Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Thoughts occasioned by the picking of fruit

Along with the wild strawberries, the cherries on my działka are now ripe for picking. I must point out that these are czereśnie (Prunus avium) rather than wiśnie (Prunus cerasus - sour cherry), Up into the tree I go for the first time this year. Last June, during Ladder Week at Lidl, I bought a super aluminium ladder (made in Germany) for around 260 złotys (around £50), which extends my reach into my fruit trees considerably, but is still nowhere near high enough for me to get into the tops of my two cherry trees. And so, I have to reconcile myself to the fact that any fruit more than 3.5m off the ground will be either eaten by the starlings, or will rot and fall. So - cherry picking is restricted to low-hanging fruit, to use two well-worn business metaphors. 

Below: a half-kilo punnet (left over from tomatoes bought at Biedronka) filled with cherries. This lot took around 20 minutes to fill; filling the punnet with a similar amount of wild strawberrys took an hour and 40 minutes.

Unlike the wild strawberries, which will all go into nalewki, the cherries are to be eaten and enjoyed on the day. Sour cherries (wiśnie) go to make wiśniówka; they are too sour to eat raw, and need the addition of sugar to be palatable in any form. Czereśnie contain 50% more sugar naturally, so don't need a boost. Not being into cakes or pies, I'll eat my cherries off the tree, after washing.

Fragaria vesca, wild strawberries - poziomki - are something very special. They are tiny, weighing around 2g. (Commercially grown strawberries weigh around 15g.) They are fragrant - and fragile. To pick them, you need to get down. Down and dirty. Down among the buglife. Fragaria vesca shares the ground with Urtica dioica (stinging nettle) and Ixodes ricinus (tick). At the micro-level, the earth smells different - I am reminded of my first Polish scout-cub camps in Gloucestershire in the mid-1960s. Fingers have to coordinate with eyes to nip between the foliage to extract the fruit.

While picking, I listen to the birdsong. It is staggeringly good. Such wonderful voices, trilling, chirping, tweeting, calling to one another in short bursts, or longer fragments that evidently contain some kind of syntactical structure. What one species of bird makes of the song of another species is beyond me - but evidently there's consciousness at play here, and some elementary form of understanding. And indeed, joy and gratitude.

Importantly, my fruit is not sprayed with insecticide or herbicide. Some will have gone off because of infestation from fly or fungus, but there's still many, many more that are untouched and perfect.

The strawberries were less evident last year, but grew profusely in 2019; two-year cycles seem common. So I'm not expecting a bumper crop next year. I do hope, however, that the five or six wild-strawberry patches will expand naturally. They make for the ideal ground cover.

I look forward to another week or two of cherries and wild strawberries before their season ends. Sour cherries will be coming soon - more business for Poland's spirytus rektyfikowany distilleries! Having paid 54zł for the last two bottles of Spirytus Lubelski, I can see prices are soaring - before the pandemic, a half-litre cost 42zł at Lidl. Useful stuff. Antiseptic, hand-wash, gargle for sore throat (diluted 2:1), spirytus is magical stuff, so I can see why the prices have risen!

This time last year:
[Will cover this topic soon.]

This time two years ago:
First half of 2019 - health in numbers

This time three years ago:
Key Performance Indicators - health - first half 2018

This time four years ago:
Three and half years of health and fitness data

This time five years ago:
First half of 2016 health & fitness in numbers

This time six years ago:
Venus, Jupiter - auspices

This time seven years ago:
Down the line from York

This time eight years ago:
Cider - at last available in Poland

This time nine years ago:
Despondency on Puławska

This time ten years ago:
Stalking the stork

This time 12 years ago:
Late June lightning

Sunday, 27 June 2021

Midsummer photo catch-up

 A busy week at work, too much to do, too little time, so here's some of last week's best photos.

Below: from Zamienie, a view down ulica Starzyńskiego - Dawidy Bankowe, Warsaw's skyline beyond, and in between, a LOT Polish Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner about to land at Okęcie airport.

With Warszawa Główna station now open, the area around ul. Towarowa is experiencing a renaissance. The Nocny Market, below, is back to life as the pandemic eases - the old Dworzec Towarowy (goods station) repurposed as a street-food venue a few years ago. To see how the place looked before trendification, click here.

Below: the best display of mammatus clouds I've seen for over 14 years, hanging pendulously over Krakowskie Przedmieście. Click here for another magnificent display.

Below: Bez komentarza.

Below: ul. Puławska after the deluge; a hot, wet summer's night, lights reflecting from the pavement. A 35 tram at ul. Wałbrzyska stop, nearing its destination - Wyścigi.

Car sharing is another reason why owning a car makes less and less sense. Not only can you share a wide range of cars and vans, you can also share a 'retro', like this Zaporozhets ZAZ-968, dating back to the late 1970s. Good to see it still on the road, being enjoyed!

This time last year:
Stormy high summer

This time two years ago:

This time five years ago:
The ballad of Heniek and Ziutek

This time six years ago:
Yorkshire's yellow bicycles

This time 11 years ago:
Horse-drawn in the Tatras

This time 12 years ago:
Rain, wind and fire

This time 13 years ago:
The Road beckons

Sunday, 20 June 2021

Wild food in Midsummer

Midsummer on the działka - the joy of sunshine, nature is just beginning to bring forth its bounty. By the roadside grows the sorrel, a leafy weed familiar to all Poles as szczaw, the acidic tang that gives zupa szczawiowa its character. Sorrel has a short picking season, from late-May to mid-June, it needs to be harvested before it grows too high and goes to seed; the leaves then become tough and fibrous. Sorrel has arrowhead-shaped leaves that are easy to spot among other roadside weeds, it grows in clumps and is easy to harvest.  [Note the ox-eye daisies in the background.]

As well as being the basis for one of Poland's classic soups, it also tastes good in salads. For me, however, it goes into a lentil curry. Rinsed thoroughly of dust, cut width-wise into strips, it goes into a shallow pan with pre-boiled lentils, it soon turns into an olive-drab khaki colour after a minute or two boiling. I add piri-piri chili peppers for heat, some Indian spices, goats cheese, Halloumi or chickpeas for protein, and serve with Basmati rice. Sorrel has high amounts of oxalic acid, which can give rise to kidney stones if eaten in large amounts. And this is why dairy products (cream or cheese - or indeed egg) are used to whiten the soup or stew or salad - to take the edge off the acid.

Below: a plate of lentil and sorrel curry with chickpeas and rice. Takes about 25 minutes to prepare.

This is also the time for poziomki (Fragaria vesca, wild or woodland strawberries). These are tiny and require intensive work to harvest. They have a specific perfume and taste, and simply guzzling them by the handful after spending an age picking them makes little sense.

I am making nalewka poziomkowa. Fill a jar with the tiny berries, pour in 95% spirytus rektyfikowany to cover the fruit, screw lid on tight, leave for four to six months, pour off the liquid into bottles, add sugar to the berries (sparingly - 10% sugar/90% drained fruit) and leave to ferment for another couple of months. Drain the berries again, add the fermented liquid to that bottled from the first fermentation. Ready(ish) to drink around Christmas, but better to leave for another month or two after unifying the results of the first and second fermentation. Easy really. The result should be sublime in taste, smell and colour (a rosé pink). And about 55% alcohol by volume. The hard part is picking them. There's about 150g collected in the punnet below - it was about half an hour's work.

The results of the first harvest in the cellar. Five jars, none of them large; I expect to make around two half-litre bottles of the finished liqueur from the contents, once the fruit has been drained for secondary fermentation with sugar added. Unlike the sorrel, which has now gone to seed, the wild strawberries will still be pickable for a week, maybe two, so I hope to step up production of wild strawberry liqueur.

While picking the sorrel and the wild strawberries, I listen to the birdsong. They're clearly not just signalling readiness to mate or warning their flock of some impending threat - these are conscious beings communicating. I rather fancy that they are commenting the local events of the moment to each other, sharing the qualia, the subjective conscious experience. One burst of song suddenly and acutely reminded me of the garden in our family house in West Ealing in the summer of 1970 or '71, just after we'd moved in - a species of bird, I figured, that has long disappeared from the suburban gardens of London, but is still here in rural Mazovia.

This time last year:
Summer Solstice at a Time of Pandemic

This time six years ago:

This time eight years ago:
Fashionable bicycles for Warsaw's hipsters

This time nine years ago:
On Jarosław Gowin and leadership in Polish politics

This time ten years ago:
Death of a Polish pilot

This time 11 years ago:
Doesn't anyone want to recycle my rubbish?

This time 12 years ago:
End of the school year

This time 13 years ago:
Midsummer scenes, Jeziorki

Friday, 18 June 2021

Elegy for a lost exurbia

"I remember when this was all fields". Well I do! They are going quickly, devoured by developers and road-builders. Soon, the countryside ringing Warsaw will be built up as densely as its suburbs as rural Poland continues to be pushed back from the city's borders. Below: a rural scene squashed between the new estates of Zamienie to the left and the S7 extension to the right, both out of shot.

The S7 is cutting through the landscape, separating villages and communities, displacing wildlife and changing forever the klimat of the place. Below: ulica Dawidowska will soon disappear. It has been moved sideways over a temporary bypass of concrete slabs while the old road is ripped up to make way for the surface of the S7 which will traverse the old alignment. Pedestrians and cyclists can cross over from Zgorzała to Zamienie using the new footbridge currently under construction, but motorists will have to take a l.7km detour over the new viaduct crossing the S7 and Dawidy Bankowe. This is expected by September.

Below: Zamienie has been cut off from Zgorzała; this is the view of Zamienie from ul. Postępu, Zgorzała's main drag. Soon, acoustic screens will wall off one community from the other; the howl of traffic will in any case still be heard.

Looking the other way, from Zamienie towards Zgorzała, below. A tipper truck heads south along what will be the eastern service road running parallel to the S7, which at the moment is but a sand-coloured hard-top waiting for the final layers of asphalt. In the distance, the backs of houses on ul. Postępu.

Another view of the backs of houses - or rather farm houses - on ul. Postępu. Still very much an agricultural community, many local farmers have not only lost significant amounts of land to the S7, but they have also lost access to their outlying fields.

Below: mounds of soil stockpiled for the construction are disappearing, rows of crops in the foreground. One word sprang to my mind as I viewed this scene - countrycide.

A few hundred metres west, and this is Zamienie. Spare a thought for the inhabitants of Osiedle wśród pól ('Estate Amid The Fields', below); one day they woke up and found they were no longer living amid the fields; a block of flats has popped up behind them, while across ul. Raszyńska, Nowa Wola's modernist estate is creeping ever closer; Zamienie's old vaccine plant is filling up with houses and flats, and an expressway will run within 400m of these gates.

One thing, however, is constant for these folk is that access is as hard as ever and getting worse. Ul. Raszyńska remains asphalt-free; the road is dusty when the sun's out and muddy when it rains. Still, at least they can justify owning a 4x4 out here. But then the cost of owning one means they can't afford to live in town.

Left: looking north-west along ul. Raszyńska towards Nowy Podolszyn. Once the road gets to the border, it becomes ul. Złota and acquires asphalt. And the south-east end of ul Raszyńska has been closed off because of the S7 works. One day, that end of Raszyńska will be rerouted over the expressway via a new viaduct; until then, the only way in and out of Osiedle wśród pól is either via Nowy Podolszyn or Dawidy Bankowe (currently suffering from temporary traffic lights and single-lane working on ul Starzyńskiego). Right now, it must be hell to get in and out by car - and this place is not well located for public transport, with the nearest bus stop 1.3km away, and W-wa Jeziorki station 2.3km away.

Below: far away, across the fields (7km in fact), the Raszyn radio tower in Łazy (pron. 'Wuzzy'). The power lines running from left to right are the ones seen in the photo above. The 'dehaze' slider on Photoshop pulled all the way across to the right to extract the maximum detail from the mast.

Below: the fields are being pushed back; through the trees to the left, you can just make out new blocks of flats being built at the western end of Zamienie; to the right of these fields, the village of Łady (pron. 'Wuddy') is also expanding. Won't be too long before these fields disappear altogether.

Is this all a mistake? An error on the part of planners? Is this any way to run a country?

Left: ulica Błędna, Zamienie. Błędna literally means incorrect, erroneous, fallacious, wrong, unsound, false or mistaken.

The city is creeping outward, unplanned sprawl, the worst form of urbanisation. At least Jeziorki, under the flight path to Warsaw Okęcie airport, is spared such ravages, and being in Warsaw, Jeziorki has adequate public transport. Having said that, new houses are being built at an ever-faster rate - though no big estates nor anything over 12m high. Typically either single houses or small developments of four or five houses.

Ah yes - good news for Jeziorki - the planned estate for 8,000 people next to the tracks on ul. Karczunkowska won't happen.

This time last year:
Farewell to Papuś

This two years ago:

This time three years ago
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics reviewed

This time four years ago:
Now it belongs to the ages - on Great Works of Art

This time five years ago:
More Brictorian Liverpool

This time six years ago:
Łódź - city of tenements
[Gosh! six years since I bought a flat there!]

This time seven years ago:
Liverpool reborn

This time eight years ago:
What goes round comes around: retro is cool - again.

This time nine years ago:
Warsaw's southern bypass by this time next year?

This time ten years ago:
Stand Easy! - a short story

This time 13 years ago:
God Save The Queen - I mean it, Ma'am

Monday, 14 June 2021

The Morning Road Walked

The year nears its zenith, when the sky's clear, the beauty of the day replenishes the soul with those subjective conscious experiences that return as memories of purest joy.

I woke shortly after 6am, opened the roller blinds to discover a cloudless sky through the trees. Time to get dressed quickly, grab a quick bite, down the lime tea I'd made last night - and set off as soon as possible.

Past the orchards and into the wood, the sun - which rose today at 04:15 - still low in the sky.

Below: this is always a magnificent view - "out where the pines grow wild and tall" and the sandy track leads from Jakubowizna to Adamów Rososki and Machcin II.

Around the corner, to head south for a while, a loop around, gathering a large bunch of wild sorrel along the way as I headed back. It grows in profusion on either side of this track. Sorrel - the acidic leaf that forms the base of zupa szczawiowa - is a taste I very much like; I read that in India, curries are made with sorrel and lentils, so I thought it'd be worth a try. It is in season now. In a few weeks' time it will be tough and fibrous.

The sky is crystalline blue; no Photoshop trickery, just a polarising filter faithfully rendering what I saw and felt wearing a decent pair of polarising sunglasses.

Out of the wood and into the orchards, greeted by a row of silver birches reflecting the strong morning sunlight. I have a thought; "Jesus died to save Mankind," the Bible says. What about the rest of the planet? Does that not merit salvation?

I'm back in less than an hour; time for lentil and sorrel stew (with Halloumi cheese) before the working day commences online. The sorrel just needs to have the dust rinsed off thoroughly, then cut into thin strips before cooking.

Just after lunch, I pop down the road the other way to see how the the works are progressing down by the railway line, and I catch this classic 1950s-USA style Kodachrome view. Convection clouds are starting form, but the day remained dry (unlike yesterday, when I collected two soakings).

One could not ask for more from Nature.

[I should get up early more often for more such sublime walks!]

This time seven years ago:
Poppies in bloom, Jeziorki

Saturday, 12 June 2021

Storms of rain, storms of dust

Not a good forecast for today, so little point of moving to the country. A short walk before the predicted heavy rain was in order - I did not get far. Having passed the station and moving into the fields between the track and the S7 extension works, I noticed a heavy plume of rain falling out of dark clouds was pressing ever closer. And as it do so - the wind was picking up, blowing the fine topsoil from the construction site and nearby fields into the air. It was quite something.

To the north and west of me, intense rain was falling, displacing large volumes of air and creating a strong downdraft. My clothing was quickly covered in dust, I could feel it between my teeth, it was in my eyes (despite aviator-shaped glasses), and bizarrely, when I rubbed my hands together, they felt like they'd had talcum powder sprinkled on them. But no rain. 

Below: looking south-east, at the edge of a wheat field where the construction site begins.

Below: the height of the dust storm. Despite nearby deluges, it was still bone-dry here. The air is full of dust, the crops are waving around in the wind (I should have set a longer shutter speed to show that motion as a blur in the foreground). Looking north-east.

Below: the storm moves off to the south east. To the right, an access road leading to the S7 junction at Zamienie, on the horizon, a hill of soil stockpiled for the construction. I continue along the unasphalted and orphaned section of ulica Kórnicka, truncated by the railway line's modernisation at one end and the S7 extension at the other. Without the old pedestrian crossing, there's no access to this bit of ul. Kórnicka from Jeziorki, nor, without its connection to ul. Sikorki, from Zgorzała.

The rain caught up with me after I'd crossed back under the railway line using the culvert, it will continue to rain until midnight. The water level on the ponds is back to a healthy state, though the algae is blooming and the reeds are closing in.

A similar situation occurred yesterday evening; below: looking west from the top end of ul. Trombity, a titanic deluge in the near distance, to the left of that column of intense rain, you can see clouds of dust that the downdraft has kicked up from the S7 site and the fields.

Below: two more shots of the encroaching storm also taken from ul. Trombity.

The clouds roil, the heavens open. I evaded a soaking by waiting a few minutes in the culvert under the tracks; once again, the worst of this rain passed a couple of kilometres to the west of Jeziorki.

Below: after the clouds move on, the sun reappears to shed strong light on the fresh landscape, right through to sunset, which is now just five minutes before its latest of the year (the sun will be setting at 21:01 for a whole week, from 21 to 28 June in Warsaw).

Extreme weather events make for good photography!

This time last year:
Michalczew, Gośniewice and Warka

This time four years ago:
Jeziorki birdlife update

This time six years ago:
Inside Okęcie airport's new old terminal

This time ten years ago:
Thirty-One and Sixty-Three (short story about 19th century Polish uprisings)

This time 12 years ago:
Jeziorki to Jeziorki - the big rail loop

This time 13 years ago:
Automotive miscellany

This time 14 years ago:
South Warsaw sunsets

Friday, 11 June 2021

Warsaw West deep under construction

Once my tip for Poland's Worst Railway Station, given a light-touch modernisation ahead of the Euro 2012 football championships, W-wa Zachodnia ('Warsaw West') is currently undergoing a thorough redevelopment to bring it into the 21st century. The Clapham Junction of the East, with its multiplicity of platforms, was a bit of an afterthought in the capital's transport plans, integrated with the nearby bus station in the 1970s. Though much improved compared to its wretched state before 2012 (mainly in terms of proper signage and a decent entrance and booking hall/concourse on the south side of the tracks), it is still a long way off what modern stations should look like. With no heritage architecture to protect, the architects can go large on this one.

Returning from Wrocław from my first Polish business trip in nearly 18 months (!), I had the chance to see how things are coming on. It's clear that there is a very, very long way to go before this job's finished. Below: the new station building will arise on the left. Platforms 6 and 7 have already been demolished.

Large maps of the locality explain clearly (at last!) how passengers are to get from Platforms 1-5 to Platform 8 and on to the bus loop on the north side of the tracks. Allow 15 minutes to walk there from the south side!

It may take longer; the picture top was taken from the line serving Platform 5; there's a pedestrian level crossing here with lights and a guard. If a train's coming, everyone must wait until it passes before being allowed to cross. And there are also a few points where construction equipment can pass through; again, barriers are put in place, below, and passengers have to wait.

The tunnel that links the platforms will be replaced by one 60 metres wide, that will house a new waiting room and booking office as well as shops. In the meanwhile, travellers are trying to orientate themselves.

Below: arriving at Platform 5 track 4, the Lubomirski, a train that links Gdynia and Przemyśl, departing W-wa Zachodnia on time, headed by an EP09 locomotive, in 'retro' orange and brown livery, as used in the mid-1980s when this series of passenger engines was new.

Below: the new footbridge that will serve as the only crossing between platforms until the tunnel is ready. An eastbound ED160 multiple unit awaits departure for W-wa Wschodnia.

I look forward to being able to use the new W-wa Zachodnia station, but I daresay it won't be ready for a long, long time yet.

This time six years ago:
Loakes in Warsaw

This time seven years ago:
Gdynia, on the beach, six am

This eight years:
Polish doctors in UK offer new healthcare model

This time nine years ago:
Football in Warsaw

This time ten years ago:
Era becomes T-Mobile

This time 11 years ago:
Warsaw-Góra Kalwaria-Pilawa rail link closed

This time 12 years ago:
Marsh harrier, golden airliner over Jeziorki

This time 13 years ago:
Bus blaze on way to town

This time 14 years ago:
A beautiful, stormy twilight

Thursday, 10 June 2021

Little annoyances and optimising your life

Since Blogger (owned by Google) implemented the upgrade of its interface last year, there have been several major improvements introduced that help me cut down the time taken to publish a new post. But there were also a few retrograde steps. 

One of these is to do with copy-pasting links.

[Bear with me here.] The new way requires the blogger to click on the link icon (or use keyboard shortcut Control + K). A dialogue box duly opens. This now requires me to drag the cursor into the box, then press Control + V to paste the link. Now, why couldn't the cursor already be in the box? (It used to be before the upgrade!) Why should I have to go dragging it there? Because there's another box, above it, with the text from which the link should go. But I've just highlighted that text! It should automatically appear in that box! (Again, as before.) And then there's the checking of  'Open this link in a new window'. Unless Blogger/Google actively wants to lose traffic to linked sites, this should be the default - not something I need to check! 

Anyway - my point is this. What once took one click to do after highlighting the text, now takes three, what took two seconds to do now takes six or seven. I may have to do this three, four times for any given post - an extra 15, 20 seconds tops - but over time it all these wasted seconds build up. And they annoy me. A bug or a feature?

What should I do? Send an email to Blogger/Google with my suggestions of how to optimise the interface in the hope that someone will see it and react? Or will they receive my email, nod, yawn, and just leave it unanswered? Say they do notice it and think - "yeah, that makes sense" - will they improve the interface straight away, or leave it until the next major upgrade in a couple of years' time? 

And so I left it, there being more pressing matters, as always, and so the wasted minutes pile on. Now, having taken a decision not to do anything, I cannot be annoyed at Blogger, Google or indeed myself every time I have to drag the cursor to the box and check the 'open this link in a new window' box.

A metaphor for so much that could be optimised in life - but it's easier to leave it as is. Don't sweat the small stuff. Leave it, procrastinate until nudged, live with life's imperfections, suffer them in silence - or take arms against this sea of troubles/And by opposing end them.

This time last year:
The 13th Thirteenth

This time two years ago:
Ghastly June day in London

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

A proud moment

One of the four photos I entered in the local photography contest won a distinction (fourth prize); I proudly claimed my diploma last week which shall be displayed on the wall in my działka. A sign of participation in the life of the local community.

The contest was organised by the Stowarzyszenie Przyjaciół Gminy Chynów, (Association of Friends of Chynów Municipality), and you can see all 57 entries on the association's Facebook page (scroll down a bit).

Each photo had to have in included in its file name the grid coordinates of where it was taken, to ensure that only genuine views photographed within the boundaries of the gmina would be included, and not generic shots of orchards snapped elsewhere.

As one of the conditions was that none of the photos could have been previously published (including online), this is the first time I'm showing my entries on the blog. Now, the photo which won the distinction (below) is similar, but from a slightly different angle to one I have already published (in this post) - not cheating!

Below: 'Spring - Cherry Orchard in Bloom, Jakubowizna.' The award-winning photo. No jiggery-pokery in Photoshop - just the use of a polarising filter to draw out the contrast between the sky, the blossom and the leaves.

Below: 'Summer - Before the Storm, Grobice.' Technically, still astronomical spring, as it was taken on 19 June 2020.

Below: 'Autumn - Orchard full of Apples, Jakubowizna.'

Below: 'Winter - Young Orchard in the Snow, Jakubowizna'.

This time last year:
Rail progress - Krężel to Chynów

This time seven years ago:

This time nine years ago:
Fans fly in for the football

This time ten years ago:
Cara al Sol - part II

This time 11 years ago:
Still struggling with the floodwaters

This time 12 years ago:
European elections - and I buy used D40

The time 13 years ago:
To the Vistula, by bike

This time 14 years ago:
Poppy profusion