Sunday, 26 March 2017

Sztuka Kochania - book review

I reached out for the book, after watching the film biography of its author. The cult Polish “manual” of human sexuality has had several editions, I have come by the most recent one, with up-to-date preface and supplemented with a chapter on contemporary contraception methods.

Some chapters of the book were edited or complemented by Mrs Wisłocka over her lifetime, as she worked on consecutive, improved editions, but all in all it can be felt Sztuka Kochania was written 40 years ago. The three central characteristics that prove how the world has moved on during the last four decades are:
1) the emergence and advance of Internet, taking place of papers and video cassettes as a source of skewed knowledge of sex and carrier of pornographic content,
2) the demise of taboos; sex-related stuff has become a topic of shame-free conversations within families and among friends,
3) fading traditional roles ascribed to specific sexes, in terms of behaviours, sharing duties and responsibilities (this has given rise to research on gender identity).

Since 1970 a huge stride in terms of culture of sex life and its understanding has been made, nevertheless progress has not rendered the book useless.

Socially, awareness of sexuality has improved, shame no longer accompanies deliberations on it, yet much still needs to be done. The main channels through which youngsters gain education are the Web and other easily accessible media. Needless to say contents young people familiarise with are far from professional substantive education they should receive at school and at homes (if parents are prepared and not to afraid to pass such knowledge).

Scientifically, biggest step forward has been made in contraception. Today, withdrawal method is widely criticised because of its high failure rate (not to mention practical aspects), while 40 years ago was a generally accepted contraception method. In 1970s contraceptive pills, nascent and imperfect, were believed to cause detrimental side effects to women’s bodies, while today, though gynaecologists remain aware of the pills’ shortcomings, they are recognised as practical and effective birth control method.

There are passages in the book I have mixed feelings about. The author several times stresses it is not a coincidence woman is female, while man is male. A woman’s role is to give birth, a man’s role to initiate mating rituals. While we cannot and I believe should not play with biology, decisions who wears pants in a relationship, how responsibilities are shared and who takes matters into their hands should belong to a couple. As I observe marriages and non-formalised long-term relationships, they function as partnerships with large degree of autonomy and commonly shared responsibility for household duties and bringing up offspring.

Mrs Wisłocka dedicates part of a chapter of contraception to abortion, permitted before 1989 in Poland. She decidedly underlines pregnancy termination is evil and ought to be avoided (therefore she advocates access to birth control), however claims the decision whether to have it performed it should be left to a woman only and a would-be father has nothing to say. While I know a man will not spend nine months pregnant and may make away leaving a woman and an infant out in the cold, if he stays by her side, he should be allowed to have his say (unless he brutally forces a woman to terminate pregnancy).

When the book was first published, youngsters began to live together under one roof usually after getting married. In the twenty-first century mass migration from provincial areas to large cities, availability of rented dwellings and mortgages and social changes accelerated the moment a youngster flies the nest. This translates into earlier start of learning the life together – couples begin to live under one roof well before tying the knot (if at all) and earlier begin to discover each other.

The purport of Sztuka kochania which remains always up-to-date is that relationships should be based on empathy and mutual respect, no matter if in bed, in running a house, raising children or elsewhere. This universal credo should be instilled at home and odds to shape an adult who has not been taught empathy and respect at home are tiny, yet it is never too late to make efforts.

Those who expect a guide or an instruction how to make love, should not waste time going through the book, though it contains several priceless hints what to pay attention to. I believe Sztuka Kochania is worthwhile, as it enriches one’s grasp of sexuality, particularly how it is embedded in emotionality and how it intertwines with other spheres of human life. A driver who skilfully operates a vehicle and whose passengers enjoy a safe and comfortable ride, must not necessarily be familiar with how engine, transmission and other parts of vehicle work, though they gently but firmly steer a vehicle. It would never hurt, however, if they improved their grasp of mechanics ;-)

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Winter Timeline 2016/17

American forecasters claimed in early autumn 2016 this was supposed to be the fourth mild winter in a row in Poland. Although saying the ending winter was harsh would be an overstatement, yet it was colder and snowier and three previous ones.

7 October 2016
First ground frost. Though the formal minimum temperature readout from W-wa Okecie weather station was +0.9C, in most parts of the capital frost was seen on grass and cars.

14 October 2016
First official morning frost this autumn; –0.4C at dawn.

9 November 2016
First snow. Thick, heavy and wet. Falls from early morning until early evening, but does not linger for long since temperatures is just above 0C and ground has not frozen over.

10 November 2016
A sunny, clement day with temperature just above zero.

11 November 2016
Woke up to the sight of snow. This time it does not melt instantly, yet with air temperature near freezing does not accumulate as well. This is definitely the first whiff of winter, but it has not come for good (hopefully).

12 November 2016
Frosty, sunny and chilly. In the late afternoon temperature tops +0.6C, but it feels warmer since the air is still

13 November 2016
It was supposed to be another day with clear blue skies, but it starts with a snow shower lasting from 8:00 a.m. for two hours. The sun attempts to break through the clouds and snows melt, as temperature rises well above 0C.

14 November 2016 – 27 November 2016
Late autumn returns and shows its manifold faces, from nearing winter (sleet, temperatures close to 0C) at the end of month towards balmy and sunny belated Indian summer spell around the beginning of the third decade of the month (up to +13C and sunshine).

28 November 2016 – 30 November 2016
Light pre-winter. Temperatures oscillate around zero. Frequent snow showers bring a light dusting of snow which melts slowly.

November 2016 in terms of temperature was normal; the temperature over the whole month averaged out exactly as much as long-term mean of +3.2C. Stats:
- month-time high: +13.0C on 21 November 2016 (colder than in 2014 or 2015),
- month-time low: –4.5C on 28 November 2016 (quite an ordinary low),
- the warmest day: 21 November 2016 (daily average of +8.7C),
- the coldest day: 28 November 2016 (daily average of –1.5C).

1 December 2016
After an autumnal, gloomy day winter hits after sunset. Blizzard brings thick, heavy and wet snow.

2 December 2016
It snowed all night and ceased early in the morning. Temperature is still very close to zero, so when lots of snow melt and freeze over, roads turn into ice rinks. The layer of white powder is quite thick so that it does not disappear over the day.

3 December 2016
At times sunny, at times sky is overcast but with no snow showers. Though sunrays reach the earth, snow in most places lingers. Temperature barely above zero.

4 December 2016
Night brings another light dusting of snow. Over the day – just above zero. In the afternoon skies clear up.

5 December 2016 – 7 December 2016
Chilly, below zero all the time, wind chill probably below –10C. To make up for it, rather sunny (though not with clear blue skies), except for one snow shower on 6 December morning.

8 December 2016
After a frosty morning it thaws out immediately – temperature soars at the pace of one degree per hour, gusty winds howl.

9 December 2016 – 11 December 2016
Intense thaw with temperatures nearing double digits and rain pouring down. Late autumn gloom…

12 December 2016 – 13 December 2016
Temperature plummets on Monday morning and stays below zero, but not below –5C for two days. Shining sun and brightness make up for chill.

14 December 2016
Snow, sleet, rain. Whatever falls from the sky turns into water on the ground since thaw sets in.

15 December 2016 – 17 December 2016
Near, but rather above zero, little precipitation, hoar frost setting at night. Roads and pavements might be slippery, ye it’s still not the proper winter.

18 December 2016
Little snow falls, little snow lingers, little snow melts. Cause it’s near 0C, the most frequent temperature readout this December.

19 December 2016 – 20 December 2016
Fog, drizzle, gloom and temperature barely above zero. Feels like Christmas…

21 December 2016 – 22 December 2016
Fog gives way to clear skies, sunshine and a little bit of frost. Finally a spirit-lifting, though chilly weather.

23 December 2016
Wake up to freezing sleet. Icy rain or snow sets on roads and pavements and it gets slippery. A little bit of winter just before Christmas. By midday the snow is gone and ugly late autumn returns.

24 December 2016 – 25 December 2016
A general thaw, with intermittent yet intense rainfalls and some sunny moments. Gloom is overwhelming…

26 December 2016
It gets really warm for just one day, temperature tops +10C. Windy…

27 December 2016
A windstorm hits Poland. Gusty winds blow at speeds reaching 100 kmph and play havoc with electricity supply and bring intense rain showers.

28 December 2016 – 31 December 2016
Weather gets rather clement, with no precipitation, light frost at night, slightly above freezing during the day. And forecasts warn winter will hit in early January.

December 2016 was slightly warm. Average temperature in Warsaw was +1.2C (vs. long-term average of –0.7C) Stats:
- month-time high: +9.9C on 26 December 2016 (somehow it does not take me aback the warmest day befell around Christmas),
- month-time low: –6.7C on 12 December 2016 (so far double-digit frost escaped Warsaw),
- the warmest day: 10 December 2016 (daily average of +8.3C, as warm as in mid-October),
- the coldest day: 13 December 2016 (daily average of –4.1C).

1 January 2017
Blue skies cloud over. Gloomy day heralds oncoming actual winter.

2 January 2017 – 3 January 2017
Intense snow showers come and go in temperature close to 0C. Snow falls faster than it melts, hence layer of white powder slowly accumulates.

4 January 2017
Blizzard that commenced the evening before lasted all night but has not brought lots of snow. Over the day it thawed out, so next snow showers turn into water as they reach the ground.

5 January 2017
Now it’s getting serious. Overnight snow was crisp and light, but temperature in the morning dropped to –6C. By the evening it declines, for the first time this winter, to –10C. In such cold salt does not help keep roads and pavements clear of snow. Winter is about to stamp its foot, but not for long! Snow cover has reached five centimetres.

6 January 2017
Sunshine and clear skies from dawn to dusk. When the day breaks temperature is –13C, then despite sunlight air gets no warmer, while in the evening thermometers in Warsaw show –16C.

–19C just before sunrise and this stands a chance to be the coldest morning this winter. This is the first such temperature drop since February 2012… Not sunny all the time, a little snow shower leaves some white powder shortly before midday. Day-time high of –11C in the afternoon.

8 January 2017
With day-time low of –16C and day-time high of –7C temperatures take a turn for the better. If you add cloudless skies, you get the recipe for perfect winter wonderland. Three days ago weather forecasts said thaw was due today. Today they say sunny and frosty weather should continue for three coming days.

Should be a glorious winter, but it is not. Smog, felt by nostrils, throat and lungs, lingers in the air. Obnoxious particle hamper visibility and at times occlude the sun. The air is still, temperature between –14C and –3C.

12 January 2017 – 13 January 2017
On the edge of thaw – just below zero at night, just above freezing in daylight. Depending on time of day snow showers linger on the ground or turn into slush, freezing treacherously on cool ground.

14 January 2017
A one-day thaw, with maximum temperature barely above zero little of the snow disappear.

15 January 2017
The events of the day is are intense snow showers between 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m., then between 1:00 p.m. and 2:20 p.m. which bring some two centimetres of crisp white powder each. Besides, just below freezing and with spells of sunshine. In the afternoon temperature creeps above zero for the last time before winter returns for good.

16 January 2017 – 17 January 2017
Gloomy, with light frost and sparse, yet abundant snowfall. In a word a mild winter before temperature declines into double-digits below zero and skies clear up.

18 January 2017 – 19 January 2017
A harsher face of winter manifests itself. Near –10C before sunrise, below zero in the afternoon. No new snow at all, yet little sunshine. Smog has returned?

20 January 2017
Freezing drizzle, not as wreckful as exactly three years ago (taki mieliśmy klimat), yet when it rains at –4C, walking and driving is damn risky. Especially the former. Pavements are dreadfully slippery. Foggy (or smoggy).

21 January 2017
After a spell of frost at night it thaws out. Icy pavements become a thing of the past. Gloom does not let up.

22 January 2017 – 28 January 2017
I’m taking a week-long break from Polish winter and spend it in Spain where the weather is like in late March in Poland. In the meantime in Warsaw there is little new snow and temperatures swing from –10C before sunrise to slightly above zero on afternoons.

29 January 2017 – 31 January 2017
Rather cold nights with temperature falling near –10C, sunny days with day-time highs near 0C. Actual winter about to recede in a few days…

January 2017 was normal, yet it needs to be noted the categorization is due to large standard deviation from mean temperature recorded in Warsaw over years (I would classify it as slightly cold). Average temperature in Warsaw was –3.7C (vs. long-term average of –1.9C), but over most of the month actual temperature was nearing the average –2C. Stats:
- month-time high: +3.9C on 1 January 2017 (quite chilly, compared to double-digit month-time highs record in recent years),
- month-time low: –19.3C on 7 January 2017 (the coldest since February 2012),
- the warmest day: 1 January 2017 (daily average of +1.6C, mere +1.6C),
- the coldest day: 7 January 2017 (daily average of –15.6C).

1 February 2017
The last day of rather sunny mild winter (between –5C and the freezing point).

2 February 2017
The day begins with rather intense snow shower, but white powder melts quickly when temperature inclines above 0C. In the afternoon it gets foggy and freezing drizzle hampers moving around.

3 February 2017 – 4 February 2017
Just a bit above 0C, gloomy and no snow showers. Clouds occlude the sun, but days are visibly longer, especially in afternoons.

5 February 2017 – 6 February 2017
Around –4C, overcast skies and odd tiny snowflakes falling on the ground. A cold snap ahead!

7 February 2017
It snows, all day long. The snow is soft, crisp and does not fall in abundance. Hour by hour it gets colder, from –4C in the morning towards –9C late in the evening.

8 February 2017 – 9 February 2017
Snow showers cease, but sun does not break through the clouds. Temperature hovers between –10C and –5C but wind chill makes it feel like below –15C. The windy weather has one upside – moving air blows away the smog.

10 February 2017 – 11 February 2017
Finally sunshine takes over. Mornings are cold, around –10C, afternoons not that warm, since despite day-time highs near –3C, wind takes the gloss off warmth. Sunlight reveals how much salt has been put down on roads and pavements – they are virtually white.

12 February 2017 – 14 February 2017
Above –10C night-time lows, below 0C day-time high. Sometimes sunny, sometimes cloudy yet without precipitation. Thaw fails to take over, yet after six weeks of full- or half-blown winter, a proper thaw would be welcome.

15 February 2017
Sunny, yet with hovering smog. Temperature in the afternoon for the first time since nearly two weeks rises above zero.

16 February 2017
Frosty morning (-5C) comes ahead of the first whiff of spring in the afternoon. Sunrays heat the air up to +8C, however air quality in Warsaw is horrid.

17 February – 23 February 2017
Gloomy pre-spring takes over. Sparse moments of sunshine, gloomy with rain showers, downpours, drizzles or fog. Temperature above zero all the time. The ground is frozen solid, hence it takes a few days before quite thin snow cover disappears.

24 February 2017
All of the sudden in begins to snow in the afternoon. The wind is gusty, so Warsaw witnesses a veritable blizzard. Temperature falls near zero, so the snow melts slowly.

Snows have not melted overnight. Besides, fresh supplies of white arrive around 9 a.m. when another blizzard hits. Despite temperature topping +3C and several spells of sunshine snow lies on the ground by evening.

26 February 2017
A light dusting of snow in the morning… Melts instantly. Temperature reaches +6C, but outside it is unpleasant in drizzle and chilly wind… Two-week forecast say today’s snow shower could be the last one (in 2014 the last snow was witnessed in the first decade of February).

27 February 2017 – 28 February 2017
Beautiful ending of February, sunshine and double-digit temperatures in the afternoon. Next whiff of spring is foreseen for the weekend.

February 2017 was normal. Average temperature in Warsaw was –0.8C (vs. long-term average of –1.0C). Stats:
- month-time high: +13,7C on 27 February 2017 (short of record-high +17.2C measured in 1990),
- month-time low: –10.9C on 10 February 2017,
- the warmest day: 27 February 2017 (daily average of +8.3C, as warm as in mid-April),
- the coldest day: 8 February 2017 (daily average of –8.9C).

March 2017 had a very pleasant beginning. Noteworthy events were first spring storm on 2 March 2017 and remarkably balmy first weekend of the month when temperatures peaked near +15C (in full sunshine it felt much warmer). Though later the weather resembled rather pre-spring (single-digit above zero, gloomy), no trace of winter was in sight.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

PiS in power, episode 1 in 2017

Not a dreamt-up start into the new year for the current government. Nevertheless, the five image-tainting slip-ups have not sent support in polls sliding. I believe this will happen slowly, gradually, as more voters reach their pain threshold (i.e. as wrongdoings accumulate).

Moving about safely is not the biggest virtue of PiS. Over twelve months limousines carrying prominent politicians had three serious accidents. In March 2016 president Duda’s BMW fell off the motorway after a tyre popped. On 25 January 2017 minister Macierewicz’s motorcade moving at excessive speed on an icy road smashed into cars waiting ahead of traffic lights. On 10 February 2017 reinforced Audi driving prime minister Szydlo home collided into a tree after hitting an overtaken Seciento. Circumstances of the latter accident remain most blurred, however most recent findings reveal internal safety procedures have been breached and the vehicle was not moving at the allowed speed between 50 and 60 kmph as police and ministry officials claimed. Truth be told disrespect for safety rules and fondness of speed have been a domain of all predecessors of PiS, however nobody has learnt the lesson so far, especially as Internet users publish films from dashboard cameras, shot after 10 February 2017, showing dangerous motorcades of government limousines.

Defence ministry spokesman, Bartłomiej Misiewicz, the embodiment of personnel reshuffle conducted by PiS in government-controlled enterprises has been locked up around a month ago (having days off to compensate him for working overtime). After several incidences of high-rank army officials saluting to the (civilian) spokesman and after his foray to a night-club in Białystok, Mr Misiewicz is no longer in the limelight. His future remains uncertain, however minister Macierewicz will rather not leave him out in the cold, despite Mr Kaczynski’s clear statement that Mr Misiewicz is a predicament for PiS. Conspiracy theorists wonder what Mr Misiewicz knows about Mr Macierewicz and what Mr Macierewicz knows about Mr Kaczynski that guarantees Mr Misiewicz irremovability.

The proposal to enlarge Warsaw by adjoining over 30 surrounding towns has struck out of the blue. The draft law, not consulted with anyone, including around two million residents of Warsaw and nearby towns affected by the law, brought in a strong backlash. Experts pointed at several shortcomings of the document, including violating constitutional rules (who cares?). Besides, local governors in unison underlined the deputy Sasin’s draft had not been discussed with interested parties. PiS had to give in and back down from the plan of extending Warsaw’s borders before local government elections. I suppose as too many potential voters have stamped down PiS intentions and thwarted boosting chances of their candidate in winning mayor of Warsaw stool, politicians of the party will have a hard nut to crack.

Lex Szyszko, or the amended environment protection law is probably the most visible outcome of PiS in power. You just walk outside and see chopped down trees, on private and public lands. And as a matter of principle, the wood is hardly ever cleared away, so sights like this are commonplace (in the background, uncanny freight train on Siekierki coal line). I am in two minds about this law, remembering that cutting down wizened trees that do not come into leafs and pose threat during gusty winds is necessary for the sake of safety of humans and their property. It will take decades to make up for the harm inflicted over a few weeks of the law in force. PiS has taken note of its mistake and announced next changes to the law, time will tell whether they block unfettered tree-chopping spree, but whatever steps they take, they will not reverse the time and those who have benefited from the amendments over the recent weeks will not be deprived of their benefits.

The debacle of Poland’s candidate, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski is Thursday’s (not deferred) vote on the position of European Commission candidate is the biggest defeat of PiS government in international politics and in my humble opinion, the most prestigious calamity of PiS since they took over power. All remaining 27 EU representatives, including our closest allies, i.e. prime minister Theresa May and prime minister Victor Orban, without hesitation backed the incumbent president Donald Tusk. Competencies of Mr Tusk and common sense of 27 EU leaders have been superior to domestic conflicts. The United Europe showed thumbs down to Poland whose voice has become finally audible in Europe. Indeed, our voice is heard, but no one wants to listed to it. Poland’s foreign policy is finally not pursued on its knees. Poland’s diplomats and leaders have gotten up of their knees to fall flat on their faces, straight into a cold, dirty, muddy puddle.

I feel no joy writing the above. The events in Brussels demonstrate Poland is becoming a quirky outsider in the EU, whose officials will sooner or later lose their patience and take revenge, namely cut Poland off generous flow of money from the EU. Sadly, the defeat will change nothing in perception of PiS government inside the country. Those who oppose it will not change their mind, while approximately 20% of the electorate who are hard-line believers of Mr Kaczynski will genuinely put faith in all of his words and accept as true Mrs Szydlo’s trip to Brussels was a huge victory and that evil EU is to blame. I hope Poland does not take umbrage with the EU, as if this happened and EU retaliated, Poland, not the EU would be worse off.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Out of the muck

A year ago, after an annual corpo get-together (the most splendid and expensive such party in a year is always scheduled for the end of first week of March) I aimed to debunk myths surrounding such events. Today, having returned safe and sound from another one, I seriously consider taking back some of my words and crossing out some paragraphs from the post I published then.

Oddly enough, organisational-wise, the event was far superior to last year’s one. Arrangers cut down on gadget expenses, hired fewer celebrities and signed on a better DJ. The grand setting, though important, does not make an event memorable, cause whether the event is enjoyable or turns into a nightmare depends on people who attend it.

I cannot claim I am the most righteous person to teach people how to conduct themselves, yet I realise tolerance of specific behaviours depends on circumstances, situations, family obligations of people involved etc. The common denominator of my observations and legends on such events is that those most inclined to misbehave are seemingly exemplary spouses and parents who break off a leash for one night. And central role goes to alcohol which in excessive amount brings out the worst instincts in humans.

All names in the stories below have been changed.

Some incidents happen on such events, especially when held in hotels, away from home, but why this time did they happen in abundance?

The hotel where the event was held was quite spacious, so before I got to my room, I had to walk past a long corridor and while carrying my luggage I counted three rooms from which loud mixed giggling (but not huffing) was audible.

After a workshop and a lunch my companions and I strolled outside to breath in some fresh air. We passed several participants lugging clinging bags from a nearby shop… By the evening some people were barely able to stand on two legs…

After a dinner a guy who sat with me at one table approached me and said he remembered me from times I worked at The Employer. Frankly speaking I could not recall neither his name (Darek) nor face, yet having common former colleagues was a good starting point for a conversation. Soon Darek confided his son had been born on New Year’s Day and after two months he finally enjoyed his first night out after the birth and wanted it to be crazy. I offered to drink one brim of vodka with him (I was holding back knowing I would be driving home the next day) and then easily arranged him some companions also willing to go on binge. Soon Darek was on his knees…

Before Darek’s only way of moving around was crawling, I headed to my room to dress down to jeans and polo T-shirt for the informal part of the bash. Back at the table I found my friend Ania (married, two children) being accosted by a guy with whom she had worked at her previous workplace and who had also joined The New Factory. Without a trace of embarrassment he confessed it was a great pity he was married and had children; a pity, yet not an obstacle for something between them to happen. He carried on like this for a minute or so, so seeing dread on Ania’s face I asked her to go to the dancefloor with me.

After a few songs Ania began to dance with our co-worker (not the obtrusive guy) while I swung sideways to join girls from a sales team. Within a few minutes Jola with who I danced spotted another girl, Beata (married, one child) was being groped by a guy we had never seen before. While DJ was mixing one song into another, I swiftly cut in and took Beata away from the dancefloor. Beata was about to puke, but pulled through very quickly. As she thanked me for saving her, I spotted through an open door Ania and the unhappy husband were dancing far too close to each other than Ania would wish. Shortly after this Ania escaped the room and rushed to the bathroom, but the guy followed her and waited at the bathroom’s door.

I rang Ania to make sure my perception of events was in line with hers and promise her to draw away the guy so that should could exit the bathroom safely. Then I asked Beata to pretend she had twisted her ankle (an idiotic plan given the guy had been passing us by a minute earlier and Beata’s ankle had not been hurt) and together we asked the guy to help me see Beata off to her room. Predictably, the guy was resistant to move by an inch, but as two young chicks passing by who were witnessing the scene, rebuked him, he finally agreed. In the meantime Ania managed to disappear in her room for the rest of the night.

Back at the dancefloor I noticed another co-worker, Ewa (engaged), being touched far too intimately by an older guy. Judging by her face, she was not delighted with the course of events. I cut in, set her free and learnt actually her dance partner was disgusting, not what he was doing. My observations from the rest of the night confirmed Ewa was fond of near-erotic dances with newly met males.

While taking breaks from dancing, I hung around in a hall where snacks and beverages were served. This proved to be a great opportunity for some clearly inebriated individuals to speak out what they thought about me, my bosses and team-mates. I don’t hold any grudge against them, as I truly appreciate sincerity and straightforwardness.

As the night was no longer young, my mate Jacek (married, one child) and I began to flirt with married women, just for kicks (at least me). The outcome was reassuring, since at the end of each conversation we heard something like “the most wonderful man in the world is staying at our home, looking after our children”.

My doubts whether Jacek at best was overdoing in fooling about appeared before long. Jacek brought along Karolina, a girl (either single, or taken, but not yet engaged) who works at a back office department on the same floor as I do (we see each other several times a day). Karolina was surely under the influence and starred lusciously at me. Jacek who probably thought I was on the pull hurried to explain Karolina was horny to go to bed with me and though her beauty left a lot to be desired, chances that I seized any better opportunity that night were close to zero, so I should have gone for it. Faced with the first in my life explicit proposal made by a third-party, I politely asked whether they were both off their f***ing heads (czy was pop****oliło?) and decided to make off to my room. On my way I had to avoid a collision with a pissed like a fart senior manager staggering in his pants only and mumbling something about meatheads he had to work with. I thought scenes like this belong to lousy films and myths only…

Having said that I am proud of my own, this time exemplary (I count out flirting with married women which was an experiment) conduct during the whole event. Oddly enough, each next such party (and I attend between three and six in a year) sets lower standards of participants’ (mis)behaviour. After the recent one I realise why many people decide to quit such events around ten or nine p.m. before more interesting stories unfold.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Reasons to change a job

Upbeat tidings from the labour market, confirmed by figures published by the Stats office and palpable shortage of workforce in some industries naturally prompt thoughts on what motivates people to change their workplace. Recruitment agencies share results of their research on this; their outcomes and real-life observations put together form a list of factors employees take into account when they are considering a relocation.

1. Your boss. Some statistics prove shattered relationships with a direct manager most often (up to 80% of instances) prompt employees to look for a new job. Your boss may be a tyrant who never puts up with disagreement, a workaholic who coerces their team to work as long and as hard as they do, a tormentor who picks a victim in a team and bullies them. All characters above induce one to quit, but even if your boss is only lazy, incompetent and afraid you may want to take their place, the set-up is bad enough to waste your potential and forbid you to thrive. If you are ordered about by a despot or by an idiot, there is no point in waiting your superior gets sacked. Take matters in your hands before you hit the roof in a bout of frustration!

2. Colleagues. Just like a boss, the closest workmates with whom you spend several hours a day might become a pain the arse. If you simply do not fit in with the team (e.g. you are an extravert surrounded by introverts) the situation is bearable, but if your team lacks team spirit, people run rings around one another or hostility is felt in the air, time to make off!

3. The pay. You can hear voices work is all about the money, yet a decent pay will not compensate you for emotional ordeal that might destroy your psyche if you have to endure it for years. Before you jump to conclusions you are underpaid, do sound out the market to make sure competitors of your employer can offer you more. A huge pressure on salary increases is observed in low-paid professions, however the tide does not lift all boats. Professionals in industries where earnings are above-average and headcount is on decline, such as financial sector, should not reckon on easy pay rise. Moreover, HR departments bend over backwards while grappling with payrolls and their moves vary across the industry. Some companies lay off best-paid experts to find cheaper, yet less competent ones and this might seem economically rational. Many more employers, however, fail to retain (by giving a pay rise) good, yet slightly underpaid employees who quit, but then the same employers hire less experienced new staff and pay them more than their predecessors.

4. Appreciation, or rather lack of it. Hardly any worker will be satisfied with wages paid on time only. Apart from tangible, pecuniary or not, benefits, humans long for other forms of reward. Tapping somebody on their shoulder and saying “good job”, thanking, giving prizes will not replace bonuses but decent bonuses without non-material reward come out shoddy!

5. Prospects. If you feel or are genuinely told in a few years you will be doing the same thing for the same money, then even if your job is not repetitive and you actually like it, your motivation may plummet. Awareness of being stuck in a dead-end street is unappealing, unless you are in a pre-retirement age and wish to make it safely to the moment of pensioning off on your cushy stool.

6. Identity crisis. If you do not believe in a business model of your company, you cannot believe its well-being will translate into yours. The more serious type of the problem is when your employer engages in illegal (or morally dubious) practices you do not wish to take part in.

7. Opportunity. It usually emerges unbidden, for a short moment, so you are given little time to take it or leave it. I would hazard a guess the most successful transfers between jobs come about when an opportunity strikes out of the blue and one is not afraid taking a risk to seize it.

For the very end, a sad observation I need to share. After nearly seven years of being submerged into corporate world, I was under delusion quick advances on the career ladder in international corporations were just thanks to sheer hard graft, while jobs gotten via connections (not in a positive meaning of the word) were the domain of government-owned companies and some of private small businesses. Quite recently I have been disabused…

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The power of networking

A wise man said once you work to live, not the other way round, but you need to work to enjoy your life. In your adult life you spend around one-fifth of your life at work (assuming your work 225 days per year, eight hours per day) and nearly one-third of the time you are awake (assuming you sleep seven hours each night). No wonder then workplace is where you meet people and get involved in relationships with them (today not a single word on romantic ones).

One rarely can choose their workmates, so one can sometimes hate them, but also hit it off with some of them. Nevertheless you spend several hours a (working) day with colleagues not to become friends, but to pursue together a common goal which is making your company earn, which you hope will translate into your individual goal, i.e. to get paid!

It’s not a secret relationships built over your professional life, though frequently cannot be called friendships, are precious. In the corporate world, the more people you know, the more you can gain. Everybody knows what growing your network means, so nearly everyone, driven by their self-preservation instinct, plays that game, as having a network can benefit everybody. The only question is when you reap the benefits (if you do it at all), but since sowing the seeds of networking costs little, nearly everyone does it.

Those familiar with the nicknames I consistently use on the blog and keeping track of developments in the Polish financial secret, don’t need to be told the Employer, where I worked from 2010 to 2014 has actually fallen apart after a merger with another player in the industry. As it naturally happens when two companies are combined into one, several corporate functions are doubled and to streamline the organisation and pursue cost synergies overstaffing has to be coped with. The way making staff redundant is handled does not vary across corporations. The set-up I described in much detail over four years ago (hey it’s been over eight years since I posted on PES for the first time) remains up-to-date and the only positive thing about being left out in the cold are parachutes laid-off workers get that let them make ends meet for a few months.

Regardless of the financial aspect of being given the sack, on top comes the emotional one. Many people, though they have hobbies, families and lead private lives, find it hard to stay at home for a prolonged period and miss the part of their life which apart from earning them a livelihood, gave them a lot of satisfaction and self-fulfilment.

Those who I feel most sorry for are the ones who had spent more than a decade at the Employer, who last looked for a job before Poland joined EU, who will be outside their comfort zone when they finally are taken on by another company.

When I attended a funeral mass in early January, I met some long-unseen workmates and since then the frequency of interactions with former colleagues has intensified. I could hold a grudge against them for renewing our relationships when they are on the verge of falling off the cliff, but I won’t. Majority of people want to grab every opportunity to reduce uncertainty and increase their odds of soft landing when they are dropped of the corporate plane.

The number of invitations on LinkedIn, number of phone calls, lunches in town and meetings indicates the lookout for a foothold is under way. From a not entirely professional perspective, relationships with former workmates have grown multi-faceted. I have become a professional counsellor, a psycho-therapist, a shoulder to cry on, a labour market analyst and a potential assistant to recruiters at the New Factory. I need to show empathy in those roles, but I often struggle not to overdo with empathy at the expense of sincerity. Giving advice to someone or raise their spirits must not mean telling them they are eligible for every job or they would fit every organisations. My job requires above-average assertiveness, fluency in English, involves frequent public speeches, business trips, staying overtime and (OK, I’m now blowing my own trumpet) not everyone meets all the criteria.

Plus to be sincere, my workplace has turned recently into a mire (worse than in my first months there, though easier to survive today) into which I would not draw any of my workmates, though they know there are vacancies to be filled. On the other front, five months after first cracks appeared, I went to labour market and sent out three applications last weekend (no response so far). It has been my first sounding out of the labour market since early 2014 and the main change I see is that sending a CV and a letter of application to an e-mail address has given way to filling in application forms and attaching a CV (letter of application is gone?). Interestingly, all three potential employers were asking about salary expectations in the application forms; wondering whether this a tool to disqualify over-priced candidates right away?

With such nasty course of affairs, I may only hope the good I am sending to people will return to me if I am left out in the cold, which is unfortunately not inconceivable.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Sztuka Kochania. Historia Michaliny Wislockiej - film review

As I saw the trailer of the moving-picture biography of Michalina Wisłocka and learnt the film was shot and produced by the same crew who were behind absolutely magnificent Bogowie, I knew I had to watch the film portrait of a woman who in the 1970s became for Poles the same who Alfred Kinsey became for Americans over 20 years earlier.

The life story of Mrs Wisłocka which emerges from the film is somewhat heart-wrenching and somewhat sordid. The person who taught Poles to discover their sexuality in her twenties lived in a self-arranged threesome, the as she, her husband and their (female) friend / lover broke up, in her mid-thirties fell in love and had an affair with a married man to finally end up as a single mature woman. I do not mean such life experience could disqualify hrt as an sex therapist, yet depicts how complicated life is and how important it is to separate one’s own painful tribulations from an objective look on relationships between women and men. If Mrs Wisłocka was denied the right to teach people how to love, why priests, who by definition should live in celibacy and abstain from sexual activity, would be allowed to instruct people how to raise families and shape love life?

In terms of being a work of art, I found the movie gripping, yet not as splendid as Bogowie. For part of the audience some moments might be found disgusting, since scenes of copulation are exposed naturalistically and probably the short length and hiding sexual organs are the only reasons why they do not fall under the definition of pornography.

As I understand it, the intent of the film is twofold – to bring closer to audience the profile of Mrs Wisłocka and, predominantly, to break the still-existent taboo of speaking openly of sex life. Mrs Wisłocka deserves credit for raising awareness of sexuality, extending access to education on the topic and fighting prudishness, avidly nurtured by both the catholic church and the communist party.

Sexual needs are, as Mrs Wisłocka pointed out over her whole life, one of basic (closer to the bottom than in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) needs of a human and need to be met. This assertion does not imply one should strive to make unfettered indulgence in all desires, but to combine love and making love, the emotional and the physical realms of love, which only brought together bring true self-fulfilment. If the classic sentence: I am human, and nothing of that which is human is alien to me, holds true, why should we be ashamed of what is human?

If the shame creeps in, this is just because inhibitions have been instilled in us in the process of upbringing, which should definitely be balanced – neither promoting dissipation (we are human therefore we should not copulate like animals) nor confining sexuality a tool of reproduction only married people are allowed to use.

Wisdom Mrs Wisłocka wanted to pass on to ordinary people has not evolved much over decades, as some concepts are everlasting:
- making love should not be associated with fear nor pain (leave out S&M now),
- there is no evil in drawing pleasure from sex, but equally important is to strive for your partner’s (especially woman’s) pleasure, give them respect and know limits they have set,
- sex life involves responsibility for your partner and yourself and realising consequences it may have,
- sexuality is an embodiment of love as an emotion and ought not to be boiled down to coarse lusts; only embedding in emotionality can guarantee fulfilment in sex life.

And at the end of the day, youngsters starting the sex life should bear in mind one universal sentence: Whatever you do, do prudently and mind the outcome.

The next step, which actually I should have taken before watching the film, is coming by the book by Mrs Wisłocka and reading it from cover to cover. Shame on me, I will be catching up with some overdue education and thus remind myself the value of lifelong learning in every realm of life.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

The Spanish break

The very moment I learnt I was assigned to travel to Spain in business I knew I had been given the opportunity to combine the business trip with some private sightseeing and cheaply overstay there (flight back paid by the New Factory anyway plus I was eligible for abroad travel allowances) for a few days and I seized it!

The last decade of January was maybe not a perfect period for tourism, but as the old saying goes, never look a horse gift in a mouth. Central part of Spain has warm continental climate, but in winter it means it seldom rains, sunshine is abundant, but temperature fluctuations are high. Mornings (sunrise after 8:00 a.m.) on many days were frosty or with temperature little above zero while in the afternoon (the warmest moment of the day around 3:00 p.m.) temperature could reach nearly +15C, so temperature could soar by fifteen degrees within five hours. Fortunately, over the week spent there, only one day was partly rainy.

Getting to Spain regardless of the season is generally easy and rather inexpensive. Choice of low-cost and regular flights is decent. Polish Airlines (PLL LOT) operate one return flight per day to Madrid, besides, Lufthansa offers several flights each day with transfers in Frankfurt or Munich whose duration is around an hour and a half higher than of LOT-operated direct flights. For business-related reasons I had to opt for Lufthansa connection via Frankfurt, the airline in terms of being class of its own, way superior to PLL LOT.

Accommodation in Madrid at this time of year is cheap, with prices of hotel rooms comparable to rates offered in Warsaw. A two-night stay with breakfasts included in a two-star hotel for the business part of my trip set the New Factory back EUR 125, while for overstaying I booked a room in one of well-located (less than ten metro stations from the city centre) Ibis Budget one-star hotels for less than EUR 45 per night & breakfast. Depending on the city, prices soar in March and decline in October (with Barcelona being the most dreadful example), but if you look out well, finding a double room with breakfasts in a cheap (yet clean) hotel for EUR 50 should not be out of reach.

In terms of transport, Spain can boast of very decent infrastructure, although it has to be noted the country fell into the trap of over-investments co-funded by the EU. The biggest flop were toll roads built under PPP scheme whose operators (who had underestimated traffic volumes) struggle to make ends meet and service loans taken out to finance those projects. The very Madrid has excellent system of underground trains (Metro) consisting of 12 lines which can take you to nearly any part of the city. To get about Madrid I purchased right away a Tourist Pass, a ticket valid for 7 days around Spain’s capital, including airport ticket zone for EUR 35.40. Not extremely cheap by Warsaw standards, yet giving a lot of comfort to a frequent traveller. To travel around Spain, I recommend ALSA buses – journey durations are longer than by ultra-expensive trains, but the price makes up for this (my return ticket from Madrid to Toledo cost me less than EUR 10).

For the record – inhabitants of Spanish cities are skilful drivers when it comes to parallel parking – they can fit their cars into gaps wider less than half a metre than length of their vehicle… The art I will probably never master (although I easily park a car between two other vehicles so that you can’t open door on any side).

I would find it hard to put up with and get accustomed to work style Spanish people have (but most of them do not enjoy it) – they tend to stay long hours in the office (many work from nine to nine) regardless of how much work they need to complete, take long afternoon breaks (also in the winter), but their working efficiency is low, also because they come up with manifold time-fillers, such as numerous meetings and calls. In Poland a reasonable boss in a corporation expects from their employees to get their done and if they are able to make it within eight hours, they can knock on at 9:00 a.m. and call it a day at 5:00 p.m. In Spain, it is unthinkable, even if you are at the loose end…

The language barrier was not a shock to me. I had known well Spanish people are positioned at the very bottoms of rankings of command of foreign languages. Nevertheless, the phenomenon is astonishing in a country which to a large extent lives off tourism. Over those days I had to harness Google Translator to take a crash course in basic Spanish and the upshot was that in many situations I talked in English while my interlocutors responded to me in Spanish. Generally, if you open your mouth and speak English, expect to behold dread on your interlocutor’s face. Chances of communicating (and nothing beyond it, since quality of English used in Spain is abhorrent) are the highest in tourist areas and with young people (the country’s authorities have recognised the problem and have put emphasis on linguistic education of youngsters). Even workers of international corporations have problems speaking decent English, make lots of mistakes, come up with words being a mixture of Spanish and English and often sincerely admit they need to omit part of they want to say since they do not know how to say it in English… In this respect I am proud of Poland!

It would be a gross understatement to say I am not a gourmet, yet I regardless of my indifference to what I eat and inability to take delight in tasting, I have not grown fond of Spanish cuisine. Some claim Spanish food is hearty. For me it is simply stodgy. Had no problems with my digestive system after any meal, yet I felt my stomach was chock full of stuff I had gorged on. Apart from shunning light meals (which is kind of strange given weather they have to endure in summer) they tend to eat small breakfasts (which was reflected in quantities and choice of food produces served for breakfasts in hotels), sizeable lunches and huge suppers. Exactly the other way round than how I prefer to eat (large breakfast, decent lunch, small last meal at least 3 hours before falling asleep).

Sights-wise, the biggest attraction was the trip to Toledo. The city is magnificently picturesque, yet strolling around it requires some fitness, since you constantly walk either uphill or downhill. The weather the day I visited it was perfect despite large temperature swing from frost to +14C.

To the right – the city’s most famous tourist attraction – the cathedral on a sunny midday.

And one more snap – a view to the other, southern bank of the river surrounding the city. Absolutely splendid.

If you want to visit (tick off) all sights in Madrid, two days might be fair enough, yet if you are fond of arts and history and want your trip to be more conscious, reserve two more days. During my stay I visited only the most renowned Prado Museum. If you want to see all painting exhibited there and contemplate them, a day-long visit is probably recommended. Me, not being an art connoisseur, dashed through the collections during the two-hour free admission open-doors period in the evening.

Because of understaffing in the office, the next holiday break is planned for… hell knows when, but sadly not before long… For the time being I’m down with some throat infection and fever, working from home next week.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Questions which should not be asked

You can tell whether somebody is a well-mannered person by observing if they know when to keep their mouth shut. In life there are situations when saying nothing is totally out of place, yet there may be equally many circumstances in which the ability to hold one’s tongue and resisting the temptation to speak one’s mind is appreciated. Usually one can point up their good behaviour if they hold back from either commenting or from asking questions. In the context of the former, it is enough to remind that in embarrassing situations silence is golden. When it comes to the latter, over the years I have compiled a list of questions I believe should not be ask and which as a matter of principle I resist to ask.

When are you planning to have children? / When will you finally get pregnant? / And the likes.
Maybe if such question is asked by closest relatives, it does not come out as inappropriate, yet I never ask it. Firstly, because the decision whether to have children, how many and when is a couple’s business, not mine. Secondly, with plague of infertility and other disruptions thwarting millions of couples’ dreams to have a child, such questions can cause unnecessary pain. Finally, some couple are not cut up for raising children, so maybe it is better if they do not have them.

When will you finally get married? / When will you finally get engaged? / Is he going to pop the question or not? / And the likes.
Formalising a relationship definitely has some practical aspects and by tying a knot two people officially confirm they want to be together theoretically until the end of one their days. But whether people wish to have their relationship officially legalised or want it to stay informal and keep away from registry office is their business. Indeed it takes more effort to break up when you are married, but for a really determined person if they really want, they will find a way, if they do not, they will find an excuse!

When will you finally find a boyfriend / girlfriend?
It still boggles my mind what the point in asking such questions is. Some people might prefer to be single and feel well about it. Others are out of luck in romantic relationships. There are also individuals who have been hurt once so badly that they are afraid of starting over a new relationship. At best such questions might f*ck someone up, at worst they wound.

When will you stop partying every weekend? When will you find a permanent job? When will start putting aside money? And the likes regarding lifestyle.
Unless these questions by somebody who lives under one roof with a reckless kidult or sponsors their pleasures, they are also out of place. Each human has the right to pursue happiness their own way, as long as they do not hurt nor harm others. A better way is to persuade such people to change their ways by cutting them off money or force them to become self-supporting.

When will you get a pay rise? When will you get promoted? When will you lose some weight? When will you learn (something)? And all questions pertaining to stuff that might be beyond one’s control.
What one achieves in life is a combinations of one’s ambitions, hard work, determination, but also circumstances, opportunities and skills. The three latter factors might not be dependent on an individual, since someone might lack inborn talents. Sometimes the price to pay for something might be too high. A good piece of advice seems to be to think twice whether when one being asked the question is the only one who holds his fate in his hands.

The autonomy of an individual is the value we should all cherish and stand up for. Silly or importunate questions only undermine it (but will not break it). I believe another human’s autonomy or freedom should be the main limit of one’s choices, although mature humans take heed of circumstances and other people’s feelings when they decide how to arrange their lives.

The next post is due in early February. Next weekend I am heading to the south-western edge of Europe to take a break from the winter!

Sunday, 8 January 2017

On a young man’s departure

Not the best start into 2017. On Monday I learnt from we ex-workmates from The Employer our colleague Krzysiek had passed away aged 31 on New Year’s Eve, thus eventually losing a half-year battle against cancer.

I first met Krzysiek in early 2011 when I joined The Employer as a full-time analyst. He had worked there for some three years and despite being only 25 had been promoted twice by then. As a definitely talented up-and-coming relationship manager, he was entrusted taking charge of the most promising prospective accounts.

He has not let down senior managers who had put a lot of faith and trust in his skills. In 2012 thanks to his determination, patience and negotiation skills he won the biggest deals in the history of The Employer. I was proud to participate in this success as I handled those clients on analytical coverage side. Though our styles or work differed and personally we were not on the same wavelength, we were always able to overcome different approaches to many issues and teamed up to pursue common goals. Our professional ties loosened up in late 2013 when The Employer decided to give up on the biggest accounts and part of business winding-down strategy. Since mid-2014 when I left The Employer we talked twice or maybe three times when we ran across each other in town.

Around the end of summer holidays I was told Krzysiek had been fighting brutal cancer for a few weeks and that the disease was ruthlessly spreading across his body. He went on a sick leave in September and was admitted to a hospice in November.

Farewell mass was administered on Wednesday in Warsaw and urn with Krzysiek’s ashes was buried on Thursday in his hometown. The very farewell, including priest’s sermon was touching and poignant. I counted around 300 people inside the church, including family, neighbours and friends from his hometown, schoolmates, fellow football fans, workmates and even CFOs of companies he had had relationships with.

Oddly enough, several people with whom he had worked until his last days in the office, did not turn up at the church. Sadly, no one from my team did not participate in the farewell as well, though they had worked with Krzysiek longer than me.

This sad event was a heart-rending reminder how fragile human life is. A year ago Krzysiek was a healthy young man with future wide open ahead of him. I would depart from the truth if I told Krzysiek had been my friend, he had been my workmate, yet his departure is a milestone in my life, as this is the first decease of somebody of my age I knew well. Until last days, in my narrow perception death would strike only people far older than me.

Besides my previous workplace is falling apart. The Employer, taken over by its competitor last year, is now seeing its workforce decimated. Several people with who I worked and whom I owe a lot have been laid off or are likely to be given the sack by the end of January.

But as it turns out again, every cloud has a silver lining. Had it not been for the farewell, I would not have met several people I had not seen for months. The sad gathering proved to be an occasion to renew old comradeships. Yesterday, despite the middle of the long weekend, we met up, not to foster memory of Krzysiek but to talk over what was going on in our lives.

With such starting point, I suppose things I poised to get only better.