Thursday, 30 April 2020

Things will never be the same - Pt I

In the short term, the falling spread-rate and lower numbers of deaths from Covid-19 suggest that we are past the worst. Maybe so, but there will not be a return to the way of life we enjoyed up to early this year. If the 1918-1920 Spanish Flu pandemic is anything to go by, there may well be a second and even third wave. The virus may well mutate to a nastier form before any vaccine is developed, in which case the choice will be taking greater risks to live a normal life, or seclusion and extreme vigilance. Mask-wearing may become the norm. After the SARS outbreak of 2002-2003, which resulted in 8,000 cases and 800 deaths mainly in the Far East, seeing Asiatic people wearing masks as they pass through international airports became commonplace. I for one (having caught a bad dose of flu in 2018 on public transport) will not be going out without a mask, gloves, glasses or hand-sanitiser for a long, long time.

The thought that a virus could wreak such havoc throughout the global economy would have been unthinkable at Christmas - now look at us. The short-term is all about prevent the hospitals from being overrun, using PPE, testing and epidemiological modelling to get R0 below 1, and slowly unlocking the lockdown.

Barring a scenario in which the virus mutates into something far uglier before a vaccine can be developed and deployed, the next phase will be about getting the global economy gradually back on its feet. Given the massive, simultaneous shock to both the supply-side and demand-side, this will not be easy. The cost of keeping firms from laying off workers has been borne in some measure by the taxpayer - the very workers being protected. Government debt will rise; the pensions we can all look forward to will be more meagre than we have been expecting up till now. Not only state pensions, but also private occupational pensions, often invested in 'safe' sectors such as commercial and retail property.

Cinemas, theatres, restaurants and bars can wait until the number of new confirmed cases drops to near enough zero to make it feel safe enough to return to society. [Incidentally, this is a fascinating  account of how the fledgling US movie industry coped with the Spanish Flu pandemic; closing cinemas and film studios, mask-wearing etc - all familiar stuff, yet written in 2005.]

Things will never be the same. Office buildings in prime city-centre locations, large shopping malls with impressive footfall - this is where pension funds could see respectable yields rolling in from corporate tenants - money that came from savers and will be returned to pensioners.

The very awareness that this virus could mutate, or that in future another virus could jump the species barrier and start this nastiness all over again will profoundly reshape our thinking about our place in the economic world - where we live, where we work, how we entertain ourselves, how we shop.

This is a very new situation, so thinking will evolve further. But for decades, the tendency has been for mankind to gather in cities, to live in high-density housing, to work together, to come together to shop and to be entertained. And travel - we have got used to flying around the world for exotic holidays, with hundreds of other people crammed in an aluminium tube, 35,000ft in the sky for several hours. It will be a while before we get back to that. Routine health screening will join security screening as part of the nuisance attached to boarding an airliner, which will take longer. The whole low-cost flights model will not survive in the form we've become accustomed to.

Having got used to keeping two metres apart from each other, it will be difficult psychologically for us to cram into bars, cinemas, sports stadiums and theatres, knowing that one sneeze from someone near could mean you end up on a ventilator.

We have very quickly gone virtual. Skype, Zoom, Team, WebEx as well as other platforms I've never previously heard of have brought the meeting room to our bedrooms and kitchens. Having done this for seven weeks - do we need an office? Doing more shopping online than ever before, it is reasonable to assume that the world of real estate will never be the same again. Warehouse space for e-commerce - especially that which services last-mile logistics - will be in demand, while land-banks built up across the world's Central Business Districts will rapidly lose value.

Consumers' behaviour will change. Many will have seen their savings diminish, many will be pushed to the edge of poverty in a very short space of time, and will want to rebuild their reserves. Discretionary spending will be limited - fripperies abandoned. New clothes, new cars, fancy holidays - wants not needs - will have to wait. But others will want (in the short term at least) to get even with the virus and do some revenge shopping. Adopting the motto 'you only live once', some (mainly older) consumers will plunge headlong into hedonism on the basis  that their existence might suddenly get swept away by some vulgar little virus, and so push the boat out. But if you are a responsible person with a young family and mortgage, that makes no sense.

Back to housing. My life these past seven weeks has been very tolerable. Surrounded by a large garden, farmland and low-density housing, Jeziorki has proved to be the ideal place to be locked down in. It's 1,300 paces to Lidl and a similar distance to Biedronka. Both have been exemplary in terms of customer and staff safety (only 18 customers in the shop at any one time, so an hour's wait to be let in, but hey, the sun was shining). In the evenings, I can close my laptop and do my 10,000 paces, taking in Jeziorki's ponds, or the fields out towards Mysiadło, or across the tracks to see how the S7 is getting on, all this walking and seeing very few people along the way (most but not all in masks). I can see that many folk who've hitherto been enthusiasts of inner-city life will start looking over estate agents' offers of houses located a safe distance from the centres of infection. This may lead to an urban re-balancing and the very thing I've been warning against on this blog - suburban and exurban sprawl.

Optimal location for lockdown, just nine miles from centre of a capital city.

Things will never be the same. The technology that has made the lockdown bearable - streaming video, online conferencing, e-commerce etc, will develop at an even faster pace. If you can code - the future is yours. Healthcare and healthtech - these too will experience a boom. Research and development - clinical trials - will have to happen at a faster pace. There will no doubt be knock-on discoveries as R&D teams stumble upon unexpected side effects that can spin off into other areas of medicine.

Transport - we've learnt that we don't need cars as much as we thought we did. There are too many of them anyway. I can expect many two-car households to be ridding themselves of one. Used cars will become ridiculously cheap - for a while anyway. The car manufacturers already has an over-capacity problem; many plants will close down. There will be fewer cars on the road; after a while supply will balance out demand - but at the same time, fossil-fuel-powered cars will lose out to electric ones.

The environment has had a chance to recover - polluted cities such as New Delhi and Los Angeles have seen marked improvements in air quality. Citizens would like that to continue.

Politically, proponents of free-market economic solutions are as rare as atheists on a sinking ship. The state will be having a comeback. Chancers and liars will be chased out of political office as populist solutions will be shown up to have failed at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives. Voters and consumers have long memories. Businesses that have responded to the crisis with understanding and kindness will be paid back; business owners and managers that have revealed their greed and selfishness will be punished.

A better, fairer world may yet emerge. But we are a long way from the end of this story. Above all, pray that the virus doesn't mutate, and pray that science can find a cure - fast.

This time last year:
April's end, summer's beginning

This time two years ago:
Best April ever?

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

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

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

This time nine years ago:
At the President's

This time 11 years ago:
Summer's here, and the time is right...

This time 13 years ago:
Why I'm staying in Warsaw

Friday, 24 April 2020

Drainage ditches, hunters' 'pulpit'
and suburban sprawl

Drainage ditches criss-cross the flat fields of Jeziorki and surrounding villages. I've written about the ditch that serves as Warsaw's southern border, demarcating the line between Jeziorki and Mysiadło. This post will go further west, that same ditch cuts under the railway line, and then under ulica Gogolińska. Again, this is the Warsaw border, Warsaw to the right.

Below: having crossed the tracks, I'm looking the other way, eastwards. I'm still on the Warsaw side.

Having crossed ul. Gogolińska, I leave Warsaw. The drainage ditch now runs south-west, the trees in the picture below run away to the right, and that treeline becomes Warsaw's border. The ditch now leads towards the village of Zgorzała. In the distance (click to enlarge) you should be able to make out a wooden watch tower.

Here it is - looking back down along that ditch, the treeline border of Warsaw to the left in the distance. This tower is an ambona (lit. 'pulpit'), in this context though a hunters' stand. It is from here that hunters can shoot at local game. Deer, hare and pheasant, the occasional wild boar. I must say that I am against the killing of sentient life for sport.

But the wildlife itself is being squeezed out. On the horizon, the unstoppable encroachment of hundreds of houses of Nowa Wola. What was once arable farmland is now filling up rapidly with new estates with twee names like  'Birds of Paradise Estate' or 'Our Little Town Estate' but no amenities.

The other evening, I saw deer in Jeziorki, for the first time ever. These developments, plus work on the S7 extension to the west of here is driving wildlife to the quieter environs across the track.

Having climbed the ladder to see inside, I was surprised that there was no sign of use - no empty shotgun cartridges, nor indeed detritus left by teenagers or the local open-air drinking  community. Maybe hunters - for the damage they wreak on the wildlife - are as ecologically conscientious as I am and take every scrap of litter home with them. Or maybe there's not been any hunting going on for a while here.

Onwards to the end of that drainage ditch, to where it turns south, eventually petering out in a field just north of Nowa Wola. I turn north, however, and head towards Zgorzała, itself spreading out (though here we have individual houses rather than large estates of identical houses).

Onwards, past houses newly finished, unfinished and already inhabited, ones still being finished and a few that look they will never finally be finished - not under the current owners, anyway. I fear the sprawl in the fields south of Warsaw will end up looking like the 1930s sprawl west of London - Greenford, Hayes, Northolt, Ickenham, Ruislip, Hillingdon - never-ending soul-less suburbs moving ever-further from the city centre. At least those 1930s London suburbs had facilities - schools, shops, hospitals, pubs - and above all - good rail links to central London.

This time last year:
Aviation the theme (plane pics are popular!)

This time two years ago:
Five closed-off hectares of central Warsaw

This time three years ago
Progress by the ponds

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

This time eight years ago:
The British electrical plug reigns supreme

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

This time ten years ago:
That Icelandic volcano

This time 11 years ago:
Views of Historic Toruń

This time 12 years ago:
One swallow does not a summer make

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Aviation over locked-down Jeziorki

With hardly any commercial flights inbound to land, what does come over our heads in Jeziorki is a lot more interesting than the usual vanilla-flavoured procession of A321s and Boeing 737s. These strange days, when something's headed this way, the chances are good I'll see something interesting.

Below: a Polish Air Force Mig 29 fighter, normally stationed in Minsk Mazowiecki. There were at least four movements today, including a pair coming in together. NATO's Defender 20 exercise means more military flights into Okęcie.

Below: Polish Air Force CASA C-295 bringing Polish doctors back from Italy where they'd been treating Covid-19 patients.

I could hear the sound of turboprops getting louder and louder, but could see nothing in the sky. Suddenly, this Polish Air Force CASA C-295 (below) came roaring right over the roof!

An RAF Voyager KC2 (Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport) bringing a detachment of British Army Light Dragoons to take part in NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence. Good to know you guys are here!

Here's another Airbus A330, which along with the Boeing 777 is the largest regular passenger plane to use Okęcie. Of late, these Turkish Airlines planes have been flying medical supplies.

Cargo planes are more visible. SprintAir is now a cargo-only operator, using a fleet of these Saab 340A/340AFs (the latter have no windows). Interestingly, each SprintAir Saab has the same livery - but in different colours.

Below: another Saab 340, without windows and Hungarian registration, belonging to Fleet Air International.

Below: dusk delivery. Another windowless plane - this is a Boeing 737-400F belonging to Belgian freight carrier ASL Airlines.

The Polish Air Navigation Services Agency (Polska Agencja Żeglugi Powietrznej  or PAŻP) has two aircraft for radar calibration flights. This Beechcraft B300 KingAir (below)..

And this LET L-410 (below). Both planes are called Papuga ('parrot') for their garish livery.

The presidential elections are scheduled to take place by post on (or around) 10 May. Because of the lockdown, there's no campaigning. Yet for the VIP jets of the Polish Air Force, it's business as usual. I'll leave that without comment. Below: Boeing 737-800, in livery commemorating the 100th anniversary of Poland regaining its independence, and Marshal Józef Piłsudski's portrait on the tailfin.

Below: one of two Gulfstream G550 VIP transports. This one flew Warsaw-Gdańsk-Wrocław-Warsaw.

Below: the Antonov An-225's smaller brother, the An-124 Condor. Seen at Okęcie every now and then - this one belongs to Volga-Dnepr Airlines.

Because there's hardly any passenger flights in and out of Okęcie, there's a lot more general aviation around, small planes that would get in the way of regular scheduled airliners. Below: A Diamond DA42 Twin Star, a twin-prop four-seater light aircraft. A particularly lovely design, with diesel engines!

The beautiful cloudless skies made for perfect conditions for aerial photography, another common sight above Warsaw was SP-GEO, a Vulcanair P68 Observer 2, flying grids north-south covering the entire city and its environs. And there have been a great many flights of the Polish air ambulance service, another Italian twin-prop, a Piaggio Avanti. Immediately recognisable by its loud whining sound, caused by the pusher layout (propellers pointing backwards) and nose-mounted winglets.

Finally, another Polish Air Force transport type that's regularly seen these days is this PZL M28 Skytruck is a Polish-built light cargo and passenger plane, produced by PZL Mielec, as a development of license-built Antonov An-28. It has notable short take-off characteristics. Note, the camouflage pattern extends under the wings!

My lockdown working day has me sitting in my bedroom (better line of sight than the study downstairs) between 9 and 5; in the background on my laptop I have FlightRadar24 and ADSBexchange. The former is well-known; the latter gives a better chance of seeing military flights (as long as they have their transponders switched on). With advance warning, I can be ready to snap the planes as they fly over!

UPDATE: 26 April - caught this one over the house - an RAF A400M Atlas. Only the second time I've seen one (first time was here).

This time last year:
Easter in Ealing

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

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

This time seven year ago:
Longer, lighter lens

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

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

This time ten years ago:
The answer to urban commuting

This time 13 years ago:
Far away across the fields

Monday, 20 April 2020

Pandemic, then drought [updated]

It was an unnaturally warm winter; there was no snow to speak of. The rain has not fallen properly for weeks. I fear that Poland will be hit hard by a drought, a double whammy of natural catastrophes. Around Chernobyl, forest fires rage, although the prevailing winds won't blow radioactive smoke this way. We have not been good to our planet, it feels like our planet wants to be rid of us - a pernicious, wasteful, dirty species. The Medea hypothesis? Or the Gaia hypothesis?

The drought is here already. Jeziorki's ponds are in a pitiful state. Most mornings I open my window blinds to be welcomed by a bright sun in a clear blue sky - great for lockdown samopoczucie but an increasingly worrying sight for the soil and everything that grows in it.

Below: the western side of the middle pond. Gabions erected to retain floodwater now stand dry; to the left, some water is visible in the pond by ulica Trombity. Scene looks like something out of WWI.

Below: this wooden pier once projected far into the pond; now its sandy floor is visible. Until recently it was impossible to walk from here to the gabions above with dry feet - I've done this several times this year. This is (was?) the southern end of the middle pond.

Below: the same view, July 2017. Bullrushes are notoriously difficult to uproot.

Below: the reeds are choking the pond, exacerbating the lack of winter snow cover and of April showers. This is the northern end of the southern pond; about a third of the surface of water has gone. The swans and ducks are still here, but there's no sign of the diving birds - grebes and pochards, and only a few coots (once prevalent here).

Wildfowl are suffering as water levels fall. These two swans (judging by the ring number, offspring of the two swans who return here each year) haven't enough water to sit down in.

The same goes for this coot - one of a small number present here this season. Usually, the coots are the most numerous species of waterfowl on Jeziorki's ponds. Right now, not enough water to get this guy's ass wet.

No rain today, none forecast for tomorrow, nor Wednesday, nor Thursday.

In early spring, the southernmost ponds are full of croaking frogs - not this year.

Below: looking north-west across the southern pond. The border between the reeds and the grass marks the former shoreline.

My bigger worry than the local pond is Poland's agriculture; a sustained drought will damage it just as it needs to be functioning properly. A poor harvest will result in much higher food prices. I long to be able to get on a train and head down to Jakubowizna to see how things are - as soon as lockdown is lifted, it's the first thing I'll do. That and a little rain dance.

This time four years ago:
Polish India Pale Ales - the taste of Now
[Update: Lidl is now has a few Polish craft beers on its shelves]

This time five year:
Lublin - pearl of Poland's East

This time seven years ago:
70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

This time eight years ago:
Tarkovsky's Stalker: a zone of my own

This time nine years ago:
Warsaw's big billboards

This time 11 years ago:
Pace of development falters

This time 13 years ago:
Unusual formation of mammatus clouds over Jeziorki

[Still unmatched!]

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Seven lockdown sunsets

Life has acquired a new rhythm over the past month; staying at home by the laptop until 17:00, the working day over, it's time for a stroll. Ten thousand paces; ninety minutes or so each day to keep in shape. Jeziorki is a great place to be locked down; close enough to the vital amenities of a capital city, yet remote enough to be able to walk for 90 minutes without getting with five metres of another walker or 20 metres of anyone cycling vigorously.

In mid-March, when lockdown was announced, the sun was setting just before 18:00. The clocks went forward on 29 March, and along with day-length increasing at its fastest rate around equinox, the sunsets are getting later and later. Today, it set just before 19:30. Here are some of the finest sunsets of the past four weeks then...

Emblematic of the Sublime Aesthetic, the setting sun begets a frame of mind that is open to thoughts that rise above the mundane.

Sunsets bring together sensual and mystical; awakening the feelings of afterglow. Day edges into night, Eternity is just that bit closer...

"But I don't need no friends/ As long as I gaze on Waterloo Sunset, I am in paradise" - Ray Davies, he knew. Below: W-wa Jeziorki station.

As a teenager, I'd open my bedroom window on summer evenings watching the sun setting over Northolt and Ruislip - an impossibility nowadays due to taller trees and new buildings blocking the view.

This time three years ago:
Easter everywhere

This time ten years ago:
Strange days indeed (though less strange than these!)

[link to video of the blog post, courtesy of Nick Morris]

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

World's Biggest Plane over Jeziorki

What a magnificent sight! Not only is the Antonov An-225 the world's largest aircraft, it is also the world's only six-engined aircraft currently in service. Today it flew into Okęcie to deliver medical equipment for the fight against Covid-19. A PR opportunity for the Polish government, and a rare chance to catch this plane in the skies above our house. I've never seen it in my life before, and now here it is!

Operated by Ukraine's Antonov Design Bureau, this aircraft makes a huge impression. Not particularly noisy (not much more so than wide-bodied twins such as the Boeing 777 or Airbus A330 which often fly over), nor trailing filth out of its engines like so many old Soviet types did.

A development of the Antonov An-124 Ruslan (which I've snapped quite often above Jeziorki), designed specifically to carry the Soviet equivalent of the Space Shuttle to its launch site. Just one was built, a second was never completed.

Below: first sight - from a distance you can see the uniqueness of the design. Twin tail, six engines, shoulder-mounted wings.

Flaps out - but where are the wheels?

The wheels?

The WHEELS! (last time I got a snap like this one below was when Kapitan Wrona was making his legendary wheels-up landing of a Boeing 767...

The plane didn't land - it did a fly-past over the airport, then a tight left-hand circle, turning over Dawidy, a hard bank, straightening out for the final approach - which I caught from an upstairs window. Wheels out this time!

Well, that was immensely satisfying experience. Over Jeziorki I've seen an Airbus A380, many Boeing 747s, Lockheed C5A Galaxies, Boeing C17 Globemasters, Antonov An-124s, Ilyushin Il-76s and an Airbus A400M - but this was a unique occasion.

This time last year:
Managing luck

This time two years ago:
Blossoms and pylons

This three years ago:
Weather bad, mood SAD

This time seven years ago:
Bicycle shake-down day

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

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

[The Polish Third Republic has now lasted 10 years longer than the Second Republic. Long may it flourish!]

This time 12 years ago:
Swans still in Jeziorki

Monday, 13 April 2020

Lockdown strolls around S7 roadworks

I'm missing Lent! Yesterday I drank a whole bottle of Primitivo, ate duck and pork sausage (no sugar though), and as every day, set off in the early evening for my constitutional 10,000 paces. Over the past 47 days, there's been no regular photo updates from the manor, so here are some of the better ones.

Big news from Jeziorki is that work on the S7 extension from Grójec to the airport is underway; contractor Pol-Aqua is getting on with it. Heavy plant moving earth (tippers, bulldozers, graders) are operated by one man, so little infection risk as long as everyone takes hand-washing and social distancing seriously. In the last few weeks, the service road running to the east of the S7's path has been coming along.

Below: the sub-base has been covered with ballast. In the distance, the Action warehouse; the S7 will run to the left of it, as we look south. Dawidy behind us, Dawidy Bankowe to the right, Jeziorki to the right.

Below: the end of the S79. The stump running south of the junction (Węzeł Lotnisko) is where the S7 will meet it. During the seven years since the S2/S79 junction was opened, those street lamps you can see have been burning every single night, illuminating asphalt used by no one. Bikers often come here to burn rubber on this unused stretch of expressway. As I approached this scene from Dawidy on Easter Saturday, I could here their engines screaming. Yet by the time I got within sight of the S79 stump, the noise had gone - now I could see why. The police had turned up. In the foreground, the service road, to the west of the S7 here, is coming on, ballast laid here as well.

Two days earlier, on my twilight walk, I could make out what I thought was smoke from stubble-burning across the tracks (below). It turned out not to be - this was the aftermath of the ballast being laid onto the sub-base of the service road. The dust takes a long time to settle!

The day before, the Pol-Aqua guys were hard at work preparing the ground. No danger of spreading viruses sitting one to a cab! In the background the LogMaster warehouse on ulica Baletowa (which will not be demolished; it will sit right at the eastern edge of the expressway).

Dawidy. On ul. Baletowa, a number of buildings have already been demolished to make way for the S7. I counted 25 that will gave to go. Below: one standing, two gone. A 737 bus on its way to the cemetery at Antoninów passes, almost empty.

Below: this is where the S79 currently ends, and where the new contract to build the S7 begins. It will run parallel to the railway line for a short while before curving southwestward.

Left: I have superimposed the map of the S7 extension from onto the satellite photo from Google Earth. This shows exactly where the S7 will go as it passes between Dawidy and Jeziorki and Zamienie and Zgorzała. It includes the service roads, on-ramps and exits and other infrastructure associated with the project. The S79 stump is right at the very top.

Below: the other end of my 'manor' (i.e. a reasonable stroll from home, everything on the map above). Beyond Zgorzała, looking south towards Nowa Wola on the horizon. The S7 will cut across ul. Krasićkiego, go on through Lesznowola, then southwestwards on to Grójec, to connect with the existing S7. A lot of work to go!

Left: the new road slices through farmland and meadow, splitting Zgorzała from Zamienie. Just like the A40 Western Avenue has split communities for good as it sliced through Perivale in the 1930s, the S7 will change the local geography and spirit of place in a negative way. Though an improvement for drivers heading south out of Warsaw. Local farmers seem determined to get as much crop in as they can, despite the roadworks.

Below: looking north-east from Zamienie towards Ursynów, south of ul. Dawidowska. Just across Dawidowska will be a major road junction, creating extra traffic for ul. Karczunkowska. A 737 bus travels empty towards the cemetery at Antoninów.

The pandemic will certainly slow down work, but it is encouraging to see that where a job can be done without people coming into close contact with other people, it is being done.

Past references to the S7 extension: Dawidy, July 2018 and Dawidy, Zgorzała, Zamienie, July 2017
In both cases, I was expecting work to begin the follow spring - I was wrong.

This time last year:
Construction updates

This time eight years ago:
Pigeon infestation by Dworzec Centralny

This time 11 years ago:
Magnolia in bloom, Ealing