Sunday, 29 May 2016

The weekend

The long-awaited four days of all-out logout. Corpo-world left behind, not a thought about what lies ahead on Monday, weather fine. A sin not to make the most of it.

Thursday, Corpus Christi.
Morning starts off with mundane stuff, overdue house-cleaning and ironing. Then drove my mother to the nearby cemetery where my maternal grandparents are buried. Before 10 a.m. duties are marked off, the bike beckons to set off for a ride. Cycling through Las Kabacki I head towards Park Kultury w Powsinie. No droves of people, rather few visitors hang around. I need to bear in mind many people participate in Church processions, many are away from Warsaw, while many sleep off and miss out on the excellent weather. It’s sunny, yet only around +20C, pleasantly warm, yet not hot. I sit back for a while then make my way home along southern edges of the forest. I spend the afternoon in the garden where lots of work needs to be caught up with.

Friday, the day in-between
Business before pleasure as they say. I briskly walk to the swimming pool in Piaseczno, return home, switch on the washing machine and the vacuum cleaner. Two hours later I can go outside, clean the car inside and spend the rest of the day working in the garden, sunbathing, then washing the car. I feel my shoulders are slightly sunburnt. A soothing ointment applied in the evening and tomorrow the pink skin and searing will be gone.

Saturday, it’s downhill now
Feel my spine and muscles have had a decent workout. After another visit to the swimming pool reinvigorates me. Just like yesterday few swimmers in the facility. After a round of household chores… The bike beckons again. It’s already hot, +25C and the sunrays not necessarily treat human skin with care. I ride to Zalesie Dolne, nearby former summer resort, currently still a hangout for scores of locals. It’s late morning, yet the area is far from being densely occupied. Some fishy men stick around. I jump off the bike to take a snap with my mobile and post in on facebook. I realise I have just run out of my data packet for this month so I need to fall back on my company phone to turn on the Wi-fi router and make use of the other phone if I am to show off where I am. The whole operations lasts some two minutes, I turn around to get on my bike… Where’s the bike. No one in sight, not a bike in sight. This came to me as a surprise. Who’d want it? The value of my 12-year-old cheapo bike was close to scrap value… Actually the bigger nuisance than loss of the bike is having to walk back home some seven kilometres in full sunshine, without head covering. Once I get to Piaseczno I consider taking a 709 or 727 bus home, yet knowing I am half-way home and I would need to wait on the terminus till the bus departs, then ride its regular route, I decide to continue on foot. Slightly worn-down, I get home before 1 p.m. Spend the rest of the day loafing about and searching for a new bike.

Sunday, today
What a lovely weather. Wind takes the edge off heat. At 9 a.m. I venture to local Decathlon store. I’m looking for a no-frill, basic, yet up-to-the-mark in terms of quality bike for weekend trips (I estimate I cover between 1,000 and 1,500 kilometres per year). I planned to delay purchase of the new bike until late summer when end-of-season sell-offs begin, but the theft has unexpectedly brought forward my plans. I settle for B’twin Rockrider 340 and buy additional accessories: mud flaps, saddle cover and a prop. The bill is reasonable: slightly below 900 PLN with preparatory works included. I ride off the shop and the impression is comparable to moving from a 12-year-old rickety car to a brand-new car. I took a short ride to Ursynów and back to try out the newly purchased vehicle. It’s a no-frill bike, one cannot deny it, yet everything works smoothly and gently and cycling is less tiresome. The change reminds me one can draw lots of pleasure from riding. I promise to have the bike serviced annually and protect it from the elements of weather and thieves, therefore it will be kept in the garage (and then probably in a storage box).

Hope you also had an enjoyable weekend. Exercise done, but has the test been passed?

Sunday, 22 May 2016


The dance group I joined was dissolved in late April due to too low number of students to make running classes cost-effective for the school. As people were dropping off along the way, firstly two groups were merged into one and then, as number of folks eager to continue went down below five couples (from sixteen on the onset), it all went phut.

Truth be told, I did not look out actively for a new class. I owe taking it up to someone else, who induced me to move my arse and sign up for a class in a totally different style, in a totally new place (Warsaw, downtown).

The choice, though as I need to stress not entirely mine, is challenging, as Latin dances are featured with high complexity in terms of body movements. Merely moving around to the rhythm is far from enough. To get it right you need to practice a lot, have a good teacher who knows how to explain what you don’t… feel and you need to have… knack for it.

Bachata is one of those Latin dances geared to make the most of the proximity between partners. If you plan to take it up, you need to realise it and not be perplexed by it. The course I have signed up for is focused at learning to dance universally, not to learn to dance with your partner, therefore participants switch between partners several times during the class. It requires some openness from couples who come over, yet if someone does not accept it, no one coerces them to pop round. As yesterday I was telling my friends about the classes, they came up with comparison to swingers’ parties… Which is an unjustified parallel.

Compared to the previous school, the set-up and style of running classes are worlds apart. In the new place a class begins with a quarter-long warm-up, while the remaining 45 minutes are spent dancing and participants are given more free rein when it comes what exactly they want to practise. On the other hand the drawback is a still big number of people, so before some of them drop off you might not reckon the teacher will come around to assist you every time you struggle to get it right.

The climate of the school smacks of what sometimes is depicted in dance films. Side street in eastern Śródmieście, entrance in a dim gate, stairs down to a basement, tiny interior, steamy inside, smell of human sweat in the air… Ideal conditions for making new friends ;-)

All in all, glad I’ve found one more activity to get the stress out of myself. I have no idea how long I carry on with this, as I am aware of my limitations and dancing Bachata is not a piece of cake.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t lack self-confidence and am not about to give up shortly after the word ‘go’. Growing mature is about realising both one’s strengths and weaknesses. One should make the most of the former, leverage on them and boast about them. But when it comes to the latter, one should strive to overcome them when possible, but if not, know when to stop and back away in dignity. Both partners must draw pleasure from dancing; if one is dissatisfied with the other, the other one should not be indifferent about it. Otherwise it ain’t gonna play ;-)

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Longevity, five years later

A natural continuation to my post dated 15 May 2011. My paternal grandfather, my only grandparent still alive, turns 90 the day after tomorrow. He is my first ancestor who will have reached such grand old age. After my grandma’s departure last year, he lives on his own, yet every second day my father or my uncle visit him to help his run the house, or to make it clear, to run his house. This teaches the lesson that “old” marriage model in which a woman is solely responsible for household chores while a man earns a livelihood, leaves a widower helpless after several decades of being served by his wife. Fortunately, today’s marriages are geared to sharing mundane duties and men as a matter of principle are familiar with using washing machine, ironing, cleaning or cooking.

Compared to how he managed five years ago, grandpa is naturally mentally and physically less, yet still moves around on his own, but everything he does, he does very slowly (dressing up takes him twenty minutes, morning toiletry more than half an hour). Mentally, he is definitely less bright, yet in simple terms understand what is going on around. Quite conceivably, in five years I may wish him well on his 95th birthday, yet mortality statistics look somewhat downbeat for males in his age.

Revising the post from 2011, my grandfather denies most of the twelve longevity-conducive factors I mentioned there. I think he owes his long life to my grandpa who wore trousers for over sixty six years of their marriage, who was always first to look after sons and the house. Maybe leading a carefree life should be tacked on as another driver of longer life length.

And I could hold back from repeating one of the last sentences: look at young yuppies who break their backs to make roaring careers and make lots money and ask yourself, if they'll be able to carry on like this for 40 years. Imagine a man working 60 hours a week for four decades when he retires in his sixties. I was writing it at the early stage of my career, before university graduation and did not know whether and when I would end up in such treadmill. As this is the situation in which I am stuck now (weighing up quitting the New Factory next year if nothing improves), I am more than sure I will not carry on like this for 40 years as long working hours and rapid pace of work involve lots of stress, leave little time and suck out energy, both essential for experiencing pleasures.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Chciwość - book review

Once I have reviewed here another book by Paweł Reszka, one of his two (only) famous ones, with Daleko od Miłości, a bleak depiction of Donald’s Tusk as prime minister, being the other, unread by me. After a few years without meaningful accomplishments, Mr Reszka hit the audience with a new book on 27 April 2016. Soon after I learnt about the existence of the book and its subject matter, I rushed to order it online, picked it up on Monday, read from cover to cover, jotted down some important stuff and wonder whether I should recommend it as a valuable read. The book is not a “must”, but if you have some spare time, would not hurt to reach out for it, nevertheless, 28 PLN spent on it (could not find it any cheaper in e-bookshops) could have been expended in a more pleasant way ;-)

For the sake of clarity, the book’s focal point are malpractices of financial institutions in their dealings with clients, retail clients.

Although I am employed in the financial sector, I am totally unfamiliar with the world of retail banking illustrated in the book. From what I have heard and read, asserting that work in a bank outlet in Poland is unrewarding is an understatement. Low basic salary, junk contracts, unrealistic targets, mobbing and high staff turnover are the order of the day in that world. Yet for some reason, not the nascent investment banking, not classy corporate banking, but world of small bank outlets scattered too plentifully across Poland is now compared with infamous stories by the Cityboy or The Wolf of Wall Street.

Testimonies of people who used to be a pillar of a system they hate today have left me with mixed feelings. As the author rightly points out, all his interlocutors have not felt guilty of the mis-selling they were involved in. They have all claimed they were a part of an evil system and had no choice but to swim with the tide. Actually their intentions were to earn money, rather than to fool clients. Had indeed they been intent for the latter, they would not have convinced their families and friends to buy products they were distributing, products they genuinely believed were suitable and good for clients.

The very naivety in such reasoning speaks volumes of salespeople’s competencies. It is not a secret staff in retail banking do not need to be graduates of economics. Even if those people possess university degrees, their diplomas are earned in dead-end majors, such as political sciences or sociology. No wonder then they could not understand what they were selling and no wonder nobody cared. They were meant to meet targets, nothing (broader) beyond that.

I was kind of astonished when I read about bonuses of top-performers. When I hear “retail banker in Poland”, I have in mind a poorly-paid (basic salary) mobbed, lousy guy in a doghouse. Majority may fit into such scheme, yet the book gives two figures: one guy thanks to superb “output” earned one month 120 thousand PLN before tax and another guy who in a good year earned 320 thousand PLN before tax. Both numbers are still out of reach for me, let alone an ordinary Pole for who such earnings are outrageous…

While proceeds are on one side, on the other one comes spending. The book goes to show what happens when boors (usually sly guys from provincial Poland) begin to get paid like lords. As they feel the dough flowing in, they usually begin to show off, live beyond their means and cannot even make use of the short-lasting lucky streak to save something. They become a part of the tribe and need to keep up with fellow meatheads, swank about, party wild… Incidentally, descriptions of what bank-sponsored parties look like are far cry from what I am familiar with; same about families broken up on account of sinful lifestyle or because of working overtime habitually – in civilised part of Poland’s financial sector such things happen no more often than among representatives of any other profession…

So if wicked bank(st)ers and wicked banks were earning so well, had a client any chance to make a profit? Two most popular toxic products massively sold to retail customers in Poland were: CHF-denominated or CHF-indexed mortgage loans and unit-linked insurance policies (for no apparent reason known as polisolokaty, a misnomer, since polisolokata was a name for life insurance policy working exactly like bank deposit when such products allowed to circumvent capital gains tax).

The former product was attractive for mortgage borrowers who benefited from lower interest rates in CHF and therefore could take out higher loans. Unlike many claim, banks were indifferent about fluctuations of CHF/PLN (they did not report losses when PLN was appreciating against CHF until July 2008). They earned on spread between bid and ask rate. For example, if CHF/PLN was 2.00, at loan disbursement a bank used CHF/PLN = 1.94 rate, while when first instalment was repaid, though the exchange rate stayed level, the customer repaid it at CHF/PLN = 2.06. So banks were making huge money on spreads while being immune to FX rate variations. Though most clients today are worse-off than their PLN-indebted counterparts on their CHF mortgages, they turned worse off in 2013 when interest rates in PLN went down. By that time, despite PLN depreciation, their to-date instalments were lower than those paid by mortgage debtors with loans in PLN. I personally also know a guy who took out a CHF mortgage in 2004 and converted it to PLN in 2008 and whose debt shrank by nearly PLN 100,000. And be sure the bank which had lent him money earned decently on him as well!

The latter product, with mechanics described in the book, could give a chance to earn only if returns on the aggressively invested money were as good as in golden years before 2008. The reason for being bound to lose is the fee structure. With insurance company (ultimate service provider), bank (structuring party) and agent (intermediary) to be paid, fee schedule was high enough to wipe out ordinary profits. If load fee from each and every contribution is 5% and you gave management fee on top, a rough calculation tells you an average return of 6% per year is needed to break even. Today, with risk-free rate of 1.5% such return is achievable only if sizeable risk is taken.

Oddly enough, many bankers who genuinely believed in superiority of CHF-mortgages and unit-linked insurance plans are victims of those instruments.

And oddly enough, I have never been aggressively foisted upon toxic products. Salespeople from banks call me from time to time and ask me politely whether I am interested in a toxic product, I politely but firmly refuse. I do not remember being duped by any salesman in a way described in the book. Maybe they know who they talk to and as a matter of principle do not play such tricks with people from the same industry…

The book also made me recall one event which deserves to be erased from my memory. In October 2008 a friend of mine recommended me as a potentially interested in a job as distributor of the most lousy investment products. Out of curiosity I made an arrangement for an interviewed. I was interviewed by my peer (aged 20 or 21 then; for the first time a guy of my age would address me “pan”) and upon hearing from him as a branch manager and team leader he earned PLN 20,000 and drove Audi A3, I simply finished the meeting. Indeed, the biggest misfortune is when a boor comes into big money suddenly…

For readers less familiar with finance, the book contains a glossary / guide which in simple words explains e.g. what the difference between a CHF-denominated and CHF-indexed loan is, or how a unit-linked insurance works. Laymen then are advised to start their read from the back cover ;-)

The timing of the premiere might bring out suppositions the book is to be harnessed in a political discussion on conversion of FX-mortgages. I doubt this happens. Firstly, no one in the book takes pity on CHF-borrowers, claiming they should pay for their greed and stupidity. Secondly, it reminds who was in favour of sustaining the CHF-lending unrestricted (PiS politicians: Przemysław Gosiewski, Zyta Gilowska and Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz) and who insisted on clamping down on it (banks).

Sunday, 1 May 2016

The day before you came

Must have left my house at eight, because I always do
My train, I'm certain, left the station just when it was due
I must have read the morning paper going into town
And having gotten through the editorial, no doubt I must have frowned
I must have made my desk around a quarter after nine
With letters to be read, and heaps of papers waiting to be signed
I must have gone to lunch at half past twelve or so
The usual place, the usual bunch
And still on top of this I'm pretty sure it must have rained
The day before you came

I must have lit my seventh cigarette at half past two
And at the time I never even noticed I was blue
I must have kept on dragging through the business of the day
Without really knowing anything, I hid a part of me away
At five I must have left, there's no exception to the rule
A matter of routine, I've done it ever since I finished school
The train back home again
Undoubtedly I must have read the evening paper then
Oh yes, I'm sure my life was well within it's usual frame
The day before you came

Must have opened my front door at eight o'clock or so
And stopped along the way to buy some Chinese food to go
I'm sure I had my dinner watching something on TV
There's not, I think, a single episode of Dallas that I didn't see
I must have gone to bed around a quarter after ten
I need a lot of sleep, and so I like to be in bed by then
I must have read a while
The latest one by Marilyn French or something in that style
It's funny, but I had no sense of living without aim
The day before you came

And turning out the light
I must have yawned and cuddled up for yet another night
And rattling on the roof I must have heard the sound of rain
The day before you came

One of the last singles by ABBA, released in 1982, after the break-up of both marriages making up the band and prior to actual bitter dismemberment of the quartet. Not as widely known as other, easier, more ear-catching songs by ABBA, by many underrated and standing out among earlier works of the band. Unlike most songs from the period when the band enjoyed unfaltering popularity (1976-1981) this one is not energising and does not have features of a catchy tune sung along by people from different walks of life across the globe. It is filled with far bigger dose of melancholy than more famous songs from ABBA’s late-fame period (The Winner Takes It All or One of Us) and though the very lyrics seem depressing, the very title reminds it is never too late for a change, yet how it comes about remains a mystery.

The wikipedia article on the song is remarkably exhaustive and apart from depicting background of the song, includes several interpretation of its lyrics