Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016 - a year in numbers

For the third year in a row, I've been logging some aspects of my drive towards a healthier life. The most important part, other than diet, is walking coupled with moderate exercise. How's 2016 been?

Goal: long, healthy, active life

I keep repeating this, but it's true. If you can't measure it, you can't manage it. If you are determined to live a long, healthy and active life, you should be more than just vaguely aware of how you're doing, but keeping track and monitoring progress just like a responsible business manager would do, keeping an eye on the key performance indicators (KPIs).

Public Health England announced the other day that 80% of my age group (40-60) in the UK are overweight, unfit and drink too much alcohol. So I took the online test (you can take it here). I scored 7.5 on a scale of 1 to 10. So - room for improvement. It helps if you totally avoid sweet snacks, cakes, biscuits, sugary drinks and confectionary, as I do.

Walking is excellent exercise. Unlike running, it is low impact (you can't do your ligaments or sinews in), and it's useful. Recommended by the NHS, the World Health Organisation and the Surgeon-General of the US, 10,000 paces as a daily target. This, depending on the size of your pace (mine's 80cm) represents around 8km/5 miles of walking each day. And this is generally at the expense of time spent in the car, polluting and congesting the city.

So this year (with an 80cm pace), I walked 3,098km (1,922 miles) down slightly from 3,136km (1,945 miles) last year. Since I started counting paces on a daily basis on 1 January 2014, I've walked 9,101km (5,646 miles).

I'm still using a Tanita PD-724 3-Axes pedometer (below), which I take with me everywhere I go. As long as it has a decent (not cheapo no-name) battery, it will serve you extremely well. Having said that, my new smartphone comes with a health app (Huawei Health) that is more accurate than WalkLogger (which I had in my old Samsung Galaxy SIII). These days, there's no excuse for not measuring your paces daily.


If you use your car as the default means of getting about, you have no chance of racking up 10,000 paces in a day. If you slow down the pace of life, use public transport, use that time to catch up on reading, and walk between meetings etc, it's not that difficult.

Continued improvement in terms of alcohol consumption. My weekly average intake across the year was 25 units, down on last year's 28 units. Now, 28 units was (just) within the "3-4 units a day" that used to be recommended by the UK Government. To many people's dismay, this target was reduced to 21 units a week for men (14 for women), and then reduced again early this year (to 14 units a week for men and for women) My target for 2017 is not be quite as ambitious as 14 units; I'll be aiming at 21 a week. Looking back at my spreadsheet records, last year every fourth day was alcohol-free, this year it's been every third day. [1 unit = 25cl of spirits (40%), 200cl of beer (5%) or 75cl of wine (13%). In other words, not a lot.]

Giving up alcohol totally is pointless, unless you have an addiction problem. Study after study shows that moderate drinking is healthier across a lifespan than living a life of total abstinence. And if alcohol in moderation improves your social and artistic skills - why not. Just be aware of the limits.

Exercise - this year help has come in the form of Michał Borzyskowski from Australia, a fitness trainer and reader of this blog. Michał has helped keep me motivated over the year, extending the duration of my exercising season (which used to be Lent-only) into October. He's also suggested a routine of strength-building exercises to rebuild my right shoulder muscles after a recurring rotator-cuff injury which has its roots back in July 2008. I have invested in 1kg and 2kg weights plus a pull-up bar.

So sit-ups, the main exercise for keeping the fat off the waist. This year was better than last year. Daily average across the whole of 2016 was a 72, compared to 41 in 2015. But I stopped in early October, as the nights started drawing in, and calorific intake increased again. My waist circumference is now 39 and half inches (100.5cm), less that it was this time last year (40 inches/101.5cm) - it should be 36 inches (91.5cm).

1 January will traditionally be the day to get back into it!


Measurable and manageable
   2014       2015       2016   
Paces per day
walked (average
across whole year)
 9,800  10,70010,600
Alcohol consumed
(units per week)
 33.4 28.0
25.0

Alcohol-free days
over course of year
 94 123
155

Sit-ups per day  65
41

72
Portions of fresh
fruit & veg per day
N/A
4.3

5.0

I'm also keeping a log of fresh fruit and vegetable intake. Recommended daily consumption is five portions - this year I managed that goal (5.0), up from 4.3 portions a day every day across 2015. A portion is 80g of fruit/veg, 125cl of pure fruit juice. Now, maybe too much of my intake is fruit, not enough is vegetable. But our supermarkets are helping - celery sticks are starting to make an appearance, good to dip in hummus. Seven or even ten portions of mainly veg is said to be the real target. But the problem is time - time to prepare. So I've focused on the easy-to-eat portions, like cherry tomatoes (a handful = 1 portion); banana; tangerines (in season) seedless grapes (in season); freshly pressed apple juice (not from concentrate); and always to go for the salad option, broccoli, carrots, spinach, whenever possible.

No sugar, no cakes, biscuits or confectionery (other than sugar-free gum). At all. None. Zero. We don't need it - not even in the smallest amounts. No salt-snacks. Meat - only the highest quality, and then rarely. Fish and dairy products, nuts, pulses, rice, potatoes - this is fine. I will, however, cut down on the burgers in 2017 - either from fast-food outlets or shop-bought and home-fried ones.

My father, 93, continues to be an inspiration to me in terms of keeping going, active, mentally and physically in good shape, into advanced old age.

For our own good, and for the good of society and the healthcare system that society has to maintain, we have huge individual responsibility to watch our lifestyles, avoid the temptations of in-car idleness and sugary foods, exercise daily and monitor it carefully. Some of us have good genes; we should give thanks for them by treating our bodies better as we age, and leave the health service to focus its finite resources on those whose illnesses were caused by bad luck rather than by foolish lifestyle choices.

This time last year:
2015 - a year in numbers

This time two years ago:
Economic forecasts for 2014 - and 2015?

This time three years ago:
Economic predictions for 2014

This time four years ago:
Economic predictions for 2013

This time five years ago:
Economic predictions for 2012

This time six years ago:
Classic cars, West Ealing

This time seven years ago:
Jeziorki 2009, another view

This time eight years ago:
Jeziorki 2008, another view

This time nine years ago:
Final thoughts for 2007

Monday, 26 December 2016

Derbyshire at Christmas

The traditional Yuletide pilgrimage around England. Last year, it was 13C on Christmas day, this year it was 14C as we crossed the Peaks. [Looking back over this blog, I can also see snowy Christmas days, but the temperature trends are on the up.] Below: somewhere along the A6 between Buxton and Bakewell. Delightful scenery.


Below: from the same spot, a lay-by on the edge of the Peak District National Park camera turned through 90 degrees, zoomed out a bit.


Back in Duffield, the weather on Boxing Day was sunny though with a strong wind in the west. Time for a short walk with Dziadzio.


The landscape with its many folds and ridges catches the eye in the distance, and my Nikon Coolpix P900's long lens can pull out the compositions



Before a late gammon lunch, time for a second walk, with Moni, Eddie and our local guide, Cousin Hoavis. Along the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway (no trains running today), to Hazelwood, then up Nether Lane to Hob Hill.


And back towards Duffield...



The sun sets behind the ridge along which runs the Wirksworth Road.


Below: abandoned, broken into, vandalised, burnt and partially collapsed; house on Hazelwood Road


This time last year:
Across the High Peaks

This time two years ago:
Derbyshire's rolling landscapes

This time three years ago:
Our Progress Around the Sceptr'd Isle

This time four years ago:
Out and about in Duffield
and
Christmas Break

This time five years ago:
Boxing Day walk in Derbyshire

This time six years ago
This time eight years ago:
This time nine years ago:

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Solstice sunset, ul. Gogolińska, Jeziorki

The shortest day of the year is behind us. From now on, the days will be getting longer, the sun will set slightly later - although it is not until 5 January that the sun will rise earlier. Today, the time from sunrise to sunset in Warsaw was seven hours and 43 minutes. And 12 seconds. Four seconds more than yesterday

Out to catch that setting sun. Below: from the platform of W-wa Jeziorki station. In the foreground, the muddy pool churned up by the contractor's vehicles is freezing over; today's daytime high was +2C, and as the sun sets, the temperature at ground level falls below zero.


Across ul. Karczunkowska, down ul. Gogolinska to take the photo (below) from the top of one of the ballast mountains by the tracks. The sun sets through the trees... Let me change perspective and zoom in a bit...


The trees - silver birches without leaves and various conifers - lining ul. Gogolińska are now brought in closer...


And I zoom in again (to 600mm equivalent) to catch the sun through the branches of the fir trees.


Turning south, a Lufthansa Airbus A380 cross the heavens, the condensation trails from its four giant turbofan engines still lit by the sun that's already dipped below the horizon for those of us down at ground level.


Below: my brother has rendered my photo (seen originally here) in the style of German artist Anselm Kiefer, catching the atmosphere of the late afternoon in winter with a light frost and a dusting of snow.


Three more months of gloom before the clocks go forward at the end of March. But even the gloomiest days of the year can yield artistic inspiration.

Tomorrow sees the beginning of the annual Yuletide pilgrimage (Luton-Ealing-Duffield-Stockport-Duffield-Ealing-Luton).

This time last year:
Conspiracy to celebrate

This time two years ago:
The Mythos and the Logos in Russia

This time three years ago:
Going mobile - I get a smartofon

This time four years ago:
The end was meant to end today (remember?)

This time five years ago:
First snow - but proper snow?

The time six years ago:
Dense, wet, rush hour snow

This time seven years ago:
Evening photography, Powiśle

This time eight years ago:
The shortest day of the year

This time nine years ago:
Bye bye borders - Poland joins Schengen

Monday, 19 December 2016

Christmas illuminations in Warsaw - the champion

At this, the darkest time of year in the Northern Hemisphere, we crave light and warmth; and so religion steps in to organise a feast that coincides with the passing of the Winter Solstice and the start of the process of the lengthening day. To celebrate, lights. The lights of Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Yuletide... the night sky, the darkness must be kept at bay until the sun begins to return.

Warsaw is splendidly illuminated this year. The substitution of high-wattage lightbulbs for energy-saving LEDs has allowed those responsible for lighting Our City at this festive time to go full-on creative, allowing ever-greater flights of fancy.

This particular example reached me via the internet a few days earlier; a dinner at the Amber Room at the Pałac Sobańskich on Al. Ujazdowskie gave me an opportunity to check out this particular piece of art. WOW. This is an illuminated tribute to the legendary Jelcz ogórek ('cucumber') bus that served Warsaw in the 1960s and '70s.


Warsaw's main thoroughfares are ablaze with illuminations at this time of year; the Royal Route (Trakt Królewski) has more lights along its length than ever before. This is Plac Na Rozdrożu.


The lights will be on until early February; just what's needed to lift the spirits while the nights are long.


The subliminal message from the City of Warsaw here - love your public transport, and use it.

This time last year:
Changes on ul. Baletowa
[A year on, the 715 and 737 bus routes serve this street]

This time three years ago:
UK migration - don't blame the Poles

This time four years ago:
Jacek Hugo Bader's Biała Gorączka reviewed

This time five years ago:
Thoughts upon the death of the Dear Leader

This time sixe years ago:
Global warming or climate change?

This time seven years ago:
Progress along the S79

Sunday, 18 December 2016

More news from the line - Nowa Iwiczna

Prompted by comments as to the current state of works at Nowa Iwiczna, I walked down there yesterday to take a look for myself. As I approached the newly opened 'up' platform, I found a conveniently situated post holding a no-longer functioning signal. Shinning up the ladder, I got a much better perspective on the layout of the station. Now, looking at this scene, I confess to being confused.

Firstly, the new 'up' platform (Peron 2) has been built to the north of ul. Krasickiego, not to the south, as on the original plan. It looks as though a 'down' platform (Peron 1) will be built parallel to it (you can see the first concrete element in place in the bottom right of the photo below).



Crossing ul. Krasickiego, I walk to the old platform, which is still functioning as the 'down' platform, serving southbound passengers from the eastern track. Now the puzzle, which has been referred to here before. Note the short, unconnected, stretch of rail crossing Krasickiego, stopping at the old platform's edge (below).


Looking at the detailed plan of the station modernisation, below, (click to enlarge, north to the left), it seems there's been a major change made since the plan was drawn up in May 2007. The new 'up' platform, which was meant to be to the south of Krasickiego, is now to the north. Look closely at the horizontal orange lines - they represent the original track alignment here. Now look at the horizontal red lines - they represent the planned alignment - the coal-train line has already been re-aligned (the summer closure of Krasickiego); the unconnected track crossing the road in the photo above corresponds to the westernmost of the three red lines.



But how will the track align after the new 'down' platform is finally built? Will the old alignment of the 'down' line remain unchanged? In which case, what will that unconnected stretch be doing? A mistake? Or will the new 'down' platform curve round to the east, parallel to the 'up' platform? We will wait and see.

In the meanwhile, on the walk between W-wa Jeziorki and W-wa Iwiczna, I see that much of the two ballast mountains between the tracks and ul. Gogolińska has remained in place. All the ballast has been laid; will someone come and remove this? I hope not. I hope that soil and grass will cover these heaps, and a local landmark will emerge, vantage points a few precious metres above these flat Mazovian fields.


Same goes for my ballast mountain between W-wa Jeziorki and W-wa Dawidy (below). The finishing works on the two stations are continuing (including the level crossing keeper's hut at W-wa Dawidy), but the line itself is 100% ready. The ballast mountain should be left, as it affords views which are notably absent in this landscape. As Bill Bryson wrote about his native Iowa, "if you stand on two telephone directories in Iowa, you have A View."


Below: and here it is - The View. Not a particularly good day today, what with the low cloud and remnants of Thursday's smog, but worth getting up on those tetonas (Spanish) to look down over Dawidy Bankowe, Dawidy, Jeziorki - and Warsaw on the horizon.


May these two ballast mountains claim their rightful place in the landscape of Jeziorki.

Incidentally - for the record - this weekend was abysmal for Warsaw-bound travellers on Koleje Mazowieckie on the Radom line. Yesterday, a Radom-Warsaw train was delayed for 45 minutes because of problems with the overhead power lines at Dobieszyn. Today was far worse - an accident at a level crossing south of Grabów nad Pilicą resulted in delays of 2hrs 20 minutes.

This time last year:
Modern governance for a complex world (prescient post!)

This time two years ago:
Contagion - CEE's foreign-exchange markets

This time three years ago:
Muddy Karczunkowska

This time five years ago:
Ul. Trombity - a step closer to dry feet?

This time five years ago:
Matters of style

This time seven years ago:
Real winter hits Warsaw

This time eight years ago:
This is not Mazowsze, no?

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Smog

For the first time in nearly ten years of blogging, of over 2,400 posts, I'm writing about air quality in Warsaw. On Thursday, there was a smog alert for the city; to encourage motorists to leave their cars at home, public transport was made free-of-charge for the day. The cause was high atmospheric pressure coupled with light wind; a temperature inversion in which air closest to the ground was trapped by a layer of warmer air pressing down on it.

Below: view from the office, Friday 16 December. The sky is cloudless, visibility is poor due to particulates in the air, which will neither rise into the heavens nor blow away in the wind. Look at the low contrast on that distant chimney stack at Kawęcznyn (and compare with pic here).


Below: Tuesday 13 December, view from W-wa Dawidy station's new 'up' platform, looking across the fields to the Siekierki power station in the distance. Remember the words of Beata Szydło on her campaign trail last year: "The future of Polish power generation is coal."


The smog comes from fossil fuels being burned at ground level, the smoke from which cannot dissipate into the higher atmosphere, being pressed down by a layer of warm air. What's to blame? Cars, power stations - but to an even greater extent the crap that people in the suburbs burn to heat their houses. Of all Warsaw districts, the most polluted in this smoggy period was leafy Wawer. Here, old detached houses are the main villain, out-polluting everything else.

Same out here in Jeziorki; I step outside, and the smell of smoke fills the air. The indigenous people are heating their houses by burning coal, rubbish, old copies of Gnash Dziennik, linoleum, mouldy rolls of wallpaper from the summer house - anything vaguely combustible that's been stored over the summer with the boiler in mind. I come back from my walk and my coat stinks like I've spent the night in a London pub before the smoking ban.


While the newer houses in Jeziorki are heated with gas (tak źle, tak niedobrze) or bunker fuel, old habits of Warsaw's pre-suburbanites die hard. At least rubber tyres are no longer being burnt, and the acrid smell of burning plastic waste is a rarity. But notice on both photos above, and below, the smoke is not rising. It comes up out of the chimney, to fall back down to ground level thanks to the temperature inversion. Below: photo taken in Jeziorki this morning, 17 December.


The City of Warsaw's offer to let people come into town on Thursday by free public transport did not really work. Who cares about saving 15zł on a dobster* when you can afford to drive a 150,000zł black four-wheel drive with darkened rear windows? "I've got a great big black SUV, I've spent loadsamoney on it, and I intend to use it to drag myself a few kilometres to my city-centre office. So people can see me drive by and be in awe of me. Smog? Not me mister. Not my problem." Below: midday on Thursday 15 December, when we should all be travelling to town on free public transport.


Below: an example of egregious car use by a driver who must know the exhaust is shot. I snapped this miscreant in Wrocław in September. Cars like this should be taken off the road and not allowed back on until the issue is fixed and a strict test passed.


Worth mentioning that Paris, a capital city with a far greater smog problem than Warsaw, lies in a country where 75% of power comes from nuclear (the highest percentage in the world), where dziady don't burn crap to heat their houses, where far more commuters use public transport, and where small-capacity motorbikes and scooters are commonplace. But it's bigger than Warsaw, so those cars are an environmental problem. Warsaw must tame the motorcar (especially the short-distance, one-per-car commuter) before the things get as bad as in Paris.

In my grey-jumper'd childhood in West London, I remember the signs on lampposts reminding residents of the Clean Air Act 1956, introduced in the wake of the Great Smog of London in 1952, which killed thousands of people. The law, revised in 1968 into more comprehensive air pollution prevention measures, made it illegal to burn wood or coal, or anything else other than smokeless fuel such as coke.

I wrote this two and half years ago, in April 2014:
London was hit by some serious air pollution at the beginning of this month, with warnings on TV not to conduct strenuous exercise outdoors, and to keep vulnerable groups of people inside. 
This article on Politics.co.uk suggests that 4,000 Londoners a year die from air pollution, and yet politicians are afraid to tackle the issue. Here's a highlight... 
"Across the UK, more than one in 20 deaths each year are now caused in part by air pollution. That's almost 30,000 people whose deaths could be avoided. But while politicians queue up to warn about the dangers of sugar and passive smoking to children, very few are willing to say anything about the deaths our addiction to cars has caused." 
In London, no doubt here in Warsaw too, air quality will get worse before it gets better. In the meantime, don't drive if you really don't have to.
As I predicted.

Polish citizens evidently don't take to the 'nudge' theory of policy making; more stringent measures need to be taken to avoid smoggy days by banning the burning of anything other than high-grade coal or coke (if at all!) and doing what the Parisians do - only let half of the cars drive into town on smoggy days - based on odd- or even number plates. And this government needs to invest more heavily on wind and solar power. I tyle, i już. I may be an economic and social liberal, but on matters environmental, I am illiberal.

*Dobster = bilet dobowy = 24-hour public transport ticket.

This time last year:
Snow in December: A memory or figment of my imagination?

This three years ago:
A muddy walk along ul. Karczunkowska

This five years ago:
Ul. Trombity - a step closer to dry feet?
[Asphalt yes, but still no pavement]

This time six years ago:
Matters of style

This time seven years ago:
Real winter hits Warsaw

This time eight years ago:
This is not Mazowsze, no?

Thursday, 15 December 2016

IT frustration

One of the biggest frustrations of modern life is to be found at the human-IT interface; it is particularly noticeable when you live through a software or hardware upgrade. After three years, my Samsung Galaxy S3 has been replaced by a Huawei VNS-L21 mobile phone as part of the corporate contract with T-Mobile. Huawei is not a brand I know. The phone has newer version of the Android operating system (6.0, with 4.0 on my Samsung), and its main benefits over the Samsung are greatly enhanced battery life (36 to 48 hours of normal usage compared to 8 to 12 on the old phone) and far greater download/upload speed.

The Huawei has a built-in camera boasting 13 megapixels, which is 1 MP more than the Nikon D80 DSLR I bought in 2007, and 5MP more than in my old Samsung.

Below: Huawei and Samsung both have a presence on Warsaw's Plac Konstytucji.


The old phone had a replacement battery (which was changed after the original one got so bad that power level drained from 30% to 0% in the time it took to take the bus from Wilanowska to Karczunkowska - around 25 minutes in the evening rush-hour). The new battery promises to be much better (for the record - it was fully charged at 08:10 this morning, and at 20:45, it's down to 66%, which includes a fair amount of Twittering, SMSing and a few phone calls). And it's faster and better connected than the Samsung.

But these days the joys of unboxing a new piece of kit, a glamorous-looking device, is matched by the frustration experienced in getting used to using it.

However... getting used to new equipment is problematic.

I'm typing an SMS or a tweet in Polish, and no sooner have I typed the word than the phone changes it to a completely different English word. I type 'mam nadzieję' and the phone changes this to 'mam Nadine'. Like, thanks. Predictive typing. But where to switch this lunatic feature off? How to teach this phone that I'd like to be able to write in more than one language?

I checked 'settings'. Nowhere could I find anything about keyboard. Frustration. I had to ask Kuba at the office, who explained that the keyboard settings were not with 'settings', but on the keyboard. So we change language to 'more than one language', selected as to 'English UK' and 'Polish'. One problem less. But without Kuba's help it would have been hours of frustration. Plenty more new problems will no doubt arise - using the phone's camera, adding telephone numbers to contacts etc. Many of these functions on a Huawei using Android 6.0 are quite different to a Samsung using Android 4.0.

All of these things I have to learn on the go. No time to have a three-day training course on using the new phone. Again, this leads to frustration. I'm in a hurry, need to make a call - can't retrieve a number I know full well is in the memory, nor can I save a called number.

My father, 93, has similar problems when technology changes. Typically this is software updates on the browser, new security features, which cause obstacles in his getting to where he wants to be online, upsetting well-worn procedures. Now, my father is a very determined man and can sit trying to work out a problem for a lot longer than I have the patience to do. Even so, it's a waste of his time to have to try figure these things out. My father has a long relationship with IT, going back to the 1980s, with an Amstrad 386 running MS DOS. Successive waves of technology change all take getting used to.

In the old days of IT, devices used to come with thick printed manuals. If you couldn't work it out, you'd be told to 'RTFM', in the parlance of the time. Today's devices come with a link to a website from which you can download the full manual. But this comes with little more than advice about how to dispose safely of the battery and not letting children eat your phone. In eight languages. Useless.

In terms of working out how to switch off predictive typing, or operate the voice-controlled assistant -  if you don't have an IT wizard on hand - it's frustrating. A tool as complex as a smartphone has the functions of a phone, a contact book, a calendar, a camera (stills and movie), a map, a voice recorder, a search engine/ dictionary/ encyclopaedia, which have to mesh seamlessly together.

Another issue: my laptop is five years old; it's great. A Samsung with a 12.1" screen, light, fast, with an excellent battery. Nothing wrong with it. However, all things must pass, and I shall at some time have to buy a new one.

Now look.

I DO NOT WANT WINDOWS 10. No. Not ever. I'm entirely satisfied with Windows 7 Home Office Premium. There's nothing wrong with it. Can Windows not get the fact that hundreds of millions of users are happy with Windows 7? Why ram down our throats novelties we neither want nor need?

The developed world is getting older; as we all do so, we will not be expecting added layers of complexity from our IT. Everything should be as simple - as intuitive - as possible. This is the challenge for IT developers - creating devices that are complex but at the same time simple to use yet also secure. One day, many of us will be in our 90s, struggling to keep up with the latest innovations and improvements. Let's hope the engineers can work out how to make it easier for us.

This time last year:
Wałbrzych's Gold Train - the dream ends

This time three years ago:
Kitten football

This time four years ago:
The drainage of Jeziorki

This time five years ago:
The Eurocrisis - what would Jesus do?

This time six years ago:
Orders of magnitude

This time seven years ago:
Jeziorki in the snow

This time eight years ago:
Better news on the commuting front

This time nine years ago:
I no longer recognise the land where I was born

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Łódź Fabryczna finally opens

Today, Sunday 11 December, is a big day on Poland's (and indeed Europe's) railways, as it's the day the railway timetables change; it's a deadline for major infrastructural works. Here in Jeziorki, the 'up' platform (Peron 2) saw the first train stop there just before five am. In Łódź, however, a much bigger event took place today, the opening of Fabryczna station, over five years after it was closed for redevelopment. And in Switzerland, the Gotthard Base Tunnel, the world's longest rail tunnel at over 57km, opened for full service today too.

Back to Łódź. This has been a massive engineering project; not only was the station redeveloped but the railway line which terminated here has been relaid underground and will be stretched right across the city underground to connect with the north-south line on the east side of Łódź, north of Łódź Kaliska station. This will happen some time after 2022, so don't hold your breath.

But in the meantime, let's at least celebrate the opening of the new Łódź Fabryczna, five years and two months after the old one was closed. And it was due to have opened in October 2014.

All photos courtesy of Moni. Below: folk musicians and crowds; a big day for Łódź - after 62 months, the city centre is finally connected to the outside world by rail.


This architectural conceit (below) reminds me of Piaseczno's Fashion House factory outlet or the Bicester shopping village; faux facades in a modern setting.


Below: Looks familiar? The station layout is similar to that of Warszawa Centralna; four platforms each serving two tracks (eight platforms in British railway parlance). The railway lines are 16m beneath street level, and for the time being anyway terminate here.


Below: Dzień dobry bo w Łodzi - 'Good day because (it's) in Łódź' - lovely mural in the style of Pan Tu Nie Stał, legendary fashion and accessory shop from Łódź (now with branches in Warsaw and Kraków)


A huge step forward compared to the old Łódź Fabryczna station, run-down and grimy.  A railway station that befits a city the size and national importance of Łódź. The concourse is fit for purpose.


Journey times from here to Warsaw are now below 1 hr 20 mins for the fastest services, an improvement of the two hours of yore, but given that the distance is exactly the same as London Euston to Rugby (83 miles, 135km), it's worth noting that the fastest time between the two stations is 48 minutes.


Below: Emerging into the dreary daylight, the scene outside the new station is similar to what befell the eyes of the traveller arriving at the old station.


Below: view from the north side of the station; on the other side, the EC1 Nowe Centrum Łódź (New Centre of Łódź) development. From here, it's a seven-minute, 550m walk to the flat I bought my children last year. A good investment, I think!



This time two years ago:
Pluses and minuses of PKP

This time three years ago:
When transportation breaks down

This time five years ago:
Take me back to Tulsa

This time seven years ago:
Another book launch

This time eight years ago:
Jeziorki in the 16th Century

This time nine years ago:
Rotten weather, literally

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Power in the vertical or horizontal?

'The Power Vertical' is the title of a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty blog about Russia, but the title can apply to any country where power is concentrated in the hands of one person; Castro, Kim Jong Un, Lukashenko, Assad, Mugabe, Maduro  - and those who are trying to achieve this end - the likes of Erdogan, Orban, and yes, Kaczynski.

Suweren, 'the sovereign'. Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the largest party in the Polish parliament, though neither the elected head of state nor prime minister, is bent on building a state that channels all power through his trusted people up to him. No room then for distributed, bottom-up networked decision making, no room for people at grassroots level with a different world-view competing for control of the levers of influence.

The state-owned media has been put into the hands of loyalists who've turned it into a shameless propaganda. I don't watch TVP any more - it's party media. Now, using regulatory mechanisms, PiS is setting out to reduce private media outlets' ad revenues and hence influence.

The new trend in Polish politics in recent months is to start questioning the reason for existence of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), starting from healthcare charity WOŚP, through to attacks on environmental groups.

Ahead of 2018's local elections, the organs of state are trying to discredit popular local leaders who are not from PiS, an example being Hanna Zdanowska in Łódź. She borrowed money to treat her sick child, made some mistake on the application form, repaid the loan, and is now facing investigation from the CBŚ despite the fact the bank from which she borrowed the money has not even raised this as an issue.

The education system is likewise being adjusted to the needs of Mr Kaczyński; more history (of the right sort), less stuff like science and dodgy things like evolution. The liberal wing of the Catholic Church in Poland has far less influence than the Radio Maryja end of the spectrum, broadcasting intolerance from Toruń, which tends to sees eye-to-eye with Mr Kaczyński.

Mr Kaczyński is intent on snuffing out alternative sources of power to his, just as the communist party was, creating a monopoly that did not countenance non-party initiatives. Communism deprived people of democracy via the ballot box and also of free association and freedom of speech.

Looking at the state of Polish NGOs, there's much that could be improved. Governance and transparency. Compared to British NGOs, which are generally well-run and have traditions going back decades in many cases, Polish NGOs are still in their infancy. They mean well but could do with being more professional. This does not mean they should be closed down; on the contrary, they should be allowed to grow their memberships, focus on effective fundraising and communicating with people at ground level.

The more people can get together to help one another, the less they have to reach out to the state to help them, the less influence the state has over us, the less important it is when the state is won by a person inimical to democracy.

The populist cry 'down with the elites' takes on an interesting meaning when one pauses to consider what a member of the elite actually is. According to Polish sociologist Jerzy Stelmach, it's a person whose livelihood is not in the least bit linked to whoever holds political power. All the placemen in Polish government agencies and state-owned enterprises are not, by this definition, members of the elite. They are here today, gone after the next election. They cling on to their cushy jobs by dint of their political loyalty within the power vertical, knowing that their office with two assistants, their chauffeur-driven car, is entirely dependent on PiS winning the next parliamentary election.

This makes me a member of the elite. I'm old enough and successful enough (and lucky enough) not to be financially dependent on the ebb and flow of Polish politics. This makes me independent, and, being ideologically opposed to power verticals of left or right, I'm therefore suspect in the eyes of those who support Kaczyzm.

To those who support PiS, I'd say this. There were plenty of imperfections with the PO government, especially towards the end, when complacency and laziness set in. But were things in Poland really so bad that the baby had to go with the bathwater? Was Polska really w ruinie? Was the situation in the autumn of 2015 so bad that democracy (albeit fledgling and imperfect) had to be replaced by a one-man party bent on creating a one-party state?

Power in the hands of one man? NO THANKS.

This time four years ago:
And still they come [anomalous flashbacks that is]

This time five years ago:
Classic glass

This time six years agor:
What's the Polish for 'pattern'?

This time nine years ago:
"Rorate caeli de super nubes pluant justum..."

Friday, 9 December 2016

New 'up' platform at W-wa Jeziorki approaches completion

Getting off the train from town last night, I could see that the new 'up' platform is nearly ready to be put into service ('oddane do użytku' - which Google Translate gives merely as 'completed'). As an aside here, I'd add that the pedestrian footbridge at W-wa Okęcie was completed in April, but has still not been oddane do użytku, which literally means 'handed over for use'. Anyway, thanks to the intensive work on this stretch of track, things have been moving much quicker than around W-wa Okęcie station, where there's still much to do to connect the new 'down' line with W-wa Dawidy.

Below: looking south towards Nowa Iwiczna station, taken from what will be the 'down' (southbound) platform. The pedestrian crossing takes you across both new tracks, and then a newly-built footpath, bounded by a metal mesh fence on both sides, leads to the new 'up' (northbound) platform. It's sodden with rainwater, but passable.


I go. There's no signage up. None at all. No signs to say either 'platform is now operational', or 'platform is not in use, please use other platform for trains to town'. Below: view of the 'down' platform from the new 'up' platform yesterday evening. Pallets suggest that the laying of paving slabs has only just been completed. To the right, a display board with the station name, but no timetables as yet. The new PKP timetables come into operation on Sunday 11 December; my guess is that this platform may be in use by then...


Below: photo taken today from the very far end of the new 'up' platform shows a clear surface; the construction crew has cleaned up and moved on. Still no information about when it opens. As I finished my explorations, a town-bound train passed along the other track and stopped at the opposite platform, so single-track working is still in operation.


I can see it will be a long, long while before ul. Karczunkowska reopens. The fenced-off footpath to the new 'up' platform crosses the road, blocking even construction machinery from getting through. And there's no sign whatever of work on the viaduct that's meant to carry Karczunkowska over the railway tracks.

The new timetable gives the long-suffering users of the Radom line no new services, merely a rejig of the old timetable. Instead of trains to town at 07:04, 07:25, 08:07, 09:08 and 10:08, they are spaced more irregularly; 07:04, 07:49, 08:21, 09:08 and 09:53. The 08:21 service gets into W-wa Śródmieście at 08:52, so I'll be cutting it fine for nine o'clock meetings in the office (a 12-minute walk from the station).

Below: update from the morning of Saturday, 10 December. The new timetable is up. Trains will run from here as of tomorrow. But for today, confusing - how many people were waiting here for a train to town that arrived at the other platform? I saw someone in this predicament last night...


Below: southbound trains will continue to use the opposite platform. Single-track working ends tomorrow morning - the 04:53 to Warszawa Wschodnia will be the first train to use the new 'up' platform. In future years, this photo, without a viaduct crossing the lines, will be an archival rarity!


Bonus photo, below, looking south at the new platforms, which are about to be passed by a train of empty wood-chip wagons heading north towards the Okęcie sidings on the coal train line from Siekierki via Konstancin-Jeziorna.



This time last year:
Tottenham Court Road station revisited

This time two years ago:
Zen and the Art of Publishing

This time four years ago:
Wrocław, another Polish city of neon

This time five years ago:
Ronald Reagan remembered

This time six years ago:
Accident of birth

This time eight years ago:
Under the Liberator

This time nine years ago:
Jeziorki on old maps

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Emilia comes down

It's coming down. The Stołeczne Przedsiębiorstwo Handlu Wewnętrznego 'Meble Emilia' (The Capital City Enterprise of Internal Trade 'Furniture Emilia') pavilion. This delightful piece of modernist architecture (designed by Marian Kuźniar and Hanna Lewicka, opened in 1970) is making way for an another skyscraper along the axis of ul. Emilii Plater, on the west side of the Palace of Culture. Below: viewed from the street, looking up towards the Intercontinental Hotel.


Below: looking down at the geometric crenellations of the roof from the Intercontinental. The chipboard walls at either end of the pavilion were added later; originally, Dom Meblowy Emilia was glazed all round.


Below: a photo I took in September 2012, when news of Emilia's impending fate was announced. Beyond it, the Warsaw Financial Centre, and, still under construction, the Cosmopolitan Twarda 2/4 building. Note the 'EMILIA' sign on the roof. This has been saved for posterity...


...and has been relocated to Soho Factory on ul. Minska, the wonderful post-industrial enclave of start-up incubators, restaurants and bars, apartments - and of course Warsaw's neon museum. Below: the EMILIA sign at its new location. Next to it, the Jubiler sign that used to hang on the jeweller's shop on the corner of Al. Jerozolimskie and ul. Krucza.


But it wasn't just the neon. Outside the shop was this memorable signage consisting of back-lit plastic blocks. I took this picture in March 2010

Let's have a better look at it... a splendid piece of Polish design at its modernist best.


All is not lost. Far from it. The Meble Emilia pavilion will be rebuilt across the road in Park Świętokrzyski. Hopefully without the blocked-off ends, so that once again, passers-by will be able to wall all round it and peer in through glass walls, front, back and both sides.

This time last year:
On being rich in Poland

This time four years ago:
The link between health and happiness explored

This time five years ago:
The black SUV, the black SUV... (with the darkened rear windows)

This time six years ago:
Atonement

This time nine years ago:
Where I'm from, and why