Tuesday, 30 June 2020

First half of 2020 - health in numbers

Six and half years since I began a spreadsheet with my exercising and alcohol intake, time for a post-lockdown catch-up at the end of the first half of 2020.

"Beat last year" remains the motto when it comes to staving off the onset of old age. I am stronger and healthier than I was last year; last year I was stronger and healthier than the year before that - and I have the data to prove.

Locking my health and lifestyle into my data-obsessiveness has been a great idea; rarely do I miss out on exercises or skip my walking because there's a spreadsheet that needs filling in, the obsession becomes habitualised, and this builds willpower. 

The outcome is better samopoczucie - how you feel within yourself, physically and mentally. Within myself, I feel like I felt in my late thirties - and consequently am shocked whenever I catch sight of myself in a mirror - I certainly feel nowhere near as old as I look!

Covid-19 is less likely to be an issue if my immune system is strong; exercise, good diet and sleep all help. But autumn is coming; some mutation might be on the way (Covid-22?) that could sweep away all this positive, life-affirming stuff. That or an accident, or some unsuspected tumour or tick-borne brain disease - we totter continuously on the Edge of Chaos. 

Yet there is that strong sense of life, a reason for getting up in the morning, secrets of Life and Universe to be uncovered and shared, an aesthetic, many moments of joy to anticipate in the future - and so health is important, longevity is important, the drive to keep going...

Lockdown has meant fewer paces than last year; my daily weekday walks have been limited to 90 minutes after the end of the working day. My daily average for the first half of this year has been 11,030 paces, compared to 11,804 last year (11,078 in 2018). Weights, pull-ups and planks - I slaughtered last year's numbers. Days when I was too lazy to do any exercises were just five (same in first half of last year). April was the high-point; totally locked down, there was not one day when I didn't complete a full set of ten lots of exercises. Fresh fruit and veg intake was up to 6.4 portions a day from 5.4 portions. Easier to eat well at home than in town, where fast-food tempts.

Press-ups are down on last year - with a good reason. Rather than bash out ever-larger numbers of poor-quality press-ups, I've focused on limiting the number to 30, but making each one perfect - back straight, plank style, then all the way down, chest to the floor, then all the way up until arms lock.

Being on the działka overnight is bad for the numbers, because I don't have weights or a pull-up bar, and the local shops are poor on fresh veg (like no fresh spinach, only the frozen stuff), but I get the paces in. 

Alcohol consumption has been reduced further still, another side-effect of lockdown, with average units drunk per week down to 11.5 (first six months of last year it was 13.9 units), with number of days without alcohol increased to 127 - up from 121 in the first half of 2019. Comparing my consumption year-on-year, in the first six months of 2020, I've drunk the equivalent of three half-litre bottles of vodka less than in the same period last year. (Sounds a lot, but it works out at slightly over an airline miniature a week.)

Blood pressure. This time three years ago, my average readings were 140 (systolic) over 100 (diastolic). I was prescribed pills ("to be taken for the rest of my life"). Which I didn't take. On 30 June 2017 my average reading was 134/95. On 30 June 2018 - it was 112/79. On 30 June 2019 it was 110/79. It has crept up over the past 12 months; today it was 116/84. (I take my blood pressure each morning after getting up.)

I can see a clear correlation between going to bed after midnight, which has been the case these past few days, is not a good thing, and diastolic pressure over 80. [Heart Foundation's guidelines are between 90-129 (systolic) and 60-84 (diastolic) as the acceptable norms of healthy blood pressure.] One to watch more obsessively than the others!

This time last year:
First half of 2019 - health in numbers

This time two years ago:
Key Performance Indicators - health - first half 2018

This time three years ago:
Three and half years of health and fitness data

This time four years ago:
First half of 2016 health & fitness in numbers

This time five years ago:
Venus, Jupiter - auspices

This time six years ago:
Down the line from York

This time seven years ago:
Cider - at last available in Poland

This time eight years ago:
Despondency on Puławska

This time nine years ago:
Stalking the stork

This time 11 years ago:
Late June lightning


Monday, 29 June 2020

Private garden pub for the działka

I've been thinking about this for some time - to build a modest, traditional building on my działka in the style of a 18th-century English village pub. Small, simple, using nothing but brick, wood and roof tiles; no electricity, just two large fireplaces to provide heat, and niches in the walls on which to safely place candles. A bar, space for three or for round tables, and plenty of wooden shelves for fine wines and ales. On the basis of how much I paid to have the house done up, I reckon something like this could be built (and well) for around 100,000 złotys (£20,000).

A mere 34m2 footprint (7.5m x 4.5m), one room, plumbing limited to a sink behind the bar, hot water from a back-boiler in the large chimney flue. Outside lavvy, connected to the town drains.


Back view, looking in, showing the back of the bar. 3D model done in SketchUp, which I've not fully mastered (note lack of guttering)


Inside view. To the left, one of the two fireplaces. Brick-built bar topped with granite. 


Rear three-quarter view. Given that my działka is 150m long by 25m wide, there's plenty of place to locate something like this.


Just the thing for creative sessions. What do you think?


This time last year:
(A lot done since last year, but much to do before it's completed)

This time six years ago
Down the line from York

This time seven years ago:
Czester and his sister

This time nine years ago:
The Cold Weather Guys - a short story

This time ten years ago:
Bike ride along the banks of the Vistula

This time 11 years ago:
Three hill walks around Dobra

This time 12 years ago:
90th Anniversary of the Polish Navy

This time 13 years ago:
Memory and comfort

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Gimme the keys to the highway

At long last... the weather's good - no thunderstorms forecast for today - so time to get on my motorbike and R I D E. Out into South Mazovia, where I'm minded as to where my soul is from.

Having a base in Jakubowizna is a Godsend. I don't need to worry about threading my way through traffic on Puławska or through stop-start Piaseczno - half an hour of riding through boring suburbs and exurbs - I roll out of my place, and straight out onto open, empty, country roads.

Below: the Pilica river has burst its banks. This is about a kilometre upstream from its confluence with the Vistula. The drought is over.


Orchard shrine; the Marian month of May and Corpus Christi are now behind us, but the wayside altars and shrines are still decorated.


Below: orchards and a big tank.



Below: crossing the Pilica; could be anywhere in the southern U.S.A.; the Deep South of Mazovia.


Below: but this is clearly Europe - the market square of Warka...


Below: Warka under a Mediterranean sky. The road leads west out into the orchards, following the Pilica towards Nowe Miasto.


This time last year: 

This time three years ago:
Unusual sights on the tracks

This time four years ago:
Brexit - it was new-EU immigration that swung it

This time five years ago:
Still flying after all these years

This time six years ago
Yorkshire's smallest city

This time seven years ago:
Cramp in the night

This time eight years ago:
Football goes home

This time nine years ago:
Birds of Omen

This time ten years ago:
Yes, it does matter who you vote for

This time 11 years ago:
Poland could do with some more mountains


This time 12 years ago:
Warmth of the Sun
 - the Beach Boys and Noctilucence


This time 13 years ago:
Polish roads that look like America

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Stormy high summer

I'd started the weekend early in anticipation of a bit of motorbiking - the weather forecasts showed a hot dry day, so I took the train down to the działka to go for a spin. But by the time I arrived yesterday afternoon, it was clear the bike would be going nowhere. Massive clouds were gathering in the sky to the south and east. By five pm, four hours before sunset, the land was plunged into near-darkness. Lightning was followed by ever-louder and ever-nearer thunderclaps, and the wind - the down-draft that's a harbinger of the coming deluge, whipped through the trees, snapping twigs and small branches.

The rain fell with a vehemence. After ten minutes, the electricity cut out. Usually, power outages on the działka, of which I'm informed by my alarm app, last a minute or two. This one lasted over two hours. No light, no internet - but a full battery on my laptop let me get on with office work. The storm passed, the lights came back on. It was quarter to eight. Time for a walk. Sodden fields, broken branches, impassable footpaths.

These summer storms are literally unpredictable, as I wrote recently. Water vapour rises up from the wet soil, heated by a hot sun near its zenith, builds up quickly into towering clouds that hit cold air and suddenly condense back into rain. This cycle can happen two or three times on a hot, damp day. Advancing weather fronts can be modelled by supercomputers with a fair degree of accuracy, but thunderstorms are difficult to pin down.

Below: after the deluge, a wet walk. Because my Loake walking boots are locked down in London, I'm wearing my winter boots - suede and fur-lined, ideal for sub-zero and snow; not so clever when puddle-hopping on a humid summer's evening. 


The orchards are waterlogged. I hope this wet spell - following on from a snow-free winter and dry spring - will not harm the apples. The cherries are around a week and half late this year, and smaller than last year's beauties. 

Wake up this morning to the sound of intense rain. Coffee, wash, breakfast - check weather forecast. Intense thunderstorms with off-the-scale downpours predicted for around eight, nine pm. It's now around 11am, the rain has stopped, the sun is out - into the garage, start up the bike, head off  to the BP station at Grobice to top up the tank, and I'm on my way. My intention is to get to Warka, cross the Pilica river and drift south a while...

Below: between Widok and Piekut. Lovely stretch of road - hardly any traffic, bucolic scenes... but look out to the left - the clouds are building up...


I get to the crossroads past Krężel and decide to turn back. Below: I'm back in Chynów - any minute now... and sure enough, the heavens open. I'm close enough to base to make a run for it; bike back in garage, into the house - and hail. The lawn outside turns white - whiter than at any time over the winter. Two hours of intense rain, thunder, lighting and hail.


At least this time there was no power cut; I have lunch and await the storm's passing... It passes. 


The clouds have emptied, the sun's back. Water vapour rises visibly from the sodden earth at first; time for a walk. It's wetter than ever. Footpaths become impossible to cross without getting my feet wet. Fallen branches suggest that agriculture has taken a belting. This, dear reader, is the climatic new normal. Extraordinary weather events become commonplace. Farmers will have to invest in drought- and flood prevention measures. Food will become more expensive.


Hoping for a settled spell of dry weather before this summer's through. But there's still walking to be done; this evening another stroll to see how badly the soaking affected the other side of the tracks...

Below: this is ulica Działkowa in Chynów; wet all the way up. I could hear many petrol-powered pumping engines in the neighbouring orchards, sucking up water and piping it into fields next door or out onto the street. The damage has been done.


More is to come; on my way back home to the działka, I could see more clouds to the east. The sun was setting, the light has come off the houses and fields but continues to brighten the cloud-tops.


Anyone know of a real-time weather radar covering Poland that I can use to check where the thunderclouds are right now (rather than a forecast from a few hours ago that's invariably wrong in these conditions)?

This time two years ago:

This time five years ago:
The ballad of Heniek and Ziutek

This time six years ago:
Yorkshire's yellow bicycles

This time 11 years ago:
Horse-drawn in the Tatras

This time 12 years ago:
Rain, wind and fire

This time 13 years ago:
The Road beckons

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Return to town after 14 weeks

My last day in the office before the lockdown was Friday 13 March. I came back to the office today, Tuesday 23 June. Several reasons - tomorrow being the AGM, the Chairman's Report to proof-read and finalise (I was working on it yesterday, but because of the incessant rain, the internet at home kept cutting out, so to be on the safe side I decided to go in because the network was more secure). Then there was a letter to London that I didn't trust the local post office with, a suit that had been waiting for me at the dry cleaners for 14 weeks, various bits and pieces to pick up from my office desk...

It was a strangely unstrange sensation, seeing my colleagues in the flesh after 14 weeks of WebEx meetings; seeing my desk, untouched; on the other hand, new rules in Reception and kitchen area, a safety zone marked around the front desk, anti-viral hand sanitiser as you come into our office. 

Outside in the streets, few people bothering with masks (still the majority on the train, which was running almost empty from Jeziorki - maybe six people in my carriage at 10am). The biggest change was in construction. Varso tower is starting to be cladded; there's a whole new development rising behind the Mercedes-Benz building on Aleje Jerozolimskie, and from outside our office, the new Central Point tower is beginning to rise.

This is how it looks today, it is due to rise to just over 20 stories (the same height as the building on the horizon)


And this is how it looked before the lockdown - still little more than a hole in the ground.


My last photo of central Warsaw before lockdown - little did I know going home that this would be my last trip to town for 14 weeks!


I lunched at the Scottish restaurant on the corner of ulica Marszałkowska and ul. Świętokrzyska; every second seat removed; customers wanting to come in without masks were turned away. Staff with sterilising fluid cleansed every table between customers. The place was two-thirds empty at peak time -- best of all - no noisy school outings which make Maccy D's insufferable in June. Prices seem higher, but then profit = volume x margin; I'm happy to pay more for a less crowded, safer dining experience.

Graffiti pest Fukow noted the 42nd day of the pandemic. This is the chipboard wall around the Central Point site which will be torn down as soon as the offices are ready. Fukow, whose 'works' can be seen along the tracks from W-wa Zachodnia to Wschodnia, has started printing stickers to save the trouble of spraying his tag on walls.

Did I miss town for 14 weeks? I don't know... the longer you're without something, the less you miss it - maybe I'm turning into a country boy in my old age. Or maybe its a summer thing, and come the winter, I shall again pine for the city streets.

This time last year:

This time two years ago
Last summer before S7 works begin
[Actually it was last summer.]

This time three years ago
Nostalgia, ideology, aesthetics, emotions

This time five years ago:
Civilisation and barbarism - how the former deals with the latter

This time six years ago:
Ahead of the opening of Jeziorki's Biedronka

This time seven years ago:
New views of Jeziorki

This time eight years ago:
Motorway finally links (the outskirts of) Łódź and (the outskirts of) Warsaw

This time 11 years ago:
Kraków Air Museum

This time 12 years ago:
Quintessential Jeziorki

This time 13 years ago: 
Little boxes, Mysiadło 

Monday, 22 June 2020

Rural ramblers' rights of way

As I've pointed out on this blog a number of times, the greatest difference between the English countryside and the Polish wieś is in the topography of the village; in England, each village has a heart, centred around the village green, the church, and the pub; roads and fields radiate outwards from this heart. The Polish village tends to be linear, strung out along a straight road. Out from this road, perpendicular to it, run long, thin fields, the result of centuries of land-holdings being divided among the farmers' sons. The flatness of most of Poland contributes to this landscape of strips at right-angles to straight roads.

Now, Jakubowizna and the next village to the south, Widok, fit this pattern. Jakubowizna and Widok are shaped like a capital letter 'E', with three roads parallel to each other running from west to east. The problem for ramblers such as myself is that there hardly any footpaths connecting them.

Below: looking south from the northern road towards the southern one. This might look like a path linking the two, but no - this is private property. It's a farm track and it ends in the farm buildings on the horizon, just metres away from the next road, but fenced off.


This makes it difficult to walk to the shops - there are two in Widok (none in Jakubowizna). Getting there entails a journey of 2.3km, (yellow line on map below), having to loop around because there's no direct footpath through the field. If there were (dotted line on map below), it would cut the journey to 1.3km... (click to enlarge). Just look at all those narrow strips! This is what happens when you don't have primogeniture (where the oldest son gets all the land) as was the case in England.


The field in question (below), outside my działka, lies fallow, abandoned. Electricity cables run over it. Now, what's stopping me from walking 300m across that field as a short cut to save a whole kilometre's trek the long way around? A chicken-wire fence at the other end, that's what. Whoever owns the land doesn't want it becoming a short-cut for their neighbours. 'Dog in the manger' (Eng.), pies ogrodnika (Pol.). And indeed, such is the right of the owner, for legal property ownership is sacrosanct.


And so, Mirabelka, the shop in Chynów, just 1.7km away, becomes my local grocery. Meanwhile, some further observations about walking in the Polish - and English - countryside.

In England, public rights of way are clearly marked and jealously guarded by ramblers. Landowners too take efforts to delineate their property. In Poland, it's more ambiguous. Properly marked szlaki turystyczne are few and far between; there are rural roads of varying quality, there are farm tracks, though what's a public right of way and what's private land is often a moot point. An important legal concept in Poland is that of the miedza, or boundary baulk. This is an uncultivated ridge between two open fields, marking their edges. Polish farmers generally consider it acceptable to walk along these, provided the walker doesn't trample crops.

It is galling when you can see your destination a few hundred metres ahead and you suddenly come across a sign saying 'private property - no entry' - the more so when you've crossed a given field several times in the past and now the sign has just been put up, blocking your way.

Below: between Jakubowizna and Widok. The orchard has been fenced off in a Wild-West style; to the right a footpath heading west (I want to go south). So I ended up having to cut across a field containing two cows and a young bull and then through the building site of an unfinished house before reaching the road at Widok. That house wasn't there a year ago; soon it will be inhabited and a fence will have cut off this rambler's route.


Below: footpath or boundary? New to me... it looks like a farmer has taken a mower to a field of weeds - but why? Access to another, cultivated, field in the distance? Not marked 'private', but then again there are no hallmarks of a right of way.


There are many walks to be taken in Jakubowizna; I've not yet scratched the surface of it in my third summer on the działka. It's a shame the habit of going for a walk (spacer) which is becoming the norm in urban Poland has not taken hold in the countryside. The only people I see walking or taking bike rides around Jakubowizna are the urban działkowicze - in the country for the weekend or for the summer. The rural folk tend to be fatter of face and more rotund of body; a walk would do them good, but they reason that they walk enough already as they tend their agricultural holdings. So they drive everywhere, and consider walking to be an activity reserved for people too poor to even own a bicycle. If they did eventually see the sense of knocking out 10,000 paces a day, we might see some useful rural footpaths making it easier to get from A to B without driving.

Below: what's this I see on my return to Jeziorki? A sign has appeared by my short-cut home from the station through an intermediary field ... What does it say? ... 'private property keep out'? Hope not - the alternative is the part-unasphalted, wholly-unpavemented ulica Nawłocka.


As I approach, I am relieved to read that it is a 'for sale' sign. It's a big field, and land prices around here are ten times what they are in Jakubowizna. So this one is for the professional developer - it's around a hectare in area - enough to put up ten detached houses or 20 semis. In a post-Covid world, the desire to move to a less densely populated part of a capital city will see demand for suburban houses rising. It will be interesting to see how quickly a developer buys it - and how quickly they develop it.

This time last year:
Not a whole lot going on...
[five months before viaduct-opening]

This time five years ago:
Dreamtime supernatural

This time seven years ago:
Baszta - local legend round these parts

This time nine years ago:
Downhill all the way to December

This time ten years ago:
What do I want for Poland

This time 11 years ago:
Summer holiday starts drizzly

This time 12 years ago:
Israeli Air Force Boeing 707 visits Okęcie

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Summer solstice at a time of pandemic

Covid lockdown was announced in Poland towards the end of astronomical winter, a fortnight into meteorological spring. On 16 March, the first working day of lockdown, the sun set at 17:42, less than three-quarters of an hour after my laptop lid went down. I'd return from my 90-minute long walk in the dark. Lockdown was a depressing, worrying moment, but at least spring was coming. The days were getting longer, warmer, brighter, and the clocks would soon be going forward, giving that welcome extra hour of daylight in the evenings.

Three months on, the pandemic is still very much with us, but the year has reached its zenith. From tomorrow, the days will start to get shorter - imperceptibly at first, but accelerating as we approach the autumn equinox. Then in late-October the clocks go back, and then the Hammer of Darkness comes down. All of us who experience seasonal affective disorder fear those dismal November days in the Northern Hemisphere as daylight is squeezed out little by little, leaving Warsaw with a mere seven hours and 42 minutes at the winter solstice. This year, it is likely that those days of dread will be accompanied by a second, possibly more deadly, wave of Covid-19.

But for the time being, make hay while the sun shines - even if it's not shining! Last week saw the spread-rate of Covid-19 in Poland fall to its lowest since the pandemic began.

Out into the countryside, then. Darkness falls late, the blending of day into night takes longer than in winter.


After yesterday's storms, the land was still warm long after sunset, the clouds interesting.


What do 'noon' and 'midnight' mean to us today? Since the late 19th century, electric light has brightened city nights; today all network-connected devices show exactly the same time, expressed as 'UTC'. To this (also known as Greenwich Mean Time), one adds or subtracts hours dependent on longitude and adjusts for daylight length (summer time). 

Historically, however, 'noon' had a specific meaning - it was that moment when the sun was exactly at its zenith, when (in the northern hemisphere), your shadow would point due north. Depending on what latitude you stood, noon occurred at a slightly different time. Noon occurred in London eight minutes before the sun reached that same angle in Bristol - a problem for the early railways, quickly solved by the introduction of 'railway time', facilitated by the telegraph.

Warsaw is 20 degrees east of London. One hour is 15 degrees of longitude (360 degrees of the globe divided by 24 hours of the day). Warsaw is one time zone east of London, so accounting for that, the sun rises, reaches its zenith, and sets in Warsaw around 20 minutes earlier than on London clocks. (That 'around' takes into account the Earth's wobble.)

Now, midday - noon - is literally the middle of the day. The meridian. Equidistant from sunrise and sunset - but take the summer time adjustment into account.

Today is the summer solstice; the sun will be directly over the Tropic of Cancer at 21:43 today, the northernmost line of latitude upon the sun's rays fall at exactly 90 degrees. 

Here in Warsaw, the sun rose at 04:14 and will set at 21:00. Noon in Warsaw - the zenith of the sun's travel from horizon to horizon - is at 12:37 (11:37 if not for the summer time shift). Eight hours and 23 minutes after sunrise, eight hours and 23 minutes before sunset.

Midnight is analogous to midday. For us modern folk, 'midnight' does not seem particularly late; I try to be in bed before 11pm, but when I'm writing or editing photos, bedtime is often past midnight. Yet midnight literally means the middle of the night! It is halfway between sunset and sunrise! For pre-electricity humans, the biological clock was more in tune with the sun. Once the sun had gone down, how long you'd stay awake for depended on how many candles you could afford to burn. Without clocks and the artificial construct of 'summer time', sunrise in mid-summer in Warsaw would be at quarter past three am. That's when one would wake, break fast and begin work in the fields.

Below: orchard under glowering skies.


The weather is typical for high summer. Convection storms build up throughout the day as the sun's rays cause condensation of moisture on the ground. Water vapour rises into the atmosphere consolidating into clouds that hour by hour grow ever higher; once they have the mass and the height to reach altitudes where the air is colder, the vapour turns into rain - often heavy. Watching the weather-radar maps on Meteo.pl, I often see the Vistula acting as a corridor along which storms build and move north-westward. Today will be rainy, but warm.

This time five years:

This time seven years ago:
Fashionable bicycles for Warsaw's hipsters

This time eighte years ago:
On Jarosław Gowin and leadership in Polish politics

This time nine years ago:
Death of a Polish pilot

This time ten years ago:
Doesn't anyone want to recycle my rubbish?

This time 11 years ago:
End of the school year

This time 12 years ago:
Midsummer scenes, Jeziorki

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Farewell to Papuś

Out cat died today. Papuś was 18. She came to our house as a kitten, born on Wujek Janusz's działka in Żabieniec is 2002. When she arrived, she'd been outside in an early frost (having run away during a previous attempt to scoop her up and bring us over to us. The morning after her arrival, I found a small, furry triangle on the kitchen floor. On closer examination, there was blood coming from one edge. It was the tip of her right ear; frostbitten, it had fallen off.

She was always a bit wild; not trusting humans fully until her old age, when she'd miaow whenever she wanted to be stroked, scratched or have her fur combed. Before that it was just  'miaow' = "I want feeding" or 'miaow' = "I want to be let out".

Below: 2007; overfed by Pani Zosia, Papuś was quite chubby as a five-year-old cat. But this was a happy time for her, the only pet in the house, if chased around a bit by Eddie.


Below: fat cat, Easter 2013.


Things took a turn for the worse for Papuś when a new cat arrived in 2013 - Lila the stray from Łódź. Matters got worse when Lila got pregnant and gave birth to four kittens. One died, two were given away, but Lila's firstborn kitten, Czester, ended up staying. A beloved cat, Czester was everyone's favourite. Papuś was relegated to a supporting role. Sadly, Lila died of feline immunodeficiency disease in 2015; shortly after Czester was run over by a speeding car on ulica Karczunkowska. That left Papuś once again as the only cat in the house.

Her last few years were probably her happiest; the human children grown up and left home, no feline rivals. Fed properly, her weight returned to normal.

Towards the end, she'd go out less often, just a couple of times this summer did she miaow that she wanted to be let outdoors. Cats age better than humans. Even at the age of 15, she could still take a running leap and make it up to the kitchen window, sitting patiently on the ledge waiting for a late-night human to let her into the house. 

Sleep would occupy most of her day in her old age, but she would also spent time wistfully gazing out of  the window looking at the garden or the drive. What was she thinking? Memories of younger days? Or still scouting for shrews and other rodents that she was once adept at catching? These were the last photos I took of her alive, 10 May 2020.



Looking at me. "What's male human pointing that black thing in front of his face at me?"


This morning, I brushed her fur; shortly after a massive storm brewed up. Thunder, lightning and heavy rain. Papuś left her usual spot on the lounge and took refuge in her basket under the stairs. Two hours later, she was still - dead - bereft of the life that had been in this feline body for 18 years.


I buried her in the far end of the garden, besides Lila. As I did so, I was singing Lonesome Valley by the Fairfield Four, from the grave-digging scene in O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

Where are their souls now? All in God, God in All.

This time last year:

This time two years ago
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics reviewed

This time three years ago:
Now it belongs to the ages - on Great Works of Art

This time four years ago:
More Brictorian Liverpool

This time five years ago:
Łódź - city of tenements
[Gosh! five years since I bought a flat there!]

This time six years ago:
Liverpool reborn

This time seven years ago:
What goes round comes around: retro is cool - again.

This time eights years ago:
Warsaw's southern bypass by this time next year?

This time nine years ago:
Stand Easy! - a short story

This time 12 years ago:
God Save The Queen - I mean it, Ma'am

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Poland's town/country divide explored

Maybe my genes have been urban too long - my paternal grandfather Tomasz worked behind the counter at PKO before the war - urban and rural are quite different. Am I, with my tendency to philosophise, the product of urban life, urban breeding, imbued with urban behaviour and thinking? City life, plenty of time for reflection?

Those differences seep out into politics and culture, and in a different way than in England.

Out here in Jakubowizna, most of my immediate neighbours are Warsaw folk with a weekend foot in countryside. But the neighbourhood itself is mainly working farms - orchards interspersed with strawberry plantations. 

Being a farmer is a full-time job. Yesterday evening, on my walk, returning home to my działka after sunset, I still could hear tractors working the fields. The sound of power tools is always in the air, even during the weekend; Jakubowizna is busy. The farms are well managed; run-down orchards get sold and consolidated into larger holdings that make more sense commercially. 


Farm folk are no-nonsense people; there's no time for fretting about transsexuals' rights or black lives in distant America. The here and now is tending the crops in the field and getting the harvest to market. This is reflected in the politics. Posters ahead of the presidential elections in southern Mazowsze are mostly for the PSL candidate Kosiniak-Kamysz or incumbent Duda; today I did actually see two posters for urban Poland's choice, Trzaskowski. [Ahead of the 2015 elections, the only posters I saw on my motorbike rides through rural Mazowsze were for Duda, so it's telling that this time the rural vote seems more split out here.]

In rural Mazowsze, lifestyles and diets are different. Faces are fatter, bodies larger. There's no time for the gym (there are no gyms), there's physical work to be done. Women in the fields, bent double as they pick strawberries (few Ukrainians this year), are rushing to get the crop in at the optimal time to get the best price. Men are sitting on tractors, spraying the fruit trees.

Below: wooden church, horse-drawn harrow. Tradition lives strong in the country.



And for the hard-working, for those upon whom fortune and the weather have smiled, the rewards are there to be displayed. Principally, the home; big, new, with a well-mown lawn and gravel drive; double garage containing a 'hack' (typically a 20-year-old Golf or Corolla) for driving to the shops, and a new black SUV for turning up to church in (even though the church is 400m away). Holidays - Poland; foreign muck being inedible and foreigners being a shifty lot who speak no Polish. Foreign holidays is for urban Poland.

Other than field patterns (the result of not having primogeniture), the main difference between the Polish and English countryside is the latter's historical distance from modern urban Britain. The Industrial Revolution began in Britain in the 1760s, and by the mid-1860s, the percentage of Britons living in cities was similar to that in Poland now. Two-fifths of all Poles live in the countryside (wieś - literally 'the village'); in Britain it's one-fifth. However - the composition of rural dwellers in the two countries is significantly different. In Poland, it's still people working the land. In the UK, there are many people who've made their money in the cities and have moved to the countryside for peace and quiet - or retirement in an attractive cottage-style residence. Real farmers in the UK are far fewer than in Poland. British farms are much larger; they are commercial enterprises, highly mechanised. Poland is quickly moving that way too. Land ownership has become consolidated, farm sizes are growing.

The Covid-19 revolution will generate a shift from city life to countryside; if you can work from home, why work in a city-centre flat, at higher risk of infection, if you can work from a cottage in the countryside? If the attractions of urban living - cinemas, theatres, restaurants, clubs, bars - are suddenly considered unsafe - the choice to move out of town becomes compelling.

Alvin Toffler's The Third Wave (1980) foresaw the Information Age eclipsing the Industrial Age, which in turn pushed aside Agriculture (the first wave - the transformation of mankind from hunter-gatherer to farmer). But agriculture is as essential as industry. Having an inverse pyramid with too many information-age workers doing clever service-sector things on computers, with not enough food coming off the fields and too few products leaving an economy's factories is a danger. Britain faces that danger. The shift from agriculture to industry happened quickly and early on; a similar shift is taking place away from industry towards services. Britain is over-reliant on services, and Brexit won't help.

Poland, on the other hand, has a healthier mix, with agriculture producing more than three times the value added to its GDP compared to the UK (2.1% / 0.6%). In the case of industry and construction, Poland is also ahead (28.6% / 17.5%). The rest of both nations' economies are made up of the service sector. Has the UK strayed too far from the basics - growing food, making things and putting up buildings?

I am glad Poland hasn't turned its back on the land nor on manufacturing. A more balanced economy is more sustainable and more resilient.

This time five years ago:

This time six years ago:
Half a mile under central Warsaw, on foot

This time seven years ago:
Dzienniki Kołymskie reviewed

This time eight years ago
Russia-Poland in Warsaw: the worst day of Euro 2012

This time ten years ago:
Thirty-one and sixty-three - a short story

This time 11 years ago:
Warsaw rail circumnavigation

This time 12 years ago:
Classic Polish vehicles

This time 13 years ago:
South Warsaw sunsets


Friday, 12 June 2020

Michalczew, Gośniewice and Warka

Last week I wrote about the progress at Krężel and Chynów stations; this weekend I travel down the line to Warka, taking in Michalczew and Gośniewice stations on the way. It's taken a long time to get where we are, but that's understandable given the Covid-19 hiatus. One can see that the line from Warsaw to Warka - in particular the stretch between Czachówek Południowy and Warka - is getting ever closer to completion. But onwards from Warka to Radom - that's another story.

Below: Michalczew, like Krężel, will have staggered platforms; the 'up' platform was completed last summer and serves passengers in both directions while the 'down' platform and 'down' line (to the north) take shape. The original 1930s station building will remain. Note the temporary pedestrian crossing over the as-yet unopened 'down' line, photo taken from the as-yet unopened 'down' platform. Overhead power lines are in place, as is all the platform signage, lighting and other fittings. Won't be too long now.


Below: just south of the end of the 'up' platform, what must be the one of the last ungated road level crossings left open along the line between Warsaw and Warka.


I have a soft spot for Gośniewice station; plonked down between fields and orchards, serving a village of a hundred souls, more than half a kilometre away - it's one of those Polish Adlestrops that can't really justify their existence commercially. And yet this station - a post-war after-thought - is being comprehensively rebuilt to the same standard as the others on the line. Below: the view west from the as yet unopened 'down' platform. Note the ungated level crossing road sign; this refers to one that's been closed for good. A new one will be built, a hundred metres or so south of the old crossing; it will lie between the two staggered platforms.


Below: Gośniewice, the new 'up' platform. As at Michalczew, the overhead cables on the 'down' line are already in place.


Below: Warka station, the (current) end of the line. The new platforms near completion; as at Chynów, there are canopies to protect waiting passengers from the elements. The train pulling in has Radom as its destination, but it will stop here and passengers wishing to travel on south will have to board replacement buses waiting outside in the station forecourt.


Warka station is still very much a building site, as evidenced by this photo of duckboards made of pallets, laid down between the one functioning platform and the forecourt. The replacement bus for all stations to Radom is visible to the left of the station building. Much inconvenience for passengers travelling on.


Below: south of Warka station, there are no tracks. The new bridge over the river Pilica has been completed, the old single-track bridge having been dismantled.


Looking north-east from this spot, somewhere around here in the undetermined future (planning permissions etc) there will be a new station, Warka Miasto, a station that will actually serve the town of Warka rather than its western outskirts. But that's all in the future.


Below: a setting sun in my motorcycle mirror; between Warka and Chynów.


[A reminder of how this stretch of the line looked in June 2019 here.]

This time three years ago:
Jeziorki birdlife update

This time five years ago:
Inside Okęcie airport's new old terminal

This time nine years ago:
Thirty-One and Sixty-Three (short story about 19th century Polish uprisings)

This time 11 years ago:
Jeziorki to Jeziorki - the big rail loop

This time 12 years ago:
Automotive miscellany

This time 13 years ago:
South Warsaw sunsets