Monday, 31 August 2020

"Sod the locals"

 Apologies for banging on about the same subject as in the last post, but the execrable quality of project management on the Chynów station modernisation gets me going. Not only is there no information as to which platforms are operational, or where trains are heading, but the old temporary footpath across the tracks have been ripped up; the ramp up to the northern end of the platform has been closed off. A new temporary footpath leading to the platforms has been built at the other (southern) end of the station. The result is a detour of over 700m (a seven-minute walk).

This is the result. These two women were trying to catch the southbound train, thinking they had ample time to catch it. They didn't know (and neither did I or anyone else) that earlier today, access to the platforms from the north had been ripped up and closed off by the builders. Unable to scramble up the navel-high platform edge, they had to make a massive detour around the whole station to get to the platform via the new temporary footpath. They missed their train. An hour until the next one.

I got to the station in good time and managed to haul myself up onto the platform, make my way to the end to get this snap as the train changed tracks (and therefore platforms) to the consternation of those waiting in the wrong place.

Below: the detour shown in red is not just the official, safe, route - it is the only route a pedestrian can take without having to subject themselves to the indignity of clambering up the platform edge.

Yes, one day it will be finished. Yes, one day people living in Jakubowizna will have easier and safer access to the station. But on the eve of the second anniversary of the modernisation of the line between Czachówek Południowy to Warka, the work seems interminable. Lack of community consultations, lack of consideration for passengers. It took 20 months to build the entire line from Warsaw to Radom back in the 1930s; these days the modernisation of the same line is likely to take eight years.

For the inhabitants of the village of ulica Spacerowa in Widok or inhabitants of the southern part of Jakubowizna, the choice is either this home-made route to the platform, steps carved into the embankment, a pallet thrown over the ditch and 285m of clambering over ballast next to the passing-loop track - or a one-kilometre detour via the level crossing.

Better access is on its way, but for now, it's a long walk for most pedestrian users of Chynów station, wherever they're from.

This time two years ago:
The balance between the spiritual and the material

This time three years ago:
End of August, end of summer?

This time four years ago:
Pavement for Karczunkowska... a bit at least

This time five years ago:
Gold Train update (the hope! the expectations!)

This time seven years ago:
Poland post the Rubbish Revolution

This time eight years ago:
Poland's most beautiful street

This time nine years ago:
Getting to grips with phrasal verbs

This time 11 years ago:
What Putin wrote about Molotov-Ribbentrop

This time 12 years ago:
Summer Sunday in the city

This time 13 years ago:
Last bike-ride to work of the summer

Sunday, 30 August 2020

Infrastructure delays everywhere

"I'll never get to see the opening of CrossRail," joked my father three years ago. Sadly, he was right. Like Berlin's Brandenburg airport, London's CrossRail project is a monumental failure in terms of its delivery. Eleven years have passed since work began on it. Five years ago, I wrote about the underground station next to the office where I used to work in London. I posited that CrossRail would be functioning in "three to four years". How wrong I was. It now looks like 2023. So I was out by five years.

Today was meant to see the opening of the second modernised line between Czachówek Południowy and Warka stations, with the new 'down' platforms becoming operational and an end to single-line working on this stretch of the Warsaw-Radom line.

Just after nine am this morning I was standing on the brand new platform at Chynów station, with a ticket in my hand for Warka. Looking north towards Sułkowice, I could see the lights of the southbound train on the new line. Great! At the same time, a northbound train departed from Chynów heading for Warsaw. The two trains passed each other halfway between Sułkowice and Chynów - something that hadn't happened for nearly two years.

But just before my train reached Chynów, it changed track and arrived at the other platform.

- No announcement from the station loudspeaker.

- No signs telling passengers that the new platform was still not operational.

- No tapes or barriers stopping passengers from walking onto a platform that wasn't served by trains.

No time for me to run around to the other platform, with the underground platform still under construction. The train to Warka leaves without me. Home, then, for a second breakfast.

I went back in the evening to see what's going on. Same thing. Below: southbound train approaching Chynów turns off the new 'down' line onto the 'up' line modernised last year. Single-line working continues.

Below: looking at Chynów station from the makeshift pedestrian crossing north of the platforms. The southbound train has stopped on the 'up' platform, which by now should have been reserved for northbound trains. As of today, it should have stopped at the 'down' platform to the right. In the distance, the lights of a northbound train, which will be rerouted as in the past year into the passing-loop platform to the left. 

It seems everywhere - UK, Germany, Poland - the public sector has immense problems getting infrastructure projects delivered on time.

[today, I'm more inclined to say "fuck 'em".]

This time two years ago:
Progress on the Działka

This time six years ago:
Changes to Poland's traffic regulations

This time nine years ago:
Teasers in the Polish-English linguistic space

This time ten years ago:
Summer slipping away

This time 11 years ago:
To the airport by bike

This time 12 years ago:
My translation of Tuwim's Lokomotywa

Thursday, 27 August 2020

Muscle memory

One of the joys of greeting a new day is a cup of freshly made coffee from my espresso machine. One medium black coffee, then off to work (in the old days of course!). At the station, I'd wonder - did I switch the espresso machine off...? If not, the thing spends all day using electricity heating itself, and if the water level is low... I dread to think. Fortunately, I have long since learned how to avoid this anxiety - by switching it off with the mains switch at the back, rather than with the chromed knob on the front which merely cuts off the flow of coffee into the cup. As the cup nears full, my right hand darts round to the back of the machine and flicks the switch. Muscle memory. It's the only way I ever switch off the machine, and one of several hacks I have instigated to ensure I've not overlooked something.

Another is the gas cooker. When a pan is taken off the stove, the gas is turned off, and then a plate or bowl is placed on the still-hot ring. This has two functions. One is to warm the bowl and keep my food warm for longer - the other is to ensure I don't place a plate or bowl onto a gas flame. This muscle-memory habit ensures I'm never worried about "did I leave the gas on when I left home".

Muscle memory is a wonderful thing. I'm using it now in touch-typing, something I learned on my postgraduate journalism course at the City University in London 40 years ago. 

It is something that I'm developing but have not yet perfected while riding my motorbikes. Each is slightly different, but the principles are the same - namely changing gear and remembering to cancel the indicators! I started to ride motorbikes six years ago, and since then I have limited my riding to warm, sunny days. I also avoid as far as possible riding in or through big cities, and it his here that one acquires the muscle memory needed for motorcycling the fastest. All those stop/starts at traffic lights, all those cars to contend with.

In total, in those six years, I've covered a mere 18,400km on motorbike, slightly more than the average car-driver would do in one year, the vast majority of it on quiet, country roads on sunny days between late-April and mid-October.

Decades' worth of muscle memory on show here.

In the same way that riding a bicycle or driving a car (with manual gears) is about muscle memory, learning to ride a motorbike is moving from the stage of unconscious incompetence (you don't even know what you don't know), to conscious incompetence (you are very much aware of the skills you don't have) to conscious competence (you are doing it right, but having to think about it), to unconscious competence (when you're just doing it automatically, right every time).

I've yet to get to that stage. Many's still the time when I give a friendly left-handed salute to a fellow motorcyclist coming the other way to be greeting by a more frantic hand-waving - which I then realise to have meant that my indicators have been flashing right for the past two kilometres. Or when I look down at my instruments and see that green light blinking, meaning the same thing.

Worse is when I change down gears as I approach a junction, and as I see all's clear, I rev the throttle to zoom into a gap in the traffic - only to discover I'm in neutral. There is no substitute for getting kilometres under the belt, getting good habits ingrained as muscle memory, so after a winter's break from riding, they come back naturally the next spring as unconscious competence.

The hardest part of learning to ride a motorbike - as with driving a manual-gearbox car - is clutch control - feeling the biting point, coordinating right hand (clutch release), right foot (gear selection) and left hand (throttle). There's nothing more embarrassing on a motorbike than letting the clutch lever go too early and jerking forward suddenly (often on rear wheel, though this is impossible on a cruiser). You can also embarrass yourself all too easily at traffic lights by attempting to start in second gear having failed to put it in neutral as you stopped.

One major muscle-memory trick I have acquired from my nine years of cycling in Central London has been the habit of looking into side-roads for traffic. Approaching a junction, my head involuntarily swivels left or right; something that can be a real life-saver.

As one grows older, so forgetfulness can creep up. It is therefore worth working on those mind-hacks that prevent accidents - caused by leaving appliances switched on, and muscle memory can make up for shortcomings in the mind. We are always tiptoeing on the edge of chaos - getting older, one becomes naturally more careful, more risk-averse - but on the other hand, the rim is getting narrower, the precipice steeper.

This time three years ago:
The journey there, and the journey back again

This time four years ago:
Sandomierz - another outstanding Polish town to see

This time six years ago:
Food hygiene and lies as Russian foreign policy tools

This time seven years ago:
Asphalt for ul. Poloneza (to Krasnowolska at least)

This time eight years ago:
A welcome splash of colour to a drab car park 

This time nine years ago:
To Hel and back in 36 hours

This time 11 years ago:
Honing the Art of the Written Word

This time 12 years ago:
Of castles, dams and brass bands

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

First inklings of the end of summer in Jeziorki

Summer blends into autumn imperceptibly, but day-on-day intimations of the change can be observed and felt. The feeling of that first moment when one senses autumn's approach is called mono no aware by the Japanese, the beauty of transience, passed over me today. The sun set today at 19:36, the same time as it set on 16 April. Change is in the air.

Below: a white poplar stands behind a fallow field on which Jeziorki's dominant wildflowers, goldenrod (nawłoć) and tansy (wrotycz) grow in abundance. The little yellow button-shaped flowers of the tansy have just started turning brown. Before long, the flowers of both die leaving long dry stalks that snap in the hand.

Despite a few heavy showers this week, Jeziorki's ponds get dryer and dryer. If this drought continues, it will be possible to walk with dry shoe from one side to the other - it already looks that way (below), with the southernmost pond reduced to two puddles. However, the pond bed remains muddy. Oysters live here, and the gulls have fished many out, leaving shells on the dry margins.

The drainage ditches that funnel water from surrounding fields into the ponds are also dry. Below the ditch the runs under ulica Dumki.

This looks ominous - the old scrapyard on the site of the former aggregate yard by W-wa Jeziorki station has been levelled to the ground; gone are the bunkers, the electricity generating plant and the large depot. I worry that work on the Mieszkania+ housing estate for 8,000 people will begin soon. Below: clearing the ground.

Better news - seeing surveyors (geodeci) on ul. Karczunkowska raises my hopes for a pavement. Below: after heavy rains, the verge of the road is one huge puddle. Pedestrians are forced to choose - wade through the mud, or walk along the asphalt and risk being run over by speeding traffic.

Below: by the viaduct, the infrastructure of pedestrians and cyclists is more than adequate - and then suddenly it stops. There's 200m of pavement missing between here and the next houses.

Further north, work on the S7 continues at a great tempo. The temporary bypass routing traffic from ul. Baletowa is in place, allowing the contractor to start work on the viaduct that will carry the S7 over Baletowa. Ready by the summer of 2023? Maybe sooner...

Bonus shot: domesticated geese roam the streets of Jeziorki! There were three, now there are five!

This time two years ago:

This time six years ago:
Short, sharp diet proves I'm allergy-free

This time seven years ago:
More photos from Radom Air Show

This time eight years ago:
Twilight on ul. Karczunkowska 

This time 11 years ago:
First hints of autumn in the air

This time 12 years ago:
Slovakia - we were not impressed

This time 13 years ago:
Jeziorki - late August cultivation

Sunday, 23 August 2020

Getting there

"I've got everything I need," sings the eponymous Urban Spaceman of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band's most successful hit single - who then carries on to tell us in the last line - "I don't exist". Ian Dury expands this thought in This is What we Find: "O vanitas vanitatum/Which of us is happy in this life?/Which of us has our desire,/Or having it, is gratified?" 

Well, yesterday's bike ride was a huge philosophical study in fulfillment. This is it! I've found it! Yes, the bike could have a bigger, more powerful engine - but then: 1) there'd be more guilt about pollution, burning irreplaceable fossil fuels, carbon dioxide emissions; 2) the temptation to ride faster than my mind can focus, and with that - risk and danger; 3) this beauty costs pennies to run and insure.

So - pootling around the backroads of South Mazovia at a steady 60km/h (40mph) on a bike I designed to fulfil my aesthetic longings is ideal. A perfect, cloud-free, rain-free time is needed - in the past I've been chased by thunderstorms and sat out downpours in bus shelters - no fun.

Yesterday was perfect. Being based in Jakubowizna, I no longer have to spend the first half-hour of my ride getting out of the metropolis - it's out of bed and straight onto country roads. Down to Warka, cross the Pilica river, first left onto the DW736 [droga wojewódzka = province road, as opposed to DK = droga krajowa = national road]. This is an interesting road, as it's cut in half by the Vistula (below). One of several DWs that start on one side of the river and end on the other with a significant missing link (bridges that were never built, ferry services that have been curtailed). This means less traffic, because the cars and trucks don't end up going where they were meant to go.

Riding the DW736 from its source (the DW730 just south of the Pilica) to the banks of the Vistula was the purest joy - 19km with barely any traffic around. Through the small town of Magnuszew for a kilometre the DW736 merges with the main DK79 Warsaw-Sandomierz-Kraków road before the left turn for the Vistula. Otherwise - it's just me and the Road. Below: the DW736 between Łatków and Przewóz Tarnowski. Those chromed orbs sparkling, the asphalt, the crystalline sky...

Images like this burn into the retina of the soul and will resurface as 'memory hiccups' for the rest of my days - and beyond. They feel immediately familiar, too, like I've been doing this before - except I haven't (I started motorcycling a mere six years ago).

Below: a few hours of blissful backroad riding later, I hit the village (formerly town) of Jedlińsk. It used to straddle the old DK7 (Warsaw-Radom-Kielce-Kraków) road, but then they built a bypass. The place has become quieter, safer - but much of the business, the passing trade, has died. I felt I was in New Mexico on a sleepy afternoon in 1952.

I passed Bartodzieje to see what was going on by the station there (see yesterday's post) and then headed home to Jakubowizna, aware that the weather would turn and that a storm was brewing. As in previous posts, I'm amazed to see how much new asphalt has been laid on Poland's roads this year. Lovely to ride over. Smooth - not bucking backward and forward over potholes, ruts and cracks.

On the way back, I dropped into the Orlen gas station in Warka to top up the bike and grab a bite and a coffee. The vibe - it's right. Straight out of the opening scenes of The Loveless.

"You don't look like the type to stay in one place for too long..."

"Yeah? I never had the urge."

Back at four, at five the heavens open, accompanied by thunder and lightning. The day had been seized. For such days, one lives.

This time last year:

This time two years ago:
What's new around Jeziorki

This time five years ago:
Hydrology - droughts, floods and sandbanks

This time seven years ago:
Radom air show - Part 1

This time eight years ago:
Restricting passenger movement and safety

This time nine years ago:
Seasonal fruit - eat it in bulk, while you can!

This time 11 years ago:
Russia-Polish 'unification', 1939-style

Saturday, 22 August 2020

Between Warka and Radom - Bartodzieje

I hope that by the end of this month, two-track working will return to the Warsaw-Radom line between Czachówek Południowy and Warka, just under two years since modernisation of this stretch began. The new timetable comes into force tomorrow week - should see 'up' and 'down' platforms in use at Sułkowice, Chynów, Krężel, Michalczew, Gośniewice and Warka. Still a lot of work needed to finish Chynów and Warka stations (underground passages), as well as trackside infrastructure (drainage, level crossings).

But beyond Warka, the situation is not good. There are stretches between Warka and Radom where currently, there are no rails at all on the ground. Work is way behind schedule. I went to see Bartodzieje station (below) to see how things are going. The old tracks here haven't been lifted; several hundred metres of concrete sleepers lie waiting to be put to use, ballast spills out over the platform's edge. And nothing going on here.

The station building, which dates back to 1934, is in the same architectural style as the others on the line, and is more than half a kilometre from the main road. Which is where we'll find this signal box (below). The single line goes into five at Bartodzieje, a station of similar importance to Chynów with goods sidings and a passing loop) which also serves to operate the level crossing.

Looking south from the road to Jedlińsk from Głowaczów, one can see the scale of the works. An entire new embankment is being built here. Saturday lunchtime, and the construction crew is knocking off, bringing the machinery back to base and getting ready to drive home.

Let's zoom in. Below: looking towards Lesiów, the last station before Radom. This is early stages. There's so much to be done - it will be a miracle if the line between Warka and Radom reopens by December 2022. A pair of bridges need to go over the Radomka river and the canal to the north of it.

And moving north of Bartodzieje (lit. 'The Acts of Bart') station, I can see vast amounts of work that still needs doing - like this bridge three-quarters of a kilometres away. Below: photo from Google Maps Street View, dated 2013. This bridge was not fit for purpose - too narrow, unsafe for pedestrians. It had to go.

Below: it's gone - but a new one will be a long time coming. Just a canyon, impassible even on foot. Down at the bottom, no sign of tracks, no new trackbed, no ballast laid - much to do. 

Looking at the dismal state of works, I feel desperately sorry for the people of Radom and its hinterlands who have to travel into Warsaw to work. The replacement bus service is woefully inadequate. Journey time between Warsaw East and Radom right now is around three hours.

Once the work is complete, it will be cut (says PKP PLK) to one hour and 15 minutes - will believe it when I see it.

This time two years ago:

This time three years ago:

This time five years ago:
Sad farewell to Lila the cat

This time six years ago:
Your papers are in order, Panie Dembinski!

This time seven years ago:
Topiary garden by the Vistula

This time nine years ago:
Raymond's Treasure - a short story

Friday, 21 August 2020

Reflections on late-August

There's no sign of autumn in the air; no chilly dawns, no mists rising off the fields, no scents of an impending Fall. A beautiful day today, crystal blue skies from morning to dusk - not just warm, but hot with a maximum of 32C, even some evening gardening on the działka has brought me out in a sweat. The sun is now setting at a quarter to eight, so we've lost an hour and a quarter of daylight since summer solstice two months ago. In another month's time, we will have lost another hour and a half - the change in day-length accelerates towards the equinoxes and slows towards the solstices.

Below: the scene outside my działka, looking across at the other side of Jakubowizna, around half past six.

We will also have lost the warmth of summer evenings, the hot noonday sun, the comfort of strolling out in one layer as the sun sets. Indeed; the sun has set ten minutes ago, as I write, and the temperature outside is 28C. 

Make the most of it. Today, I walked over 17,500 paces.

I predict a massive surge in Covid-19 cases in early November, just after the clocks go back across the Northern Hemisphere. We'll lose an hour's evening daylight instantly; the hammer of darkness will hit all those with Seasonal Affective Disorder, which in turn hits the immune system. Samopoczucie* goes downhill, and susceptibility to bugs increases. This is the time of year both my parents died; it's like they couldn't face yet another season of darkness and cold again.

Lockdown befell us just as spring arrived. The days were getting longer - and two weeks later, the clocks went forward giving us that extra hour of daylight. The pandemic might have been in full force, but there was sunshine, there was warmth, there were trees in bloom, there was summer on the horizon. 

But an autumnal upsurge in the pandemic will have no upside other than the distant prospect, half a year away, of another spring. Until then, drizzle, rain, mud, chill turning cold and darkness, trees reduced to bare skeletons, no leaves, no fruit, no flowers. Chill in the bones and sinews; coughs, sneezes, sore throats - Covid-19?

Every hour of summer therefore, is precious; waste it not. A local walk or the garden, a lie-down in the sun even, a bike ride. Fresh summer fruit and vegetables. A glass of wine at an outdoor restaurant table.

In summertime, when the living is indeed easy, there is a strong temptation to take it easy. To lounge around, to idle. Looking at my exercise log, I can see I'm at my hardest-working in the early spring, around Lent time. Summer days when I complete all ten sets of exercise are few and far between, this year and in previous years. Blog posts are less frequent. I get lazy. But seeing that summer won't last forever begins to motivate me. Ride the motorbike! Soon, the wet, cold, dark days will preclude that joy. Make the most of a dwindling resource - time. 

For soon, we shall go from living the Sublime to merely dreaming of it.

Late summer/early autumn - a metaphor for my Time of Life.

*Samopoczucie - a great Polish word without a direct English equivalent. Literally, 'self-feeling', how you feeling physically and mentally. What condition your condition is in.

This time two years ago:
Conscious of a waning summer

This time six years ago:
Plans for modernising the Warsaw-Radom railway line

Thursday, 20 August 2020

Farewell to Chynów station's goods yard

When opened in 1934, Chynów was one of the more important stations on the Warsaw-to-Radom line. As well as the passenger tracks, a passing loop and platform, there was also a small goods siding, consisting of two tracks, a ramp and a small warehouse. More than just a halt.

The warehouse was demolished (according to Google Earth history view) sometime between 2007 and 2012; the goods siding live on for a while. Earlier this month, it too has gone; the points that let trains onto it from the main line have been lifted. In its last years, the siding and the yard by it was at least put to intensive use - it was here that ballast and sleepers for the modernisation of the Czachówek Południowy to Warka stretch of the Warsaw-Radom line were stored.

With the completion of the works down the Warka, the siding is no longer required. Below: the last loads of ballast left the siding towards the end of July. A tiny proportion of what was once stored here is still visible on the left.

Below: the newly dismantled points that had formerly allowed trains onto the goods sidings. The train in the top photo would have been the last to roll over these points before they were lifted and the rails cut up with oxy-acetylene cutters. To the right, the newly modernised main line, now complete with overhead power cables (not yet visible in the photo above). To the left, ul. Kolejowa, awaiting new asphalt. Looking north.

Below: further along the now-abandoned goods line. These were the points that separated the two goods tracks. Ul. Kolejowa still to the left.

Below: the way things were. This was the little warehouse by the loading area. Photo taken on 2 September 2006 by Jerzy Mrozowski (, with acknowledgements. 

Below: from my first visit to Chynów station, October 2017, before the modernisation work started. Looking south, the old island platform to the left served 'down' trains to Radom and 'up' trains to Warsaw (on the other side); to the right, the points connecting the sidings with the main line. Note the stockpiled concrete sleepers. Within a month, the loading area would be full of ballast as well.

Below: looking north towards Chynów station, from the level crossing at the Widok end. Station building to the left. Note the points leading to the goods sidings (to the left) and onto the loop running behind the platform (to the right). Note also the lengths of rail lying between the 'up' track - these were being stored here ahead of the modernisation. 

Below: looking south from the southern end of the goods siding, the two tracks coming together at a set of points. Ul. Kolejowa now to the right.

Below: just after sunset, north of Chynów station. In the hour between scheduled passenger trains, this works train makes its way south towards Warka.

Below: back end of the same train, note ballast hoppers and rail-alignment machinery, that follow the flatbeds behind the engine. I guess these will be taking away redundant rails from the old goods yard.

Below: the level crossing on ulica Miodowa has now been closed for good. The tarmac between the rails ripped out, it is now impossible for wheeled vehicles, even tractors, to cross the tracks here. Photo taken at sunset with fill-in flash. Local farmers, wishing to access their fields, now have to make a 1km detour to get to the other side. At least there is now new asphalt to make that journey easier. For train crews, it means one fewer level crossing to worry about.

Farewell, then, to the old goods yard, the sidings and all the freight traffic that once used these lines.


Bonus freight-train photos. Below: a 'Gagar' (Russian-built M62 diesel engine) hauls a load of empty coal trucks back from the sidings at Konstancin-Jeziorna through Jeziorki station (note the passenger platform on the electrified line in the background. Note too how the back of the train snakes around the bulge necessitated by aligning the non-electrified goods track to run around the station).

Below: looking toward the centre of Warsaw from the now-removed mountain of soil by the end of the S79. The same Gagar (M62 7039) pulling a full load of coal from the sidings at Okęcie towards the power station at Siekierki, via Konstancin-Jeziorna.

If we must burn coal to power our cities, let's at least be grateful it gets to the power stations by train and not by road. 

This time last year:
[it was finally opened in November 2019]

Saturday, 15 August 2020

Dead birds and Occam's Razor

How many times have you seen a dead bird in your life? In suburban London, never. Not that I can remember - not in childhood, not in West Ealing, not in Perivale. In Jeziorki, on Warsaw's edge - a few. Big ones, herons, as well as crows. But rarely - once every few years. But in Jakubowizna, seeing dead birds by the roadside is a regular occurrence. Two in my działka this summer alone, three spotted on a walk along ulica Wspólna from Jakubowizna to Chynów and back in one day.

Dead thrush, ul. Wspólna, Chynów

What's happening? Well, 5G roll-out in Chynów started last month (at least that's the first time my laptop's wifi dashboard gave me a 5G option for internet access), but dead birds have been a feature of life in Jakubowizna since buying the place. And I don't go for 5G conspiracy theories.

Dead chaffinch, ul. Wspólna, Chynów

So what's causing birds to die around here in noticeably high numbers?

Dead kingfisher, Jakubowizna

I can only surmise that it's the result of the pesticides used by farmers tending their orchards. Either poisoned worms get into the birds' food chain or the birds, pecking at the cherries, plums and apples get poisoned directly. 

I've lived right next door to agriculture for the best part of a third of my life, and I'm aware of the cycle of ploughing, sowing, and reaping - and the spraying of crops in between. But the field next door in Jeziorki is arable land - oats, barley, wheat, rapeseed. Birds are not as interested in grain as they are in large acreages of ripening fruit. [I must point out that some years ago, we had blackcurrants in our garden, just across the fence from the barley field. It was sprayed, the children ate the blackcurrants, both were sick.]

In Jakubowizna, the sound of early summer is the retort of compressed-air bird-scarers, going off at random intervals on the cherry orchards and strawberry plantations. At first you think it's a shotgun (as in the English country sound of a distant farmer shouting "GET ORFF MAY LAIRND!" followed by a BANG!) After a while, you get used to it, and the sight of the sky filling with a circling swarm of starlings. But the cherry season is over. The sound you hear in these parts now is that of tractors at nightfall - tractors pulling spraying equipment that from a distance look like they're laying down fog. These are chemicals going down onto apple trees. 

You can tell instantly which orchards are sprayed - the apples in them are (almost) flawless. No tell-tale holes giving away the fact that a lodger or three lurks within. My apples - unsprayed - are full of insect life and nibbled at by birds. Not a single apple on my little orchard is without blemish. [This is the type of apple scrumpy is made from in the West Country of England. My apples are de facto organic. No papers, no certificates, just fruit that's never been sprayed.] 

Apples are divided into two sorts - jabłko deserowe (table apples in English), that are blemish-free and sell for top złotys in the supermarkets, and jabłko przemysłowe ('industrial apple'). The latter ends up in juices, sauces, cakes and yoghurts; it is processed and pasteurised. There's no point investing in pesticides - just collect it by the tonne and get a few grosze per kilo for it. Any worms inside will be heat-treated and the bacteria from their faeces duly killed off. The more so if the apple juice starts to ferment.

I don't know whether the pesticide affects the birds directly or indirectly, but I'm sure it gets into their guts and does something to their nervous systems.

Earlier this year, I noticed several lapwings around ulica Miodowa by the railway line. My guess is that lapwing colonies have been displaced by the roadworks associated with the S7 extension to the north-west of here and have flown south seeking quieter haunts. It was good to see them over Chynów! However, I've been back there many times since, and have never seen them again. Maybe the land around here is too polluted by intensive agriculture - I don't know. I do know that 5G isn't to blame - it's only just been activated, and the dead birds have been around a while.

Occam's Razor suggest to look for the most obvious solution. Since noticing dead birds as a regular occurrence, I've started washing all the fruit I eat, including citruses. Raspberries are the only exception. Apples - we're told the peel is good as it contains roughage - I wonder how much pesticide is soaked up in the skin. 

The main anti-parasitic and anti-fungal agent used is Thiabendazole. Could this be the culprit?
I checked - the EU allows 4 milligrams of residue of Thiabendazole per kilo of apple. That's for humans. For birds though?  Reading this article in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the best way of decontaminating apples is to soak them in a solution of ordinary baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) for 12 to 15 minutes. That or peeling the fruit. Scary!

I've also decided to leave a significant part of my land as meadow, with wildflowers dominating, so that the bees can forage for pollen.

This time last year:
My summer space

Friday, 14 August 2020

Twilight ride

When you find joy, turn it into a replicable experience, burn it into your memory. Getting to the działka in the evening after a week's work, get bike out of garage and do a spin around local roads, at a modest pace, to catch the dusk and its afterglow - bliss. With Nikon Coolpix A slung around my neck, set to full auto, and triggered by a remote-control cable running down the inside of the sleeve of my leather jacket, it's safe. And look at the speedo - 45km/h. "I don't know about you, but I take comfort in that. ...Takin' her easy for all us sinners."

Below: between Dobiecin and Rososz. Entering forests yields a wealth of olfactory experience and a sudden faceful of cooler air.

Below: today's photo of bike with water tank in Appleland.

Below: into the setting sun - heading west towards Chynów and the petrol station.

Below: back in Jakubowizna, having another go along the fresh asphalt laid only last week.

Fingers crossed as to the outcome 100 miles east of here, across the border in Belarus!

This time last year:

This time four years ago year:
Popping out for a drink

This time ten years ago:
In search of happiness

This time 11 years ago:
Mercenaries and missionaries

This time 12 years ago:
Spectacular sunrise, Jeziorki

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Kilometres of new asphalt for Gmina Chynów

My stays at Jakubowizna are getting longer - Friday to Tuesday this week. Meetings in Warsaw tomorrow, so time to return to Jeziorki. While I'm out in the countryside, I can observe a huge leap in infrastructure development locally. The railway line is nearing completion - without doubt, there will be two working lines to Warka by September (Warka to Radom will be a longer story). And alongside the railway, new asphalted roads will make local travel easier, even if some level crossings will be closed.

Below: this is a completely new stretch of road, an extension of ul. Kolejowa south towards Krężel. At the moment, it only leads to the level crossing on ul. Spokójna, a dirt-track through a forest on either side. Note the southbound train, advertised as heading for Radom - it will run to Warka from where a replacement bus service will take passengers further. There's one white and one red light on, denoting single-line working. This should be over soon.

Below: new asphalt soon for ul. Kolejowa in Chynów. The road is being realigned to ensure a better angle at the level crossing

Below: new asphalt at the end of my road. A slightly quicker, and more comfortable walk to the station.

Below: Chynów station will soon have full pedestrian amenities - a foot-tunnel under the tracks to connect the two platforms - and more importantly, to connect Jakubowizna with Chynów.

Riding on old, bumpy, cracked, patched asphalt isn't a heap of fun on a motorbike which, true to its early 1950s pierwowzór has no rear suspension other than a sprung saddle and balloon tyres. Roads around here are a mixture - good stretches, bad stretches - and stretches with no asphalt whatsoever.

Below: looking down towards Chynów station. The big, recently planted orchard will need fencing. You can see my hardtail bike likes fresh asphalt.

Below: same stretch, later the next evening.

Below: Google Earth map showing extent of the new asphalt. Central stretch around Chynów station still missing. Total of three kilometres of asphalt between ul. Miodowa and ul. Spokojna, doubled up on the section between ul. Miodowa and the crossing at Widok.