Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Proceed with utmost caution

Warsaw's first proper snowfall of the winter. Fifth consecutive day of sub-zero temperatures, with an overnight low of -9C. Time for a first stroll across the frozen pond. In my previous post, I noted that the ice wasn't thick enough for walking on. Last night walking home I saw a group of three youths testing the ice by jumping up and down on it - no one fell in.

Walking on new ice needs to be done with caution. Never be the first - nor the last - person of the season to go on it. Look for signs that someone's been before; footprints and bicycle tracks. Listen all the time for tell-tale sounds of ice cracking (whenever a plane took off overhead, I'd stop and wait, so I could hear properly). Above all, know your lake or pond, keep to the edges at first. Last year, there were over 54 days of ice cover on the ponds - this year's ice season will be shorter.

Anyway, off I go. Gingerly. Below: to my left is the northernmost wooden walkway skirting the top pond. Should the ice show any signs of cracking, I can make it to safety. Black patches are ice from which the powdery snow has blow off from.

Below: the middle walkway. At this stage, all is solid and sound, at least at this distance from the shore. To my right (well out of shot on this pic) is the last stretch of open water still unfrozen.

Below: the pier at the south end of the middle pond. Ice totally solid here.

Below: view across the lower pond, ul. Dumki to the left, houses on ul. Trombity on the right. Again, the ice is solid, the wind whipping snow off the surface.

Below: looking along the canal leading to the drainage ditch. Open water right of centre - this is where my ice-bound journey ends, and where I take to terra firma. Still, no ominous sounds.

Below: a Vivian Maier-style selfie with my camera, the Nikon CoolPix A. I love this little camera, so solid, great battery life, fabulous lens; sadly discontinued (if you find one now for sale, chances are it'll be around the original list price of $1,100. I bought mine for around $400, at the time 1,500zł, in April 2015.

A hour or so earlier, I left the office in the middle of a steady snowfall, below.

This time last year:
In which I see a wild boar crossing the frozen ponds

This time two years ago:
Communicating the government's case in English

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Jeziorki mid-January catch-up

A brief walk around the manor, making the most of the weak sunshine that appeared today. Sundry snaps below... Starting off with the railway scene - as on 1 January, PKP Cargo is leasing an elderly diesel loco from Tracktec Logistics (below). I like the midnight blue (almost black) colour scheme. This is TEM2-016, built in the USSR over 42 years ago, passing W-wa Dawidy station. It is hauling a short (20 wagons) train of coal from Okęcie sidings to Siekierki power station.

Below: the train passes, on its way along the non-electrified track that turns off from the Warsaw-Radom line just past Nowa Iwiczna station.

Down the line at W-wa Jeziorki, the viaduct that will take ul. Karczunkowska over the tracks is beginning to take shape (below), between the 'up' platform (from which the photo was taken) and the 'down' platform, in the distance to the left. Three rectangular support pillars are rising out of the ground, at present as steel rods, awaiting the poured concrete.

Below: viewed from ul. Karczunkowska, one can get an idea of the viaduct's alignment. There will be bus stops at the apex of viaduct, one on either side of the roadway, serving the station with stairs (and wheelchair lifts) down to the platforms.

More infrastructural news: there's a fair amount of water/sewerage work going on around ul. Trombity. On ul. Dumki, new asphalt marks where recent excavations have been completed.

Below: not a Soviet rocket launcher, but  well-boring drill. This is parked up on the piece of land on ul. Trombity earmarked for a pumping station to pump sewage from a new sewer serving the top end of the road with the existing sewer, down which effluent can then gravitationally flow into the main sewer running along ul. Karczunkowska.

More local infrastructure news; in October I wrote here about the competition to draw up master plans for a new estate for 8,000 people beyond the Biedronka store off of ul. Karczunkowska. This was announced by state-owned property bank BGK Nieruchomości. 48 architectural studios submitted projects for the 15-hectare site. The winner will be announced on 12 March. This estate of 3,000 homes is part of the government's flagship Mieszkanie + programme; the first tenants are to move in some time in 2021, said TVN Warszawa early last month.

However, since then, there's been a change of government; the Ministry of Construction and Infrastructure is no more. It is said that new prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki will focus much energy on making Mieszkanie+ work. Still, a new ministry needs to be created, secretaries of state, under-secretaries of state, department heads etc must be appointed - this takes time. Will the 2021 deadline be met?

On to wildlife matters. The mild freeze continues with sub-zero temperatures since Thursday night. The ponds are icing over again, this time the freeze is forecast to linger for more than just the two days the last one did (8/9 Jan). The swan family will get cold feet...

There are still patches of open water here and there, but they will ice over. Last year, when this happened (on 1 January), the swans departed. 

But I'm worried about one of the cygnets - I saw this one alone (below), a few hundred metres from its parents and siblings, on 7 January. Was it ill? Since then, I've seen the swan family three times, each time two adults and just four cygnets. Has this one died, or is it alone, ill, in the rushes across on the western banks of the ponds?

Final shot - not a good one on account of the long shutter speed and zoom - the two goats of ul. Kórnicka out and about. With the new football pitch taking up a lot of their grazing grounds, they seek new grass to nibble on the other side of the road.

Despite the light frost (-2C for over 24 hours), the ice on pond is nowhere near safe to walk on. Several more days and nights needed yet before it's like it was this time last year...

This time last year:
On ice

This time two years ago:
Tweeting and blogging

This time four years ago:
The sad truth about the pavement for Karczunkowska

This time eight years ago:
A haul of wintery wonderfulness

This time nine years ago:
Optimal way to work?

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

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Black hat merry-go-round

It's that time of year when going outdoors without a hat is foolish - all the more so if you are bereft of hair. I have a wide array of headgear, but when temperatures are not low enough to warrant a furry trapper's hat with earflaps, a black knitted watch-cap hat does the job. Probably the most popular item of male hear wear in Poland, and indeed in the UK, in winter - in black, or very dark grey or very dark navy blue. In wool or acrylic, branded or generic, they adorn the heads of a significant part of the male population in winter.

Trouble is, I keep losing them.

But then, I keep finding them.

I don't know if I ever bought a single one. This winter season alone, my win/loss on black knitted watch caps is three/two.

First one I found by Pitshanger Park in November. Lying in a gutter on Meadvale Road. I picked it up (it was sodden with rain), took it to my father's, where I washed it, dried it and proceeded to wear it whenever I was outside. A month later I lost it, also in London. I suddenly realised it was my Tube stop, got ofp the Central Line train at Queensway, and forgot to check that I had it with me. That night was freezing. Walking back hatless from Perivale station, I regretted its loss, trying to make amends by wrapping my scarf around my head, turban style. When lo and behold, I found another black watch cap lying conveniently on the footbridge over the Western Avenue.

It was slightly frosty, but otherwise clean and dry; my scarf returned to my neck and my head was kept warm in a more conventional manner. Nice one this - Karrimor brand. But then I lost this one when getting ofp a bus in Warsaw as I was engaged in a chat with my sister-in-law. Again, I didn't notice it slipping off my lap as I dashed for the doors. Never mind, there's another two found black knitted watch-caps at home to chose from!

The day before yesterday, the lady sitting next to me on the northbound Metro left her knitted hat behind her seat as she alighted from the train at Centrum, the stop before mine. But in beige - for me, no, so I left it.

Yesterday, as the 209 bus emptied at Metro Stokłosy (lit. 'hundred sheaves'), I noted that a black knitted watch cap had been left on the seat by the door. As I was the last person to leave the bus, I picked it up. Easy go, easy come.

With regards to peakless knitted caps, the  watch cap is the most universal. Originally worn by US Navy sailors on watch, it has a deep rim which can be turned down over the ears when needed. The similar docker's cap is less deep, while the beanie is longer, made of thinner material and worn like an oversized sock on the heads of Millennials. A watch-cap with a peak is a skip-cap; it is also knitted, but with a rim at the sides and rear than can be pulled down over the ears, while still retaining the peak. More of a US Air Force item for ground crew wear, so olive green.

A good watch-cap should not be round, but with a definite front-back crease. However, best to refer to the US Navy website for official guidance...
Made of navy blue wool, closely knitted, bell shaped, pullover style, 11 to 12 inches long, 8-1/4 inches wide at bottom, with 5/8 inch border. 
Correct Wear  
The watch cap will worn with a single fold approximately 3 1/2 inches - 4 inches diagonally from the base of the back of the head, across the ears and on the forehead with the bottom of the fold one fourth of an inch above the eyebrows.  The watch cap will be worn snugly on the head.  Rank/rate  insignia is not authorized to be worn on the watch cap.  When authorized by appropriate authority, will be worn during cold weather conditions that may result in personal injury if not worn.
I'm sure I'll lose another few watch caps over the years, but will find even more. Look out for them wherever you are!

My father and my son, both endowed with a full head of hair, obstinately refuse to wear anything on their heads even in mid-winter (my father's only concession is to wear a Home Army beret for the Warsaw Uprising commemorations in August). However, hats I have many (indeed my father posited that I went bald precisely because I was into wearing hats from an early age). I blame genetics. Will you go bald? Check your maternal grandfather!

This time last year:
Skarzysko-Kamienna and Starachowice, by train

This time two years ago:
The world mourns the loss of David Bowie

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

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

This time seven years ago:
Depopulating Polish cities?

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

This time nine years ago:
Sunny, snowy Jeziorki

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

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Transport news

Last week I noticed a subtle change that few travelling on the Warsaw-Radom line would have discerned... the replacement on certain services of the EN57 rolling stock with EN71 trains...

The non-anoraks using the Koleje Mazowieckie services to and from town may have noticed a bit more space... room to sit where once were sardines... the reason is that the EN71 is not much more than a more powerful four-car version of the EN57 and its three-car units. So a train made of two units now has eight carriages as opposed to six.

Below: this is a modernised EN71, in service with Koleje Mazowiecki since 2010 in this form.

While I was delighted to have got a seat on the 08:11 service from W-wa Jeziorki to W-wa Śródmieście this morning, I was less than happy at the fact that the journey took 22 minutes longer than scheduled, arriving in town at 09:03 and not 08:41 as advertised.

Varsovians may have spotted a new logo on the side of buses, trams and Metro trains that appeared between Christmas and the New Year. Like a lower-case letter 't' with mermaid's tail. This poster, on a bus stop, explains what it's all about - the logo belongs to Warszawski Transport Publiczny a new branding concept of ZTM. A bit, I guess, like the change from London Transport to Transport for London (TfL).
A beautiful though cold (-3C) morning, clear blue sky and frost. By the time I arrived in town, the there was a fine view of the Palace of Culture, with two Jelcz 'ogórek' buses parked outside. The sunshine melted the frost off the south-east facing windows - but not the ones facing north-east.

The cold weather, however, brings out the polluters who warm their houses by burning low-grade coal and other rubbish.

The result is there to be seen in the sky. The photo below, taken just 90 minutes after I snapped the brilliant blue in the shot above, shows the yellowy-grey blanket of smog that enveloped Warsaw today. [Click on the link below and the label 'smog' at the foot of this post to compare this same view with different smog levels.]

Clamping down on polluters - and making examples of more egregious burners of old lino, mouldy rolls of wallpaper, leaking wellington boots and old copies of Gnasz Dziennik coupled with heavy fines and a ban on short-distance one-per-car commuting might help.

This time last year:
Uneasy Sunny Day - smog

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

This time three years ago:
Beer, consumer choice and the Meaning of Life

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

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

This time seven years ago:
Wetlands midwinter meltdown

This time eight years ago:
Jeziorki rail scenes, winter

This time nine years ago:
Winter drivetime, Jeziorki

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

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Ready for football by the pond

Just after Christmas, the perimeter fence went up; obviously a ball game but which - all is now clear. Today, Sunday 7 January, work continued in the preparation of a proper five-a-side football pitch for Jeziorki. Located on ul. Kórnicka. With Astro-Turf playing surface. Looks good!

Work is nearly ready - just the gate to finish and some final touches and it will be ready for a new season. This looks like a standard Orlik pitch, 40m by 20m with 3m high fence, created within a programme intended to provide more footballing amenities to the nation's youth. What is the Polish for "Please mister, can we have our ball back?"

This pitch is built on the site of an old one, which was hardly ever used (other as a meeting place for young folk to drink beer of a summer night). Goats would be seen grazing here.

"Build it, and they will come," Field of Dreams style?

This time last year:
The Winter Sublime
(Overnight low 6-7 Jan was -17C, this year it was +5C)

This time seven years ago:
Long train running

This time eight years ago:
Most Poniatowskiego

This time ten years ago:
Warsaw well prepared for winter

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Jakubowizna, warm January day

The average daily high temperature for Warsaw (1981 to 2010) is +0.6C. Today's high was +9C, the third time this week this temperature has been reached or exceeded. No rain today, so a good opportunity to get to know the countryside surrounding my new działka, bought in November. Located in Jakubowizna, 10 minutes' walk from Chynów railway station on the Warsaw-Radom line, the działka is surrounded by orchards and forests. After raking the lawn, I went for a short walk in the vicinity before heading back to Chynów to catch the Warsaw-bound train home.

Below: on the corner of my street, I'll be following this particular row of apple trees as they blossom and bear fruit.

Below: further on, beyond where the asphalt ends and turns to a rutted, muddy track, a pair of coppiced willows stand as a gate to the more rural vistas beyond.

Around a kilometre from the działka is a small forest on top of a small hill...

...and soon it ends after about 400m and yields to uncultivated scrub.

Time to return, lock up, and catch the train home. I'm heading south-west; there are those coppiced willows again framing the setting sun.

On to Chynów. The sun set today 16 minutes later than the earliest sunset (15:23 on 15 December).

The level crossing with barriers and lighting, something that Jeziorki's ul. Baletowa only got last month - a road hundreds of times busier than ul. Działkowa.

And on, in good time, to PKP Stacja Chynów, which boasts a ticket office and ticket machine plus waiting room.

As I mentioned in a previous post, modernisation work on the railway line between Warsaw and Czachówek Południowy is almost complete. Beyond Czachówek Południowy, preparation for modernisation of the line as far as Warka is underway. Below: two shots of the long row of new concrete sleepers and track ballast, stored by Chynów station. In the dusk, it looks like the ramparts of ancient city captured after a long siege...

Return (senior's) ticket: 13.64 złotys, just under three quid - less than the price of a return bus fare from Cleveland Road to Ealing Broadway station. Getting here from Warsaw is not going to break the bank.

This time last year:
Seeking an aesthetic in the Grim

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

This time seven years ago:
Ice in the Vistula

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

This time nine years ago:
Winter in its finery

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

Friday, 5 January 2018

Warsaw's Christmas lights 2017-18

As a rule, Warsaw's Christmas decorations are getting better each year; in good taste, avoiding the garish, and increasingly imaginative. Result: people come out to look, filling bars and restaurants along the way. Starting at Nowe Miasto (below), through Stare Miasto, taking in the Royal Castle, Krakowskie Przedmieście, Nowy Świat, Al. Ujazdowskie, down past Łazienki Park.

Below: ul. Freta, connecting Nowe Miasto with Stare Miasto. In the distance the illuminations around Barbakan.

Below: ul. Piwna looking up from Pl. Zamkowy

My personal favourites - an illuminated peacock, symbolic of the royal parks, on Al. Ujazdowskie...

...and a reprise from last year, a Jelcz 'Ogórek' bus, roof rack laden with presents.

Pictures taken on New Year's Day; on 30 December there was a brief power cut in Jeziorki after which the computer wouldn't reboot and had to be taken away for repair - it returned yesterday, so back to pictorial blogging!

Bonus shot, update 8 January, World David Bowie Day... [For He who gave the world Warszawa]

This time last year:
Farewell to Ciocia Dziunia

This time two years ago:
Poland's roads get (slightly) safer in 2015 

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

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

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

This time ten years ago:
Five departures from Okęcie

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

1929-1939... 2008-2018?

In the run up to Remembrance Sunday last November, I'm with my father at Waitrose in West Ealing. He's approaching an old chap in a wheelchair, wearing an anorak, jumper, white shirt, regimental tie, cloth cap, a couple of medals. My father goes up to buy his poppy, and asks the veteran his age. The man replies "I'll be eighty-nine in January." A moment of realisation - my father realises, and the man realises that my father realises - and I realise that they both realise - that at 89 he was too young to have seen action in World War Two.

"I'm 94," says my father. A certain look of guilt flits across the bemedalled veteran's face. "This medal is for National Service..." he begins to explain. At 89, he would have received his call-up papers on his 18th birthday in January 1947.

It dawns on me that to have seen action as a member of His Majesty's Armed Forces in WW2, you would have to have turned 18 sometime in 1944, done some basic training and been shipped off to the Far East (or maybe arrived in north-west Germany just before the end of hostilities). This hadn't occurred to me before - anyone under the age of 91 would not have been there.

Of course there was Korea, the Malayan Emergency, the Mau-Mau, Suez, but these were far smaller-scale conflicts which didn't affect mainland Britain.

Why am I writing this now?

Political risk consultancy Eurasia Group published its risk assessment for 2018, likening the geopolitical risk that this year has in store for Planet Earth and its inhabitants as being on par with the year 2008 and the Great Recession. I immediately see the parallels. Ten years after the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression that it triggered, World War Two begins.

Those ten years, fraught with danger as the world staggered from one global conflict into another, must have had left a great impression on all those who followed the news in the papers, on the radio, in the cinema newsreels. There must have been a sense of impending doom, of knowledge that unspeakable horrors were about to revisit the world. And yet - there's so few people around today who remember that climate of mounting unease. My father was just 16 when the Germans invaded Poland and bombed Warsaw. His memories of the 1930s will be less clear than my memories of the 1970s. Of his parents' generation there is no one left alive, no one who would have followed those news stories in detail, understanding the foreign policy aspects, the budgetary implications of rearmament, appreciating from first-hand experience what the previous global war actually looked like.

The lack of that personal link to those days worries me. In London, I watched several episodes of the masterful documentary series, The World at War (1973-74) with my father. It was amazing to see key figures from the war, some 30 years older, now middle-aged or elderly men, recounting their experiences. Among them were Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz - Adolf Hitler's successor. Listening to their testimonies, I could see how important it is for society to have that direct connection to witnesses of war. Those who forget - or misinterpret - or ignore - history are indeed doomed to repeat it.

Human history sweeps in cycles; the Russian economist Nikolai Kondratiev observed back in the 1920s a tendency for economies to rise and fall in a long wave (as well as shorter-phase fluctuations). These long waves, he noted - going back to ancient times - tended to be 50-60 years long. A reason? Those in charge when things got bad were no longer around to counsel those who were in charge next time round. Memory, history, fades.

I fear that those who advocating rash policies today, policies that wittingly or not destabilise the economy and society, are insufficiently cautious, less wary than they should be, and may be leading us all down exceedingly dangerous paths. Without that handbrake within society of people who have lived through previous waves of global conflict, we may be going that way ourselves. I am worried.

This time two years ago:
Track works between W-wa Okęcie and W-wa Dawidy

This time four years ago:
The benefits of extending the human lifespan 

This time seven years ago:
New Year's stocktaking

This time last eight years ago:
A walk in the wild winter woods

This time nine years ago:
Now that's what I call winter vol. 12

This time ten years ago:
When the day starts getting longer