Sunday, 3 December 2017

Remigiusz Mróz


Young and talented novelists are few and far between. Those truly gifted come into the limelight early and usually readership are fascinated with their uncanny style of writing, valour of touching upon problematic or delicate matters or such authors just happen to become the voice of part of their generation. Remigiusz Mróz, born just like me in 1987 (though nearly a year older than me), could fall into any of the categories above. His books have just stepping into shelves of bookshops and filled them, since the skilful writer churns out novels.

My friend Ola has recommended his books to me several times, quoting his age (our peer) and potency in writing novels in different genres – over the last five years several publishing houses released 25 books (crime novels, thrillers, science-fiction) authored by him. My first book by Remigiusz Mróz (Zaginięcie) was lent to me by my mother; I have nearly finished reading it from cover to cover (short of some 50 pages to reach the last page) and I am pretty impressed.

I should hold back from shaping on opinion on all of his writings (which I will draw on) based on one book, but Zaginięcie appealed me with realistic plot, dynamic twists of action, decent focus on details and consistency. A reader truly feels in the centre of the depicted world and characters seem oddly familiar to them.

The language Mr Mróz uses is plain, flows smoothly, is found light to receive. While I have been reading Zaginięcie I felt the author had little problems putting his ideas into paper and editors of the book had little job to do in terms of refining the style.

From my side hats down to the author for decent insight into intricacies of criminal law (no wonder, as he holds PhD in law) – one can easily make out when somebody knows what they write about and does not need to consult a third-party to make their story appear credible.

So again, I boosted the reading statistics which in Poland come out still horrible. More than 50% of Poles have not read a single book over the last year, while I belong to a tiny 10% of Poles who have read more than 7 books in 2016. Despite standing out, I cannot feel proud of myself, reading around 10 books per year (my mother and father read more than 40 books per year each, however as pensioners they have more spare time to indulge in reading).

Next post in two weeks – spending the next weekend I don’t know where, celebrating the 30th birthday with my better half.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Money


Some claim it should not be a subject of conversations between gentlemen, for some this is a taboo topic to nearly the same extent as sex, for others it is simply not on to broach it and talking too much of it demonstrates one’s pettiness.

Yet the matter is too serious to pass unnoticed, especially if we bear in mind one of most frequent reasons why couples quarrel is money, or to pin it down, the approach to it.

The approach to money begins to be shaped at home. A child observes how their parents handle money and on such basis forms its own financial patterns. Psychologists point out the middle-of-the-road approach to money, i.e. not going into extremes of being parsimonious or wasteful, develops most sensible stance towards money. Oddly enough, adults whose parents were going into any of the extremes, are roughly equally likely to either be skin-flints or to throw about money recklessly.

Most people work to earn money or in other words to earn a livelihood. They are paid money to meet their needs, basic ones such as housing or nutrition and more sophisticated ones, the ones which bring pleasure. No matter how strongly at odds you are with that concept, how you make use of the money to possess or owe, defines who you are. Where you live impacts your comfort of life and describes your social status. What you eat has impact on your health. What outfits you wear impacts how to feel and how fellow people perceive you. Your pastime activities, sports you do, cultural events you attend, travels you take, paint the picture of you and how colourful it is depends also, though, watch out, not only, on what your budget and inclination to spend money is.

Some people are taught not to spend every penny they earn, but to put money aside, with some specific goal in mind, or just for a rainy day. Others spend nearly as much as they receive, yet do not live beyond their means. Finally, lots of people these days consume more than they can afford to, some run up debts cheaply and wisely (e.g. to buy dwelling), others use credit cards and cash loans to consume – buy expensive clothes, host lavish parties, travel to fancy destinations. I am holding back from evaluating whether each of the approaches above is commendable or condemnable, they are just different. The former bring in the virtue of safety, the latter let one live it up.

To lay out my own take on money:
- maximise your income, including all non-pecuniary benefits you may receive (company cars, vouchers to shops, allowances you are eligible to),
- rationalise everyday spending, since repeatable reckless purchases are where most money goes down the drain – hence I prefer super- and hypermarkets to cornershops, I seek out bargain offers, buy things in advance when they are cheaper or in bulk (provided I use them up before expiry dates), and do not take the path of least resistance – for instance I have recently calculated I save between 200 and 300 PLN per month by preparing myself four sandwiches (two eaten before lunch, two as a “dinner”) each day to work from ingredients bought at a hypermarket, instead of buying four ready ones,
- from time to time, be lavish to give your friends / relatives and yourself some pleasure, since life is not only about skimping and saving,
- save wisely, i.e. to do not buy cheap, yet shoddy stuff or lousy food lacking nutrients,
- mind quality of items you buy, attach more importance to durability and reliability than to brand tags.

Finally, the wealthiest folks are not the ones who have earned the most, but those who thriftily disposed of their wealth and knew how to accumulate it prudently.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Road construction summary - November 2017


The grand road completion spree of 2012 (coinciding with the football championship held then in Poland) would probably never repeat, yet nearly five years after that it is worth looking how construction of motorways and expressways in Poland has moved on and what sections are expected to be opened over next years.

At the end of 2012 A1 motorway linked Gdansk with the Strykow junction on A2 motorway. The eastern bypass of Łódź, being a part of A1 had been scheduled to be completed in 2012, yet several tribulations, including disputes with distressed general contractor, delayed the end of works by 4 years. Eventually, the 40-kilometre section between Stryków and Tuszyn was opened on 1 July 2016. Further down Piotrków Trybunaski A1 becomes a decent dual carriageway enjoying the status of a national road and giving benefit of smooth driving (watch out for police patrols hunting up speeding drivers). Troubles begin when one gets close to Częstochowa and down towards Górny Śląsk, where two lanes in each directions with frequent intersections are already congested. Construction of the new motorway between Blachownia north of Częstochowa and the Silesian agglomeration has already commenced and is due to draw to a close in mid-2019. Travellers heading for Górny Śląsk from Warsaw are rather advised to take a PKP Intercity train, though journey durations are around a quarter longer than a year ago…

Over the past two years not a single kilometre of A2 motorway has been built. The section between Łódź and Warsaw, plagued by dense traffic cries out for third lanes in each direction. S2 expressway being the southern bypass of Warsaw was partly opened in 2013, the remaining section of Poland’s capital’s southern ring is to be ready by the end of 2020. In 2021 the A2-S2-A2 trail will end beyond Mińsk Mazowiecki and little heralds any further extension east in the foreseeable future.

S3 expressway, the one I have never driven, in 2012 had a completed stretch between Szczecin and Gorzów Wielkopolski. Today it reaches down to Zielona Góra and further sections down to Bolków are under construction (spent some ten minutes in a traffic jam on A4 motorway where a junction with S3 is built in June 2017). Sadly, the expressway will end in Bolków, while the route down to Jelenia Góra and to the border with the Czech Republic is bound to remain a single carriageway.

A4 motorway whose western parts date back to Hitler’s rule, is now the only border-to-border motorway in Poland, on vast sections a toll road, despite this being one of the most congested roads in this country.

S5 expressway would finally link Wrocław with Grudziądz. Several stretches of the expressway between Wrocław and Poznań (never had a chance to travel between these two cities) have been opened over the recent five years, the remaining are under construction and due to be opened up by the end of 2019. The section I drove several times was between DK92 and Gniezno (the new factory has a training centre out there in the sticks) and this one was extended this year beyond Gniezno, but the wait for the fast-traffic link between Poznań and Bydgoszcz will take some two years.

S6 motorway will one day connect Gdańsk and Szczecin, yet except for section between Szczecin and Koszalin being built, further stretches still wait for better days and higher priority in road construction agendas.

S7 is a dire example of how sluggish the pace of road construction can be. The national road number 7 still connects Warsaw with Gdansk (there is an alternative route via A2 and A1) and Kraków and after years of being built stretch by tretch, yet chaotically – new sections of S7 expressway intertwine with old sections of the DK7 road. It will take two years before you will be able to drive from Gdansk to Nidzica through S7, but then the section to Płońsk which badly needs upgrade stands some chance to be completed until the end of 2021… Warsaw still lacks the northern expressway out of the city, while the wait for S7 down to Grójec is estimated to last 4 years. Further south the road is ready or under construction, down to the border of Małopolskie province, where S7 has gotten stuck as a daydream. I do not even feel like mentioning how badly the road link between Kraków and Zakopane needs to be improved.

S8 expressway has seen a substantial stride. The whole section between Wrocław and Łódź was opened for traffic in 2014. In 2015 the section between Warszawa Opacz and Nadarzyn was also completed. On Warszawa – Piotrków Trybunalski one 20-kilometre section is under construction and should be completed in late 2018. North-east of Warsaw the salvation to residents of Marki, bypass of the town, has recently had its opening deadline postponed again, but still is due to be opened by the end of this year. Works on several sections of DK8 meant to upgrade it do S8 status are under way and in a year it is quite probable one would be able to drive from Warsaw to Białystok without a single stop.

While if you asked me where DK9 runs, I would need to scratch my head twice to think, going forward with next number makes little sense. I am looking forward to seeing S17 between Warsaw and Lublin completed and S61 aka via Baltica from Łomża to Lithuanian border. Well, in terms of road construction eastern Poland has always fallen behind in government road construction agendas, yet the lower priority has been underpinned by lower traffic volumes.

The road construction status as of November 2017 is hereby saved for posterity. For up-to-date information on progress of works, visit the regularly updated map looked after by Skyscrapercity users. Hats down to them!

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Megane III - review


A year passes since my parents signed over to me their 5-year-old Renault Megane III, after my father had given in to his whim to upgrade to Megane IV (I call it a whim, since if somebody drives less than 10,000 kilometres per year, changing a vehicle after five years is nothing but the whim).

This meant a farewell to Megane II (2003), my first car whose reliability on account of age could have been called into question. I had liked that car and it had met all my needs, but wondering what would pack up next had made no sense.

In terms of interior and its functionalities, I have not noticed much upgrade. The car had nearly everything the trim version old Megane II had, but since Megane III is more like no-frill version, some fancy fittings are missing. I still hanker after hands-free door opening system (you could only approach a car and have the card with you to open and start the vehicle), yet on the other hand air-conditioning is more efficient and audio system has AUX socket.

The upgrade is felt most intensely when it comes to dynamics the 1.4 litre turbocharged engine offers. The engine works like a dream above 2k revolutions per minute which comes in useful when overtaking or changing lanes when traffic moves at higher speed on the adjacent lane.

As with all turbocharged petrol-fuelled engines, fuel efficiency critically hinges upon how your right feet touches the accelerator pedal. If you drive aggressively in town, expect the engine to gobble up nearly 10 litres per 100 kilometres, but if you practice eco-driving like I do, 8 litres in town is utterly achievable. Beyond town, if you drive smoothly, 6 litres is within reach, while on motorways, while sticking to speed limits, the engine might consume around 8 litres per 100 kilometres. I believe these are all modest results though the very from average fuel consumption declared by carmakers.

The two drawbacks I find most irritating are slowly heating up engine and “too short” gears. As for the former, in winter, when the car is parked outside, it might take up to a 10-kilometre drive before the engine reaches its working temperature. As for the latter, though the car has six gears (excluding the rear one), the sixth gear, at which you can comfortably cruise at 70 kmph, is in fact the fifth gear and the car lacks the actual sixth gear for out-of-town and motorway driving (which would reduce appetite for petrol as well).

The car is definitely good for longer runs (I am not in favour of driving short distances and prefer to use public transport around Warsaw) therefore it perfectly serves its purpose in private and business trips around Poland (and beyond). I actually have not driven it that very much, since the car now has around 39,700 kilometres on the clock, while a year ago it had exactly 30,000. Over the past year and less than 10,000 kilometres the only breakdown was an airbag sensor defect, repaired in Renault garage for somewhat less than PLN 400 (but the breakdown hit just before setting off to Berlin in May and I drove over a thousand kilometres unsure whether airbags would go off in case of serious collision).

The car is now over six years old and I plan to keep to going as long as it is economically viable and fear of another breakdown does not begin to cause me discomfort. I do not need to swank about a fancy car, so the vision of being the owner of a car whose market value is equal to my monthly after-tax salary does not scare me. There are several better ways of spending money than replacing a quickly depreciating, yet not worn-out vehicle with another brand-new one.

Sadly, the prospects of getting a company car are negligibly low and though it is not entirely cost-free (the New Factory has recently introduced a reverse mileage allowances for private travels and punishes drivers whose style of driving results in well above-average fuel consumption), being a user of such vehicle is the most convenient and cost-effective option one can imagine.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Half-year into


Just for the record, to save my mindset for posterity and mark exactly six months ago we first kissed.

It has been the first serious (rather than just occasional dating or going out) relationship I have been in since student times (the previous one had been terminated a month before I set up this blog, with little regret, we had just let it go), so over these years spent single I have moved on, grown mature on my own, I am not the same man I was over eight years earlier. I have developed self-limitations, habits and inhibitions which had to be overcome when I had to learn to reckon with a presence of another person in my life.

Looking for a candidate for life companion had not been easy, there had been many failures, rejections, disappointments and flawed decisions along the way. It used to hurt and taught me to keep my distance towards women. For some reason, the fear of rejection vanished into the air when I met my girlfriend.

From the very beginning it was not a bed of roses as it should have been by the books. As for first months, there were too many moments it could fall apart, but it has not. There were so many swings in my approach towards her. At times breaking up was an even more conceivable option than mending this relationship. We have hurt each other several times, but emerged stronger out of each crisis, we have learnt to talk openly to each other, thus we have become true close friends. The relationship is about communicating one’s needs, about reaching compromise. Affections and emotions are crucial, yet insufficient to build something long-term that would withstand ups and downs of daily life and problems.

Having written all of that, I remain uncertain of what the future of this relationship would be. Some say at the age of (nearly) 30 a man should judge after half a year whether a woman he dates has all makings of a good wife. And I do realise I have little time to decide whether to hold on or let go, and for sake of being honest to her and to myself, I will need to do this soon.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Łódź, EC1


Drove to Łódź last Sunday… We felt like going to a planetarium, but the nearby one in Centrum Nauki offered no breath-taking show, hence we had decided to check out the state-of-the-art one opened last year in revitalised building of heat and power plant (hence EC1 name) in central Łódź.

We could have taken the train directly to Łódź Fabryczna station, but given lower cost and faster journey time, the car again had the edge. For no apparent reason, I thought the train covers the distance between Warszawa Centralna and Łódź Fabryczna in one hour and five minutes, but PKP Intercity webpage told me it takes 20 minutes longer, in total as much as door-to-door journey by car, so time which could have been spent getting to the station (in advance) and waiting on the platform was spared. Besides, the price of two return adult tickets was PLN 112, compared to less than PLN 100 spent on petrol (I’ve gotten on drive within speed limits, as playing about with accelerator pedal not only means playing with safety but also increases fuel consumption which hits the wallet painfully).

The A2 motorway between Łódź and Warsaw is more and more congested. Traffic density predicted for 2030 was reached in 2015 and though I have never experience a traffic jam out there (though driving out of Warsaw in the morning I could see snarled-up traffic on Warsaw-bound lanes between Grodzisk Mazowiecki and Konotopa), I am of the opinion three lanes in each direction are a must on this section, just as one more lane in each direction ought to be built on the A2 bypass of Poznań. Some time ago the ministry of infrastructure was considering widening the road, yet I believe this task should be given lower priority than upgrading dangerous national roads to the status of expressway (DK7 from Gdańsk to Kraków being the most glaring example of such trail).

Following the guidelines on EC1’s website, we left the car on Łódź Fabryczna’s giant (nearly 1,000 lots) P&R car park. We could have left it directly in front of the planetarium, since many parking space were free on Sunday.

Now a word on Łódź Fabryczna station, opened in December 2016 along with huge transport hub (changing between trains, tram, city and long-distance buses and car park is possible there). I could not resist the temptation to sightsee the object which had set the taxpayers back 2 billion zlotys and on Sunday seemed well ahead of its times. The station is huge, large spaces are empty, there is no place to eat a lunch (a passenger must make do with a sandwich, cake and coffee, don’t hope to buy a schabowy out there), trade units remain unlet. The impression the station made on me on Sunday could have been misleading, as the place surely does not look that desolated on weekday early morning, when hundreds of Łódź residents (including two of my workmates) set off in their journey to Warsaw to work.

We strolled around the city and the part between Łódź Fabryczna and ul. Piotrkowska has not changed much since my last visit there in 2012. Few new buildings have been put up, the reek of urine and alcohol still lingers. I wonder how many workplaces have been created over that time in Łódź. If Łódź itself does not draw in investors, I doubt its proximity to Warsaw makes the city attractive as a dormitory city of Warsaw. Everyday commuting by car is impracticable due to cost and time wasted in traffic jams. The monthly train ticket costs PLN 400 (which as my workmate says is tax-deductible) which eats up some of your savings made on lower cost of housing and services if you reside in Łódź. Besides, even on the assumption that train ride duration shortens to 65 minutes, you need to add up the time necessary to get to the station (a few minutes before the train departs) and from the station to office or home (my office is under fifteen-minute walk from Warszawa Centralna, luckily). This means your daily commute takes between three and four hours, around two hours a day (ten hours a week, over forty hours a month) more compared to average door-to-door journey time of one and half hour (in both directions) if you live within the boundaries of Warsaw. For me, not an argument to save around PLN 3,000 per square meter of a property if you still plan to work in Warsaw.

Moved the clocks backward last night. I sincere hope this is the last time and in a year Poland stays in daylight saving time for the entire winter. Will not miss the later sunrise, but I am longing for one more hour of sunlight in the afternoon.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

On the edge



Can I recall why I have leapt into it? There was a desire, a pure lust, same one which makes men fight, steal or lie. And apart from the desire there was an opportunity. First, since many years, the one I needed to seize, had I not done it, I would not have forgiven myself missing out on it. And finally outcome of a plain calculation tipped the scales in favour of her – had I turned her away, I would have hurt her certainly, had I given it a chance, there would have been just a chance I would hurt her. The chance which is about to materialise…

Why have I been putting in so much work in it? If something has not been right, firstly I have been wondering whether something has not been wrong with me. Over years spent being single I had developed habits which could have made building a relationship difficult. I have realised it and fought it. Besides, I have seen my work on this relationship and on her bearing fruits, it has not been like banging my head against a brick wall. Slowly, we have been moving on, though my hopes at the beginning had been frail…

With hindsight, that has been too much work put in, given we have been past our first half-year period and usually this is when honeymoon is not yet over. Every time I wanted to give up, I kept telling myself breaking up because something went wrong was a sign of cowardice. When something breaks down in a relationship, if people care for each other, they firstly attempt to mend it; when it goes to no avail and they run out of energy, determination and love, break-up comes up in sight.

Too frequently something has been out of right. I am sick and tired of looking for a human being in you, though many times you have proved inside your shell you are a genuinely good human being, only breaking through the shell costs me so much effort. I am sick of searching in you traits I see in almost all other women. I have had enough of seeking the comfort, safety and acceptance, seeking what I should simply feel.

Even when things go wrong, two people have much in common that keeps them together: children, common dwelling, liabilities. In such respect, there is nothing to unwind what could keep us together. We stay together as long as feelings inside us burn. Keeping this going just for the sake of continuity makes little (or just no) sense.

Breaking up is just one of scenarios in this game, if attempts to fix it go in vain. Apart from sadness, loneliness and emptiness, the end might bring relief. Recently, while recalling the last months, I compared the intensity of stress and joy brought out by this relationship and sadly more often it frayed my nerves than lifted my spirits.

Whatever next days or weeks bring, it is still too early to lay down weapons. If too much goes wrong, maybe keeping it going senselessly is a sign of cowardice, rather than having courage to terminate a relationship before it gets too deep?