Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Ukraine: When two Blocks collide

I've always found the flow of history fascinating (abstracted from the names and dates I can't remember). Whether one believes in the cyclicality of history or just the enduring nature of human psychology: there seems to be a regular pattern in which conflicts start.

As a completely unaligned observer of history unfolding around the Ukraine, I now only speculate whether the nature of the world has changed enough to avoid war.

If not, it seems clear the cycle is turning. An aggressively expanding economic and political power is moving into the Ukraine in a direct effort to enhance its position and to displace a declined economic and political power whose sphere of influence and open markets have been seriously diminished. What might one historically expect to be happen?

The first step in a conflict would be a war of words with each side believing all that it is doing is right and fair, and that the other side is or, at least, is close to evil and ever-malignant. I don't know about Russia, but it seems clear that the political leadership in the EU and the USA are imbued by this belief and I suspect that the people's attitude ranges from agreement to disinterest, with minimal potential for sympathy.

I claim to be an unaligned observer, because in Russophobic Poland, I feel I am subject to a constant bombardment of anti-Russian propaganda. I cannot help but suspect that this is little different from what I would have experienced about Germany before the first and second world wars. Having been brought up shortly after the latter, I am naturally Germanophobic, so I know that the emotion goes beyond either logic or common sense even when there is nothing to provoke it, whilst it spontaneously springs to the fore at any provocation. I am suspicious of everything I hear.

Whether the EU/USA emotions date back to the communist period or before, it is clear that the emotional barriers and the war of words exist and extend back to well before the Ukraine became an issue. It is unquestionably there. Who is right and wrong isn't even a question to be asked as both sides know, but have a different knowledge.

The next element for a war would be the strengthening of economic barriers between the groups beyond that normally found between competing economic blocks. The EU and others began this process over the Ukraine, with Russia immediately raising the game. Both sides doubtless believed that they were right and justified in their actions. Certainly this was the EU reaction. I particularly liked one personal example. When Russia put an embargo on the import of Polish products, the Polish Agricultural Minister said that the Russians had "shot themselves in the foot". Isn't just as logical to say that that Poland, in supporting the EU and USA measures, had shot itself in the foot? However, the EU measures were justified whilst the Russians were not.

As a result of tit-for-tat sanction, the economic situation in Russia is rapidly going into and recession. What might one expect to happen if the diminished block in this contest, already feeling threatened, finds the prosperity it had or even only hoped for gets stripped away by the actions of an expanding power? It seems that the EU and USA hope that Russia will accept the need to change to align with their model in some way. Is it likely that a troubled opponent will give up and accept everything its enemy wishes?

The final step before war seems to be military border actions in one form or another. I don't know what the Russians are doing on the Ukrainian border. I assume that something is happening there, but my sources are pro-EU and not to be trusted too much in current circumstances. (Fabricated claims of military interference has it's own traditions in the run up to wars.) EU political support for the pro-EU Ukrainians against the pro-Russian elements has been so overwhelming, that the Ukraine had already become a border area and is not neutral ground. The EU has effectively claimed it as part of its own. Indeed, the activities by pro-Russian separatists indicate that they, at least, have accepted that the allegiances have now no place in today's Ukraine.

The EU will no doubt, in its righteousness, draw a distinguishing line between its political support and Russian military support. I doubt whether the flow of history would care: its people's feelings rather than technicalities which matter. I was however interested in the article at,1136140-Pierwsze-tiry-MON-z-pomoca-dla-zolnierzy-w-drodze-na-Ukraine.html in one of Poland's papers. It says something like:

"The first lorries of humanitarian aid from the [Polish] Ministry of Defence for Ukrainian troops are on their way to the city. ... Our assumption is that the humanitarian aid went into Ukraine on Sunday - said Defence spokesman Jacek Sońta. He said that the Ministry will provide Ukrainian soldiers with 320 tons of extended validity food, blankets, mattresses and bedding. ... These items will be shipped to the base near Lviv; where the lorries will be unladen and return to Poland. Further distribution is dealt with by the Ukrainian side - said Sońta. Help from the Polish Ministry of National Defence is the result of an agreement between the Polish and Ukrainian [Governments?] on 14 August. All the gifts come from military stocks."
Some time ago, I had seen a newspaper report of Polish humanitarian aid for the pro-EU anti-government protesters encamped in Kiev being allowed into the Ukraine. It seems clear that the EU has therefore been directly involved in political developments in the Ukraine and is now directly supporting military action against pro-Russian elements. The EU is directly involved in anti-Russian activity in the Ukraine.

The Polish press is doing its bit. If you want to help the war effort you can do so. The same newspaper article gives bank account numbers for apparently genuine humanitarian aid charities, but you can directly help the war effort:

Fundacja Otwarty Dialog (The Open Dialogue Foundation) collects funds, amongst other things for dressings, helmets and bulletproof vests for Ukrainian soldiers. Payments can be made ​​into a special account: 56 2490 0005 0000 4600 5911 3255, quoting "bronezhylety"

 I've no idea what the future holds, but the classic conditions for war seem to be there. We always seem to be surprised, but there isn't really any reason to be.

A footnote. I think Hegel's History of Philosophy identified the role of exceptional individuals who shaped the course of history (Julius Caesar and Napoleon seem likely examples). Could there be such a person now? I was impressed by Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski's support for the uprising against the Ukrainian pro-Russian government. He was so aggressive and assertive that I thought of him fantasising that he was standing on the top of the barricade, flag in hand, like some French Revolution (or some Polish revolt) leader. He even seemed to drag the leaders of other EU countries along behind him. Moderating Sikorski's position still led them to harden their own. He is now a candidate for EU Foreign Minister.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Saint George - the best mature cheese in Poland

The title in full should be "the best mature hard cheese that has been widely available in Polish shops". It was still in Biedronka a week or so back and it is the best I have bought.

It is Portuguese Saint George cheese, matured for at least four months. I suspect the name is deliberately to hint at it being a cheddar type cheese, which it is and which it tastes like. (The unopened packet in the picture is my second one.) It has a good strong taste, without the overpowering bite of the longer matured Australian cheddar I remember in England.

The price was either 6 or 7 zloty, which at therefore either 30 or 35 zloty a kilo compares extraordinarily well with the tasteless to mild, but pleasant tasting, standard hard cheeses whose price seems to be focusing around 25 zloty a kilo. A 3 month matured version had the same price.

(To divert: the wine is a very nice, slightly sparkling dry red. I can't remember where I bought it, but most probably Tesco, although Lidl or Biedronka are possibilities. The price would have been between 12 and 16 zlotys.)

The bad news about Sao Jorge is that it seems to be a short term offering by Biedronka, so I don't know if and when it will return. It was discounted from what was said to be an original price (although I never noticed it at full price). I fervently hope that they will be taking up the Lidl practice of regularly re-introducing 'new' specialist products like this for short periods. Even if they do, however, Sao Jorge may not be one of them: they stayed on the shelves for weeks.

Biedronka is Portuguese owned and I had been wondering for some time if they would, again like Lidl, move to using their foreign retail chain supply line to give alternative products in Poland. The first hint I had of this was a couple of months ago, although it was a range of French soft cheeses, again at about the 35 zloty a kilo mark (discounted price). This was cheaper than Polish camembert and brie, which is sometimes strangely advertised as being like rubber, which they usually are. Whilst a soft cheese expert might have dismissed Biedronka's French cheeses, I am not willing to pay the 80 to 150 zloty a kilo price in other places for what to me is rarely better. I think there was a camembert, but the others were well known regional cheeses. These disappeared very quickly from the shelves. New availability of French products did not mean it was part of a Polish/Portuguese joint marketing approach, but I wondered...

(The long-term availability of Gorgonzola in Biedronka, however, is a sign of the success of Gorgonzola in Poland, not Biedronka's internationalisation: it is available everywhere.)

However, the last few times I have wandered around there has been, in addition to Sao Jorge, a reasonable range of other Portuguese items. Especially interesting were fish products in the freezer: a cod meal/pie without pastry (if you know what I mean), and cod croquettes. Both reasonably priced and still in our freezer, so I don't yet now what they are like.

It all makes Biedronka a much more interesting and worthwhile place to go to for the occasional value for money luxury, rather than being just a conveniently positioned partial alternative.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Around the Bins

It was some time ago now, but Warren asked if I had ever seen people searching the bins. Well, yes, so it's a good excuse to post some old pictures.

Our flat on the Jelonki, West Warsaw housing estate (mainly high-rise blocks) had a kitchen which overlooked the place where the bins are housed. People regularly searched them. Although they were locked, with little effort the internal bolt into the ground could be lifted, allowing both doors to open and making the lock ineffective. The left hand man in the picture below has a bent piece of metal to do this.

This man is searching in a bin that was there for a short time just next to the enclosed area. He has a small trolley/case frame. Other had bicycles.

They weren't looking for food or basic things they needed, but were involved in a private recycling business. They mainly took drink cans, but refundable beer bottles seemed to be an occasional high value bonus. In the early days, electric equipment seemed to be especially prized as well, either for parts or for repair. Increasing ability to buy new in increasingly affluent Poland seemed to stop this. There was a time when an abandoned fridge or TV would have disappeared within a few hours, but they were could later stay for a few weeks until a van collection took them away.

The bin housing also served as the local public toilet, normally a urinal, but not only, much to Mika, the dog's interest.

I would advise you, if you want to use such a place without anyone noticing you, looking up at the building in front of you is just as important as looking left or right.

The bench beside it, intended as a place to put rugs after beating them, also served as a local meeting place. These boys here do seem very skinny from my London background, but I suspect that 'healthily slim' would be a better description. As I regularly hang around school gates (waiting to pick up Misia), I often wonder if English school nutritionists would be pleasantly surprised at the overwhelming preponderance of slim, but in now way undernourished, kids.

The bin area also provided a local, city equivalent to the legendary Polish rural bus stop, where mates gathered to drink beer.

Taking rubbish out to the bins, I got to know one woman in a beer drinking crowd well enough to say a few words when ever we met. She was friendly and completely unthreatening, although sometimes looking a bit beaten, reminding me of the drinkers around Westminster Cathedral (not Abbey) on Victoria Street in London. She was nowhere near as attractive (or young), however, as others.

This looks like malnutrition to me.

The graffiti about the police probably doesn't need translating. Polish people sometimes complain about the level of graffiti, but I was pleasently surprised at how little there was.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Overloaded to Breaking Point

This flat bed van had broken down giving just enough space for vehicles to get past when I was driving on that side of the road.

I was therefore able to pick up Misia from school and get back, taking these pictures from the car, waiting at the traffic lights on the return journey. They had been carrying bricks - some loaded and some taken off - see left, but it had been so heavy that the vehicle simply broke in two.

A vehicle rescue trailer had been there with the driver scratching his head, looking rather bemused.

Thursday, 1 March 2012


I first remember visiting a Biedronka (Ladybird) supermarket in Kielce at about the turn of the century. It was a cheap, but desperately un-cheerful shop, catering for the poor. Under their Portuguese owners, they have changed dramatically and are in the process of trying to establish a reputation for quality. Their advertising promotion of their quality, like that of their rivals Lidl, gives me the impression of miss-truth and manipulation of facts. More valuable to me, is the new design of their shops, which takes away the 'pile em high and sell them cheap' entrance look of the shop, replacing it with a more open and welcoming display.

The positive effect of their quality campaign can best be given by this schoolboy's design of a film for his English lesson:

Name: Biedronka the Shop.
Type: science fiction
Setting: Biedronka
Plot: Radek goes to the Biedronka to buy some sugar. Suddenly, Lidl shoppers attack this shop. Radek takes two cucumbers and defends the shop. Lidl shoppers run from Biedronka after a fierce battle.
Starring: Radek, Lidl shoppers.
Soundtrack: a Biedronka advertising jingle, 'Daj się zaskoszyć, jakością Biedronki' - 'Be surprised by Biedronka quality'.
Special effects: laser cucumbers, big boom grapes.
In my film, I would show high quality of Biedronka products.

Biedronka does have some good things now (and some bad). I mentioned mature cheese some time ago, which is still there, but my current best buy is cornichons with chilli.

My ultimate problem with Biedronka is that they don't accept payment by card. Since the bankomats I know are near shops, it is rather absurd to stop at a shop to get money in order to go out of my way to do shopping in Biedronka. In practice and in several different places, I generally drove straight past Biedronka and went to Lidl.

This Biedronka is roughly half way between Magdelenka and the Lidl in Piasezcno. I normally drove straight past it, but I had a reasonable amount of cash once and bought a few immediate requirements eg rolls for Babcia. I was actually more interested in trying out the coffee in Bar Pychotka: the ordinariness of the instant coffee (Nescafe), being more than made up for by the very pleasant service, although tight shorts in December did seem a bit extreme. I felt cold watching her behind the counter.

I was therefore pleased when, just after the new year, a new Biedronka with cashpoint opened in/just outside Magdelenka. This was just a few minutes detour out of my way, so I could both easily get cash when I need it, and do some shopping in Biedronka. It became my nearest supermarket.

However, from my eight visits, the experience has instead been:

Bankomat not working and leaving without doing any shopping: 5 times.
Bankomat working, got money and did shopping: once.
Already had money and did shopping: once.
Had money, did shopping, but money insufficient. I was told the bankomat was working, went to get money, but it wasn't. Paid for reduced shopping (the cashier called the supervisor to delete items from the bill; other customers forced to wait) and left with less than I wanted: once

An unsuccessful visit when the bankomat was undergoing 'technical maintenance': ie it had broken down.

The bankomat belongs to one of the local banks and I normally go around 9:00 in the morning - the cash may well have run out overnight and not been replenished, so I do not blame Biedronka. However, what should have been a good marketing attraction has instead emphasised how useless Biedronka is as a place for me to shop. My hope to improve my familiarity with and respect for the chain has been completely eliminated.

I assume cards aren't accepted as there is a charge for them, increasing company costs. I would feel some compensation for this if their prices were lower than the other supermarkets I visit, but they are roughly the same. I assume they are using the money for their very impressive expansion programme, with price competition aimed at the more expensive, local small shops.

As for Radek's film idea, I suggest he rips a bouncing bankomat from the wall, to add to his laser cucumber and big boom grape arsenal. I'd be one of the people cheering if I saw that.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Expressing demands in Polish and English

The UK Economic and Social Research Council has financed research that shows that "expressing needs in Polish could sound rude or ill mannered when Polish speakers use them to construct sentences in English". I don't know how much it cost, but they could have given me the money and I would have told them that.

My line of England/English based thought has been that Polish are not polite to each other when asking for things - demanding rather than asking, not saying 'please' and rarely 'thank you'; they do not expect this and there is no social demeanour in this ; they are not therefore being rude; although they are not being polite (which they see as an English oddity) they are not therefore being impolite.

There is a published research paper in pdf format, Zinken_A grammatical environment that focuses on the use of the word 'trzeba', which is generally translated 'it is necessary' and 'one must/should/ought'. This calls on external forces, rather than person opinion, when one person wants someone else should do something.

Looking through the conversations quoted in the paper, it seems to me that the closest English translation in several of them would in fact be 'don't you think you should...?'. There are additional words to give strength of feeling so that my summary translations are:

Boy leaves room without finishing his meal. Father to Mother: "Don't you think that maybe you should bring him back". Mother "I'm going".

Mother playing with children. Father to mother: "Don't you think you should phone Mum?". Mother carries on playing... Mother points "The telephone's on the fridge". Father leaves. (I can almost hear her thinking "No, I don't think I should phone her, I think you should phone her".)

Father has indicated that he will phone to see what time their daughter needs to be collected after a trip. Mother: "It's 3 O'clock." Father nods distractedly. Mother: "Don't you think that you really should call the lady?". Father: " Half past will be fine as they have to stop at another place first."

Joerg Zinken doesn't make this link, perhaps because he is focusing on the apparent non-personal nature of 'trzeba' and attempting to make a single English equivalent for the various uses of 'trzeba'. He is also focusing on the way Polish is different, whilst I feel he is missing out in not trying to analyse what fundamentals are involved in both.

In both versions, the speakers are really saying "I think you should" but in neither do they say anything about themselves. In Polish, there is direct appeal to the external and impersonal power of family obligation: 'family obligation means that you should bring him back/phone'. The English version appeals to the person's view of the family obligation: 'don't you think that family obligation means that you should...'. It is clear from the examples that no one is fooled by the Polish lack of a question as the answers imply 'yes/no' and 'you are right/wrong'. The difference in form seems to be part of the formal language construct not of communication content.

I wondered whether pure justification by externalities might be more effective in dominant relationships, but the sarcastic "don't you think" in English might, if anything, be more powerful. There are variations that might be less so, but will often be toned down versions that don't seem to make the intended assertion eg 'do you think' and 'we should do something', but which still in practice mean 'I think you should'. Doubtless Polish works the same way.

I don't therefore find myself any further forward in considering the inherent, rather than cross-cultural, levels of powerful assertion in Poland. However, I have not personally found 'trzeba' used very often - much less than in the quoted conversations. I am much more likely to be told what I must do, which is very unusual in my English experience. "I think you should", "don't you think", "wouldn't it be a good idea if" are generally irrelevant and unnecessary. There is no less constraint on my disagreeing just because I have been given linguistic commands.

Ultimately, however, this brings me back to where I started. The English don't like being given commands in English because they have got used to a language that makes it seem that they decide for themselves. The Polish don't mind being given commands in Polish because they have got used to ignoring them and equally decide for themselves.

Finally, I have to contradict my own "line of thought' views in the second paragraph above. I am pretty sure that there are levels of politeness in family speech in Poland in Polish. Maybe my cultural barrier is too high to see it clearly; perhaps I am too intimate to the conversation; my language knowledge itself is very rough and such subtleties doubtless pass me by. I keep listening and (since the two cannot be separated in communication) watching, so maybe I will figure out something some day.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Nothing about birds: Maria Dąbrowska

Maria Dąbrowska is most known for her Noce i dnie (Nights and Days), for which only an excerpt seems to have been translated into English.

I haven't found any other of her work translated. As far as I know, this may be the first full piece; it may also be her shortest. It is dated 1958 and comes from 'Opowiadania', literally 'Stories' or possibly 'Works' although 'Selected Shorter Works' may be more accurate. It was published by Spółdzielnia Wydawnicza "Czytelnik" (Readers Publishing Cooperative) in 1977, 12 years after her death.

Nothing about birds

Nothing about birds in the Bethlehem stable. Working animals. the ox and the donkey, came to pay homage to the Baby, heralding a Kingdom Of God on earth, announcing the equality of man to the world, overturning the decree: "you shall labour by the sweat of your brow". The parable of the last person in the vineyard taking the same payment that others long required, is the first declaration of the right of man to a shorter working day. Around two thousand years later we are to forge this for all "with God, and, if it be, despite God", as in the words of Mickiewicz's song of rebellion. We reached far and high, but probably, one way or another, to some place else, as far away from the Kingdom of God on Earth as the sheep from the Bethlehem stable. Never, however, deprived of the hope that we would find it here or somewhere else, like this or like that, in this way or in some other.

Nothing about birds in the Bethlehem stable, but a reasonable amount in Polish carols, though Jesus was born to us in the Polish winter. What about birds in the middle of winter? Ah! Exactly.

The robin is associated more in England with Christmas than in Poland. Shown here in April.

Birds, not ploughing nor sowing, yet focusing man on a path that leads all the way to cosmic space, they are with us always. At the beginning of November this year I saw a flock of starlings on the birch near the house. They whistled and whimpered as if it was spring. They are not, however, our spring starlings. They are Siberian starlings, autumn tourists amusing us for a few weeks only shortly to fly further south. There is such a route — from Siberia to Poland: the birds'.

A starling in March. There have been a few starlings during the winter, but one of my books tells me that Polish starlings now more frequently overwinter here.

A winter-guest here with us is the bullfinch, a proud little bird with its fluffy crimson breast and black skullcap on its head. It likes to sit a long time on the same twig: "a thinker lost in thought". Each winter is different to other winters, as spring is to spring. Not only differing in weather, but the look of plants and animals. Different flowers and birds appear, times of blooming and singing, nesting and flight all differ. Wandering in the forest these December days, I see birds here that, last year at this time of day, were not there. A slender, small bird, an azure coloured shimmer, sings quietly and tunefully. Somewhere there will be some foreign tourists, without visas, foreign currency and passports, yet holidaying away from their northern homes in the warmth of Poland. In the winter waxwings visit us frequently: "colourful their costume, amaranths buttoned below their necks". Actually amaranth flowers are light-coloured, almost pink, whilst the waxwings are dark under their necks, but it resides more in the jaunty plume on the top of their head. Waxwings settle down on trees and snow in small greyish, golden brown groups. This is most often in February. Obviously, they are planning to go elsewhere. But where they fly to - I do not know. These are birds of the far north for which Poland is "a country where the lemon ripens" ... for waxwings, that is.

I may have seen a bullfinch, but definitely no waxwings. How about greenfinches and (I think) a couple of April red-backed shrikes?

Adult male red-backed shrike in August:

We have many gorgeously coloured birds, both migratory and permanently living in Poland; many more than is popularly known. Their colours more easily catch the eye in winter than in summer, when they are concealed in the green massive. There is the woodpecker in a purple skull-cap, a bird cardinal. And below the skull-cap, how many shapes, sizes and colours! A woodpecker in a black cassock, biggest of all. There are woodpeckers large, average and small; many-coloured, green and black-white-red. I know only one woodpecker call - a series of piercing cries that sound like hysterical squealing laughter. One hears this voice most often in winter and it was in winter that I actually SAW the woodpecker that shrieked in this way. The hammering of the woodpecker reminds me of a violent and insistent striking on a door. The pulsating sound, resonant and rapid, even makes people with no interest in birds raise their heads, striving to see what hammers in this fashion. This can even affect city inhabitants, who have never seen this or any other woodpecker. Sometimes when I listen to the woodpecker tapping, I hear the opening bars of Beethoven's 5th.

There is as yet little cover in the garden for birds to hide in. Our most colourful bird is probably the jay.

From our "on constant report" colourful birds, the most commonly known to all, as it is lives in the city, are the tits. And these we see ourselves more often in winter than summer, when they vanish into the green thicket. Different species of tit live with us, but our closest acquaintances are the blue and great tits. These are now just arriving and are on our urban balconies. Exquisite, active, inquisitive, and, in winter, fond of pork fat.

And finally the kingfishers, the real parrots of our latitudes, sapphire, yellow and red-purple. These mainly live near the streams that flow out from the mountains, but in winter they wander widely across all of Poland, yet with no ambition for foreign travel. However, I only once ever saw a kingfisher, in my childhood, over the largest pond in Russów, our home in the country.

There are birds costumed exclusively in black or in black and white as well. These also more easily catch the eye in winter. When I first saw a blackbird against the snow, with his beautiful solid black shape and orange beak, I thought that it was some exotic bird escaped from a cage or the ZOO. The blackbird is the greatest singer of the bird world, and, if the nightingale is the tenor, the blackbird is the baritone of birds . His stout, rich whistle consists usually of six (but sometimes eight, or even ten) different tones. There is no surprise that this is what one hears in some sections of Beethoven. Of the great singing birds, the blackbird is the only one that acknowledges human civilization, partly living in urban areas. Cities of Western Europe, in particular, abound in blackbirds. Here, it is only in Western Poland that there are urban blackbirds. Poznań and Kalisz [in Western Poland] are the most easterly cities in which blackbirds appear, sing, and then in silence spend the winter. Maybe the urban blackbird urban will move still further east as urban civilization and our gardens advance. There weren't even any blackbirds in Kalisz when I was a child. Elsewhere in Poland, blackbirds live only in the forest, spread thinly. Warsaw does not have blackbirds, unfortunately, even in her old parks.

Blackbirds are common both here and around the post-war housing estates in Jelonki, West Warsaw.

In winter in the country, that excellent dancer, the magpie, rarely departs from our sight. No bird gambols about the land so lightly, so high and nimble. Sporting magpies, in black tail-coats with white underneath, remind me of a graceful dancing-circle. Elegant, well known birds, both rural and urban, are the rooks in black velour and the jackdaws with grey napes and necks that make them look like black ladies wrapped in blue fox fur stoles.

Although regular visitors, I've never noticed magpies dancing. No jackdaws in the garden, but I have seen a few around. They seemed the most plentiful of the birds in Jelonki, but that may just be because they are quite big and more tolerant of human proximity than others. The rooks - not balck, but darkest hues of purple, blue and green - are common enough in the area, but only came to the garden when a neighbour left out something (meat?) they wanted to eat.

I have just touched on a tiny fragment of this life in which birds accompany us in winter. But people do not notice this little fragment; for them, nature in winter is dead. Looking at trees without leaves, they are never amazed by what could be a great marvel. Seeing in winter only grey, white and black, they never see its fantastic compositions, shapes and colours.

Nothing about sparrows. The sheer number of sparrows makes them unexceptional, but, if they were rare, the variety of composition of their light and dark brown colouring would have them better respected. It's not long ago that I realised that what I was seeing everyday were tree sparrows, and have been on the look out for house sparrows ever since. A couple of pairs arrived a few days ago, so I suspect they have strayed out of their normal habitat in search of food during difficult winter weather. A male house sparrow is in the centre.

Winter is neither death nor numb lifelessness. Winter is an intensive and colourful dream of spring. Hazels and birches in December are already prepared for Spring. The hanging, yellow flowers of the mignonette are still hard catkins. The buds on all trees and shrubs in December are already prepared for the spring. They stand erect and wait on their branches, branches of silver, golden brown, red and grey, making up a sophisticated arabesque in a hundred shades against a background of snow or emerald winter crops. More than this, for, at the end of December, the remnants of autumn stubbornly endure here and there, bushes are full of berries and small, haughty herbs still lie green on the forest floor. Whilst from Christmas, in the frosts and snows, in the rain and gales everything is already heading towards spring. There can be nothing strange in that the human race has held the end of December sacred from time immemorial, with the most beautiful beliefs and legends. Nor that one civilization passes this crucial season on to the next as an eternally living Festival of Hope.

Mushrooms under forest trees just outside Warsaw on New Year's Day.

(It ends here.)

As someone establishing a garden, the wonder of the survival of plants during the winter is often overtaken by the often realised dread that plants will die completely or be annually so devastated as to be hardly worth having. The great tits around the fat in the picture earlier are on what was described as the fastest growing evergreen in Poland. It didn't survive.

The tits around the fat is, in any case, misleading: they aren't actually eating. It mainly provided them with a good place to sit, eat peanuts and seeds and watch what was happening. The love of tits for fat is so well known that I was given some (pork or cow, I don't know), but I was disappointed. The two next pictures give a more balanced perspective although they may actually exaggerate, for composition purposes, the extent to which tits eat the fat (just behind the peanut holder).

The recent fuss about the ACTA treaty, which I have read, has reinforced in me the awareness that even freely distributing an original translation of a work by an author can potentially deprive the rightful copyright owners of future income, even if I feel it is never otherwise likely to be translated. It is not my right to decide the future in this way (someone might be working away at a commercial translation right now), nor to decide what might be good promotion for the author. I will, as is my usual practice, email the publishers to let them tell me to delete this. In this case, there are complications in that Czytelnik's website no longer lists anything by Maria Dąbrowska and there is no copyright claim in the book to tell me who else I might try to find out how to contact. I even wonder whether, as a 'co-operative' work it was not intended to be copyrighted. I hope my gamble that the translation can only be helpful is correct.