Saturday, 31 October 2020

Rural rights of way revisited

Rambling across the fields and forests around Jakubowizna, I'm often walking on farm tracks. The assumption is that they are public rights of way, until one meets a fence, a gate or a wall. But such signs? 'Droga prywatna zakaz wjazdu'. Can I continue along this way? I'm walking, not riding, so the word 'wjazd' here isn't relevant to me...? Is this sign legitimate, or an attempt by a nearby landowner to curtail through traffic by claiming ownership of the road? If this were my land, I'd simply fence it off at either end. Having said that, I've been waiting since August for a builder to fence off the land I bought last year and delineated by a geodeta in June. 

Back home, I check on the e-mapy service (which is excellent - it covers the whole of Poland and shows every separate plot). This shows an ambiguous situation, where according to data from the gmina (third-order administrative division) that this is a road (shown below with the two 'no entry' signs at either end of it). But the fine light-blue lines show that this road does actually run along and through plots that are privately owned. Can anyone tell me what the legal status really is?

Below: the same, but on the Google Earth satellite view.

Below: this sign (on the road running left-right along the bottom left of both maps, below the lower 'no entry' sign) is on the road from Jakubowizna to Machcin. I'm now making sense of why it was sprayed. The left turn into an unasphalted track is the way from the road to the first 'no entry' sign. Turning left is the short route to Adamów Rososki. It seems the householders owning the property rights to the road are unhappy about it being used - mainly by local farmers, I would guess. The long way from Jakubowizna to Adamów Rososki is at least properly asphalted, so a less bumpy ride for cars.

I am still puzzled by the naming of settlements around here. According to, the area to the immediate east of Jakubowizna is called Nowe Winiary, but I cannot find any houses bearing a number assigned to such a settlement - nor does Nowe Winiary appear on Google Maps. On the ground, the local signage refers to the area as Machcin II (and indeed Winiary on the the e-mapa is signed as Machcin I). 

This time last year:

This time two years ago:
Opole in the late-October sunshine

This time three years ago:
Work begins in earnest on the Karczunkowska viaduct

This time five years ago:
Sublime autumn day in Jeziorki

This time six years ago:
CitytoCity, MalltoMall

This time seven years ago:
(Internet) Radio Days

This time eight years ago:
Another office move

This time nine years ago:
Manufacturing a City of Culture

This time ten years ago:
My thousandth post

This time 11 years ago:
Closure of ul. Poloneza

This time 12 years ago:
Scenes from a suburban petrol station

Friday, 30 October 2020

A sustainable food system for Poland

A follow-up post to a recent one in which I puzzled over why I can't buy local village produce in my local village shop.

What will it take to change that?

The model that Poland is heading towards looks like this: big, successful farmers buy up ever more land from those who can't make a decent living from it. Then they invest in machinery and logistics, and strike ever-bigger deals with the buyers from the large supermarket chains (and from the cash-and-carries that supply most independent rural grocers). The trend toward disintermediation in the food system has been removing middlemen and their margins, giving consumers lower prices in a competitive market. Farmers understand very well that they have no leverage if they are small. 

The result of this process is that village shops are selling products bought wholesale from distant distribution centres, rather than from farms close to the villages they serve. 

Strolling around Chynów, I see this. Large trucks, with trailers, are taking the apples away from the local punkty skupu, the purchase points where farmers get cash for their harvest. These trucks will take the apples to chilled warehouses, where in controlled conditions, apples last longer. Economies of scale kick in; consumers can look forward to buying perfect apples next August from this year's crop. This makes economic sense, but the process of scaling up agriculture is not wholly beneficial to society.

And yet there are around one million small Polish farms (down from 2.7 million in 1987), many of which are struggling financially. Only now are they beginning to be recognised as a national resource and an opportunity, rather than a burden and hangover from a defunct and inefficient system. In part, this is because consumers are on the lookout for fresh, tasty food that's chemical-free and affordable. And from their own neck of the woods, rather than trucked in from some distant province. Buying from your neighbours is good for your community. The pandemic is fuelling demand, but small farmers haven't yet been able to take advantage, focusing on their own immediate needs.

Unlike the UK, where unemployment is highest in inner cities, well over half of Poland's long-term unemployed are rural (not even small-town). If you're an energetic, able farmer, understanding market trends, investing wisely and growing your business, you have an asset that your children may well be interested in taking on. If your abilities to manage are less good, chances are your children will leave for the city or emigrate in search of a better life and  consider your hectares as a millstone rather than as an investment asset.

And so the spiral accelerates; elderly farmers sell their land to ever-greater consolidated holdings, and big agribusiness changes the rural landscape and rural society. This process has, however, slowed down as a result of the Polish government making it harder for foreigners - and non-farmers - to buy agricultural land. This has led an increasing areas of farmland not being farmed at all. But it's also giving birth to a new interest in shortening food supply-chains. Herein lie the seeds for a different vision. And not just here in Poland, but across the EU.

But here's another vision of a more sustainable food system.

Small farmers get together online to share equipment. A tractor not in use for a week or two need not sit idle - it can be earning its owner money working another field. A barn not in use to store one crop between harvests can be rented out to a neighbouring farm as its crops are gathered. This may smack of collectivisation and equipment-sharing schemes from communist times - but it isn't. 

This is because tech is helping us decentralise, bringing autonomy to the individual, enabling joint action. It's not top-down diktat from the party. Consumers increasingly want to know who produced each product and how they did so. We are no longer happy with anonymous, centralised industrial-scale food production and distribution. Generating new value that seeks to make better use of existing resources through networks where no one is in charge. That’s what local markets for locally-produced food are all about.

New software solutions will drive this decentralisation revolution. This is because software solutions, once developed, are infinitely scaleable, with zero marginal costs. Distributed-ledger technology, for example, offers consumers the ability to trace the provenance of the products they are buying. This is important; many local butchers in the UK, for example, have blackboards on which the names of the farms from which this week's meats come from are written down. This has a strong effect of bringing consumer and producer closer together. Apps can to the job of such blackboards, with far greater reach.

The technology exists - it's tech that drives the sharing economy (like Bla Bla Car, AirB&B or Uber). 

I know, I know - it's difficult in rural Poland, where distrust of neighbours is the default. But innovations catch on and when proven to be beneficial, tend to be habit forming. Learning that win-win and not zero-sum thinking leads to progress, which in turn hard-wires win-win thinking into people's mentality.

New technology can generate new streams of income, as well as new value, to those participating in a decentralised prosumer (producer/consumer) food system. Online such prosumer initiatives that already bring together farmers and consumers, such as Koszyk lisiecki ('Liszki Basket') near Krakow are booming, proving the concept. But these are still outside the mainstream, often operating informally.

The new value comes with consumers accessing fresh, tasty food products that they simply cannot buy in supermarkets, and farmers gaining regular clients who value what they produce. Cost effectiveness and streams of income come from shortening the social, economic and geographical distance between food producer and food consumer by replacing intermediaries with software solutions. Logistics will no longer require an expensive, centralised distribution system, but a way of making use of the barns, vehicles and storage facilities of the producers and consumers involved, by tracking and trading what is available. Producers and consumers with a vehicle or storage space can provide a service, and so generate additional income. The same is true for settling purchases and extending loans. Banks will no longer be needed to act as trusted intermediaries, if transactions can be settled directly. 

If rural livelihoods come to depend on participation in a sharing economy, rather than on government subsidies, then our food system will transform to accommodate the small-scale, geographically dispersed, food producer. In such a world, trust is built by a software solution that can settle many-to-many transactions. Producers and consumers will come to trust that solution, if it generates the value and income upon which their livelihoods depend.

And so local markets could be built and serviced using apps. Sitting here on my działka, I would be able to order a box of seasonal organic potatoes, leeks, tomatoes, spinach, broad beans, corn-on-the-cob, peas and carrots, all sourced from local farms, which I could pick up from a dispensing machine at my local petrol station forecourt or the local school, which could also act as a collection point for produce.

Cloud-based, and using machine learning to optimise collection and delivery, such apps could create new networks that bring communities closer together. Making unused resources usable is the way forward (as I wrote here, and here). Apps would not only allow me to order my weekly shop of fresh, tasty vegetables and fruit on-line, but also offer storage space and pick-up services for neighbours, earning me a few extra zlotys.

'Community' and 'market' were once upon a time entirely congruous; economies of scale have pulled the two apart, making them adversaries. Technology has the potential to bring them back together at the local level. The goal - to make small-holdings profitable by connecting them to consumers who seek quality, value and authenticity from the products they eat.

New communities that generate new value and new income for all involved is within our grasp, if we can bring together the potential of small farms and tech. It’s happening with energy, with transport and with finances. Food is next. For those who are concerned about sustaining access to healthy, tasty food that is chemical free and affordable, this tech-driven, decentralised food economy is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ but a must-have.

If you wish to help realise this vision, you may wish to help Rafał Serafin, my old friend from West London,  make a documentary film about the opportunities of Poland’s small farms and part-time farms. The project requires the raising of €55,000 through crowdfunding; 5,000 people each donating €10 could make it happen (link to here and below).

Here are three of Rafał's films that set out the vision:

Short food chains in Poland explained:

Some best practice from Austria and Slovakia:

How collaborative logistics could function:

To contribute to Rafał's project to make this vision a reality, click here.

This time last year:
Sifting through a life

This time three years ago:
Throwing It All Away

This time four| years ago:
Hammer of Darkness falls on us again

This time five years ago:
The working week with the clocks gone back

This time seven years:
Slowly on the mend after calf injury

This time eight years ago:
Thorunium the Gothick

This time nine years ago:
Łódź Widzew or Widź Łódzew 

This time 11 years ago:
A touch of frost in the garden

Thursday, 29 October 2020

A year without my father

My father died on this day last year; almost four years to the day after the death of my mother (1 November 2015). He died before the pandemic was a bowl of badly-cooked bat-soup; it is comforting that he had a decent funeral and wake - not one hampered by travel bans and restrictions on numbers of mourners. He died before last December's General Election, so he died still hoping that somehow Brexit could be reversed. He'd certainly have voted against Johnson had he lived another six weeks. The world he departed is far bleaker than the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s and '00s.

I miss my father. He appears in my dreams more than any other person; we often travel together on the bus (a red London double-decker headed to Powiśle). After my mother died, my contact with my father intensified greatly. I called him nearly every evening and spent around a week a month with him in London. In our conversations, I learnt a lot about his life that I'd not known about before - prewar Poland, the occupation, the Uprising, postwar London, our own upbringing from his perspective. Often men will regret that they hadn't communicated enough with their fathers before they died - here, I cannot complain. The four years between my mother's death and my father's death gave both of us ample time to talk. 

Below: Ian Dury tackles this subject in My Old Man. Here he is (he died in 2000) on the cover of New Boots and Panties (1977) with his son, Baxter.

Seven years went out the window
We met as one to one
Died before we'd done much talking
Relations had begun
All the while we thought about each other
All the best, mate, from your son

Where is my father's soul - his consciousness - now? I'd like to think that somewhere a young child will be growing up with anomalous feelings of familiarity with prewar Warsaw and postwar London, be the child born in Cape Town, Quebec, Guangdong or Copenhagen. Who knows - in ten or 12 years time, that child might be drawn to this very website to read about a Bohdan Dembinski who took part in the Warsaw Uprising - and not really know why those words and pictures really resonate.

This time last year:
Death of my father

This time three years ago
Recent Jeziorki update

This time four years ago:
Autumn in Jeziorki

This time five years ago:
A driving ban for developers and architects

This time six years ago:
Do you keep coming back, or do you seek the new?

This time seven years ago:
In praise of Retro design

This time eight years ago:
First snowfall in Warsaw 

This time nine years ago:
Of cycles, economic and human 

This time ten years ago:
Why didn't I read this before? Grapes of Wrath

This time 11 years ago:
Małopolska from the train

This time 12 years ago:
Grading ul. Poloneza

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Lifting the spirits

Once again - wake up, work, eat lunch - go out for a walk. Return just before sunset, then back to work. And today, the sun came out. So - today's wholesome catch. 

Below: the small forest at the end of the asphalt gives way farm track; in the distance the hill that rises gently over Jakubowizna. The orchards in between are in the final stages of harvesting.

Around the corner, a few hundred yards on, a row of silver birches at the edge of the forest.

The sun has emerged to cast some welcome light on the landscape. Somewhere midway between Jakubowizna, Adamów Rososki and Machin II, around 20 minutes' walk from home.

Below: the forest's edge; at the foot of the pines, toadstools aplenty. All the edible mushrooms were picked long ago. The pickers come early.

Below: a geodesic marker, POLREF 2702. It is one of 348 such markers in the Polish network that's part of the European Terrestrial Reference Frame, a geodetic control-point network, accurate to 2cm over 50km. That's a margin of error of 0.000001%. On the red plate on the concrete square, a metal boss bearing the number BA2613.

Below: a track veers off to the right. Where does it lead to? I shall find out... I follow it round, it straightens, and soon I reach...

Left: a hunter's pulpit. The first I've come across around these parts. I found one near Jeziorki earlier this year. That one was open, you can climb in. This one had a door, and it is locked shut. The idea of shooting at animals from the safety of an elevated shooting platform is unappealing to me. Larger mammals are sentient beings and feel fear, pain and grief.

Below: on the way home from the forest; down the hill we saw on the first photo. Down between the trees, towards the orchards. To the left, a track that meanders down to Grobice, once out of the forest, between more orchards.

Below: the sun is setting over Chynów; there's still half an hour until it goes down.

This time last two years ago:
[How wrong I was!]

This time three years ago:
Big news for Jeziorki
[the housing estate for 8,000 people. Three years on, the ground has been cleared, that's all.]

This time four years ago:
Autumn in Warsaw

This time five years ago:
Inside the Norblin factory 

This time seven years ago:
Sadness at the death of Tadeusz Mazowiecki

This time nine years ago:
More hipster mounts (Warsaw fixieism)

This time ten years ago:
Welcome to Warsaw

This time 11 years ago:
Just like the old days

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Autumnal lockdown walk

Today's my sixth day in a row in Jakubowizna, far from infectious crowds of Warsaw. Today's figure for new infections - 16,300 - would have been an utter shocker a month ago; now we're shrugging our shoulders. At this spread-rate, we'll have one million new cases between now and 14 November - which means another nine million infections below the radar. A quarter of the population infected. The hospitals will be at breaking point by then, unless people don't sharply change their behaviour. And a government irresponsibly stoking culture wars at a time like this.

Other than two visits to the shops and showing my ticket to the train conductor last Thursday, I've avoided live human contact. Plenty of phone calls and Zoom meetings and Skype chats though - technology makes isolation entirely bearable. Plus, I tend to be OK with solitude.

So - today's walk.

Below: between Grobice and Adamów Rososki, a network of farm tracks cut round the backs of the orchards. Plenty of new ones to discover. Lack of asphalt at this time of year is made manifest by the number of apples by the side of such tracks - going over bumps, the apples fall out of the crates on the trailers. Provided they've not been there long, they are better to eat than ones you find under trees.

In Adamów Rososki, I come across this wayside shrine; at its foot, a stone tablet on which are engraved the words: "Marjo pocieszaj serca nasze - ofiara Franciszka Wichowskiego, 1868" (Maria, console our hearts - the offering of Franciszek Wichowski 1868). The shrine looks newer, the tablet maybe a remnant of an earlier monument.

The weather these past few days has been less sunny than I had hoped for, but at least it's not been raining. The autumnal colours are coming up nicely, but they need strong sunlight and the backdrop of a brilliantly blue sky for the sublime aesthetic to kick in.  

One of the joys of country living is exploration, finding new paths and connections. This path (below) running east-west connects the unasphalted track leading to my part of Jakubowizna with the path above (you can see the junction) that connects Machcin II with Adamów Rososki.

Plenty of mushrooms about. And a few mushroom pickers too - except they weren't looking for this. Muchomor - fly agaric - classic toadstool. From my semi-trained eye, lots of fungi on the forest floor, but none worth eating. But then the only one I'd pick is prawdziwek - boletus. The one my parents would hunt for back in the old country; Oxshott Common, near Esher, in Surrey. 

Below: looking towards Jakubowizna from Machcin II. There's also a Machcin I and of course a Machcin, on the other side of Adamów Rososki. Very confusing.

Heading back home through the forest. I'm sure that many of these local farm tracks will be asphalted over in the near future; life will be easier, shoes drier, but a certain charm will be lost.

Below: the wood next to my działka. Neglected by its owners, nature is taking its own course. Trees grow, and fall, and rot; new saplings emerge to take their place.

This time last year:

This time two years ago:
Remont of Metro bridge over Puławska

This time three years ago:
We are what we read, what we watch, what we listen to

This time seven years ago:
Extraordinarily warm autumn

This time eight years ago:
On behalf of the work-shy community

This time nine years ago:
Classic truck cavalcade

This time ten years ago
Suburban back-roads clogged with commuters

This time 11 years ago:
Autumn gold, Łazienkowski Park

This time 12 years ago:
Quintessential autumnal Jeziorki

This time 13 years ago:
Google Earth updates its map of Jeziorki

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Fulfilment in the autumn sun

The last day before the clocks change. Another 13,600 Poles catch Covid, including 'not my' President Duda. A grey dawn, but around midday, the promise of a sunny afternoon becomes ever more real. Time to get going - two walks around the neighbourhood today.

Below: 100m from the level crossing, looking up towards my part of Jakubowizna. Autumn colours becoming increasingly vivid; the last of apple-picking still in full swing. In the orchards, out of sight, hidden by rows of trees, you hear the sounds of apple-harvest time. Apples being dropped into large rubber buckets; radios playing some melody; a tractor engine idling.

My morning walk down to Widok was to buy lunch essentials; after a solid meal, time for the late-afternoon stroll to catch the sunset. But first... Below: ulica Wspólna, still in Jakubowizna. Or Taos, New Mexico. Or Galatea, Ohio.

Below: further on up the road - ul. Słoneczna, another slice of small-town Americana, located in southern Mazowsze.

But here on ul. Miodowa (below), I'm getting a different vibe; northern France, the chemins vicinaux around the Stella-Plage of my childhood holidays.

Below: pantograph at sunset, between Sułkowice and Chynów. Southbound trains are still using the 'up' platform while last-minute work is done on the 'down' tracks at Chynów station.

Below: a completely cloud-free sunset over Drwalew, the water-tower at the Biowet animal-vaccine plant to the right.

Dusk view looking towards Chynów station. Still lots of unfinished trackside work relating to drainage on both sides of the road. Diggers and construction teams working all day on this.

Bonus photo, below: Basia the goat, Widok. She's milked twice a day, says her owner, though each milking yields no more than a cupful. An intelligent and obedient goat, Basia seems happy to see visitors. Plenty of chickens around, too.

This time last year:

This time three years ago:
Nudge vs. nakaz

This time four years ago:
Scenes from West Ealing and Hanwell

This time five years ago:
Four years of PiS

This time ten years ago:
High Victorian Manchester 

This time 11 years ago:
The clocks go back - but when should they go forward?

This time 12 years ago:
Warsaw's first Metro line is completed

Friday, 23 October 2020

A tipping point in history - but who's tipping it?

Wuhan. Who'd heard of it this time last year, other than Chinese people and Westerners who'd been there?

Now here we all are, mindful of a disease that's killed two million people around the world.

China. Where it came from. Bats? The Wuhan Institute of Virology? Who knows. Maybe we'll never know. But we do know that China has had in total fewer cases of Covid-19 than have Oman, Panama or Romania. Half as many case as Czechia. The most populous country on earth, where the disease came from has had half as many confirmed cases of Covid-19 as little Czechia.

Yes, we remember those early scenes in Wuhan; people banged up inside their tiny flats for a fortnight while police in gas masks roamed the streets truncheoning folk for straying outside. Two weeks later, the local epidemic was over. Today, China's economy is back in action, revving at full throttle. Making masks for the rest of us. Masks and everything else from smartphones to toy cars. Only a repressive, high-tech regime that takes no shit from anti-maskers marching against lockdown, could achieve this.

I'm not suggesting for one moment that the Chinese Communist Party engineered a virus to enfeeble the rest of the world - but bloody hell - it sure looks like it!

OK - so they didn't engineer it, but some bat-soup enthusiast failed to cook his live bat long enough to kill off all the viruses, and so they escaped from their host into another species. The Chinese authorities knew about it but kept the news quiet... until they'd learned enough about what the virus does to people. Then, by accident or design, they let the virus take off, leave the country - and through state repression and smart use of IT, they shut it down at home.

Democracy is different to totalitarianism even in crisis conditions. Maskless protesters decrying lockdown, promulgating conspiracy theories online, enjoying the frisson of a pub drink after 10pm, ignoring the rules that are ignored by those who set them - democracy trips over its own bootlaces.

Meanwhile, the disease continues to rage on around the world. Into a second, potentially deadlier wave. And who knows - Covid-19 may mutate (Covid-22, -28, -35 etc). How 'long Covid' looks long-term is something we'll learn about in the future. But China will cope. "A new strain! Back into your flats for 14 days while the West takes another battering!"

Payback time for the Century of Humiliation. Payback time for the Opium Wars. 

In China, there were 14 new cases notified yesterday. Around 2,000 times fewer than in the US, 1,500 times fewer than in the UK, 1,000 times fewer than in Poland. Yesterday. And as I'm checking the numbers on, I'm followed by an ad for a Chinese-made electric bicycle. Chinese factories are now working flat out; the Chinese economy has fully recovered from the Q1 hit and is now ready to sell to the world.

Tell you what - I'm not buying. 

I don't want anything that's Chinese-made, while a repressive communist regime with an authoritarian hierarch is in charge. 

This is not just about Covid-19.

It's about the Uighurs; modern-day Gulags, forced sterilisation, slave labour, indoctrination in Xi Jinping Thought. 

It's about Hong Kong; people culturally part of the Western world being forced to knuckle down to communist dictatorship.

It's about Taiwan; a successful island economy that's continually under threat of military invasion from the mainland.

It's about Tibet - a nation invaded by communist China in 1950 and subject to a similarly brutal occupation that Poland endured during the Partitions.

And remember Li Wenliang, the Wuhan doctor who first noticed a SARS-like respiratory illness among his patients and alerted the world - to face repression from the Chinese state, then to die of Covid-19.

A final thought: after the SARS outbreak in 2002-04, what's the likelihood that the Chinese Communist Party wargamed scenarios for a similar, future epidemic/pandemic? And what conclusions might they have reached?

This time last year:
Poznań by night
[from a time when business travel was a regular thing]

This time three years ago:
West of Warsaw's central axis

This time seven years ago:
Plac Unii shopping centre opens

This time nine years ago:
Visceral and Permanent, Part II 

This time ten years ago:
Autumn colours, locally

This time 11 years ago:

Thursday, 22 October 2020

Sunshine, take me to Jakubowizna

Ten days, rainy, overcast days; the sun hesitant to appear. But once it's out, I buy myself a train ticket online from W-wa Jeziorki to Chynów. I catch the southbound train and within the hour I'm back on the działka. A working day, I juggle conference calls, phone calls and emails with the call of the outdoors. 

As soon as I can, I'm off, down the road, to spend time walking around Jabukowizna and Chynów. On the way to my działka, peaceful scenes help me forget the state of the world. And it's not looking good out there, with over 12,000 new Covid-19 cases reported this morning in Poland.

All around the district, the last of the apples are being gathered in. The later the harvest, the better the price. This orchard is under nets; I feel this is the shape of things to come. A more controlled environment, less chemistry.

Below: corner of ulica Słoneczna and ul. Działkowa; I'm getting that familiar 'been here but not in this life' vibe that I get so often around here. Ohio, 1955.

Check the emails, grab a bite to eat, and get ready to commune with the setting sun. Below: outside my działka, heading down to the tracks. It's three years to the day that I found my place.

Below: the sun sets further and further south along the horizon. It now sets over Drwalew, rather than over Wola Pieczyska, as it did last month, or Sułkowice, as it did in summer.

This time three years ago:
I found it!

This time five years ago:
Ogórek by the Palace of Culture

This time nine years ago:
Autumnal dusk, Jeziorki

This time 13 years ago:
Autumn sun going out

Monday, 19 October 2020

Update on the S7 as it passes between Jeziorki and Dawidy

After a spell in Jakubowizna followed by a longer spell of wet weather, I've not had a good chance of late to follow progress on the S7 extension as it carves its way through the fields between Jeziorki and Dawidy.

Below: just to the east of the Action warehouse, the S7 is taking shape nicely. In the distance, the new road bridge that will take local traffic over the expressway; part of the junction Węzeł Zamienie. The viaduct is about half a kilometre north of ulica Dawidowska (from which the photo was taken), and will replace it as the link between Jeziorki to the east and Zamienie and Dawidy Bankowe to the west.

Ul. Dawidowska will be closed once the S7 is ready; a pedestrian footbridge will at least allow local residents to cross the expressway here on foot. Below: looking south-east from Dawidowska across the S7, pillars going up will support the new footbridge.

Looking across the other way towards Warsaw, two cement silos and a crane suggestive of the work going on between here and ul. Baletowa, the next east-west road cutting across the S7 (which will cross over it on a viaduct).

Below: looking east along ul. Dawidowska, just outside the Action warehouse. Two bus stops, currently serving the 715 and 809 routes, will be moved up to the new viaduct.

Below: the fields between the railway line and ul. Starzyńskiego have become a no-go zone because of the intensity of building work, but mainly because of the mud resulting from days of rain. When finished (opening scheduled for September 2022), this will be a massive interchange (three-quarters of a cloverleaf plus three roundabouts).

Below: a short video from Leniusz, member of the Polish Skyscraper City community, showing the state of progress of the works, starting at ul. Baletowa, then moving south via ul. Dawidowska. Taken one day before these photos.

This time last year:
[There was still hope then.]

Friday, 16 October 2020

Samopoczucie, joy, and the Sublime Aesthetic

Bringing some strands together here. How to feel good within yourself, experience repeatable moments of joy, even when the world outside looks grim and the news is uniformly dismal. Strong sunlight plays a part but it's rarer at this time of year than in summer. Every moment of blue-sky day should be made the most of; cram in that Vitamin D; let the sun lift the mood.

But when it's dark and wet outside, retreat to a rich inner world. A world of imagination beckons; a world broader and deeper than the one we could possibly hope to visit physically. Unlimited in vistas, where time and space form no barriers. Here's one I did - what will you conjure up?


Imagine. It's a beautiful autumnal morning; the storms have passed overnight leaving the sky intensely blue, entirely cloudless. You walk down the golf-course fairway, perfectly manicured, leaving footprints on the dewy grass. The sun sparkles off the river that forms the water hazard; you cross the small wooden bridge, past the next green, where a red flag on a white pole rattles in the wind. To your left, sand traps, recently raked. It's a quiet weekday; hardly anyone out with their clubs. To your right, tall fir trees, the sunlight accentuating the redness of the bark. The trees climb a slope towards a ridge, then fall away toward the ocean. You can just about hear the breakers. To your left, on the horizon, the serrated peaks of a distant mountain range, its tips already white with snow. Your morning walk across the golf course has been exhilarating. You're not there to play a round, but to meet some old friends for a late breakfast at the club house. Crispy bacon, pancakes, maple syrup, fresh orange juice - and some decent coffee. There are a few cars gleaming in the car park outside the moderne club house. They've arrived. You step inside, to be cordially greeted by the Maitre'd, who shows you to your table where your buddies have just sat down. Time to catch up and crack a few jokes. The windows are from ceiling to floor, and you can see the promontory and the ocean. Life is good.

How do you imagine a good morning?


Now imagine uncorking a bottle of single-malt whisky from Islay; you know - those peaty ones. Pour some into a cut-crystal tumbler. Swirl it round and smell it - get a good nostril-full. Now raise the tumbler to your lips; feel the warmth on your tongue and within your mouth as you take a small sips, and the conviviality rising through your bloodstream as the whisky takes effect... Can you feel it? Can you imagine it? (I have conducted this thought-experiment many a time during Lent!)


Joy can come unexpectedly in the tangible form of a kitten; Felusia, who was brought to us by Pani Natalia, our Ukrainian cleaning-lady of long standing. Two months old, Felusia's mother died soon after she was born. Pani Natalia's son found the kitten, gave it to his mother, who was told by their landlord that they couldn't keep pets. So Felusia came to Jeziorki. The fifth full-time cat in our household, she breaks the golden rule that male cats are fun and companionable, while female cats are sulky and keep themselves to themselves. Felusia is an affectionate scamp, and very sociable, following the humans to where they are. Curious and intelligent as was our dear, departed Lila, but far friendlier.

Having her sitting on my lap, stroking her behind the ears and hearing her purr contentedly is a certain and repeatable joyful event. Which is good for the health. Happy = healthy = happy = healthy = happy, a virtuous circle, for which one should feel deeply grateful.

It's been four months since Papuś died; a goodly interregnum. Or intercattum, indeed. I wish Felusia a long and happy and joyous life; if she lives as long as Papuś, I'll be saying farewell to her at the age of 81.

This time two years ago:
Autumn, with a railway theme

This time three years ago:
A few words about coincidence

This time six years ago:
Hello, pork pie [my week-long pork-pie diet]

This time eight years ago:
The meaning of class - in England, in Poland

This time nine years ago: 
First frost 

This time 13 years ago:
First frost 
[Today's 24-hour low: +4.8C]

Saturday, 10 October 2020

How's your samopoczucie?

A really useful word, one lacking in English. "How are you feeling?" is the nearest to "Jak tam Twoje samopoczucie?" but it misses out on the precision. Literally, samopoczucie means 'self-perception'; the root of poczucie is czuć, to feel, to sense, to be aware - the Polish scouts' motto 'Czuwaj!' means 'be on the alert' - as in sniffing the air for signs of danger. Czuć means to feel, but it also means to smell - not as in 'to reek' but as in the transitive verb, meaning to sense the smell of something. Czuję, że coś jest nie tak - "I feel/I sense that something's not right."

Samopoczucie then is about gathering feedback from your self - from your body and mind. What ails you? What troubles you? Samopoczucie is mental and physical, and the answer to the question "jak samopoczucie?" can range all the way from Jak młody bóg! to Tragedia, panie!

We all know that the answer to "How are you?" in English is always "I'm fine, how are you?" while in Polish "Jak się masz?" is an open invitation to listen to half an hour of woes about pains here and there, missed doctor's appointments, pills being taken and full descriptions of the symptoms.

At this time of pandemic, our bodily self-awareness is sharpened for those first tell-tale symptoms - a fever, a cough, and disappearance of senses of smell and taste. It is all too easy to fall victim to hypochondria, and overimagine symptoms that aren't really there. It is also easy to brush off or ignore symptoms that are, pretending they're not. As ever, balance is key. If you feel a tickling cough - hold your breath, count to ten. If you can do that without coughing - you're OK for the moment. Be grateful for that. Be grateful that you've survived the first seven months of what could be a pandemic that lasts a couple of years. Gratitude sharpens awareness of risky situations.

Coughs and sneezes often presage colds and flus. I cough. I sniffle... "Where's that from? ...If I can catch a cold virus I could just as easily catch Covid-19..." Well, don't forget that we have mucous membranes in our noses and throats and bronchi, we have to clear mucosa from time to time, a one-off blowing of the nose or clearing of the throat isn't synonymous with catching a viral infection of the respiratory organs.

The more we learn about the after-effects of Covid-19, so-called 'long Covid', the more important it is to avoid getting it. The mental effects - dementia-like forgetfulness, grasping for words as well as gasping for breath - worry me. 

I find that exercise is great preventative medicine. Should I feel just slightly dodgy - I knock out 30 press-ups, focusing on their quality (hold that plank position, chest to the floor then up until arms lock at the elbow). Sit-ups and planks work too. Keeping a record of my walking, exercising and diet is important to me. I've maintained a daily spreadsheet since 1 January 2014; and filling in a decent day's results is a boost to samopoczucie.

Daily walking, fresh air and catching that sunshine whenever possible. Lots of fruit and veg (today: apples, banana, grapes, tomatoes, leek, lentils and chickpeas, plus fresh orange juice). Alcohol in moderation, when writing - today, one bottle of  Noc Kupały Polish Foreign Extra Stout, 6.4% from local brewery Perun. And lots of sleep. Eight and half hours last night, nine and half the night before. And I am so grateful I had a sauna installed in Jeziorki when we were building the house 20 years ago; nothing beats two x 15-minute sessions at 95C on a dismal autumn evening or freezing cold winter's night.

Today is World Mental Health Day. It is heartening how public awareness of mental health issues has been raised; depression is now understood to be very real and not something that can be dealt with by shouting "pull yourself together!" at the sufferer. I will share this graphic, and ask you also to bear its message in mind, and pass it on if you can.

Mental health is as important as physical health; a holistic approach to mind in body is needed. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is about changing maladaptive thinking, and in milder cases of depression it has been proven to be more effective than medication. Raising your thinking to the meta-level helps vastly, as does, I believe, a spiritual, rather than materialist outlook to life. I'll refine that thought - having the right balance between a spiritual and a materialist outlook.

Believing that life - the Universe - has a purpose - keeps one going. It keeps me going. I have a reason to reach an advanced age. I will not be swept away by some vulgar virus! To quote Marx (Groucho, the quotable one), "I intend to live forever - or die trying."

This time two years ago:
Pavement for Karczunkowska? What's next?
[two years on, nothing - pedestrians still risking their lives]