Thursday, 23 September 2021

Science, Religion, Magic and Consciousness

I retreat from the physical world into my conscious mind, where Science cannot reduce me to mere matter. It is in here that magic is worked; it is in here that my innermost, deepest, truest feelings (qualia) are being experienced.

I hold dear the primacy of the subjective conscious experience - qualia, and memories of qualia. These contain and retain the essence of who I am. They are the purest experience of self, devoid of ego, unshaped by biology - an experience [noun] that I experience [verb] uniquely; no one else may know of it - unless I share it.

Waking from sleep, I have a flash of inspiration, placing consciousness into the context of science, religion and magic.

Science has yet to understand consciousness. Yes, there are those reductionist materialists who argue that consciousness lies exclusively within the brain of higher-order animals; confined within the skull - merely an emergent property of evolution. But there is a growing number of scientists who are turning to panpsychism as a physical possibility - the notion that consciousness, like mass and energy, is a fundamental property of matter. A field - like an electromagnetic field or gravitational field. Consciousness organises and grows together with the sophistication of the life that carries it. It grows in the direction of God - goodness, wholeness, understanding - total awareness of All.

Without a scientific underpinning, the supernatural, metaphysical or paranormal have no frames of reference; they are full of hollow babble. There is but one Universal truth, to which we humans on Planet Earth are edging slowly towards.

Can you manipulate natural forces or alter destiny by conscious thought? That is magic in its purest meaning.

Magic - mind over matter.Willing outcomes to happen. "If you will it, Dude, it is no dream." [Leb. 7:19]. Yet over the years, I have singularly failed to will evil men from high office. My will to remove them is 1038 weaker than their will to remain in power. Or something of that order.

Having said that, I do believe that in our day-to-day lives, it is possible to influence outcomes by conscious thought. Especially when the outcome you seek is ultimately good. The result of prayer. Prayers of gratitude, prayers asking for those most basic of human needs - health, security, companionship. But then what is religion but institutionalised magic? 

"Expect the unexpected" is something I taught the children when they were young. We teeter ever on the edge of chaos; bad events can be warded off by thinking of their happening. I have long held that on board an airliner that crashes there was not one passenger who had consciously contemplated the possibility of that happening. When our train from Kraków to Wrocław was two hours late the other week because of derailed engine had ripped up the points at a junction west of Gliwice, I felt sure that like me, not a single person boarding the train had considered the possibility that it may be delayed so badly.

Walking home the other day I was mindful of the cat, which had not shown up after a night outdoors. Would Felusia be waiting outside for me? Yes she was. But the house key, which over the past few years has three or four times refused to open the door, once again jammed. I hadn't expected that. After looking for neighbours (can of WD40? Cat food?) and walking around the garden, I tried the key again. The door opened as if nothing had ever been wrong. Intermittent faults that randomly occur are, I believe, events that can be prevented by consciousness. 

But can I prove this experimentally? No. Am I aware of this phenomenon over my 63 years? Yes. Magic? If you say so.

Whatever cannot be falsified by science, is. It exists until such time as it can be disproved in multiple experiments which are verified in peer-reviewed papers. Until a team of scientists in a lab at MIT devise an experiment which shows God doesn't exist - an experiment that can be replicated in labs all over the world - God will continue to exist. 

Over the centuries, science has shown that base metals cannot be turned into gold, that phlogiston doesn't exist, that vaccines work better than prayer, but science does not hold all the answers.

The magic, the wonder, in the world is held in our minds. We should be open to the possibilities, but at the same time not expecting miracles. If I were to proclaim that using my mind power, I can swing a needle one way or another - I won't, because the outcome would be meaningless in practical terms, a crude human attempt to try to capture something that's immeasurable in nature.


By coincidence, I was reading the print version of last week's The Economist and came across a story about China's growth. The headline grabbed me - 'The Thales of Economics'. Thales, the multinational that builds electrical systems for aerospace, defence and transportation? I read the whole piece - no mention of the company. Maybe a play on words? The Economist likes a good pun. If so, it's lost on me. Maybe an song by Bruce Springsteen or David Bowie - favourite songwriters of The Economist's subeditors? No, I know them all too well. This obscure reference to Thales, by the way, is from a magazine that's careful to point out that JP Morgan Chase is a bank and that PwC is a consultancy. I'm left guessing that this Thales is some ancient Greek guy known only to those who studied the Greats at Oxford.

So I check. "Thales of Miletus, 624 –545 BC, a Greek mathematician, recognised for breaking from the use of mythology to explain the world and the universe, and instead explaining natural objects and phenomena by naturalistic hypotheses – a precursor to modern science." So - we can trace back to Thales the human urge to understand the wonder of the Universe in non-magical terms. [I still have no idea what Thales has to do with the article about trade wars and capital controls.] 

This time three years ago:
The house on the działka, coming on
(Amazing how much as been done since then!)

This time four years ago:
Autumn comes early

This time five years ago:
Kriegslok passes through Jeziorki

This time nine years ago:
A little way west of Jeziorki

This time ten years ago:
The Old Sailor's Tale - part II 

This time 11 years ago:

This time 12 years ago:
The passing of Lt. Cmdr. Tadeusz Lesisz 

This time 14 years ago:
Summer ends, autumn begins

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Into darkness

It's that time of year again; brace yourselves (unless you're reading this in the Southern Hemisphere) for six dark months. At 21:22 today, Central European Summer Time, the sun dipped below the plane of the Earth's equator. Equinox. 

Technically, however, night isn't yet equal to day - today, the day's length was 12 hours and 16 minutes - we won't have equilux until Saturday 25 September, when the day will be 12 hours and five seconds long.

Coping with the darkness is a problem, not a debilitating one but certainly it's a factor that adversely affects me. The worst time of year for me mentally is mid- to late-November, when daylength shortens by some three minutes each day. Week by week it's getting noticeably darker; the clocks have gone back at the end of October, and Christmas is still weeks away. Both my parents died at the end of October, as though facing another dark winter was too much for them to bear.

The asymmetry in the way our planet spins means that the earliest sunsets in Warsaw will be between 8 and 18 December (15:23 each day), while the latest sunsets will be between 27 December and 2 January (07:45 each day). I could do with dropping the time change, gaining an hour of evening daylight at the expense of an even later sunrise; it seems this is too difficult to do at national, let alone at EU level. 

From 18 December onwards, sunset starts getting later again; by Christmas Day we've gained five minutes of daylight at the end of the day (though the mornings are still getting darker). By New Year's Eve, sunset is nine minutes later than at its earliest, and from 3 January, the sunrise will start getting earlier.

Summer warmth encouraged me to stay on the działka longer this year. However, as the heat stored in the walls of the house begins to dissipate, initiating the need to heat two houses, so I return to Jeziorki. Sitting in a shirt and jumper is OK, but shirt and jumper and outdoor jacket is a bit much. Within the next week or two, instead of popping up to Jeziorki once a week for a beard-trim and change of clothes, I shall be popping down to Jakubowizna once a week to check that all's well. Turn over the motorbike engines (especially in mid-winter), and keep an eye open for signs of mildew or cobwebs.

The laziness of summer is dying away too. I'm piling on more sets of exercise again after taking it easy in June and July, returning to an intensity last seen in April and May. 

Now the evenings are drawing in, I have noticed that my dreams - forgettable over summer - are returning to the vividness and memorability they had in the winter and spring. An interesting phenomenon. Is it location? In Jeziorki and Jakubowizna, I sleep with my feet pointing south, my head towards the north. Both bedrooms are triple-glazed and with roller blinds. I can only posit that temperature or indeed daylength have a role in this.

There will still be warm, sunny days. I remember 3 October last year - a gentle wind from the south could still bring relief from the hot sun, walking around Sułkowice. 

But then the pandemic accelerated; two waves have hit Poland since. The first reached a peak on 11 November for new cases (25,611 a day, rolling seven-day average), and on 25 November for deaths (505 a day, rolling seven-day average), before falling back towards the end of December. In the New Year, they started rising again (from 7,668 cases/239 deaths), hitting the peak of the deadliest wave on 1 April for cases (28,878) and 14 April for deaths (604 in that one day). 

Since then, the pandemic waned over the summer, with another low point on 10 July for cases (77) and 15 August for deaths (just two!). Since then, it's been rising again. Although the number of new cases is roughly similar to this time last year, the number of deaths is about one third fewer than in the third week of September 2020.

Will we get used to the situation in which several hundred people a day lose their lives because of the unvaccinated and those who refuse to wear masks in shops, offices and public transport?

This time three years ago:
Summer's end

This time four years ago:
In which I lose a lot of data from my old laptop

This time five years ago:
Konin - town of aluminium, electricity and coal

This time eight years ago:
Car-free day falls on a Sunday

This time nine years ago:
Vistula at record low level

This time 12 years ago:
Car-free day? Warsaw's roads busier than ever

This time 13 years ago:
The shape of equinox

This time 14 years ago:
Potato harvest time in Jeziorki

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Gdańsk, Northern Europe

Having watched Jonathan Meade's excellent 2008 travel documentary, Magnetic North at least three times, I am convinced that the main division in Europe is no longer East and West, but North and South. And ever has it been thus, the 45 post-war years with an Iron Curtain having been a temporary anomaly.

 As Mr Meades points out, the wine-drinking South and beer- and spirits-drinking North are two entirely different faces of our continent, sharing a common culture and history, but divided by climate - and therefore by attitude to life. Magnetic North is a journey from Northern France through Belgium and Holland, along the Baltic Coast, and ending in Finland. The North is grim and Gothic; austere and hard-working, for whom strong alcohols chemically ease the existential and climatic angst of being. Gdańsk features prominently in the series; it bears all the hallmarks of northern-ness. 

I am a fan of the Tri-City - Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia - a coastal agglomeration of three-quarters of a million inhabitants. Had I the choice of where to live and work in Poland today, it would be the ideal place, one where I'd be hard-pressed to find boredom. Gdańsk alone itself has much to commend it for - a historic centre, beaches, a national park, museums, universities, but when added seamlessly to the resort town of Sopot, the port city of Gdynia and attractive hinterlands in all directions, it makes for one of the great European locations.

Gdańsk is thoroughly European; as a former member of the Hanseatic League since 1358, Gdańsk or Danzig (or Gduńsk in Kashubian) became wealthy on Baltic trade. Houses, warehouses, mills, churches and markets were built within a fortified wall. In the churches, Latin abounds, bridging the linguistic divide between the Slavs Although  heavily damaged during WW2, the old town was restored to reflect the Flemish, Dutch, French and Italian influence as well as the Germanic. The result is an extremely atmospheric mediaeval centre. Let's take a look...

Dominican monastery behind the Basilica of St Nicholas (1239). 

The Prison Gate, reminiscent of Glamis and Cawdor castles in Polanski's Macbeth

Fine Arts Academy in the Renaissance building of the Great Armoury

Hanseatic brick: warehouse converted into a hotel

Ulica Długa ('Long Street'); main route through the old town

Ulica Garbary ('Tanneries Street'). Note the eagle on the roof at no. 13.

'The Amsterdam of the North'; the old mill is now a chocolate factory

St Mary's Basilica; left, the high altar, right, the astronomical clock (1464)

Left: the Great Organ of the Archcathedral of Gdańsk Oliwa, 9km (5.6 miles) from the Old Town is well worth a visit, especially to take in a concert. Starting with J.S. Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (sends shivers down the spine to hear its terrifying majesty blasted out on a 18th century organ of such as size), the concert reflects Northern Europe's culture and heritage including works by Handel and Gounod; familiarity across time and space. An Englishman, Dutchman, German, Dane or Swede would feel equally at home with the setting and the music, the Latin inscriptions and the architecture. The motto of the City of Gdańsk ("Nec temere, nec timide" - neither rashly nor timdly) is worthy of contemplation, and would not appear odd had it been the motto of  No. 167 (Gold Coast) Squadron, RAF.

Gdańsk, like Edinburgh, another favourite city of mine, merits many revisits - there are so many attractions, so much to see and do, that another journey beckons already. And like Edinburgh, it's one that works well in the dusk, in the wet and cold of a Northern European autumn, winter and early spring. Settling into a warm cellar bar down a cobbled side-street for a plate of herring with vodka shot followed by an amber Belgian monastic ale as the wind lashes rain onto Mediaeval brick is a comforting prospect.

6 But who is able to build Him an house, seeing that heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him? - 2 Chronicles 2, v 6.

This time two years ago:

This time four years ago:
Stepping up the pace

This time five years ago:
Evolution of human consciousness

This time six years ago:
Farewell to Ciocia Jadzia

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

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

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

This time 12 years ago:
Catching the klimat

This time 14 years ago:
Road to Łuków - a road trip into the sublime

Sunday, 19 September 2021

Seaside, Sopot

Consider this: you can leave Warsaw Central at quarter past seven in the morning, and have your toes in the Baltic by half past ten. Train times from Warsaw to Gdańsk have halved since the late 1990s. Whether you choose to alight at Gdańsk Główny and take the number 8 tram to Stogi or carry on to Gdańsk Oliwa and catch the number 6 tram to Jelitkowo, a late-morning dip in the sea is now eminently doable from Warsaw. Should the call of  waves and sandy beaches still lure you out of season, when the crowds have thinned and the accommodation cheaper, a short break makes eminent sense.

Below: sand between the toes - the water, heated all summer in the captive tank that is the Baltic Sea, is warmer than the bracing breeze from the north. The beach stretches all the way from the estuary of the Martwa Wisła ('dead Vistula') in Gdańsk, via Sopot, to Gdynia, the cliffs of which are visible on the horizon, as is Sopot's pier.

Below: on to the pier (molo) itself. Europe's longest wooden pier (511m), it is however only a quarter of the length of Southend's pier (2,140m), which stands on cast-iron pillars. The wind was brisk; note the swan in the foreground water, it was enjoying being bounced up and down on the waves.

Below: view of the pier from the western side. For those used to the tidal amplitudes of the seas around the British Isles and French Atlantic coast, high tide and low tide in the Baltic are no more than 10cm apart, due to the sea's narrow opening to the ocean.

A resort town for nearly 200 years, within the borders of the Free City of Danzig, Zoppot (German spelling) was a popular resort for Poles and Germans alike between the wars. Its Kasino-Hotel, now the Grand Hotel, (below) served as Hitler's HQ during the invasion of  Poland in 1939. Martin Bormann and Vladimir Putin also stayed here. More than just a touch of Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel about the place.

The sun has set, but Sopot's night life is about to get going. Below: this is the Dom Zdrojowy ('Spa House'), hotel, conference centre and art gallery, with adjoining gardens.

New to me (my last visit to Sopot was exactly four years ago, in September 2017) is this statue to Wojtek the Bear, the first one being unveiled in Edinburgh in 2015. Fittingly located on ulica Bohaterów Monte Cassino, the street named for the heroes of the 1944 battle - of whom Wojtek was one (helping to carry crates of shells to the Polish artillery crews). Wojtek spent the post-war years in Edinburgh Zoo, dying in 1963. This statue was unveiled on 1 September 1939, the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of WW2.

[More about Wojtek the Bear in Edinburgh here and here.]

This time last year:
Repeatable moments of joy

This time two years ago:
Spectacularly glorious day, Ealing

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

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

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

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

This time ten years ago:
Push-pull for Mazowsze

This time11 years ago:
Okęcie runway repairs are complete

This time 13 years ago:
I know that painting from somewhere...

This time 14 years ago:
The March of Progress, ul. Postępu

Thursday, 16 September 2021

The Force Field of Fate

Physics' inability to reconcile quantum mechanics with general relativity, and biology's inability to define the nature of consciousness, has led me away from our Newtonian certainties. I am drawn back towards more unorthodox ideas. The US Navy's acknowledgment that unidentified flying objects are manoeuvring at impossible speeds through its restricted airspace makes that intellectual journey easier.

Scientists tend to dismiss all manifestations of the paranormal, supernatural or metaphysical on the basis that they cannot be replicated in a lab. I'm tending to believe that these phenomena do exist, but weakly.

How weakly? Look at the four fundamental forces that shape our Universe - gravity, electromagnetism and the strong- and weak nuclear interaction. Gravity is the weakest of the four by a huge margin - around 1038 times weaker than the strong nuclear interaction, 1036 times weaker than electromagnetic force and 1029 times weaker than the weak nuclear interaction. As such, gravity has no significant influence at the level of subatomic particles.

And yet gravity exists; we all know it and we all feel its effects. It's there, it's measurable (at sea level on Earth, objects fall towards it at the rate of 9.8 metres per second per second). It's just that on earth, the gravitational pull of a grain of sand cannot be measured. Out in the depths of space, however, tiny dust particles ejected from the remains of supernovae will gravitate together, eventually forming asteroids.

Could it not be the same of paranormal powers? We feel they exist, it's just that they are weak and cannot be measured? And that they don't want to allow themselves to be measured in standardised laboratory experiments

It is though God - the Universe - is like Planet Earth, whose gravitation pull is undeniable. But we humans... Reach for a steel can with a magnet in your hand, and the can will be drawn to the magnet. But not to your hand; your gravitational pull is insignificant.

If you ask the reasonably observant layperson, "which is stronger - gravity or the forces holding atoms together?", they'd think for a while and say the latter, but when asked how much stronger, few would dare postulate that the strong nuclear interaction is a trillion trillion quadrillion times stronger than gravity. Now if you asked that same person "which is more likely, a random event or a meaningful coincidence?" they'll say a "random event", but will not reject meaningful coincidence out of hand (unless they are a hardened sceptic), mainly because they have experienced meaningful coincidences enough times in their lives to recognise the phenomenon.

And yet physicists roundly reject the notion of meaningful coincidence, saying that it's merely an artificial construct of cognitive bias. The rational mind dismisses the causal connection of unrelated events as 'magical thinking'.

Yet the notion of fate - that which is meant to be; that which shall come to pass - is deeply rooted in our subconscious habits, our culture, and history as a species.

The notion held by some quantum physicists that the future determines the past is of interest to me. Of all the paths that could have been taken by a photon, only one was taken. Rationalists explain that we can no more see into the future than time can travel backward. But what if we can see into the future, only darkly? Weakly?

Fate, destiny - luck - can they be seen as being woven into the fields of electromagnetism and gravity, influencing paths that somehow can be steered by the conscious mind? Some people have stronger psychic powers than others - I take this to be an indicator of spiritual evolution after numerous successive incarnations, gathering not only understanding, but in their ability to manipulate destiny. 

Do not let reductionist materialism rob you of hope or comfort, for the Universe is unfolding just for you. We are about to enter the post-materialist age.

This time last year:
Hot in the city

This time two years ago:
Resting with the heroes

This time four years ago:
Polish employers' demographic challenge

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

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

This time ten years ago:

This time 11 years ago:
Commuting made easy

This time 12 years ago:
Work starts on the S79/S2 'Elka'

This time 13 years ago:
Warsaw's accident-filled streets

Monday, 13 September 2021

Pavement comes to Jakubowizna (...but not to Jeziorki)

It was back in May that pallets of paving stones and kerbstones were left along the side of the main street running through Jakubowizna. I wondered when work would start to actually lay them. It was to be nearly four months on. Such is the rate of inflation in building materials that had the contractor who won the tender to lay Jakubowizna's pavement not bought the stones when he did, their new price would have bankrupted him. After four months, some of the pallets had been unwrapped and some paving stones stolen; other pallets had been hit by passing traffic. A propos of building materials inflation, a neighbour told me that he had to put the re-roofing of his house on hold after the price of the roof tiles he had chosen had gone up from 80 to 130zł a square metre.

Anyway, at last they're getting on with it. Below: from outside the Jakubowizna entrance to Chynów station, looking east along the road to Machcin and Rososz. The crew has knocked off for the evening, parking diggers and dumpers in the courtyards of farmhouses happy for the extra revenue.

This EU-funded project will make walking through Jakubowizna safer and more comfortable. It is ironic that here, where traffic is sparse and locals take care not to mow down their neighbours in acts of mindless piracy there is a pavement, whilst in Jeziorki - part of the capital city of Warsaw - a main road along which strangers race their cars and vans with scant regard for speed limits still has no pavement.

Below: farther on up the road. The work is being undertaken thoroughly, with due care taken to health & safety of pedestrians. The total length of pavement is nearly 1.4km. Note the brick shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary on the right-hand side of the road.

As of today, about one third of the length of the village has been paved. Below: beyond this point, the kerb has been laid, but the pavement is still to come. There will be still be plenty of tidying up to do. An interesting fact about Jakubowizna is that it lacks a single shop, a single café or bar, despite its length. Widok, the next village south to Jakubowizna has two shops, yet there's no direct road or even official footpath between the two. Note the drainage ditch running along the south side of the road.

This time last year:

This time 11 years ago:
Time to change gear.

This time 12 years ago:

This time 13 years ago:
Early, cold start to autumn

Sunday, 12 September 2021

W-wa Zachodnia modernisation - a long way to go

Three days of rare business travel - Warsaw-Kraków-Wrocław-Warsaw, so a chance to see how Poland's railway network is faring. Passing through W-wa Zachodnia (Warsaw West) station in the way in and out, I am struck by the sheer scale of the undertaking - this is not just about rebuilding an old station but creating a transport hub vastly more sophisticated. Work here impinges on the neighbouring stations, the newly rebuild W-wa Główna and the oddly-named W-wa Zachodnia Peron 8. 

Keeping the station - one of Poland's busiest (it is analogous to Clapham Junction) - functioning is hugely difficult, as half of the platforms are shut. I say 'platform' in English, but here I'm talking about 'tracks' (tory) rather than perony because of PKP's infuriating nomenclature which is at its worst at big stations like W-wa Zachodnia, Poznań or Lublin.

Below: icon of the modern face of PKP, a Pendolino InterCity Premium train pulls into Platform V track 4 (according to the timetable), or Platform 5, track 4 (according to platform signage). Be clever (bądź mądry).

Left: the nasty side of railway redevelopment - massive inconvenience for local people. The area to the north of W-wa Zachodnia has been entirely cut off. Entirely. There is no pedestrian access to ul. Tunelowa or ul. Prądzyńskiego from the station, nor to the bus terminus to the north-east of the station. Take a bus there expecting a short walk to the station, and you are stuffed. Travel to work to any of the offices south of Prądzyńskiego and you are faced with an extra 20 to 30 minute detour involving a bus or a long walk through an exhaust-fume filled tunnel. And it will be like this until early November, when presumably the footbridge linking the north and south side of the station is opened. Months of pain followed by decades of life-enhancing improvement.

Below: like an international airport terminal with train tracks running through it, the new W-wa Zachodnia will be a beautiful structure when completed. A 60m-wide tunnel and footbridge will connect all the platforms.

Our journey to Kraków was pleasant enough, though on a slow TLK train going around the houses (via Żyrardów, Skierniewice, Koluszki and Tomaszów Mazowiecki before rejoining the direct route at Opoczno. No buffet car; the catering trolley arrived minutes before we pulled into Kraków station. We survived, but pity the poor passengers who'd been on this train all the way from Gdynia.

Our train from Kraków to Wrocław (which would go on to Gdynia) was delayed by two hours because of a derailment west of Gliwice station; we arrived at our event an hour after it had started. The next day our journey from Wrocław back to Warsaw went well enough, but elsewhere on the network there were problems.

trouble on the Radom line: delayed by 200 minutes the InterCity train from Kraków and 165 minutes the local train from Warka. The arrivals board at W-wa Zachodnia.

Below: I'm back in Jeziorki, my train (the 19:22 departure from W-wa Zachodnia) arrives on time at 19:49. A few minutes later, what should be coming through the other way, but the train that should have arrived at W-wa Zachodnia from Krakow at 16:00. By the time it arrived at Zachodnia, it was four hours and ten minutes behind schedule (250 minutes). The scheduled journey should have taken four and half hours (via Kielce and Radom).

The situation on Poland's railways right now reminds me of 2011/2012 in the race to get the railway infrastructure ready for the Euro 2012 football championships. Then, the ticking deadline was the opening game; now it's spending the money earmarked for railway projects from the EU's 2013-2020 financial perspective. Projects (such as the modernisation of the Radom line) which had dragged on for years, now need to be completed in a hurry. Never a good idea when it comes to railways.

This time last year:

This time two years ago:
Back in Aviation Valley

This time three years ago:
My flight to Rzeszów - delayed

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

This time seven years ago:
Where asphalt is needed - Nowy Podolszyn to Zgorzala

This time 12 years ago:
I cycle to work along the cyclepath along ul. Rosoła

This time 14 years ago:
First apple 

This time 13 years ago:
Late summer spiders webs

Monday, 6 September 2021

The Year has Achieved; fruition

The past few days have been blissful - cloudless skies, the sun no longer beating down - just being there, on the goldenrod and the tansy, on the plums, apples and pears. Five days without rain, and the fruit is ripening rapidly. Walks are splendid, the countryside is the place to be (though a trip into town on Friday made for pleasant contrast). The year is at its zenith, mature and fruitful. The air is full of the smells of ripeness.

Apple harvesting has started in earnest. Below: six empty crates heading back for a refill after a load has been delivered to the punkt skupu (purchase point) on ul. Wolska. In the background, Chynów's fire station/cultural centre.

Autumnal scents draw me into the forest, I am increasingly aware of the subtle differences in podłoże (terroir) - the soils, what's underfoot. Is it grass, or moss, or scrub, or brush - and how that affects the trees above, which species, and how tall they grow. Is the forest conscious? Below: a mossy clearing. Why a clearing here? How long before it is claimed by the oak saplings visible in the foreground? Or will they fail to take hold, like the barren sticks behind them?

Below: the logging activity in the forest beyond the orchards has opened up new trails for me; down at the bottom end of the forest, a swamp. All that's missing is dragonflies with three-foot wingspans for a return to Palaeozoic vibes.

Below: from Chynów looking northward towards Sułkowice; one of my XII Canonical Views. This time with an ultra wide-angle lens.

The sunsets are galloping forward earlier each day as we approach the autumnal equinox; today, the sun set in Chynów at 19:11, a quarter of an hour earlier than last Monday. But the skies are pure, and dusk on my działka triggers that sense of elation and the occasional past-life flashback. Below: Is this the road to Itta Bena? Or Adamów Rososki? Another of the XII Canonical Views.

All is well, but as the Rabbi says, when all's well, remember it can all turn shit-shape real soon. Less than two months until the Hammer of Darkness comes down again. Best get ready now.

This time last year:

This time six years ago:
Low water level - Jeziorki lakes

This time seven years ago:
Around the Czachówek diamond, again

This time ten years ago:
Second line of the Metro runs into delays

This time 11 years ago
Army helicopters in action at Kielce defence show

This time 12 years ago:
World's largest helicopter over Jeziorki

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Another new bus stop for ul. Karczunkowska

Despite the pandemic, the City of Warsaw is not neglecting public transport. Nearly two years after the opening to traffic of the viaduct over the railway line at W-wa Jeziorki station, pleas of local residents for a more convenient bus stop have been met. I too remonstrated with with the authorities. I wrote to complain that the siting of the bus loop to the west of the railway line was bad news for anyone shopping at Biedronka, nearly half way between the station and the next bus stop (Trombity), and a new one was required. Lo and behold, here it is. We have it. It's official. Here is the new stop, Nawłocka, on Warsaw public transport's website (

Below: this is Nawłocka 01. Note the zig-zag markings on the roadway and the yellow, knobbly paving for the visually impaired. The bus stop sign is temporary. Note also the portable toilet to the left. 

This suggests that the bus stop on the other side (Nawłocka 02) is also temporary, and that the builders will be back to build a permanent bus stop that meets the design requirements. It can't be situated directly opposite, as two simultaneously stopped buses would block the road - I can only presume it will be located further west (ie behind where I was standing to take this photo), as there's not the space for one further to the east, nor where the temporary one is located (below).

Below: "Bus Stop, Bus Stop, are you ready to do the bus stop?" Ten past six on a Sunday evening, you must be joking! Photo taken on 29 August.

I hope that our decades-long wait for a pavement for the stretch of ul. Karczunkowska between Nawłocka and Trombity bus stops may soon be over. This is an extremely dangerous stretch for pedestrians. The worst part, over 220 metres long (below), has but a grass/earth verge that fills with rainwater or snow to make walking along it impossible if you want to keep your footwear clean and dry. At least one local resident has been killed by traffic here. Imagine walking along here in the dark on a rainy winter night. If Nawłocka 02 bus stop is placed here, the dangerous part of my journey home from the station will at least be some 20 metres shorter.

Nawłocka is the second new bus stop for ul. Karczunkowska in just over three years; Pozytywki 01 and 02 were opened in June 2018, serving the PWPW state security-printing plant and the new logistics and office park. Jeziorki is becoming a well-connected part of Warsaw!

Wednesday, 1 September 2021


Summer's over - meteorological summer, at least, ended yesterday. Yet astronomical summer continues through unto 21:21 (Warsaw time) on 22 September, when the sun will cross the equator, heading south, marking the beginning of astronomical autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. And so it is that the date marking the transition from the summer to the autumn of one's life also varies. Maintaining a cheerful disposition, as I noted the other day, is useful. 

As is a helping of Earth, Wind & Fire, exuberantly funking their way through September.

Walking around Jakubowizna at this time of year brings delight after delight. Below, a rowan bush, jarzębina (Sorbus aucuparia). The fruit is attractive, but bitter in taste - and purgative. The key ingredient in jarzębiak.

Below: out of the orchards, into the wood. Apple picking has started; you can hear it - voices, portable radios, the sound of apples being placed in plastic buckets - but rarely can you see it behind the serried rows of trees.

In the forest, tree-felling is still in progress; logs have been gathered up and are awaiting transport.

Beyond the forest, more apples. I have one rule here - I'll never take apples off the tree. That's theft - depriving the farmer of income. I will, however, pick fallen apples off the ground. I cut the bruised parts away, and peel the skin, which will have absorbed high doses of pesticide. One apple a day is more than enough to provide an 80g-portion of the fruit.

Below: an oak apple gall growing on an oak leaf. Inside, the larva of a gall wasp.

Below: on the road to Machcin II. Up to the end, turn right, and through the main part of Jakubowizna, where the new pavement is being laid on one side of the road, the drainage ditch being cleaned and deepened on the other.

Water-tank sunset's fine, Chynów. Ulica Działkowa runs through puddles into town, apple orchards on both sides.

Back on the działka I experience elation at the wonder of it all. I catch sight, well over the horizon by now, Jupiter - at first I thought it was an airliner approaching from the south-east, but a snap with the 70-300mm lens zoomed right out shows clearly the planet's four Galilean moons.

And that brings us back, dear reader, to Earth, Wind & Fire's horns rousing Jupiter: those horns are something - punching out 25 notes in 4.1 seconds with total, synchronised precision to give the effect of hammers stabbing - brilliant.

Hope you enjoyed the music! 

Sunday, 29 August 2021

Late summer moods with mushrooms

My walk took me through Machcin II; as I passed a small forest, mainly pines, I noted smell familiar from childhood - mushrooms. We used to pick mushrooms in Oxshott Common - but since leaving the parental home, I've not done it again. And (puzzlingly) never during my 24 years in Poland, where mushroom picking is a big thing. My parents taught me the mushroom-picking lore - the importance of podłoże - the terroir - sandy soil, pine trees, moss, dips in the forest floor, lift the whole mushroom out of the earth rather than cutting the stalk with a knife. We'd go armed with a wicker basket, which most Sunday mornings would contain 20 to 30 nice specimens. On return, the mushrooms would be dried or marinaded in jars of vinegar with onions and carrots. 

The smell brought it all back. I decide in an instant to turn off the path and go into the wood - just then I see a few metres away an old woman emerging from the trees, holding in her hand a large plastic shopping bag full of mushrooms. Six or seven kilos, I'd guess. Had she scoured the forest floor clean of all edible species? For the first time in decades, I take a determined look for Boletus edulis - prawdzwiki, porcini - in my books, the finest of all mushrooms, with a velvety brown cap and a creamy-yellow spongy underside. I spend about ten minutes and find nothing but various species of poisonous fungi, death caps (Amanita phalloides) and toadstools. Eating one is often lethal; death from liver and kidney failure ensues after six to 16 days. Nasty.

Clearly, the old woman has done a thorough job. I try another patch of forest a few hundred metres away. Again, ten minutes, head bowed, close to the forest floor. Again, plenty of fungi, none of them edible. Poisonous mushrooms make no attempt to hide themselves, the boletus is not easy to find. But then - bingo! That's a maślak żółty if memory serves me... (below, back on the działka). I put the pic up on Twitter and within minutes have my identification confirmed by Daria, Bożena and Janusz (many thanks!). I am drying these for future consumption. Incidentally, while Polish Wikipedia (link above) says that the maślak żółty (Suillus grevillei) "is tasty and has the texture of meat, English Wikipedia says that S. grevillei "is an edible mushroom (without consistency nor flavor) if the slimy cuticle is removed off the cap, which can cause intestinal issues".

But what are these? Prawdziwki? Skin on the cap is too light, not velvety, and there's a skin on the underside, beneath which lies a spongy flesh - pores, not rills. Any ideas? Immature maślaki?

Below: a puffball (Bovista aestivalis) - kurzawka zmienna. The local mushroom-picking community is completely uninterested in these. The zmienna ('changeable') in the name refers to how the insides change as the mushroom matures. Pick them early, the flesh is white and edible.

Leave it too late, and the flesh turns to spores, literally a million million of them (ten to the power of 12), which escape in a cloud as the mushroom finally bursts open to release them, its outer skin remaining like a deflated balloon. Below: the flesh has ripened. No good.

Below: can you smell that smell? Very characteristic of late summer/early autumn, especially after rain.

Below: nasty, poisonous 'shrooms, by the side of the path back to my działka, in plain sight, nibbled on by the wildlife. 

Below: a modern, well-invested commercial orchard. All correct. Trees kept low and tight, easy assess for cultivation and picking, under nets (keeps birds off). Apples are a dependable crop; an ever-greater acreage of local land is heading this way. And yet the boletus resists all attempts to cultivate it commercially.

This time seven years ago:
The Vistula from on high

This time 10 years ago:
Bad car day

This time 11 years ago:
Dragonfly summer

This time 12 years ago:
"What do we want?" "Early retirement!"

This time 14 years ago:
Greenhouse sunset