Sunday, 29 September 2013

Nie robię za darmo

Back as a fourth-year student I brought to your attention the topic of unpaid internships and expressed my displeasure with HR policies allowing to hire young people without paying them at all. As a student, I never condescended to take an unpaid internship, despite understanding employers’ rationale (or excuses) behind such despicable practices. Time has gone by, my career has moved on, I am no longer eligible for an internship, but keep in mind days when I was on a lookout for gaining first job experience and hence sympathise with current students, often coerced to work for a mere “thank you”.

I was more than pleased to find out somebody has finally decided to draw a line at offering students and graduates unpaid internships. Nie robię tego za darmo (I don’t do it for free) is a project launched by one of Poznan-based NGOs, Wspieramy Wielkich Jutra (Supporting the Future Leaders, to convey the meaning) foundation that has gained extensive media coverage in week following the campaign commencement on 20 September. Originators of the venture have broached an important social problem that affects each year thousands of young people in Poland.

For some of you this may sound like a leftist twaddle, but unpaid internships are a nefarious form of labour exploitation (campaigners call it slavery), taking advantage of natural weakness of inexperienced youngsters (no one has been born with a CV full of previous positions) in corporations’ pursuit of higher profits. I do not advocate going to another extreme and meeting excessive pay requirements some graduates have, as it is obvious a freshman will not add huge value to a company, but it is a matter of straightforward decency to pay an intern at least token “peanuts” allowing them to subsist in a city they work (during my last internship, 3 years ago, I earned 2,200 PLN before tax monthly and such salary seems reasonable). If you argue an intern does not add value to your business, what is the point in hiring them at all? If you argue an intern requires attention and teaching such person utilizes the company’s resources, I remind you in free-market economy in order to reap profits you need to invest and every kind of business expansion carrier a risk – the same applies to money spent on human capital. Not every such investment will pay you back.

If the points above do not seem convincing, let’s refer to the economic concept of negative selection. In simple words it implies better candidates for interns will choose paid internships, while those too poor to be offered paid internships will come to you and you will get leftovers.

OK, so they will come anyway, better or worse, yet suitable to do some simple tasks. You might point out the market functions in such way, so if there is a demand even for unpaid internships, why not coming up with supply? The reasoning is akin to noticing a loophole in law – if you can circumvent a regulation and go unpunished, why not benefiting from it? It all boils down to ethics, the moral spine you have or only claim to have. Any company that takes on interns for free and claims its commitment to CSR lies through its teeth! Get it? If not, use the last resort analogy. If someone pays you a visit, do you offer them something to drink or eat, or not, because they do not ask you? Just as offering a beverage or snack to a guest is a matter of good manners, paying an intern is a matter of decency.

Tens of companies, including the biggest Polish firms and multinational corporations have swiftly supported the initiative. The circle of commendable employers covers, according to press reports, inter alia: Orange, Danone, ArcelorMittal, Deloitte, General Electric, Leroy Merlin, PKN Orlen, Bank Pekao, PwC, PGNiG, PZU, Toyota and Whirlpool. The code of ethics has been written in one-page long “Polish Internship Quality Framework”, a document which sets out requirements an internship with a civilised employer has to meet. The key assumptions are:
1) each internship lasting at least 1 month MUST be paid and governed by a written contract,
2) each internship should have an agenda / plan setting forth duties of an intern and skills they are to acquire or develop
3) each intern should have a supervisor who will be responsible for overseeing and lending a helping help to an intern,
4) each intern should receive feedback at the end of their stint and written confirmation of completing the internship.
I must say my last internship fulfilled all the criteria above, thanks to this both my employer and I benefited from it.

Points above address other pathologies affecting how internships are organised. We must not confine the problem to the mere aspect of remuneration, since what an intern does at work is of paramount importance as well. The initiative is also intended to crack down on internships consisting in brewing coffee, copying documents, or sorting pieces of paper in files. But these pathologies in turn stem from another ludicrous arrangement, which fortunately was not in force at my university when I was a student, i.e. that internship is obligatory for every student and every student needs to get a credit for it in order to get a degree. I hold the view students are adults, aware of how the labour market functions, who realise what factors are appreciated by employers and who know the value of experience when looking for the first serious job. If somebody wants to gain experience, they will take matters into their hands anyway. If somebody is reluctant to have an internship, their choice – what is the point in two parties to internship agreement having to put up with each other?

Noteworthy is also the story of intern working in the City who participated in summer programme run by Bank of America Merill Lynch. The 21-year-old student was paid 2,700 pounds a month for his job, but did not endure 70 hours of continuous working without a break… So while in Poland the case is whether interns are paid at all, in the UK problems youngsters overreaching themselves in the chase of jobs in the never-sleeping financial industry, have become an issue.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

The banker’s role, from a bank employee’s standpoint and in Poland

My brother Marek e-mailed me with his observations about my last post, pointing out the importance of the banking sector to the entrepreneur. Indeed - such a valid point that it will make a separate post.

Instead of posting a drawn-out comment in response to Michael’s insightful post, I decided to dedicate a separate note to his text, making references to each paragraph and put his reasoning into the context of Polish banking sector, far younger than those established in Western economies. Beware though, the picture presented is biased, inevitably, when written from a bank employee’s perspective. A for starters, a valid point – I don’t feel I’m a banker, I’m only a bank employee – just an in a 5-year-old Polish joke, there difference between bankier and bankowiec is roughly the same as difference between rentier and rencista… There are no bankers in Poland, there are banks and their representatives who do exert influence on how businesses are run.

Looking in stereotypes, the British believe the Germans have got it right. Their Landesbanks provide a capital lifeline to small and medium-sized family-owned businesses for generations. They know their clients personally (often having a banker sitting on the firm's supervisory board). When the firm needs money to buy another production line because it's just won a new order in South America, the bank looks at the firm's track record and says "by all means".

Is this really true the British envy the Germans how their banking system functions? In Poland such relationships simply cannot exist, because civilised banking sector emerged only after 1989 and had to be developed from scratch. It has grown out of the teething phase quite quickly, as Polish banks have been sold to foreign investors, who have contributed with their know-how of doing banking business.
Deals in which there is a too profound relationship and a client smell a rat to me. Whenever I see a transaction in which someone from a bank knows too well a company, it heralds troubles, if it goes through… The proper distance between a bank and a company increases… bank’s safety…

In the UK, the banks have done away with personal relationship managers and have outsourced the loan decisions to a call-centre in Bangalore, which mechanically ticks the boxes and says 'no', just in case. Online banking has many positive facets for the consumer, but for the small business it has killed off the personal nature of the banking relationship. "Lend to the man, not to the asset" was the golden rule for Mr Mainwaring and his generation of bank managers, who knew their customers, but this is no longer the case. Today, UK banks talk of 'relationship banking' as if it were a new discovery; the truth is they lost it long ago and are now trying to rebuild it on the basis of call-centres, internet banking and algorithms that replace loan decisions.

As a rule – the bigger the Customer is, the more personalised the relationship must be. And whenever you speak of a relationship manager, you should have in mind somebody who knows its customer inside out and fosters its interests, not just foists upon them services they don’t need only to get a bonus. But personalised relationships do cost money, so probably the cost-to-benefit analysis has led many banks to give upon the relationship model. Let’s face it – does an average individual or small company need a dedicated employee who knows them and their needs well? Such approach costs and this cost will be passed on to a client, often reluctant to incur additional expenses. The question one needs to answer is whether a customer prefers and individual approach or low cost of banking services. Cost savings are also the driver of automated loan decisions – in assessing creditworthiness of a small business, one of many millions in the country, a well-designed system will beat a not infallible human. Another advantage of a score-based loan decision system is its quickness – within a few minutes you know whether you are eligible for a loan or not. Of course, again, the bigger the business, the more complex the credit analysis and the less reliable simple algorithms based on questions are cut-off points are. Plus an important note – in Poland credit risk management cannot be outsourced, so whenever you apply for a loan in a Polish bank, be sure it is not farmed out to Bangalore.

Now that the economy is on the rebound, British banks have only got worse in this respect. Want to borrow money to buy a house on a rising market? Why certainly! Mortgage lending is back to 2008 levels. Want to borrow money to expand your small business...? Ooh... That's a bit difficult... We'll need to send someone over to check your business in person, but that costs us money, so we won't bother, so to save time, our answer is no. Bank lending to business is 30%-40% down on 2008 levels (depending on sectors and regions).

The rationale behind such stance is as follows: for housing loans, a bank has a tangible collateral and very strong incentive for the debtor not to lose the roof over their head. For small business the risk profile is far worse. I don’t know how law in terms of creditor protection in the United Kingdom exactly works, in particular I’m not familiar with issues of owners’ liability for their business’ debts. A small company might easily wind down in a few days, owners may go away or tell their venture didn’t work out, having pumped out cash beforehand and the bank is left out in the cold… Oddly enough, in Poland mortgage lending has been curbed, while SME lending also, but not to such extent…

What's it like in Poland? Banks have generally tended to say 'no' from the outset (that lack-of-trust issue again), so Polish entrepreneurs have just got used to financing growth out of saved earnings. Over the economic slow-down (no recession here, remember!), Polish entrepreneurs drew in their horns and sat on their cash, tempting politicians to tax it or somehow put it to better use.

Rightly discerned, it all boils down to mistrust. Banks are too wary to lend to small firms, which are risky businesses, less transparent and more shaky and corporate clients. The other story is when you criticise banking sector’s mistrust, you should keep in mind a bank collects money from depositors and has to return the money to them, no matter of its borrowers settle their debts or not. Banks’ restraint in lending is also a form of prudent management of someone else’s money. As a depositor I also must trust my bank that it doesn’t engage in risky lending.

Poles, like Brits, look across to Germany's Landesbanks as the ideal model for small- and medium-size businesses, yet another reason (along with apprenticeships, a high social regard for engineers and manufacturing industry) why the German economy weathers the storms well (and can still afford to bail out the lazy southern Europeans).

I would also add focus on competitiveness. This praise of the German economy is quite surprising when made by someone who support liberal economic agenda of the Conservative Party.

Ethics in banking? Polish bankers are nowhere nearly as well paid as their British counterparts. The result is that here in Poland, people have no problem inviting bankers to dinner parties, saying 'hello' to them in the street, or generally treating them as fellow human beings.

What earnings have to do with ethics? Ethics is about conduct, not about salaries – one could even point out someone who earns less is more encouraged to behave unethically in pursuit of quick wealth.
Still, banking sector employees in Poland earn well above national average. It just the gap between average salary in the national economy and in the banking sector that is much smaller than in the UK. A relationship manager for corporate clients in Poland earns on average between 10 and 15 thousand PLN per month before tax (some three times more than average salary in the national economy), plus it gets numerous perks (company car, phone, etc.) and discretionary bonuses for meeting sales targets – unlike in Anglo-Saxon banks, bonuses are not contractually guaranteed. Still, although quite wealthy, Polish banking employees are ordinary people, unlike their spoilt counterparts from the City or Wall Street.

The Polish banking sector is generally in sound shape, but still has much to learn about working closely with the entrepreneur for the benefit of the economy at large.

And the essential thing on both sides is empathy – the bank needs to understand the entrepreneur and the other way round – banks have status of ‘public trust institution’ and no matter how ludicrously it sounds, their primary goal is to ensure the safety of funds entrusted with them, this can be achieved by cautious risk management…

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Warsaw’s Southern bypass – the last update

… which I must frankly pledge has gone partly outdated, given the rapid pace of finishing works. Last Sunday I ventured to “inspect” the construction site by bike, making most of the clement weather (above +20C, cloudless skies), while I felt under the skin this could be the last such weekend. For no apparent reason since early August I had an inexplicable inkling that hot summer would swiftly give way to gloomy and chilly autumn. Looking at the weather forecasts for the next week, my predictions seem to prove right. Albeit today, the weather’s not ghastly – it’s gloomy and imminent autumn is felt in the air, but it’s pretty warm – above +15C. Back to the core – last week the topic of pension reform outshined the recent progress of Warsaw bypass construction and posting coverage was scheduled for this week. But keeping in mind how quickly the landscape of S2 construction evolves, I had to retake the trip today, this time by bus, to take a few more snaps for the update.

According to recent rumours from Skyscrapercity forum, the last section of S2, linking junction W-wa Południe and junction Puławska is bound to be opened on Monday, 16 September. Given the accompanying bureaucracy-related formalities which are unlikely to be handled within one day, I predict the opening will ensue later this coming week.

My workmates and parents have rebuked me over the enthusiasm over the opening. I’m delighted to see the piece of work completed at last, despite all the bad publicity surrounding it. The works on bypass construction kicked off in 2009, a year earlier than building A2 motorway between Łódź and Warsaw started and the latter was opened in June last year, while the former is still unfinished. The whole venture was divided into two sub-projects: section Konotopa – W-wa Południe (formerly Lotnisko) with Bilfinger Berger as lead contractor and section called Elka (for the sake of its L-letter shape) from Marynarska junction to Puławska junction, with Porr (formerly Teerag-Asdag) as lead contractor. The former was scheduled to be opened in August 2012, the latter in April 2012… This was the theory – the last moment when those deadlines seemed realistic was spring 2011, then hopes for seeing the road finished in 2012 were dashed. In practice: section between Marynarska and W-wa Okęcie junctions was opened on 14 June 2013, section between Konotopa and al. Krakowska was opened on 31 July 2013, section between al. Krakowska and Okęcie junctions was opened on 6 September 2013 and the last 2-kilometre-long stretch, awaits opening.

The biggest puzzle about the whole stuff is the eneven pace of works – for many months it was appallingly slothful, several obstacles prevented the contractor from starting out works in many places, sluggishness of construction crew was inexcusable. And around spring 2013, when advancements of works was reaching 80%, a sudden spurt of mobilisation ensued. The same happened on A2 motorway construction site in spring 2012, but it could be put down to Euro 2012 deadline. This time construction was far behind schedule, so what spurred the devil-may-care builders on accelerating? Was this the Gdaka to have had an hand in it, by using the well-checked stick and carrot approach?

The long-behind-schedule completion is not the only blemish of the venture. The bigger ones are the absurdities accompanying it – expressways lead to: fence of an office building at the northern end of S79, cabbage field on the southern end of it. I can’t understand the decision to desist from building the tunnel carrying the traffic from ul. Puławska beneath the unfinished roundabout on Puławska junction, but somehow approve of laughable turnaround traffic arrangement at the eastern end of S2. Actually the fact all junctions have been built to fit future needs is positive, what wipes the smile off my face is that the roads will probably not be extended for years. S7 from W-wa Południe to Grójec might be, if everything goes smoothly, completed by 2020, some time later I expect the rest of the S2 bypass to be extended eastwards, N-S route might be never extended… May the huge junctions with roads ending in the middle of the fields not become the monument of the one-off large spurt of infrastructure spending in Poland… I seriously fear lack of adequate funds might almost bring to a halt infrastructure projects which are vital for moving Poland ahead.

Coming to the photo coverage… To the right – the eastern end of the motorway / expressway  linking Warsaw and Lisbon, last week, the day after the top layer of asphalt (SMA) has been laid, it was still sticky.

To the right – same turnaround in the distance, captured today. Over the past week lanes have been marked out and signage has been put up. The turnaround is a really rare peculiarity, but given all circumstances, there’s a method in this madness…

Last Sunday, I cycle down the viaducts over ul. Puławska. Machines and workers were getting ready for laying the SMA on the unopened section of the expressway.

Some one mile towards the west, I approached the basin (wanna) to behold the whole W-wa Południe was utterly finished, with the top layer of tarmac laid and lanes painted. Just cut the ribbon and let elated drivers enjoy the trip!

Then I cycled further in the direction of Al. Krakowska to finally saw the bypass “under the traffic” (pod ruchem) – it was the third day vehicles were forced to turn onto slip road towards Marynarska junction.

Today, despite Sunday, clearance works on Puławska junction and around it were in overdrive. Machines and workers are hurrying to complete the contract. Lane-marking lines have been painted. Traffic lights are operational, but turned off, the site needs tidying up…

Judging by the signage, Sandomierz must be one of more important places on the map of Poland. Or maybe the signage is putting the place on the map? Traffic signage on all junctions of the bypass, hailed abysmal, has been subject of harsh criticism…

And for the very end, two photos from the viaduct carrying ul. Poloneza over the bypass. The first to the west, towards Radom railway tracks and W-wa Południe junction. Crews in the distance are clearing up the road – preparations for the opening under way.

Roads running towards ul. Puławska also look completed. The very viaduct is another example of several absurdities packed into one development…

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Pension reform takes shape

4 September 2013 might go down in the history as the day when privatisation of social security management was effectively dismantled…

Last Wednesday the government unveiled a draft of proposed changes in the pension system. The proposal is a combinations of two out of three variants presented to the public in late June. In brief, the fundamental changes are:
- 51.5% of assets amassed in pension funds will be transferred to state-run social security fund – this portion represents treasury securities currently held by the pension funds, which will be cancelled upon the transfer; thus the borrowing needs of the government and “overt” public debt will decrease and its contingent liabilities towards future pensioners will increase, on the other hard, the government will lose a strategic creditor, who could step in when other institutions were reluctant to buy new issues of government debt,
- private-run pension funds will be prohibited from buying securities bearing sovereign credit risk of Poland, i.e. treasury bonds and debt securities guaranteed by the government – this move increases risk profile of the pension funds,
- other assets amassed in the pension funds will stay intact (for the time being…),
- Poles will have three months from the date the new pension law comes into effect, to decide, whether to transfer 2.92% out of 19.52% of gross salary to private-run pension funds, or to transfer the whole pension contribution to the state-run social security system; those who do not bother to submit the declaration, will have the whole contribution automatically transferred to state-run pillar of the system; the decision will be irrevocable,
- assets from pension funds will be moved in ten tranches to the state-run fund over ten years prior to retirement,
- internal benchmark (setting minimum required rate of return) and investment limits are to be lifted,
- fees charged by the pension fund managers are to be slashed by 50% and capped on such level.

Markets’ reaction was predictably revengeful – on Wednesday and Thursday:
- share prices on Warsaw Stock Exchange plummeted – on Wednesday WIG20, index constituting of 20 blue chips, dropped by 2.5%, on Thursday it closed over 4.5% below Wednesday’s close, hitting intra-day low of over –6.0%, on Friday it rebounded by over 2.5%,
- zloty depreciated slightly against major currencies,
- yields on Polish government bonds rose sharply, with yields on 10Y securities reaching 5.0%, much more than 3.6% at the peak of bygone rally on Polish treasury securities…

The government’s representatives said they had predicted the turmoil and Poland would not lose on the rise of debt service costs, as 85% of borrowing needs for 2013 had already been financed at much lower cost.

I personally can also boast about predicting the little market crash. Unlike in 2011, when the crash after US sovereign rating downgrade was more severe, I sold out of almost all of my stock holdings and bought back much of them at almost 10% lower prices, when panic on the market was reaching its height. The stock market might stay volatile, but given the current economic recovery, if stock prices keep going down, this will only create an even bigger ‘buy’ opportunity. In the mid-term I believe I will personally benefit from the impact of the reform on the stock market. Fundamental value of a company does not depend on obligatory participation in private-run pension funds. Market pundits might tell you pension funds will not generate additional demand that used to drive stock prices up, but it is no reason to worry. From now they will stop inflating valuations of companies artificially and I find it a favourable change for the capital market. Remember, every bubble has to burst sooner or later. It has not swollen yet, however, if status quo was retained, demographic changes (increasing outflows from and decreasing inflows to pension funds) would exert downward pressure on stock prices anyway. So that unpleasant moment has been brought forward and its magnitude lessened.

Actors on the political arena in unison hold the view pension system needs a reform, but their assessment of government’s plan vary:
- Leszek Miller, president of SLD pledged to support the government in winding down the reform engineered by Mr. Buzek and Mr. Balcerowicz, therefore the ruling coalition faces no risk of the new law being voted down in the parliament, even though it cannot reckon on support from Civic Platform’s conservative flank – the key outsider / dissenter, not yet ousted from the party, Jarosław Gowin announced he would not cast a vote in favour of the reform,
- PiS politicians, who for a long time have called for freedom to choose whether to participate in private-run part of social security system, when the government pursues the project they have long advocated, refer to a (true) reasoning the government pursues the reform only to loosen the tightness on public finances, not out of care for future pensioners – the matter of the foremost rationale is clear, but if the government implements the vital part of their agenda and they try to oppose it, it means pursuit of power and making politics in more important for them than welfare of Poland,
- Janusz Palikot called for deeming the assets in pension funds owned by Poles and giving them the right to handle them at their discretion…

Media coverage was somewhat biased. Key headline were crying out “SKOK NA KASĘ” (literally: “gripping / seizing the money”), so audience of such news could have been convinced the government is about to steal their savings, while from the legal point of view the government is just relocating means within public finance system and takes them over not from private owner, but from private manager. Imagine a state-owned motorway which until now has been administered by a private manager and paid an administration fee for road maintenance. Is moving the motorway under government’s administration and depriving the private company of its fee a nationalisation? Oddly enough, there are economists, including a renowned chief economist of Credit Agricole Polska, who say the change is neutral for future pensioners. And Moody’s rating agency in its comment issued on Friday also presents a balanced picture of the reform. I must say pension funds managers’ lobby is powerful and effective in crying out its outrage at depriving them of state-secured huge revenues. May it exercise its right to run an informational campaign encouraging citizens to stay in pension funds and showing benefits of such decision. If it happens, do expect to have it dissected on this blog.

Now baffled citizens have a dilemma what to do with their future pension contributions. I do not feel entitled to advise to what to do. If you favour interest of your state (i.e. fellow taxpayers) and following ethical principles in business (the government should not guarantee income to privileged companies), you probably should have your whole pension contribution transferred to state-run social security system. If you believe in superiority of private management (that should have its investment restrictions and government guarantees for minimum pension benefit lifted) and discern pension funds keep assets, not just book records, you should have part of your contribution transferred to private-run pension funds.

To be sincere with you, I have not taken the decision yet. What the government presented recently is just a draft of proposed reform, lacking important details that can impact my decision. Only after I read the new law, I will be properly informed to make any judgement. The key issue for me will be probably the level of fees pension fund managers would be allowed charge. I recently took the opportunity to summarise the pension account allocated to me and learnt on 19 July 2013 (date is not incidental, as I used to be a “member” of Polsat OFE, taken over by PKO Bankowy OFE and 19 July was a merger completion date), after 3 years of paying contributions, market value of settlement units allocated to me was 104.10 PLN (or some 2%) higher than sum of my contributions (now, after yield on Polish government bonds have gone up and stocks lost a few percent of their value I fear the balance of this account dropped below the amount of contributions paid). The worst savings account in the worst bank would fetch a higher return, even after taxes! In the meantime, sum of load fees only was 175.71 PLN. I cannot count in management fee, as it is included in settlement unit valuation, but it seems gain for my future pension would have been at least three times higher, had it not been for the exorbitant fees… The far too high fees are the key factor contributing to built-in efficiency of pension funds. Even if underlying assets bring the desired rate of return, in the long-run exceeding pace of economic growth, management costs will eat up the excess return, making the whole fuss not worthwhile…

Sunday, 1 September 2013

"I knew it..."

How many times have you heard this? How many times have you happened to say this, to someone else (probably in the wake of them screwing something up) or to yourself? I begin to observe there is a distinct sense of anticipation built in a human mind – quite often when something is about to go wrong, despite no portent, nor any material evidence signalling it, a man is able to predict it…

Yesterday I drove up ul. Rzymowskiego towards intersection with Al. Wilanowska where it extends into ul. Wołoska. The road was virtually empty. I moved on the right lane and in the wing mirror saw the middle lane was empty. I thought this was safe situation in case something bad happened. For no apparent reason I grabbed the steering wheel with both hands (I have a condemnable habit of keeping only my felt hand on it, while the right is on the gear lever or rests) and as I was passing al. Wilanowska by, an idiot in silver Auris cut in from al. Wilanowska a few metres in front of me. I swerved abruptly in split second, bracing myself for an impact that at such speed could make me lose control over the vehicle, but eventually it ended up with only a close call. Had it not been for the gut feeling I’d had some two or three seconds before, I could have not avoided a serious accident – it wouldn’t have ended up on written-off cars, as I drove some 60 kmph, the Auris driver some 20 – 30 kmph. I was scared out of my wits, but next two or three seconds after the fact, when the reckless motorist was already behind me.

I decided to examine the whole situation:
I have a habit of controlling situation on the road in rear-view and wing mirrors, so I would have known of the free lane to the left anyway.
I usually have a laid-back position behind the wheel, unless I drive fast – efficacy of one-hand steering is far inferior to what can be achieved when the steering wheel is kept with both hands in “ten to two” position – it would have taken precious milliseconds to move the hand and the swerve manoeuvre would in its first stage have been made with just one hand…
Try to estimate the probability that an idiot, having red light, but green arrow, turns right, as if they had green light…

Most of you would say anticipation in this example can be put down to experience in driving. There’s a principle of limited trust to other road users. Each motorist should pre-empt other motorists’ actions and be prepared for the worst-case scenario. Thousands of miles covered influence your imagination and sensitise you to a specific kind of drivers, not those aggressive, speeding and self-confident, but those who infrequently sit behind the wheel, hold on to it fearfully and despite driving slowly, they dither, behave inconsiderately and unpredictably.

This was not the first time I averted an accident thanks to my intuition, but this happened in other realms of life. Many times my intuition has failed me. Many times I thought I should refrain from pursuing a specific plan, as the aftermaths would be dire. Each time, with some dread, I ignored those gut feelings, and never regretted it, as the bad fate has not left its mark on me.

A few nights ago I had a dream. Its content was more than absurd, but such dreams are not a rare occurrence with me. I was invited (why?) for opening of one of the main streets in Piaseczno, which recently underwent a refurbishment. For some reasons the roadside pavements were meant to adorned with lit grave candles and I was asked to light them. While doing my job, I accidentally dropped one of matchsticks into my shoe. I thought nothing happened, but before long my left shoe and sock began to smoulder. I tried to cover it with my jacket to cut off oxygen and thus put out fire, but it didn’t help. Actually there was no fire – there were just red sparks on my shoe and socks which on account of high temperature got stuck to my foot and it burnt mercilessly. I began to nervously hop about and beg people for a bucket of water. Finally somebody brought a bowl of water. I put my foot there and felt immediate relief. Then I tried to take off my footwear and sock. They came off together with the outer layer of my skin… Then I woke up, scared and soaking with sweat…

Then I checked the possible meaning of the dream (once this proved a worthwhile guidance). This time interpretations were disparate, but none upbeat. They said seeing a man aflame means loss of a dear person, but it precisely referred to seeing someone else in fire. Burning oneself means being close to take a decision that will destroy me. And I even recognised what it would be in my case. As a down-to-earth person, should I be guided by absurdly improbable dreams? Is the fate issuing a warning through the subconscious?

Or is it simply about my worn-out theory stating that misfortunate events strike out of the blue when me don’t expect them, and when we expect them, we take steps to prevents them. So assuming I’m aware of potential consequences of my decision, can I manage the course of events to avoid the destruction?