Thursday, 31 December 2020

Review of 2020: III. A year in numbers

How did this year look? The seventh consecutive year in which I have recorded health and fitness metrics daily. A useful exercise; planning for an active and healthy old age. 'Beat last year' remains the motto and the ongoing target.

Lockdown has hit the number of paces walked in the average day, although the number of minutes of moderate-to-high-intensity walking increased by an average of six minutes a day over last year; this metric having been introduced by my health app in August 2018. Incidentally, I walk faster in winter than in summer. Cold weather induces a quicker pace, and there are fewer photo stops along the way.

My press-up routine has changed to prioritise quality over quantity (focusing on a plank-straight back and neck, chest right down to the ground, then up to arms fully extended, rather than rapid cursory nods). 

Other than paces and number of press-ups, improvements all round. The reduced alcohol intake is a lockdown side-effect; some socialising over the summer, but far less than normal, and with zero socialising in early spring then late autumn/winter. And of course no alcohol at all during Lent (my 29th one in a row). The 15.5 units/week is still above Public Health England's guidelines of 14 units/week, but well below the old 28 units/week for men that was the standard in the 1990s.

Figures below are per day - for each and every one of the 366 days of 2020 (unless stated otherwise).

Measurable and manageable
2014  2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Paces (daily
9.8k 10.7k10.6k 11.0k 11.4k 12.0k 11.1k
Moderate to high 
intensity (mins)
N/A N/AN/A N/A N/A 24 30
Alcohol drunk
33.4 19.718.515.5
Dry days over
course of year
94 123 155 186 196198208
Days with zero
physical training
234 26614883 27 17 11
Press-ups/day N/A N/A N/A 25609083
Pull-ups/day N/A N/A N/A 27511
Sit-ups/day 65 41 71 N/AN/AN/A16
Sets of weights
N/A N/AN/A2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4
Plank time (min:
sec/day average)
N/A N/AN/AN/A N/A 3:40 4:10
Portions fresh
fruit & veg/day
N/A 4.3 5.0

Sit-ups have been reintroduced to the daily regime, as an adjunct to holding the plank, mainly to regain spinal flexibility rather than as the primary stomach-muscle exercise. Again, higher quality repetitions - back fully flat on the floor, then twist so that right elbow meets left knee, then left elbow meets right knee. My record plank-holding time was 4 minutes and 20 seconds; most days it's repetitions of one-and-half minutes for two or three times. Weights - one set = 10 x lateral rises, 10 x interior rotations, 10 x exterior rotations, with 5kg dumbbells. Pull-ups - up until chin meets bar, from position where forearms are parallel with the floor. 

Another lockdown bonus has been diet - more portions of fresh fruit and vegetables. Lunch in town all too often would be pizza, burger or Vietnamese food; eating at home means more greens. Spinach, leeks - and lots of cherry tomatoes. And being at home more means fewer lazy days in which I didn't feel inclined to do any exercises.

Fun Fact: since 1 January 2014, I have walked over 22,350km (13,500 miles).

Signing off for 2020, I'd urge all my readers to avoid complacency (subconsciously thinking "because last year/yesterday was good, next year/tomorrow will be good") and to be grateful for everything they have - mental health/state-of-mind, and physical health.

Postscript, 08:30 Saturday 2 January. I take blood pressure reading, first morning since early December. It remains optimal - 107/73 (average of three readings).

This time last year
2019 - a year in numbers

This time two years ago:
2018- a year in numbers

This time three years ago:
2017 - a year in numbers

This time four years ago:
2016 - a year in numbers

This time five years ago:
2015 - a year in numbers

This time six years ago:
Economic forecasts for 2014 - and 2015?

This time seven years ago:
Economic predictions for 2014

This time eight years ago:
Economic predictions for 2013

This time nine years ago:
Economic predictions for 2012

This time ten years ago:
Classic cars, West Ealing

This time 11 years ago:
Jeziorki 2009, another view

This time 12 years ago:
Jeziorki 2008, another view

This time 13 years ago:
Final thoughts for 2007

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Review of the Year 2020: II. Investments

After all of last year's work on the działka and the purchase of the adjoining orchard, my investment priorities for this year were to fence the whole plot as one parcel of land, with a front wall along the length of the plot adjoining the road, with a gate and a drive. This was only partially achieved, given the pandemic. Firstly, I needed a geodeta (sworn or legal surveyor), to mark out the boundary between my new plot and the forest next door. I'd wanted to do this in late March; it happened in June. The next step was to remove the fencing along the east side of my original plot and move it 25 metres eastward along the now-legally delineated border with the forest. Planned for April/May, this finally happened in November, though there's no wall facing the road (only a wire fence) and no drive. All this waits for 2021.

Another fiasco this year was the solar panels; the government subsidies were withdrawn 11 days before the original deadline ('because money had run out') so there will be no 5,000 złotys to offset the 21,500 złoty investment for the installation of the ten panels. Electricity supplier Innogy Stoen Operator has yet to send an annex to the contract, despite changing the meter to a two-way one, meaning that we're still on the old tariff and paying normally for electricity.

Plans for next year? On the działka - the wall and the drive; the latter will mean removing four apple trees which stand in the way. Some landscape gardening will be in order too.

I have ordered and paid for a full set of roller-blinds for the house, not so much for the sake of security, more to do with keeping out early morning sunlight (midsummer sunrises at 04:15). Also on the cards - knocking down the wall between the two downstairs rooms (if structurally possible) and installing a spiral staircase to link the upstairs room with the downstairs rooms directly (at present, the stairs are outside).

Wilder fantasies/follies for the działka include my 18th century English pub... 

...and an Indian-style step-well, all the better to retain rainwater

Public investments are well documented on this blog, in particular the S7 extension from the airport down to Grójec and the LK8 Warsaw-Radom railway line that is now (almost) complete between Warsaw and midway point Warka. Fingers crossed for the projects' swift completion.

This time two years ago:
Exploration of a largely unknown Ealing

This three years ago:
Eric Ravilious
[Since then, the artist has found new audiences via Twitter]

This time five years ago:
Dark thoughts at 2015 comes to an end

This time six years ago:
Shots from the sky

This time seven years ago:
One-millionth of a zloty 

This time nine years ago:
Random year-end thoughts

This time ten years ago:
Beery litter louts

This time 11 years ago:
Miserable grey London

This time 12 years ago:
Parrots in Ealing

This time 13 years ago:
Xmas lites, Jeziorki

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Review of the Year 2020: I. Covid

 A year unlike any other I have lived through. As my father, who survived the invasion of Poland in 1939, Nazi occupation, the Warsaw Uprising and prisoner-of-war camps, you can get used to anything. And so I have, lockdown, inability to travel, to socialise, to shop normally; I've got used to it by now. SARS-Cov-2 is still ripping through the global population, helped by dithering politicians, slack populations and complacency.

It didn't have to be like this, but it is.

Imagine an early lockdown in mid-March, all over the world. Swift, sharp and rigidly enforced. Fourteen days at home with just a handful of life-or-death exceptions permitted. Fourteen days later - Covid-19 is over; the virus dead - extinguished. The virus just died off, unable to infect new victims. Yes, there would have been a human cost to such a draconian lockdown - collateral damage - but by early April life could have returned to normal. The human cost would have been a drop in the ocean compared to what we are seeing around us today because the number of cases of Covid-19 in mid-March was a tiny fraction of what it is now. The global economy would have quickly rebounded, there would have been no new mutations to worry about, the death toll from Covid-19 would have fallen to zero before the end of May. Everything would have been back to normal by the summer of 2020.

Impossible, you say.

But this is exactly what has happened in communist China. One-fifth of mankind lives there; the last death from Covid-19 was reported on 17 May, the last of 4,634 deaths. In the third quarter of this year, China's economy grew by 4.6% compared to the same quarter of 2019. Back to work, no worries. [OK, communist leaders lie, but even if they were lying by a factor of ten, it's still impressive.]

Meanwhile, in the West, individualists declare their right not to wear masks, they deny a pandemic, they compare it to flu, they protest in the streets against lockdowns, carry on doing their own thing - and we're seeing new cases surging. 

As I wrote in early November, Poland, which had had an early and effective lockdown in mid-March, got complacent at the end of the summer holidays, schools and universities reopened and cases soared - in effect Poland's first wave - and deaths per million have since reached comparable levels to what the UK had suffered in April.

Our World in Data has great comparable graphs.

I'm keeping myself away from town (not having been in the office since 2 October). In the summer, it was almost back to normal; one week I visited the office three times, open-air dining was OK, I went on long motorbike rides. But from early October, it was evident that the good times were over. I stayed on my działka in Jakubowizna, overnighting as long as possible, weather-wise, before the cold and the dark set in. Compared to infection rates in Warsaw, gmina Chynów was a safer place to be.

Today, Poland is facing a pick-up in new cases after a slow-down in reporting over Christmas, while in the UK, the number of new cases per million is two-and-half times that in Poland. The only real hope is with the vaccines; how quickly they will be delivered is a test of the efficiency of a country's systems. This is the time when party politics, ideology and worldview (światopogląd) need to get out of the way. 

In the meanwhile, life goes on... Shopping at Lidl between 10 and 12 (for the over 60s only - after a visit from the police, the sight of younger shoppers there has become rarer), a daily walk avoiding people (especially the maskless) and no trips to town. Journeys to Jakubowizna by train are low-risk as I head away from town in the mornings and towards town in the evenings, so there's never more than a handful of people in the carriage. I wear two masks; a surgical mask over my nose and mouth, and a 'kominek' (snood) covering the mask. This hooks over my ears and covers my face and neck. (Wearing this, I was actually asked in Lidl whether I was indeed over 60 - I thanked the young asystenka for the compliment.)

Suitably attired - summer selfie, July 2020.

My first Christmas in Warsaw for many years... 17? I missed not seeing my brother and his family at their Derbyshire house, where I've spent Christmas Day certainly every year since starting this blog if not earlier. But we did manage a two-hour-long Zoom call. A partial answer to travel bans.

I can't say I long to travel right now. Rather, I long for summer, for long, hot, sunny days under a blue sky, borders open, and the ability to move about the continent as was once the case.

This time last year:
Last night in Ealing, twenty-teens

This time two years ago:
The Day the World Didn't End

This time five years ago:
Hybrid driving - the verdict

This time seven years ago:
Pitshanger Lane in the sun

This time 11 years ago:
Miserable, grey, wet London

This time 12 years ago:
Parrots in Ealing

This time 13 years ago:
Heathrow to Okęcie

Sunday, 27 December 2020

Jakubowizna, moonrise kingdom

You choose your days; when the clouds part to leave a clear sky, the sun beckons, even though the air is frosty. In strict chronological order, on my walk from Chynów station back to the działka...

Below: Jakubowizna moonrise. The moon is to the right, just about visible. In the foreground, mud and beastly oomska, the result of the unfinished work by the station - this should shortly become the drive from the road to the newly-opened underground passage that leads to the platforms. The footpath there, at least, is ready.

Below: a neat and tidy village. I am reminded of my mother's remarks when visiting me on Polish scout camp in Honiton, Devon, in 1971. She observed that the farms in England were clean and well looked-after, the result of an economic system that rewards effort, based on the sanctity of private property. If she could see rural Mazovia today, she'd see that she was right. Having worked on a Soviet labour camp in her youth, her observations have a clear frame of reference.

I turn round through 180 degrees. This is the view looking back towards Chynów station, below; it's 20 minutes before sunset (which today is now seven minutes later than the earliest sunset). Dogs are barking furiously in every second farmyard; angry at being left out in the cold, they take their aggression out on every passing human.

Art by accident - how does one use a stencil to get this effect? The question is redundant, as this bus stop no longer functions as one. A lovely bit of design; album-cover material.

Below: moonrise at the Edge - this is the end of Jakubowizna, beyond lies Machcin II, straddling the road. Note the reflection of the setting sun in the basement window of the house to the left of centre. Seven minutes before sunset.

Machcin II. Note how far the moon has risen since the first photo (taken just 23 minutes earlier). Here, I turn left and head northward toward Grobice.

Below: time to head west and return... past the pollarded willows and wintering orchards. Rainwater in the puddles has frozen; crunching over the thin ice is eminently satisfying.

Clear skies, summer or winter, unleash the Sublime Aesthetic. Beauty that contrasts with the Dull or the Grim. My soul is alert to the wonders around me. Qualia, moments that will return, unbidden.

This time three years ago:

This time six years ago:
Derbyshire in the snow

This time seven years ago:
Is Britain over-golfed?

This time nine years:
Everybody's out on the road today

This time ten years ago:
50% off and nothing to pay till June 2016

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

New asphalt for Jeziorki - or Dawidy?

Walking along the ulica Karczunkowska this afternoon, I noticed brand-new asphalt along the newly-named ul. Poduchowna. Looking like it had been laid earlier in the day, I ventured down it. Talking to a local resident, it was obvious what a huge improvement to life along that road the new asphalt will bring, the same sentiment I felt when neighbours in Jakubowizna expressed when contrasting life before and after the asphalt was laid down. No longer having to wade ankle deep in mud, not having to drive through potholes, this is pure civilisational progress.

Below: looking south-west towards ul. Karczunkowska.

Below: looking east along ul. Poduchowna - it's a no-through road; not even footpaths connect it with W-wa Jeziorki station, which makes this a quiet, traffic-free enclave.

Below: looking west along ul. Poduchowna, from where the asphalt ends. I felt a clear mid-century rural U.S.A. vibe here.

I have a thing about fresh asphalt - still unsullied by muddy tractor tyres; rainwater and oil on the surface, not yet absorbing. Aesthetically, road surface at its finest. I only hope it won't start cracking prematurely (yesterday it rained all day - the first time in seven weeks when I couldn't go out for a walk because of incessant rain).

Below: on the corner of Karczunkowska and Poduchowna; looks like the road-sign for the latter has been damaged by a high vehicle. The white-on-blue road names (with white-on-red district names) go back to 2002 now, part of the MSI (Miejski System Informacji - urban information system) initiative. The MSI is not just about signage, but about unifying toponyms. Older maps show this area as being called Dawidy Poduchowne, between Dawidy Bankowe and Jeziorki; now it's clearly a part of Jeziorki Południowe. Nothing to do with The X-Files actor David Duchovny. 

The 2019 edition of the Urzędowy Wykaz Nazw Miejscowości (official register of place-names) has 159 places in Poland with the suffix Poduchowne (or -na or -ny), plus another 22 with the suffix Duchowne (or -na or -ny). It denotes that the land was owned by the Church, or had formerly been owned by the Church. 

According to the UWNM, there's a Dawidy and Dawidy Bankowe (two separate villages in the gmina of Raszyn, lying just outside Warsaw's southern border) and a Dawidy Poduchowne and a Dawidy Zwykłe which are both part of Warsaw, both part of Jeziorki Południowe. Now, Dawidy Poduchowne was the name for land between the railway line and the edge of Warsaw bordering on gmina Raszyn. Dawidy Zwykłe (literally, 'the ordinary Davids') is the rarely used name distinguishing the few houses in Dawidy that lie within Warsaw's border, between the bus loop and W-wa Dawidy station on ul. Baletowa. 

If PKP were to be strictly accurate with its station-naming protocols, W-wa Dawidy should really have been called W-wa Dawidy Zwykłe, as Dawidy proper lies in the gmina of Raszyn.

This time three years ago:
What did you do in the First World Cyber-War?

This time four years ago:
Solstice sunset, Gogolińska

This time nine years ago
Extreme fixie

This time 11 years ago:
Poland's worst railway station

This time 12 years ago:
Last Christmas before the Recession?

Sunday, 20 December 2020

A symbolic collapse

My daily walks involve various routes centred on Jeziorki, heading off on different compass points each day to avoid monotony. Today I headed south-west; crossing the tracks to ulica Gogolińska to pop by Zgorzała before checking the stretch of the S7 extention between Zgorzała and Zamienie. On my way, just across Warsaw's southernmost borders, I passed the hunters' stand (in Polish ambona, literally pulpit), which to my surprise is no longer upright. Was it brought down with or without Man's agency? If with - is this the work of hunt saboteurs? Landowners looking to clear space for new development? The result of a well-attended party involving grubasy and tłuste kiełbasy? Or did it just collapse on its own as a result of rotting timbers and neglect, aided by a strong southeasterly wind? 

My suspicion is that it just collapsed. Compared to other hunters' stands I have seen, this one was rather shoddily built, and on my visits up top, I didn't spy any sign of human presence - either hunters, or teenagers or local devotees of feldalkohol. 

Since the development of the fields between ul. Gogolińska and ul. Postępu in Zgorzała, wildlife has moved on, some up to Jeziorki and its lakelands, the majority no doubt in the opposite direction, further away from Warsaw, towards Lesznowola and beyond. I have seen hare, deer and wild boar around here, the former being most common. Those that remain will no longer need to worry about being blasted by hunters. Below: the stand as it looked in May.

Its collapse is sad; it stood as a relic of an earlier age, when Warsaw ended abruptly and where rural life began. Today, beyond its boundary, the exurbs continue marching outward, swallowing peripheral towns like Piaseczno and Pruszków and Otwock as the sprawl develops.

Hunting gives way to dog-walking, and I must say, I'm rather glad.

This time six years ago:

Saturday, 19 December 2020

Small local milestones, ulica Baletowa

The tunnel, taking the S7 extension over ul. Baletowa, is ready, and opened to traffic on Thursday 17 December. This form of bridging seems far speedier than the method used to get ul. Karczunkowska over the railway line by W-wa Jeziorki station. Galvanised, corrugated-steel spans are erected over the road then back-filled with soil.

The photo below was taken on Wednesday 16 December; you can just about see into the tunnel and the double-unbroken yellow lines on the new asphalt.

The pace of the work (general contractor PolAqua) is breathtaking, given the pandemic. Yesterday, the southernmost section of the S7 extension, (5km of Section 'C' from Tarczyn Południe to Grójec), was opened. This section ('A', from the airport to Lesznowola) should be ready by spring 2022, and I'm confident right now that this is achievable. However, work the middle section ('B' from Lesznowola to Tarczyn Północ) is at a standstill, the general contractor being told to clear off as a result of under-performance. Will there be a new competitive tender for Section 'B'? Or will the efficient contractors working on 'C' and 'A' be given the middle stretch to complete?

Left: just ten months ago, there was nothing to show that the S7 would come through the fields between Dawidy and Jeziorki except for some fluorescent orange crosses sprayed on the grass. Photo taken 20 February 2020. Hard to believe just how much has been achieved since then, including the new road viaduct over the S7 that will link Jeziorki to Dawidy Bankowe. 

Below: the state of the road yesterday; in the distance the new viaduct; the tipper truck is driving along what will be the service road (one on either side of the S7). These are the same fields that you see in the photo above, ten months ago; another 18 months to completion, I'd guess.

Bonus snaps from While The Guard Was Down (On Christmas Day, On Christmas Day).

Below: while the giant upturned gutter was put in its place, traffic was rerouted along a small asphalted bypass. Now the tunnel is opened, the bypass is closed, so I scramble up to the top of the bank to take this panorama looking south. You can see the tunnel is yet to be completely covered over with soil.

Below: from pretty much the same point, looking the other way towards town, this time with a long lens. You can see where the S7 is to join the S79; there's a ten-metre or so gap between the roads.

Below: the level of the asphalt inside the tunnel is lower than on ul. Baletowa on either of its sides, causing a dip. There are no signs warning drivers of this bump. Drivers, however, are duly cautious of the new road surface. I didn't see anyone 'getting air'. Photo taken from inside the tunnel looking towards the railway line.

Below: looking south from the S7, Jeziorki to the left, Dawidy Bankowe to the right. In the distance, the new bridge (officially named WD-3 - all bridges, footbridges, tunnels, culverts etc have a designation, starting with WS-1 - our tunnel, above, all the way down to WD-30, just before Grójec.

Sunday, 13 December 2020

Small local milestones, Chynów station

The rest of the world goes about its business; Covid looks like it's beginning its third wave (earlier than I'd predicted), but here in Chynów, the Big News is that the level crossing on ulica Wolska is finally open. Last weekend there was still work going on, now it's fully functioning, lights, barriers, pavements, connecting pedestrian crossings, signage - everything. This is the crossing to the south of Chynów station, connecting the village of Widok (behind me) to Chynów.

The bells start to clang, the lights start to flash, the barriers fall, and what little traffic there is on a dreary Saturday dusk comes to a halt. As is standard now, there is a three-minute time lag between the barriers coming down and the train actually passing.

Below: here's the old crossing on ul. Wolska, now closed for good. The alignment of the road here pre-dates the old barriers; there was a tight kink in the road designed to slow motorists down ahead of the  tracks. With proper safety equipment, this kink is no longer needed, and Wolska has been straightened out. At last, the road surface is smooth; no longer will I have to stand on the footboards of my motorbike to get around this bumpy stretch.

Below: the changed alignment of the roadway (in yellow). Much has changed since spring, when this satellite photo was taken and uploaded to Google Earth. Ul. Kolejowa is now asphalted all the way south to ul. Spokojna (the next level crossing south of Chynów), the new tracks have been laid right through on both lines, and there's asphalt on the southern section of ul. Spacerowa.

Below: but the new asphalt on ul. Spacerowa is but a foretaste of things to come. At the moment, it goes as far as the top of the rise (on the horizon). Beyond that - Somme-style mud and trenches. But it will change. To the right of this photo, you can see the strip of land purchased from the adjoining orchards that will be turned over to a proper, full-width pavement, allowing inhabitants of Widok to get to Chynów station directly - over 85 years after it was built - with clean shoes. The alternative mud-free route, across the level crossing and up ul. Kolejowa, entails an extra 200m walk.

Below: just as I reach the top of the rise (visible in the photo above), as though by magic, the station lights come on. The brand-new station looks so beautiful! The time: 15:35, 12 minutes after sunset (the year's earliest).

 Chynów station, three years ago, before the modernisation works got under way. Compare with the photo above to see how much has changed. Only the original station building (in yellow and brown) remains. Everything else is new. Note the new rails waiting to be relaid on the tracks to the left, and the stockpile of concrete sleepers and ballast in the middle distance - and points for the goods sidings to the right. Photo taken from where the entrance to Platform 2 (the middle one in the photo above) stands now.

Below: once, to get to the single island platform from the west side of the station, passengers had to cross a live track; there was no official exit to the east of the line. Now, the tunnel and its three entrances are finally open, giving local passengers greater safety and, at last, proper access to Jakubowizna that doesn't involve marching over 85m of ballast between live rails and then a scramble over a slippery trench and then another 15m of mud to reach the nearest asphalt.

The opening of this tunnel shaves a minute's walking time off my journey from Chynów station to my działka - more importantly its safer than either trespassing across the tracks or walking the long way round via an unlit and unpaved stretch of ul. Kolejowa. Progress.

This time last year:

This time three years ago:
Kick out against change - or accept it?

This time five years ago:
Warwick University alumni meet in Warsaw

This time six years ago:
Pluses and minuses of PKP InterCity

This time seven years ago:
When transportation breaks down

This time 12 years ago:
Full moon closest to Earth

Saturday, 12 December 2020

Solar promises dashed

"If you can count, count on yourself" - old Polish proverb. The man from Innogy Stoen Operator came today, Saturday 12 December, to change the electricity meter to a two-way one that measures energy produced from our new solar panels balanced against the energy drawn down from the grid on cloudy days (and nights). Once Innogy emails an aneks do umowy to sign, the formalities will be complete, and the solar panels will start to earn a living...

But there will be no 5,000 złotys (£1,000) forthcoming, as promised by the Polish government. I had intended that as a Christmas bonus. The Mój Prąd programme, which originally had the deadline for applications set for 18 December, suddenly had it moved forward to Sunday 7 December. The announcement came on the afternoon of Thursday 3 December, leaving one working day to finalise the paperwork. Reason given: the money has ran out. [You can still offset the capital investment against income tax - this remains helpful.]

Applications for subsidies were arriving at the rate of 2,000 a day, and those due to arrive over the last 11 days of the programme (such as ours) are now too late. The original plan was: get the chitty from the meter man, dash with it to the nearest BOK (customer service centre, at Galeria Mokotow), get them to print out the annex to the contract, sign it - and by Monday, 14 December, four days before the deadline, we're sorted, and over the finish line. 

Why did we leave it so late? 

Why did it take energy company Innogy Stoen Operator 13 working days between receiving the registered mail with our application (it arrived on 18 November) to authorising a change of meter (4 December), and another eight days for the chap to actually come round and do it?

* * * * *

The ill-will and mistrust generated by having the rug pulled from under one's feet affects not only the 22,000 or so households who won't receive the promised refund, but also the numerous solar-energy companies set up on the back of Mój Prąd to install and connect the panels and sort out the paperwork. And the grid companies, whose call-centre representatives are no doubt getting an earful from disgruntled customers across Poland. A lack of decent forecasting is no doubt to blame - there were ten per cent more applications than planned, and those ten per cent were cut off; the possibility of a premature termination of the programme was not properly communicated, neither to consumers, nor to the industry.

This is one of several instances where poor communication and unpredictability and lack of established rules have held back renewable energy in Poland - biogas, waste-to-energy and onshore wind turbines being the previous ones. I've seen British investors come and leave with their tails between their legs as all of a sudden the rules change mid-project. 

Things like this do nothing to boost investor sentiment in Poland's renewable energy sector.

Climate change is accelerating (this year's Covid-driven drop in CO2 emissions notwithstanding); moving away from fossil fuels is crucial if we are to avoid environmental disasters in coming decades. Poland still generates more than three-quarters of its electricity by burning coal. Yet fossil fuels are currently cheaper than renewables by a factor of between 1:1.3 to 1:1.5. To make up the difference, any top-down initiative to wean consumers away from coal must be kick-started by subsidies.

With the 5,000 złotys subsidy, the panels on our roof would have paid for themselves in full after seven years. Without, the payback period will be nearer 10 and half years. 

Would I have taken the decision without the incentive offered by Mój Prąd? Probably not. I would have waited until the renewables-to-fossil-fuels cost-ratio had fallen to 1:1, driven by ever-cheaper, ever-more effective solar panels. (A perovskite/crystalline silicon sandwich panel, or even better, a perovskite/perovskite sandwich panel could be getting 80%+ extra solar energy from the same surface, but that's maybe three to four years off.) But by then - sod the government and its whims. Renewables will be cheaper than coal. Switching to solar will be a no-brainer.

Having said that, as soon as the aneks do umowy is signed, our electricity bills will tumble. Average monthly consumption of electricity for the past 12 months was 190 złotys (around £38) for 360 kWh usage. This should now fall to 41 złotys (around £8) a month, which is the connection charge. 

The difference is 150 złotys (£30). How many months will it take to pay off an investment of 21,500 złotys (£4,300)? Nearly 12 years. But then there is the income tax relief...

Do I feel bitter about having that 5,000 złotys snatched away from me two weeks before the original deadline? Yes, I do right now, but I'll get over it.  

Unlike Brexit.

This time three years ago:
Meditations on West Ealing and Change.

This time five years ago:
Warwick University alumni meet in Warsaw

This time six years ago:
Pluses and minuses of PKP InterCity

This time seven years ago:
When transportation breaks down

This time 12 years ago:
Full moon closest to Earth

Friday, 11 December 2020

Goodbye to all that

The beft British cheefef are on sale at Lidl; pandemic notwithstanding, the Deluxe shelves are once more groaning with Europe's finest foods (until Christmas, that is). Lidl's 'surprise and delight' strategy pulls in the shoppers, looking for some outstanding food at supermarket prices. And among the jars of French duck pates and huge slabs of Gran Padano cheese, look at this - handmade vintage (18 month-old) Cheddar in wax, and mature Blue Stilton.

And what taste! And what a price! The vintage Cheddar was 20 złotys (£4.11) a block (400g); the mature Stilton was 22 złotys (£4.53) a wedge (454g = 1lb). Lidl's own-brand Valley Spire vintage Cheddar has become a year-round staple, but it is only 14 months old and costs slightly more per kilo.

[Cheddar comes in five flavours - mild, medium, mature, extra mature and vintage. The first two are forgettable, the mature and extra mature entirely OK, but the vintage is gum-tinglingly excellent.]

One way or another, this could well be the last time we see fine British cheeses on sale in Poland in a mainstream retail outlet. Brexit is looming, and even if some kind of a free-trade deal is agreed by this Sunday, it is unlikely that British food could find its way onto Polish supermarket shelves. Because the UK is leaving the single European market and the Customs Union on 1 January, new regulations will come into force ending seamless trade between Britain and the Continent. And if no deal is reached, and the UK crashes out on default terms dictated by the World Trade Organisation, customs tariffs will be imposed. In the case of cheese, one Polish exporter told me, this could be up to 75%. And Lidl won't even bother trying to sell 400g blocks of vintage Cheddar for 35 złotys (£7.20) to its customers.

Let's assume there is agreement, and there is a free-trade deal. At the moment, a freight forwarder taking a consignment of goods from the UK to Poland or vice versa needs just two pieces of paper - an invoice and a transport docket. After 1 January - even with a deal - this will go up to 11. An additional nine procedures will be required. Much of this will be doable online, the problem is that on the UK side, ten new IT systems have to be up and running perfectly by 1 January. That's in 20 days' time (11 working days in the UK because of Christmas).

For this reason, many freight forwarders have announced that they will stop sending goods across the Channel by the end of next week. They don't want the risk of having consignments turned back at the border because the paperwork is incorrect. Insurers don't want to insure loads due to arrive in the UK after 1 January.

In the best-case scenario, there will be a few weeks of chaos at Dover, after which those exporters who can be bothered to deal with all the new red-tape (and its knock-on costs), will find their way back to doing profitable business. Maybe the cost to British cheesemakers of conformity with EU regulations which currently apply only to cheesemakers from outside the EU will be too high, and they will lose this market of 450m wealthy consumers. [When did you last see - in Poland or the UK - cheese from outside the EU? I remember Canadian mature cheddar only from childhood.]

In a worst-case scenario, all those extra red-tape and regulatory costs will still be there, but with WTO tariffs on top. Which need to be worked out and collected. In the case of mixed loads, which make up most of chilled-food logistics, this will be a nightmare.

The largest firm supplying Polski skleps across the UK sends over 70 to 80 44-tonne refrigerated trucks a week; typically they will be carrying up to 250 different stock-keeping units (SKUs) - pallets of yogurt of different flavours, chilled poultry parts, trays of minced pork, herring fillets in cream - POAOs (products of animal origin) - each requiring a veterinary certificate after 1 January. Now, herring fillets in cream - do you need one, or two certificates (one for the fish, one for the milk?) No one seems to know. Like those ten new software systems, it's a work in progress. Neither the customs agent on the UK side, nor the customs agent on the Polish side can find out with any certainty.

The UK is Poland's third-biggest export market (after Germany and Czechia. Before the referendum, the UK was number two). Food is the second-biggest category of Polish exports to the UK after automotive. Yet out of the €88 billion of food and agricultural produce that Poland exported last year, only €1.3 billion went to the UK, so the total loss of such a market won't be that big of a hit for Polish farmers and food processors. But given that the UK imports around 50% of its food, and half of that comes from the EU, there could be a lot of empty spaces on Britain's supermarkets in the new year.

This time three years ago:
Half an inch of snow brings chaos to the UK

This time four years ago:
Łódź Fabryczna station opens again

This time six years ago:
Pluses and minuses of PKP

This time seven years ago:
When transportation breaks down

This time nine years ago:
Take me back to Tulsa

This time 11 years ago:
Another book launch

This time 12 years ago:
Jeziorki in the 16th Century

This time 13 years ago:
Rotten weather, literally

Thursday, 10 December 2020

First snow for ages!

Ignoring the snow that came and went in a few hours on 29 January of this year, it's been a long time since a proper snowfall visited Jeziorki. Today's snow won't stay long, as temperatures are heading above zero, with rain and +4C forecast for tomorrow night. So while the atmosphere is right, time to drop everything for my constitutional spacer at dusk. I head off up footpath MZ-5142-z (below) towards the ponds.

There's no one around, although I can see footprints in the snow. The lake is not entirely frozen over; the swans, however, have finally had enough and flown off in search of open water.

Below: onward to ulica Kórnicka, looking north-east towards ul. Baletowa. The new estate of four houses has been under construction for three years or so; builders were there today, but no sign of new owners moving in. Blue bin-bags out today - paper and cardboard.

Below: looking south-west from the corner of ul. Kórnicka and ul. Trombity, and the drainage ditch that connects the culvert under the railway line and the ponds.

Below: twilight falls; the previous southbound train still didn't have the lights on for the passengers - this one did. Five minutes past sunset.

Below: by the time I reach the other end of ul. Trombity, the lights come on in the street and houses. And still the snow gently falls... Looking across towards ul. Karczunkowska

Below: final look up ul. Trombity, at the junction with Nawłocka (left) and Dumki (right).

And how did Felusia react to seeing snow for the first time? While she had her lunchtime nap, the snow began to fall; when she woke up, the world outside looked very different to how it did this morning. A fascinating phenomenon for a curious and observant cat. I sense that she's Been Here Before, and what she's seeing is strangely reminiscent of something she can't quite put her paw on...

This time last year:

This time two years ago:
Consciousness, memory and spirit of place

This time three years ago:
Polish Perivale

This time four years ago:
Power in the vertical

This time eight years ago:
And still they come [anomalous flashbacks that is]

This time nine years ago:
Classic glass

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

This time 12 years ago:
"Rorate caeli de super nubes pluant justum..."

Monday, 7 December 2020

The Darkest is upon us...

Today, 7 December, the sun sets in Warsaw at 15:23, the earliest in the year. And for the next nine days, it will also set at 15:23. From 7 December right through to 17 December, each day - 15:23. [Now, if you live in London, the earliest sun set will be tomorrow (at 15:51) and then at the same time for just eight days (until 16 December). There are probably some rounding errors at play here.]

You'd think, in the interests of symmetry that the shortest day of the year (21 December, seven hours, 42 minutes and 10 seconds between sunrise and sunset in Warsaw) would also be when the earliest sunset and the latest sunrise occur. Not so. The year's latest sunrise in Warsaw doesn't happen until 27 December (at 07:45), and it stays there at that time until 3 January. If one wants to be pedantic and seek the earliest sunset down to the second, then it falls either on 12 December or 13 December, while the latest sunrise is either on 29 December or 30 December.

So winter solstice itself - the moment when the North Pole is tilted furthest away from the sun, and we have the shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere - neither corresponds to the earliest sunset (it happens eight/nine days later, by which time sunset occurs two minutes later), nor to the latest sunrise (that happens eight/nine days after solstice, again the difference is two minutes, the other way).

So we have just entered the Plateau of Darkness - a plateau rather than a peak. From today, 7 December, to 3 January. From the first day with Earliest Sunset, to the last day with Latest Sunrise.

There should, therefore,be a Plateau of Light, from the first day with Earliest Sunrise, to the last day with Latest Sunset. This occurs between 11 June and 28 June. Note the asymmetry. The Dark Plateau is 28 days long, while the Light Plateau is only 17 days long. The sun rises in Warsaw at 04:14 for 11 days (from 11 June to 22 June), and sets at 21:01 for seven days (from 21 June to 28 June). And unlike the Winter Solstice, there is an overlap here - and thus there is an actual peak, occurring on 21 or 22 June. And then the slow shortening of the day, bearable into early autumn, but mentally painful after the clocks go back at the end of October. That pain is now easing.

Because of Covid, I'm working from home, so I have no need to wake up in darkness! I can be at my workstation at 9am, come what may. As I result, the time at which the sun rises is entirely academic. Gone (and not mourned) are the days when I'd wake at 03:30 to leave home at 04:30 to catch a train at W-wa Jeziorki so I could catch at train around 05:15 from W-wa Zachodnia to, say, Poznań, Katowice or Kraków in time for the start of a conference there at 09:00. Zoom meetings have said goodbye to all that. [Today's event for Polish exporters about Brexit linked Warsaw, Lublin, London and the Midlands; I took part from home. There were 200 participants. Can't do that in face-to-face format!]

Quarter of an hour after sunrise, 1 December, Jeziorki

The photo above shows that the arc drawn in the sky by the winter sun is less steep than in midsummer. The photo was taken at 07:40, sunrise that day was at 07:23.

Sunrise may have become a theoretical concept for me, but sunset most definitely is not. I strive to break up my working day to ensure I get my walk in before it gets dark. Sunset, therefore, is a natural part of my daily activity, a measure, a benchmark.

The fact that we've already hit that day when we know that sunset is not going to keep on getting earlier and earlier is the moment we can begin to celebrate the start of the Sol Invictus festival of the Unconquered Sun. By 25 December it is clear (later sunrises notwithstanding) that the day is getting longer; by the New Year the sun in Warsaw sets a noticeable ten minutes later than it does between 7-17 December.

The Hammer of Darkness is lifting; some sunny days of late have helped. However, it is the subconscious knowledge that a) things are not getting any worse and b) that soon things will start getting better that lifts the spirit.

The Darkness is upon us now, but we can see reason for hope.

This time last year:
The Body - A Guide for Occupants

This time five years ago:
Extreme weather and the British climate

This time seven years ago:
Cheaper public transport for Varsovians

This time eight years ago:
Swans on ice

This time nine years ago:

This time ten years year:
What's the English for kombinować?

This time 12 years ago:
The demographics of jazz

This time 13 years ago:
A day in Poznań