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.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

All is quiet on New Year’s Day

Not at my best today ;-) so will try keep my message short, yet not necessarily simple.

Year-end days are a time of compiling summaries; beginning of a new year is the time of making resolutions. I am not fond of neither of the turn-of-year activities. The former stands no chance of turning back time and erasing unfortunate past events; the latter sooner or later brings about frustration, since most promises made to oneself are not kept.

If I am to make a summary, 2016 was a year of breaking points.

The first one was rethinking my relationships with people before and after writing this post. I kept the record of mess in my head for posterity nearly in the eve of running across someone else’s wife and mother of two little girls, not fully satisfied with her marriage. We fell for each other instantly, but after a few months (when I think I’ve grown mature) I decided to terminate this dead-end arrangement…

Besides, I realised my job, though brings me self-fulfilment, is dead-end in terms of prospects of promotion, relocation and pay rise). Today my approach to what the New Factory offers me is even more pessimistic than three months ago and if I am to fend-off burning frustration, a change in 2017 seems inevitable.

If you still wish to do some exercise, take the trouble to indulge in what I have encouraged my friends to do in the last days of 2016. Recall what compliment you were most often paid in 2016 and which one pandered you the most. This should speak volumes about what you are good at and what you can develop.

Time for a set of wishes for 2017!

No human is perfect, but each human exhibits strengths and weaknesses. A human who strives (not obsessively) for perfection will realise and make good use of the former and fight, but not necessarily hide the latter.

The only pain is to feel nothing at all. Hollow life is the worst that can happen, I would rather wish you some painful experiences than uneventful, repeatable days. May 2017 be an eventful year! I believe the balance of good and bad luck in the universe is retained, so whenever cruel fate puts you to a test, lots of good people will come around, lend a helping hand and show they care. That’s at least what I observed in 2016 and what has filled me with faith in brighter tomorrow.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Christmas alphabet

A for Autumn. Christmases, or precisely 24th and 25th days of December tend to be winterless in Warsaw. The last Christmas with both snow lingering on the ground and temperature below zero was recorded in Warsaw in 2002!

B for Budgets. The fourth quarters of each year are a period when everyone chases targets to be met by year-end to ensure bonuses paid around February or March are generous. This means November and December are a crazy period, involving frequent staying overtime and daylight cherished during weekends only.

C for Cleaning up. Pre-Christmas annual cleaning is a ritual in many Polish houses. My advice – if you keep your dwelling clean and tidy over the year you won’t end up battling with dust, grime and dirt when festive season draws near.

D for Divide lines. In terms of approach to what is going on in politics, Poles are today probably most divided since regaining sovereignty in 1989. The divide lines run often in the family, therefore it takes good manners and tolerance to shelve current politics while dining at the Christmas table

E for Expectations. The lower you have them, the less likely reality is to fall short of them. Don’t expect your Christmas to be perfect. Too many people would need to act ideally, while you lack control over their behaviour. Let things drift, enjoy what brings you joy and have patience to cope with what you can’t change.

F for Family. While over the year you can choose who to spend your free time with, Christmas is the period customarily spent with relatives. Sadly, this is also the first Christmas I am spending with my parents only (my father and I visited my grandfather yesterday for an hour) and family relationships are unlikely to improve.

G for Gifts. I favour small gifts to lavish spending. Gift-giving is a tradition to be nurtured, not something meant to make up for absence of a donor in a bestowed person’s life.

H for Haste. Run-up to Yuletide is a period of rush, observable at work, in shopping malls, on roads. This rush makes people forget Christmas should not be a season, it should be a feeling.

I for Illuminations. It’s not a coincidence Christmas falls just after the winter solstice. Regardless of religion-related backdrop, people on the northern hemisphere must have found a way to light up the world when darkness takes over.

J for Juvenile years. Everyone sees how happy children are when Christmas draws near. I also used to be fond of Yuletide, then I’ve grown out of it, yet I sometimes miss my festive mindset and heartfelt joy filling me in December.

K for Kevin. Home Alone. The cult film is broadcasted customarily on TV each Christmas Eve at 8:00 p.m. I’ve seen it so many times that watching it yet another time is no fun for me.

L for Loneliness. On Christmas you shouldn’t forget there are millions of people who spend these days on their own. If we are lucky not to be one of them, appreciate what we have. Some of us though fear one year we might have nobody to spend Christmas with.

M for Miles. Two thousand miles, my favourite Christmas song, by Pretenders. Though recorded 33 years ago, will remain timeless. Hearing it in the radio is a rarity, since it falls out of line with merry sets of Christmas songs.

N for Nights. There’s nothing unusual about nights around Christmas, except for their upper-most length and diverse ways they can be spent: partying, working, celebrating birth of the Baby, sleeping off the former.

O for Opłatek (Christmas wafer). What Poles traditionally break before sitting at the Christmas Eve dinner. An indispensable element of family meetings, however no longer present in offices where Christmas celebrations have currently totally secular character.

P for Partying. Christmas parties, organised typically in the first half of December not to disrupt preparations to Christmas in the very run-up to them, have little to do with Christmas. Just another occasion to drink, socialise and hit the dancefloor.

Q for Quarrels. Where family members meet and everyone has their vision on how the celebrations should look like, toning down emotions is essential to avoid verbal clashes.

R for Rest. What Christmas days should be about; a moment of respite. Quite frequently they become a period of intense travels, stressful meetings and other events which necessitate rest after Christmas.

S for Shopping. Buying gifts and food produces has become the real craze. It gets the worst on the very Christmas Eve afternoon when scores of people still pop over to shops, showing no empathy to shop workers whose comeback to their families is delayed by consumers attempting to come by some stuff when the time is no longer right.

T for Tree, Christmas Tree. Never had a natural one, never felt the scent of conifer at home. Now they say an artificial tree is less ecological and indeed, a genuine tree can be planted to a garden or burnt in a furnace, while a plastic one decomposes for four hundred years.

U for Usury. The shopping craze and desire to spend Christmas lavishly drives people to throats of loan sharks. Debt-financed celebration turns out quite expensive with hindsight and I believe is not worth paying the price.

V for Video tapes. As a child I recorded several films from TV on my VHS Video Cassette Recorder (first communion gift) and then watched other during Yuletide breaks. In 2013 the cassettes and the VCR changed hands, while watching TV is no attraction to me…

W for Wishes. With time your circle of friends gets narrower and you appreciate quality not quantity of friendships. The same applies to wishes. If I am to wish someone a peaceful Christmas, I do it face to face or make a phone call. Wishes to be sincere need to be personal. I still receive Christmas SMS’es or e-mails with wishes appearing to be sent out to all contacts from the phone book or the mailing list, or idiotic rhymes (Karpia bez ości / Dużo miłości / Prezentów po pachy / Smacznej Kiełbachy). Each such message I reciprocate with a dedicated polite, but short wishes, written personally to a sender.

Y for Year-end. When I was a student, days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve were the most depressing time of year. As a full-time worker I find my hideout for those days at work and since except for last year they are not very busy, I hang around with people a lot and socialising brightens up those days when everything comes to a standstill.

Z for Zest for life. Something I wish on my readers and myself for the coming year!

Sunday, 18 December 2016

The Luck Factor – book review

Read from cover to cover the book which came into my hands as an unbidden borrowing from a friend. I tend to be sceptical towards all sorts of happiness guides, coaching, personal development and other forms of inducing and teaching people to change their ways to let them become happier. The Luck Factor might fall into the category of guides, yet by no means it is pushy. The author who shares results of his many-years’ (scientific) work attempts to persuade readers while they’re chasing their luck what they get from the world is a reciprocation of what they give to the world.

The first impression I had while going through the first chapter was that the book could not have been written by a Pole. A beneficiary of good luck, as the author asserts, is generally trustful to the world and other people. Poles whose mistrust is strongly embedded in the process of upbringing are definitely not given a head start in the pursuit of happiness, which appears easier in an open, friendly, inter-connected culture, rather than when one functions in an atomised society. On the other hand, the Anglo-saxon culture, which prohibits grumbling and appreciates a grim on one’s face no matter what happens has a built-in insincerity, good for superficial business relationships, not necessarily apposite for building candid friendships.

The saying (hey, who’s come up with this, as when I googled the phrase the only outcome was from my own blog?) Luck is an opportunity not missed best summarises the purport of the book. Life, as Mr Wiseman points out, is a string of opportunities, created by people, situations, often being coincidences. What humans can do in a pursuit of good luck is to:
1/ maximise the number of opportunities,
2/ discern opportunities as the appear on their way,
3/ make best use of them.

So although sometimes the only explanation of a course of events is that it has all been written in the stars, control over overwhelming majority of situations which might have impact on our lives stays in our hands. To illustrate it with an example, look back on my adventure from June this year.
1/ It happened to me because I attended a conference – the more social events you take part in, the more people you meet, the more opportunities appear on your way.
2/ It is debatable whether I recognised the opportunity since I did not notice the woman with a suitcase, but as she approached me, the opportunity was just ahead of me.
3/ I have not made the possibly best use of it, since in a rush I didn’t take my business card, had no piece of paper to write my phone number on and thought it would have been inappropriate to ask the woman for a phone number. Of course, had I done all this right, there was no guarantee I would have met for example me future wife. Actually, odds I would have done it were negligibly low in this one situation, but with frequent exposure to such situations chances of meeting somebody I would spend the rest of my life increase.

This regularity pertains to all realms of life, not just romantic relationships. In simple words, the more occasions to search you create, the more likely you are to find!

The Luck Factor contains several other foregone conclusions; none of them is ground-breaking, but they seem to deserve to be reminded.

You won’t fool nor get around maths. An experiment in which groups people who considered themselves lucky and ill-fated bought lottery tickets proved the former had the same probability of winning.

Optimism and pessimism in life underpin self-fulfilling prophecy mechanism. If you believe you will make it, you recognise factors and circumstances conducive to the positive outcome. Conversely, if you are convinced you won’t make, you seek out things that might go wrong and they come into the foreground.

Lucky people are open to new experiences and fear of rejection does not keep them company. Or actually they overcome the natural fear of rejection. Being turned away more or less often is an indispensable element of relationships and life, but since the law of large numbers holds true, the more attempts you make, the less likely to be rejected all the time you are.

Intuition probably has higher utility than common sense. As research by Mr Wiseman shows, everyone is bestowed with intuition, but bad-luck-ridden fellows rarely listen to their intuition and disregard whispers of it. I would add intuition is somehow related to experience we garner over our lifetime. The more people we meet, the more complex our interactions with them are, the more choice we have make, the richer our intuition grows.

Lucky guys do not push their luck, as this is the shortest path towards losing it. Drivers who have considered themselves lucky not to have an accident pledged to have avoided accidents thanks to their prudence, caution and not playing with fire. Never take your luck for granted, foster it if you want it to keep you company!

Beware reader! Luck ought not to be mistaken for happiness (in Polish both terms translate as szczęście). The two not necessarily go together. The former might exist without the latter, the other way round, though hardly imaginable, is also possible. Happiness is about expectations – if you expect little (but not too little) you are more likely to be happy with what you have!

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Pitbull. Niebezpieczne kobiety – film review

Went yesterday to nearby cinema to do myself a birthday treat, or in other words a debraining experience I yearned for after the recent heartquake.

The film is a sequel of Pitbull. Nowe Porządki which went to the silver screen in January 2016 and which I admit to have watched it less than two months ago on YT (legally as I was not sharing the content), prompted by a friend. The case of Pitbull. Niebezpieczne kobiety is a rare example of a sequel beating the original story. Nevertheless, you should not expect much from the film directed by Patryk Vega, whose moving pictures have never been favourably reviewed by critics, but have wide audience who fancy the job he does.

The film could boast of record-high audience over the weekend it premiered. Over the first three days on big screen it was watched by 768 thousand cinema-visitors, until now the audience count reached 2.4 million. Over the first two weeks cinema rooms were reported to be chock full of people, a phenomenon I have not witnessed for ages. Even while watching Wołyń the weekend it premiered, though there were more than 100 people in the auditorium, by no means crowds were pushing in.

According to critics and anonymous authors of online reviews, the plot is the film’s weakest point. I would argue given the theme of the blockbuster there was little room to get a better effect and I notice improvement in comparison to Pitbull. Nowe porządki. Nevertheless I share many watchers’ view the plot is hard to follow and you need to read a lot between the lines to make out why some scenes come after others.

So you might wonder what drew in millions of Poles to cinemas to see this very film. I suppose the response is that Poles are fond of a fine blend of dirt. The ingredients are: coarse sex scenes (sometimes resembling porn films), foul language and violence in abundance. Besides when the plot is set around the thin line dividing the forces of good (police) and evil (mobsters trading in fuel and wheedling out VAT refunds). The film is claimed to be inspired by actual stories, but I resist to even wonder whether meanderings of life of criminals and policemen chasing them have been depicted accurately.

The blockbuster, slated by many, yet watched by many, many more is not an outstanding piece of film art. It stands no chance of going down in the history of Polish cinematography, as Psy have done. Quotes from it, though funny and at times bright and quaint are unlikely to become cult. But if are at a loose end around Christmas and not expect an ambitious film, two and a half hours (including advertisements before) spent in a cinema will not be a waste of time.

Actually for many years I had not been fond of film-watching. For no apparent reason my attitude towards trips to a cinema has changed recently. Sitting in cosy chair in a dark room for some two hours takes you cuts you off from the imperfect outer world and lets you submerge in a totally different reality. After a series of trailers watched yesterday I know which two Polish films I will definitely watch in the first quarter of 2017.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

The Ninth Commandment*

Do you remember when we first met? An evening dinner after a workshop, hundreds of kilometres away from Warsaw. You drank red wine, I drank vodka. I did not notice a ring on any of your fingers, so I began flirting with you. You said you were married and giggled, but I carried on.

This was what chemistry is like. You don’t need to think what to say, what move to make, what step to take. You know what you should do and the other one also knows. You don’t even notice when everything falls into place.

Yes, I fell for you. We met when I yearned for a soulmate, yearned for a friend, when I felt let down by lukewarm people around me. You showed interest, you cared, you understood me what I wanted to say even if I did not open my mouth. You fostered the bond between us from the very beginning.

I got scared when after two weeks you called us friends and grabbed my hand. We barely knew each other while after I, having been hurt several times in life, will think several times before I call anyone a friend while you did it at ease.

You accepted me the way I was, with all my good traits and shortcomings. I didn’t even try to pretend to be someone better. I appreciated that and offered the same to you.

Though we have lived hundreds kilometres from each other and met only when opportunities arose, we talked and wrote to each other several times a day. I felt guilty of taking away mother from you little daughters whose photos you showed me so many times.

I have never wanted to break up a family or build happiness on someone else’s suffering, especially at your daughters’ expense. I have never expected you to quit your husband, I have never hoped you did it.

So many times you told me what your husband was like. I infer he loves you to bits and what has he gotten in return?

Have you told your husband about me? Frankly speaking, I don’t care. Your marriage, your business. I hold dear autonomy, but I wouldn’t like my girlfriend or wife to have such close someone as I used to be to you.

Do you remember when I told you when my parents passed away, there would be a risk I might have nobody to spend Christmas with? You invited me over to your house, while I asked if your husband knew. You turned my question into a joke and said “yes, provided you dress up as a Santa Claus”.

The day you had a surgery and called me right after that to moan out you were alright. Had you talked to your husband before that?

Intimacy has two dimensions, emotional and physical. On top, each dimension several degrees. The top ones should have been reserved for your husband.

You could tell me I was accepting terms of that unwritten contract between us and the initiative was on my side too. You surely wonder what prompted me to change me mind. Quite recently I told somebody the story of us and when I put all events together, the picture of us which emerged was unbearably ghastly. As it turns out, I needed to put in words to realise what I’d been into…

Yes, I have cut you off. I knew I would do it when we last met. I apologise for not picking up the phone and not replying to messages for three days. I lacked courage to tell it openly to you. When I finally called you back I said I needed to take a break from you. You hang up but I wonder whether you think I’ve had enough of your problems or the whole of us.

I’ve been running out of power to carry your burdens. I am emotionally exhausted.

Does it hurt? Officially not. Over the recent weeks my role was giving, your role was taking. If I am to be sincere, it does hurt. It’s gone too far to pass me by painlessly. But hadn’t I quit, I would hurt much more before long.

No, I haven’t fallen in love, fortunately.

Yes, I am selfish, I want a normal relationship, not dead-end tease and denial, not an endless string of emotional swings. I quit not only for myself, but to keep your family together. I will be missing you for a while but the longing will wane.

Some time ago you asked me how to carry on without me. It's simple - same way as you’d carried on before we met.

You want me to find a girlfriend, while with you around I can’t be true to any woman. If you want me to be happy just leave ma alone.

Dear reader! I am a sinner, I don’t want your sympathy, but deep down I hope you won’t condemn me (especially because before publishing in a surge of auto-censorship I have shortened the post). I longed for a soulmate too much, it took me a while to realise I was waddling in a mire.

You can’t have a cake and eat it…

* According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Thou shalt not covet neighbour's wife might also be a part of the tenth commandment

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Who takes the strain?

The more frequently I travel in business, the less exciting I find it. Trips taken as part of my duties, an inevitable element of my job, come as a scourge even if I happen to visit a new place or drop in on a long unseen but likable one.

This week was particularly wearisome. As I had to take three business trips on three consecutive days. The prospect had been ghastly from the day I had learnt the New Factory had nearly run out of the (tight anyway) travel budget for 2016, so sleeping in hotels along the way would have broken the bank… Literally…

On Tuesday I drove to Poznan to take part in a workshop. After looking at the train timetable and how far out destination was from the train station, I had chosen to go by car. Given there were three of us, the choice was also economically justified – cost of my mileage allowance (covering also motorway tolls and parking charges) was over 150 PLN lower than cost of three second-class return train tickets, not to mention two taxi rides in Poznan. Woke up at four a.m. to pick up my two colleagues from Warsaw at half past five and to make it to outskirts of Poznan before nine a.m. The workshop finished at four in the afternoon. The drive to Warsaw, including stopover at the petrol station in Poznan, took three hours. Choosing the car had the big advantage to all of us – we were nearly three hours earlier at homes (we would not make it to catch the 16:34 Intercity service from Poznan, while for the next at 18:40 (arriving to Warsaw at 21:15) we would have had to wait for nearly two hours at the station or around. The (not brand-)new car has now over 1,000 kilometres higher mileage than when I took it over two weeks ago. I was only negatively surprised by fuel consumption – more than 10 litres per 100 kilometres on average on a motorway… I expected the smaller engine with sixth gear to be more economical…

On Wednesday I let the train take the strain. Woke up at quarter past four to catch the 6:40 a.m. Pendolino to Gdansk to a conference. I travelled on my own, so this choice was more economical and practical, since in the train, using my smartphone as wi-fi router, I caught up with work (at least handled all e-mail from the previous day and delegated some stuff to an intern). I don’t know how PKP IC has fixed it, but currently there are nearly no problems with mobile internet coverage aboard. Besides, journey duration of less than 2 hours 50 minutes on a 372 kilometres route is impressive. To compare it with driving you would need to add time necessary to get to a station some time ahead of train departure and from a station to your destination (door-to-door), yet in the meantime you can have a rest, read a book or work!

On my way back from a conference venue to the train station, I strolled along Długi Targ, part of Gdansk old town. The day was chilly (+3C) and foggy, dusk was nearing. Few locals and tourists roamed around. In the distance, Neptun’s fountain, a landmark in that part of the city.

Closer to the station and looking in the opposite direction. More lights ere on, fog lingers lower and swathed the church tower. The place had its charm, yet the weather was not conducive to sightseeing. Indeed one should work harder in this dark and gloomy period of year and enjoy more time outdoors from April to September.

Approaching the train station, as the file date suggests, it was around four p.m. The street was jammed, unlike in western Poznan a day earlier, where I covered the distance of 6 kilometres between Komorniki junction and the destination in fifteen minutes both in the morning and in the afternoon.

At the woe-fully organised conference (the event was free-of-charge, therefore it was a promotional show of dobra zmiana and commercial sponsors) I learnt over 66 billion zloty is to be spent on modernisation and development or railway routes by 2023, so in the coming years, especially in 2019 and 2020 we should expect investment boom on railways and… lengthened journey times. Several experts doubted whether spending such vast amount of money was feasible and advised the Ministry of Infrastructure and PKP PLK (rail infrastructure owner and administrator) to focus on priorities so that the possible large part of the funding is properly spent. Whatever happens, by the end of the investment boom travelling by train on many routes might be a nuisance.

On (I woke up at six a.m., what a relief!) Thursday I went to a city roughly somewhere between Gdansk and Warsaw to meet a client. I drove my colleague’s company car (she does not feel particularly confident driving long distance, so for our safety and comfort I offered to sit behind the wheel) so not a chance to sit back and relax (though I like driving) for a single moment. At least the meeting was fruitful.

Had it all been arranged in a civilised way, I would have taken a train to Poznan on Tuesday morning, took a train from there to Gdansk, checked in to a hotel in Gdansk for a two-night stay on Tuesday evening, took a train from Gdansk to somewhere between Gdansk and Warsaw and then a taxi to a client on Thursday and returned from there by company car to Warsaw. The additional cost would have been less than one thousand zlotys…

Compared to private holiday trips, business travels are a school of hard knocks. An indispensable element of such journeys is rush. Agendas are always tight, you are always in a hurry. Organising logistics, if you travel on your own, might be a challenge, but if many people take the same trip, logistics becomes an ordeal. If you travel for private purposes and pay for something, you only care whether it is expensive and you can afford it. In business trips, you need make sure you get the properly issued invoice and that each of your expenses is justified and qualifies for reimbursement. When you return to the office, you have to account for travel expenses, scan all invoices and tickets, send original documents to accounting department, fill in several formulas, get sign-offs, etc. Stopping by for a moment or sightseeing are rare exceptions, I cherish them whenever they crop up.

Since mid-October I have been in the same mode as a year ago (seasonality, fourth quarter of each year in my profession is the most busy period) and wondered many times what I have been chasing after… Working well more than 50 hours per week and travelling leaves little time for looking after one’s own affairs and is fatiguing. I must say, I am much more exhausted physically than mentally. Intense work and stress have not taken much toll on my brain and psyche, but my body apparently wishes to resist it…

Sunday, 20 November 2016

One year into PiS in power

As the PiS government stages a splendid conference to boast of plentiful attainments of its first year in charge of Poland, I feel obliged to tack on some facts to remind of and underline the most recent success stories credited to this government and contributing to the outlook of blindingly bright future for Poland

Poland’s GDP grew by mere 2.5% in 3Q2016, falling short of economists’ consensus of 2.9% and being the worst readout since late 2013. The figure is just a preliminary estimate by stats office and has not been broken down into components, but judging by the trend observed in recent quarters, the drop in investments could have been the main factor behind the meagre expansion. Mr Morawiecki, Poland’s Development and Finance Minister (and deputy prime minister) claimed the slowdown was temporary and upheld his ministry’s forecasts of 3.4% GDP growth in 2016 (to make it happen, the Polish economy would need to expand by approximately 5% in 4Q2016 on simplifying assumption there is no seasonality, but by all accounts by more than 4%).

I have no idea why the former CEO of Santander-owned Bank Zachodni WBK belies reality. I only wonder whether he knows he is in the doghouse or so deeply believes the policies he pursues are appropriate. Whichever supposition is right, I am kind of sure with such figures budget deficit is likely to rise above 3% of GDP in 2016. Mr Morawiecki is somewhat right while assuring GDP is not the uppermost measure of economic well-being, but in the same interview he stresses importance of investments for the Polish economy. The problem is however that in the meantime investments are falling back.

Fortunately the bright spark of the Polish nation, an ordinary deputy Jarosław Kaczyński (balancing on the verge of paranoia) has found a scapegoat to take the blame for poor GDP growth – these are entrepreneurs linked to opposition who halt their business plans and give up on profits they could make just to spite the government.

Yields on Polish 10-year bonds have soared above 3.5%, meaning their price is the lowest since over 2 years. Partly to blame is the victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election which led to more uncertainty on financial markets. The choice made by Americans is cherished by advocates of the PiS government. I hope they have noticed it has twofold impact of Poland’s debt service costs, via increased yields at which new government bonds are issued and via higher balance of debt denominated in foreign currencies (PLN has depreciated against major currencies recently).

This week the lower house of the Polish parliament passed a draft law reinstating pension age of 60 for women and 65 for men, thus reversing the retirement age increase brought into law by the previous PO-PSL government in 2012. While governments across the world raise the pension age and tackle inevitable demographic changes to sustain the proportion of labour force to those receiving benefits from the public purse, Poland takes a step back while the bill will be paid in the next decades. The only bright side I discern is that benefits for early retirees will be low enough to effectively discourage people from pensioning off.

When it comes to pursuit of PiS’ economic agenda, the fewer promises they keep, the better for the economy (not necessarily for social spending beneficiaries, especially multi-child poor families receiving the 500plus child allowance). Having the choice between two evils, I prefer they get busy with dead-end Smolensk religion whose cost (except for pain for families of crash fatalities) is thousands times lower than of “reforms” mentioned above. By the way, preliminary results of late president Kaczynski and his wife’s autopsy indicate a transport accident as death cause, the only thing in question is whether the plane capsized before hitting the ground.

Time passes by and level of absurdities around soars. The day before yesterday PiS politicians commemorated the 14th anniversary of Lech Kaczynski taking office of mayor of Warsaw. I hence put forward official celebrations of Lech Kaczynski:
- being born in 1949 (18 June),
- finishing studies in 1971, receiving PhD in 1979 and doctor habilitowany titles in 1990 (dates to be ascertained),
- getting married in 1978 (27 April),
- becoming a minister of justice in 2000 (12 June),
- being appointed the governor of Najwyższa Izba Kontroli in 2001 (14 February),
- being elected the president of PiS in 2001 (29 May),
- being sworn in as president of Poland in 2005 (23 December),
- telling a drunkard to go away in 2002 (spieprzaj dziadu) (4 November).

Also on Friday came to the light news of prosecutors from Gorzów Wielkopolski who have been chasing after Hanna Zdanowska, mayor of Łódź since February 2016 and accused her of loan frauds, allegedly committed in 2008 and 2009. Oddly enough a bank which granted a loan has not filed any charges against Mrs Zdanowska and the loan, as each and every fraudulent loan, has been repaid… This is one of first examples of PiS-controlled prosecutors clumsily attempting to sling mud at politicians of opposition.

On Friday I attended a conference during which one of renowned speakers told despite not just a flash in pan, populism will  wear down, as any other ideology. Neoliberalism and neokeynesianism have worn down and have had destructive influence on economies in last stages of their prevalence; the same path will be taken by populism. The only worry we should all have at the back of our heads is that damages inflicted to societies and economies by populists will be more painful.

But as the speaker said, we have to let things drift. Populism will not be eradicated by educated minorities. These must be masses, currently enchanted by populists that will have to realise they would have been double-crossed. It will take time and involve a price to pay, but after we persevere it, a better world might emerge. Or our civilisation might conceivably wind down irreversibly, a scenario which I have feared over the past months.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Donald Trump

Makes no sense coming up with a more ambitious title to this post. The US president-elect’s name stands for the sound of the world diving helplessly into the unknown.

After Mr Trump’s victory, headlines were hit by news of polls buggering it up and senseless questions “how come?”. Against what you are still told and regardless of slip-ups of both candidates, Mrs Clinton was bound to lose that battle, resulting in yet another one in a string of shifts in power aimed at capsizing the well-established, predictable, though at times seized-up machinery of liberal democracy.

I wrote on facebook on Wednesday it was the second such bad day this year (the first one fell on 24 June 2016, when Brexit referendum results were announced). The magnitude of US presidential election binding result, impacting indirectly all countries in the world, is far larger than of the Brexit referendum, which formally has been just an indicator of Brits’ opinions (now to be handled by the parliament somehow).

Fearful of implications of Mr Trump taking office? No worries. The upside of the situation is the habitual track record of various populists going back on their promises. Mr Trump’s silly waffle was meant to win him voters – words he was whispering to disgruntled electorate were music to their ears. In his wildest declarations he pledged to bring about a change deeper than the one Mr Obama had pursued. Before he is sworn in on 20 January 2017 he will get insight into intricacies of US politics and I believe the reality check will tone him down (in terms of knowing the ropes of politics he is incompetent, but has his head screwed in well enough not to spoil it all the way).

Having written that, I still believe Mrs Clinton, though definitely imperfect, was a far better choice for the United States and for the whole civilised world.

So what prompted the nation which has held foundations of democracy so dear to elect Mr Trump? He was the first prominent politician to have rejected political correctness; thus several voters perceived him as frank and straightforward. He was not a part of (discredited in eyes of many) political elite and scorned at murky establishment, a clique of spongers living off politics and pooling wool over electorate’s eyes for decades. He has struck a chord with millions of impoverished, aggrieved voters, victims of de-industrialisation, who indeed felt America was in ruins and needed to be lifted from misery.

“CHANGE” was the buzz word or Mr Obama’s campaign and a change is what Americans have longed for. Each change involves costs and benefits one should analyse before one opts for or against it. Majority of voters have chosen a soft change, or the lesser of two evils, however since the vote is indirect and in most states Mr Trump received the most votes, he was selected to become the successor of Mr Obama.

I do respect the choice made by US citizens who have exercised their right to vote and the election result, being the aftermath of electoral college votes mechanism in place. I am holding back from forejudging the presidency of Mr Trump. Before I revisit the topic, I am waiting for the story to unfold. The first public appearances of Mr Trump fill with hope he is not a lunatic and his policies will fortunately differ from the visions he outlined during the campaign.