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

Thursday, 26 August 2021

Age and Ego: Part II

My childhood was filled with constant wonders - pure consciousness had the upper hand. 

There were two of me really. One was 'głupi Michaś' who'd occasionally do or say stupid things - but głupi Michaś rarely had the upper hand. When left to his own devices, 'mądry Michaś' was in charge, spending time playing, observing, reading, pondering, playing, imagining, experiencing, thinking, playing, watching the clouds, feeling what it is to be alive - again

"When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." [I Corinthians 13:11] 

But the road to from childhood to manhood goes through adolescence.

As teenagers, the ego, the biology, takes control. Any vestigial childhood sensitivity is roughly stamped upon by a stupid, brutish urge to position oneself as high up the mammalian pecking order as possible. The worst time for this is between the ages of 13 and 16 - an absolutely insufferable period, particularly for boys. For me anyway, the Sixth Form years, preparation for university, was a tipping point away from this mindless hormone-driven behaviour, and the battle between the biological ('bad') me and the conscious ('good') me ceased being a one-way walkover. Stupidity and embarrassing behaviour would make less and less frequent appearances.

Grow into manhood, into the late spring and early summer of life, nothing affected me as much as the new responsibilities of fatherhood. Now I am in the early autumn, the sun still shines, the trees are full of fruit. There is time, but it must not be wasted.

I am happiest when I am The Eyes Without A Face - Consciousness Moving Across the Surface of the Planet - observing, but not observed, out on countryside walks. Myself and my little patch of the planet. Not my ego - not an ageing biological entity - but a spirit that's lived before and will live again. 

All of us who seek God shall find God but in their own way; I feel I have indeed found mine - so now, onward.

William Wordsworth's Intimations of Immortality suggests that a child is born aware of a past life, but as he gets older, he loses sight of the wonders; the "vision splendid" goes on to "fade into the common light of day." I beg to differ; I am regaining sight of those wonders. But then Wordsworth wrote Intimations of Immortality when he was 34; at that age I was also closer to the common light of day than to the vision splendid. To get there, the ego must fade away.

This time last year:
First inklings of the end of summer

This time three years ago:

This time seven years ago:
Short, sharp diet proves I'm allergy-free

This time eight years ago:
More photos from Radom Air Show

This time nine years ago:
Twilight on ul. Karczunkowska 

This time 12 years ago:
First hints of autumn in the air

This time 13 years ago:
Slovakia - we were not impressed

This time 14 years ago:
Jeziorki - late August cultivation

Monday, 23 August 2021

Age and Ego: Part I

In my father's final years, I'd observe him catching sight of himself in the mirror and seeing an old man, bent and frail. He'd try to straighten his back. He'd look at himself again, as if realising the inevitability of human physical decline. Yet he'd never fall into despondency, maintaining a cheerful disposition. 

Some people slide into old age with resignation; others try to fight it, or complain, or rage ineffectually against the physical hardships it brings. And as you age, your appearance diverges further and further from the human ideal. Some people will go to great lengths to maintain a youthful appearance, raising sly chuckles. Others will let themselves go, causing visual and olfactory discomfort to others. A balance far from each extreme needs to be struck. 

My father had the right answer - decouple the ego and its home, the human body, from the consciousness, the human spirit. 

He was rarely down. His mind was always curious and observant; he'd read, do small home-maintenance tasks, work in the garden and stay up to date with current affairs. He was secure of his place in the heavens, a Universe of stars. Church-going helped; although he took Holy Communion each week, he never talked about his faith, which I guess was his and his alone.

My father gave me a clear (though unspoken) lesson as to living out one's later years. Focus on the inner being, the awareness within, and distance yourself from the shallow ego. Our 'shell of foam' is short-lived; consciousness - like atoms - eternal.

I am also minded of the opening of the Coen brothers' film A Serious Man: "Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you." Ageing is something that happens to all of us. 

How we age is down to factors of our own choosing - diet, exercise, lifestyle - and external factors - genes, environment, circumstances over which we have no control. Recent studies on telomeres (the caps at the ends of each stand of DNA in our bodies) conducted on twins, suggest that avoiding stress is the biggest single factor that determines quality of life. [This is worth watching.

"Not to autumn will I yield/Not to winter even!*" The body will yield; the spirit not.

My father with my daughter, Ealing, September 1994 - more than a quarter-century of life ahead of him.
Age and Ego: Part II here

*The Vagabond, from Robert Louis Stevenson's Songs of Travel.

This time last year:
Getting there

This time last year:

This time three years ago:
What's new around Jeziorki

This time six years ago:
Hydrology - droughts, floods and sandbanks

This time eight years ago:
Radom air show - Part 1

This time nine years ago:
Restricting passenger movement and safety

This time ten years ago:
Seasonal fruit - eat it in bulk, while you can!

This time 12 years ago:
Russia-Polish 'unification', 1939-style

Thursday, 19 August 2021

What happened at Monks Wood

Sixty years ago, the last crop of barley was harvested from a four-hectare field in Cambridgeshire. The field was closed off to humans and Nature was left to deal with it. Monks Wood Wilderness has been a long-term experiment in re-wilding, to observe what would happen to arable land once man stopped cultivating it. The result - a forest with a tall canopy. It didn't happen quickly. At first, brambles and thorns, low shrubs dominated, but then trees (mainly oaks), seeded by birds and squirrels, began to take over. As the trees grew taller, their leaf canopy blocked sunlight from falling on the ground, the grasses, bushes and shrubs died off.

"The result is a structurally complex woodland with multiple layers of tree and shrub vegetation, and accumulating deadwood as the habitat ages. This complexity offers niches for a wide variety of woodland wildlife, from fungi and invertebrates in the dead logs and branches, to song thrushes, garden warblers and nuthatches which nest in the ground layer, understorey and tree canopy."

Next door to my działka is a 4,000m2 (one acre) patch of land that, according to the neighbour on the other side, has not seen any human presence since he was a child, 45 years ago. The land - whatever it was before - is now native forest, its floor bereft of the rich meadowland plantlife next door on my działka, meadowland full of flowers and wild grasses, brambles, berries and some fruit trees. The forest is bounded by an overgrown zone about 10m deep to the south, about 5m to the east and west and slightly less to the north. This is where the sunlight does reach the ground unhindered; the resulting spiky thickets make it hard for humans to intrude into the forest. But once inside, the floor is remarkably clear of grass, shrubs or bushes - it's leaf-mulch and pine needles, mushrooms (sadly inedible) and molehills. Trees topple and rot. Common aspen (Populus tremens, in Polish osika) is the predominant tree, with oak and pine growing around the fringes of the wood. The aspen is a brittle tree, liable to snap when bent by strong winds. Below: looking north, the evening sun streaming through the trees.

Below: looking west towards my działka, the low shrubs marking the border zone, beyond which my fence.

Meanwhile, on my działka, an oak sapling that I'd observed last year sprouting out of what had once been a neatly-kept lawn, is growing, albeit with powdery mildew affecting its upper leaves, and oak apples (galls) on a lower leaf. The mildew, says Wikipedia, can be dealt with by spraying with triadimefon, propiconazole, hexaconazole, myclobutanil or penconazole. Mowy nie ma! A better remedy is spraying with milk, diluted with water ten to one.

Doing my bit - these two oak seedlings were still in jars four days ago have now been 'released into their habitat' - I wish them a long future, untroubled by pests or disease, and many acorns.

Just over 30% of the land surface of Poland is covered with forest (the UK is a mere 13%, of which half is native woodland, the rest is commercial forestry). The EU average is 38%, pulled up by Finland (73%) and Sweden (68%). Our planet needs more trees; I'm doing my bit to encourage them to grow on my land, and hope that the forest next door remains untouched.

Woodland is one issue, another is hedgerows, a very English institution, not something seen so often in Poland. The UK is also encouraging the replanting of hedgerow, half of which have disappeared since 1945; maybe Polish farmers could follow this example, and grow some! Historian Adam Zamoyski once said that his great-grandfather, to please his children's English governess, homesick for her native Kent, ordered the planting of hedgerows across Zamojszczyzna to make her feel more at home. A good move.

This time two years ago:
Loss, faith and consolation

This time four years ago:
Summer's wasting away

This time five years ago:
Warsaw remembers the PASTa building capture

This time six years ago:
Drought. It was a dry summer.

This time eight years ago:
Warsaw's ski slope at Szczęśliwice

This time nine years ago:
On the road from Dobra, again

This time ten years ago:
August storm, ul. Targowa

This time 11 years ago:
Warsaw Central's secret underground kebab factory

This time 12 years ago:
Cheap holidays in other people's misery

This time 13 years ago:
Steam welcomes us to Dobra

This time 14 years ago:
New houses appear in the fields by Zgorzała

Tuesday, 17 August 2021

Qualia meditations

Coffee should be taken once a day, first thing in the morning. Yesterday, I fancied a cup around two pm. A small cup, one heaped tablespoon of ground coffee. Now, as is pointed out by anticoffee activist Michael Pollan, coffee has a half-life of six hours, which means a quarter life of 12 hours (ie it still retains a quarter of its potency 12 hours after ingestion). So, it's two am, and though I had no problems falling asleep three hours earlier, I couldn't return to sleep after waking for a wee.

No matter! Time to meditate!

But how?

A fresh insight came to me on my walk yesterday that the essence of qualia - a subjective experience, depends on having something objective, something material to have the qualia of! We might not agree as to the taste sensation of coriander or aniseed or chilli pepper, but we can all agree that such things physically exist, even though we all experience them differently.

Now, the essence of classic nonduality meditation is emptying the mind of objective thoughts (about what's on my to-do list, my worries etc), switching off the train of thought, and focusing down on the subjective innermost essence of me-ness - namely consciousness. Arriving at such a perfect state brings about a state of unity - your consciousness is on a par with every other conscious being in the Universe. And this, according to panpsychics, is every single subatomic particle.

So - here I am lying awake at half past two in the morning when I have another insight: Imagine brushing the tip of your nose with a feather. A wing feather or downy feather? You can indeed imagine both. Widthwise or lengthwise? Again, imagine both. This is the essence of qualia memory - capturing the experience for recall at a future time. 

Here's another experience of qualia to meditate upon; more usual this time. Imagine washing your hands. Run the tap, pick up the bar of soap, rub your hands together  under the flow of the warm water, feel your hands becoming slippery as the dirt starts to lift away; you rinse the soap off, sensing the inner pleasure of knowing you have clean hands.

I take this further. I imagine washing my hands in the cloakroom of my primary school, Oaklands Road, Hanwell, London W7, the early 1960s. The specific smell of the small, cream-coloured institutional bars of soap. The slim metal chain connecting the rubber plug to the washbasin. The hairline crackles in the smooth ceramic. The gurgle of the water disappearing down the plughole. The clanging of a hand-bell, rung by Miss. Playtime is over! Back to the classrooms...

A short example of qualia meditation. I have conjured up a qualia memory, something objective, yet experienced subjectively by me, 55 years ago. 

Back to last night. I am on the point of falling asleep, when I remember a dream or dreams of a levitating hoop, and using it to travel between Ealing Broadway and Pitshanger Lane. Imagine a hoop, the sort you'd have in school PE classes, or a hula-hoop. Imagine it floating about a metre above the ground. You step into it, grasping opposing edges with your hands. You then lift your feet off the ground. The hoop wobbles, but it supports your weight - your feet stay off the ground. You lean back, then you hook one leg, then the other, over the hoop. You are fully supported by the hoop; backs of knees, hands, forearms and upper back all resting on it. It feels unstable, but you are hovering a metre off the pavement. Using your hand nearest the garden wall, you begin to propel yourself forward. You are gliding, but as you slow down, you once again need to give yourself some momentum by pulling yourself on a gate or roadsign or street light, and so, wobbling, unstable, but a metre off the ground, you are moving along. Now this is a dream qualia memory. The memory of a dream, returned. I fall asleep.

All meditation requires one to set aside the ego. Neither a moment of triumph nor embarrassment; not a moment of despair or jubilation - just a moment of being supremely aware of all around, the consciousness pure, unsullied by your biology or predicament. The moment when the calm 'inner you' - not the 'outer you' visible to others or to you in reflections - is aware of being.

This time seven years ago:
Public and private land in Poland

This time eight year:
Two Warsaw sunsets over water

This time 11 years ago:
Farewell to the old footbridge over Puławska

This time 12 years ago:
Let's ban cars with engines over 2.0 litres

This time 14 years ago:
Ul. Kórnicka gets paved over

Sunday, 15 August 2021

The trees - spare them or use them?

On my way back from Machcin the other day, I noticed a sign that I would have seen I had I come up from the other way - 'Tree-felling in progress - Entry forbidden'. What's going on? I check.

Tree-felling is indeed in progress, thinning out the forest at the top of my road. Too early to say how much of the forest will go (this has only just started this week).

The fact that the John Deere forestry harvester is parked up here over the weekend suggests the work is far from over, and that plenty more trees are destined for the chop.

Below: big trees on their way to be processed into timber. As building materials go, wood is more environmentally friendly than concrete. And why, the Norwegians are even building wooden skyscrapers. The way forward? Wooden towers at the expense of forests?

Also for the chop is this cherry orchard across the tracks. Cherries (in particular the sour variety) are not a good crop for farmers - market prices are mercurial and kilo-for-kilo they are far more expensive to pick compared to good old apples. This particular orchard went unharvested this season. My guess is that these will make way for apple trees.

Meanwhile, the apples are doing well again this year. Different varieties, growing in different orchards, mature at different times - the last apple-picking is still three months away, but the very first ones are already on their way to market (below). Photo taken between Dąbrowa Duża and Widok.

Below: these are looking good. A modern orchard, low, young trees, concrete posts, rows as close together as a mechanised equipment will allow. A far cry from the mature orchards with large, spreading trees bearing traditional Mazovian varieties - these are disappearing fast. The margins are to be made in supermarket-perfect fruit with the right sweetness.

Meanwhile, on the działka, my oak seedlings are doing well (about one in four of those planted have got to this stage).

Pines not doing so well - at the seedling stage, their growth is slower than the oak.

This... is a leek! I had a hunch that this might work - rather like the carrot tops we used to plant at Oaklands primary school infants. I made a leek, lentil and sorrel stew the other day, and rather than throw away the end, I replanted it in a jar from a failed oak or pine planting. This seems to be working! I will pop it into the soil soon, and hope it soon grows big enough to eat!

Bonus shot - a past-life familiarity event in Widok - wow, does this look like mid-'50s America! Note the lovely lawn... No longer environmentally acceptable, but it does makes an impression...

Friday, 13 August 2021

The Curve

Controversial this. On the horizontal axis - the entire population. On the vertical axes (plural, for there can be many) - understanding, wisdom, curiosity, intelligence, powers of observation - powers of concentration. To the right of me, a relatively small number of humans, vastly brighter, smarter, more spiritually sensitive than me. An exponential curve. 

"If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself" - Desiderata, Max Ehrmann, 1927. Wealth, physical and intellectual prowess - yes, attributes connected with the biological being, the ego, rather than its conciousness.

The point in the curve is is where I feel I am in terms of my spiritual evolution - a long way up, many behind me, a smaller number way, way ahead of me; a long, long way to climb; slightly more than halfway between Zero and One? 

To climb that curve requires an eternity. Life after life after life, each one growing in understanding and wisdom. At the top of the curve - oneness, unity, All in God, God in All. Total understanding, absolute consciousness from the Universal and atomic scales.

Am I being a bit elitist in claiming that we are not all equal? That there is spiritual evolution, that some are more advanced than others?

Are we all Capax Dei - literally, 'capable of God' - or are some of the humans that walk among us merely P-zombies - meat-covered robots who have fewer conscious experiences than my cat. [I strongly suspect that Trump is a P-zombie, a human entity devoid of conscious awareness, incapable of self-reflection.]

One night last week, I had the desire to step outside the house into a starlit night and as I did so, I had the unbidden and sudden insight that everyone has their own pathway to God. Mine is through exploration of a mental phenomenon I have experienced since childhood - familiar qualia memories of past lives. Few people report this. Yet some recorded cases of supposed reincarnation (see this one) are greatly stronger than my flashbacks and dreams, higher up the curve. Maybe each pathway to God involves a different curve, one that I'm not necessarily on (one for example involving Jesus or Mohamed), but nevertheless ultimately with the same end goal - divine unity. 

Letting go of the ego is essential. Finding one's pure awareness, untainted by your biological self. You may say 'there is nothing beyond the biological self!' - a proposition that many hold to be true in our materialist society's Newtonian worldview.

Time to ponder on, to meditate, channel, and seek understanding.

This time two years ago:
Fifty years on, my last kolonia

This time eight years ago:
Grodzisk Mazowiecki's pretty station

This time nine years ago:
Exorcism outside the President's Palace

This time ten years ago:
The raging footsoldier - a story about anger

This time 11 years ago:
Graffiti and street art 

Wednesday, 11 August 2021


All summer long, my phones have been buzzing with SMS notifications from the Polish government's security centre (Rządowe Centrum Bezpieczeństwa), warning citizens of impending thunderstorms, downpours, hail, localised flooding, and possible interruptions in electricity supply. The messages warn us to secure any objects outside that might be carried away by strong winds, and tell us to keep watching the weather forecasts.

Online weather charts indeed have been showing the progress of violent storms as they sweep across Poland, typically from south-west to north-east. [I use for its charts that can be localised to the nearest gmina, and its zoomable maps for forecasts, and for real-time progress of thunderclouds.]

Yesterday evening as I set out of my walk, with one such storm imminent. Though it was still dry, I could see the entire landscape to the west of Chynów illuminated by frequent and massive lightning strikes, incessant rumbles of thunder, and winds whipped up by the downdraft from the water plummeting out of the sky. Soon enough it caught up with me - I had to run home to avoid a soaking. Safe inside my house I watched the spectacular light show; the sun had set at 20:10 but it was far darker than dusk - until the next flash of lightning lit up the garden like day.

Time for supper - kettle on - and the lights went out. And back on again. And off, and on. And then again, until minutes later they finally went out, not to return. My laptop has battery power for several hours; I'm halfway through listening to a Royal Institution science lecture. It continues playing for about ten minutes until the buffered content reaches its end. My phones are working. The torch function is extremely useful - having no candles on the działka, these are the only source of light, apart from the dim glow of the control panel for the security system by the front door, powered by back-up batteries. 

Fortunately, it's summer; in the house it's a comfortable 22.5C. A power-cut in winter would be disastrous, as the działka heating is 100% electric. Darkness, however, means I can't read books, I can't type; outside torrential rain is still pouring down. I run outside to take a look - I can't see any lights in Jakubowizna, nor in Chynów, nor in Nowe Grobice. A fire engine is on its way to an emergency. 

Back indoors, there's no hot water - so can't even take a shower in the dark. It's coming up to nine pm, I decide to wash my teeth and have an early night.

This is the first sustained power cut I've experienced in Poland since the Corpus Christi storm of 2010. That was bad - 36 hours without electricity, and heavy flooding all over Jeziorki.

I am blessed with the ability to fall asleep easily, and so I do, around 21:15. I wake just after midnight to the hum of the refrigerator; opening my eyes, I can see the blinking glow of the internet router on the windowsill. All is well; I go back to sleep, to wake naturally at 06:15. Nine hours of quality rest; some vivid dreams (exploring London Underground tube tunnels in the 1950s with my son, a glass-fronted control centre at the end of a platform, my old office at the CBI, though moved to Warsaw). Maybe going to bed shortly after nine is a good idea? [Maybe time to refresh an idea I had some while back - to go to sleep every day an hour after sunset? In late June, this would be about 10pm, in late December, this would mean going to bed around half past four in the afternoon.]

This morning it's stopped raining. I check the cellar; not too bad - bailing out half a bucket of water from the circular hole in the cellar floor. This needs doing every time it rains heavily, otherwise water osmoses its way up the cellar walls and into the house, leading to damp and mildew. Advice for anyone building a house - don't build a cellar! They are entirely unnecessary in these days of refrigerators, and increased flooding due to climate change means risk of getting waterlogged. A ziemianka - a dug-out cellar built away from the house - is a far better alternative.

Weather likely to be more clement for the next three days - sunshine to dry out the damp soil.

This time last year:
Kilometres of new asphalt

This time two years ago:
One man went to mow

This time four years ago:
My father's penknife and airport security

This time five years ago:
Post-holiday detox diet starts today

This time eight years ago:
Cycle ride up and down the S2 and S79 before they open

This time nine years ago:
Kraks and back in a day by train 

This time ten years ago:
Fountains by the New Town

This time 11 years ago:
Old-School Saska Kępa

This time 12 years ago:
The land, the light

This time 13 years ago:
Rainbow over Jeziorki

This time 14 years ago:
Previously in Portmeirion


Sunday, 8 August 2021

Accounting for coincidence

It rained all day Friday, so I didn't go for a walk. So a long one was needed on Saturday, to make up for the lack of paces. My walk was indeed long (over 16km); it took me from Chynów to Krężel, the next station along the Radom line, followed by an eastward turn towards Barcice Rososkie, then through Gaj Żelechowski and Machcin II, and home.

Along the way, I come across a signpost for the village of Henryków. I stop to take a photo, being minded of the 1970s British progressive/ avantgarde group, Henry Cow (anyone remember them?)

It was name one would bandy around the sixth-form common room to demonstrate one's trendiness credentials; often mentioned in the music press at the time, and heard late evening on John Peel's Radio 1 show. (If you actually knew Henry Cow, it meant you had an Older Brother.) So while not a group whose works I could hum along with, Henry Cow was certainly a part of the musical landscape in the pre-punk era, a band to be reckoned with.

I think no more of it until returning to the działka; I listen to some Henry Cow on YouTube and read up about the band and its rich history on Wikipedia. Below: the cover of The Road, the box set of the band's works.

One of the more immediately accessible Henry Cow tunes, Nine Funerals for a Citizen King.

And then I make a stunning discovery. The definitive book (512 pages long) about Henry Cow, published in 2019, entitled Henry Cow: The World Is a Problem, was written by American academic Benjamin Piekut. 

Benjamin Piekut.


The two villages border each other, and their centres are less than one mile apart. What is the chance?

The photograph below was taken just a few hundred metres from the one towards the top of this post.

Although Poland has a Piekuty, a Nowe Piekuty and a Piekutowo, it has only one Piekut.

Below: an OpenStreetMap view of the area, Piekut abutting Henryków.

On to the philosophical point. It is indeed possible that a young Benjamin Piekut, curious as to the origin of his name, googled it and found it on a map of Mazovia, next to a village that sounded like the name of a 1970s British prog-rock band. Which piqued his interest to the point that he ended up writing a book about them.

Or not! I shall have to find out!

It's coincidences like this that make physicist Richard Feynman's famous quote about coincidence sound like bollocks: "The most amazing thing happened to me tonight... I saw a car with the license plate ARW 357. Of all the millions of license plates in the state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one tonight?"

I return to Henryków by motorbike to have more of a look around.

This time last year:
Działka food

This time two years ago:
Proper summer in Warsaw

This time three years ago:
Poland's trains failing in the heat

This time four years ago:
"Learn from your mystics is my only advice"

This time five years ago:
Out where the pines grow wild and tall

This time eight years ago:
Behold and See (part V) - short story

This time nine years ago:
Syrenki in Warsaw

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

This time 11 years ago:
Running with the storm on the road to Mamrotowo

This time 13 years ago:
St Pancras Station - new gateway to London

This time 14 years ago:
Mountains or sea? North Wales has them both

Friday, 6 August 2021

Going round in circles

Sometimes the brain goes stale. The same song stuck in the head for days. Frustrating dreams in which the same actions and concerns are worrying and wearisome. How to get out of this state of mind? A walk is generally excellent panacea, but today it rained all day. Goodbye Toulouse by the Stranglers has replaced Green Manalishi (With the Two-Prong Crown) by Fleetwood Mac as this week's earworm. Rain all day, not much work (just a couple of emails), so a chance to sweep the floors, some extra exercises and do a bit of decluttering. 

Kick it out - break out of the circle, turn it into a spiral.

Time to channel, and have a crack at automatic writing. "It's November and raining, the High Street lights reflecting off the wet pavement. I'll pop by the Crown for a large whisky and light ale chaser. The smell of rain on wet gaberdine and traffic fumes gives way to the nicotine fug of the saloon bar. Another working day over, time to unwind and forget that cancelled sales contract, the angry phone call to head office. Too much rivalry. Bad blood. We should be working together, not sniping at each other. At the bar, I make my order, plus a packet of salted peanuts. Barmaid's friendly smile - helpful. First large gulp of scotch - I wait a while, take a sip of beer, and that familiar warmth in the veins is putting the world to right... I look for a quiet part of the bar to sit down in - but a group of long-haired students is hanging around the jukebox. I belch.

Tonight. Tonight will be more than a few drinks, a saveloy and chips and flopping out at the Railway Hotel. Tonight will be different. It will be great. I shall conquer once again - I shall triumph. Me - the Pleasurer Among Towns. They will all bow down before me. Rivals, revealed for once and for all to be useless. My car shall be the best in the car park - a Zodiac Executive with V6 motor, auto box, metallic blue, black vinyl roof, walnut dash - sporty luxury, reflecting my personality. Tonight would be different, but those bloody students and their rock music and long hair. Where are the birds? The dolly birds from the mills? Place should be rich with them by all accounts, chat 'em up, back to the new Crest hotel for a threesome - but it's Wednesday - not the big night, granted - but it's tonight. It is tonight. It has to be tonight. Tomorrow night I'll be back home, making up stories.

"Love, another large scotch and White Shield, if you will". I'm looking for a ten bob note that I was sure was in my wallet, when the door opens and in walk these three lovely birds, long hair, short skirts and go right up to those long-haired students. Bastards. They don't even stay for one drink - they're off, all of them. At least the jukebox has gone quiet.

Shall I put something on? Got a bob? Back to the bar. "Love, got change of a quid?" Silently the barmaid opens the till. The Isley Brothers. F6. Put Yourself In My Place. Fine song. Yeah and walk a mile in my shoes while you're at it. "Come on and try it, baby, baby, try it." And I'm still driving a fucking Anglia. "Another bag of peanuts there, and twenty Embassies." I notice I'm a bit unsteady on my feet as I return to the jukebox to press F6 again. The Locarno, and that bird Dawn. She was more than alright. Nothing more than a happy memory. Just a few weeks ago. Double Diamond works wonders.

What's gone wrong with the world? Why isn't it like it should have been when I was young? Did I plan it wrong? It's half-past nine and the pub's empty. Barmaid asks me if I'd like some company. She can phone her friend. Reduced to this, I think. Haven't enough in my wallet. I fancy that saveloy more. So I say no, sup up and leave for the chip shop. I am angry, I am dangerous. Cross me now, you'll catch it.

The rain has stopped, but the street's still wet. I stare through the window of the Radio Rentals shop. Colour sets. Big colour sets. I want one. The Dougie Squires Dancers throwing themselves all over the screens. What's on telly tonight? Bloody Wednesday Play load of lefty crap. Will my crappy hotel room even have a TV? I belch again, and start coughing."

This time last year:
Between wakefulness and sleep 

This time four years ago:

This time seven years ago:
In search of quintessential English countryside

This time eight years ago:
Behold and See - short story, Pt III

This time 11 years ago:
Another return to Penrhos

Thursday, 5 August 2021

Between the August rains

It rained for much of the day, I'm stuck indoors on the działka, but the forecast showed that the clouds would thin out by the late afternoon and the evening would stay dry. So off I go! Below: looking from my drive out onto the road. Which way should I go - left (east) or right (west)? I head east.

I follow the path through the wood, and head towards Machcin II. The orchards are now visibly fruitful - apples are ripening quickly, though it will still be some six weeks before they are all ready to be picked. The last of the unpicked cherries are rotting on the trees, plums are now ripe and ready to eat (I have had some from my garden already). Apple-picking will go on into early November.

Below: the road from Jakubowizna to Machcin in the low evening sun. A mellow, pleasing landscape.

Left: this is becoming one of my 'canonical views' of the manor - the unasphalted farm track leading up the hill from Grobice toward the small cluster of houses that is Adamów Rososki. Quiet, solitude, and fecund, fruit-bearing trees all around. On the horizon, the sun illuminates cloud banks as they roll away north-eastwards.

Below: the farm track rounds a corner and heads south; the low sun lights the foliage from the side. From time to time, there's the sound of a tractor spraying fruit trees with pesticide. The dispersed nature of orchards, with the more successful growers buying up ever more hectares, means the farm tracks remain important byways, allowing farmers to get their equipment from one orchard to the other, and ultimately, the fruit to market.

Below: up to the end of this track, turn right, then about 1,500 paces back to the działka. The evening stayed dry, the walk totalled 11,500 paces

This time two years ago:

This time six years ago:
Summer in the city

This time seven years ago:
The architecture of the Birkenhead Tunnel

This time nine years ago:
Behold and See - short story, part II

This time ten years ago:
Signs of progress along the S2 - Lotnisko to Puławska

This time 12 years ago:
Warsaw's walls bear witness 

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Summer, winding down.

"Summer inhaled and held its breath too long," sang Jefferson Airplane. This summer's mix of sunshine and showers means each sunny break needs to be exploited with a walk, to catch the klimat. It's early August, the sunset today is 42 minutes earlier than the one on the longest day. Just a few weeks before the working year begins in earnest. It's the Northern Hemisphere's mad dash that sees 42% of the year's work carried out across 14 weeks leading up to mid-December and the pre-Christmas wind-down. So - I must make the most of this time, but this morning and most of the afternoon, it rained. So - some photographs from the last couple of days.

Below: what's becoming a favourite view, especially in this weather, a prospect of the road as it rises towards my działka.

Left: getting close to my place now, this is another view I love. The sign on the street corner says 'Ul. Grochowska', though I suspect that it has been brought here from elsewhere. The view, of oak, pine and silver birch against a blue summer sky, gets me every time. There was some clearing of trees on the plot to the right of this photograph the summer before last, though no new development has yet begun here.

Below: approaching the new level crossing from Chynów. To the right of the road, there used to grow a tall forest of self-sown trees. All were cut down, levelled with the ground, for the modernisation work around here. Less than two years on, a new forest is growing back. If there was a safety reason for cutting back the trees to give drivers greater visibility of the crossing around the bend - it's gone.

Below: ul. Wspólna, which runs ruler-straight for 1.2km all the way from Chynów's main street towards the station and level crossing, across which lies Jakubowizna. This shot is taken from outside Mirabelka, the nearest shop to my działka (1.75km). A lot of walking involved in eating! The red Honda Civic works well against the blue sky.

Below: this is the top end of ul. Wspólna. Couple of działki for sale across the road from here - just fields, one is 1,100m2, the other 3,000m2, just six minutes' walk from the station, just around the corner in this photo. I have details if any reader is interested.

Looking northwards from ul. Wspólna, I get the impression of a town at the edge of a prairie - which it isn't. The działki for sale are around here. Cue theme from The Big Country.

Below: looking northwards along ul. Słoneczna ('Sunny Street'); to the left, ul. Działowa ('Dividing Street'), not to be confused with ul. Działkowa ('Allotment Street') which comes off Słoneczna as a right turn at the very end.

Meanwhile, Jakubowizna's main street (the one parallel to mine) is getting a pavement. (And ulica Karczunkowska in Warsaw can't?) The verges have been prepared, the slabs are awaiting; in the far distance the team has started from the other end. I wonder how long it will take to get the job done.

As I set off for my sunset stroll, I see a hare in the distance; it sees me, and before taking off, it first considers the escape routes. South? No, human on tractor in that field. North? The better choice. So it turns around 180 degrees and runs off that way. Nikon Coolpix P900 coming into its own at 100m plus.

Below: looking south towards Chynów station. The sun is in the act of setting; the station lights, and the lights illuminating the level crossing, have just been switched on.

Below: an evening train heads south from Warsaw, between Sułkowice and Chynów stations.

A glorious sunset, the day well spent.

This time three years ago:
My Mazovian roots

This time four years ago:
My father revisits his battleground

This time seven years ago:
Over the hill at Harrow

This time eight years ago:
Behold and See - the Miracle of Lublin - Pt 1.

This time ten years ago:
Quiet afternoon in the bazaar

This time 11 years ago:
The politics of the symbol

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Measuring the immeasurable

"Wow! What a coincidence! Imagine the odds against that!" "I was thinking about her, and out of the blue - she calls me!" 

We all have experienced plentiful cases such as this, where meaningful coincidences cause us to consider the phenomenon of synchronicity - circumstances that appear meaningfully related yet lack a causal connection. Rational science, based on classical Newtonian physics, is happy to dismiss coincidence as mere manifestations of the random. Can this sceptical point of view be overcome?

I have two copies of Explaining the Unexplained by Hans J. Eysenck and Carl Sargent (one in London and one on the działka); a popular book in the early 1980s, but one that missed the mark by miles.

Eysenck (a controversial figure) and Sargent (only slightly less so) set out to explain the mysteries of the paranormal in scientific terms, to prove that supernatural powers can be proven. They use the term psi to encompass all manners of paranormal activity from telepathy to telekinesis, from precognition to remote viewing, and attempt to convince the reader that all these are real - on the basis of scientific experiment.

Pictures of machines used to 'catch dreams', to 'detect extra-sensory perception', or 'photograph ghosts' etc., adorn most of the pages of the book, along with diagrams of how consciousness acts on the needle of a meter etc; the aim is to show how science is in a position to verify claims made about supernatural, paranormal or metaphysical manifestations. 

"Consciousness can influence random events directly, both within the body and outside of it, by collapsing the wave function of of those events in the act of observation." This is the Dean Radin hypothesis, that you can will a quantum event into happening. Dr Radin believes that parapsychology is as repeatable as any science but that it is also "difficult to replicate".

Explaining the Unexplained  was unconvincing to me when it came out, and looking at it today - even more so. The premise itself is faulty - that supernatural phenomena can be tested by scientific method - which above all means their experimental repeatability.

The guardians of the rational world, the sceptics and debunkers, ever rational, ever watchful for trickery, are keen to point out all the hoaxes, the statistical errors (deliberate or otherwise) and plausible non-paranormal explanations in any of these flaky pseudosciences as proof of absence of any paranormal phenomena. 

But proof of absence is not absence of proof.

So it's not that I'm sceptical about claims regarding the paranormal - it's just that I believe the paranormal - the metaphysical, if you prefer the term - won't let itself be measured. Out-of-the-ordinary event will happen when they happen. You will continue to experience them. But when you're looking out for them, or checking for them, waiting around for them armed with scientific instruments - then these paranormal phenomena will evade you, because that is their nature.

That which we routinely experience as 'spooky', 'bizarre' - or even just 'unusual' is the usual lattice or web of coincidence that holds - in my belief - the Universe together. We know now that the universe is a field, a field of forces and points, fluctuating, repelling, attracting, resonating and converging into matter - maybe a field of consciousness as well as of waves, particles and probabilities.

But try to nail it down - it won't let you. That's just the way it is. For us. For now.

This time two years ago:
Heading Home [my father leaves Warsaw for the last time]

This time four years ago:
From my father's historic return to Warsaw

This time five years ago:
Country life in a capital city 

This time seven years ago:
My ogród is my działka

This time nine years ago:
Mazowieckie province tempts with mini- and micro-breaks

This time ten years ago:
Pride and anger