Thursday, 31 October 2019

Cause of Death

I popped into the Bereavement Office at Ealing Hospital to collect the medical certificate; armed with this I set off to Ealing Town Hall to register my father's death.

The medical certificate gave the cause of death as 'ischaemic heart disease' and secondary cause as 'chronic kidney disease'. My father had indeed suffered a heart attack on Tuesday morning and died at 16:40 that same day in hospital.

At Ealing Town Hall, things have changed since I registered the births of my children and the death of my mother. No longer high-vaulted Victorian corridors resounding the the echoes of footsteps along marbled floors, no oak-panelled offices or antique desks - the Registrar has moved next door into the relative modernity of Perceval House, built in the 1980s. Here, I'm surprised that the system for being seen is identical to that in use at Urząd Dzielnicy Ursynów in Warsaw! You get a ticket with a number and queue up for a multiplicity of services and someone will pop out and collect you from the relevant cubicle.

After a wait of no more than about 20 minutes, I'm ushered into a tiny glass-sided room by the Deputy Registrar, and we go through the formalities. One slight shock - each certified copy of the entry into the register, which cost £4 when my mother died four years ago (and according to the leaflet What to do when someone close to you dies, given to us at the hospital still costs £4), now costs £11. And you need lots of these for various institutions - the Grant of Representation from the Probate Service, for example. Plus most of the private-sector institutions with which the deceased had a relationship - shareholdings, banking, insurance.

But somethings have become simpler. The UK government's wonderful Tell Us Once service allows you to enter into one webpage all of the government services used by the deceased and cancel them with one click - passport, council tax, driving licence, NHS, National Insurance - really easy. Compare this to Poland where the bereaved need to set off on a trek around various government offices in person.

Once I had the green form from the Registrar's Office, I could arrange the funeral. Here I must warmly praise funeral director Artur Galla, who arranged my mother's funeral as well as those of many of my friends' parents' funerals. Everything sorted out with efficiency and decorum.

One thing we discovered from the hospital about the circumstances of my father's death was that in February this year, he had had a heart attack - but he didn't tell us! A few months later, when he received an appointment to see a consulting cardiologist, he told us that there had been some mistake, and that really he should be seeing a dermatologist for some minor skin condition rather than a heart specialist.

His final visit to the OPRAC (Old People's Rapid Assessment Centre) last month was very positive. The swelling of his feet had subsided, he had a higher blood iron count, he reported less trouble with swallowing (indeed, this was much better) - overall he was in far better shape in the summer than he had been in early spring. But he didn't tell the OPRAC doctor about any heart attack in February...

The upbeat OPRAC report and his overall improvement in health over the summer had led us to believe that he could indeed make it to a hundred - his stated goal. His recent feats were legion. In September, he pushed his wheelchair all the way home from Lidl in Hanwell, a distance of a mile and half (2.5km). Without stopping. He filled two wheelie bins of garden waste with leaves and twigs. His mind was active to the end too. Looking at his browsing history, I could see that three days before he died he'd spent the evening reading about the latest discoveries in quantum computing.

The funeral will take place on Saturday 9 November at Św. Andrzeja Boboli church, Leysfield Road, Hammersmith, at 11:15, followed by cremation at Mortlake.

This time last year:
Opole in the late-October sunshine

This time two years ago:
Work begins in earnest on the Karczunkowska viaduct

This time four years ago:
Sublime autumn day in Jeziorki

This time five years ago:
CitytoCity, MalltoMall

This time six years ago:
(Internet) Radio Days

This time seven years ago:
Another office move

This time eight years ago:
Manufacturing a City of Culture

This time nine years ago:
My thousandth post

This time ten years ago:
Closure of ul. Poloneza

This time 11 years ago:
Scenes from a suburban petrol station

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Sifting through a Life

Arrived this morning to my father's house with a lot to do; the death certificate is ready for collection. That will be tomorrow morning at Ealing Hospital, where both my parents died and where both my children were born.

[I flew in via Luton. Wizz Air offered me a flight for 559zł for flight the next morning; BA's best price was 2,250zł. But no rucksack, just a satchel stuffed with laptop and other essentials. Max free carry-on 40x30x20cm. At Luton a welcome surprise - you can use contactless debit/credit cards to touch in to get on the bus to Luton Airport Parkway station, and also use contactless for your journey by train into St Pancras. Massive building works going on to build a monorail from the airport to the station - will take years to complete.]

Anyway. A house full of personal effects - books, paintings, porcelain and other collectables - needs to be dealt with sensitively. Chucking it all into a skip is brutal and leads to regrets later. I'm more interested in documents, letters, diaries - helping to piece together family history. I've agreed with my brother that nothing will be thrown away, but the sorting of objects will be a long and arduous process. What gets kept and by whom? What gets sold, what gets given away to charity and what gets thrown away?

Left: one lovely discovery - my father's diploma piece for Polish University College, the post-war academy for Polish ex-servicemen in London. This is my father's project for a stretch of mainline railway between Motkowice and Pińczów (I just checked - no such line exists!) with all maps and calculations (curve, camber, bridges, embankments, cuttings, tunnels etc). A highly detailed work, for country unable to put it to use. Poland at the time was a Stalinist satrapy.

Below: a section of the hand-drawn map of the railway. A lovely historical artefact, so full of meaning.

By coincidence I wrote about this very subject exactly two years ago - throwing it all away - how to keep a place tidy without throwing away things of value. My father was a great hoarder, especially of things with a perceived engineering benefit. Engineering with a small 'e'. Little improvements to daily life; he hated waste. It was hard for him to dispose of objects. He remembers when everything was expensive, and DIY was the only way to get anything done. A little description of this trait of his here.

The garden kept him active right up to the end. He made beautiful compost - vegetable food waste was carefully prepared, chopped up finely; coffee grounds, tea bags would be left out to dry, the bags cut open, the old tea leaves added to the mix. This autumn saw a profusion of apples on his one apple tree - he turned them into the most delicious juice, unmatched even in Poland.

Sorting through the garage will be a particularly hard task. A proto-'man-cave' decades before the term was coined, it was his workshop, his lab, his tool shed, his retreat, layer upon layer of jars, tins, tubes and sundry receptacles containing rock-hard paints from the 1970s all needs to be sorted out (and here, I suspect, chucked out).

After my mother's death, I found all her wartime and post-war documents in one handy box. I fear this time round my search for artefacts of historical significance relating to my father's life will be harder to find - located across many files, bookcases, trunks and nooks and crannies around the house.

Ealing Hospital called late this afternoon to say the death certificate is ready. Amazingly quick given that as he died less than 24 hours after being admitted to hospital, a post mortem was required. I will collect it tomorrow morning and put in train all the necessary procedures to do with the funeral and registering the death with the various administrative organs. This is made easier by the Tell Us Once service - one government website which informs the tax authorities, National Insurance, the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Authority, the passport office, the town hall, the National Health Service, the pensions department. So much better than in Poland, where each office needs to be notified separately.

This time two years ago:
Throwing It All Away

This time three years ago:
Hammer of Darkness falls on us again

This time four years ago:
The working week with the clocks gone back

This time six years:
Slowly on the mend after calf injury

This time seven years ago:
Thorunium the Gothick

This time eight years ago:
Łódź Widzew or Widź Łódzew 

This time ten years ago:
A touch of frost in the garden

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Death of my father

My father, Bohdan Dembinski, died today aged 96. Active to the end. Less than three months ago he was in Warsaw for the 75th anniversary of the Uprising, in which he took part. Below: on 31 July 2019, outside the tenement on ulica Łucka 16 where he'd spent the first three years of his life.

Below: my father laying a single flower at the grave of his brother Józef, who died during the Uprising at the age of 19.

A few weeks ago, my father was telling me of a dream he'd had that night - his brother Józio had survived the war and had made it to London, where he lived with his family. But they worshipped in a different Polish church to the one where we did. One Sunday, my father drove Józio to that other church, dropped him off, then drove back to our church. And then he realised that the clocks had just gone back for autumn and that Józio would be waiting outside that church for an hour! My father was in a quandary - should he drive back to Józio, or just leave him?

This dream felt so real, he said... Maybe in a parallel universe, Józio did survive the Uprising and lived in London after the war, and we'd had an uncle and aunt and cousins.

Somewhere soon, a little boy will be born. He will have anomalous memories, strange familiarities of things of which he cannot know - Poland in the 1920s and 1930s, the Nazi invasion and occupation of Warsaw; the Uprising; post-war London, austerity, the happy years from the 1950s to a new Millennium and then a strange souring of societies... He will want to return to another place and another time.

UPDATE 14 MAY 2021: I have this dream: "A festyn or odpust; there are many people milling around, stands selling sweets and toys... A small baby boy, about 18 months old. He is running around, curious about everything and energetic. Dziadzio is patiently explaining things to him - a bicycle, a puddle - and here, the boy is thinking that he has emerged from out of water (memories of birth?); we are talking to him about his toys that he's playing with. I get the feeling that the boy is physically small for his age. Clouds are getting darker, rain is due. We move indoors, into a galeria handlowa (Galeria KEN in Ursynów or Galeria Ursynów on Al. KEN?)." In the dream there's a posh house on the skarpa, but we don't live there - visiting friends? a rich banker, maybe. Although this is not happening in the action, I can tell the following things about the boy. His mother works - she has a well-paid job in a foreign corporation (maybe the bank where the owner of the posh house lives, although the family lives in a typical Ursynów flat). She is active in politics and has been in the Strajk Kobiet protests. His father stays home and looks after him. Only after I wake up does this occur to me that this might be a signal that Dziadzio had reincarnated - that his consciousness resides within the body of a boy living in Ursynów! Certainly felt like it! Look for him among boys born in November 2019

More posts about my father here.

My father's death leaves me orphaned at the age of 62.

This time two years ago
Recent Jeziorki update

This time three years ago:
Autumn in Jeziorki

This time four years ago:
A driving ban for developers and architects

This time five years ago:
Do you keep coming back, or do you seek the new?

This time six years ago:
In praise of Retro design

This time seven years ago:
First snowfall in Warsaw 

This time eight years ago:
Of cycles, economic and human 

This time nine years ago:
Why didn't I read this before? Grapes of Wrath

This time ten years ago:
Małopolska from the train

This time 11 years ago:
Grading ul. Poloneza

Sunday, 27 October 2019

End of a warm sunny autumn?

Clocks have gone back, yet outside it's still lovely and warm. Daytime high today 18.9C before the clouds rolled in from the west bringing a change in the weather shortly after midday.

Below: the Road looks flashback-American; 1950s Kentucky in late 2010s Mazovia. Here's the DW683 looking towards Ludwików. One of my favourite road landscapes around these parts.

But take care on those roads - there are fools out there empowered by oversized cars with oversized engines who cause mayhem, injury and death. Ulica Bolesława Chrobrego between Łbiska and Pęchery. Road is straight, sun is high, conditions are fine - and yet the SUV driver took and chance while overtaking - straight into the front of an oncoming Corolla.

The last warm sunset of 2019? Looking west from my działka's rear balcony... No tweaking necessary of saturation or vibrance controls on Photoshop.

...and looking south-west from the front balcony.

Last fine morning, then, 27 October, 2019... Jeziorki.

This time last year:
Remont of Metro bridge over Puławska

This time two years ago:
We are what we read, what we watch, what we listen to

This time six years ago:
Extraordinarily warm autumn

This time seven years ago:
On behalf of the work-shy community

This time eight years ago:
Classic truck cavalcade

This time nine years ago
Suburban back-roads clogged with commuters

This time ten years ago:
Autumn gold, Łazienkowski Park

This time ten years ago:
Quintessential autumnal Jeziorki

This time 12 years ago:
Google Earth updates its map of Jeziorki

Saturday, 26 October 2019

New track from Chynów down to Warka

Last Sunday, trains on the Radom line between Czachówek Południowy to Warka switched from the old 'down' track to the newly modernised 'up' track. Still single line working - just on the other line. It took one year, one month and ten days. Assuming the similar pace for the second old track, and some general tidying up,  the Radom line will be fully modernised between Warsaw and Warka by spring 2021. Today I shall show you how things are progressing between Chynów and Warka.

Below: the new platform is now operational at Chynów. It has a passing loop (to the right). Here we see an 'up' train on its way to Warsaw (centre) and a Warka-bound train (right). The Warsaw train was a few minutes late, so the Warka train was held at Chynów, the only place where two trains can pass one another between Czachówek Południowy and Warka. The remains of the old platform (left) will soon be demolished. The modernised 'down' track will run straight along the alignment of the old platform instead of swinging around it. Time to ride down from Chynów to Warka to see what's happening...

Below: here's the new platform at Krężel, the next station south of Chynów. Looking south.

Below: the old shelter and the old platform at Krężel, looking north. Again, the old platform will make way for the new track, which will no longer run adjacent to the shelter.

Next stop - Michalczew. Below: here's the new platform, looking south. You can see the old tracks to the left which will be ripped up and replaced by new ones laid closer to the new tracks.

Below: looking north; the old platform at Michalczew, again due for prompt demolition.

Below: the most remote station on this section of the line in terms of size of community served and distance from the nearest habitation - Gośniewice (population 216). Here's the new platform...

...and below - what's left of the old platform, looking north. The rest has already been torn down, something that must have happened during the course of the past week.

And on to Warka, the current end of the line. One new platform is open - this will be a much bigger station, ranking above Czachówek Południowy in terms of importance. Passing loops and a freight siding will be built here soon. To the extreme left in the distance, a waiting bus for the replacement service that takes passengers south towards Radom. A less than satisfactory solution, one that's bound to result in many people taking their custom elsewhere for the duration. According to the current timetable, to get to Radom from here on the replacement bus is a two-hour journey! It's only 44km down the line from Warka to Radom!

Below: station building at Warka; beyond the platform's end the line curves to the right and dips down towards the Pilica river crossing.

Below: as trains do not go beyond Warka, the two level crossings south of the station are no longer manned or gated. This is by the crossing at ul. Felixa Nowakowskiego. In the distance, to the right, you can just about see the new bridge...

Below: high over ul. Lotników, the old level-crossing keeper's post; from up here they could operate both crossings. This little hut is just about visible to the right of the photo above.

Below: looking south towards the new bridge. The old one stood to the left and has now been totally demolished. There are no tracks here at all - the old ones have been ripped out, the new ones have not yet been installed. I guess it will be next autumn before one line runs from Warka down to Radom - but I'm hoping it will be sooner!

Below: back to Chynów before it gets dark. My motorbike stands on where the ballast for the new track has been awaiting its purpose these past two years; around half of it has been used, the other half awaits the 'down' line. The tracks in the foreground are for the freight sidings at Chynów; note the concrete sleepers stockpiled to the right.

This time last year:
The possibilities of a quantum universe

This time two years ago:
More about sleep

This time seven years ago:
On behalf of the workshy community

This time eight years ago:
Classic truck cavalcade

This time nine years ago
Narrow back-roads clogged with commuters

This time ten years ago:
Autumn gold, Łazienkowski Park

This time 12 years ago:
Of bishops and bands

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Britain at War

Just look at the state the United Kingdom is in right now. Divided as it's never been since the 17th century. Friends and families no longer on speaking terms. Brexit has the potential to bring about Scottish independence and Irish reunification - can the UK remain united? There's increasing anger in the hearts and minds, inflamed by dangerous political rhetoric. A famously tolerant, easy-going nation, the envy of the world in terms of governance, the leading global soft power - has become an international laughing stock within the space of a few short years.

A time-travelling visitor coming to Britain today from 2012 could be forgiven for thinking that an enemy power had managed to poison the UK's drinking water with a biological agent that could turn a rational population into a country of baying furies, willing to swallow and amplify any falsehood that seemed to confirm their notions.

An enemy power has indeed been at the UK - not using physical poison but psychological agents, carefully positioned propaganda, designed to open up and exaggerate every fault line in society. Conservative vs liberal, traditionalist vs progressive, open vs closed, tolerant vs intolerant, educated vs uneducated, upper class vs middle class vs working class.

Once upon a time, Moscow tried to convince Britons of the righteousness of its Marxist-Leninist policies through the daily organ of the Communist Party of Great Britain, the Morning Star. So obviously tendentious and so tedious, the paper was only read by few misguided individuals and propped up financially by bulk sales from the Soviet embassy. Its influence on British society was less than minimal.

But today's Russia has two huge advantages over the USSR. One is that it's no longer restricted by an ideological straitjacket. Russia can pour out disinformation that shifts easily from far left to far right to suit tactical needs. Or both at the same time. The second is technology - newspapers are pathetically limited in their reach compared to online media.

The key Russian concept is known as maskirovka, masking or camouflage. No one would think of riding into battle in a tank painted day-glo orange. Russia extends that notion all the way up to what its leaders say. They'd never think of telling the unmasked truth. That is Russian doctrine, that is Russia's strategy.

The West is not at war with Russia, but Russia is at war with the West; it's an undeclared war, unrelenting, ceaseless, low-level, operating just below the red lines that would trigger response. Unattributable. " It was not us that tried to kill Skripal,' lied Lavrov." " 'It was not us that bombed children's hospitals in Syria,' lied Lavrov." " 'There are no little green men in Crimea', " lied Putin. " 'We did not interfere in America's elections,'" lied Putin." Once you get the code, you'll learn to believe the opposite of everything the Kremlin says, in the same way as a soldier learns to recognise tell-tale signs... under the foliage and netting at the edge of that field sits hidden an enemy tank.

Russia is currently using all the means at its disposal to weaken the West by dividing it.

If Russia today has an ideology, it is sovereignism - the notion that rulers should rule; subjects should be subordinated to the sovereigns. In other words, zamordizm - the Polish word meaning the strong holding the weak 'by the snout'. This stands in contract to the networked model of governance; the cooperation between humans based on consensus, openness, transparency, distributed power, checks and balances, power devolved from the state to the municipality. Which is the natural state of evolution from the barbaric towards a more enlightened society.

Two new books set out how Russia (and indeed others) are playing the West, using the very openness of the social media against the very societies that use them.

One is Daniel P. Bagge's Unmasking Maskirovka. Written by a Czech military information analyst, it draws heavily on published documents that set out Russia's military doctrine over the years, the book shows how Russia fights the information war. Cyberwar is not just about hackers attacking critical software with malicious code, causing power blackouts or crashing big IT systems. Cyberwar is about content - about using IT to deliver messages that muddy the brains of Western society. Code and content. Hackers' footprints are easy to spot. But it is much harder - and easier for Russia to deny - the content part of its cyberwar against us.

Mr Bagge makes it clear that Russia has long been at war with the West, though fighting it without attribution, denying its mischief, ensuring that no red lines are crossed, no wires tripped. Unmasking Maskirovka is not an easy book to read - there's much military jargon, lots of translation of euphemistically-phrased Russian documents, but it is a crucial book. It makes the point that Russia's 'code-and-content' approach to cyberwar means that the West's IT code warriors are unusually relaxed about what's going on over at Twitter, Facebook and the rest of social media, because the content is placed there openly, without resorting to malicious hacking.

Concrete examples are given. One which I remember well is the story of the USS Donald Cook. The US Navy destroyer was on manoeuvres in the Black Sea at the time of the Russian invasion of Crimea. On 12 April, 2014, the ship was buzzed by a Russian Su-24 attack aircraft. The Pentagon, alarmed by reports of how dangerously close the Sukhoi approached the destroyer, issued a statement denouncing the fly-by. This was parodied by a Russian website, suggesting that the US sailors crapped themselves with fear, 27 of them deserted when the ship berthed in a Romanian port. More - that the Su-24 was deploying an advanced electronic weapon which rendered all the shipboard countermeasures useless. The Russian plane had effectively knocked out an American ship without firing a shot. But that story quickly went viral, accepted as the truth.

What is alarming is how this fake news spread in the West, aided and abetted by 'useful idiots' - unknowing tools of the Russian maskirovka machine from left and right - and soon this report was being published by papers like the New York Times, the Sun, the Daily Mail, by TV outlets like Fox News and countless websites. I remember reading about the electronic destruction of the USS Donald Cook from British anti-imperialist lefties, from American anarchists, from German nationalists - all convinced that the story was true. Or were these people who they claimed there were? Or rather were these Russian trolls?

The book is worth reading to understand the harsh reality of how the Russian war against us is being conducted. The effects of that effort can be seen by one and all across the West, in particular in Brexit Britain, which for whatever reason, doesn't seem to care. The links to Russia are clear, and are not being investigated enough by the British state.

[More about the cyber-war that's currently being fought against us here.]

The second book, Peter Pomerantsev's This Is Not Propaganda, will be covered in my next post.

This time two years ago:
Nudge vs. nakaz

This time three years ago:
Scenes from West Ealing and Hanwell

This time four years ago:
Four years of PiS

This time nine years ago:
High Victorian Manchester 

This time ten years ago:
The clocks go back - but when should they go forward?

This time 11 years ago:
Warsaw's first Metro line is completed

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Poznań by night, and in the morning

Arrived in Poznań on Monday evening ahead of the third leg of our HR Review 2019 roadshow. Trains from Warsaw to Poznań still not running as they should - three hours to cover 300km is a poor show. That's an average speed of 60mph (100km/h). At least there's no diversion via Gniezno any more... Anyway, the PKP InterCity train itself was fine. A long train, that split in two in Poznań, with half heading west to Berlin, the other half heading north-west to Szczecin. Both halves had dining cars, so a choice of two. Making up for all those InterCity trains without any dining facilities.

Our hotel was Apartamenty Wodna 12 (don't mix up ulica Wodna for ulica Wożna, the very next street along!), well situated for our event venue and for the old town. After an excellent Indian meal at the Taj Mahal (the price list on the menu looked identical to one in any Indian restaurant in London, except the numbers were expressed in zlotys rather than pounds), there was time for a stroll around Poznań's old town.

The weather was excellent for late October - the climate change dividend. No coats required, even at around ten pm. But long after the main holiday season has ended, the old town is quiet, many places to sit and eat.

Poznań boasts many diverse restaurants - at least three Indians to choose from. Left: the neon sign of a Mexican restaurant at the end of the street. If I hadn't been full of an Indian, a trio of tacos would have been good.

There's a graffiti problem. Poznań should wage war against it, instantly painting over tags.

Right: I do love the recently re-cobbled streets in and around the old town square. Even when bone-dry they glisten, reflecting the light, adding immensely to the atmosphere, especially at night.

Below: the old town square is full of hustlers trying to get you to eat at one of the restaurant there. I don't like them - they are a foretaste of how a nice city can get over-touristed. The hucksters and the barkers - the AUSCHWITZ - SALT MINES - SCHINDLER'S FACTORY - CHEAP! syndrome - are what turned Kraków into an old town to avoid.

Left: Poznań's basilica, former parish church, at the end of ul. Świętosławska. Well-chosen street lighting adds to the charm of the scene. [More from Poznań's old town by day in this post.]

Below: I was delighted to wake up on Tuesday and behold this sight - the rooftops and skyline of the old town with the basilica and town hall in shot.

Below: the old-town remont has extended to Plac Kolegiacki; all coming along rather well. Poznań is very much a business town, its local economy boasts the lowest unemployment anywhere in Poland (1.2% at the end of August 2019); very much worth a visit whether for business or pleasure.

This time two years ago:
West of Warsaw's central axis

This time six years ago:
Plac Unii shopping centre opens

This time eight years ago:
Visceral and Permanent, Part II 

This time nine years ago:
Autumn colours, locally

This time ten years ago:

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Homeward from the demo

One thing struck me as demonstrators started to drift away. They didn't drop their placards, banners and flags, but continued on their homeward journey proudly displaying their convictions. The shower passed, the sun came out, and tens of thousands of people dispersed, making their way towards the next Tube station but one, to avoid the biggest jams. Soon, St James's Park, Green Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens were full of banner-waving pro-Europeans, open and tolerant.

Below: looking east along St. James's Park lake towards Whitehall - Dover House and the War Office building behind it. A few flags out along the footbridge. The War Office is being turned into a Raffles Hotel. By a Spanish firm for an Indian investor on behalf of a French hotel group.

Below: a few pelicans were out on the lake shore, drying their plumage after the short, sharp shower. Looking at them, I pondered how evolution can force certain species to evolve so far into one niche (in the case of the pelican, fish-eating) that they become over-specialised.

Just look at the powerful muscles (behind the eyes) required to operate that huge bill.

Below: after a long walk around London's royal parks, I turned back towards St. James's Park underground station. A mistake, as engineering works on the District and Circle Lines meant westbound trains only ran as far as South Kensington. So I returned to Ealing via Victoria, Oxford Circus and the Central Line - all full of demonstrators with EU flags, blue face paint, 'Bollocks to Brexit' stickers and assorted placards. Short aside - above St. James's Park underground station is 55 Broadway, the headquarters of London Underground. Built in the 1930s, it is an outstanding piece of architecture. TfL, the current owner, will be moving out and a luxury hotel will occupy the building instead.

This time four years ago:
Kielce - the woes of Poland's smaller cities

This time six years ago:
Wine connoisseurs or wine snobs?

This time seven years ago:
Poland's golden autumn

This time eight years ago:
Visceral and permanent - a short story

This time nine years ago:
Crushed Velvet Dusk in my City of Dreams II

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Marchin' again

Six months on from the last anti-Brexit demonstration, time to take to the streets again. Same route - Marble Arch, Park Lane, Hyde Park Corner, Pall Mall, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, Westminster. Similar circumstances - on 23 March, it was seven days from the then-Brexit deadline; today it's 11 days before the third deadline for leaving the EU. We shall see.

Estimates for the numbers on this march range from the BBC's 'tens of thousands' (ridiculous, just look at the photos) to 'two million'. If the agreed number for the last march was finally reckoned to have been 1.0m to 1.1m, my own guesstimate as a participant in both would be in the 1.4m to 1.5m range.

Left: this banner is crucial in its insight: suddenly, you realise that 'nobody born this century voted for Brexit'. Yes! Of course! And yet it is precisely those born this century that would be suffering from having their wings clipped by this monumental act of folly. Those who have come of voting age this month were just 14 when the referendum happened. And during that time, some 900,000 people who voted Leave have died.
Right: literally the only anti-EU placard I saw all day. Well, there was a chap in a Nigel Farage mask sitting in the Garfunkel's by Trafalgar Square with a sign reading 'Losers! Go Home' - I think few even noticed him. However, this guy in a pixie outfit was harder to overlook. He was standing on a stepladder in the middle of Piccadilly with a sign denouncing the EU as 'the Beast of Revelation Chapter 17'. I think he just needs a friend.

Below: I like this banner as it puts Brexit into a global perspective - a power-play in which Britain is carved up between kleptocrats and plutocrats.

Policing was heavier than in March. Two helicopters were deployed this time. Yet just as in March, the demonstration was entirely peaceful.

This time last year:
Ealing and West Ealing memories

This time five years ago:
The autumn sublime in Jeziorki

This time six years ago:
Enduring Ealing - Victorian and Edwardian klimats

This time seven years ago:
Krokowa, Poland's former northern borderlands

This time 12 years ago:
Aerial photograph of Central London

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Secret warriors

Today, along with my father, I attended the funeral of Jerzy Kowalski, a former Home Army soldier who fought in the same unit as my father during the Warsaw Uprising. He was in Batalion Odwet at the start, after the failed attack on the SS barracks at Kolonia Stasica, like my father he made his way across the Pole Mokotowskie fields, crossed the Polish barricades and continued the fight with Batalion Golski in the Politechnika region, until the end of the Uprising.

Amazingly, neither of them were aware of this fact, even though they lived just a few miles apart in West London for over 70 years. Even more amazing given that Jerzy Kowalski's son Andrzej attended Polish Saturday school and Polish cubs and scouts with me for many years in the 1960s and '70s.

The funeral took place at Św. Andrzeja Boboli church in Hammersmith, my favourite Polish church in London (associations from childhood, better music). Whereas in Ealing we'd go to several different churches (POK, St Benedicts, St Matthews and latterly Windsor Road), for Poles in Acton, Chiswick and Hammersmith there was always, since the early 1960s, just the one Andrzeja Boboli. The modernist sculptures and stained-glass windows, the memorials to Poland's wartime tribulations, make it a very special church for me - far more so than Windsor Road, which I associate with the new wave of Polish migration that came since the end of communism.

The burial was a Gunnersbury cemetery, again, given the large number of Polish graves and the Katyń Memorial, a very special place for post-war Poles in London. The most poignant graves are of those Poles who'd fought in the war and died in London in the late 1980s, too early to see the restoration of Poland's independence.

Left: my father at the memorial.

A particularly intriguing part of Jerzy Kowalski's life was his post-war membership of Brygadowe Koło Młodych „Pogoń” (Pogoń Brigade Youth Circle). This secret organisation was made up of men who'd served in the Polish armed forces during WW2. Its aim was to keep combat readiness in the event of the Cold War suddenly turning hot. The thinking within the Polish Government-in-Exile in London was to create and maintain a leadership cadre, versed in Polish military practice, that would serve much as the First Brigade did as Poland fought for its independence during WW1. Drawing on the model of the Cichociemni - the Silent and Unseen - the Polish commandos in the British Special Operations Executive in WW2, Pogoń was to form the basis of a Polish airborne division incorporated in NATO's military structures in time of war.

Below: Jerzy Kowalski (second from left) with comrades from Pogoń.

Below: on manoeuvres with Pogoń; Jerzy Kowalski (second from right)

In Cold War times, the existence of such an organisation was politically embarrassing to British governments, especially the Labour ones. As a result Pogoń drilled and trained in secret. One fact that I learned at yesterday's funeral was that Jerzy Kowalski had carried out a number of parachute jumps with the French military in 1962 and 1963, earning his 'wings' (brevet Militair de Parachutiste). And all this while he was working as a chartered account with Thomson McLintock (since merged into KPMG) and the father of two small children. In the mid-70s (as a 50 year old), he completed the course to lead a company into battle. Promoted to the rank of captain, Jerzy Kowalski was ready to fight for Poland should the need have ever arisen.

The story of the Polish Government-in-Exile and its military is fascinating - those who kept faith with an independent Poland for the half-century of its occupation by the Nazis and then the communists.


This time last year:
Ideology and pragmatism

This time five years ago:
Nocturnal mists descend upon Jeziorki

This time seven years ago:
Heavy rain hits Warsaw 

This time nine years ago:
The autumn sublime in Warsaw

This time 11 years ago:
Lublin and its charm