Friday, 31 October 2014

CITYTOCITY, MALLTOMALL

Three days, three cities, three stations - four shopping malls. Warsaw-Poznań-Kraków-Warsaw. My early morning trip to Poznań on Wednesday for a conference that ended at lunchtime left me with four hours before my night train to Kraków. I visited two malls in Poznań - Stary Browar ('Old Brewery') and Poznań City Center by the railway station.

Stary Browar - the atrium. Based on the brewery building dating back to 1890.

The Pasaż - the new part of the old brewery. Completed in 2009.

Poznań City Center Mall, built above the new railway station; opened 2012, renamed Avenida Poznań in 2016.
On by night train to Kraków. I love Polish night trains. One tip - buy a małpka (small bottle of vodka) for the journey. Once you are in your berth, a few swigs of Żubrówka aid sleep. And should you wake up in the middle of the night, and the be-dum-be-dum-be-dum is stopping you from going back to sleep again, a few more swigs from the małpka and you're back in the Land of Nod, east of Eden. Normally, if your train is late, you fret. But a night train arriving late is a blessing, because you get more sleep and who wants to be killing time at quarter past six at your destination anyway.

Yellow stripe on this maroon Przewozy Regionalne loco looks handsome
My train arrived in Kraków 45 minutes late; after breakfast at the Scottish Restaurant, I set off to cross Kraków on foot, heading for our office there. As the previous day in Poznań - not a single cloud; the dawn fog was burning off as I arrived in Kraks.


Vans delivering bread, trucks removing rubbish. Corner of ul. Szpitalna and Pijarska 

Looking east along ul. Świętego Ducha, into a rising sun

Bazylika Mariacka (St Mary's Basilica) seen from the rear.

On the east side of the Rynek Główny, by the Basilica.


So Continental - the most Polish of Polish cities. Ul. Podwale, looking south.
Back then to Warsaw, popping into Złote Tarasy today, the shopping mall overlooking the Central Railway Stations. I need some photo provisions - two 52mm UV filters and a 77mm polarising filter. Another late arrival; once again works on the line mean single-track running as the train approaches Warsaw. Kraków and Poznań also massively dug-up; EU funds are having to be spent before the local elections!

This time last year:
(Internet) Radio Days

This time two years ago:
Another office move

This time three years ago:
Manufacturing a City of Culture

This time four years ago:
My thousandth post

This time five years ago:
Closure of ul. Poloneza

This time six years ago:
Scenes from a suburban petrol station

This time seven years ago:
Red Arrows over Lincolnshire from 30,000 ft

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Do you keep coming back, or do you seek the new?

Some people will holiday in the same place, year in, year out. Others will seek new places to visit. Some people love watching the same films, reading the same books, over and over, gaining new insights with each subsequent communion. Others say "been there, done that." Whether you're young, old or middle-aged, one thing unites us all - our lives are getting shorter, not longer. What then, is the optimum strategy? Run around the world trying to see everything before you die - or revisit special places time and time again?

It occurred to me earlier this year that since moving to Jeziorki in 2002, I've hardly been anywhere other than Poland or the UK. Since starting this blog in 2007, I've been to Spain and Ireland, in both cases on business, in both cases for two-three days. I've travelled extensively around the UK (with the exception of the South-West of England, Northern Ireland or the Scottish Highlands). I've travelled extensively around Poland (with the exception of Szczecin, which I last visited in 1995).

Holidays? Llyn Peninsula, North Wales, 13 times since 1993. Films? The last two films I saw (Grand Hotel Budapest and two-times Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow's directoral debut, The Loveless) I've seen before. Music? The last three bits of music I listened to were albums I first got to know in the 1970s - Roxy Music by Roxy Music, The Ramones' It's Alive and a Steely Dan greatest hits LP.

Do you favour the familiar - or the unfamiliar? Does familiarity have a different effect on different people?

Is my life dull? Stale? Don't think so. I'm happy in that with which I'm comfortable and familiar, I prefer depth to breadth in terms of personal preferences, although when it comes to general knowledge, it's the opposite - I have a great breadth in terms of scope, though only enough to last eight minutes in conversation - enough to convince my interlocutor that I'm a great all-round individual, before we both lose interest in the matter.

A life in balance then? I have no interest in visiting Africa, the Middle East or the Far East. Or Latin America (other than Chile). North America certainly (with a Cat. A. driving licence though), Scandinavia certainly. Rest of Europe, should the opportunity arise.

"Bucket lists" are a recent craze - a long list of things to do or see before one kicks the bucket. For many this is an excuse for over-indulgence at the expense of one's bank account or indeed the environment. If I had such a list, a several-year-long Backroads USA experience on a 1950 Harley Davidson HydraGilde would open and close it.

This would be a 'keep on coming back' event - seeking out places I have dreamed of or had flashbacks to in many anomalous memory incidents over the entire span life - flashbacks; Bowling Green, Kentucky; Duluth, Minnesota; Zig-Zag, Oregon. Away from big cities, highways and tourist traps, this trip would be to seek connections, explanations, maybe...

This time last year:
In praise of Retro design

This time This time two years ago:
First snowfall in Warsaw

This time three years ago:
Of cycles, economic and human

This time four years ago:
Why didn't I read this before? Grapes of Wrath

This time five years ago:
Małopolska from the train

This time six years ago:
Grading ul. Poloneza

Friday, 24 October 2014

Midsummer, midwinter - but... midautumn?

After 56 full years of rotating about the sun - it hit me. In English we have the concept of midsummer and its antonym midwinter - neither of which actually refer to the middle of the season in question - but (and in particular midsummer) to its astronomical beginning. We do not, however, have the concept of midspring or midautumn. As I write those words, Google's helpful spellcheck underlines both of them with a red wężyk ('little snake'), as they do not exist in unhyphenated form (below).


Today was the day that marked the division between Poland's famous 'golden autumn' with warm, sunny days, and the run-up to winter proper. This morning, the temperature in Warsaw went into negative territory, -2C, although the perceivable temperature (taking wind and humidity into account) fell to -5C. Hardly a crushing frost, but a signal that change is on its way. The Financial Times's new Warsaw correspondent, Henry Foy, even went so far as to tweet -2C as being something extraordinarily tweetable (living proof that polar bears stalk the streets here). However, typing in 'first frost' into the search box on this blog (top right) reveals earlier ones than 24 October. However, -2C is 20 degrees colder than it was on Monday afternoon - a major thermal transition.

Fellow Warsaw blogger Scatts once wrote that this city has two seasons, the green one and the grey one. I posit that Poland has six; white winter, pre-spring, proper spring, humid summer, golden autumn and chilly, drear, grey autumn. Whichever view you take the seasons are changing - either from green to grey, or from golden to dreary.

Out come the winter clothes - woolly hats, scarves, thick gloves, warm coat - stuff that weighs heavy on the shoulders but heavier come April when the snows subside (looking back at my blog for 2013, the last snow cleared on 7 April). That's all of November, December, January, February and March, plus the bulk of April before it gets properly warm again - and even early May can be snowy.

The clocks go backward in the wee small hours of Sunday morning, so Warsaw will be leaving work in darkness until the last weekend of March. The encroaching darkness brings about seasonal affective disorder (appropriately acronymed SAD). Today in Warsaw we had just over ten hours of daylight. In 58 days time, on Midwinter's Day, winter solstice, 22 December, we'll have a little over seven and half hours of daylight.

Today, the sun set at 17:23. By Monday, because of the change from summer daylight saving time, the sun will set at 16:17. Losing an hour and six minutes of daylight at the end of the working day is a terrible blow to one's samopoczucie (no good English translation exists for this useful Polish term).

And arriving at the station today, all the trains were massively delayed - some by up to 90 minutes, mine by a mere 45 minutes, because of an earlier broken-down train at W-wa Śródmieście. I thought this was that typical phenomenon - change of season and the entire rail network collapses - but no, this was a one off, not a 'sorry, taki mamy klimat' moment.

Still, the sun shone, it was a lovely day. Make the most of every minute of sunshine, it is a rapidly disappearing commodity. We shall cherish those fine days when spring makes its welcome return. It's a long-held dream of mine to be able to jet off to the southern hemisphere (New Zealand, Chile) and stay there until spring returns to Warsaw...

This time last year:
Symphony in Socialist-Realism

This time last year:
Glasgow snapshots

This time two years ago:
A slow farewell to our Powiśle office

This time three years ago:
A slow farewell to my Nissan Micra

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Bilingualism benefits the brain

A fascinating article on the Economist's website shows the importance of bilingualism for mental health. No only are native bilinguals better able to focus on mentally demanding tasks, but being bilingual defers the onset of dementia by an average of five years. Note: being able to remember a bit of secondary school Spanish does not count - for the bilingual effect to work, you have to be in a situation where you skip effortlessly from one language to the other on a regular basis. "The effects are weak to nonexistent for those who merely have a passable ability, infrequently used, in a second language", the article says.

Working in a totally bilingual environment, speaking English at home and Polish in the street, this is marvellous news. Good news too for my parents - still mentally as sharp as pins - who spent their working lives talking nothing but English; being immersed in English in the office and in the street while speaking Polish at home has evidently proved valuable for them both.

As I wrote the other day, Poles in general are rapidly improving their English language proficiency - and not only English - Poland has become a mecca for shared services centres for global corporates, because it's so much easier to find German, Russian, Italian or French speakers here than in, say, Bangalore. If you want to get on in life - learn another language - but if you want to live a longer, fuller, life - perfect that language and use it as often as you can. A 50/50 breakdown is ideal. I speak Polish at work (at the expense of my Polish colleagues who speak Polish at work and at home, though who are all able to speak excellent English). So hats off to my English-born colleague Paddy, who is spending all this week speaking nothing but Polish.

Much of the fun of being bilingual resides in those linguistic spaces where on language has a word for something, while the other doesn't - today I spent about ten minutes explaining the word 'fuss' to a student (if you are Polish and are unfamiliar with the word, see this post). When there's a word for which there's no direct translation, the fun starts. 'Cat' = kot, 'wallet' = portfel. But what equals 'fragile', 'reasonable', 'pattern' (as in 'I can see a pattern emerging here...'), 'imposter', 'to fail', 'to bully', 'grumpy', 'underwhelming', for example? The list is long. And were I blogging in Polish, there'd be a similarly long list of Polish words that the English language does not have a direct translation for (brakować, mieć pretensje, kombinować, załatwiać sprawę).

I've been bilingual since the age of three and half, when I started nursery school; armed with the words 'please', 'thank you' and 'toilet', I never experienced any difficulties acquiring English language skills, because my mind was young, and my facial muscles were able to adjust to the strain of extreme English vowel sounds. A huge advantage in life.

Are there any downsides to being bilingual? Until recently, researchers held that a child of above-average intelligence would benefit from being brought up bilingual, while one of below-average intelligence would be held back, confused and handicapped by bilingualism. This is now shown to be untrue - children with two or more languages have lifelong advantages bestowed upon them. Accident of birth in my case, but for my generation (especially those couples who were both British of Polish descent), those who took a conscious decision not to speak Polish to their children as they grew up are now seen as having taken away something that could have been very useful from them.

A personal story about my bilingual upbringing in 1960s West London here. And do click onto the labels 'English language' and 'Polish language' below.

This time last year:
Wine connoisseurs - or wine snobs?

This time four years ago:
Crushed velvet dusk in my City of Dreams II

This time five years ago:
Going North, the quick way

This time six years ago:
Glorious autumn dusk

This time seven years ago:
Last man voting?

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Searching for the sublime in autumnal Jeziorki

Like September, this October has proved to be delightful. Top temperature in town today according to the Institute of Physics Meteorology Lab was 18.8C. One is grateful for days like this.

As the day (now an hour and half shorter than at equinox, less than a month ago) reaches its end, time to step out with the camera to bring the soul into communion with the Eternal. Not so long ago, I was watching the sun set over the Firth of Clyde in Ayr - now at home. Watching that orb sink below the horizon makes one aware of the passage of time within the splendour of the vast universe.

From ul. Dumki, looking across the southern pond

Across the middle pond, houses on ul. Trombity

Sun sets over the northern pond

Sunset express: a Koleje Mazowiecki train heads towards town

At the pedestrian crossing, ul. Kórnicka, as the sun slips below the horizon

Ul. Nawłocka, band of cloud underlit by the sun, now set
This time last year:
Enduring Ealing - Victorian and Edwardian klimats

This time two years ago:
Krokowa, Poland's former northern borderlands

This time seven years ago:
Aerial photograph of Central London

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Brompton back in action - fully

Over a year since it had to go in for a service, my Brompton is now 100% what I wanted it to be - thanks to Brompton's superb customer care (stepping in when the local agent couldn't get the parts). I finally got the 44-tooth chainwheel needed to make the bike ride and fold properly. The 46-tooth chainwheel - fitted when the bike went for a service three years ago was a disaster - only two teeth more, and yet twice the chain tensioner snapped while the bike was being folded; and when folded, the rear wheel became immobile, preventing the correct stowage of the left pedal.

Along with the chainwheel, Brompton sent me the basic rear mudguard (the bike was originally fitted with a luggage rack, which I neither needed nor wanted, but it was there on the ex-demo factory bike I bought). This is lighter than the rack and not prone to rust. And a new-style Brompton saddle, which doubles as a carrying handle when the bike's folded.

The bike is easy to work on. To remove the luggage rack and replace it with the new mudguard, I needed to replace the rear wheel. This is slightly harder than on a bike with derailleur gears, because the shifter chain needs to be carefully replaced in the same position as before so that all the gears work. But fortunately, Brompton has a whole lot of technical videos posted on YouTube to help you out (see below).

I fixed the rear mudguard, replaced the rear wheel, pumped up both tyres and moved onto the saddle. This is a huge improvement over the original. The Allen-key bolt allows easy and precise adjustment (it is crucial you get the angle right for comfortable riding). Under the saddle's nose is a sculpted handle that just begs you to pick the folded bike up by it. The new-style Brompton saddle is probably the greatest single innovation brought to the bike since it was originally launched.

Finally onto the chainset. I removed the old, 46-tooth chainwheel using a crank extractor (a very simple procedure if you have the tool), and replaced the new, correct, factory-issue 44-tooth one. Excellent! All of a sudden, the Brompton returns to its original glory. Now it folds and unfolds easily and quickly, just like it did when it was new - I don't need to worry that the chain tensioner will snap or that the chain will come off.

So then - here it is - back to life - my Brompton. The ideal form of urban transportation, used in conjunction with a quarterly travel pass. Lively to ride, a real bike - not a toy like some folders. I've ridden this bike over 100 miles (from Ealing to Bath) and can vouch for its seriousness. Below: as nature intended - no third-party bolt-ons, all pukka factory bits once again.


Below: new Kevlar tyres, new mudguards, grips, cables, brake blocks, chain, saddle - and most importantly - crankset. Note the small wheel on the rear mudguard - this provides rolling support to the back end while the bike is being folded.


Below: the crucial still from the Brompton instructional video, explaining how to correctly adjust the gear-change chain in the three-speed Sturmey-Archer hub. My one's 24 years old and still working fine.


Below: Once folded (which is quick and easy) the Brompton takes up little space. I have no problem stowing it in my office. Here it is in the garage.


Below: the serial number stamped on the frame - one of the first 3,000 built. Since then, over 300,000 more have left the factory, so mine's an early one. I've had it since 1992. Since 1997 it's been in Warsaw - probably the very first Brompton here. Despite the problem with the wrong chainset, the frame remains in perfect working order. Now the drivetrain is fixed, I intend to keep it this way. The most important lesson - had I checked that the right-hand pedal was screwed tightly into the alloy crank-arm, it would not have stripped the thread, leading to a problem that took a long time to fix.


Below: the crucial bits - the rear-triangle fold, crankset, chain tensioner and new Brompton Kevlar tyres.


The Brompton is not a cheap bike, but it is built to last - it is an investment; buy one and it will serve you well and hold its value (like a Morgan or Harley-Davidson). In Poland, you can buy Bromptons at AirBike, just off Al. KEN in Ursynów.

Brompton's website is excellent as is communication with its technical staff, who are very keen to help the customer. Not something one would expect from cheaper Far Eastern fold-up bikes.

The Brompton's fold, invented and patented by designer Andrew Ritchie in 1979, has yet to be bettered by a more practical and robust system. Evolving all the time (minor improvements boosting ride and strength), the Brompton is without doubt the best folder in existence and well worth the investment.

This time two years ago:
Pl. Zbawiciela rainbow gets torched for the first time

This time three years ago:
Why no one is Occupying Warsaw

This time four years ago:
Of electoral sausages and town drains

This time five years ago:
In search of the Sublime Aesthetic at 36,000 ft

This time seven years ago:
London from the air

Friday, 17 October 2014

Nocturnal mist descends on Jeziorki

A foggy night in Warsaw. As my train arrives at Jeziorki, the fog is much denser than in the city centre. I have my camera with me; some atmospheric photography will emerge.

"Train passenger to Radom departs from Track One Platform One"

Stepping out into the milkiness: ul. Karczunkowska, by the bus loop

PKP Jeziorki bus stop 02

Corner of ul. Nawłocka, the Sika warehouse in the distance

The level crossing gates behind me open, cars start to pass

Approaching the turn-off for Biedronka


Midway between Nawłocka and Trombity

Nearly home... Photo shows effectiveness of rear fog light on car

A 715 bus heading west towards P+R Al. Krakowska
And thence homewards to look at the photos on my computer!

This time two years ago:
Heavy rain hits Warsaw

This time four years ago:
The autumn sublime in Warsaw

This time six years ago:
Lublin and its charm

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Hello Pork Pie

Pork pie. One of the culinary wonders of Britain. Over the last 72 hours, I've eaten, quite literally, nothing other than pork pie. Let me explain...

On Tuesday, we launched the second round of the Food is GREAT/Taste of Britain campaign, the largest and most concerted effort ever mounted to see the best of British food and drink onto the shelves of Polish supermarkets and delis. The focus has been on quality premium products. Some have been here for a while (Scotch whisky, fine teas), some are emerging (cider, Cheddar cheese, chutneys, Indian sauces, shortbread) others are quite new (Wensleydale cheese, pork pies).

Pork pie. The defining savoury snack of England. Along with the sausage roll and Cornish pasty, the idea of encasing minced and seasoned meat into pastry, ideal for eating on the go. Britain's answer to the hamburger (from Hamburg) or frankfurter (from Frankfurt).

Pork pie. Two succulent syllables that require seven to articulate into Polish - wieprzowina w cieście. And launching this product on to an audience of food writers, buyers, distributors and importers, we stumble upon a major cultural difference between Brits and Poles.

Do you serve a pork pie hot or cold?

In my entire life, the question has never even entered my mind. Cold, of course. You do not heat the pork pie. That is its essence. It demands to be eaten cold (stored at +6C to +8C, served at room temperature), with chutney or pickles, and to be washed down with a fine ale, cider or a mug of tea. Eating a pork pie hot is a bizarre cultural quirk, rather like drinking tea with milk.

And yet Poles seem to expect that this delicacy be heated through before it can be eaten. And also prefer to eat it with a knife and fork, off a plate, rather than to be eaten from the hand, scattering crumbs on the floor.

Like Polish kiełbasa, pork pies fall into two categories there's the good stuff, and the mass-market product made down to a price point which has little to do with the original concept. Let's focus on the good stuff. The particular pork pies presented in Warsaw on Tuesday are made by Toppings Pies from Yorkshire and Dickinson & Morris (est. 1851) from Melton Mowbray (the home pork pie). Between them the two firms presented a vast range to be sampled - pork pies topped with caramelised red onions, with Stilton cheese, with sage and onion stuffing; huntsman's pie, game pie (where partridge and pheasant replace humble pork), vegetarian pie with spinach and Feta cheese...

Pork pie anyone?
The pork pies delivered to the Taste of Britain/Food is GREAT event were transported from the UK frozen then defrosted for the Big Day; all the samples that did not get consumed now need to be finished off in express tempo. So I'm doing my bit. And enjoying it thoroughly. Accompanied by fresh fruit and veg, man can live on pork pie alone. It contains the protein and carbohydrates, and - all-importantly - the taste.

Ah. and we need some chutney and pickles. And nostril-blasting English mustard (which a Polish colleague described as 'yellow wasabi'). These came courtesy of Tracklements of Wiltshire, a family firm producing premium condiments. The perfect accompaniment to pork pie.

My lunch, today. With a single-estate Pfunda tea by Birchall. No milk.
Pork pies need to be promoted to Polish consumers who've not yet tried them. So we need some celebrity endorsement - Britain's first Polish-born Member of Parliament, Daniel Kawczynski. Mr Kawczynski (who also happens to be Britain's tallest MP) represents the rural constituency of Shrewsbury, home to many quality producers of food and drink.

Daniel Kawczynski MP promoting pork pies in Warsaw.

"Mr Ambassador, the Polish nation awaits your verdict..." HMA Robin Barnett enjoys.

Kruche ciasto z nadzieniem mięsnym = Pork pie

Everything must be eaten by Friday evening, so I take home one large pie and two smaller ones. Moni and her boyfriend Maurycy tuck in. Maurycy asks whether it shouldn't be served hot. After hearing this question many times over the past two days, I'm not surprised. Moni's favourite is the pork pie topped with caramelised red onion.

Maurycy and Moni tucking in. Moni's off to Tel Aviv tomorrow. No pork pies there.

I guess that in 20 years time, British visitors to Poland will say: "It's the little differences. Example? In Poland, people eat pork pies hot." Just as Polish visitors to Britain say "In Britain, people drink tea with milk."

Now all that's needed is a good distribution network to get this culinary delight into Polish shops and thence onto Polish tables.

This time two years ago:
The meaning of class - in England, in Poland

This time three years ago:
First frost 

This time seven years ago:
First frost 
(this week the temperature has not fallen below +10C, not even at night)

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Google Earth updates Warsaw

Hurrah! The latest release of satellite photos of Warsaw on Google Earth is always a cause for excitement, and the latest iteration shows just how quickly Poland's capital is developing. I will focus on Jeziorki, that cool, cult, iconic, exclusive, south-south-western corner of the Hipster City Among Nations. To live here is to live the Chosen Life. [I await a feature about Jeziorki in a forthcoming edition of the FT's monthly How To Spend It supplement.]

Below: my immediate vicinity - note presence of new Biedronka and Lidl, adding variety, value. convenience and proximity to my retail needs. Biedronka for mature Cheddar cheese at a knock-down price, Lidl for kiełbasa polska długodojrzewająca. And the flood retention ponds - Pozytywka and Nosal - have been deepened and enprettified. (Not even the word remont does justice to the improvement.) Click to see both images at 100%.

August 2014
April 2011
Moving further north, Jeziorki's fabled wetlands have been tamed and are now Warsaw's largest body of standing water.What was a boggy marsh, incapable of soaking up the floodwaters that our rapidly changing climate delivers with greater frequency, has now become civilised, a lovely place for recreation and an effective sump for water running off local fields. Note the late-summer algae bloom on the middle pond.

August 2014
April 2011
Let us move north once again to see how the junction of the S2 and S79 look today, and how they looked back in April 2011. And the viaducts carrying ul. Złote Lany, Hołubocowa and Poloneza over the S2.

August 2014
April 2011
And finally, let's move north once again to look at ul. Poleczki - this time going all the way back to March 2007, just before this blog was launched, and comparing it to how it looks now. Note the doubling of Poleczki, the viaduct over the railway line, the S79, Poleczki Business Park and many other new developments. Despite all this new activity, the number of buses serving this thriving area has actually decreased since then.

August 2014
April 2007
So then. Huge progress wherever you look. Something worth considering when voting locally or nationally.

Below: dusk falls upon God's own suburb, Jeziorki.



This time last year:
Liverpool's waterfront (a city worth seeing, cheap and easy to get to from Warsaw)

Monday, 13 October 2014

Respect the pedestrian? Not if Poland's parliament can help it.

One of those great, nation-defining things about Britain is the institution of the zebra crossing. Loiter around one and instantly traffic comes to a halt, allowing you the pedestrian to proceed unafraid of being hurt. As both driver and pedestrian, treating zebra crossings (with their attendant Belisha beacons and zig-zag road markings) as sacred is part of what makes Britain a wonderfully civilised country. It is also one reason why road deaths per million citizens are three times lower than in Poland.

But when deputies from the ruling PO (Civic Platform) party last year put forth the proposition that UK-style rules apply for pedestrian crossings, uproar ensued among their motor-mad fellow parliamentarians, who continue to block any changes to the highway code that would give pedestrians greater security. It's worth noting that last year, 248 Poles were killed on zebra crossings. In the UK? Eight. Yes, eight pedestrians killed on a zebra crossing, according to Department of Transport statistics. If you include all forms of road crossings in the UK, the number of pedestrians killed rises to 47. Five times fewer than on Polish zebra crossings alone.

This makes me really angry. My fellow Poles - let's stop slaughtering one another using cars as lethal weapons. Pedestrians and cyclists are vulnerable; let them live.

In today's Metro newspaper, the lead story on the front page names the parliamentarians who insist that the current law - which states that a pedestrian may only step onto a zebra crossing when they judge that given the speed and distance of an approaching vehicle, it is safe to do so.

It is worth bearing in mind that the bulk of Polish highway regulations date back to communist days, when Party members, chauffeur-driven in their black Volgas, were kings of the road and the underlings walked, cycled or put-putted around in funny little two-stroke engined cars or motorbikes. There was a regulation making it an offence, punishable with a fine, for a pedestrian to slow down while crossing a road in front of a car. How dare the plebeians get in the way of Party business!

Times have changed, but among some Polish parliamentarians the mindset is the same. "We are the rulers - we have black SUVs with darkened windows - you are the plebs, walking to the bus stop." They dare not say this - but this is what they are thinking.

Enough already! Dość już! Pedestrians in Poland should be treated with exactly the same respect by Polish law and Polish drivers as they are treated in the UK. As sacred beings with a divine right to walk as they will across properly signed and illuminated zebra crossings.

Things are getting better in Poland, though slowly. Looking at September's road accident stats, the number of Poles killed on the road fell by 14.5% (from 317 to 271) compared to the same month last year, the number of accidents fell by 11.5% (from 3,525 to 3.121) compared to the same month last year. That's progress - but it should be much faster. Road deaths are completely unnecessary and entirely preventable.

If you wish to keep an eye open for road traffic accident stats for Poland, the Polish police is very good at keeping the score - on a daily basis. Check out www.policja.pl. Today, we learn - on the home page - that yesterday's tally was eight deaths in 73 accidents. That's eight human lives lost for good. One day. Tragic.

This time two years ago:
Autumnal gorgeousness in Warsaw

This time three years ago:
The genius of Donald Tusk

This time four years ago:
Tragic road accident kills 18: Has Poland learnt anything from it?

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Poland gets anglicised as the UK gets polonised

English is by far the most widely-spoken foreign language in Poland today, and each year more young Poles start learning English at schools, while those to started learning the language generally get better at it*. From billboards to T-shirts, English is commonly seen across urban Poland, vastly more so than German, French or Italian. Not to mention Russian. Given the ubiquity of English (at least in Warsaw and the other major conurbations), one does wonder why the British have not made more of this natural advantage to sell more goods and services here.

Having said that, professional bodies such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales, the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, the Chartered Institute of Marketing - and now, the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply - are all present in Poland, selling training, accreditation and membership - professional qualifications are all the vogue. Delivered by British organisations, with much of the coursework in English. The British Council is doing sterling work in Poland, as is the British Standards Institution.

Meanwhile, across in the UK, Poles are becoming more embedded in the British economy, with over 100,000 securing National Insurance numbers in 2013 alone. Polish is officially the second-most spoken language in the UK, according to the 2011 census. Poland is ranked nation number six in terms of numbers of entrepreneurs who've set up companies in the UK (21,000 set up 22,000 co. ltds). Ahead of Poland are countries that have had far longer business connections with the UK or are simply far more populous (the top five are Ireland, India, USA, China and Germany). Poland ranks higher than France, Italy or Holland.

If one is to measure the mass migration of Poles to the UK in solely economic terms, there is no doubt that the balance is strongly favourable; the National Institute of Social and Economic Research says that immigrants from the eight CEE countries that joined the EU in 2004 have added one percentage point to the UK's GDP. So Poles are responsible for around two-thirds of that sum.

Ten years after Tony Blair opened the UK labour market to Poles, their presence is visible right across Britain in a way few other immigrant groups have visibility beyond the big cities. Last week I was in Scotland, visiting Ayr and passing through Paisley; compared to multi-ethnic London, these county towns were whiter than Warsaw, and yet both had a Polski sklep.

Polska Chata/Cottage Shop, Ayr

Misiek Polish Shop, Paisley
It is clear that the UK and Poland are getting integrated with one another like in no time in their common history. Looking at the success that children of the last major wave of Polish immigration to the UK have achieved there, it is certain that their achievements will be bested four-fold or five-fold in numerical terms when it comes to the children of the current wave of migrants to Britain, 20 or 30 years into the future.

Writing a day after Ukip secured its first parliamentary victory, I fear that the benefits to Britain of migration from people who want to create prosperity for themselves and thus enrich the nation (rather than try to shove some unappealing religious dogma down the throats of the indigenous population) will be lost in a fuzzy argument about Brussels.

A putative referendum in 2017 asking the British people whether they should quit the EU is a threat to the stability and cohesion of the EU and indeed to Poland and other member states bordering Russia. Given the debate will hot up in the 209 days leading up to the General Election next May, it behoves all Poles in the UK to be on their best behaviour, not to act in such a way as might prompt their neighbours to vote Ukip.

A message to you Sebek, Piotrek and Sylwek - bin your beer cans. [Perivale Park]
I certainly don't want a federalised EU governed by Brussels without any national, regional or local say in how things are run. But I do want an EU strong enough to withstand external threat, a competitive, innovative single market, with a strong UK in it partnering naturally with Poland to push the EU in the right direction.

* EF's English Proficiency Index for 2013 put Poland in eighth place ('high proficiency') in its global ranking of how good non-native speaking countries are at English. Ahead of Germany, Russia or France. In 2011, Poland was ranked 12th with 'moderate proficiency'.

UPDATE December 2014: EF's English Proficiency Index for 2014 put Poland in sixth place ('very high proficiency'). Only the four Scandinavian countries and Holland are ahead.

On an entirely unrelated point: Warsaw has enjoyed a wonderful run of beautiful sunny weather; today's top temperature was over 23C, the third day in a row of over 20C maximums.

This time last year:
Ale, architecture and city politics

This time two years ago:
The pros and cons of roadside acoustic screens

This time three years ago:
Moaning about trains again

This time four years ago:
Warsaw streets - Dolna, Polna, Rolna, Smolna, Wolna. Lost?

This time six years ago:
Ditches, landscapes, autumn

This time seven years ago:
Golden autumn in Łazienki park

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Art Deco architecture, Renfrewshire

Am I in Perivale? Is this the A40? No, I'm just north of Glasgow Airport (or at least I was on Wednesday). I arrive with a full three hours to spare, so time for a walk around the perimeter. And in the village of Inchinnan, I come across this building, which looks like it's been lifted out of West London (the Western Avenue, or maybe the Great West Road). Look familiar, West Londoners?


This splendidly restored piece of industrial Art Deco architecture was designed by Wallis, Gilbert and Partners, who also designed the Hoover building on the Western Avenue, the Firestone factory, the Pyrene factory and the Coty factory on the Great West Road. The stretch of the Great West Road between the Chiswick Roundabout and Gillette Corner, dubbed the Golden Mile, remains famous for the splendour of its inter-war industrial architecture. (Unforgivably, the Firestone factory was pulled down on August Bank Holiday 1980, just ahead of its listing as a heritage building.)

Below: a close-up of the main entrance. Built in 1930, this used to be a tyre factory, but has now been converted into offices, and a beautiful job has been done here to preserve the period features of this building.


North of the border, it is Historic Scotland (the Scottish equivalent of English Heritage) that is responsible for listing heritage buildings.Unlike Liverpool, which boasts a wealth of Art Deco, Glasgow and its surrounding towns did not see much of this style, nor indeed has much of what was built across Scotland been preserved.

And for those who don't know the Hoover Building in Perivale, here it is (below); built in 1933 it displays many of the same features present in the India of Inchinnan building, although the setting December sun (I took this photo in 2008) gives the white-tiled facade a warmer glow.


This time last year:
In which I don't vote in the mayoral referendum, thus helping to save HG-W's ass

This time two years ago:
Gorgeous cars from Czechoslovakia

This time three years ago:
Donald Tusk and Co. get re-elected

This time four years ago:
Poland's wonderful bread

This time five years ago:
An October Friday in Warsaw