Monday, 28 September 2020

Whither the DK50?

It runs from Ciechanów to Ostrów Mazowiecka; the DK (droga krajowa = national road) 50 is the de facto western, southern and eastern ring-road of Warsaw. And linking Ostrów Mazowiecki to Ciechanów is the DK60, which closes the ring to the north.

Just north of Żyradów, the DK50 crosses the A2 motorway. Now, the A2 forms a part of the European Route E30, from Cork in Ireland to Omsk near the Russian border with Kazakhstan. The central part of this 6,530km-long route is motorway all the way from the port at Hook of Holland, through Berlin, Poland, Belarus, into Russia then Moscow, Chelyabinsk in the Urals... well, nearly all the way - you see there's a gap. 

Heading east, you hit that gap on ulica Puławska, just 4km north of Jeziorki. For international traffic moving between Germany and Belarus and Russia, reaching the end of the S2 means an hour and a bit of crawling through Warsaw's congested urban roads, traffic lights every few hundred metres, and then over 120km of secondary road with just a 66km stretch of new motorway bypassing Minsk Mazowiecki.

The mandated alternative for heavy goods traffic in transit has long been the DK50, indeed it has been for decades before the A2 motorway ever reached Warsaw. The southern part of the ring, from Sochaczew (in the days when east-west traffic used the old Poznań-Warsaw road) to Minsk Mazowiecki dates back to 1977, and was created to keep heavy trucks out of the capital.

The Sochaczew-Minsk Maz transit route (named the 17 between 1977-85 and the 717 between 1985-2000) currently forms the southern section of the DK50. Much of the time, there is a high volume of international heavy goods vehicles with TIR plates, heading east to west and west to east. Over the years, the DK50 has been successively upgraded, in particular with bypasses built around towns and villages that were particularly scarred by traffic. 

Such a village was Chynów, and its neighbour to the west, Drwalew. Work on this local bypass was completed at the end of 2007. The result is that the 'old' DK50 is now quiet, carrying little more than local traffic. Trucks roar past on the 'new' stretch, which at the closest is just 1.25km from my działka in Jakubowizna.

Can I hear them from there? The answer is - yes, when the wind is blowing from the west, north-west or north - but not at all when the wind is blowing from the east, the south-east or south. However, as I walk closer towards Chynów, yes, you can hear the DK50, loud and clear.

But this will change. Within a few months, the S2 extension through Ursynów will open, crossing the Vistula on a new bridge, linking up across the river with the existing 66km-stretch of the A2 motorway that skirts Minsk Maz to the north. Though not a toll-road, the S2 will be an attractive alternative to the DK50 for much of the transit traffic, despite the ban on trucks over 16 tonnes in weight entering Warsaw between 07:00-10:00 and 16:00 and 20:00.

My guess is that the majority of off-peak transit will switch to the new A2-S2-A2 to get from Żyrardów to Minsk, rather than sticking with the old route. The new motorway/expressway route will be 87km, the current DK50 route is 114km. Not only will the new route save 27km, it will also be at least dual carriageway, whereas much of the DK50 is single carriageway.

But greater change is planned. This is grandly named Obwodnica Aglomeracji Warszawskiej (OAW - Warsaw Agglomeration Ring-road), bearing the number A50. Announced a year ago, the A50 will orbit Warsaw but at a tighter radius than the current DK50-DK60 ring. The OAW is to planned to be opened in 2027 (but as we know, this is highly unlikely). Crucially, the OAW is to be a part of the government's flagship CPK project (central communication port) in Baranów, a giant super-connector airport, high-speed rail hub and motorway network.

Looking at current plans for the OAW, there are four variants for bypassing Warsaw to the south, each of them will be closer to the city than the DK50. Assuming the OAW happens (I have my doubts, mainly as the prospects for mass airport-travel are bleak), the DK50 will be left as a ghost road, as quiet as Route 66 became when Interstate 10 bypassed most of it.

If that does happen, many of the service stations, bars and truck stops along the way will close. This happened when Chynów and Drwalew were bypassed. 

Below: hurtling through at speed, drivers would hardly spot this old bar...

Below: this one offered more amenities, including truck parking across the road. But it's set off a way back from the new bypass.

The Chynów left behind by this major international transit route is today a quieter, safer place. No doubt some businesses suffered, but now its people can cross the main street without fear, trucks no longer thunder past and the place has taken on the air of calm and prosperous little country town.

This time last year
A change in the weather

This time two years ago:
Zamek Topacz classic car museum

This time five years ago:
Curry comes to Jeziorki
[didn't stay long - but then not a good one]

This time six years ago:
Why we should all try to use less gas

This time seven years ago:
Polish supermarket chain advertises on London buses

This time 12 years ago:
Well-shot pheasants

Sunday, 27 September 2020

The real economy will prevail

A few years ago, Moni visited Berlin for a weekend and concluded that "everyone in Berlin's a DJ." The party moved from one club, where a friend was playing a set, onto another venue, and then another until daybreak and beyond. The pandemic's varying effects on economies around the world has reminded me of that insight.

Substitute 'DJ' with 'service-sector worker'. Like management consultant, PR advisor, travel agent, translator, events organiser. Jingle-writers working on radio ads. 

Now, for this thought exercise, let's imagine for a moment an island economy in which everyone works in the service sector. 

A lawyer needs an accountant, who needs IT support from a firm that requires a social-media expert, who needs a mentor, who in turn needs an accountant, who from time to time needs the services of a lawyer. And sales! And marketing! And new business development!

And so a merry-go-round of invoices is issued, for work done in supporting each other's businesses. Everyone needs technology. Desktops, laptops, mobiles - which need broadband, routers, apps, operating systems and synchronisation. The new oil, as we constantly hear nowadays, is data. IT guys keep everyone's devices connected to everyone else's devices. And everyone needs an office to sit in, and furniture to sit on. And they need to get to that office. And there's the state, which needs money to pay for roads so people can get to their offices and schools to provide the next generation of office workers and hospitals to care for the sick accountants and SEO managers and travel agents, so everyone pays tax - and the accountant accounts for the VAT on the lawyer's bills to the PR advisor for drafting a contract for services rendered to the social-media start-up. Banks lend money here and take deposits there, ensuring financial liquidity for one and all. 

I'm minded of Julian Tuwim's Wszyscy dla wszystkich from 1947, (along with a rough translation by me):

Notice the tangibility and local nature of the economy that Tuwim describes. Shoes, houses, clothes, loaves of bread, essentials of life, made and delivered within your village. No lawyers or accountants or PR agents or network architecture designers in Tuwim's village.

[There's a part of 'services' that's firmly rooted in the tangible economy - maintenance and repair. As I write, there's a roofer on our roof in Jeziorki, fixing a number of minor issues (for the first time in 19 years), before the photovoltaic panels are installed. Repairing things - buildings - cars - clothes - laptops - tools - anything that needs repairing or replacing - is, in my books, part of the tangible economy. As is maintenance - preventing the need for repair.

And then there's retail. The intermediary between manufacturer and consumer. Whether it's the shopkeeper in Chynów selling bicycle inner tubes, scythe blades and broom handles and wire by the metre, the multinational hypermarket in Piaseczno or the courier that delivers goods bought online, retail is an essential part of the economy that we cannot do without.

Then cometh the lockdown...

It swiftly separated the essential from non-essential sectors of the economy.

The tangible economy must continue to function. And in Poland that's what it did. Lidl on the corner stayed open (though only 16 shoppers at any one time, hour-long queue to enter). Construction work on the S7 extension continued (one guy per bulldozer). Factories did what was needed to keep producing, with appropriate distance between workstation. Farmers ploughed, sowed, fertilised, irrigated and harvested their crops. Workshops kept fixing cars, buses and vans. And motorbikes.

Google's Mobility index gave us some fascinating insights into the different responses of economies to the Covid-19 lockdown. The latest one, from 11 September, shows that 20% fewer Poles were in their workplace compared to the baseline established before the pandemic. The figure for the UK was 39%.
And at the height of lockdown, on 17 April, Google reported that 42% fewer Poles were at work whilst 68% of Britons were staying away from their workplace. This is clear looking at GDP in the second quarter; the UK contracted by 20.4%, while Poland's shrank by 'only' 8.2%.

My great fear for the British economy is that it has strayed too far from the tangible, deep into the realms of sophistication. Manufacturing, agriculture and construction represent but 18.0% of the value added to the UK's GDP. In the case of Poland, it's 31.0% (World Bank, 2019). Which means that 82% of the UK's GDP comes from services - and 69% of Poland's. Services that can be postponed or done without altogether are far more vulnerable to the disruption caused by pandemic than 

Listening to business managers and entrepreneurs from around Poland, I can see that some sectors are indeed doing better than others. New inward investment is being driven by corporate refugees fleeing China (for supply-chain reasons), India (near-shoring for better quality of outsourced services) and Brexit Britain (for obvious reasons). 

Some services are more tangible than others. Hairdressing (I'd almost put it into the 'repair and maintenance' category. You can't export hairdressing. But if you can do accountancy from home, you can do accountancy from a cheaper country. The real economy peril that the UK is in right now is that services have become far more portable thanks to IT and globalisation; if services shrink in the same way that manufacturing shrunk, and agriculture before that - what will be left to keep the UK economy going forward? Not something most Brexit voters considered, I'll be bound.

This time two years ago:
Polish railway stations with names in two languages

This time three years ago:
Two weeks - six cities

This time four years ago:
A guide to naming streets in Poland and the UK

This time nine years ago:
A glorious month

This time ten years ago:
My maternal grandfather

This time 11 years ago:
My home-made fixie bike

This time 12 years ago:
Well-shot pheasants

Friday, 25 September 2020

We still don't really know where we are

Up, up, up go the numbers - new cases - a new record. Poland, UK, US - Covid surging everywhere. And although numbers of deaths are also hitting new records here in Poland, they are no longer rising in step with new infections, suggesting that the disease is becoming less deadly, the treatment more effective.

But what of Covid's after-effects? Stories of people who recovered, left hospital months ago but are still feeling far from well are legion. I have read on Twitter that in the US, health insurance companies are allegedly announcing that they won't be extending or writing new policies for people who've been tested positive for Covid-19 - even though they may have been asymptomatic. In the UK, only 8% of the population tested have shown they have antibodies to Covid-19. So a long, long way to go before herd immunity kicks in.

The race for a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, which in early summer seemed to be a sprint, now looks like a marathon. Unsurprisingly, Putin's announcement that Russia has one has turned out to be dubious. AstraZeneca announced that a volunteer involved in clinical trials had shown side effects, and the trials were temporarily halted - this is normal for clinical trials, one can only hope for the best.

Meanwhile, the global economy stutters. Some countries are doing better than others, for various reasons (a separate post about this soon). We don't  know where we are with this - businesses can't plan, are reticent to invest. But the bolder ones are taking bets on how the post-Covid world will look. We just don't know when a post-Covid world will emerge.

Simply from the epidemiological point of view - no one knows. On my Twitter account, I pinned the following tweet from the president of the Polish Virological Society: "We have calculations that show that by 7 April there may be 10,000 cases in Poland and by 11 April, 20,000 cases are expected. We hope that this will be the peak and the epidemic will start to fade away." This, from an expert. Note the two dates: 7 April and 11 April. And between them, a doubling of cases. Right now - even with the massive jump in cases we're seeing in Poland - cases are doubling every five weeks - not four days. And the epidemic is not fading away. I predict the second wave will really smack into us around the end of the first week of November, once the clocks have gone back, once the weather turns to dull grey rain drizzle and sleet, and our physical and psychological immune systems have weakened at the prospect of five more months of darkness and cold.

There are fewer deaths per thousand cases. But what of the long-term effects of the virus on the body? Some viruses (like the common cold and flu) come and go and leave no trace. Others, like herpes or HPV linger in the organism for the rest of your life, just waiting until your immune system is weakened by insufficient sleep, poor diet, stress, or compromised by another infection; then they reemerge to assert themselves again. It seems that Covid-19 falls into this category.

How should governments react? Boris Johnson's communication skills have failed entirely. When something like this happens to a prime minister at a time of unprecedented national crisis, you know his days in office are numbered.

So much depends on common sense within a population, and common sense is a matter of education and innate intelligence. The media noise around the current upsurge in cases will trigger behavioural changes in different populations in different ways. Some will take extra care - stay away from other people as much as possible, wash hands, keeps hands away from face, wear a mask in public, observe social distancing. Some will consciously ignore these guidelines, while others will just bumble on as they have done, not thinking, not reacting, not showing gratitude for good health to date.

A final thought to bear in mind. At the beginning of March of this year, had every single human being on this planet self-isolated themselves for 14 days - at whatever cost - the pandemic would have been over by the end of March. That's it. SARS-CoV-2 would have been dead. History. Wiped off the face of the earth, literally. Yes, there might have been deaths - maybe even a lot more deaths than Covid-19 has caused up to now, but it would have been over. Could we - as a species - have managed that?

This time six years ago:

Monday, 21 September 2020

Herons in Jeziorki, summer's end

Equinox befalls us under cloudless skies; perfect weather with which to bid farewell to astronomical summer (meteorological summer ended with the end of August). It's been a bad year for bird life on Jeziorki's ponds, as I have written earlier. But along with ducks, coots and the perennial swan pair, grey herons are long-time regulars in Jeziorki. Herons, however, are very shy, and will fly off if humans are seen anywhere within 100m or so. But armed with my Nikon Coolpix P900, I can zoom in tightly...

Below: Heron and duck. Shallow water is not a problem for herons as wading birds; however, it is very much so an issue for diving birds such as grebes and pochards, which were not present at all in Jeziorki this dry year, 

Below: despite me being partially hidden behind bushes, the heron spots me, and a couple of seconds later takes flight, flapping its big wings to ascend to a nearby tree top...

Below: ... here it is, still keeping an eye on me from a safe distance.

Below: zooming out I find that this heron is one of three perching up in this large, dead tree.

Below: zoom in on the tree, heron standing on one leg. There must be some reason - such asymmetry doesn't look rewarding...

Below: the one-legged pose must be comfortable, here's another one.

I hope they survive and thrive; Jeziorki may not have resident storks, but herons have been here for a long time - the swans arrived within the lifetime of this blog, but I've seen herons around ever since moving into the area in 1997. Herons live around five years, swans up to 15 years.

This time last year:

This time three years ago:
Stepping up the pace

This time four years ago:
Evolution of human consciousness

This time five years ago:
Farewell to Ciocia Jadzia

This time six years ago:
By train from to Konstancin and Siekierki

This time seven years ago:
Summer's end, Jeziorki

This time nine years ago:
Ząbkowska, Praga's newly-hip thoroughfare

This time 11 years ago:
Catching the klimat

This time 13 years ago:
Road to Łuków - a road trip into the sublime

Saturday, 19 September 2020

Repeatable moments of Joy

I've been here before; this is becoming an important facet of my life, the search for consistently repeatable moments of joy. This involves a series of steps that can lead to the most sublime of feelings - feelings that make you understand the purpose of being alive and conscious. Moments of intense joy that burn into your memory and resurface, unbidden, to brighten your life and bring meaning to existence.

Can moments of joy be predictable? Can you plan for them? 

People tend to over-plan happy events, be it their wedding or a short holiday, doing what they can to remove the random, making said events formulaic ("we must now do the group photo"/"we can't not visit the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe").

As with so much in life, there must be a balance between planning and spontaneity. "Failing to plan is planning to fail," but then "Failing to adapt to random happenings is potentially losing out on moments of joy".

As regular readers will have noticed, I have come to find repeatable moments of joy sparked by walks around sunset. Assuming a clear or clear-ish sky; there's far less joy under a cloudy sky from which rain or drizzle issues. And so it was yesterday and today - some local motorbike rides under clear, early-autumn skies, flashbacks to familiar 1950s USA around Staniszewice and returning through Jakubowizna. As afternoon passed towards early evening, I checked the time of sunset for Chynów, and set off on foot for my vantage point. Today I took with me a chilled bottle of Perun brewery's Topór Peruna (8.1% Polish IPA) for the walk. Important to get the right amount of feldalkohol - four units or thereabouts is optimal.

And today hit the spot. In particular, my dusk walks around Jakubowizna and Chynów bring back my summer holiday in 1975, in Stella-Plage, on the northern French coast. To quote George Michael, "all that's missing is the sea," as Moni observed on her most recent visit. The sandy soil, the warmth of the day evaporating into the night. The scent of the air, the quality of the light. I'd long associated that particular holiday with Peak Teenage Stupidity, but actually, I'd taken away vastly more - qualia memories from 45 years ago and a thousand miles away, are triggered again. Away from the coast, my walks at dawn and dusk through rural France, the chemins vicinaux between Stella-Plage, Trepied and Cucq, come back loud and clear. The joy was there, old joy rediscovered - joy I hadn't properly appreciated at the time.

Below: the DK50 at dusk. This is Warsaw's southern bypass, the east-west transit route. Just a single lane in each direction. Chynów and Jakubowizna to the left, Wola Pieczyska and Sułkowice to the right.The day is completed with views such as this.

The problem that many materialists have is believing that money buys happiness. It does not. But it does buys options. Options that poor people don't have; the more money on your account, the more choice you have - but then what you make of it remains a matter for conscious decision. Seek yet more things? Or focus on capturing those moments of joy?

UPDATE: Sunday 20 September - a morning (not too early!) walk, and I catch this klimat: Foreclosed, 1935.

Just around the corner from my działka, a familiar flash of exomnesia.

This time last year:
Spectacularly glorious day, Ealing

This time four years ago:
Evolution, the future and us

This time six years ago:
Relief as Scots vote to remain in UK

This time seven years ago:
The S2 opens all the way to Puławska

This time eight years ago:
Thundering ghost from out of the mist

This time nine years ago:
Push-pull for Mazowsze

This time ten years ago:
Okęcie runway repairs are complete

This time 12 years ago:
I know that painting from somewhere...

This time 13 years ago:
The March of Progress, ul. Postępu

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Hot in the city

Wednesday 16 September. Temperature at 16:30: 29C. Hot in the city. A day spent discussing the state of Poland's real estate and construction sector, and seeing it (in Warsaw at least) how it is, six months after the start of lockdown.

Below: I step out of W-wa Śródmieście station and onto ulica Emilii Plater, on my way to Q22. In the foreground, Daniel Liebeskind's Żagiel, Złota 44, to its right, the Intercontinental Hotel.

Below: on its way up, 38 stories and 155m tall when finished, Skysawa (how does one pronounce that? Skajsawa or Skysower?) is starting to emerge from ul. Świętokrzyska at the Rondo ONZ end. To the right, in the background, Spektrum tower.

Below: it's five to nine, I'm just about to enter Q22. I'm moderating our Real Estate & Construction Breakfast - for the first time in 14 years of doing them - as a webinar. Before the pandemic, at this time of day, the pavement is packed.

Below: view looking south from the 32nd floor of Q22. In the centre of frame, Varso tower, now overtaking Rondo ONZ 1, and when completed, Warsaw's - and the EU's - highest building.

Below: view looking west from the 32nd floor of Q22. In the centre of frame, Warsaw Spire. To the left of it, the cluster of office buildings around Rondo Daszyńskiego, with the Skyliner tower (190m) the tallest of them.

Below: back in the office for the first time in two weeks, and a quick peek to see how Central Point is doing. Not even at the halfway stage - but as lockdown got started, it was still a hole in the ground.

Below: Finished! Widok tower, and in front of it, the redesigned PKO Rotunda building.

Every building will be completed; unlike the crash of 2007-08, when construction came to a standstill, it hardly missed a beat this time round. But developers are not starting new projects. Everyone is waiting; maybe two years - to see the future of office work. What will be the balance between WFH (working from home) and coming into city-centre offices to meet colleagues? Once the pandemic eases (no sign yet!) the corporate world will eventually settle on an optimal, blended, hybrid model. But exactly how many desks will be needed remains to be seen - and this will determine the future growth of cities. The choice has always been between Upward and Outward. My guess is the latter. Unfortunately - sprawl will result.

This time last year:

This time three years ago:
Polish employers' demographic challenge

This time seven years ago:
The rich, the poor, the entrepreneur

This time eight years ago:
Food: where's the best place to shop in Poland? 

This time nine years ago:

This time ten years ago:
Commuting made easy

This time 11 years ago:
Work starts on the S79/S2 'Elka'

This time 12 years ago:
Warsaw's accident-filled streets

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Out in the mid-September heat

Today's the 15th of September, and the temperature at half past four this afternoon was 28C. Heatwave territory! Time for an early laptop lid-down (well, I was answering emails at 10pm last night) and a late-afternoon walk around Jeziorki. 

The sun set today at 18:50, the one day of the year when it does so. Because of the asymmetrical horological shenanigans (clocks go back one month and a few days after the autumn equinox, but go forward only a few days after the spring equinox), there are no sunsets in Warsaw between 18:03 and 19:03 in the spring. Nor are there any between 17:21 and 16:19 in the evening in the autumn.

Every sunny day's a bonus and must be exploited - biologically, to soak up that Vitamin D, and psychologically, to build up a reserve of good samopoczucie before the Hammer of Darkness descends, as it will, in early November (this year accompanied by a second wave of Covid).

Below: O, happy outdoor life in Jeziorki, under azure skies... summer is still very much here. Time to make the most of it!

Left: Bella perennis, the common European daisy, or stokrotka in Polish. Still in flower, a good plant for the garden, "offering valuable ground cover, where low growth and some colour is desired with minimal maintenance, while helping to crowd out noxious weeds." [source Wikipedia]. Incidentally, the word 'daisy' comes from 'day's eye', the yellow centre of the flower resembling the sun.

Below: more yellow from goldenrod (nawłoć) still flowering, while the tansy (wrotycz) is turning brown, burnt by the sun. In the distance, the small estate of houses on ul. Kórnicka is nearing the stage of habitability. In the foreground, butterflies.

Below: and the sun still burns away the pond's water; Jeziorki's famed feature is disappearing before its inhabitants' eyes. I can but hope for some decent snow cover this year, and frosts.

Jeziorki's swans didn't breed this year - maybe they're past it, maybe they were unable to find a spot to build their nest. They are sipping the surface curiously. The water is not only extremely shallow, it's mostly covered by algae bloom at the northern end. Today, other than the swans, I saw only a few ducks, not even coots or gulls. The grebes didn't visit this year.

Below: double-decker trains are back, though only from Piaseczno. This is Koleje Mazowieckie's 16:48 Piaseczno-Siedlce service, seen here between W-wa Jeziorki and W-wa Dawidy.

Bonus photo below, another passenger train headed into Warsaw, but taken two days earlier, the 19:17 from Chynów, on its way to Sułkowice, shortly after sunset. I love this photo!

This time last year:
Poland's ugliest building?

This time six years ago:
Weekend cookery - prawns in couscous

This time eight years ago:
Draining Jeziorki

This time nine years ago:
Early autumn moods

This time ten years ago:
The Battle of Britain, 70 years on

This time 11 years ago:
Thoughts about TV, Polish and British

This time 12 years ago:
Time to abandon driving to work!

This time 13 years ago:
Crappy roads take their toll

Monday, 14 September 2020

For or against?

Are you for it (but would like to see it improved) - or are so you utterly against it that you want to see it gone for good? When you are making a point about something, online in the social media, or in person to friends, colleagues and neighbours - what's your ultimate goal? Improving it or destroying it? Or is it that really, you just don't care one way or another - you're just in a shouty mood.

Take for example the EU. Do you think it's essentially a good thing, but with plenty of areas in which it could do better - or do you wish to see its demise as an organisation? If the former, then your criticism of the EU is constructive. If the latter, your actions are construed as destructive.

Which is it, then?

The Catholic Church. It has its failings. But is it better for Poland that it survives - and continues to be the national religion - or should it fade into irrelevance as it has done in many Western European countries?

Take Lukashenko. Is he a guarantor of stability, a bastion against Russian annexation? Or is Lukashenko a usurping despot whose time is clearly over?

Or Microsoft products: clunky, un-user-friendly operating system and a suite of applications that one just has to work with, ever hoping that future iterations will see improvements - or do you aim for a personal IT environment entirely devoid of Windows, Office or Explorer or Edge or whatever it's called?

I could go on. Brexit, Trump, Putin, Xi Jinping - you choose. Very few things are perfect in this world. We have a choice - strive to use our influence to improve them, or else use that influence to seek their removal.

Here's a metaphor. I'm not into football, but a supporter will have many suggestions as to how his team can be more effective - but should it fail to perform season after disappointing season, the ultimate sanction is to switch loyalty.

Why am I writing this? To ask myself what should be the stance of anyone wanting an open society based on trust and networked decision-making over authoritarianism regarding the Polish government.

The next parliamentary elections will not be held until November 2023 (unless a snap election is called, but this is a rarity in modern Polish politics). PiS has a parliamentary majority with 100 more seats than rivals PO. So - what to do until then? 

Seek to tear down this government - or improve it?

Improvement is the answer. My hopes are that within ideological differences within the government will lead to a the sidelining of Ziobro and his headbangers and more people of the likes of PM Morawiecki and minister of development, Jadwiga Emilewicz steering the country away from extremes.

This time six years ago:
Weekend cookery

This time seven years ago:
Laying down the sewers

This time eight year:
Still awaiting the official opening of viaduct on ul. Poloneza

This time nine years ago:
Fixie composition in blue and red

This time ten years ago:
What's the Polish for 'guidelines'?

This time 11 years ago:
Ul. Rosoła's cycle path - new route to work

This time 12 years ago:
First apple

This time 13 years ago:
Late summer spider-webs

Sunday, 13 September 2020

My local craft brewery!

Yesterday evening, I treated myself to a bottle of Licho nie śpi ('The evil one does not sleep'), an oatmeal stout, 5.2% ABV. From Browar Perun (browar = brewery), home to such other favourites of mine as Topór Peruna ('The Thunder-God's Axe'), a Polish IPA, 8.2% ABV (strong!) and Braggot, a barleywine, 12.4% ABV (really strong, but smaller bottle).

This morning, about to put the bottle into the recycling bin, I noticed the brewery's address - the postcode started with a 05-. Same as Jakubowizna... So glasses on to read the label - WOW! it turns out that the Perun brewery is located in Budziszyn, a mere 6.7km (4.2 miles) from where I'm eating breakfast. I dig deeper into the recycling bin and find three bottles of Topór Peruna - this summer's most-drunk craft beer on my działka. And one Braggot. And a Behemot Bafomet by Browar Perun, a Russian Imperial Stout (11.6% ABV). Must have blown my mind that one, as I have no recollection of having drunk it!

I decided to see the brewery (if only from the road, as it's closed on Sundays). After a morning visit from Student SGH, whose Politics, Economy, Society blog is the only English-language blog about life in Poland still going strong on my sidebar (after 11 and half years), I set off.

I reach my destination in just ten minutes! Passing Chynów and Edwardów, there it is (below), just past the sign marking the end of Budziszyn village, on the left heading south towards Warka. It might be a Sunday, but there are signs of life within - busy people evidently. Opened in 2017, same year that I bought Jakubowizna.

Great! Having located it, I shall visit during the working week and acquire a few bottles. But it's a Sunday... Which means that Piwnica Konesera ('the Connoisseur's Cellar') in Chynów is open (if nothing else, other than the petrol station). And here I can find a wide range of Browar Perun beers on offer. And so, on my motorbike with only a small rucksack, I buy a small selection. Noc Kupały (Slavonic feast of Midsummer's Night), a Polish Extra Foreign Stout (6.4% ABV). [Is it extra-foreign, or Polish-extra? Don't know - hyphens don't say.] Another Licho nie śpi and another Topór Peruna (both reliable), and a Behemoth Sol Invictus, a dunkel bock (koźlak).

I have the Noc Kupały with my supper. Excellent. Richer, stronger and more... rounded... than a Guinness.

In my worldview, beer should be brewed near where it is to be consumed. The idea of carting beer around the planet, burning fossil fuels to get it to distant consumers is wrong. And brewing as a global corporate activity does not breed genuine diversity of taste. Beers should be brewed by people whose passion is brewing - not by accountants, whose business is selling brands to please the shareholder, by offering beers that appeal to the broadest number of consumers. Lowest common denominator determined by focus group.

Small breweries, such as Perun (logo: Slavonic god's face, hop for beard, wheat for hair) are the future. 

Please do try Perun's varied and fascinating beers - I shall be delving deeper into their board of fare.

This time 10 years ago:
Time to change gear.

This time 11 years ago:

This time 12 years ago:
Early, cold start to autumn

Saturday, 12 September 2020

The Wilderness and the Garden

I have an acre of land in Jakubowizna, fecund and unkempt. Upon it has stood these past 30 years a small house; the rest is vegetation. Grass, trees, flowers, weeds - all are thriving. Living, growing, expanding, getting in each other's way, reaching for the light, pushing their roots deep into the earth for water and the soil's nourishment. Berries and fruit grow according to their will, dropping when ripe.

And then along come I. In my hands, a scythe, a fork, a spade, secuteurs, a lopper, and shears. I see the weed, it stands in my path - I cut it. Dense trees - pruned back. Undergrowth hacked. Yet I have moral objections to slaughtering plant life; I see the bees hopping from flower to flower - I must spare the meadow. Yes - some lawn round the house, some paths through the trees and around the plot, access to the berries and the plum trees and apple trees...

Other than fruit-bearing trees, I would like three species of tree in my garden. Pine and silver birch - for aesthetic reasons. I love looking at those two trees especially when the sun shines on their trunks in the early evening. And the oak, the mighty oak that from the acorn grows. The sacred oak, from which, in Polish, my surname derives.

Left: this oaken sapling was spared the scythe, despite being on the path between the front garden and the house. Soon, the leaves will fall off it, leaving a bare, unidentifiable twig. I shall allow it to grow where it is. There's another one about a metre to the left of this one; likewise, I'll let it grow. But there will come a time when one will have to make way for the other. Oaks take up much space.

I have tried to replant oak saplings where I want them - but so far, my attempts ended in failure. So now I am planting acorns and pine-cones into soil loosely tipped into large glass jars (below). Will the seeds bring forth new trees? The jars will be left outdoors over the winter. We'll see in spring.

Since I bought my first house nearly 40 years ago, my father always warned me against planting trees too near buildings and fences. As a soil engineer, he knew well the damage roots can do to brickwork, concrete and pipes. Climate change means stronger winds; my neighbours, mindful of the fact they've recently seen gales of record ferocity, have felled or pruned all the tall trees that could potentially topple onto to their house. Forest fires, though not yet a major threat here in Poland, are something of which I'm aware, which is why I intend to have a strip of asphalt serving as the drive on the eastern side of the plot, between my house and the untended forest next to it, to act as a fire break.

This is my first principle, keeping plants back from the perimeter of the house and garage. 

Privacy is important, but not with a fast-growing conifer screen, rather I would prefer the trees already along my fence-line to grow, but pruned sensibly. The north end of the garden, from where the sun doesn't shine, can be more densely wooded. In good time.

Stinging nettles are said to be good to eat - though in spring, before they flower. I'd like to plant sorrel (szczaw), I love the taste.

This time last year:
Back in Aviation Valley

This time two years ago:
My flight to Rzeszów - delayed!

This time five years ago:
English as she is used in Europe

This time six years ago:
Where asphalt is needed - Nowy Podolszyn to Zgorzala
[six years on it's still not there]

This time 11 years ago:
I cycle to work along the cyclepath along ul. Rosoła

This time 12 years ago:
First apple 

This time 13 years ago:
Late summer spiders webs

Sunday, 6 September 2020


Apple time again! Jakubowizna and surrounding districts are starting to get the harvest in. This is the beginning of four intensive weeks of apple-picking and getting them to market, via the punkt skupu - or purchase point. The air is starting to smell cidery, as the apples that have fallen prematurely are beginning to ferment. And there are many of them; on my street there are about 20 orchards.

Below: narrow tractors hauling narrow trailers carrying crates full of apples.

Below: seconds later - apple jam. Three tractors manoeuvring, ulica Wspólna, Chynów.

Below: a well-run commercial orchard - trees kept low, planted in rows, easy to tend, easy to pick. Top-class apples destined for the table and lunch-box.

That orchard close up; such gorgeous ripeness - all ready to be picked. But do remember these apples have had their fair share of chemistry pumped on them as they matured; to eat them 100% safely, dip them in diluted baking soda for ten minutes, or just peel them. Apples destined for processing including pressed fruit juice have been subjected to far less pesticides and are safer.

Like 2018, this is another bumper year; however, prices are holding up. Wholesale price paid to farmers for jabłko przemysłowe ('industrial apple' suitable for processing) in this region between 50 and 60 grosze per kilo (10p - 12p), and higher price for premium, unblemished table apples (jabłko deserowe), depending on variety and condition.

Below: farmers who keep well-run orchards can expect to reap the rewards of their labour. Payday is but once a year; each year it can be different, depending on quality and quantity of apples - and the market.

The sun is setting ever earlier; today, it set at 19:11, the same time as on 2 April. I watched it set over Wola Pieczyska, the village across the railway line and DK50 from Jakubowizna, as the lights came on, and a southbound train approached Chynów down the new track, below.

Saturday, 5 September 2020

God and gratitude

In your worldview, there may or may not be a God. You may not need an invisible friend in the sky, being a rational type of person. I very much feel there is a God, a purpose to the Universe, a far deeper meaning than a collection of atoms turning into a lifeform randomly and becoming conscious for a few decades, before death and that's that. Such is my worldview.

This post is directed at my materialist-rationalist readers who don't believe in any supreme being or overarching force/direction guiding the universe.

This post is to do with gratitude. 

Do you ever feel the need to express gratitude for your lot? Are you ever grateful for life, for consciousness, for health, for what you've experienced? I feel moments of existential gratefulness several times a day; times of reflection, times when I reflect that things could have been far, far worse today than they were. Sometime those feelings are particularly strong, other time, they're weak, vague - but nevertheless there, and have been since childhood. 

Covid accentuates these reflections. I've long had the habit of using the times spent brushing my teeth each day to give thanks for my health, and of those around me. I think of all those times in a shop or train last week or the week before when I could have randomly caught Covid off someone but didn't - and I feel grateful that I've managed six months into the pandemic without coming down with it.

Rationalists would counter "Only 70,000 confirmed cases out of a population of 38 million. Your chances of catching it were only 1 in 584. And you take proper precautions."

But even so, it's good to be grateful for good fortune, is it not?

And if we do feel gratitude, to whom should one be grateful? We continually teeter on the edge of chaos, do we not?

If there's no God, if everything that happens is coincidental or mathematically pre-ordained from Big Bang to the end of time - what is there to be grateful for? What happened just happened - end of story. Romantic sunset? Lovely bike ride? So what. Feeling good physically and mentally? Just the way it was. One day you're up, next day you're down. Have you got any influence over events that may or may not befall you? No. 

I must say, this is not my worldview. I do believe that we have some influence on the outcomes of our lives - not just the positive choices that we make, decisions that could turn out one way or another - but blind chance. The speeding driver that didn't see you. A virus or tumour. Early-onset dementia. Heavy shit coming down. Can being grateful for good fortune in your immediate past stave off bad things happening to you in the near future? I certainly believe there's a link. I can't prove it going forward - but my past experience has suggested it has been so.

There is the allied concept of appreciation, of being appreciative of the good things in life. Now, being grateful is different in that you have to be grateful to someone for something. Being appreciative doesn't require an object - only a subject. In this context, is appreciation enough - or is even the act of appreciation (without any link to whom one should be appreciative towards) an acknowledgement of a higher realm?

Below: a late-evening storm is coming - wind is rustling the tall trees, the downdraft from a cloudburst. Within minutes heavy rain would be pouring down on Jakubowizna. But the day was good - I managed two (local) motorbike rides, 12,000 paces of walking, and a lot of gardening, sunshine and 26C top temperature. Bought a heavy-duty doormat and a few things for the kitchen. Weekend music: Fat Old Sun, by Pink Floyd. Grateful for the day.

This time last year:
Defending one's country is a costly business

This time eight years ago:
Back to work

This time nine years ago:
Clinging onto summer - cycling to Powsin

This time ten years ago:
Composition in blue and yellow

This time 11 years ago:

This time 12 years ago:
My favourite aircraft

This time 13 years ago:
Утомлённые солнцем

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Energy, focus and state of mind

I can see a seasonal trend in my life; summertime and the living gets easy - I'm less demanding of myself, I do less exercise, less writing; if the sun shines for long enough, the motorbikes beckon, otherwise walks, time on the działka, pootling, pottering - not really getting anything accomplished. I feel guilt if I'm not accomplishing. Am I fulfilling my human potential? Or am I recharging batteries ahead of a season of hard work and poor weather? Looking back at Lent earlier this year, I managed one blog post per day and ten sets of exercises a day every day for all 46 days. Ovver the lazy days of summer I'm averaging around three sets of exercises a day and a similar number of blog posts per week. And feeling guilty about it.

Summer seems to have come to an abrupt end, with several dull, rainy days in a row. Rather than cherishing the return to a time of higher productivity, I am sensing the dread at the approaching Hammer of Darkness, even though it's still two months off. That time of year after the clocks go back, when seasonal affective disorder starts kicking in. Time to withdraw; time to open the doors to the rich, inner world of the Imagination. But this year there's the American presidential elections, which could once again go so horribly wrong. And Belarus. And Brexit. And Covid. Known unknowns, things that could spiral into tragedy all too easily.

Below: smoke from the blazing local-authority waste-dump on ulica Mirkowska in Konstancin, 9km away, merges into low ceiling cloud, yesterday evening. Grim, dismal, depressing.

Light. We need the light, literally and metaphorically. Even on dark nights, a cloudless sky gives views of a starry firmament, pinpoints of light, reminders of the prospect of worlds alive with sentient life and an ordered, unfolding universe. But clouds cover. They create ambiguity, uncertainty, a lack of definition. Cloudless days in mid-winter, short though they be, bring vastly more joy than overcast days in late summer.

This time last year: