Col. Picheta was born on 17 October 1922 in Siedlce into a military family originally from Lwów; called up ahead of the invasion of Poland in 1939, his infantry unit withdrew across the Romanian border. There he was interned, but he escaped twice and made his way to join the Free Polish forces in the Middle East, first under French and then under British command.

In August 1941, his unit, the Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade was shipped into the besieged Libyan port of Tobruk, to bolster the mainly Australian force that had been holding out against the Germans since April. Allied forces held Tobruk until the siege was lifted in December 1941. The defenders of Tobruk were the original 'Desert Rats', living in dug-outs, under constant bombardment.

Hospitalised after the Battle of Gazala, in which he served as a motorcycle dispatch rider, he recovered to rejoin the newly-expanded 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division in the Italian Campaign in a training capacity.

Like many soldiers of the Polish Armed Forces in the West, he decided not to return to a communist Poland at the end of the war, but stayed in the UK, marrying, raising a family and pursuing a career as an electrical engineer.

Col. Picheta never gave up fighting for a free Poland, however. Within the structures of the Polish Government in Exile, he continued his military duties, maintaining the traditions and keeping the faith when all seemed lost. He was involved in ex-servicemen's associations, in the Polish community in London, in the scouting movement and the Polish Saturday school in Ealing.

I grew up with his sons - I've know Andy since nursery school; Andy went to Gunnersbury Grammar with me for seven years and was in Polish scouts (the 3rd London Polish Scout Troop, Błękitna Trójka, many of whose fathers served in the Carpathian Rifles. Our scout uniforms carried the unit's insignia on a red-and-white background on our breast pockets.

Below: at the army cathedral, with the urn.

Below: at Powązki wojskowe military cemetery. I have been to a few military funerals before, but never with such a large honour guard.

Below: the salvos, from so many guns, were deafening!

Below: Col. Picheta, laid to rest alongside Group Captain Stefan Witorzeńć, fighter ace, leader of 302 and 306 Polish Fighter Squadrons and commander of 133 Wing, RAF.

Below: successive wreathes laid on the grave; here are soldiers on the Podhale Rifles, with their characteristic capes and góralskie hats.

Col. Picheta was laid to rest in the quarter of Powązki wojskowe reserved for members of the Polish armed forces who fought in the West during WW2.

Finally, a photo of Col. Picheta (second from left) at my father-in-law's funeral in 2009.


This time two years ago:
Polish employers' demographic challenge
[Two years on and unemployment's fallen from 7.1% to 5.2%; the challenge deepens]

This time six years ago:
The rich, the poor, the entrepreneur

This time seven years ago:
Food: where's the best place to shop in Poland? 

This time eight years ago:

This time nine years ago:
Commuting made easy

This time ten years ago:
Work starts on the S79/S2 'Elka'

This time 11 years ago:
Warsaw's accident-filled streets

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Poland's ugliest building

Many of my visits to Wrocław have involved the mile (1.6km)-long walk from the station to the old town square or back again. The main part of this route is along ul. Świdnicka, crossing the city's moat and then under the inner ring road. It's not a long walk, eminently pleasing to the eye with so many great buildings along the way. But one stands out as being utterly hideous - the SolPol building (1993), designed by local architect Wojtek Jarząbak. Apparently, it took him a week.

Designed for magnate Zygmunt Solorz-Żak (today one of Poland's very few billionaires), it is a textbook piece of early 1990s 'we can do whatever we like now - except there's no budget for it' school of Połlysz Arkitekczer. The building is stupendously ugly, lacking any redeeming features other than a strong tang of zeitgeist. It is popularly believed that it is so bad that it's good, and that it has become a listed building. Not so. There was an attempt in 2015 to register it as such with the local conservator of monuments - who roundly rejected it as having "no value, either artistic, scientific or historic". Buildings of this era, maybe not quite as awful as this one, are being routinely pulled down in Warsaw to be replaced by something taller, nicer, far more energy efficient and ergonomically more pleasant to work in.

I went into this building once, to be interviewed for a Polsat TV programme - Polsat (set up by Solorz-Żak) had its Wrocław studio here. My memory of its interior is that it was full of cheap ill-fitting aluminium doors, tatty contract carpeting, cables everywhere and hardly any furniture.

In a ranking of the worst of Polish architecture conducted by the website, the SolPol building came third, behind the Gorzów Wielkopolska's viewing tower and Lichen's basilica. In all honesty, Licheń offends me not in the slightest - it's big, it references classical styles, I'm fine with it. The spider-globe viewing tower in Gorzów has won several awards for hideousness - indeed it needs to be torn down and levelled with the ground.

But SolPol? Should it be allowed to (dis)grace the streets of Wrocław for decades to come, serving as a reminder of how God-awful Polish architecture was at the time of the nation's political and economic transformation? And one day, Poles might come to appreciate in the same way the John Betjeman's generation came to appreciate Victoriana?

I'll let you be the judge...

Below: facing the brickwork of the 14th-century Church of St Stanislaus, St Wenceslas and St Dorothea it stands all angular, decorated in postmodern pastels, pistachio and pink. "I want a cylindrical staircase on the corner!" "But curved glass elements cost too many deutschmarks!" "OK then - compromise - we'll have a hexagon. You know - almost round."

Below: even on a bright sunny day in early autumn - does this building have any redeeming features? Or are we too early to find nostalgia in it?

Some towns, notably Białystok, are to my eye irredeemably drab and dull - crappy architecture (such as Dom Handlowy Wenus from the same era, below) doesn't grate in the same way that SolPol does in a city as full of splendours as Wrocław.

SolPol takes a lot of beating when it comes to ugliness.

This time five years ago:
Weekend cookery - prawns in couscous

This time seven years ago:
Draining Jeziorki

This time eight years ago:
Early autumn moods

This time nine years ago:
The Battle of Britain, 70 years on

This time ten years ago:
Thoughts about TV, Polish and British

This time 11 years ago:
Time to abandon driving to work!

This time 12 years ago:
Crappy roads take their toll

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Back in Aviation Valley

I flew into Rzeszów Jasionka airport yesterday morning for a meeting with our members in Aeropolis about how to cope with rising energy prices. The flight was superb - from leaving home at 06:15 to entering the science and technology park at 08:45, door to door two and half hours. But nine and half hours to get home... (see below)

The major failing of this (otherwise good and efficient) airport and of the  Special Economic Zone that surrounds Jasionka is the lack of good public transport to town, compounded by poor signage and lack of clear passenger information. Below: scheduled flights to Rzeszów are infrequent, but there's a fair number of charters flying in and out.

Below: a Bücker Bü 131 Jungmann - WW2-era German basic-trainer biplane, the equivalent of the ubiquitous De Havilland Tiger Moth, which first flew in 1934... Or so it seemed at first sight... Checking the reg (it's from Austria), it looks like a Czechoslovakian Tatra T.131 licence-built version of the Jungmann. But it's not even that! It's a Polish-built replica of a licence-built Czechoslovakian version of a Bücker Bü 131 Jungmann! This is a SSH T-131PA, about to take off...

It was a short flight, as it crossed over my head after I'd walked around the corner from the airport...

Over the fence and about to land after completing a circuit north-east of the airport.

Below: another over-the-fence shot - I thought this was a PZL-20 Mewa, a licence-built version of the Piper Seneca. But I was wrong - this is a US-built Piper Seneca (220-V), belonging to Rzeszów University of Technology's flying club. This university is one reason why Rzeszów has built such a strong cluster of aerospace businesses.

Below: a lovely PZL-104 Wilga, gate guardian on the corner by the turn-off to the airport. A lovely looking plane - like some giant insect. Because there's no bus from the airport to the railway station for another hour, I decide to walk for about half an hour to a place along the main road where there's a bus stop with more frequent services to town.

Below: back to Rzeszów station, still a work-in-progress hole-in-the-ground. Waiting for the wretched TLK train to Warsaw, which takes a scheduled five hours including a 30 minute wait in Tarnów and a further 20 minute hiatus in Kraków during which the engine is put round the other end of the rake of elderly carriages. Despite travelling first class, there were no power sockets or no wi-fi; a sparse snack trolley was put on between Kraków and Opoczno. The crowded train arrived in Warsaw an hour late after waiting at Opoczno to let an international express pass and then after breaking down just outside of Grodzisk Maz. Crap. If more passengers are to be weaned off short-haul flights for the good of the environment, there must be better, faster, more reliable and comfortable trains made available.

UPDATE: Friday 13 September - A much better train journey today - Warsaw-Wrocław on a Pendolino with... wi-fi! Amazing - I could actually work the whole journey! And just a three-minute delay. Really no longer any point of flying to Wrocław. Three and half hours from W-wa Zachodnia to Wrocław Główny. Ver, very good rezultat!

This time last year:
My flight to Rzeszów - delayed!

This time four years ago:
English as she is used in Europe

This time five years ago:
Where asphalt's needed - Nowy Podolszyn to Zgorzala
[five years on it's still not there]

This time ten years ago:
I cycle to work along the cyclepath along ul. Rosoła

This time 11 years ago:
First apple 

This time 12 years ago:
Late summer spiders webs