Sunday, 16 December 2018

Unluck, fate, inattention, thoughtlessness or something else

Thursday, 13 December. Knocked off and left the office much earlier to make up for doing overtime and to foster not entirely private, not entirely business relationships, i.e. to hand Christmas keepsakes to some people whose helping hand come in useful. The last place I was about to visit was Renault garage in Konstancin. The car refuses to break down and pays back for taking care of it, but in case of unexpected defect a cordial garage manager might come with aid. Was a quarter past three or so, I drove down ul. Drewny towards Konstancin.

The sight of brake lights and then emergency lights ahead of me were a kind of alarming. A queue of cars came in a standstill before a pedestrian crossing. I walked out, to disgruntlement of other drivers, sitting in their cars, who deluded the road would get unclogged quickly and my vehicle would block the road. I expected to see a minor rear-ending rather than sight of a woman and two children run over by a passenger car, a scene I would wish nobody to witness.

It turned out among drivers who had stopped by there were two doctors and people better than me trained in first aid who looked after victims of the accident. After being assured the injured had been taken care of and the ambulance and the police had been called in, I made away from the terrific scene. I sincerely own up to feeling like passing out at the sight of blood or mangled human body and though the obligation rescue a fellow man is stronger than anything else, I prefer to leave handling such accidents to people who are better prepared to do it.

The scene laid bare a full array of patterns of human behaviours in such situations. Reassuringly, there always are ones who stop over and help, but several selfish traits come to the light even when badly injured accident victims are a few steps away. Firstly, sensation-chasing – I would not dare and find it inappropriate to take photos or shoot films in such situations. Secondly, impatience – standing face to face with an accident in which there could have been fatalities is a sufficient reason to get you out of rush, while several drivers’ biggest worry was how to pass the scene by and carry on with their rush.

The police are looking for eye witnesses of the accident – meaning drivers of cars whose brake light I saw had not even bothered to stay at the scene and talk to the police which is crucial to find out what circumstances of the accident were, especially whether the driver was speeding.

Sadly, the debate between commentators at TVN Warszawa’s forums turned into a squabble between defenders of the motorised and of pedestrians. I don’t know who is guilty of this accident, but as a pedestrian, as a cyclist and as a driver I realise all traffic participants exhibit too little attention, predict too little, fail to stick to the rule of limited trust to other traffic participants. As a driver, I realise pedestrians and cyclists are weaker, less predictable and less responsible road users, therefore I am to think on their behalf as well and predict when and where they might appear out of the blue on the road. As a cyclist, I prefer to use public roads as rarely as possible and use cycling paths, pavements and roadsides, even if bumpy and I realise despite much stride made, there is too little respect for cyclists and too much enmity towards them. As a pedestrian, I still feel inferior to vehicles, a stance I had been taught at home and at school and watch out twice before crossing a road, especially if I realise a driver might not see me. As a fan of eco-driving, I also prefer to wait until cars move by, as each braking and acceleration consumes fuel and causes fumes emission…

The very experience of missing being an eye witness of the dreadful accident by one cycle of traffic lights on a preceding intersection also reminded me we constantly live on the edge and a bit of luck, stroke of fate or some other factors might decide whether we live, die or our lives change forever, as the life of driver who ran over the pedestrians will never be the same, regardless of charges he faces. The frightful event has also reminded me to be grateful for basic things: being in good health, with clear conscience and not being stricken by a sternly distressing life event.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Remont – some half way into?

Time to catch up with the first proper photo coverage since construction works kicked off for good. The crew of two builders (uncle and nephew) is diligent and solid, however at the expense of pace. On the other hand, a delay of a few weeks is worth enduring if it saves troubles caused by glitches in the future.

In the kitchen wall and floor tiles have been laid, yet crevices between them have not been filled with joint (the task is quite arduous and time-consuming if to be done properly). Walls and ceiling have been somewhat flattened with gypsum, but the work is not yet completed (green paint still visible). Next Saturday a kitchen-furniture-maker is coming over to take measurements and prepare a visualisation.

In the hall the scope of works is similar to what has been done in the kitchen. The carpenter who will put in wardrobes in the hall and in the bedroom might take measurements once floor panels in the bedroom are laid, which stands no chance to happen this year.

In the bathroom walls had to flattened with kilograms of mortar (why had I thought this blocks of flats had been built so solidly), or rather layers of it. No plumbing works done yet, accumulated stuff has been waiting its turn for two months.

In the toilet the makeshift toilet bowl might not necessarily be replaced by a new one (and this is positive, as the new one is not exposure to the entire construction site dirt and mess) this year. The toilet and the bathroom will be the most man-hour-consuming spaces in the flat.

The living room and the bedroom serve as storage areas. Walls have been flattened with gypsum, but only partly. Today I spent around three yours tidying up the flat (the crew is
generally precise and reliable, but in terms of keeping the place clean they could do with some more respect to what they already have done!),
such activity will be a part of almost each weekend by late January. The Christmas tide ahead does not help see the end of the remont, since the builders will most probably take a two-week break and return to the flat (having sobered up) after 6 January.

Far from the home straight, but not losing faith.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Wrzeciono – I won’t be missing it

Moved out of the rented flat on Thursday (could not wait under the last day of my tenure since I had to take a business to trip to Szczecin, reluctantly). To be fair with the landlord, I had informed her I would move out shortly after buying the flat and despite the delay with the remont (though recent impressive progress of works is beyond my expectations, to which I shall dedicate a post next Sunday) I have kept the promise (had no choice since I had found another tenant to make up for the inconvenience I had caused) and moved to my parents’ house for some two months.

If I were to draw up a list advantages my place of residence over the past four months, it would contain three: good transport link with the city centre (35 minutes door-do-door journey to the office was the shortest daily commute in my life), functionality of the very dwelling and price-to-quality trade-off.

Besides, as the landlord came to take over the flat and return the cash bail to me, she confessed she had detested the place and could not have waited to move out of there. The place is certainly depressing. Ursynów on a grey late-November afternoon would sooner lift my spirit than Wrzeciono on a late-spring sunny morning. After residing there for a while I am glad I finally have not purchased a flat in Bielany and opted for Ursynów. At least the dwelling I have bought gives off loads of positive energy and I feel is a place I can call home. In the rented flat in Wrzeciono I felt like in a hotel (probably circumstances which had thrown me there were to blame as well); something was amiss about the place, some barrier I was unable to overcome.

After settling down (the phrasal verb acutally misused) in Wrzeciono I was quite curious to learn more about the history of the district. Back in the 1960 the former fields of Młociny airport were adapted to build a huge estate of tower blocks to workers of the nearby ironworks, Huta Warszawa. The new inhabitants hailed from provincial Poland and resettlement to a dwelling with electricity, running water, gas oven and central heating was an enormous leap forward in terms of standard of living, outshining all drawbacks of flats in Wrzeciono, especially their size (studios of 18 or 24 sqm, one-bedrooms of 37 sqm or two-bedrooms of 49 sqm), lack of balconies, crampy kitchens located in excesses next to front doors.

In 1990s after Huta Warszawa went bust, the place became a hotbed of pathologies and criminality where a decent man would not turn up except for broad daylight. In 2000 the neighbourhood began to get civilised. Representatives of the vilest pathology have either ended up behind bars, boozed themselves to death or died down, several new blocks of flats were built, new residents mixed up with older ones. The city and district authorities have also made a tremendous effort to improve safety in the area and revitalise the grey, old blocks. Still Wrzeciono has the notorious zone of ul. Dorycka (though the area looks out better and better year by year) where venturing even in broad daylight is not a pleasure, but I generally felt safe, even when returning to the dwelling late in the evening or at night.

Maybe living under one roof with my parents to which I have grown disaccustomed is not a dreamt-up scenario, but somewhat preferable to living in the depressing Wrzeciono. Oddly enough, property prices do not reflect general ugliness of the area. Proximity to the underground stations (my walk to Metro Wawrzyszew each morning took me six minutes) and popularity of the relatively cheap flats among tenants have driven flat prices up. Six years ago, when property market hit its 10-year trough, one could easily find a bargain by buying a (run-down) flat for less than PLN 6,000 per sqm. Today a flat in need of comprehensive refurbishment would trade for PLN 2,000 more per sqm, while thoroughly renovated flats have asking prices nearing five digits per sqm. Decently fit-out studios (offering monthly after tax income of ca. PLN 1,000 – 1,200) are priced between PLN 200,000 and 250,000 which translate into net-of-tax (but pre-CAPEX) yield of more than 5%, which somewhat justifies the absurdly high prices.

And to conclude, I believe interest rates should have been jacked up long ago while the benchmark rate ought to run two percentage points above inflation, i.e. at around 4.00% currently.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Blek srajdej

Why do we, Poles, have to embrace every single idiocy devised by the American capitalism? To quote Leo, for money! There is no better way to induce a slow-witted consumer to spend their money on stuff they (usually) don’t actually need than persuading them they are buying at bargain prices.

Black Friday (hailing from the USA, where it falls right after the Thanksgiving) is rather a novelty in Poland, as a decade ago, or even five years ago if it was celebrated, then by few. In 2018 blek srajdej is all the rage. Upshot: shopping malls chock full of people and online distributors’ websites crashing. I have witnessed stories of people taking a day off to indulge in bargain-hunting shopping and got infuriated by workmates collectively hunting bargains online in the office while I tried to focus on work.

A thrifty consumer with a head screwed-in can easily grow sick of advertisements of countless discounts and sales assaulting them from all angles that make them want to puke, but not make them give in.

The best one can do not to get carried away by the craze is to think what you actually need. I need rest, therefore I had decided to shun shops on Friday. Had done the little shopping in a discount shop on Thursday evening and ate a self-cooked lunch in the office on Friday. On Friday not a single grosz fled my wallet, nor my bank account, nor my credit card. Such was my uncanny way of celebrating the blek srajdej.

To be fair, yesterday I purchased lighting to my flat at bargain prices (and have not found crowds at the shop) and today I am heading to DIY supermarket to buy some kitchen equipment at bargain prices. My excuse is that I need that stuff, not go shopping for kicks.

The trade ban on Sundays has laid bare how badly Poles are addicted to shopping and to what disturbing extent they treat it as pastime activity. While I treat a trip to a shop as a task (go, buy, tick off), most people go there for pleasure to pass time and waste money. This looks like a perfect starting point to a rant on virtues of protestant work ethics whose contradiction is the today’s debt-financed thoughtless consumerism, reaching its peak in pre-Christmas period. Even if indeed it is perfect, I am giving it a rest for a while. Short of time again, but remont moving on – will post some pictures in a week or two.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Recordings for the record

SLD government in the first half of 2000s was sent under by the Rywin scandal. First PiS government was sent under by the arable-land corruption scandal leakage. The PO-PSL government began to fall apart after conversations of prominent politicians of the party, eavesdropped in a restaurant were published.

The joy of anti-PiSites that the unfolding KNF scandal with help overthrow the current PiS government is premature. Firstly, we still know too little about the story. Secondly, the government acts firmly and calmly (with some ludicrous exceptions) tackling the scandal (i.e. those who have no chance to be defended stand down, others where nothing can be proven at this stage, refute accusations). Thirdly, the circumstances of revealing  the scandal (why have they waited for more than half a year) and persons behind it (Leszek Czarnecki, not being crystal-clear businessman, nor his businesses and Roman Giertych, formerly a prime minister in first PiS government, since some five years, the chief barrister of the prominent no-PiS politicians) have all makings of a straightforward political game (this is it).

To assess political impact, find out what an average citizen who knows little about finance understands of it. An average Pole his little grasp of how banks are supervised, what the mechanism of bank bail-out is, why banks go to the wall, etc. They understand two basis threads: “fix up my crony with a job and pay 40 million and we’ll get off your back”. Voters have allergy with bribery and nepotism, the former being combatted by PiS, the latter being nurtured.

Commentators get outraged or excited by the notion of a bank being taken over for a single zloty. The world of finances has seen such transactions, such as Barings bank being taken over by ING for one pound, or Banco Popular being taken over by Banco Santander for one euro. Such deals were co-ordinated by central banks and regulators for the sake of financial stability. The difference is must be underlined is that all aforementioned banks bought for a single currency unit had gone insolvent on their own. In KNF scandal, PiS wanted to use financial supervision authorities to drive Czarnecki’s banks (not actually heathly, but not yet under water) to bankruptcy and nationalise them (in other instances private capital had to aid).

The very outbreak of the scandal has already taken its toll at Getin Bank and Idea Bank. Both institutions raised the pricing of deposits offered to clients, to around 200 basis points above interbank market rates. This indicates the banks struggle to stem the outflows of deposits (and remind on their webpages with capital letters that deposits are insured under Bank Guarantee Fund) and I would to be surprised to see a run on Getin and Idea. If this happens, deposit withdrawals can be suspended and Czarnecki might be forced to file for insolvency of his banking businesses. If he goes under water, the question is who else he drags down.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

The Independence Day musings

Last Sunday PiS was given a marvellous beating in the run-off of mayoral elections. The party’s candidates were turned down in nearly all cities, including strongholds of Kaczynski’s grouping such as Radom or Podkarpackie province. With Chelm (63 thousand residents) being the largest city where elected mayor hails from PiS, the ruling party has seen a middle finger showed by non-rural electorate. In provincial Poland, the party keeps faring well though.

Tomorrow is a bank holiday. Formally enacted three working days in advance, plunging into chaos most entities whose workings are not based on spontaneity. An additional day off was put forward and passed into law by lawmakers and their notary who have little notion about how real life functions and definitely have never had insight into how difficult running an enterprise is. This unwanted gift, being a blatant violation of basic rules governing legislative process in a civilised country where a government is a predictable lawmakers, comes in useful especially for those willing to get tanked up today evening and cure hangover tomorrow (pardon, celebrate the Independence Day in dignity). My workload is not going to diminish because of the additional day off, but delay in my remont (slowly moving forward) will be one day longer and I will have to stay overtime to make up for the time lost tomorrow (hopefully the weather gets clement). Those far worse off are the ones who had doctor appointments or court hearings scheduled for tomorrow and will have to wait several months for another ones. Everyone had known in advance 11 November would fall on Sunday in 2018, the additional day off could have been decided several months ago, our economy would have afforded an extra day, but would have been spared the accompanying chaos.

The bank holiday was not the only part of celebrations organised at eleventh hour. On Wednesday, as the mayor of Warsaw banned (ineffectively, but respect to court ruling is overriding virtue) the nationalists’ march, president Duda and prime minister Morawiecki staged their own one. The upshot was that the government had to negotiate a common event with the far-right organisations. In practice, though formally there was only on march, it got split up into politicians of PiS marching peacefully at the front, and a whole lot biggest group of neo-fascists (and ordinary citizens) chasing them (shortly after 4 p.m. prominent politicians made away from the scene in their limousines). The nationalists, predictably duped the government, as the march was meant to be devoid of several symbols which were visible. The good thing is that riots did not break up and acts of vandalism were sparse, if any.

My own perception and pursuit of patriotism do not square with flag waving. I define patriotism as paying taxes, not throwing rubbish anywhere else but to bins, looking after common property, observance of law, respect for fellow men, small deeds which make a community’s life more comfortable.

Actually such shameful outcome of Independence Day celebrations is astonishing given how pompous in terms of patriotism the ruling party is. The upside of the disgrace is that with every next misstep, with every little piece their screw up, the number of mobilised opponents of the party grows. In less than a year, the government of PiS might be a memory (though at the moment the most realistic scenario is PiS winning, but lacking absolute majority and bound to eat up its coalitional partner or buy off single deputies from other parties), yet this is too little to be cheerful. Even if the oppositional parties get their act together or rather the ruling party continues with its string of failures, victory of Koalicja Obywatelska is not enough. Firstly, the winners must not fall out over the power sharing. Secondly, they must come up with a comprehensive plan how to mend what has been spoilt by PiS since 2015. Thirdly, several millions Poles being avid believers of Kaczynski still live in this country and this is their homeland as well, no matter how horrific their mindset for non-PiSites is. Few reasons for joy, several reasons to pull up sleeves, lots of work lies ahead.