Friday, 31 July 2020

The cost of Covid complacency

Being a bit of a spreadsheet nut ("if you can't measure it, you can't manage it"), I've been tracking the pandemic in Poland since the outset. One particular indicator I'm watching is the spread rate. Back in February, my brother alerted me to the maths of a pandemic; if the number of new cases doubles every day, then within a month every person in the UK would be infected. Yes, from one to 68 million within 25 days. So a daily doubling of cases = spread rate of 1.0. A doubling every second day = spread rate of 0.5, and so on.

As epidemiologists who were at the forefront of the battle against Ebola fever said, to stop a virus you have to act quickly and decisively. This happened in Poland, where the government announced a full lockdown with quarantine on 13 March, when the number of confirmed cases in Poland was 15 and total deaths from Covid-19 was just two. By contrast, the UK government vacillated. Advisors talking persuasively about 'herd immunity' and pub-chain owners protecting their revenues led to weeks of dithering; the UK finally locked down by the time the genie was out of the bottle - on 23 March with 6,650 cases and 335 dead.

The outcome is well-known. The UK went on to suffer more than any other country (apart from Belgium and Andorra) in terms of deaths per million (677). Compare that to Poland's 45 deaths per million (data from today from worldometers.info).

So things are good in Poland?

They were. 

Since lockdown, the spread rate in Poland tumbled. The daily spread rate in the two weeks before lockdown averaged around 0.5 (new cases doubling every two days). At that rate of transmission, everyone in Poland would have become infected by the middle of April. That didn't happen of course. By the end of March, the spread rate in Poland was down to 0.14. By the end of April, it was 0.03. This was peak-lockdown. By the end of May, it was 0.02. There was more progress in June, falling below 0.01, reaching a pandemic low of 0.006 on 5 and 6 July. That equates to a doubling of cases every four months, or 70,000 cases by 1 November.

But we've allowed ourselves to become complacent. "There is no pandemic," I heard a mask-less man telling his girlfriend on the platform of W-wa Jeziorki two weeks ago. Mask-wearing in shops means covering the chin; something done for the sake of appearance. Holidays, travel, things are pretty much back to normal. The economy too - in June, Poland's industrial production exceeded June 2019 levels!

The result of this complacency is that the spread rate has started to rise. This is now the third week in a row of rising spread rates. Today it reached 0.015. This means 70,000 cases by 21 August, a doubling of cases every three weeks rather than every four months!

This morning's numbers from the Ministry of Health look alarming, with 657 new cases recorded. That's more than ever, and is approaching the current levels in the UK (846 yesterday). Rising numbers of deaths will no doubt follow.

I have to announce that with great sadness I shall not be taking part in the Warsaw Uprising commemorations tomorrow. I had been looking forward to going to Powązki military cemetery and laying flowers on my uncle's grave, as my father had done in previous years. However, given the crowds, the number of elderly people likely to be attending, I can only see this as being harmful. I'm sure my father would have understood.

This time last year:

This time three years ago:
Ahead of the Big Day

This time four years ago:
Once in a blue moon

This time six years ago:
A return to Snowdon - Wales' highest peak

This time seven years ago:
On the eve of Warsaw's Veturillo revolution

This time nine years ago:
Getting ready for the 'W'-hour flypast

This time ten years ago:
A century of Polish scouting

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Dusk through dust

Work on the S7 extension continues - eight pm and they're still at it. Up and down go the eight-wheeler dumper trucks bringing sand to the huge mountains for the ramps and embankments. It's been largely dry, so the trucks kick up dust, which refracts the rays of the sinking sun.

Below: looking west towards Zamienie and Dawidy Bankowe. The hills of soil have sprouted vegetation.


Below: sun sets over Dawidy Bankowe. In two years' time an expressway will roar through this field.


Below: rising in the foreground, the ramp that will take the S7 over ulica Baletowa. On the horizon, the towers of Wola, 13km to the north.


Update: Here I am, Friday 31 July, at Chynów station. In a straight line, its 38km (24 miles) from where I'm standing to those same towers on the skyline.


This time last year:

This time three years ago:
[The line took 20 months to build, eight years to modernise]

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Ride to Roztocze

A two-day motorbike journey to the Roztocze hills of south-east Poland. The weather was ideal - no rain forecast, hot - but not scorching. Jakubowizna served its purpose; giving me a base outside of Warsaw's exurbs, so I didn't have to negotiate Saturday-morning shoppers in Piaseczno before getting out onto the open road. Total distance there and back: 662km (411 miles).

The route: Jakubowizna - Warka - Głowaczów - Brzóza - Pionki - Sucha - Zwoleń - Chotcza - Boiska - Solec-nad-Wisłą - Kamień - Wandalin - Boby - Urzędów - Kraśnik - Rudnik - Wysokie - Frampol - Biłgoraj. Backroads as far as possible. Main roads are boring. When the engine revs stay the same mile after mile the noise becomes a monotonous drone. But backroads are so much more rewarding. Winding, rising and falling, passing through villages (slow down!) requires a constant change of throttle and frequent gear change. Then you can really savour the exhaust note!

Below: the Road favoured by few. A typical Droga Gminna, no kilometre markers, no verge. But now, new asphalt. And most important - hardly any traffic. Downside of travelling these roads is frequent map-reading stops, but in a way, that too can bring joy. This is the forest west of Kozienice, around Przejazd. Looking at this same stretch on Google Maps Street View (dated 2012), one can see huge progress.


The face of Poland's roads is changing as EU money makes its way down to the smallest local administrative level. New asphalt makes riding old motorbikes more comfortable. Below: "I got a new road, I got it good" - south of Opole Lubelskie. Road awaits markings.

I got a new road, I got it good - south of Opole Lubelskie

This is not travel for the sake of blasting quickly from A to B. It is to get to one's destination gathering as many qualia - subjective conscious experiences - as possible. Travel should involve taking the bare minimum. No more than a small rucksack. Camera and two lenses, toothbrush and credit card.

Below: I took an road atlas, published around 2010, easier to refer to than Google Maps on a phone (hard to see the screen in harsh sunlight). So much has changed since then. I crossed a new bridge near Solec nad Wisłą, a little south of Chotcza Dolna, where I took this photo (below).

 

I stay the night in Biłgoraj. Devastated by war, there's little of heritage value to see here - but there will be. Below: a nicely done Kresy-shtetl theme park is nearly complete; as well as a restaurant and hotel (opening next month) there are apartments to buy or rent in the same style. The architecture is compelling. This is, after all, the town where Isaac Bashevis Singer spent some of his childhood. I'd have loved to stay the night, but was too early. So I stayed in a motel by a petrol station across town, paying a mere 120 złotys (£25) for the night with a good and massive breakfast.


The next morning, I set off to Zamość, avoiding the main road, taking in the Roztocze National Park along the way and stopping off at Zwierzyniec, a popular tourist spot, to see the old brewery there. 

Built in 1806 for the Zamoyski family, the master brewer who set it up was a Scot, John McDonald. Currently part of the Perła - Browary Lubelskie business, the Zamoyski family is still trying to get the place denationalised. While taking snaps, I could hear native English spoken - and could see a full car park. Tourism is returning (though so, sadly, is the pandemic - second weekly rise in the number of new infections).


I continued through the National Park, taking the scenic route to Zamość, one of Poland's must-see towns. Also built by the Zamoyski family, Zamość is a perfectly conceived Italianate Renaissance town, a precious gem of European culture. I last visited in (again on my motorcycle) in June 2016, to get over the shock of the Brexit referendum result. That visit was longer and more memorable - crystalline blue skies are essential to get the Mediterranean feel of the place. That and the fact Zamość was hosting the Festival of Italian Song during my first visit. This time, the sky was slightly overcast; the sunshine charm wasn't quite there.

I pushed my bike, engine off, of course, across the square to get this shot. As always, it attracts admiring glances. Like Zwierzyniec, the tourists are back; I hope the holiday season Covid blip is just that rather than the start of a second wave... Click here for fuller pictorial coverage of the splendour that is Zamość.

Along the way, I seek, as ever, the Perfect Stretch. Just as surfers pursue the Perfect Wave, I search for the ideal stretch of road. Winding through a forest, rising over views of wheat fields - or just dead straight and flat, under a big sky. The Perfect Stretch depends on lighting - weather, season, time of day. You can find it on the Droga Wojewódzka something-or-other between two small places. Come back again and the magic's no longer there - the sun's at a different angle. But come back yet again, and the magic can be even stronger.

Below: I'll always stop for a plane or train mounted on a plinth. But just look at this one! It's a TS11 Iskra trainer, commemorating the Polish Air Force's technical school (Szkoła Techniczna Wojsk Lotniczych), which was here in Zamość between 1944 and 1995.



Below: a view looking north from the DW837, a beautiful stretch of road starting just north of Zamość and heading north-west; hardly any traffic, rolling scenery to please the eye. Puts me in mind of Eric Ravilious. Frequent stops for landscape photography.


Below: looking west along the DW837. PAFF! Instant past-life anomalous memory flashback xenomnesia event big time! Kentucky!


This stretch of road is also notable for garlic. Every farmhouse has a sign outside saying czosnek. Like the stretch of the DK48 between Klwów and Potworów is famous for its red peppers.

Below: the sleepy town of Urzędów. I drove through on Saturday and thought - a nice little place - will have to return. I did - on a Sunday. Everything's locked shut with the exception of the Lewiatan grocery shop, tiny, yet crammed with people like a rush-hour tram. Mostly in masks, mostly buying ice cream in five-litre tubs. I'd have happily stopped here for lunch, but there was nothing. This picturesque small town is developmentally retarded by not having a cafe or restaurant on the otherwise lovely town square. Result - no life, no vibrancy; people scoffing ice cream at home rather than partaking of social life and creating a sense of community. And so I rode on a further 24km to Annopol and had a pizza there in a little restaurant filled with families and young people enjoying ice cream and cold beers.


Local authorities should do more to encourage entrepreneurs to open what's called 'mała gastronomia' ('small gastronomy') - it does wonders for the economy!

Below: Poland has some great village names! There are three named Babilon - this one's just outside Lipsko, southern Mazovia.


Journey back: Biłgoraj - Zwierzyniec - Zamość - Krzak - Płonka - Wysokie - Dębina - Popkowice - Urzędów - Księżomierz - Annopol - Kamień - (cross Vistula, boring part of trip to get to Lipsko along DW747 then up DK79 to Zwoleń) - Sucha - Pionki - Głowaczów - back onto the DK79 but far nicer, less traffic and lots of forest, plus the allure of dusk), Grabów nad Pilicą - Warka - Jakubowizna.

The level crossing at Chynów, just across the tracks from my działka, is still closed as the finishing touches are being added. A 12km detour to get home from here, because I can't get across 12m of unfinished crossing! A bigger problem for my neighbour, who drives an ambulance.


For the journey, I used 20.9 litres of irreplaceable fossil fuel, giving me fuel consumption of 3.15 litres/100km (89.5 miles per UK gallon).

I got back to the działka, locked up the bike, and headed for the shower. Shock. I have sunburnt skin between the left cuff of my motorbike jacket and my left glove. When I stretch my arm, it looks like the flag of free Belarus - white fist, red wrist, white forearm!

The most important takeaway are the memories: "For oft when on my couch I lie/In vacant or in pensive mood/They flash upon that inward eye/Which is the bliss of solitude". The Road shall come back again and again.

I give thanks for the safe journey.


This time seven years ago:
Scaling the highest peak in Wales

This time eight years ago:
Beaches of the north coast of the Llyn Peninsula

This time nine years ago: 
The Accursed Soldiers - a short story

This time ten years ago:
Driving impressions of the Toyota Yaris
[Ten years on - still no imperfections to report whatsoever]

This time 12 years ago:
Poland's dry summer

This time 13 years ago:
The UK's wettest summer ever

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Images from historical times

I was delighted to return to my desk and find upon it an envelope from my cousin Teresa from Canada containing some wonderful family photographs. I intend to share them over time, at relevant anniversaries, but here are two to kick off with. One can learn so much from old photos... Family photo archives, turned over, thumbed through - familiar over the decades - form a certain canon of reminiscence. And then along come new ones, unseen, which add to the narrative - or raise question marks, or do both, fleshing out details of our human history.

Looking at these two, which I'd say were taken in spring and early summer of 1958, they are unusual in that they were processed professionally. Machine-printed, without the squeegee scratches and drying marks that marred my father's black and white photography, they suggest that my father turned to home-processing to save money rather than on aesthetic grounds!

Below: my mother and I, Croft Gardens, Hanwell;  the flowering trees suggest April 1958, so I'd be seven months here. My facial expression - a blend of annoyance and puzzlement - is still my default.


Another photo hitherto unknown to me; my father's first car, Morris Minor 1000, registration number 23 RMU. The trees are in full leaf, suggesting this photo was taken a few weeks are the one above. I guess this photo is taken somewhere between Kew and Petersham - Ham House? Richmond? The familiar route to Sandy Lane, Oxshott Common, Esher, our Sunday stroll destination.


Same roll of film, sent for processing, and prints mailed to family in Canada and Poland.

These days, digital photography shortens distance between families to a degree unimaginable in my childhood. In those days, taking a roll of 36 exposures might take a few weeks - two or three snaps of the same view, different angles, shutter-speed, aperture, different occasions - then send the negatives to be processed, have prints made from the negs - sent back by post, then posted to distant family; in the case of Poland, the photos from the UK would have been subject to censorship. Many weeks would roll by between the snap and the reaction. Life has speeded up!

This time four years ago:
Along the airport's eastern and southern perimeters 

This time five years ago:
Polska w ruinie

This time eight years ago:
Penrhos - a bit of North Wales that's forever Poland
[I was wrong. It's gone. Tragic loss for us.]

This time ten years ago:
On motivation - and being motivated

Friday, 24 July 2020

A Short Pilgrimage to Bid Farewell to the Day

An overcast day, but the weather forecasts are suggesting that the clouds will part before sunset. So a later departure for my daily stroll, an a strong motivation to catch the setting sun, watching the horizon roll back away from the glowing orb. Below: I'm on my way along ul. Trombity; the sun appears, the angle's low, the clouds are parting.


Below: beyond the platform's end at W-wa Dawidy station. Aviation at Okęcie airport is back to normal, rather boring vanilla passenger planes flying in from Poland's regional airports. The komary are around; ticks in the long grass mean long trousers, long socks and ankle-covering footwear. Insects - the downside of summer. Bees and dragonflies excluded.


My favourite spot of late for sunset watching, the huge hill of sand piled up between the tracks and the new S7 extension that's currently being built, is no longer accessible, as its lower slopes have already been dug away leaving just its summit. Below: a LOT Embrarer ERJ 195 comes in to land over it.


Below: the sky takes on a rosy hue, the sun's rays catch the skyscrapers under construction in the Wola district. In the foreground, the intersection of what will be the S7 and the existing S79, with the S2 running beneath it.


To the north west, the sun has dropped out of the clouds on a short journey to meet the horizon. Looking towards Paluch and Raszyn. Sunset is now at 20:41, 20 minutes earlier than at Summer Solstice. Below: I have found that which I was seeking - communion with the sunset, the purpose of my short pilgrimage.


Changes lenses - from 300mm to 10mm, from telephoto to ultrawide angle, showing the sunset in the context of land. To the right of the setting sun, the runways of Okęcie. In the foreground, giant puddles still left over from last week's rains.


This time four years ago:


This time seven years ago:
Up that old, familiar mountain

This time eight years ago
More from Penrhos

Saturday, 18 July 2020

Summer działka joy

How good to be back - even after a brief five-day absence - in Jakubowizna. The rain passed in the afternoon; I boarded the southbound 18:42 train from W-wa Jeziorki and was in Chynów 29 minutes later, and by 19:25 I was on my działka, under an evening sun. Such joy to walk up the long path to the house; the grapes are ripening, my meadow is full of flowers.

My visits are getting longer, so I'm bringing more supplies each time, plus dish-cloths and towels, spare socks etc. I drop everything and open the garage, get out a motorbike and ride into Chynów, only to find that J&B Snack Bar was closing and that I was too late for a double spicy burger. I had somehow imagined that the J&B would be the hub, the nexus of Chynów's swinging nightlife, with 1950s automobiles parked up round it rather like Mel's Drive-In featured in the film American Graffiti. But no - five to eight, the grill was switched off, the last diners were finishing their zapiekanki and the staff were preparing to go home. So out on to the DK 50 and the BP petrol station for kiełbasa biała with mustard in a hot-dog bun - quintessential Polish road food for six złotys (£1.20).

I ride home at dusk, going round the long way to experience the joys. The air is cooler, the smells of rural summer fill my nostrils. That moment when the road enters a forest and suddenly a new set of smells prevail, the setting sun casting long shadows ahead of me as I ride due west from Adamów to Machcin. Winding slowly through the villages, leaving time to observe and enjoy, is the way to go - not blasting along at speed. Something that occurred while test-driving Rolls-Royces, Bentleys and other fine motorcars back in the old country - if you drive at 30, twice as many people have a chance to admire you as you pass compared to driving at 60. Assuming of course you're driving (or riding) something worth looking at - and no, a black BMW X5 doesn't merit a glance.

Something I noticed many a time around here - the past-life flashbacks occur more frequently and more intensely; that ethereal, numinous connection to another time, another place is such an important part of my being. Sunsets bring it on, but summer sunsets in southern Mazovia are particularly powerful in provoking atavistic resurgence.

Back on the działka it's time to unwind. I have bought a bottle of Grodzisk White IPA - a hoppy India Pale Ale flavoured with Earl Grey Sencha tea. Good to see craft beers on regular sale at Lidl.

A place in the country, everyone's ideal

Saturday - I ride into town, Chynów's like an American country town in the 1950s. Hardware store. Groceries, supplies. Work trimming back the forest. Then it's time to pick the cherries. Never ask me whose.

Dripping with fruit

Big thanks to 'Grandpa Peter' and 'Uncle Staś' for helping out on the land and for the erudite discussions today guys!

This time last year:

This time two years ago:
New Nikons on the way!

This time eight years ago:
Work continues on S2, going under the railway lines

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

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

This time 13 years ago:
Legoland, Dawidy Poduchowne

Thursday, 16 July 2020

Longevity and Purpose

I foresee a not-too-distant future in which humans will live to 200, 300 years, maybe more. Advances in medical science, in particular our understanding of the genetics of ageing, will be the main driver. Humans are believed to have a genetically determined age limit of around 115 years; break through that barrier (to do with telomeres) and longevity can be increased greatly. But not all humans will be destined to live spectacularly long lives. Longevity has its genetic factors, but the environmental ones - where we live and how we live - make a huge difference. And inequality in income and wealth will be mirrored in longevity outcomes as the rich spend an increasing part of their money on staying healthy longer. But while most of us will be living longer - some of us a lot longer - there will be fewer of us. Fertility rates are falling - globally.

Background

Human population is expected to peak in 2064 at 9.7 billion before falling to 8.8 billion by the end of this century. The populations of  Japan, Italy, Spain and South Korea are expected to halve by 2100; China's will nearly halve to 730m, leaving India as the most populous nation on earth - and Nigeria at number two with a population of 791m. Even as fertility rates across the developed world plummet, in the emerging economies populations will continue to grow, though at a much lower pace.

Women, with access to education and birth control, will be in control of reproduction rates. And increasingly in the developed world, worries about climate change, environmental and social anxieties are putting many women off having children altogether - motherhood has become a lifestyle choice rather than a matter of biological predetermination.

Fewer people will lead to an improvement in the quality of life. The median age will extend. Progress in technology will lead to less-stressful and more meaningful work as the drudgery of repeated (white-collar at least) tasks. We'll be able to work longer without considering it an imposition.

Environmental factors

The death of Japanese doctor Shigeaki Hinohara at the age of 105 three years ago prompted many articles in the world's media about his secrets of longevity. The key, he said, was having a sense of purpose to life, to know why you get up each morning. He kept working into his final years. Also crucial is daily exercise (our hunter-gatherer ancestors walked 12 miles/20km a day on average, more than twice as much as I do). We should restrict our eating ("All people who live long - regardless of nationality, race or gender - share one thing in common: None are overweight," he said).

(Factors are many however. On reading his Wikipedia page, I discover we share the same birth date - 4 October, though 46 years apart. I suspect that historically, children born in the early autumn may have had a natural advantage; their mothers in later pregnancy had plentiful access to fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables and sunlight. That advantage may have been eroded by year-round access to seasonal produce thanks to globalisation and air freight, but this may change.)

We shall see rising inequality in longevity outcomes. The less intelligent will die sooner. Worse diets, less willpower to exercise, worse living conditions, greater propensity to take life-threatening risks, a lower propensity to follow commonsense healthy-living guidelines. But more of them will be born. The intelligent will in general have fewer offspring. This was the premise behind the 2006 sci-fi comedy film Ideocracy. Set in 2506, the intelligent have died out, unwilling to reproduce, while the morbidly stupid procreate with thoughtless abandon.

I can see, however, an exception. Those educated folk, like the Rees-Moggs (six children) who will choose to bring many children into inherited wealth for ideological or religious (or both) reasons. This could be the start of a divide in human evolution into two biologically distinct species, slim, intelligent, long-lived overlords and overweight, dim serfs who only live to 70 or 80.

My innate optimism is losing its sparkle.

This time two years ago:
New bus stop for Karczunkowska

This time eight years ago:
Who should pay for railways?
[Interesting stuff about America's advanced electric railway line over the Rockies - built over 100 years ago!]

This time ten years ago:
Grunwald - the big picture

This time 12 years ago:
"Take me right back to the track, Jack"

This time 13 years ago:
The summer sublime


Sunday, 12 July 2020

Summer wet and dry


Jakubowizna

Weather-wise, yesterday was awful. A long belt of rain, between 50km and 100km wide, moved its way up Poland, from south-west to north-east, with Mazowsze under a cloud that produced incessant rain for most of the day. The ground is waterlogged anyway; once the asphalt comes to an end, the paths are more puddle than track. I got my paces in and more, but all three pairs of my footwear here are soaking wet and muddy.

The worst part of a wet summer is the sudden rise in numbers of komary - Culex pipiens (there is linguistic disagreement whether a komar is a gnat, a midge or a mosquito in English, so I shall stick to the binomial name). Hot and wet summers bring them out in large numbers. From memory, this is the worst summer since 2011 and 1997. One bright spot - the country komary are a dozy lot and easy to kill. The urban ones are the selective offspring of hundreds of thousands of generations of mozzies fast enough to avoid a slap from a human hand before reproducing, and have lightning-fast reflexes. The rural ones are far slower, I slaughtered dozens yesterday. The walls of my działka bedroom have small black stains marking the spot where they met their demise - but no blood. I tell a lie - just now, I saw one above the door, splatted it - and yes, there was my blood, sucked out of me as I slept. A long dry spell is what's needed now. That, and my favourite insect after the bee, the dragonfly. Dragonflies live on a diet of Culex pipiens, but this year I've not seen any iridescent beauties hovering around.

Work on fencing my działka begins early next month; I bought a pruning lopper to cut away at some of the branches intruding over my land from the neighbouring forest. There was a choice of two are the hardware shop in Chynów; Polish ones for 80zł, and Finnish ones (Fiskars) for 179zł. So the Polish ones then... Took a closer look. Yes, Polish brand (Rawlplug!), barcode starting with 59, but in small print on the packaging... Produkt ChRL (Product of the Chinese People's Republic). No thanks. The Fiskars it is then. Made in Europe, less transport, the Finns aren't engaged in human rights abuse - plus the Fiskars product is lighter and stronger and capable of taking down branches up to 38mm, as opposed to 35mm for the heavier Chinese loppers.

Cherries are ripe for the picking, so this year's batch of wiśniówka (sour-cherry vodka) will be coming soon. To make 1 litre of wiśniówka, take 1kg of fruit, washed and stoned, 500g of sugar, 50ml of spirytus rektyfikowany, leave for six weeks, drain the fruit and separate fluid from pulp, subject the pulp to a secondary fermentation, drain again, mix fluid with fluid from first fermentation, bottle and allow to mature - ready for Christmas drinking. 

After a morning of pruning back overhanging branches, the clouds began to gather. Clearing ground is a satisfying activity; balancing the human desire for order with nature's need to be growing. 

Lunch then (a stew consisting of chorizo, chickpeas, cherry tomato and spinach, flavoured with a few anchovy fillets and one piri-piri pepper), washed back with a half-litre of Baltic Porter. Rain clouds are building all around my door. My plans of an afternoon motorbike ride have become unfeasible.

Meanwhile, bad news on the railway front. Apparently in response to a parliamentary question, PKP PLK SA, Poland's rail infrastructure operator, has admitted that the modernisation of the Warsaw-Radom line will not be completed until 2023. This is dreadful! Only the other day was I watching a PKP PLK video showing the wonders of the line once complete - Radom-Warsaw in just 75 minutes, which suggests Warka-Warsaw in 45 minutes and Chynów-Warsaw in 35 minutes, compared to the current best time of 50 minutes.

Better news on the local roads front. Rumours that the level crossing carrying the road between Chynów to Jakubowizna will be closed seem wrong. Having walked around the patch, to my expert eye, the ungated level crossing, used only by orchard traffic, will be closed; the quid pro quo offered to the growers is that the muddy tracks will be properly tarmacked to normal standards, in return for the closure of the crossing on ulica Miodowa. Below: the new road will run straight along the axis of this photograph up to the horizon, then turn right. It will shave off about a minute's walking time between my działka and Chynów station.


And after lunch on the działka - back to work. More pruning, more slashing away at the undergrowth, using my scythe as a machete. I wanted to buy one along with the lopper, but the shop is sold out (the owner said they had their best-ever May, with sales up 250% over May 2019, as people emerged from lockdown to get on with heavy-duty remonty). Anyway, a machete would be useful for hacking away at the denser undergrowth (rather than for settling scores at closing time at a Nando's in Nottingham). In the meantime, the scythe and the lopper will have to do.

Below: this is where the garden pub will go. Peter, who visited yesterday with his son, came up with an excellent name - The Crown (korona - get it?). Bounded by cherry trees to the south, apple trees to the east and plum trees to the north, the 7m x 5m brick-built edifice is intended as a temple for erudite discussion over a tankard of ale or glass of wine. We discussed how to get the word działka into English as a useful loanword. Peter suggested creating an alternative etymology. Rather than coming from the verb 'dzielić' (as in to divide, to allocate, to allot, as in allotment), the word should come from the Raj - from the Hindi word 'jhalkah', meaning 'a nice place in the country'. That way, it will soon catch on in English!


Oh well - time to clean the place, close up and take the train back to town AND VOTE!

This time two years ago:
Rainy summer Warsaw moods

This time five years ago:
Marathon stroll along the Vistula

This time six years ago:
Complaining about the lack of a river crossing between Siekierki and Góra Kalwaria! 

This time seven years ago:
S2 update 

This time eight years ago:
Progress on S2 bypass - photos from the air

This time ten years ago:
Up Śnieżnica

This time 13 years ago:
July continues glum (2007 - yet another rainy summer)




Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Masterpiece for the digital age

Today the word 'masterpiece' is synonymous with 'work of art'; however, I'm sure that Turner, Van Gogh or Leonardo da Vinci would have felt insulted if they heard their paintings called mere 'masterpieces'.

The origin of the term is a test piece, given to an apprentice to demonstrate his mastery at a given art or craft. The master would reject anything that failed to meet his highest expectations. The test piece would demonstrate the technical proficiency and skill levels necessary for acceptance into a guild. In German Meisterstück (from which the Polish loanword majstersztyk and the 16th-century Scots term 'masterstik'). Today's meaning of 'masterpiece' is nearer the German Meisterwerk, which is not so much a piece for a master as a piece by a master.

A long path, beset with disappointment and rejection, of seeing one's own subjective criteria of excellence belittled by one's master, who set the most exacting standards to ensure that his guild's reputation was not eroded by second-rate work.

The long path is marked by repetition, which should be regularly punctuated by insights - learning moments - without which the path leads nowhere, going round in circles of futility. Mistakes must be punished, but correction is not achieved without true understanding.

Perfection, I've long held, is an impossible dream; expecting it from yourself or from others will lead to disappointment. Instead of perfection, focus on improvement - continual (and if possible, rapid) improvement. I am a slow learner, but that's the trade off for a long and easy life.

Why am I writing all this? Readers will have seen my SketchUp pub. Since making that, I've designing something of more immediate practical value, something for this summer - a wall for the frontage of my działka. Now the geodeta (legal land-surveyor) has been and marked out the border between my land and the forest next door, I can move my boundary fence some 12 metres east, and enclose my entire 3,880m2 (just under one acre) of land. Here's how I see the front of the plot, as seen from the south side (from the road). A two-metre wall, stuccoed white, curves in towards the gate, asphalt drive to the house. The wall is rounded at the top.


It took me a while to get here, but as I wrote when doing the pub, I'm a long way from mastering SketchUp. I started in 2007, learning the basics, but never really had the need to create something practical, something that will be actually built. My son, on the other hand, has built hotels, airports and entire cities using SketchUp.

Mastering a digital art form is made easier by access to online tutorials (of varying quality, it must be said). You become the apprentice, but you must also become your own master. SketchUp offers many work-rounds if things go wrong, but soon you become frustrated as one botch leads to another and it's a long way back to undo the initial mistake.

The answer is to build on Little Masteries. Master the most basic skill, make something that works, is 100% consistent, that has all the internal logic correct - and save it as such. Then learn another skill (today I learnt how to use the 'follow' tool to make curved semi-circular sections), then incorporate it on the saved model. Don't pull back from dipping into YouTube tutorials if you are stuck and need help. There have never in history been more willing tutors at your disposal.

In the pre-digital world, if you made a mistake, you'd have to go all the way back to square one and start again from scratch. In SketchUp, the learning process is less frustrating but mastery still takes thousands of hours of practice.

Below: Art Déco house, made by my son back in 2014. Looking at the model today, I can see small flaws and inconsistencies, but still - this is the work of a teenager! 


There's nothing else for it - dive back into SketchUp for another learning session - duplicating fencing posts and chicken-wire along the entire perimeter (two sides and back of plot, around 310m in total). 

This time last year:

This time three years ago:

This time seven years ago:

This time eight years ago:

This time nine years ago:

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This time 11 years ago:

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Town and country in summer


Friday - into town to meet Moni for a drink. We start at the new Kufle i Kapsle in Solec... Across Plac Wójcickiej, the railway viaduct, under the arch you can see Most Poniatowskiego. The train crossing is a České dráhy service from Prague to Warsaw.


On to Sen nocy letniej (lit. 'summer's night dream' - makes me reflect there's no translation of 'midsummer' into Polish). This is a boat moored on the Vistula boulevard. The moon rising over the Most Poniatowski bridge.


Under the railway bridge, with the national stadium across the river. People out drinking, but not too crowded. Number of people in Warsaw with confirmed Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic 1,646, slightly more than Ealing (1,553) - figures as of 5 July. [Warsaw's population is 25 times larger than Ealing's)


Saturday - out to the country for a weekend at Jakubowizna. The rains have subsided, but the soil is waterlogged, puddles still extend across the paths.


In the orchards, the cherries are ripe.These are sour cherries (wiśnie), Prunus cerasus - ideal for making wiśniowka - steeping the cherries in spirytus rektyfikowany with sugar (not too much!)


I have never seen an orchard so full of cherries; the hot sun and the wet May and June have yielded results.


Below: on my działka, I've pruned back the leaves and non-fruit-bearing vines to let the sun in on the fruit and give them more nutrients. Ripe in late-September, early-October, by which time they are black. These are Concord grapes; small, with pips and thick skins - good for juice.


This time last year:

This time two years ago:
West Ealing to Castlebar Park - waiting for Crossrail

This time three years ago:
Trump flies into Warsaw

This time six years ago:
Making Poland's railways safer