Sunday, 25 March 2012

When did I lose track of everything?

The recent business trip to Poznań (first one in over a year with any spare time to go out and sightsee) has made me realise I had ceased to keep up with current affairs. But these were not just the three days without access to computer and not watching TV (enjoying nightlife in the evenings), when ruling coalition was rowing over pensions and a wacky chap in France stage a massacre in a Jewish school, but a much longer period of time, starting in the autumn last year… Fancy a catch-up?

In October 2011 the parliamentary election was won, for the second time in a row, by Platforma Obywatelska, Donald Tusk was re-sworn in as prime minister, ruling coalition stayed in place in the same shape as it had wielded power before the election. Only make-up of the government was slightly reshuffled, with some controversial appointments (conservative non-lawyer Jarosław Gowin as justice minister, charming Joanna Mucha as sport minister and wet-behind-ears Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz and labour and welfare minister). And once the danger of relapsing IV RP was fended off and prospects of four years of mediocre rule consisting in doing excellent PR stunts and holding on to cushy stools emerged, someone has lost their common sense. Guys in power have grown complacent and began to think if the nation have elected them for the second time, they have a mandate to do anything and can go unpunished. Ordinary people have realised this has gone too far and next mistakes made by the government cannot be forgiven.

2012 brought three significant slip-ups of the PO-led government…

1. The medicine reimbursement law, prepared in the previous term by the health ministry run by Ewa Kopacz turned out to trigger backlash from angry patients. The reform, aimed at bringing some order into rules of subsidising purchase of medicines and cutting reimbursement expenses, led to an even bigger chaos, chiefly when doctors were obliged to check whether a patient was entitled to buy a subsidised medicine.

2. The ACTA dispute – this one has wound me up, although I have to admit until now I have not drilled down deep into the new regulations. Would I be personally affected by ACTA? Would I have to register my blog which I try to keep anonymous? Would I be convicted for downloading films of music (not to mention plenty for books that would set be back hundreds of zlotys)? Does ACTA really square with current Polish law? Well, I hold it dear I can run PES and withhold my identity (known for many, but not for the public), as my current employer and any potential employers do not know nothing about my activity and I can write whatever inconvenient stuff I want, including harsh criticism of misconduct of the industry I work for (the longer I work there and the deeper I dive into it, the bigger the scale of depravity I see is). And the rest? OK, from time to time I go to a cinema, but I watch most newly released films at home, all new music albums I want to listed to come from the Internet. And the books – in my life I’ve downloaded several excellent English-language books on economics and banking, for each I would have had to fork out between 50 and 100 US dollars… They all boosted by knowledge, but was it at somebody’s expense? Consider two cases: either somebody spends money to go to a cinema or to buy a book and is worse-off or they do not watch a film or read a book at all. In the former case an intellectual owner of a good is better-off, in the latter not. The issue of web piracy should be considered in two separate issues then. Firstly it is about economic rationality – if someone can have something which costs money for free, it is rational to take steps to get it for free. Secondly – when someone cannot afford to have access to culture and knowledge in any other way than by the Internet, crackdown on contents violating copyrights is a tragedy. Personally I perceive ACTA, not because the initiative has cropped up, but by dint of the back-door way of passing it, as a conspiracy of the rich against the poor and another attempt to preserve and deepen the gulf between those who have and those who are deprived… PS. By doing what I described I do not break the Polish law, which allows to copy or download goods marked as intellectual purposes for one’s private use. I do not distribute anything further, do not share it and do not draw any financial benefits from this. May it stay so…
The government, after numerous demonstrations staged in the middle of the cold snap, succumbed to the protesters and backed out of ACTA ratifications, thus spiting the lobbyists…

3. Raising retirement age to 67 for both women and men. Currently woman in Poland are allowed to retire at the age of 60, men when they knock 65. In practice on average a Pole pensions off at the age of 57, much earlier than other nations in the EU. Predictably, an attempt do adjust legislation to unremitting demographic trends triggered another hostile reaction from the PO’s coalitional partner and most oppositional parties, from the trade unions and ordinary citizens, scared with the prospect of having to work until the age of 67. Future of the reform is still not settled. Ruch Palikota is ready to back the reform, while PO is ready to strike a one-off deal with the liberal-leftist party. No one can foretell, whether the dispute over the pension deal would split the PO-PSL coalition and whether this will end up with early elections…

And me? I don’t care…
1. I’m indifferent to falling support for Platforma. I voted for it, not regret it, as there was no alternative, but at this time there is no one I could vote for. Rule of off-their-head people, whose leader is Jarosław Kaczyński do not scare me somehow, although this surely not what I want for Poland. My mindset reflects what happens in minds of many Poles for who politics is a game played somewhere beyond the small world or their problems and joys.
2. ACTA – well, comes this into effect, I will have to come to terms with it and comply. But odds that it happens, in the light of international resistance to the new law, are shrinking.
3. Well, I have long been mentally prepared to work until the age of 67 or longer, I am not one of the people attracted by the possibility of retiring early, so why should I care…

Besides, financial markets have gone bonkers, I totally do not understand what drives prices then, so I’m trying to stay out of the market and reiterate my prediction of a tsunami on the markets in the second quarter of 2012… Time will tell…

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Winter timeline

From early September forecasters scared us with predictions of the harshest winter in the current millennium (second in a row). Their prophecies were allegedly backed by sudden shift from warm late summer, lasting until 6 October 2011, to chilly autumn, followed by first frost on 16 October. The first blow of arctic air brought temperatures atypical for October (-3.2C daytime low on 16 October, sub-zero temperatures over next two days), then another cold snap came on 22 October and 23 October. No such thing as warm Polish gold autumn was seen in October 2011. Average temperature of the month was +8.5C (vs. long-term /1981-2010/ average of +8.5), but if it had not been for the first six days of October when average temperatures were typical for August, the month would have been recorded as cold.

November 2011 had a quite balmy and sunny start, with month-time high of +14.7C recorded on 5 November 2011. Next two weeks brought below-average temperatures and continuation of dry weather (precipitation in many parts of Poland was record-low). Two coldest mornings were 12 November 2011 (low of -5.3C) and 23 November 2011 (low of –5.7C). Some parts of Warsaw were covered with a thin layer of snow grains in the morning on 17 November 2011, but this was not the first snow that marks the beginning of Student SGH’s winter timeline. In the last days of November North Atlantic Oscillation perked up for good (Atlantic had been dormant from September until the end of October) and brought above-average temperatures again. All in all, average temperature of November 2011 was +3.0 (vs. long-term average of +3.1C); average temperature was typical, yet deviations from mean were a bit unusual.

First decade of December 2011 was marked by weather typical for early November. Average daily temperatures hovered much above 0C. 12 December 2011 saw first hard frost since almost three weeks (in the morning temperature dropped to –4.0C), but then glorious warmth returned for a few days. Meteorologists got it right by predicting that first signs of winter would show up before Christmas.

20 December 2011
No such joke. In the morning temperature drops to –7.5C. Not unbearable, no wind chill, no snow disrupting traffic, but the winter has put its foot down. Around 8 p.m. it begins to snow. On my way from work I see snow ploughs pouring grit on ul. Puławska. This year road clearance services are planning to surprise the winter.

21 December 2011
A picturesque morning. Everything is swathed in a fog, limiting visibility to some 400 metres. Roads are slippery. Temperature of –2C and one-centimetre layer of snow means no assault, but gentle greeting by the coldest of all seasons of the year. I’m having a day off and after doing all household chores, I may lap up glorious weather (sunshine, -1C – the first day of winter 2011/2012 when temperature does not creep above zero).

22 December 2011
One more frosty morning, it’s –7C when astronomical winter begins. Over the whole day temperature stays much below zero, sky’s overcast and the day is generally dull.

23 December 2011
Frost is slowly retreating, even overnight temperature slowly rises and makes it above freezing in the afternoon, when some sunrays emerge from behind the clouds.

24 December 2011
Another Christmas thaw sets in. In the morning falling drizzles freezes on roads, pavements and my tiled stairs. Everything is slippery and drivers have to be very careful. The Christmas Eve is, just as almost every year, gloomy – fog and drizzle take over.

25 December 2011
An ordinary Christmas day. While on a walk, I spot first buds on several trees. This does not augur well; if proper winter comes, plants will suffer. Or are these the first intimations of spring? How come? Over the past week temperature was usually below freezing and today it’s mere +2C (with wind chill below zero).

26 December 2011
Balmy. +8C from 11:00 until late afternoon, sunbeams hidden behind the clouds. It’s much better than snow and/or frost, but I’m longing for a bit of sunshine. Darkness and gloom no longer lift my spirits.

27 December 2011
No, I haven’t had enough of the gloom. This is kind of weather I like – typical British winter – in the afternoon temperature tops +9C and watch out, day-time low is +8.2C! Drizzle, wind, clouds, may this weather not give way to winter!

28 December 2011
Getting colder. Skies unexpectedly (forecasters failed to predict it) cleared up at night and temperature fell to –1C before dawn. Car covered by frozen rain took me aback in the morning. I couldn’t open any, except for driver’s, door and layer of ice was so rough that I couldn’t scrape it. While waiting for over ten minutes until the car defrosts itself I took delight in beautiful sunrise. Over the day sky clouded over. Day-time high still well above long-term average: +8.2C.

29 December 2011
Could these days be lit up? Saw some sunrays in the afternoon and enjoyed the warmth again – temperature fluctuating around +5C.

30 December 2011
Wind chill – today movements of air reminded me how it feels. In the morning it was just 0C, but felt like –10C – unpleasant.

31 December 2011
Second light dusting of snow this winter lingers just for a few hours and is washed away by rain. In the afternoon skies clear up. In the evening temperature plummets and freezing fog hovers. Temperature of some –4C, just like last year.

December 2011 was very warm. Average temperature in Warsaw was +2.6C (vs. long-term average of –0.7C), it was the fourth warmest December after World War II (3rd rank goes to December 1960 (+2.8C), 2nd was December 1971 (+3.0C), the warmest (+4.0C) December was in 2006). Stats:
- month-time high: +10.0C on 2 December 2011
- month-time low: -7.5C on 20 December 2011
- the warmest day: 27 December 2011 (daily average of +8.5C)
- the coldest day: 22 December 2011 (daily average of –4.3C)

1 January 2012
Oh, late morning relieves the pain of many by greeting with beautiful sunshine and temperature jumping above zero. Great portent of the new year in weather. Weather stats say it was –5C overnight.

2 January 2012
Cloudy, rainy, depressing, but very warm, as for January, day – in the afternoon day-time and quite probably month-time high of +9.1C. From now it will be only colder and all forecasts warn of light winter next week.

3 January 2012 – 4 January 2012
Slightly colder, with occasional wind chill. The world stays dim, although distance between Earth and Sun is the lowest over the year.

5 January 2012
To put it briefly, blustery & sleet. Temperatures more typical for early January (between 0C and +3C). This year again the early-January cold snap doesn’t hit Warsaw.

6 January 2012 – 7 January 2012
Morning light snow showers don’t disrupt anything, as temperature is most of the time slightly above zero. Yet outside it’s anything, but pleasant – chilly wind makes the real feel below –5C.

8 January 2012
25 years ago, on 8 January 1987 temperature in Warsaw dropped to –30.7C, post-WW2 low. Today it doesn’t even bother to fall below freezing. Morning – gloomy, before midday – sunny intervals, afternoon – summer-like downpour. Soil needs rain after autumn drought.

9 January 2012 – 10 January 2012
Winter slowly creeps in. Temperatures most of the day are slightly above zero, but this won’t last long. In less than a week proper winter (not sleet and –1C in the morning) should be here.

11 January 2012 – 13 January 2012
Last days when staying in Warsaw one can take delight in very late autumnal warmth. On 12 January temperatures tops +7C, while the next day in the evening it hovers near zero. Proper winter comes along, but it doesn’t appear to be very harsh…

14 January 2012
Light winter – light dusting of snow, light frost in the morning that melts over the day, not that light snow shower in the late afternoon.

15 January 2012
Long live the beauty of (light) winter. –3C in the morning. Howling wind has ceased, some 3 centimetres of snow linger, sky is partly cloudy, there’s no need to drive anywhere. Over the day wind speeds up, day-time high is –2C, with wind chill of –8C. Upside – over an hour of glorious sunshine in the afternoon. Forecasters’ models have changed their mind – thaw is due around 20 January and over one wintry week it should be no colder than –10C.

16 January 2012
I’ve had enough of winter. In the morning temperature hits –7C, but really bothersome is the snow falling from early morning until late afternoon. I’d rather opt for clear skies and below –10C at dawn. At least shovels and snowploughs don’t have to be used.

17 January 2012
Great stuff. Snow showers ceased yesterday in the afternoon, air is dry and clear, temperature in the morning falls to mere –6C, day brings glorious sunshine, little snow on the ground doesn’t melt…

18 January 2012
In the morning –8C, accompanied by still air. Day-time, however, was not hit just before sunrise, but soon after midnight. Records from weather station on Warsaw airport read minimum temperature of –10.1C – first double-digit frost this winter! Before midday Warsaw is paralysed by a three-hour-long snow shower. Most of it melts, as later on temperature rises above zero.

19 January 2012
Only morning brings wet flurry and very light frost. This follow by moderate thaw which melts much of the snow. In the evening wet snow comes over again…

20 January 2012
Thaw and Warsaw’s overcome by it. Nobody bothers to get to grips with slush, so pedestrians have waddle ankle-deep in a blend of snow, mud, grit and water. Evening brings some snow showers, temperature around 0C

21 January 2012
Thaw continues – temperature between 0C and +1C linger for the whole day. Not a big melt anyway. Forecasters’ models clearly indicate high pressure system over Russia is building up…

22 January 2012
I wake up to behold the biggest snow precipitation this winter – some 5 centimetres of wet, heavy snow. Clearing this takes me over an hour but weather helps do the job – temperature doesn’t drop below zero from dawn to dusk, daytime high of +3C.

23 January 2012
The last day with positive temperature in the morning and gloom in the air… In the evening it begins to snow.

24 January 2012
Thin layer of snow fallen overnight plays havoc with everything. It takes me around a quarter to defrost the car (or rather wait until it defrosts itself, as scraping and using de-icer goes in vain), then I find the padlock of the gate frozen…

25 January 2012
Yesterday was the last day with at least little thaw. Today the frost is light, no worse than –4C, but it chills me when I see the high pressure system over North-Western Russia…

26 January 2012
Not very cold, just –4C in the morning, flurry from 6:30 to 11:30 paralyses Warsaw during morning rush hours. I slowly make it to P&R before it gets really nasty. In the evening car thermometer reads –8C, easterly wind is gusty – wind chill according to Okęcie weather station is –22C! And the cold snap has not perked up for good… Weather forecasts say the frost won’t ease until 12 February (with hindsight – what a perfect prediction!). The worst is said to come between 3 February and 8 February – down to ghastly –18C overnight…

27 January 2012
Chilly morning, below –11C at dusk and clear skies. Easterly winds keep blowing in frosty air from over Russia. Daytime high hits –8C, if you take shelter from the wind, it’s even warm…

28 January 2012
One step closer to the chill –13C in the morning, no more than –7C over the day. Gorgeous sunlight from dawn to dusk.

29 January 2012
Getting colder day by day, temperature is one degree lower than yesterday, so –14C in the morning, then with time surface of earth is heated by ever-higher-rising sun and temperature in early afternoon reaches –6C, just to retreat thereafter.
Weather forecast chop and change, now the frost is to reach its nadir on Thursday and hit some –22C in Warsaw. Then meteorologist project a veritable hell – temperatures below –10C accompanied by intense snow – I hope it doesn’t happen, as it would paralyse the whole country. Mere snow when it’s above –10C is OK, harsh frost without snow also, but the two combined is a recipe for a disaster.

30 January 2012
Just another day of big freeze. This is the time when each day a previous day’s cold record is broken. In the morning it’s –15C and so many people gripe about the cold. Rails crack, buses don’t run, water pipes burst, cars go into flames. Daytime high of –8C.

31 January 2012
Normally when the Russian high comes over, the air is still. Not this time! Chilly wind is still gusty. –16C in the morning and wind chill of –25C. Ghastly, but shining sun is beautiful. Days are visibly longer…

January 2012 was normal. Average temperature in Warsaw was -0.9C (vs. long-term average of –1.9C). This is the power of statistics – we had very warm first half of the months and anomalously cold five last days – and the average shows it was a typical January. Stats:
- month-time high: +9.1C on 2 January 2012
- month-time low: -16.3C on 31 January 2012
- the warmest day: 4 January 2012 (daily average of +6.5C)
- the coldest day: 31 January 2012 (daily average of –12.7C)

1 February 2012
The last month of calendar winter kicks off and generously bestows us with frost. In the morning –18C, over the day wind is not as obtrusive as it used to be. Over the day no warmer than –12C. Big freeze is approaching its climax…

2 February 2012
Well, -19.7C according to official records from the weather station in Okęcie is no fun any more. The coldest afternoon during the cold wave – no warmer than –14.6C officially. Sunshine, pink sky at sunset. Feels like Siberia. We’ll ride it out…

3 February 2012
Ooops… -23.1C is an official reading from W-wa Okęcie weather station, my car thermometer shows –24C, on the eastern suburbs of Warsaw temperature drops to –26C. As cold as in late January 2010. It’s not that bad in Warsaw, in Białystok temperature drops to –30C, somewhere beyond it in the sticks it must be well below –30C… Again sunshine and little chance for much warmer weather in the coming days. Just realised I’d never been exposed to such cold before! In 2006 I didn’t go out in the morning when it was below –25C…

4 February 2012
One degree warmer than yesterday and no major changes in the weather. It should get warmer day by day, but… Forecasters whisper something about snow showers… At least, unlike in many parts of Europe, there has been no snowfall in Warsaw for several days, while blizzards have wreaked havoc to many other European capitals and their inhabitants, not accustomed by harsh winter conditions.

5 February 2012
In terms of weather… We’re watching history of climatologic in Poland (and Europe) in the making, but I’ve had enough of the frost. –19C at dawn, -14C in the afternoon. When I look outside the window, spring creeps up – how misleading! And another frosty night ahead!

6 February 2012
There always must be that first time. Till today I’d never seen snow falling in the temperature of –20C. Over the day it’s no warmer than –13C, but the worst (in terms of temperature) is over, while the snows are coming over.

7 February 2012
Morning: -13C, how balmy, even snow flurry doesn’t look like pain in the arse. Evening: -9C, how balmy, only single-digit frost!

8 February 2012
With day-time low and high respectively –12C and –5C it seems pleasantly warm, although only relatively… The worst seems gone, but temperatures nearing –20C at dawn are set to return around the weekend.

9 February 2012
Getting colder, again. –14C in the morning and –7C in early afternoon and the trend is downward. Warsaw, unlike many parts of Poland, has not been affected by snow showers. After a cold weekend, some snow precipitation is expected on 13 February.

10 February 2012
Well, the second, shorter and less severe wave of cold comes to Poland. –16C in the morning, clear skies. This will last for two days, then sunny and chilly winter will give way to light frost and snow flurries.

11 February 2012
Into the second cold wave: -19C in the morning and double-digit frost over the whole day. In the morning residents of many parts of Poland can observe diamond dust. Can’t wait to see temperature statistics for February 2012… Quite probably this will be the coldest month in this century and the coldest since infamous January 1987 (monthly average of –13.0C).

12 February 2012
The last morning (hopefully) that brings –20C. Then temperature shoots up: 7:00 –18.8C, 8:00 –15.3C, 9:00 –12.4C, 10:00 –10.0C, 11:00 –8.0C, but over the beautiful sunny day it’s no warmer than –6C. Coming days are said to bring much higher temperature and abound in snow showers.

13 February 2012
-10C in the morning and –5C in the afternoon let me officially declare the cold snap over. It lasted 17 days and was probably the longest since January 1987. Little harmless flurry.

14 February 2012
Single-digit frost – balmy (-2C in the afternoon). Forecasters scare with oncoming blizzards. Actually this winter snow hasn’t played havoc with traffic, so maybe mid-February is a good time to make up…

15 February 2012
This happens virtually every winter. There comes a day when a few centimetres of snow precipitation bring the city to a standstill. This winter it happened quite late, but morning saw horror on not cleared roads. I left the car at home not to exacerbate situation on the roads. I saved on petrol, but couldn’t say the day was anything but nice.
On my way home, when I was totally fucked-up by weather and goings-on at work, it occurred to me the snow has brought in beautiful landscapes. But –23C was not such nuisance as –3C and falling snow. At least when it was 20C colder I could move around easily… Snow ceases to fall around 8 p.m. Hoping for a better tomorrow…

16 February 2012
No snow overnight, -7C in the morning. Warsaw has somehow managed to cope with slush lingering on roads, main streets are (rather) clear, many pavements aren’t. Yesterday’s precipitation was 13 centimetres, so it could have been much worse. A cold night ahead (already –10C at 9 p.m.), and then waiting for the thaw, due over the weekend.

17 February 2012
-15C in the dead of night, -10C at the crack of down, flurry since sunrise, freezing drizzle at dusk and +1C in the evening. Thaw! Thaw! Thaw! After 22 days with sub-zero temperatures!

18 February 2012 – 19 February 2012
Gentle thaw – overcast sky and temperatures between 0C and +2C, on Sunday also rain showers. The winter’s come late and looks like it’s going to depart early. Freezing rain creates ice rinks on Sunday evening

20 February 2012
Mere –1C but everything’s slippery. Over the day – beautiful sunshine.

21 February 2012
Ever-earlier-beginning morning heralds a beautiful day – gold sky and –5C. Then skies cloud over and pre-spring semi-gloom lingers…

22 February 2012
First morning without frost since 23 January. Over the day gloomy and warm (+3C), in the evening, weather ideal for the ball at the Devil’s.

23 February 2012 – 25 February 2012
Temperatures above zero even at night, over the day up to balmy +10C. All the snows melt, spring can be felt in the air… Gusty wind signifies western oscillation has returned.

26 February 2012
Woken up by a howling wind at 7:30 a.m. I pull up the blind roller to behold a snow blizzard that lasts 30 minutes and brings two centimetres of white powder. The precipitation is followed by some three hours of beautiful sunshine, which in turn gives way to ugly late winter weather (0C, wind chill of –7C).

27 February 2012
Another morning heavy, yet short snow, this time it starts at 6:35, so during the morning rush hour. –2C in the morning, over the day I can see sun shining outside the window, but it’s not the greeting of spring – outside it’s +1C. I leave the office at time (for the first time since many days) and it’s still light (sunset at 17:12 in Warsaw today).

28 February 2012
Glorious morning: -7C, pink, then yellow sky, frost everywhere. Then it gets warmer, but not much above 0C and around midday it begins to snow and in the evening flurry turns into drizzle. Ghastly on pavements and roads…

29 February 2012 – 2 March 2012
The spring is in the air. The last day of February brings a whiff of true spring: +8C and sunshine, only March greets Warsaw with autumnal gloom, temperatures above zero all the time.

February 2012 was frosty. Average temperature in Warsaw was –6.2C (vs. long-term average of –1.0C), the coldest February in my lifetime. Again, mean temperature is blend of very frosty first 12 days, cold subsequent week and warm third decade. Stats:
- month-time high: +11.1C on 24 February 2012
- month-time low: -23.1C on 3 February 2012
- the warmest day: 24 February 2012 (daily average of +6.9C)
- the coldest day: 3 February 2012 (daily average of –18.5C)

3 March 2012 – 8 March 2012
High pressure system draws in chilly air from over Scandinavia. Sky is clear from dawn to dusk, but temperatures are typical for mild winter – a few degrees below zero at nights, with month-time low of –8C and from 0C to 5C over the day. No snow, sunbeams give spring-like warmth.

9 March 2012
Thick, thick, freezing fog lingers and limits visibility even to less than 200 metres. This looks rather like gloomy November, but spring equinox nears and weather like this will be rather infrequent in the coming months.

10 March 2012 – 11 March 2012
A weekend without frost (single-digit above zeros all the time), Saturday rainy, Sunday sunny, but windy. Long-term forecasts do not indicate winter can return at all. Sunny, dry and moderately warm days ahead.

12 March 2012
The last morning with frost (-2C). Well, time to declare the winter’s over…

The frost returned twice, once on 15 March and for the last time yesterday. Funnily enough, yesterday before dawn it was –1C and then temperature shot up to +20C in the afternoon to retreat to +6C at 9 p.m. Today it topped +18C, but the heat record for Warsaw (+23.0C on 21 March 1974) has not been beaten – hope the weather will catch up by the end of the month. This weekend beautifully farewells a late-coming, short, harsh, but not snowy winter.

For a good onset of spring – off w Polskę in business tomorrow!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

A foray to a forest

Early March, sun is shining high and the worst of the winter’s gone (expect another winter timeline next week). When this kind of weather comes in, the nature beckons and first intimations of winter bring on getting out and breathing in the pre-spring air.

Last Saturday (8 days ago), I had luck to find two spare hours (free time is and will be scarce commodity for me) to pop over to the fringes of the nearest reserve of intact wildlife.

I set off from home at half past two p.m., marched one kilometre to catch a 709 bus, rode three stops and got off at the corner of ul. Puławska and ul. Jagielska. The very wait for the bus stop dragged on for over a quarter – public transport in the suburbs is often unreliable, but after all I didn’t feel like going there by a fume-emitting vehicle and it was still too cold to have a bike shake-down day. Having alighted the bus, I headed east, passed by a prestigious Laguna estate and having walked some 500 metres, I had the forest to my left.

I sauntered on, with a view to find a monument commemo- rating fatalities of terrible plane crash which happened here in May 1987. Having forgotten to take a map, I didn’t find it, but located the property from which the news of the crashed airplane came to the fire brigade. It’s Jagielska 2, in 1987 there was a rural dwelling here, in 2012 you can find here an international private school. A fine location, I must say. I wonder how children can get here, if none of their parents, nor any other childminder can give them a lift…

I strolled some 200 metres further east, to spot the official entrance to the forest. As I later learnt at home, I could turn there left, walk less than half a kilometre north and spot the monument I was searching for. Tough luck, I’ll be there before and after the 25th anniversary of the disaster anyway to commemorate the victims of the most tragic (in terms of death toll) Polish plane accident after World War II.

I was curious to see what kind of development can be found near the south-western peripheries of Las Kabacki. One can spot there well-looking detached house built over the last twenty years, with well-groomed gardens. A blot on the landscape are old, often derelict, dilapidated houses, some looking like summerhouses.

Many on big plots of land occupied by wrecked or almost falling-apart greenhouses. One day these areas will be rearranged; at the present there is nothing but a disorder here.

Between ul. Jagielska and the forest lie empty plots of land, waiting for a wealthy buyer, eager to purchase land for their own residence or to built a row of terraced houses for sale. The upsides of the location are vicinity of the forest, clean air and silence. It gets worse when it comes to commuting. A bus stop is two kilometres away, road is full of potholes, in the winter it has a low priority in snow-clearing. Unless the weather is good, you have no choice, but to use a car and spend money on petrol… Prices of properties in the suburbs must reflect time and money wasted on long commuting…

And the last element of the suburban landscape are spacious, detached, or semi-detached mansions, usually built in clusters. Most of those I noticed were uninhabited, many unfinished inside, and put up for sale. Until last Saturday I hadn’t seen a single sign of crisis on the Polish property market similar to those in countries affected by property market bubbles and here strikes a surprise. Enormous, yet spirit-lacking and anything, but cosy, houses no one wants to buy. It’s all a matter of price. These days in Poland supply and demand hardly ever meet.

As I was approaching ul. Puławska on my way to the bus stop, I spotted a plane. Blinded by the sun, I couldn’t discern what airline it was run by. And now a question to you – an Ukrainian as colours suggest? I’ve never heard of Aerosvit…

The bus stops near ul Jagielska have been temporarily (temporary solutions last long) moved in the summer of 2010 for the period when a footbridge over ul. Puławska is rebuilt. The old footbridge, eaten up by rust was torn down in mid-2010, almost two years have gone by and construction of the new one is not yet completed. I noticed stairs are not ready – they don’t reach the ground, lifts are still not fit to run and no one bothers to finish this hapless venture off.

A big board next to the footbridge informs me the modernisation of this and many other footpaths in Warsaw was co-financed by the EU… And what’s the benefit. Completed footbridges are closed off for months as urzędasy in the town hall are hanging back on issuing a use permit and soon after the facilities are opened some buttheads vandalise it. For a while local residents won’t be able to use the footbridge and drivers’ life will be made harder by one more set of traffic lights. Oddly enough, the light for cars turns red not only when someone presses a button and wants to cross the road, but light alternate in regular intervals – another absurdity…

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Iron Lady - film review

An elderly, senile, yet elegant lady does the shopping and then returns home to reminisce the past events with her (dead) husband. Dejecting and magnificent is the recent biography of Margaret Thatcher, masterfully starred as by Meryl Streep (this year’s Oscar for best actress prize winner).

The film’s plot runs as a series of retrospections, bringing back the most important moments of Mrs Thatcher’s (nee Roberts) life, interspersed throughout the daily struggle with dementia and beginnings of Alzheimer.

I cannot tell how reliable the depiction of Ms Roberts’ early life is, but from the film you can learn that upbringing and influence of her father, who ran a grocery, shaped her economic views, instilled extraordinary strength in her and familiarised her with the taste of deprivation. Margaret Roberts looms as a clever, prudent and determined young girl, with good grasp of basic laws of microeconomics. Adolescent Margaret’s way is uphill. She grows up when women are still seen as inferior and many realms of life and social activity are still no-go for the weaker sex. This does not change with years and is best illustrated in the scene when she enter the parliament for the first time. Men’s room is fit for entertainments typical for males, in the bathroom you can see urinals, behind the door with “women” board you would not notice anything else, but a chair and ironing board.

The strength of Mrs Thatcher has its dark sides. Her deeds are marked by obstinacy (refusal to change course). Her belief in the power of entrepreneurship, faith in perfection of the free market, one-sided disapproval of trade unions are slightly naïve, slightly cruel and suggest her perception of economics is over-simplified. If everything was as simple, as in her mind, she would not have become such a controversial figure. The shock therapy she applied to the ailing British economy was painful, but justified. With hindsight we see shock of the first years of her rule when unemployment soared and industrial output plummeted and we the subsequent turnaround. The choices she had to make were difficult and as a prime minister, she would always remain stalwart and unrelenting. She pursued the retrenchment programme despite backlash, put down protesting workers from unprofitable mines. Having slashed expenses for social care, she did not hesitate to spend millions of pounds on the Falklands war, winning which was a matter of honour. Her self-pride and conviction of her own infallibility, combined with not caring about the image, have ousted her from the seat of Tory leader. In her last months of serving as prime minister, Mrs Thatcher is depicted as full-of-herself, cold-hearted manager trying force her own ideas upon others, such as in the case of the community charge, seen by many as unfair and as another move into redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich.

The film is worth seeing not only as a whole work, but also for a few absolutely outstanding scenes.
1. The proposal scene – and Margaret’s speech in which she warns Dennis she would not be a silent wife standing by her husband’s side and would never like to end up washing up a teacup (watch out for the last scene then!).
2. The moment when she pulls out from outside her house to leave for parliament in 1959, and her children scream to ask her to stay, but she, with stone-cold face, sets her car in motion, does not look back and trespasses into the world of politics.
3. The scene when she announces her family she is going to run for a leadership of the Conservative party. Her children, who have always held it against their mother, that her commitment into public life was at the expense of family life, simply leave the kitchen, while her husband, usually supportive, this time does not try to hide his disapproval. Left alone in the kitchen, Mrs Thatcher asks: “When did I lose track of everyone?”. The scene is an unbeatable illustration of traps one can fall into when making a career without taking heed of their near and dear ones.
4. The scene when old Mrs Thatcher visits a doctor and complains that “people do not think anymore, people feel” and sees the shift from thinking to feeling the major cause or how the world looks like. And here I could stop and muse about “think vs. feel”, as it would be a great topic for a separate post.
I try to think and feel as much as I can, mix the two, but at the end of the day thinking takes over…

The film reminded me about my old longing for a politician who would step in to rule Poland, carry out necessary but unpopular reforms, and after four years would step down in disgrace, with support in polls below 5%, but leaving the country healed of its economic woes. With politicians focused on popularity with voters, this will not work…

From psychological perspective, Mrs Thatcher is depicted as tough outside, but it is hard to determine, whether she is equally tough inside. When she writes a letter to mothers of soldiers killed in the Falklands war, the surely shows she remains a sensitive woman, but is she all the time?

And people we meet on our way – are they tough or fragile, do they show their real psyche, or do they pretend. With four combinations:
1. fragile outside, fragile inside,
2. tough outside, tough inside,
3. fragile outside, tough inside,
4. fragile inside, tough outside,
first and second are sincere, third is improbable, but could be typical for mercenary ones who play on other people’s emotions to reach their goals, the fourth is, maybe sadly, more and more often seen. The world we live in makes us act as strong, while inside we may still be weak. It might be only a matter of time when this picture falls apart…

So in life, it is best to strike a healthy balance between toughness and fragility… Did the Iron Lady learn that lesson?