Friday, 30 April 2021

Identified - photographs from long ago

This has long been one of my favourite black and white photographs; I took it in the early 1980s, but could not place exactly where it was - somewhere in the East Midlands, most probably Nottinghamshire. A colliery village; the backs of two rows of terraced houses taken from a railway embankment. In the distance, the village school is lit up; in the middle, a girl stands to attention, waving at the camera.

I know it was taken in December, but I can't remember whether it was 1983 or 1984. But I'm more interested in knowing where it was taken. I uploaded it to my Twitter feed, and six days later, after it had done the rounds of the social media - local history groups from Nottinghamshire - I had the answer, thanks to Ray Blockley and Lang Rabbie, corroborated by people who'd lived there.

It's Warsop Vale - and here it is, on a 25-inch to the mile Ordnance Survey map from 1918, side by side with a contemporary satellite photograph. The red X marks where I was standing, the arrow pointing in the direction of the lens. All the houses and the school have been demolished; new houses now line Hewett St and King St. More has changed in the 37 years since the photo was taken than in the 66 years between this map being drawn up and 1983. Incidentally, this map is on the National Library of Scotland's website, which holds the repository for all UK Ordnance Survey maps.

Below: here's a photograph that I can pinpoint the 'where and when' with great accuracy. Taken on the morning of 13 December 1984, it's a lovely snapshot of a recently bygone era - a monocled gents reading the Times on the way to the office - and a Sloane Ranger, too. I can only surmise that the picture was taken east of Holland Park or Notting Hill Gate, where such folk live (too posh for Shepherd's Bush, the first station underground on the Central Line, my daily commute at the time from Perivale to Tottenham Court Road. How did I get the date? I googled 'Thatcher favours some ads on the BBC' - the headline top right on the newspaper. This is a No Smoking carriage; smoking was banned across the whole of London Transport five days after the King's Cross fire on 18 November 1987 that killed 31 people. Shortly after I gave up the Tube and started commuting by bicycle (in summer) or bicycle and mainline train (Ealing Broadway to Paddington) in the winter.

Here's an older one - taken by my father Bohdan Dembinski when we were living in South Wales, when he was engaged on the design of the foundations of the Llanwern Steel Works. We lived a short drive away in a village called Malpas, north of Newport. My father had the use of a company Land Rover; this photo was taken on Pillmawr Road, between Malpas and Llanwern. Below: the view looking down towards the valley of the river Usk. Note the white dovecote in the middle distance...

Here's the same road today, courtesy of Google Maps Street View. A much wider-angle lens than the 43mm Finettar lens on my father's Finetta IVD camera, but the dovecot is clearly there. Out of shot, to the left of both photos, one can look across to the town of Newport and its famous transporter bridge, a view that stayed in my memory very clearly.

Another old photograph taken by my father - this is Catte St, Oxford, below, and the 'Bridge of Sighs', linking two buildings of Hertford College. Taken no earlier than the summer of 1954. Before my time.

I posted this photo on Twitter two weeks ago; it was retweeted by Hertford College along with a contemporary black-and-white photo of the same scene. Main difference (apart from the cars) - double yellow lines and cleaner stonework - the soot has been sandblasted off in the intervening decades.

Finally, I marked the death earlier this month of Shirley Williams, former Labour Home Secretary and before that education minister. I took the photo below at the Hyde Park rally supporting Poland's Solidarity movement the week after Martial Law was imposed in December 1981.

Hated by Labour's left for breaking away from the party as one of the so-called 'Gang of Four' to form the Social Democratic Party (which later merged with the Liberals to form today's LibDems), she was a friend of Poland and a staunch European.

This time last year:

This time two years ago:
April's end, summer's beginning

This time three years ago:
Best April ever?

This time four years ago:
The search for the Gold Train: Day Two

This time five years ago:
Semi-automatic (short story)

This time nine years ago:
So good to be back in Warsaw

This time ten years ago:
At the President's

This time 12 years ago:
Summer's here, and the time is right...

This time 14 years ago:
Why I'm staying in Warsaw

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Analysis of a Nightmare

Today is the 119th day of keeping a nightly dream diary, and for only the second time since the beginning of the year I have had a terrifying nightmare. This one was far more powerful than the one on 23 January; I woke up quite literally shivering with fright for several minutes - the physiological effect of the dream took me over and shook me to the core.

And lo! did I dream...

In the woods above Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, at night, something evil is about. A man is decapitated by a laser-sharp blade of icy air. All around the woodland, an atmosphere of dread pervades. UFOs and aliens - or ghosts? Certainly the threat is supernatural; it is not of our material world. There feels to be no respite from this threat, no escape from its power... The scene shifts to a darkened theatre or music hall in nearby High Wycombe. A séance is under way; it feels like the mid-1930s. A medium steps off the stage and into the aisle between the rows of seats, packed with a terrified audience, dumbstruck with fear. The medium, who appears to be walking several inches above the floor, is summoning the spirit of the dead man. Ghostly moaning sounds, inescapable and inexplicable, fill the theatre, echoing ever louder. A name is conjured up - the victim was the son of Noël Coward. I can feel something filling my mouth, rising from my throat, something in texture like tapioca, but tasteless - I know that I will vomit, but I want to direct this stream of vomit at the medium in his shabby dinner suit and bow tie. I advance towards him, he backs away...

I wake up with a state of fear that I cannot recall ever having experienced in waking life. It is five to two. The most profound terror. In my dream, I had come face to face with the emanation of purest evil. The shivering took several minutes to subside (it was not a cold night, I was wearing warm pyjamas, yet I felt that the room was far colder than it really was. The first thing I did was to note down the dream in as much detail as possible, have a wee, drink some mineral water, and go back to sleep. Which I did. 

At quarter to six I woke again, more dreams, but completely normal ones - although I did witness a passenger plane crashing shortly after lifting off from a runway on a Scottish airport, as well as a crash involving a classic 1950s American car, and being cut up by a Porsche while riding a bicycle. And a chef getting angry at someone throwing out a quantity of apricot yogurt. But no more horrors.

So what was going on with the nightmare? How did it come about? What was its genesis?

Well, two things I can place. One is the Noël Coward reference. Two days ago, I was singing to myself the Ian Dury song There Ain't Half Been Some Clever Bastards. It was the verse about Einstein that was going round in my head while I was out walking in the fields across ul. Karczunkowska…

Einstein can't be classed as witless
He claimed atoms were the littlest
When you did a bit of splitting'emness
Frightened everybody shitless

So there we are - from Einstein and the atom to everybody frightened shitless. One element of the nightmare decoded, one root extracted.

On with the song. (If you're familiar with it, enjoy - if not, enjoy!)

And the very first words of the song? "Noël Coward"... (Incidentally, Ian Dury had Mr Coward as the writer of the drama The Gay Divorce - actually it wasn't a drama, it was a musical, and written by Cole Porter, not Noël Coward!)

More significantly to my nightmare, Ian Dury's secondary education was at the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe. I did not know that. High Wycombe, incidentally doesn't have, nor never had, a theatre or music hall.

The second element that I can identify was source of the sharp blade of icy air that decapitated a man. Earlier this week I was reading about an experimental German WW2 anti-aircraft weapon, the Windkanone, a giant tornado vortex generator. It comprised a large barrel, bent upwards at one end, through which an explosive jet of compressed air was ejected upwards by the ignition of a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen. The aim was to knock down low-flying aircraft. One prototype was tested - it didn't work. So a 'kind-of' fit.

Perhaps this concept entered my subconscious state and emerged in the nightmare? But these 'unconsummated memories', as I call them - thoughts mulled around by the consciousness yet not properly processed - should not of their own trigger nightmares.

More interestingly in retrospect is the question of why such dreams should emerge and what factors lie behind them. After four months of nightly dream recording, I am becoming convinced that the processes are mostly stochastic in nature - caused by random variables that cannot be predicted or replicated.

Cheese is said to promote vivid dreaming (or at least making them more memorable). Yesterday evening I shaved some Parmigiano Reggiano cheese into my salad, no more than about 20g of the stuff. I took a 500mg magnesium tablet as I do every night, mainly to stave off nocturnal leg cramps which have been affecting me over the past ten years or so, but also to promote better dreams. But then my dreams are of varying intensity, despite a regular magnesium intake. There is no pattern emerging - nothing to which I can attach a causal link, no clue as how to create repeatable dream experiences. 

One thing that is clear after four months of nightly record-keeping is that the dream from the first sleep cycle (around 23:00 to 01:30) is the least memorable of the night, the hardest to recall, whilst the dream from the third sleep cycle (around 03:30 to 05:30) is the most vivid and interesting, and the fourth sleep cycle before finally getting out of bed tends to yield messy, jumbled though memorable dreams, plotless episodes.

And so I dream on; going to bed at night is like going into a cinema without having the slightest idea of what will be shown - a horror film once every few months, maybe - certainly confused comedies being the most frequent genre.

Dream logging is a fascinating hobby; it takes no more than about 15-20 minutes a night, but over time I hope this will shed useful insights into how the mind works when we sleep.

This time three years ago:
Diverse bird life returns to Jeziorki

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Moon and bloom

The image below is a photo-montage - two photographs taken two seconds apart, one with the blossoms in focus and a blurred moon, the other with the moon in focus and the blossoms a blur. The sharp image of the moon was dropped into place over the fuzzy one, and there it is.

It's only later when I sat down by the computer looking at the resulting image that I realised just how rare this occasion was, and how easily I could have missed it. The two photos were taken about ten minutes after sunset, but an hour after moonrise. The moon had risen far enough above the horizon to be visible between the branches of the tree, but there was still enough light to capture the blossom. A day later, moonrise would have been an hour and half later, so there'd not be enough light for the foreground, and the moon would already be waning (ever so slightly).

So maybe next month? Full moon in May falls on the 26th. Way too late for any remaining blossom. 

So maybe next year? Full moon in Warsaw, April 2022, falls on the 16th. Too early for blossoms if it's cold like this year, but looking back over my blog, I can see that there have indeed been two years where trees have been in blossom as early as the 16th. More usually, however, it's a week later.

So maybe 2023? Even worse. Full moon is on 6 April 2023. No chance for blossom this early. There may be some still around on 5 May, but only in the event of a cold, late, spring.

So maybe 2024? Much better. Full moon is on 24 April. Assuming no late frost or any other malignant phenomena such as volcanic eruptions, and nothing adverse happening to the observer (me) in the meantime, I'm hoping that in three years' time I can catch a view such as this.

Magic(k)al moments are rarer than you think. Proof that one should be prepared, be aware.

This time three years ago:

This time five years ago:
Brexit: head vs heart, migration vs economy

This time six years ago:
Golf course update

This time nine years ago:
The Shard changes London's skyline

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

This time 11 years ago:
Plans for the railway line to Radom
[11 years on, it's STILL not complete]

Sunday, 25 April 2021

Long wait for the apple blossom

It's that magical time of year when the fruit-growing districts south of Warsaw are about to explode into blossom. But because of the cold and wet April, it's a long wait. I went for a long walk around the orchards to see where we stand. Below: of the thousands of apple trees I walked past, this one tree was nearest to bloom - the blossom is still tightly furled. I saw no other apple tree anywhere near this state of advancement. Will the trees be in flower next weekend? It's a public holiday, so that would be good. More likely, the weekend of 8-9 May will see the best of the blossom. I missed it last year because of the strict lockdown, and the year before, I was in London at the time.

The mirabelle plums are in flower; the first fruit-bearing trees to do so. No sign of blossom on the cherry orchard across the way, nor on any of my plum trees.

Carpeted with flowers - six/seven white petals and yellow stamens with a green centre. Zawilec gajowy - wood anemone (thanks Wilk Bury!) This is the wood directly adjacent to my działka.

Below: a stork between the apple trees. Leaves starting to appear - but no blossom yet.

Below: the road from Grobice to Jakubowizna - sandy. The word is that the local authorities wanted to have this road asphalted from end to end, but that would mean widening it to conform with road-building standards. Some landowners blocked this plan, because they'd rather put up with the discomfort of a muddy, rutty track than give up a few square metres of their land. 

Back to my działka for lunch; here's the view (below) looking south towards the road, the new gravel drive to the eastern edge of the plot. Much landscaping work awaits!

Looking north towards the back of the garden. You can see the fence in its new position clearly (the electricity pylon was on the other side beforehand). And the gravel drive triangle, enabling easier manoeuvring of vehicles.

Left: a cold north-westerly wind hurried fingers of rain-cloud across the landscape; Jakubowizna avoided a soaking. Looking west to the end of my road across the tracks. Top temperature, just 10C, three degrees cooler than the average daily high for April. Despite the chill, the sun popped out from time to time, bringing cheer. Day's walking total: 13,400 paces. Frequent snap-stops so only 23 minutes of that counted as moderate- to high-intensity exercise.

This time two years ago:

This time eight years ago:
Kestrel on the roof

This time nine years ago:
Definitely worse in Britain

This time 10 years ago:
Miracle on the Vistula

This time 11 years ago:

This time 12 years ago:|
A new dimension to plane-spotting

This time 13 years ago:
One swallow does not a summer make

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Greylag geese find a home in Jeziorki

A few days ago I was intrigued by the sight of four greylag geese (Anser ansergęś gęgawa) flying low over our estate, honking loudly as they did so. Today, I saw a pair flying over further north along ulica Trombity - the light was good, I had my 300mm zoom lens on my Nikon D3500, so I managed to catch a decent snap.

Reaching the pond at the end of ul. Trombity, I spotted a large number - larger than I'd ever seen in Poland. In the shot below, you can see seven - there were three to the right of this frame, two to the left 12 in total, six pairs. A massive number for a bird that numbers around 8,000 breeding pairs in Poland.

Numbers are rising across Europe, which is good news. Greylag females lay up to 20 eggs, so let's hope there will many goslings on our ponds this spring! Below: here's a pair on the water, captured by our neighbour Tomek (thanks!)

Below: I snapped this pair with the superzoom on my Nikon Coolpix P900 in April 2017. They came, had a look around, and flew off.

Goose-stepping like the East Germany army, a trio of domestic geese (Anser domesticus) guard their territory (around the corner from ulica Buszycka) well.

They can be quite aggressive! There were five of them here last August. Interestingly Anser anser and Anser domesticus can interbreed; their goslings share characteristics of both species. The grey male (to the left of both pics) looks like he's the result of interbreeding.

Back to the pond. Left: a male common pochard (głowienka zwyczajna), one of several pochards I have seen this year. There were none last year: the water levels on the ponds were far lower than this year or 2019. My first sighting of this species in Jeziorki was in 2017, a veritable annus mirabilis for waterfowl around here. I have yet to see any grebes here this year, either the great crested grebe (perkoz dwuczuby) or the black-necked grebe (perkoz zausznik). Regular ducks (mallards), coots and black-faced gulls are here, but then they are perennial denizens of our waters.

The swans are back too - last year the same pair that have been coming here to breed every season since 2008 returned, but there were no cygnets to be seen - whether the habitat wasn't right (low water) or they're just getting old, I don't know. They are currently engaged in nest-building on the far side of the middle pond, much further from the footpath than last year. 

Ringed swans have a yellow plastic tag on their right leg leg and a metal one on the left leg. This individual looks like he has the metal tag H774 (so yellow tag 2KC1). If it is, then it's the old cob who's no stranger to these parts, a 13th season.

Bonus shot: spring is late this year; the apple blossom is slowly beginning to appear; Felusia, (Felis cattus) has popped up the apple tree to take a closer look at the miracle of nature as it unfolds. I expect Jabłkowizna to be in peak bloom around 30 April - 3 May. 

This time last year:

This time two years ago:
Easter in Ealing

This time five years ago:
WiFi works on Polish train shock

This time six years ago:
My dream camera, just around the corner
[No, the Nikon Z6/Z7 don't make the grade]

This time eight year ago:
Longer, lighter lens

This time nine years ago:
New engine on the coal train 

This time ten years ago
High time to leave the car at home

This time 11 years ago:
The answer to urban commuting

This time 14 years ago:
Far away across the fields

Monday, 19 April 2021

Qualia compilation 2: Edwardian railways

This qualia flashback is to early 1970, our last winter at Croft Garden, Hanwell. It is a regular, returning one. Very familiar, very comforting. 

It's my second term at Gunnersbury Grammar, all homework and heavy textbooks in brown paper dust-covers. Latin, algebra, chemistry, poems to be learnt by heart. And detention for forgetting to wear your cap to school. Meanwhile, my parents are preparing for a house move - from Hanwell, across the Uxbridge Road and the Great Western railway line, up the hill to the posh end of West Ealing, by Cleveland Park.

My first encounter with what would be - to this day - our family home was on a foggy evening in January or February of that year; my parents had narrowed the search down to this house. My father took me to see it, half-an-hour's walk from home. I immediately took a strong liking to the place. It had atmosphere, it had spirit of place, it was posh, it was 1930s, Art Deco, eau-de-Nil wallpaper; it had hardly changed since it was built. Oak floors, oak doors, oak staircase.

On the way home, we walked down to the end of Cleveland Road, turned left to Castle Bar Park Halt, as the station was called at the time. Seemingly in the middle of a misty moor, no houses to be seen, just two dimly-lit concrete platforms, each with a shelter, and a footbridge standing astride the line. British Rail Western Region. Cream lettering on a brown background informed us which platform was for us. In the far distance, to the north, I could make out pinpoints of approaching lights through the fog, the diesely purr of a green railcar, running the shuttle service between Greenford and Ealing Broadway. We alighted two stops down the line at West Ealing station, and walked home from there, less than a mile away.

I was profoundly inspired by our evening expedition, something out of the ordinary routine of homework and black-and-white television. From Ealing Public Libraries I had borrowed O.S. Nock's Steam Railways of Britain in colour (Blandford Press, 1967), and read about the different railway companies that existed before their nationalisation in 1948. [Incidentally, I loved those Blandford Press books - whether about trains, planes, military uniforms or armoured fighting vehicles, those beautifully evocative colour plates and detailed descriptions had me entranced!]. The steam trains represented a bygone era I could just about remember from earliest childhood - on my way in a push-chair with my mother to nursery school on The Avenue, over the railway bridge by West Ealing station, clouds of foggy vapours would engulf us as the trains heading in and out of Paddington passed under.

But it was a different England in those Blandford Press illustrations. They brought to mind Edwardian England, country railway branch lines, clerestory coaches pulled by tank engines through oil-lit halts, milk churns standing on the platforms. Decades later, I bought the book online second-hand (one of many O.S. Nock titles to bring back childhood memories).

My way to reach out to that vision was to recreate it through Lego. Individual blue lengths of straight or curved rail, over which flanged wheels would travel. But the wheels were too small, so I adapted bigger wheels (with the rubber tyres removed) to act as the locomotive's driving wheels. Articulated bogies to ensure the loco could negotiate the curves. No doubt laughably unrealistic by today's standards, but I was happy with the result - I felt a satisfaction with the train, and felt a connection with that past that somehow I felt as tangibly as with my own early childhood. 

Pushing that train around a track on the carpet, stopping at the platforms and halts and junctions along the way, I was in different world.

Croft Gardens was cosy, it was what I'd known since birth. But out there was a new world to explore. Our house move - shortly after my transition to Big School - was another part in a major turning point in life, a farewell to childhood and toys, a further step into adolescence. Black-and-white 405-line television would turn to 625 lines in colour, and with BBC2, too. My father's home-developed b&w photography turned to colour as low-cost mail-order processors turned rolls of film into glossy prints. My formerly monochrome world was acquiring brightness, contrast and colour.

So many memories, shaped by play, imaginative play, bringing to life what I'd read about and seen in books. Inspired play that would take me to other places, to other times.

This time five years ago:

This time six years ago:
Lublin - pearl of Poland's East

This time eight years ago:
70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

This time nine years ago:
Tarkovsky's Stalker: a zone of my own

This time ten years ago:
Warsaw's big billboards

This time 12 years ago:
Pace of development falters

Sunday, 18 April 2021

Between the rains

Five days of rain, today and tomorrow dry, then rain again on Tuesday and Wednesday. Unlike last spring, when a drought took hold of central Poland. To Jakubowizna, then, to see how it's looking.

Below: wide-angle view towards Chynów station from Widok. Orchards under water, the road to the station under water.

Below: telephoto view towards Chynów station showing the drainage ditch between the road in the above pic and the railway line. Water flows down from the adjacent fields and into the ditch, then south along the ditch towards Widok. Note the grass further along - without grass roots to anchor the soil, it will merely be washed down into the ditch, soon clogging it up. One way or another, keeping the drainage ditches flowing freely will be full-time work for railway infrastructure operator, PKP PLK S.A.; there is a danger of rainwaters washing away the track's underpinnings.

Below: more wet orchards, this time nearer my działka. The water table, sitting on a bed of impermeable clay, reaches the surface in many lower-lying places.

Below: this dog has decided that it will sit in the middle of the road. Several cars had to make their way around it before it finally decided to go back into its yard. Visual reminder of why one must drive slowly through villages.

Below: view from the street outside my działka looking towards southern Jakubowizna. The road running through is less than 300m away from where I'm standing.

Below: view from that road looking towards my dzialka. The two parallel roads are separated by 300m of fallow land, with a chain-link fence at the southern end, preventing pedestrians from walking through. The alternative is to walk 1.3km past the railway station, or 3.0km the other way, through the wood. The land stands idle; it could at least be used as a path linking the two parts of the village.

Left: having already walked the 1.3km way heading out, I choose the 3.0km detour on the way back. The sandy track that is the road from Machcin II to Jakubowizna is relatively dry as the wood through which it runs is some situated some 12m higher than the railway line.

Below: a taster of yesterday - the fields between the S7 extension and Dawidy Bankowe. I went out for a walk shortly after the funeral of Prince Philip and two-thirds of the way round I was caught out by an intense rainstorm, drenching me to the skin. The dark clouds are behind me; the heavens will open in about ten minutes' time. The fields, sodden by five days of heavy rain, are about to get wetter still.

Update, Monday 19 April 2021. Though today, as forecast, is sunny and dry, Warsaw was visited by an almighty, though localised rainstorm. Rolling thunder and intense rain drumming on the roof merged into one low, loud rumble, so I couldn't pick out the noise of one from the other. I have never experienced this in my life. 

This time three years ago:

This time four years ago:
Ralph Vaughan-Williams - two song cycles

This time 12 years ago:
Spring scenes in Jeziorki

This time 13 years ago:
Modernist wheels

This time 14 years ago:
Mammatus clouds over Jeziorki

Friday, 16 April 2021

Climate vs. weather

Rain, incessant rain, day after day. The will to do, to go out and conquer the world, is mightily subdued right now. For the third day in a row, I'm not going for a walk - no fun getting soaked, and the fields have turned to mud. At the same time, my motivation to exercise has dampened; I'm doing three sets rather than ten, my drive to write is similarly weak. 

This time last year, April was glorious. Day after day of clear blue skies. Already by 8 April - a week and a day earlier than today - our fruit trees in Jeziorki were in blossom. Today, as I look out over the garden - no sign of any blossom. And tomorrow promises more rain, reaching a climax around lunchtime with off-the-scale rainfall forecast.

But, as my old mother used to say to me when I was small, "If you want flowers, you must have showers" (probably a miss-hearing of lyrics from Pennies from Heaven). Indeed. Gorgeous as last April was - the month was spent in almost total lockdown (daily walks excepted). My Google Maps timeline for the April 2020 shows but three highlights - 'Afternoon at Lidl, April 3', 'Afternoon at Lidl, April 7' and 'Saturday Afternoon at Lidl, April 18'. 

And it was bone-dry last year. The southern pond in Jeziorki shrank at an alarming pace; by late August you could see soil all the way across (though it was still too soggy to traverse on foot). This winter's snow cover was sorely needed, and a top-up of rain too. One result of the extra wetness is the return to Jeziorki of more species of bird life, including (I've heard it several times this spring but not seen it), the bittern (in Polish, bąk - the same word as the Polish for 'bumblebee'). Its characteristic low-frequency 'booming' sound - like blowing over the top of a very large bottle - is unmistakable. It's been several years since I last heard it round these parts.

Once upon a time, weather was something that just happened; weather forecasting reached the general population as mass-circulation newspapers began arriving on the doorsteps of the land and radios were switched on. Generally hit or miss, they'd be accurate for no more than a few hours. These days we have supercomputers calculating the paths of weather fronts - indeed, of individual cloud formations - and producing forecasts that are very accurate for three or four days ahead (less so in summer with convection effects off the land producing erratic cloud build-ups). Looking at our computer screens, we either see row upon row of cloud moving in, bringing rain and blotting out the sun, or a clear, cloudless sky - or, more typically, something in between. We might not be able to affect the weather any more than our ancestors were, but we are far more aware of what the next few days will bring.

While I'm highly concerned about the effects of man-made climate change on the macro scale, when it comes to weather, I prefer cloudless days. The fact that the climate is changing at an uneven rate is visible at times like this. Dense clouds bringing cool, wet weather rather than the bright, warm days of April 2020, do bring hope. Maybe the slide into a runaway, unstoppable climate change that would be a disaster for much of life on earth, is more gentle than thought. Maybe there's still time to alter our habits and launch a thoroughgoing green transformation of our industry, our transportation, our energy generation. Maybe it takes a pandemic to affect such behavioural change.

Apropos the pandemic, the Polish third wave is beginning to subside, though at a far slower pace than seen in the UK. A more effective vaccine roll-out and stricter lockdown (at least on paper) in the UK has meant the tide began to turn in late January, and now, infection rates and death rates per million are 22 times and 32 times higher respectively in Poland. But still, it's clear that Poland has also turned the corner, albeit nearly three months behind the UK. A year ago, the situation in the UK was far worse than in Poland, with one person out of every six confirmed infected with Covid dying of it in mid-April. In Poland, it was one in every 15. (Today in Poland it's one in 36, in the UK, one in 52. Huge difference. (Source: Johns Hopkins University CSSE Covid-19 Data, from Our World in

Meanwhile, my dream diary continues; dreams ordinary and extraordinary are noted down each night. Last night I dreamt of alien abduction!

I hope for some sunshine on Sunday. We need it.

This time last year:
Seven lockdown sunsets

This time four years ago:
Easter everywhere

This time 11 years ago:
Strange days indeed (though less strange than these!)

[link to video of the blog post, courtesy of Nick Morris]

Monday, 12 April 2021

Qualia compilation: 1 of an occasional series

I felt it today, walking around the fields between Jeziorki and Dawidy Bankowe; I felt it intensely on Saturday walking around the fields between Dawidy and Jeziorki. The exact sense of being elsewhere, at another time. A precise fit of subjective experience, a congruence, a coming together. 

Over the decades I have trained myself to analyse these experiences rigorously, not just dismissing them as some vague sense of deja vu, but to pinpoint the time and place where I first felt that self-same subjective experience, and to do so before they melt in the mind like a snowflake on the palm of your hand.

What was it that brought it up, so suddenly and sharply to mind? Why was I transported back nearly half a century to a late Saturday afternoon in Gloucestershire?

Three things - light, temperature and smell.

The Easter holidays, 1973, St Briavels - the Polish Scouts' stanica, (literally, watchtower; hostel, base) and a four-day biwak (bivouac). I am 15, in the fourth year at grammar school. We arrived from London on Thursday evening by coach, older scouts from Polish troops across London. By mid-morning on Saturday, loaded with full rucksacks, we were set off for a long route march. Our destination was Yorkley, a small village on the edge of the Forest of Dean. There we were to enter the forest, pitch camp and sleep the night before returning to St Briavels. 

The weather was cold. It had snowed on our first day in St Briavels, though on the day of our march, the snow had melted. The sky was overcast, milky-white, rather than leaden grey. By the time we'd reached Yorkley, it was early evening. It was not a prosperous village. The terraced houses - workmen's cottages - had no front gardens, they were built right out to the pavement. Inside, behind the chintz curtains, fires were being stoked, and electric lights switched on. It was that magic time of the week in England, as families gathered around the telly for tea and Grandstand, Final Score, Early Evening News, followed by Dr Who and an evening's light entertainment. Such comforts were not for us. In the light drizzle, we'd have have to march on, into the forest, and set up our bivouac. The air smelt of coal fires - something I'd never experienced in London (the Clean Air Act had been passed in 1955) - struck me as immediately familiar. It was a smell I knew well - and yet didn't. Edwardian England was in my nostrils.

Yorkley, 1961 Ordnance Survey map, our guide to the land

An added frisson was the rumour that the Hells Angels of the Forest of Dean Chapter were out looking for us (this was the time of the New English Library series of paperbacks about violent gangs from skinheads to greasers). Every time we heard the distant roar of a motorbike engine, we'd assume that the Chapter was scouring the byways of rural Gloucestershire for Polish scouts.

Jumping forward 48 years in a flash, that sky, the feel of that unseasonably cold air on my face, the smell of coal smoke from the older houses along ulica Baletowa - and indeed the sense of vigilance (the security patrol in its white Dacia Duster 4x4 is on the look out for trespassers on the S7 construction site) recreated the self-same qualia that I had experienced that evening in Yorkley. I got home to check it on Google Maps. The atmosphere had all but evaporated. The Street View photos were taken on a sunny summer's day; the kerbs were lined with modern cars; whole new housing estates have sprung up on the edge of the village. A once poor community has experienced nearly five decades of enrichment - good for the people that live there, but I'm no longer sensing any connection with the place I'd experienced. The Ordnance Survey map brought the memories tumbling back.

This time last year:
Lent 2020 - the summing up

This time two years ago:
Strength in numbers

This time five years ago:
Cultural differences: distance to power

This time nine years ago:
Painting the Forum Orange

This time 12 years ago:
That's what I like about the North

Saturday, 10 April 2021

Long walk, back in the swing

Four days after my vaccination, I feel it's safe to exert myself with a long (13,000 paces) walk and return to full exercise regime. Today's walk took me around the junction of the S79 with the S2 and the new S7. 

Below: looking south from the rump of the S79, the S7 extension emerging. I am standing on what will be the southbound lane; the northbound lane runs to the left, while to the right the slip road taking southbound traffic off the S2 runs parallel to the S7 before merging into it. The lamp posts are low as we are near the airport (just behind and to my right).

Below: looking east from Węzeł (junction) Lotnisko; traffic from the S2 can either swing left towards the S79 northbound into Central Warsaw via the airport, or right onto the S7 southbound. Note the S2 service road in the foreground; it currently ends here, but it will be extended to join up with the S7 service road.

Below: a phantom billboard, seen by thousands of eastbound motorists along the S2.

Below: one for my brother - the Woodpecker ('Polnische Knickebein) array in the same place

Below: ulica Złote Łany (literally 'Golden Cornfields Street') goes over the S2 - a proper viaduct with segregated path for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

Below: the fields between Dawidy, Dawidy Bankowe and Jeziorki; once full of the call of skylarks and lapwings, home to hares and foxes and wild boar, will soon resound with the roar of traffic. In the distance, ul. Baletowa.

Below: Baletowa Gothic - the nearest house left standing to the west of the embankment over which the S7 extension will run. Seven houses have been demolished to make way for the new road.

Below: back in my own turf south of ul. Baletowa, the WD3 viaduct in the distance that will join Jeziorki (to the right) and Dawidy Bankowy (to the left). The approach ramps are slowly appearing.

Jeziorki is changing at a faster pace than ever before.

This time last year:

This time five years ago:
Speeches for Leaders, by Charles Crawford

This time six years ago:
In Memoriam - those who died at Smolensk

This time eight years ago:
Warszawa 1935: 3D film reconstructs lost city

This time nine years ago:
Cats and consciousness

This time 11 years ago:
Smolensk - why did this happen?

This time 12 years ago:
Britain's grey squirrels turning red

Tuesday, 6 April 2021


Well, I got my first dose of the Pfizer today, and I must say everything went unbelievably smoothly - an experience at odds with every previous encounter with the Polish state health service! I turned up about 12 minutes early, waited a bit, filled in two forms ("have you had/have you got"/"no, no, no, no"), had my blood oxygen taken (98%), then went in to have the jab - which I literally did not feel ("Have you done it yet?" I asked after the doctor swabbed the area.) And - the best bit - I have an appointment for the second jab on 11 May. Before the doctor had even looked up from her laptop, I got a SMS from the system with news of the second appointment on my phone. And - another good bit - seven hours afterwards, I can honestly say I feel no side effects. But I expect a sore arm in the morning after sleeping half the night on it.

Meanwhile, my first journey into Warsaw on public transport since 1 October - and so much change! W-wa Główna station has finally opened (though the footbridge at the western end of the platforms is still not ready); W-wa Zachodnia (below) is deep in the early stages of its latest remont, with some of the long-distance platforms partially demolished already. You can see where the new footbridge is going to go - the pillars are going up. This will replace the tunnel that currently connects the platforms.

Left: this is Central Point, a hole in the ground a year ago as the lockdown began. It is right outside my office (which I have not been to now in over six months) - but as we've moved from the 9th floor to the 4th, I'm no longer expecting any views. In London, I used to work in Centre Point (also on the 9th floor), but Centre Point has 34 floors, Central Point a mere 21, the same height as the four tower blocks on the Ściana Wschodnia.

Right: I can see it from Jeziorki - now, officially the tallest building in the EU, taller than Stalin's Palace of Culture, taller than London's Shard - Varso tower tops out, the mast now up on its roof. It now dominates Warsaw's skyline, the first - I hope - of many skyscrapers that one day will surround the Palace of Culture, rendering it invisible from the distance. From Jeziorki, I see the other (southern-facing) side of the tower. From here (ulica Emilii Plater), I can see how much there's still to finish. To the right - Daniel Libeskind's Żagiel building.

Below: another skyscraper that's popped up since lockdown - Skysawa tower, at 155m not even high enough to get into Warsaw's Ten Tallest. For a long time, a hole in the ground - then suddenly whoomph! and there it is.

Postscript I - I can now feel an odd sensation - my left (jabbed) arm feels like I've overdone the pull-ups and the weights - usually when I get this, it's in both arms!

Postscript II - 48 hours later the dull ache is easing, taking another day off the exercises and walking to be on the safe side.

Postscript III - Neighbours had the AstraZeneca jab yesterday - today, they are reporting fever, shivers and muscle pain.

This time last year:

This time two years ago:
Działka update 

This time three years ago:
Łódź is a film set

This time four years ago
Contemplative imagery, Ealing and Warsaw

This time nine years ago:
Baffled: my first visit to Jeziorki's Lidl 

This time ten years ago:
In vino veritas?

This time 11 two years ago:
Are we getting more intelligent?

This time 12 three years ago:
Lenten recipe: tuna, chickpea and pesto salad

This time 13 years ago:
Coal train sidings, Konstancin-Jeziorna

This time 14 years ago:
Jeziorki from the air

Monday, 5 April 2021

Normal blogging service resumes with a photo round-up

A short round-up of my favourite photos from the past 46 days...

Below: trackside sunset, W-wa Jeziorki looking towards Dawidy Bankowe, 18 February

Below: sunset over Drwalew, 21 February

Below: melting snow and ice under a clear sky, Jakubowizna, 21 February

Below: from Chynów station, looking north along the track towards the DK50. 21 February.

Below: Warsaw skyline; Varso tower's mast is in place, making it taller than Stalin's Palace of Culture (right). 27 February. Jeziorki in the foreground, Grabów and Służew in the middle distance.

Below: ulica Baletowa, level crossing, W-wa Dawidy, southbound train passing. 2 March

Below: crushed toy gun, in the fields between W-wa Dawidy and W-wa Jeziorki stations. 3 March.

Below: Jakubowizna, 22 March

Below: new estate, Nowa Zgorzała, drowning in mud, 20 March

Below: train, plane and passing rain - between W-wa Dawidy and W-wa Jeziorki, 8 March.

Below: approaching snowstorm, Warsaw on the horizon. This is the site of the future Węzeł Zamienie - the first junction of the S7 south of the airport. 3 April

Below: standing stones, Picos D'Avidy, 28 March.

Below: standing stones, Picos D'Avidy, 4 April.

Below: bridge over the S7 at Nowa Wola, 5 April.

Just noticed my late father's birthday; he'd have been 98 today had he lived. This morning I dreamt I gave him a present - a large-scale super-detailed sports-car model; he unboxed it and started playing with it - he was in awe of the working steering and suspension, the opening windows, the engine under the bonnet. I dreamt I gave him a present - yet forgot entirely until I looked for blog posts from this day that it is his birthday!

This time last year:

This time two years ago:
My father at 96

This time three years ago
My father at 95

This time four years ago:
Happy 94th to my father...

This time five years ago:
Happy 91st to my father!

This time eight years ago: 
My father at 90

This time nine years ago:
An independent Scotland - what if?

This time ten years ago:

This time 13 years ago:
Happy 85th to my father!