Sunday, 29 November 2020

Tall and awesome

On my walk yesterday, I looked towards the city centre from Dawidy and was stunned to see a blazing tower on the horizon. So I scrambled up onto the railway embankment to get a better look - my God! My first reaction was that this is something akin to the Grenfell Towers tragedy in London in June 2017, when 72 people died. I whipped out my 70-300mm lens and zoomed in - no smoke above it, no smoke - no fire. So what was it?

A live railway line is not the place for pondering such questions. I did so at home, posting the photo on Skyscraper City, the very best resource for anything to do with Poland's built environment. 

[It's a global site, but Poland has one of the most active Skyscraper City communities in the world, with more posts and page views than Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK all put together!]

Within minutes, I had my answer - that 'flaming tower' is the Warsaw Spire. Yes indeed. Such was the angle of the sun that the south-west facing glass reflected it so awesomely. It was quite a sunset, too... (turn through 180 degrees...) On the horizon, the Raszyn radio mast (a misnomer, as it's in Łazy, 9km from Raszyn. When completed in 1962, it was the second-tallest structure in the world and the tallest in Europe. And 93m miles beyond, the sun. Shining onto Warsaw's Spire.


Left: my father and my son in front of the Spire, 31 July 2019. The Spire has two curved glass 'walls', and between them a vertical row of windows - and it was these that reflected that sunset yesterday. 

One Skyscraper City commentator remarked that the Spire from this angle looks like a frankfurter between two hot-dog buns; another commentator reminded us of the time that sunlight reflecting off the mirrored roof above the entrance was strong enough to set fire to two motorcycles parked outside. 

Today's walk took place on a heavily overcast day, but at least it didn't rain - or as had been forecast - it didn't snow. A standard 10,000 paces to Nowa Iwiczna and back, and on the way, a snap of the electricity pylons marching through Zgorzała and Nowa Wola on their way to Piaseczno and Konstancin. These are high-tension M52 pylons (!) carrying 220kV cables all the way from the coal-fired Kozienice power station. Standard height, 40m.


One development worthy of note - ulica Gogolińska, which runs parallel to the railway line on the west side, is currently asphalted only as far as Warsaw's border, from there on it's a muddy dirt track that serves the housing estates like the ones above. Today I saw evidence that asphalt is currently being extended southwards towards Nowa Iwiczna. Good news for local residents!

Bonus picture: domesticated cat helps out around the house.


This time five years ago:

This time seven years ago:
Crumbling King Coal, Katowice

This time eight years ago:
Street cries of Old Poland

This time nine years ago:
The gorgeousness of Warsaw at dusk

This time ten years ago:
I'm so glad I'm living in Warsaw

This time 11 years ago:
Candid photography

This time 12 years ago:
Archival photos of Jeziorki's Rampa in action

This time 13 years ago:
Red sky in the morning...


Saturday, 28 November 2020

In praise of the Nikon D3500

The camera in your mobile phone is OK, but taking a photo takes time - you can't just press the shutter and instantaneously capture the moment. Nor can you change lenses for a long telephoto or ultra-wide angle. I have been in the habit of having a camera around my neck for the past 40 years, in the film era, with a succession of Leica rangefinders mainly, and since 2007, digital Nikons. 

The most recent - bought two years ago, is a D3500. The newest 'entry-level' Nikon digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) does everything I need, has a high pixel count (24.2 million of them), and above all is so light I don't notice it when out walking for a couple of hours. Weight is one of my main considerations along with excellent image quality (especially when light levels are low), long battery life (good for a month's typical use), ability to take my old film-era Nikon lenses (see further down) and good ergonomics give me everything I need in a camera. 

I'd like a larger FX-format Nikon for the higher image quality, but even the new mirrorless ones are much bigger and heavier than the D3500 (which is the smaller DX format). Convenience trumps image quality for the time being. Now, the FX-format sensor is 36mm x 24mm; the same size as a 35mm film frame. DX is 24 x 16mm, two-thirds of FX and 35mm film size. For putting photos on my blog, DX is enough. 

Then there are are the more expensive, more feature-laden Nikon DX cameras, but I don't feel the need to advance beyond the entry-level (starting with the old D40, then D3200, now D3500). Can you name any features of an upmarket model costing around double (D5600) or even four times (D7500) the price of the D3500, that give value for that money? Many of these features give you the ability to do things in-camera that I tend to do with Photoshop and its .RAW editor. And while the D5600 weighs the same as the D3200, the D7500 weighs a full 50% more. 

So here it is - my favourite, my best all-round camera of all time, great value, seen below with standard kit lens. (Nikon's lenses are branded 'Nikkor', by the way.)

Tip to self: give the filter a clean.

Lenses are all important. The basic, plastic kit lens that you get with the D3500 (shown above) is not just adequate, it's downright excellent. It has almost instantaneous autofocus, it's light, it's sharp, it zooms from 18mm (27mm in 35mm/FX format), wide enough for landscape and bigger interiors, out to 55mm (82mm in 35mm equivalent), a mild telephoto and portrait focal length. It's not fast (i.e. it doesn't let in too much light at the long end at f5.6), but it makes up for it with excellent vibration reduction (VR in Nikon-speak, otherwise image stabilisation), happily giving sharp shots at a tenth of a second exposure (assuming the subject's not moving).

The second lens I'll take with me (if I can only take two) is the new Nikon 70-300mm telephoto zoom that replaced my old 55-300mm. I lose a bit at the wider end (I have nothing covering the gap between 55mm and 70mm - it's not a big issue in practice), but I gain in weight and size. For zooming in, there's no alternative, such as walking backwards a bit to frame a wide subject or landscape. But to get in close you need a long lens; 300mm is the equivalent of 450mm in 35mm format, which is a big and heavy mother. 

The third lens (if I can only take three) is the new Nikon 10-20mm wide-angle zoom that replaced my old 10-24mm. Again, I lose at the longer end (covered anyway by the standard 18-55mm lens), but I gain a much lighter and pocketable lens that also boasts VR, which the older lens didn't have. The 10mm end is very wide, not quite fisheye, but handy in cramped spaces. Photoshop can iron out the fly-away diverging verticals that come with such wide-angle lenses.

These three lenses cover about 95% of daytime photography needs; when darkness falls, wider apertures come in handy. Here, I have 35mm f1.8 and 50mm f1.4 lenses (52mm and 75mm equiv.), plus a real favourite of mine, this old manual-focus, manual-mode exposure 24mm f2 (36mm equiv.) lens (see below). These get taken for twilight walks, but none have vibration reduction, so hand-holding is limited to the reciprocal of the FX-equivalent focal length (from 1/36th for the 24mm to 1/75th for the 50mm). I also have an old 55mm f3.5 micro-Nikkor for the rare close-up.

Looking good with a classic Nikkor 24mm f2 lens!

Filters - a basic skylight or UV filter for every lens, acting as a transparent lens-shield, preventing scratching of more expensive optics. Unlike a lens cap, you don't have to take it off before shooting. Just remember to give the filter a wipe every now and then! One 'effect' filter I do use, and only on the standard 18-55mm lens, is the circular polarising filter, which intensifies the blueness of the sky on a cloudless day. This effect works less well on the superwide 10-20mm lens (only partial coverage) and hardly at all on telephoto lenses, so one is enough.

Two other cameras I have; the ultra-compact Nikon Coolpix A, with its fixed focal-length 18mm lens, now my travel companion for motorbike rides (and took all the pictures on this post), and the superzoom Nikon Coolpix P900, used chiefly for snapping birds and planes on sunny days - its long lens being the equivalent of 2000mm on a 35mm film camera. The Coolpix A is a great little camera, sadly discontinued and never replaced, its DX-format sensor and tiny size prove that Nikon could make something in FX that's around one-third bigger and one-third heavier, and yet would still be eminently totable for all-day use around the neck.

But for everyday use - and I mean every day - the Nikon D3500 with its 18-55mm kit lens is the perfect companion. I highly recommend it. Should Nikon ever discontinue its entry-level DX-format DSLR line, I'll buy one to put down for the future. It'll be a classic.

Below: sample of the lens quality. This is the basic kit 18-55mm lens that comes with the body. The photo is taken hand-held at 1/13th second at f4, ISO 1400 (so it's grainy), lens zoomed in to 24mm (36mm equiv). And it's a compressed .JPEG file to accommodate the requirements of uploading to the web. Printed full-size, this image would measure 50cm x 33cm. Try doing this with your phone-cam!


Note the red lines in the bottom left corner. Lenses are generally sharper at the middle of the image than at the edges. Let's crop that fragment and blow it up... This image printed to full size would be around 10cm square, just under the width of a page of A4. [Click to enlarge.]

At this moment, the D3500 with 18-55mm VR lens costs around 1,700 złotys in Poland (around £340), with similar prices in the UK (pound currently at 5zł). That's an absolute bargain.

Consider this: the new, mirrorless DX-format Nikon Z50 boasts fewer megapixels than the D3500 (21MP vs. 24MP); it weighs more (450g vs. 415g body only); its battery life is far shorter; it doesn't take old Nikon film-camera lenses, and  despite all that, at 4,100 złotys, it's more than twice the price of the D3500!!!. It makes no sense whatsoever to buy the Z50. None, zero. If you want to move up to FX format, then yes, the larger Z6 and Z7 mirrorless Nikons do compare favourably in terms of weight with their DSLR rivals such as the D780 and D850. But the cost of moving to FX is huge; the cheapest Nikon FX body (the D750) costs two-and-half times as much as the D3500 with kit lens.

Battery charged six times since 27 July; in almost-daily use.

I have a number of Nikon lenses that are surplus to requirements. My old 55-300mm zoom, faster, longer zooming range, but more robust and therefore heavier than its 70-300 replacement; a 16-85mm general-purpose zoom that has more useful range than the 18-55mm, but is far heavier; a massive 80-400mm telephoto zoom for FX and DX cameras - this doesn't autofocus with the D3500 body (and has been replaced on supertelephoto duties by the Coolpix P900 anyway); and an old-school manual-focus 28mm f2.8 prime lens. Also for sale are a 55-200mm lens, and a manual-focus 135mm f3.5 prime telephoto lens. Let me know if you are interested.

This time last year:
Agnieszka Holland's Mr Jones reviewed

This time two years ago:
The Earth is flat

This time three years ago:
50th Anniversary of the Fiat 125p

This time four years ago:
Fidel Castro's death divides the world

This time five years ago:
London to Edinburgh by night bus

This time seven year ago:
The Regent's Canal, London

This time nine years ago:
An end to the entitlement way of thinking

This time ten year:
West Ealing - drab and sad end of town

This time 11 years ago:
To Poznań by train

This time 13 years ago:
Late autumn drive-time 

Friday, 27 November 2020

Frustration as Chynów station nears completion

To Jakubowizna today to let in a tree-cutting team from the electricity operator, PGE, and to have my windows measured for roller blinds. On arrival at Chynów station, I could see the usual flurry of work, but I was not expecting much progress over the nine days since my last visit. On my return to the station - WOW! There's a brand new footpath to the station from east side of the tracks; the lights are on in the pedestrian underpass... and there's no gate or barrier to stop anyone from going down into the tunnel, nor signs that it's not ready - so I stroll along the new path and down the stairs into the tunnel. It's just gone 3pm and there's not a soul about on the site.

Below: down I go, and here it is! Modernity and big-town sophistication! Pictograms speak of buses and taxis waiting to take you away! The arrow pointing to the exit left suggests that street is called ul. Kolejowa, which is also the name of the street that the other exit takes you to. Either chynow.e-mapa.net and Google Maps and Jakdojade are all wrong, or Jakubowizna will have a new street name soon. Up the stairs to Platform 2...


I climb the stairs to see that access to Platform 2 has not been granted - steel barriers are still in the way. 'ATTENTION! LACK OF PASSAGEWAY' With the lights of my train back to W-wa Jeziorki approaching, I decided to force the barriers open rather than to walk the 850 metres to get to the platform the official way. This is high-level olewactwo - taking the piss out of locals by leaving this object closed to passengers without giving information at the other entrance.


Below: view from Platform 2 of the eastern entrance to the station. It never formally had one before, just a path worn into the ballast and track-side soil by people taking a short-cut to Jakubowizna, so there is progress - just that it's taken so long to get here. I hope we won't have a situation like at W-wa Okęcie station where a new footbridge stayed unopened for over year because no one came to sign it off. At least there are ramps and not lifts, which break often.


On the działka, the team from PGE Obrót cleared a number of trees which were deemed a hazard to the medium-tension power lines running across my land. Anything less than two metres from the lines was deemed a risk and cut down or pruned, including five of my apple trees, which if left unchecked would grow (rather than fall onto) the lines.


Below: of particular concern is the aspen (osika in Polish), a tree which the foreman explained to me grew tall and thin and was kruche (brittle), prone to snapping. The aspen in the adjoining forest gets cut down. A good job done, and given that I reported it on Monday and they came on Friday, good work. A downside was that power to the immediate neighbourhood was cut for about an hour and 20 minutes - not good news for those working (or studying) from home. Still, that's better than an enforced power-cut in the middle of a gale.


The foreman said that there are plans to re-lay this particular line underground, but I've been hearing this for the past three years. Uncertainty about this is a bit of a problem as I consider how to develop the plot.

This time two years ago:
London in verticals

This time three years ago:
Roadblock and railfreight

This time four years ago:
Sunny morning, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens

This time five years ago:
Brentham Garden Suburb

This time six years ago:
Ahead of the opening of the second line of the Warsaw Metro 

This time seven years ago:
Keep an eye on Ukraine...

This time eight years ago:
Płock by day, Płock by night 

This time nine years ago:
Warning ahead of railway timetable change

This time 12 years ago:
Some thoughts on recycling

Thursday, 26 November 2020

Frosty goodness

Another night of frost, with temperature falling to -4.7C at 5am (previous night's low was a mere -1.9C). Dictates of the working day suggested an earlier walk, setting off at 10:20, back in good time for a webinar starting at midday. Outside, a cloudless sky, temperature back above zero, a day with the right attributes for reaching out to the Sublime.

The ice had spread right across the ponds, what had survived yesterday's sunshine froze thicker, though still a long way from being able to support a human's weight.

The sudden cold snap caught the bird life unaware. Below: juvenile black-headed gulls in their first-winter plumage. For the first time in their lives, a solid layer of ice has come between them and their food in the water. Gulls, however, are opportunistic eaters and will eat seeds, worms and other land-based insects.


It's worse for the swans. They normally migrate before the ponds ice over. Once that happens, escape is impossible. If you've seen a swan taking off, you'll know it needs a long take-off run on open water to get airborne. This was possible yesterday, but not today. I saw this pair of young adult swans coping badly with the ice. Unlike ducks, whose feet have the ability to constrict blood flow at the ankles, allowing them to survive harsh North European winters, swans find walking on ice uncomfortable. The were waddling on the surface, at times it was cracking, at times supporting their weight.


Below: band of cold: you can see the metal ring on the female's left foot is causing her grief - she was continually and unsuccessfully trying to remove it - it must be extremely cold and uncomfortable.


Below: and here's old 2KC1 (note yellow ring on leg), Jeziorki's perennial visitor, minimising the discomfort by 50%.




Below: rotting vegetation at the bottom of the pond is sending up methane bubbles; here's one captured in ice, looking like amber in reverse.


Onward, away from the pond, across the track (the culvert beneath it is dry enough an high enough to go through if one stoops sufficiently; in the mud at the bottom I can see wild boar hoof prints!). On the Dawidy side of the tracks, I snap a pair of fallen birch trees.


And a quick look at the S7 extension works. A pair of excavators are removing soil from this heap and putting into tipper trucks. In the distance the new bridge, it's western end (right) awaiting the ramp that will be built up from this soil.




I return home along ul. Buszycka; the architecture and evergreens give the street a Mediterranean air when set against a background of a perfectly cloudless blue sky.



Got home for the webinar; by the time it was over, the sky had clouded over. Snow forecast for Saturday evening!

This time last year:

This time three years ago:
Roadblock and railfreight

This time four years ago:
Sunny morning, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens

This time five years ago:
Brentham Garden Suburb

This time six years ago:
Ahead of the opening of the second line of the Warsaw Metro 

This time seven years ago:
Keep an eye on Ukraine...

This time eight years ago:
Płock by day, Płock by night 

This time nine years ago:
Warning ahead of railway timetable change

This time 13 years ago:
Some thoughts on recycling


Wednesday, 25 November 2020

First frost, 2020

For five hours this morning, to around 9am, the temperature was below zero, with a minimum of -1.9C. When I woke up, looking out of the window, there was frost on the lawn (szron, as opposed to mróz), the sky was clear and blue. Time to punctuate the working day with a walk between the conference calls and editing. I set off at 1pm, by which time it was a balmy 7C, today's high.

Worth recalling that in 2007 and 2008, by this time in November, Jeziorki had already experienced not just one morning's frost, but proper snow falls.

Below: the section of  tourist trail Szlak Turystyczny MZ-5142-z (W-wa Dawidy - Ciszyca) from ul Sarabandy to ul. Dumki. (Blow up the photo and you'll see the horizontal white/green/white trail marking on a far fence post)



On to the ponds, and it's clear there's been ice formation in the early hours of the morning.


A close-up of the surface of the ice, unusual artefacts on the surface - methane bubbles? By now it's 2pm and after five hours the ice on the north-facing side of a gabion by ul. Kórnicka is still present. This evening, temperatures fell below zero again, so the ice will thicken - but walking across the ponds is a long way off right now!

Below: the presidential Boeing 737 coming into land over Jeziorki


Below: across the tracks to see how the S7 extention is coming on - yes, it's coming on! Working flat out on it, week 38. Above the hills of soil, two cement silos; in the foreground two tippers taking soil to build up the ramps to the new viaduct.


This time two years ago:
Edinburgh, again and again

This time six years ago:
Ahead of the opening of Warsaw's second Metro line

This time seven years ago:
Keep an eye on Ukraine...
(Portents of troubles to come)

This time eight years ago:
Płock by day, Płock by night 

This time nine years ago:
Warning ahead of railway timetable change

This time 12 years ago:
Some thoughts on recycling

Sunday, 22 November 2020

Wola's Joryt building and its place in Polish popular culture

The Joryt building stands in Warsaw's Wola district, on the same spot as a tenement that was destroyed on 8 August 1888 by a small asteroid strike, which killed the caretaker and a passer-by. Built in the modernist style in the early 1960s, the eight-story Joryt building is home to the Institute of Cosmic Geology (Instytut Geologii Kosmicznej), where Polish astronomers and geologists study remnants of asteroids and meteorites from around the world. Above its glass and aluminium entrance there is one of Wola's more famous neons - the letters 'Joryt' over which a meteorite blazes a fiery trail. 

The building's facade features prominently in the opening sequence of Albert Brzych's famous Polish comedy film, Prochownia ('Powder Room', 1966). Famously shot in one long take from a crane, the first sequence of Brych's cult black & white film is set on a wet, foggy night, with a young man on bended knee declaiming poetry from a book to a bored-looking young woman on the street corner; the camera then zooms out and pans across to the building's entrance, where three women in plastic raincoats and polka-dot umbrellas are awaiting their boss. They scan the horizon, anxiously looking at their watches. A car pulls up, a shiny black Mercedes 220; a liveried doorman in top hat  and cape rushes to open the door - but instead of the institute's director, two clowns dressed as tramps come tumbling out of the car and onto the pavement, fighting, taking swipes at one another with vodka bottles. The fight becomes almost balletic, the three women and doorman looking on, their mock-shocked expressions changing with each swing of a fist or mistimed lunge with a bottle. All of this viewed as though from the balcony of a block of flats across the road. [At the time the film was released, this fight was instantly seen by audiences as an allusion to infighting within the Politburo, adding another layer to the humour.]

The camera pans away further to the left to briefly reveal an eight-legged pantomime horse standing idly, incongruously, on the other street corner, then tracks back past the ongoing fight to the kneeling student, who's still reading poetry to the bored girl playing with the fringe of her pigtail. 

Brzych's vision of a technocratic, modern Poland mired in old habits still resonates with cinema audiences today.

The titles start to roll, I dreamt early this morning.

During the dream I pondered the following - what was the etymology of the word 'Joryt', and when did it arise - was it a local slang shortening of the word 'meteoryt'? And if indeed 'Joryt' predated the 1930s and the reform of Polish spelling, was it once spelled 'Yoryt'? I never found out before waking up. And after waking up, I pondered upon the Institute of Cosmic Geology; middle-aged scientists in baggy sweaters working from 8am to 4pm each day, dipping bits of interplanetary rock into different substances to discover truths about the origins of Life on Earth and the birth of the Solar System...

[If you believe in the multiverse interpretation of quantum theory, this is not just a dream. In a parallel universe, there is a Joryt building in Wola, and Albert Brzych did direct Prochownia in 1966.]

This time last year:
Karczunkowska's viaduct opens to cars, not pedestrians

This time two years ago:
Edinburgh's Polish statues

This time three years ago:
Edinburgh - walking the Water of Leith

This time four years ago:
Poland's north-west frontier

This time five years ago:
Cars must fade from our cities

This time seven years ago:
Unnecessary street lighting wastes money
[To this day, this is still going on!]

This time eight years ago:
Warsaw's heros on the walls 

This time nine years ago:
Tax dodge or public service? 

This time 11 years ago:
Warsaw's woodlands in autumn

This time 12 years ago:
Still here, the early snow

This time 13 years ago:
Another point of view


Saturday, 21 November 2020

Feline delight

Felusia has brought joy and laughter to the house, a house bereft of feline denizens since the death of Papusia in June. Of all the cats we've had since moving to Poland - Róża, Papusia, Lila and her brood (Czester, Feluś and Izia), the new kitten is my favourite. Curious, observant, comical, strong-willed, affectionate and sociable (wanting to be with the humans) and intelligent, Felusia demonstrates consciousness in abundance, despite still being a kitten. Staring into her eyes, I can perceive a deeper wisdom present; eyes that seek understanding of the world around her. If I am working at my laptop or on the desktop computer downstairs, she will quietly approach me and sit by my feet, looking up intently at me. She has learned not to run or jump onto the keyboard, having settled down a bit since her first few weeks in Jeziorki.

Stare into those eyes - this is a Consciousness, one that's happened to be located within the body of a species that's evolved differently to us humans, but one which shares our environment...


In the kitchen, she is fascinated by water pouring from the tap - seemingly a transparent solid tube joining the tap to the plughole, until you wave your paw through it! And then, when the human pushes the handle, the tube of water just falls through the hole at the bottom of the sink. She'd leap down and stare down the plughole, wondering where that transparent, wet tube had gone.

She'd also discovered something interesting - when a human opens the freezer door, there's a space below into which she can squeeze in... to re-appear five kitchen units and an oven later under the sink! Who knew there was a passage? Certainly none of her feline predecessors.

Cats mature 15 to 20 times faster than humans in their infancy, the learning process seems miraculous. How cats perceive us humans that feed and care for them is an interesting question. 


This time last year:
More pictorial memories of my late father

This time two years ago:
Wider-angle London

This time three years ago:
First snow. first frost of the year
[no sign of either so far this year]

This time ten years ago:
Childhood memories of Warsaw

This time 11 years ago:
Reconfigured my 'fixie'

This time 13 years ago:
Not in my back yard
[13 years on, there's still a fallow field behind our back yard]


Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Fenced in at last

One year and five months after buying the plot of land adjacent to my działka, I have finally completed the Anschluss, namely the two plots are now one. Five months after the geodeta ('sworn' or 'legal surveyor', who delineates the land in the eyes of the law) solemnly marked out the boundary between my land and the forest next door, I have one fence around the entire property, slightly less that one acre (3,850m2, where an acre =4,047m2) of land.

It was three days' (nine man-days) or work for Pan Mariusz and his ekipa; the first day of which involved a small excavator. The work involved digging out 50 concrete posts which constituted the old boundary, and moving them - and the chain link fence they supported, some 25m further east, digging holes and putting the posts into concrete bases, then stretching the fence back onto the posts in their new location. And putting new fencing across the front of the new plot (around 23m). All in all, 171m of fencing either moved or erected. Cost - including materials - worked out four to five times cheaper than buying new fencing. The old stuff was good, said Pan Mariusz, saying the 5mm-gauge fencing was far more robust than what's on the market today, having already withstood 30 years of weather. And the same for the posts - not a single one cracked or broke while being transplanted.

What's more the job was done with such forethought and precision that at no time was my house vulnerable to opportunist break-in (rare though such crimes are in these parts). Below: the new boundary from the front of the plot. The forest to the left seems to have no owner; my neighbour at the back has lived here for 45 years and has never seen anyone on or in the forest plot. The four apple trees to the left will have to go to make way for the drive.


Left: view of my house from the new boundary. Had I taken this photo a week ago, the fence would have run across it just behind the leafless apple trees in the middle distance. 

Below: looking down the new boundary from the back of the plot. Note the medium-tension electricity cables that run across it. If any tree should fall onto the power line - and the forest has plenty of fallen tree-trunks on its floor - Grobice would be deprived of electricity. Pan Mariusz advises me to call the electricity company, PGE Obrót, who will come and remove any trees threatening power lines.

I'm delighted that the work has been completed so quickly and thoroughly, and at a reasonable price. Next task - between now and the summer - will be to give some kind of shape to the landscape, leaving some fruit trees and lots of meadow, but having some lawn and a drive (which will probably go up the east side of the plot (to the right of the forest in the photo above), before turning just before the electricity pylon.

It gets dark so early now. Below: bonus shot - the 16:09 from Chynów to W-wa Wschodnia passes the end of my street.


This time three years ago:

Monday, 16 November 2020

Another dream of Dziadzio

 As I have written before, my late father appears in my dreams more often than any other human being. And so it was last night...

I'm at his house in Ealing, when the doorbell rings. I answer. It's 'Iza', a composite character as I later discovered when analysing the dream. She has in her arms a large box, containing lots of tasty delicatessen items - hams, cheeses, Polish bread, fresh fruit - and a lovely arrangement of flowers in a pot.

"Oh, hi Michał! I didn't know you were over from Polska," she says. "I've just popped over to check up on your tatuś, and bring him some food..."

"Iza! You are too kind! How wonderful of you to think of my father and to call round with this food and flowers! He'll be absolutely delighted to see you! Do come in, Iza!"

She comes in, wiping her feet diligently on the doormat. I bound over to the kitchen, where my father is sitting. The only warm room in the house. He's wearing a cardigan over a jumper over a shirt over a vest. "Iza's here!" I say to him. My father's face lights up as he pushed back his chair and stands up to welcome his guest; Iza puts the box down on the kitchen table and he shakes her hand vigorously. "Such a lovely present! Such pretty flowers! Thank you! Thank you!" he says as he motions Iza to sit down while he puts the kettle on. I explain that I have some work to finish upstairs before I set off to a meeting in town, so I leave them in the kitchen to chat happily.

As I close the kitchen door behind me to keep the heat in, I can see my father coming down the stairs. "Did someone just ring the doorbell?" he asks, confused. "I was asleep." "Yes! It's Iza," I reply, "She's come to visit you and she's brought some presents!" Suddenly I realise that I have a father in the kitchen and a father at the top of the stairs. "Iza who?" he asks, genuinely puzzled. "You know - Iza! She's come with some food and some flowers!" "I don't know who you are talking about..." he said sadly, genuinely puzzled, yet aware of the gaps in his cognition.

I wake up with a start.

WOW. The father coming down the stairs was the one I as remember from his last months, weeks even, of life. The moment he realised he was no longer able to fill in his spreadsheets, when he realised he would confuse himself into a circle of confusion, checking and rechecking things that he'd already checked and rechecked, uncertain whether or not he'd checked them and whether anything made sense any more. The other father, in the kitchen with Iza, was as I remember him at his best in old age, cheerful, chatty, delighted with the unexpected gifts that life could still bring. And Iza - a portmanteau of several kind women who'd often pop into visit my father.

In my dream, the most profound moment was when I realised that my father was in the kitchen and on the stairs at the same time - a quantum state; he was both a particle and a wave; I had observed both, and neither had decayed.

UPDATE 17 NOVEMBER

Second night in a row I dream of my father. This time, we are in Duffield, Derbyshire, where my brother lives. My father has just finished varnishing the banisters of the wooden staircase that leads up to Eyes Meadow, (the recreational ground on the floodplain of the River Derwent) from the new secret tunnel that runs from my brother's house. My father was proud of his craftsmanship; the new secret tunnel was broader than the old, original Edwardian secret tunnel, which was so narrow in parts that once again I find myself in a birth-canal dream, like this one.

UPDATE 19 NOVEMBER

Third night in four I dream of my father. I am in a darkened room, getting my laptop ready for the day's work - the start screen appears with a bewildering number of icons and windows all scrolling down faster than I can deal with them. There's a knock on the door and in comes my father, bearing me a plate of cold cuts (szynka sopocka, kiełbasa krakowska etc), fresh Polish bread and butter - and best of all, a plate of scrambled eggs fried on butter with spring onion. I wake up with an appetite!

This time five years ago:
Teetering between rage and reason

This time six years ago:
Poland - it works!

This time seven years ago:
Bricktorian Birmingham

This time nine years ago:
Fog hits Modlin Airport

This time ten years ago:
The local elections and what they mean

This time 11 years ago:
Synchronicity of shape - Powiśle, Hanger Lane, Mel's Drive-In

This time 12 years ago:
The last of Jeziorki's noted landmark - the Rampa na kruszywa

This time 13 years ago:
Jeziorki spared high-density development thanks to airport zoning

Sunday, 15 November 2020

Chynów situation update

On the działka, at last my fence is being moved. I spent Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Jakubowizna, and though the weather was overcast and chilly, at least it was dry. I can absolutely commend underfloor heating (under a stone floor) as being an excellent solution. Heating two rooms, a 60-litre hot-water tank and cooking in oven, my electricity bill came to 13.32 a day (£2.66), with the house nice and warm.

I arrive by train to find that the pedestrian subway under the tracks at Chynów station is almost complete - all that's missing now is access to the street. Fortunately, it was dry enough to get there without getting ankle-deep in mud. Laying proper asphalt or paving will be weeks, months, I guess.

Below: the level crossing at Jakubowizna, 95% ready three weeks ago, remains 95% ready. The new gates and lights are yet to be installed and activated; the missing pedestrian paving is still missing. The southbound trains are at last using the 'down' line and the new 'down' platform at Chynów station.

Saturday's walk takes me to Nowe Grobice and back to Chynów. The very last of the apples are being harvested, a light smog is in the air - fog plus smoke from numerous agricultural bonfires. Old apple trees and excessive foliage is being cut down. Below: looking towards Chynów from Nowe Grobice.

Below: approaching the DK50 at Nowe Grobice, across from Sułkowice. The guy with the bike is scavenging for scrap cable. As the building works progress, lots of old steel and copper cabling comes to light. The ground is littered with rusty old cables, all of which constitutes a trip hazard. Good that someone can clear it up and make a bit of money for doing so.

Below: looking towards Chynów station, on the west side of the tracks. Work is continuing with trackside drainage, a culvert is being shored up with concrete elements. This work is taking ages, but needs to be done properly in an age of droughts and flash-floods. PKP PLK, Poland's rail-track operator, is rightly concerned about podmycie torów. [Another case where an English translation is inadequate 'the underwashing of tracks'] - Erosion of the base of the embankment by rainwaters, leading to localised subsidence, a bumpy ride - and lower speed limits having to be imposed. Having spent much money on rebuilding the tracks from Warsaw to Warka, PKP PLK is investing in the future, to ensure the investment won't get degraded by the downpours of the future in a climate-changed world.


Below: bonus shot from Dawidy Bankowe this evening, photo taken from a mountain of soil between ul. Starynkiewicza and the S7 extension, showing the new bridge that will span the expressway linking Jeziorki to Dawidy Bankowe and Zamienie.


This time last year:
Winding down, moving in, keeping on

This time two years ago:
Socialist-realist Tychy

This time five years ago:
Face to face with the UK retailing scene

This time six years ago:
Bricktorian Birmingham

This time eight years ago:
Welcome to Lemmingrad

This time ten years ago:
Dream highway

This time 12 years ago:
The Days are Marching

This time 13 years ago:
First snow, 2007

Thursday, 12 November 2020

Hammer of Darkness cubed

I don't know whether the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder get more pronounced as one grows older, or whether it's just that I'm better at describing what I feel as I get older. The sun setting in the late afternoon, the loss of daylight affects me in a negative way. The clocks going back on the last weekend of October is the time when SAD kicks in, although I suffer only mild to moderate symptoms (subsyndromal SAD). 

Symptoms I get each year are increased appetite for carbohydrates (comfort foods vs say, salads); difficulties with concentration, and lower levels of cheerfulness and sociability. "Loss of interest in activities" is another one. I tend to sleep longer - an atavistic nod towards mammalian hibernation. Without pre-lockdown alarm calls to wake me, my body clock tells me when to sleep and when to rise. In summer this tends to be around seven and a half hours, while in the dark months it lengthens towards nine (last night I slept from 23:10 to 08:15 this morning).

Yes, I can get over these by self-administering Cognitive Behavioural Therapy - writing this post is part of that - and of course, exercise is very effective at lifting mood. But the craving for sunshine is powerful. 

Thinking back to the beginning of lockdown, the sun set at 17:43, nearly TWO HOURS(!) after it set today (15:47); within two weeks of lockdown, the clocks went forward, and so the sun set at five past seven. Suddenly, three whole hours of afternoon and evening daylight more than today...

This would happen anyway; but there's an epidemic going on, and the most powerful man on the planet has been deprived of his power but does not intend to let go. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo's tweet two nights ago saying that the White House was busy working on a second Trump administration chilled me to the bone. I woke up at quarter to three and could not go back to sleep for worry. The prospect for the world of Trump forcing Republican members of the electoral college to go against their state's preferred candidate is terrifying - American will go down the plughole of fallen empires faster than any in history.

Then there's Covid. As I wrote before, we don't know where we really are. OK, fewer cases reported today. But yesterday was a public holiday, so today's figures should be treated as a Monday (lowest of the week). Will they return to a frightening growth trend or start to plateau? Who knows. How many cases go unreported? Half as many again, or two, three, five, ten times as many? Who knows. Antibodies, herd immunity, vaccine availability - who knows. What I know instinctively is that if you suffer from SAD, your immune system is weaker than in summer, and you are more prone to picking up viral infections. This is one reason why we have seen the current dramatic increase in cases in the Northern Hemisphere (meanwhile Chile's new cases hit a peak in mid-July and are now a fifth of that level).

On top of this, Poland's neighbour Belarus faces serious unrest as another jumped-up despot refuses to accept the results of an election that overturned his rule, and people are being kidnapped or beaten to death.

So in the meantime, I hunker down, avoiding people as far as possible. The asymptomatic carrier could be entirely innocently super-spreading Covid among the more vulnerable.

It's just under four weeks until 7 December, the first of ten (!) days during which the sun sets at its earliest, that is 15:23 (in Warsaw). It continues to do so until 17 December, by which time a rapidly approaching Xmas (or Christ's Mass) tends to lift spirits. The pagan feast of Sol Invictus, the invincible sun, that by 26 December is noticeably setting later (by four minutes) had been a celebration of this turning point. Then we get to Blue Monday, claimed to be the most depressing day of the year. Next year, this falls on 18 January... This may lead to another uptick and rising number of Covid cases, and a third wave.

And two days later, we will see Trump being ejected from the White House, by force if needs be (the US armed forces swear allegiance to the Constitution, not to the president). The only one-term president of modern times to lose two consecutive popular votes.

Once we pass that moment, in 68 days' time, my guess is that the pandemic will be well and truly on the wane. By then, spring will still be a way off, but there will be more daylight. A third wave will not be as deadly nor as rapidly spreading as the second one here in Poland.

Hope and Healing - the catchwords for 2021. I hope. There will be a spring, but first the healing powers of Lent.

This time two years ago:
Magic day, in and around Jakubowizna

This time three years ago:
Warsaw-London-Ealing

This time five years ago:
With my father and brother in Derbyshire

This time seven years ago:
In praise of Warsaw's trams

This time ten years ago:
Setting sun in the mountains

This time 11 years ago:
That learning moment