Friday, 20 January 2017

1967 - the year the world started turning from black & white to colour

In the office the younger staff were ribbing Russell and me about our age - they think that as youths, we were into Glenn Miller and the Stranglers. Pause for reflection, in this the fiftieth anniversary of 1967, a year where everything changed, the harbinger of those changes - popular music.

Now the time that had elapsed between Glenn Miller disappearing into the English Channel and the Stranglers forming was a mere 30 years; over that time popular music had witnessed the demise of big band, the birth of rock'n'roll, the Beatles, psychedelia, funk, heavy metal, disco and punk. In the 40 years since punk rock exploded on the scene, other than the emergence of hip-hop - nothing new really happened. Popular music today sounds derivative, stale.

Fifty years ago, Jimi Hendrix's Hey Joe was in the UK Charts, bringing in a totally new sound; a revolution rather than an evolution. Yes, rock'n'roll had happened a decade earlier, the Beatles had taken America by storm in 1964 - but here was something fresh, a sound that would usher in profound social change.

The charts were changing, fifty years ago. Acts like Val Doonican, Jim Reeves or Frank Ifield were still crooning away, but the sound of electrically amplified guitars to the fore, cranked up and distorted was starting to dominate record sales. Fifty years ago, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Cream, the Troggs, the Kinks were all in the Top Twenty.

[Incidentally, the story of 1967 in music is nicely legendised in Richard Curtis's film, The Boat That Rocked, reviewed here.]

Changes that society is still coming to terms with today, were happening.

London was beginning to swing; the so-called 'Swinging Sixties' began in 1966 as the Mod movement morphed into something more sophisticated; a more flamboyant look, longer hair for young men, psychedelia and a Cause - the peace movement protesting against America's escalation of the Vietnam War.

I was nine, ten at the time, these events were happening on the periphery of my awareness, delivered nightly on black and white TV, 405 lines flickering; it was on the radio that the revolution would make itself noticed in suburban Hanwell. For 1967 was the year that the BBC Light Programme became BBC Radio 1, playing pop and rock, and BBC Radio 2, playing more sedate forms of popular music.

Carnaby Street fashions took a few years to reach London's outer fringes; television and photography were technological novelties for the very rich, but they now felt within reach.

New opportunities were opening up, having emerged from post-war austerity, the media was brighter, with colour supplements in the Sunday papers. And cars were available in ever more garish colours, though bright orange would have to wait until the 1970s.

And London itself was looking less drab. Ten years on the from Clean Air Act, the soot and grime was being sand-blasted off the facades of buildings, revealing a younger, fresher capital beneath.

It was a year, when, as a small child, I could clearly feel that my world - as opposed to the drama seen on TV news - was improving rapidly.

The modern era was fast approaching.

Watching a TV documentary about the 1970s with Moni in England over Christmas, she remarked that the 1970s looked quite modern but with retro cars; clothes worn by young people then would not look out of place today, in the way that 1950s clothes would.

That tipping point occurred in 1967.

Watching today's grim spectacle of Trump becoming enthroned as the world's [second] most powerful man makes me realise that the Ascent of Man has been marked, and will continue to be marked, by downward slopes, regressions towards ages when baser instincts triumphed.

This time three years ago:
Rain on a freezing day (-7C)

This time four years ago:
Jeziorki in the snow

This time five years ago:
Winter's slight return

This time six years ago:

This time seven years ago:
Pieniny in winter

This time eight years ago:
Wetlands in a wet winter

Monday, 16 January 2017

Wildlife newcomer to Jeziorki

Another evening in which I make the most of the frozen ponds so that I can walk home across it from W-wa Dawidy station. A splendid walk; the new snowfall, temperature around zero, no one around, the ice rock solid. I cross from the retention ponds at the north end towards the wilderness section where the reedbeds were unreclaimed to allow the wildlife to live there undisturbed.

Right in the deepest part, where no human foot ever ventures when the ponds are not solidly iced over, I hear a sound, like a large animal among the rushes. Like a swan, beating its wings vigorously - except the swans have long gone. Maybe a dog... - Too big for a dog - then suddenly it emerges from the reedbeds - a wild boar! It may be seven, maybe eight metres away, hurtling across my path into denser vegetation between the pond and ul. Trombity.

Had it rushed at me, it would have been scary, but I could see it was charging at 90 degrees to my direction of travel, so I was not afraid, more fascinated.

I stood there for a second struck by a sense of awe. Wow! Its shape... like the cartoon Tasmanian Devil, its front end big and blunt, tapering to a disproportionately small rear.

Yes, I'd heard tell... A few months ago, returning home late from a TV studio, my taxi driver told me as we approached ul. Karczunkowska that the other night, around 2am, he'd just dropped off a passenger on ul. Sarabandy, and was continuing along that street towards ul. Karczunkowska, when in the glare of his headlights he saw an entire wild boar family - a sow and several young following her - cross the street.

I told the taxi driver that this was the first time I'd heard of a local sighting of wild boar in Jeziorki, that none of my neighbours had seen them - but I believed him, the details were right, and why should he tell porky pies?

Here in Jeziorki, I've seen foxes, hares and hedgehogs - no deer, though last Saturday week I saw three crossing the tracks ahead of me in Czachówek (the north-to-east spur).

Then, like today, I was armed with a Nikon Coolpix; both the Coolpix A and the Coolpix P900 need to be switched on and they both take a while to focus (the P900 also needs to be zoomed out electronically... s-l-o-w-l-y). In both cases, the three dear and the wild boar eluded my lenses. With a digital single lens reflex camera, like my Nikon D3300, I'd just bring the camera up to my eye, direct it at the beast(s), zoom a bit and snap. Much faster response time, which makes all the difference in capturing wildlife.

I looked at the tracks on the fresh snow. Trotters. I then scouted about, Tonto-like, for more boar prints. Quite different from the tracks of hares or foxes; cloven-hooved beasts. I could see only single sets of prints - a solitary individual, probably young. Maybe one of that litter that the taxi driver had seen crossing ul. Sarabandy that spring night, but several months older.

The boar's prints ran this way and that across the ice, into the undergrowth and back out again. I could see the pads of foxes' prints and the closely-spaced paws of hares that had bounded through the snow - nothing unusual, they'd been visible in the snow for over a week - and the jackdaws and crows - the backward-pointing arrows making a wavy trail. But the boar was new. Very interesting. Must watch out for it - armed with a faster camera! Will the boar disappear after the thaw, crossing the track to roam a larger area between Jeziorki and Dawidy Bankowe? Or is this a new addition to our local fauna?

Climate change or happenstance? (przypadek - any better word here?) It's certainly a snowier winter than the past two, but nothing out of the ordinary. Wild boar are proliferating in Poland's suburbs; out of Puszcza Kampinoska, pushing around the outskirts of Warsaw, advancing on Gdynia and Poznań... As long as they are not a threat to humans (they can get aggressive when protecting their young), live and let live, I say.

This time last year:
Communicating the government's case in English

This time three years ago:
Thinking big, American style. Can Poles do it?

This time four years ago:
Inequality in an age of economic slowdown

This time five years ago:
The Palace of Culture: Tear it down?

This time seven years ago:
Conquering Warsaw's highest snow mounds

This time eight years ago:
Flashback on way to Zielona Góra

This time nine years ago:
Ursynów, winter, before sunrise

Friday, 13 January 2017

On ice

The solidly frozen pond between ul. Dumki, Trombity and Kórnicka makes for a good walk home; getting ofp the train at W-wa Dawidy, it's a pleasure to walk across the ice; it affords good and unusual views of my familiar locality.

Below: houses along ul. Dumki as seen from the pond. There was a light snowfall today, covering much of the pond, leaving patches of bare ice. Although the temperature in town was +2C, in Jeziorki it was just slightly above zero.

Below: flashback to my Wednesday evening walk across the snow, with a waxing moon shining in a cloudless sky. Picture taken my my Nikon Coolpix P900, which is much clumsier in these conditions than my standard Nikon D3300. Battery drains faster, and the autofocus is hit-or-miss in the dark.

Below: photo from yesterday evening, taken on the D3300. With ISO set at 12,800, the dark night becomes as light as day.

Below: bright lights across the pond, the backs of houses along ul. Trombity, photo taken today.

But is it safe, you are asking? Totally. Even after two days of above-zero temperatures, the ice is totally and utterly solid. Below: fresh car tyre tracks on the ice, ul. Kórnicka in the distance.

Below: off the pond on back on the asphalt of ul. Dumki, making my way homeward.

Any season of the year, Jeziorki is a splendid place to live. Ever-improving public transport links put the city centre within easy reach of this semi-rural elysium. No car required.

This time last year:
Tweeting and blogging

This time three years ago:
The sad truth about the pavement for Karczunkowska
[Since then two stretches have been paved. Rest is mud.]

This time seven years ago:
A haul of wintery wonderfulness

This time eight years ago:
Optimal way to work?

This time nine years ago:
Highest point in Jeziorki 
(photos of the Rampa before demolition)

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Skarżysko-Kamienna and Starachowice

To Starachowice to address a group of local business owners from the Special Economic Zone interested in exporting to or investing in the UK. To get there I had to wake up at 03:25, leave home at 04:07, catch a southbound Koleje Mazowieckie train to Piaseczno at 04:22. Here I waited over half an hour for the slightly late night train from Kołobrzeg to Kraków, which conveniently called at Piaseczno and Skarżysko-Kamienna (07:34). From here I travelled onward to my destination, Starachowice, catching the 08:11 service there.

This train arrived punctually at Starachowice, where I had a second breakfast at the Bar Miś near the station (scrambled eggs and ham, small salad, brown bread, and ground coffee, all for 8zł - £1.57). A walk to the Zone, I met up with colleagues from our Kraków office for another coffee and carrot juice before the meeting.

Below: Skarżysko-Kamienna railway station. An interesting junction town with a history of manufacturing. Just before daybreak. Time for a walk around.

Below: this magnificent beast is a Pt47, a Polish-designed and -built fast passenger locomotive. This example has been preserved, and this location shows it off nicely. Note the water pipe to the left.

Below: front view of the engine, which was in mainline service into the 1980s. The semaphore looks particularly effective, and helps evoke an era in Polish railway history.

Below: rear three-quarter view showing the original tender; these were mostly replaced in the 1970s

Change of era on the rails - I board the 08:11 service to Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski, calling at Starachowice. This is a Polish-designed and -built Newag Impuls, newly in service with Przewozy Regionalne. Below: the train's seating is like that of a passenger jet. This is the age of the train.

Below: I arrive at Starachowice. I am minutes away from breakfast and a strong, black coffee.

Below: on the way back, I walk into Skarżysko-Kamienna from the hotel in which we had lunch. I'm passed by a somewhat older Przewozy Regionalne train, heading for Kiece. In the distance, a girder bridge spanning the Kamienna river.

Below: sunset at Skarżysko-Kamienna, looking over the tracks from the footbridge. Soon, I'll board a northbound train for Radom, changing there for a slow local train back to Warsaw via W-wa Jeziorki.

A long day, but a rewarding one. I just love the rhythm of the clickety-clack.

This time last year:
The world mourns the loss of David Bowie

This time three years ago:
Where's the snow?

This time five years off:
Two drink-free days a week, British MPs urge

This time six years ago:
Depopulating Polish cities?

This time seven years ago:
Powiśle on a winter's morning

This time eight years ago:
Sunny, snowy Jeziorki

This time nine years ago:
Eddie's giant soap bubble

Monday, 9 January 2017

Uneasy sunny day: Smog returns with a vengeance

View from my office on 14 November. Note the 300m-high chimney of the Kawęczyn heat plant, just over nine kilometres from my office between the twin spires of the Holy Cross church.

View on 16 December, during Warsaw's first major smog alert, when air quality was so bad the authorities offered free public transport to encourage SDOPCCs* to leave cars at home.

View today. No clouds. The chimney stack has vanished in the haze of PM10 particles, generated by the burning of household waste and poor quality coal to heat homes during the freeze.

UPDATE: WEDNESDAY 11 JANUARY 2017 - worse than 16 December but better than Monday. Kawęczyn chimney visible - just.

For the first time in Warsaw, I'm seeing people (other than cyclists mixing it with diesel-powered traffic) wearing masks. Below: Metro Wilanowska.

The same mix of factors as last month: high air pressure (1010 hPa), still air (wind speed less than 3 km/h) and cold (temperatures averaging -8C for the past five days).

It's bad - you can smell it in the air, you can smell it in your clothes when you get home. Yesterday, a charity marathon in Kielce to raise money for a sick child was cancelled because it was considered too risky to let runners exert themselves physically in such polluted conditions.

Solutions? Warsaw's 'nudge' approach to getting people out of their cars is not working. ul. Puławska was as congested today as it ever is. Time to bring in the odd/even number plate system in, as in Paris, sending out more patrols to catch householders burning crap rather than high-grade coal. And move away from coal power - whatever the miners may threaten.

The PiS government remains silent on the matter.

Below: bonus picture - ready-salted bus. The driver of this 209 has made it easier for passengers to find the door-opening buttons and enhanced 'Spot-Your-Bus-Stop' visibility. This is what Warsaw's highly salted roads do to vehicles that use them at this time of year.

*Short Distance One-Per-Car Commuters

This time last year:
Public media? State media? Party media?
[another year of not watching a single second of TVP1]

This time last year:
Beer, consumer choice and the Meaning of Life

This time three years ago:
What's Cameron got against us Poles?

The time five years ago:
Anyone still remember the Przybyl case?

This time six years ago:
Wetlands midwinter meltdown

This time seven years ago:
Jeziorki rail scenes, winter

This time eight years ago:
Winter drivetime, Jeziorki

This time nine years ago:
Kraków, a bit of winter sunshine

Saturday, 7 January 2017

The winter sublime

This is the zenith of cold; my ideal Polish winter - a sharp frost (down to -17C overnight), crisp, crunchy snow underfoot and a clear blue sky.

Yesterday I too a train out to Czachówek, and walked in a wide arc from Czachówek Południowy to Ustanówek, from where I took a train back to W-wa Dawidy for a walk back home across the frozen ponds. Today I focused entirely on the ponds. And I have some great photos!

Below: setting ofp from Czachówek Południowy, following the south-to-east spur in the direction of Czachówek Wschodni station. Work on the modernisation of the Warsaw-Radom railway line is not as advanced as it is in Jeziorki; a long way to go here before 'up' and 'down' tracks are both operational.

Below: a wayside shrine on the road out of Czachówek, low sun streaming through the trees. It's late morning.

Below: the road between Bronisławów and Czarny Las, where an unofficial pedestrian path leads up the embankment and over all four railway tracks.

Below: looking south from the east-to-north spur. Sadly, no freight trains running.

Back to W-wa Dawidy, then homewards along ul. Dumki. The ice was already thick enough to walk on. A half-moon was already rising, and I caught this LOT Polish Airlines Bombardier Dash-8 coming into land against it. I have waited years for this shot.

I said the ponds had iced over, but on Friday (a public holiday in Poland) there was still a small patch of water, below. I stayed a sensible distance from the edge...

Today, after overnight temperatures that had tumbled from a mere -9C to -17C, the last bit of open water had turned to solid ice. I was wearing a pair of slip-on rubber soles with steel spikes on them, strapped onto my winter walking boots. Total non-slip confidence (I picked them up at Lidl at the end of last winter for a mere 13zł - less than three quid.)

The icy conditions meant I could conduct my annual exploration of the deepest recesses of the wetlands, where humans don't step foot. The water beneath may not be deep, but the bottom of the pond is very muddy.

A marvellous sunny afternoon. I was looking for the swans' nest, but could not find it. Round here somewhere.

Below: ul. Kórnicka, the far end, leading up to the railway tracks. The rays of the setting sun catch the tracks of hares.

The sun set today 19 minutes later than at its earliest in mid-December; the day is noticeably longer. Two contrails are visible in the dusk sky. I trace the larger (four-engined) one as it crosses Jeziorki at 11,000 metres.

With that half-moon rising, the plane passes close... before it had travelled too far, the moon had risen above the contrail and was above it before the vapour had condensed.

Bonus photo below: a pair of male pheasants compete for territory. Photo taken from my bedroom window. The one on the right, the incumbent, saw off the challenger.

This time six years ago:
Long train running

This time seven years ago:
Most Poniatowskiego

This time nine years ago:
Warsaw well prepare for winter

Friday, 6 January 2017

Seeking an aesthetic in the Grim

Some days fill one's heart with rapture; others can get you down. The built environment that surrounds us also has a major influence on how we feel. Beautiful surroundings designed by high-minded architects and urban planners, not pinching pennies but aiming to create spaces that lift the spirit. But can we enjoy the grim? Depends on the atmosphere (klimat) created...

Below: Wrocław, corner of ul. Dubois and Pomorska.

Below: Warsaw, the footpath linking ul. Foksal and ul. Smolna

Below: daybreak at Jaworzyna Śląska station, after the departure of the train to Szklarska Poręba.

Below: New Year's Day, Mysiadło, just across the fields from Jeziorki.

But the sun is shining, it's time to get out and catch the Sublime Aesthetic!

This time two years ago:
UK overtakes France as the World's Fifth Biggest Economy

This time six years ago:
Ice in the Vistula

This time seven years ago:
A consolation to my British readers

This time eight years ago:
Winter in its finery

The time nine years ago:
Snow fences keep the trains running

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Farewell to Ciocia Dzunia

To Wrocław (by night train) for the funeral of my late mother's oldest sister, Ciocia Dziunia, who died just before the New Year at the age of 94. The funeral took place at the Osobowicki cemetery, on the north-western edge of Wrocław. It's a cemetery that's become so crowded that only the urns of the cremated can now be buried here. So Ciocia Dziunia was cremated the previous evening, with the urn being delivered just in time for the mass at the chapel.

The weather was awful; just above zero, but with a blustery wind blowing. The melting slush mixed with the mud, here and there freezing into a slippery ice rink. I saw a mourner fall over. Later I was told that one of the four pallbearers had slipped at a previous funeral and had broken his arm. Because no one else could step in, he had to continue his duties in obvious pain.

The largest wreath was from Ciocia Dzunia's former employees at FWP (Fundusz Wczasów Pracowniczych - workers' vacation fund - the communist-era trade union-run holiday resorts. She ran the Kotlina Kłodzka district - as she said, 1,000 people, 100 buildings. Although she retired many years ago, they still remembered her.

The inscription shows Ciocia's Dziunia's official age - during the war, many people (my mother included) lied about their age to wangle their way out of this or into that. While my mother had no difficulty in getting the British authorities to accept her real birthdate after the war, Ciocia Dziunia was officially a year younger than she really was.

She was buried alongside her late husband, Marian Pytlarz, who died more than 20 years ago. He fought in the Home Army during WW2.

Below: under a canopy the grave into which Ciocia Dziunia's urn was laid to rest. The cemetery is indeed very crowded, hard to move about without treading on someone's plot.

After the funeral, there was a wake meal held in an nearby restaurant, plenty of reminiscences of a long, eventful life. From pre-war eastern Poland - the Kresy borderlands, now part of Ukraine, deported to northern Russia by Stalin, amnestied in 1941, Ciocia Dzunia stayed with her parents in Soviet Kazakhstan rather than leave the USSR with General Anders' army as both of her younger sisters did, she returned to a Poland run by the communists. In the end, she outlived communism by more than a quarter of a century.

This time last year:
Poland's roads get (slightly) safer in 2015

This time two years ago:
Convenience and the economics of bottled water

This time three years ago:
Locally, it's the little things...

This time last four years ago:
Warsaw bids farewell to its old trams

This time nine years ago:
Five departures from Okęcie