Monday, 29 November 2010

Snow: The Drive and Determination

One of the most tiresome things about winter is clearing the drive. The snow arrived in earnest in Saturday evening and, although it had stopped by Sunday morning, daylight revealed a full covering of snow. The routine clearing chore had begun.

Not just the drive: the area in front of the house as well.

My basic method for the drive is to clear a line going down the fence side.

I then clear a second line coming back up to the house, which provides enough space to shovel directly onto the strip of garden at the side.

The snow, varying on the drive between 2 and 4cms, was quite light and dry and easy to move. The snow shovel (see previous pictures) has an aluminium handle, and is quite light, so there wasn't enormous effort this time. The drive only took half an hour or so.

Then came the area in front of the house. This was out of the wind and with less snow. The old orange shovel, on the left below, lasted two years and is fine except for the aluminium edging at the digging edge, which is loose , worn and buckled. I haven't seen a replacement edge anywhere, hence the new one. It carries slightly more, but the wood is also heavier.

Having cleared the front, I was pleased to have finished. It hadn't been hard work and it wasn't very cold (+1c), but it's not fun. Then I remembered the patio.

I just needed a final picture to show off my handiwork at the front of the house.

So a self-satisfied return indoors awaited me. I still had feeling in my fingers and my feet were still warm, so a pretty good result. No wait, what's that heap of white to the right? It's the dreaded 'hhhhhrumpf'. Back to work.

'Hhhhhrumpf' is as close a description as I can think of of the sound of snow sliding from the roof to the ground. Once this was cleared, everything had taken about an hour - in easy conditions.

Coming home from shopping mid-afternoon, no more snow had fallen off the roof. All was well. About 5:30 this morning - Monday - I looked out and no more snow. I could relax. However, Mika, the dog came in wet from the garden at about 6:15. It has continued for 3 hours now. The process starts again ... and again ... and again.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Włodzimierz Tomaszewski: smile please

As a civil servant in England, I didn't get to know any politicians. I met a few in briefing sessions or supporting the minister in meetings, but they were remote figures huddled together in the ministerial office area at the top of the tower, setting the policies with us below doing the work. Indeed, the only one I recall, and that with some fondness, is John Redwood who, with good reason, could have been quite nasty to me, but instead acted as a perfect gentleman.

The Polish system is very different, with junior ministers - Under Secretaries of State - working alongside their civil servants and often supported by politically motivated civil servant Directors. They are much more part of the work of the system. As a result, I got to know ministers as more than shadowy figures and had the pleasure of seeing Directors, both in central and regional government, move up to ministerial rank.

I have particular respect, however, for Włodzimierz Tomaszewski, who was Under Secretary of State in the Ministry of Regional Development and Construction, third from the right at the top in the picture below.

However, I don't remember him as a smiling face, but rather as looking worried and fatigued, sitting behind a desk full of papers or explaining everything at conferences and meetings. The picture below has him looking relatively relaxed, but is more characteristic of the way I remember him.

His prime political work at this time was called the Voivodeship Contracts. This had two aims. Regional Governments had been created to devolve power to the regions, but they had no independent income and little real power. The Contracts were intended to set up a strategic policy framework - Operational Programmes, where all central government expenditure at regional level - eg through regional offices - would be devolved to regional government. In the end, the refusal of other Ministries to give up direct control of their expenditure left a very limited pot of money, mainly EU pre-accession assistance and supporting Polish own funds.

The Contracts were also designed to give the regional governments practical experience in running EU model Operational Programmes for Structural Funds (regional development) money, as standardly applied across existing EU members. The idea was that Poland would be fully prepared for accession by actually having run an equivalent system - a unique idea, strange as it might seem. The programmes began and started to work, even if in a more limited fashion than originally intended. Brilliant though this seemed, however, the European Commission decided that Poland should request the Commission to deliver the Structural Funds through central government and not regional governments. (Sorry if this sounds gobbledygook, but that's how it works.)

The next time I saw him was on television when, as Vice-President of the city of Łódż (roughly woodsh), he was introducing a local rap group at a free festival. Compared with the way I remember him, he looked so relaxed and happy that I just felt good seeing such a change.

Which is really the reason for writing this. I saw him again on TV at the results ceremony for the recent elections, where he was standing for President of Łódż. He was smiling and relaxed again, though I don't think he won. He has a nice smile, though too often tinged with a look of anxious sadness.

I know nothing of his politics and am not trying to recommend him politically. Having a nice smile, being a nice person and a dedicated worker are not enough. Admirable qualities, all the same.

Some more photos are available on his website personal page, whilst his Polish Wikipedia entry is here. (Both in Polish.)

And for fun, Łódż Daily newspaper has a video clip for us voyeurs.

All photos are from the internet.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Beautiful Polish Birds

The snow came as forecast during Wednesday night. In the light of the street lamp, I could see it alternately falling, swirling and blowing horizontally in the wind. Wednesday morning I felt a combination of relief at how little there had been - no need to clear the drive - and disappointment that nothing pretty had resulted, a feeling enhanced by the dull, grey day. This morning, I replenished the bird table and put more peanuts in the holder. The night got down to -4c, but reached 6c during the sunny day: a day for the birds.

The great tits are a routine sight, normally in groups of between four and ten. It was just a couple of months ago that I wondered why we didn't have blue tits when, soon afterwards, I saw a flash of blue. It could have been a slightly smaller great tit, but watching carefully, they must have been there all along. The bird at the bottom below is a blue tit.

The bird table was also a great attraction. A great tit below.

This was one of two green finches.

The tits get their pieces of food and head for the weeping willow hanging over the pond. Great tits below.

A sparrow, one of two, in the same willow. The leaves are from the honeysuckle climbing through it.

A blue tit, also one of two - both are visible in the second picture.

The blue colour is more visible in this picture on the honeysuckle near the ground.

The largest visitors of the day were two jays. They occasionally squeeze onto the bird table, but today just fed on seeds that had fallen onto the ground.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Romanians, Football, Skiing and Polish English Acting

A few things brought to mind by various things I have seen this morning.

Anti-Romanian/Roma prejudice locally is probably inevitable. There is a group, possibly a family, just along the road from me who I have been told by different people to be Romanian and Roma - may be they are both as I wouldn't know one from the other. They are extremely noticeable as they routinely scream at each other and their children. Even though they look different from Poles (so do I), they do not look so fundamentally different that this would automatically be an issue, nor do they seem to otherwise act in a drastically different way. However, in a quiet neighbourhood where raised voices are extremely rare they stick out a mile as being completely different people who behave in an unacceptable way. reports that ;'foreigners' will be accepted into the Polish team. They are needed. Poland is not a footballing nation. In London, in virtually any half decent area large enough and nearly flat enough to have a kick around, there will regularly be crowds of people playing football. We used to play in a small area in the local park with a sloping area of ground completely surrounded by low fencing, but no 'keep off' sign. No such thing in Poland. The picture below, from August, is of a small football pitch just up the road in Rusiec (Rooshets). Note the luxurious, virtually undisturbed grass.

The wintersports season has started. TV will now be flooded with months of programming showing how well or badly we are doing. I've tried to get to like ski-jumping and hoping that Małysz will win, but I really wish that they'd all get up and go home. Even more TV boredom than ever.

I heard a voice with a Polish accent speaking English on the television and went to see what was on. It turned out to be another occasion when a Pole had the role of a foreigner - I think from the USA in this case. It seemed obviously false to me, but I wonder whether the Polish audience fails to notice or just don't care.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

By Fire and Snow

Snow is coming, although from the forecasts it doesn't seem to be getting too cold for another week or so. I've decided that I will try not to add to the photos I expect shortly in other blogs - someone cycling in the snow and someone skying (or even skiing) on the street please. My resolve may fail...

Instead, I am singing the praises of the Polish wood fire. Wood fires are something new to me as part of routine house heating, but they are completely common here. (England would run out of wood.)

I grew up with open coal fires, which were only used in the living room and dining room, plus a coal boiler in the kitchen for heating water. The dining room fire was later changed to a then modern technology, enclosed, glass fronted fire, which also heated a few radiators and the water. I remember my bedroom having ice on the the inside of the window at this time, as it did not have a radiator. Paraffin heaters and small electric fires gave additional warmth, but the basic rule was to put on a jumper. I then moved to a flat which had storage heaters. Polish people may never have heard of these, but they are basically lumps of concrete heated by cheap night-time electricity, letting out heat through the day. In my next place, I replaced a fireplace with a combined gas fire and radiator and water heater - the first time the whole house was warm on cold days.

My first Polish experience was a flat heated by radiators fed from the local heat and power plant. The heat was unbearable. At the New Year Celebrations, bottles of vodka were freezing in a supermarket shopping basket on the windowsill, but the window was open. The next place had the same system, but with thermostats on the radiators. It was still a bit hot for me, but everyone else was comfortable.

We now have the fire, which we fitted into the position prepared when the house was built. The column to the right with the ventilator hole at the top is the chimney. The fire fits to the right of that.

The fire is just a normal, not particularly expensive iron fire. What I had not realised before we had it installed, however, is how the design incorporates a radiator. The grill above the fire (normally only one) is an outlet from a large insulated box holding air heated by the fire. It acts as a short term storage device and, since the metal chimney goes through it providing additional heat, it serves as a basic heat exchanger.

I wonder whether the storage effect would have been enhanced by putting some concrete blocks in the box, like the electric storage heaters in England, but this wasn't suggested and, as far as I know, isn't normal practice. However, I feel that the traditional Polish heaters with stone surrounds must have had the same effect. The one in the middle below is a decorated corner version.

This functional one near Sztutowo, North Poland may have been of German design.

There are quite a few people around who sell wood. Last year we used over 10 square metres, whilst this year our delivery of 5sq metres so far is holding out well.

The tricky bit with the fire is to keep it burning low enough not to be to hot, but yet not go out. To pick up on a discussion elsewhere, I consider myself competent rather than proficient and nowhere near expert or master. On the other hand, I don't know anyone who does better.

The relatively easy bit is cleaning the glass, although sometimes a couple of bits on the top corners stay for a few days. The best thing I have found is Dix Professional Oven, Fireplace and Grill Cleaner. I have only now made a quick check and I think it's Polish. I can't be bothered to take a picture, so this comes from

Additions to Blog List

I was searching for something and came across more English language blogs related to Poland. I have added them to my list of links, but may take them off later. Some seem to be primarily photo based, whilst some others have a very different perspective - see especially Warsaw Mummy.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Blogger Meeting in Warsaw

It was good to meet you all on Saturday: thank you, Michael.

I was a bit apprehensive beforehand as I can't remember when I last sat and chatted to another foreigner, let alone been in a room with so many; people living abroad can be consciously 'ex-pats' and a bit strange; and I always find it difficult merging into a crowd of people. You all made it an enjoyable time anyway. Thanks.

Aren't Polish women wonderful? Sorry if you noticed that I tried to chat up your partners, but that's just me. The waitress was lovely as well. Apart from that I was especially pleased to meet Paddy, as we have a linked background. Also special thanks to Brad for patiently reacting to and answering my question. My only excuse is that this is a part of Polish mentality that fascinates me: you may be interested to know that all I had to do was mention your surname later and the reaction was immediate.

My time outside the group meeting - I wandered into the smoking room - was also fascinating. There was a couple of the type of brash, colourfully spoken young Londoners - one with a Polish girlfriend - of which I have never met a Polish equivalent. I have particular affection for the London accent in its many forms, so it was nice just listening to it: I noticed my 'th' slipping to 'f' a couple of times, as it can after a few beers. One of them was a linguistic expert, as he was described: his capability demonstrated by his identifying a town where I had lived and near where I was born - third guess to be fair, but still not bad. He described a difference in the way English and Polish people speak: the English move their mouth from side to side, whilst the Polish move it forward. During discussion, we moved more towards the idea that it was as much head movement as mouth, whilst I floated the idea that Polish body language in general is much more restrained than the English. Simply looking at the two of them made it virtually unquestionable. I have also been asked why I move my body so much. Maybe we are extreme, but extremes define the median. I also consider that the use of voice modulation is very different.

I next spoke to a Polish guy, who had come back to Poland with his English boyfriend. They were in Poland because that's where his boyfriend wanted to be, but he would have preferred to be in England. Although he didn't directly answer my question, he seemed, as one might expect, to be nervous about Polish negative attitudes to homosexuality. Maybe the English guy was just a bit naive, but its an interesting pointer to the increasing acceptance of Poland as a place to move to.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Play it again, Samuelek

Coming out of the Palace of Culture yesterday evening, someone murmured "Warsaw by night!", an abbreviated quotation from the TV series Alternatywy 4, "Warsaw by night, OK?" said in English. Looking out, the neon shop signs showed Marks and Spencer, TK Maxx and C&A. Which country were we in? There was one Polish shop name, which I forget, but even this was an English language name.

We were in Warsaw to see 'Zagraj To Jeszcze Raz, Sam' at the 6th Floor Theatre in the Palace. I had thought that my limited language abilities would make a Woody Allen based play too difficult for me, but the plot and movement of the characters are very easily understood and the imaginary characters - Bogart and assorted women - are very well presented so they're not confusing. The plot? Basically, it's a farce about a social and romantic inadequate trying to find a new sex partner. Many of the jokes - the audience had a good laugh - did go over my head, but I did manage a few smiles - I tend not to laugh anyway.

What was particularly pleasing was that I didn't get the feeling of this being a reworking of a Woody Allen stereotype of his own cliche. Indeed it was nagging me through most of the play who Kuba Wojewódzki, taking Allen's part, reminded me of: not Allen, not Benny Hill, oh yes, Rik Mayall the British comic actor in Zwariowany Fred/Drop Dead Fred and many TV series. It didn't quite work for me, but it got a good laugh anyway. Anna Cieślak was best as the best friend's wife and I was going to praise Michał Żebrowski, the best friend, for not playing his normal handsome hunk role, but then I saw the theatre's web site saying he was supposed to be handsome. Wrong again!

Anyway, if you're asked to go along and are worried about not understanding, don't (worry that is). If you're happy to sit quietly when others around you are laughing loud, the spectacle and your friendly companions will make it worthwhile.

I'd forgotten everything about the 1972 film apart from its existence. If you want a reminder just click here. This site remarks on the resemblance between Kuba and Woody Allen in the poster, but that is just the advertising slant on it. See the theatre website for actual pictures of the play.

Since I mentioned Alternatywy 4, I must also give a plug to this. It regularly appears on Polish television and is a great delight. Polonia sometimes has it with English subtitles, but it's enjoyable without them. It's basically a very funny satire on Polish life at the beginning of the eighties, based on residents of a new block of flats in Ursynów in Warsaw. The English Wikipedia website entry describes it as satirising communist rule, but don't worry, it could as easily have been made by dedicated communists as anti-communists so there is no deep message to worry about.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Hello Klaudia

Writing this blog in English, I did't expect anyone I know in Poland to read it, which leaves me pretty free to do what I want here. Basia has enough of my views at home and assumes all this going to be rubbish anyway, which I suspect is not too far from the truth, and just gave instructions not to be embarrassing. She therefore leaves me to get on with it and only looks over my shoulder occasionally.

However, she told me yesterday that Klaudia, my niece wanted to know the name of the site. I was just closing down the computer, having already written something for today, when I remembered this and I suddenly wondered if there was anything she might not like here. Now, the last thing I want to do is upset anyone in the family, especially the ladies, who are, as I heard complimentarily described on the Pit and the Pendulum (with Vincent Price) yesterday - "strong and wilful". A slight panic... but then I thought of a better way of dealing with it.

So, taking the words of the Johnny Mercer song:

You must have been a beautiful baby
You must have been a wonderful child

When you were only starting to go to kindergarten
I bet you drove the little boys wild.

And when it came to winning blue ribbons
You must have shown the other kids how.

I can see the judges' eyes as they handed you the prize
You must have made the cutest bow.

You must've been a beautiful baby
'Cause baby look at you now.

I'm a bit nervous, as not everyone likes their photo being shown publicly. However, just a small version from October this year.

No, it's just not good enough - perhaps slightly bigger:

"In for a penny, in for a pound":

OK, with all this effort, I've pretty much guaranteed that she'll never find the site. Phew, that's a relief.

British Prize for Krakow Schindler Museum?

More inspiration from, this time with an article saying the "Oskar Schindler Museum in Krakow has received an award from the British Guild of Travel Writers for ‘Best Overseas Tourism Project' ".

This sounded good news, so I went to the BGTW website to find out more. Unfortunately the information is not remotely helpful. Site search didn't have anything for 'Schindler' and nothing relevant or recent for 'Krakow', whilst the press release on the 2010 awards says:

Overseas Tourism Project category
Winner: Haida Heritage Centre, British Columbia, celebrating rare tribal culture. Runners-up: Bluff Cove Museum, Falklands, (a living museum about the pioneering life of the Islanders; Ocean Dreams Factory, Tenerife, which, uniquely, enables visitors over 12 to dive in tandem with an instructor.

I don't think would lie about something that is so easily checked, and they don't seem to be hallucinating druggies (regretfully as that might be sometimes), so I wonder what's going on. Does anybody know?

(I tried to add a comment on the page, but I gave up when it twice refused to accept my verification code.)

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Blogger Get-together: Saturday

I can't imagine that anyone interested in attending on Saturday might be reading this and not the internationally recognised W-wa Jeziorki, I thought I'd just give a reminder. It's from 14:00 - late at Legends Bar, ul. Emilii Plater 25 and "all English-language bloggers, commentators and blog readers welcome". More at the top right of W-wa Jeziorki.

I hope to be there, but even at this late date, I am not sure: a last minute "are you coming?" is not unknown. What I do have planned for earlier in the day, however, is changing the cars to winter tyres. Freezing weather is expected next week, so, if you haven't already, get your tyres changed now.

I won't be one of the late crowd at the meeting. I might drive, but I don't think I could manage drinking coffee for hours. It would be great to have a beer or two, but my last bus leaves about 9:30 from Okęcie, on the south-western side of Warsaw. Even an exit from the centre at 9:00 could be a bit risky. Could I risk betting on the last bus, though? I'm actually very impressed by Warsaw public transport, but I lived in London a long time: I'm ingrained with the expectation that buses will be cancelled. My bus runs every two hours, so I guess I'd aim to leave before 7:00. Getting home before 9:00 should go down better with the family as well - they worry.

Its all very awkward living out in the sticks, but I'm pleased with the bus service - it influenced our choice of place to live. I don't normally want to use the bus and it's been during the day when I have, with less worry about timing. However, simply the possibility of using it is reassuring.

Hope to see you there anyway.

Liked Links List at Last

I've added a list of recommended links.

There is only one that I have consciously omitted, which others may feel useful. This is The Warsaw Voice. I don't like the website presentation and I got tired of what I considered to be an unsympathetic 'us foreigners know best what you silly Poles should do' attitude in the news reporting in their magazine. Each to his own. I don't know if they still email the magazine out, but the format of that was much better. There was at one time a fun reporter largely covering drinking, eating and drinking, but he got too interesting and people complained. I stopped reading it soon after.

Any suggestions obviously welcome.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Do you want to comment?

I've just realised that my settings restricted the ability to make comments: it is now open to all (I hope). Apologies for having it set wrongly in the past.

Poland as an Outsourcing Resource has once again highlighted some interesting economic information, this time on the success of Polish cities in providing outsourcing services.

A company called Global Services (The gateway to the outsourcing of IT and BPO - business process outsourcing - Services) has published a Top 100 Outsourcing Cities List. The cities are largely in developing economies, with Indian dominating the top 10. Some of the commentary on the Global Services site supports my expectation that important conditions for these services are the combination of a large supply, and therefore not expensive, of high quality staff. The European cities on the list, with their positions, are:

7 - Dublin, Ireland
11 - Kraków, Poland
22 - Prague, Czech Republic
27 - Budapest, Hungary
33 - St Petersburg, Russia
34 - Brno, Czech Republic
37 - Belfast, UK
38 - Warsaw, Poland
43 - Bucharest, Romania
46 - Moscow, Russia
49 - Bratislava, Slovakia
51 - Sofia, Bulgaria
52 - Tallinn, Estonia
54 - Ljubljana, Slovenia
56 - Kiev, Ukraine
59 - Glasgow City, UK
60 - Istanbul, Turkey
61 - Cork, Ireland
63 - Nizhniy Novgorod, Russia
78 - Leeds, UK
84 - Wroclaw, Poland
95 - Belgrade, Serbia
97 - Novosibirsk, Russia

Although, as always, it raises more questions than answers, the places both included and excluded - note the countries completed unrepresented - are interesting. Notorious UK (or at least GB) employment blackspots are not obviously different from those elsewhere in the UK or in other 'advanced' European economies. I therefore take the list as showing places that are doing particularly well in the face of difficult economic circumstances. It is a positive indicator, but with question marks over long-term sustainability.

Global Services comments that "Krakow leads the Top 10 Emerging Outsourcing Cities List. The city, constantly moving up the ranks since 2008, has built expertise in delivering FAO (financing and accounting outsourcing) services with improving service delivery maturity for ITO (information technology outsourcing) and HRO (human resource outsourcing) services. Large multinational companies have established their presence in the city, like Capgemini, Google, IBM and Microsoft".

This emphasises the inward investment effect, but what of Polish companies? Global Services also produced a 2010 list of the 100 Companies That Define Global Outsourcing. The European companies are shown below. The lack of any Polish company is not surprising, and it can only be my feeling of national competitiveness that makes it disappointing when seeing that Czech and Ukrainian companies are included. (I suspect that the Russian presence reflects the state of the Russian market, rather than their exceptional competitiveness and entrepreneurship, so no jealousy there.)

Altisource Portfolio Solutions SA - Luxembourg
Auriga Inc - Moscow, Russian Federation
Ciklum ApS - Kiev, Ukraine
IBA Group - Prague, Czech Republic
IBS DataFort - Moscow, Russian Federation
Luxoft - Moscow, Russian Federation
MERA - Nizhny Novgorod, Russian Federation
Reksoft - St. Petersburg, Russian Federation
SoftServe Inc - Lviv, Ukraine
Xchanging plc - London, UK

Saturday, 13 November 2010

A Sausage by any other name

My family describes me as a sausage eater. Since the Polish word 'kiełbasa' unambiguously covers both their equivalent of the English sausage and many types of roughly sausage-shaped cooked meats, such as kabanosy, I am not absolutely sure what they mean, but I think they refer to frying/grilling sausage. I know that I am being ridiculed - my preference is compared to my dislike of 'healthy' boiled carrots, and it goes along with ridicule of the greasy English Breakfast. (Before you jump to the defence of this institution, remember how many Polish women have worked as waitresses in England.)

After an initial, short period of wistful longing for the English sausage, I started shopping in Polish hypermarkets and discovered kiełbasa surowa (raw-meat sausage), which, not only relieved me of my longing, but even made me wonder why I had liked English sausages. The closest I had had in England were chipolatas from the local butcher's in Necton, Norfolk - they were full of meat. When I lived in Warsaw's Jelonki, the six local hypermarkets and many other supermarkets gave me an irresistible choice, but I am more restrained out in the rural suburbs. So, a rare visit to Auchan (Piaseczno) re-aroused my interest: I picked up a handful of different flavours.

I first had Mexican sausage (ie chilli flavoured), but since it inspired me to write this only after having cooked and eaten it, I don't have pictures or details. Most enjoyable as a sandwich, with Mika, the dog, getting the bits that poked out too much from the sides. Well, some of them.

The sausage with pepper is shown below. The ingredients were 68% class 2 pork, 30% class 2 beef, spices and herbs (salt, pepper, nutmeg/mace, marjoram, cumin, garlic and chilli). It is a thick, non segmented sausage. After grilling, it is chunky, moist and full of meat, with a good peppery taste. Per kilo price 12 zl, roughly £2.75, depending on exchange rate. Great. (The curvature of the natural skins means that they can't be shallow fried properly, but I always grill anyway. Mind you, the fat alone brings back tantalising memories of the days when bread and dripping was still a healthy and appetising supper, so just one tiny bit to explode the taste buds, and then in the bin.)

'Mergezy', below, is a Polish version of merguez, a North African sausage. It's made from 78% class 2 beef, 20% lamb/mutton, natural spices (no definition), lactose, dextrose and natural flavouring. This is a thin, finer-ground sausage, which comes out drier than a pork sausage. It has a nicely lingering, rather than hot, spicy flavour. I especially like the mutton element, which is as close as I get to eating lamb here. It is especially nice as a home made version of an English-style kebab (with hot chilli sauce and without cabbage). The cost is 16zl, perhaps £3.75, reflecting the high cost of lamb.

I think Auchan also do garlic, rosemary, herb and plain meat (pork, and pork and beef) versions. My local Tesco (Pruszków) is too small to have a consistent range but they do occasionally have some versions other than plain meat.

How do prices compare with the UK? I have little information on fair comparisons, especially since Polish versions contain more meat, but refers to Tesco Finest Traditionally Made Pork Chipolatas - 85% pork as being a worthwhile supermarket sausage. The large sausage version of this costs £5.29 a kilo. Flavoured versions cost more. Even Tesco Butcher's Choice Pork Sausages - 56% pork - cost £4.34 per kilo.

Details of sausages sold in Tesco in the UK.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Independence Day: Yawn

Whatever the national importance Independence Day may have, a national holiday on a Thursday, with almost everything closed and no reason for a family gathering, is largely a matter of sitting at home. We might have thought about going out if the weather had been nicer, but no such luck. So what were the highlights?

Got up late and had breakfast. A book on Sandringham (see below), being used for English teaching purposes, was on the table, which led to talk about the 'English' royals.

Although I have regularly heard puzzled and sarcastic comments about the British maintaining such an antiquated type of head of state, Poles seem to know much more about the royal family than I do, so I was largely listening. No, we didn't have a referendum.

Next, President Komorowski was giving a speech in which he referred to the Hitlerian (Hitlerowski) and Stalinist systems, leading to some discussion about what was the objective word for these. German and Russian? No, must be Soviet, not Russian. Maybe Georgian (where Stalin came from). But, under the Kaczinskies, the Georgians were our brothers... (that is to say of the Polish - my meaning was clear in the context).

Neatly leading in to watching some of the film, "Where Eagles Dare", although this is only mentioned because it shows one Brit and one American neatly managing to annihilate loads of ordinary looking German soldiers, which under the current Hitlerian/Nazi outlook don't seem to be guilty of having done anything wrong (except a lot of acceptable wartime killing).

Time dragged and then I heard Babcia call out "[non-swearing exclamation], What's happening?" with the sound of a breathless, slightly hysterical TV reporter in the background. It turned out to be TVN 24 (a 24 hour TV news programme) reporting on the 'fascist' march and anti-fascist demonstration, where nothing much was going on apart from people standing around. I hovered around for some time to see if there was any excitement, but, apart from a couple of minor off screen scuffles, it all seemed extremely civilised and well-behaved. A great tribute to the quality of Polish people and the excellence of the policing system, but not interesting TV. After all, isn't the very ethos of anti-fascism the need to prevent by any means possible, including violence, the opposition being allowed to express their views? (From the news this morning they did better elsewhere.)

However, the coverage still managed to provide the highlight of the day. The TVN reporter was excellent. I didn't see her name and wouldn't have remembered it anyway, but her non-stop commentary and slightly hysterical voice gave a sense of urgency and activity that completely failed to exist anywhere around her. She should take up football commentary. My favourite bit was when she said how unsafe it was and that people should not bring their children. The camera soon after switched to showing a mother and child standing quietly in complete safety, where she (the reporter) managed to sound completely disapproving of the mother's reckless behaviour. If only she had been on radio... More for TV though, was her trying to get one of a group of silent protesters to talk to her and, when they ignored her, pushing through their line. Callous, uncaring journalism at its most sublime.

The rest of the day isn't worth remembering, let alone writing about, although I did finish reading (in English) Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals - bought from the tobacconists/magazine shop in Piaseczno's Auchan centre,.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Twinings again: ah, the 'Good Old Days'

Twinings move to Poland is old news that I've already commented on. It's in the Polish news at WP again, which seemed to be prompted by new information on subsidies, as confirmed by BBC News and Mail Online. Whilst it's always sad to see people loosing their jobs, I have no sympathy for the UK generally on this or any similar loss. "Been there, done that" - when it benefited the UK.

I worked on investment support grants (and EU funds) in the UK and major inward investments (Japanese mainly at the time) were the great prize. I remember French and German campaigns against us for stealing their jobs in similar circumstances to the Twinings move, which we dismissed as nonsense - we didn't care. I even ran a non-existent grant scheme in case an investment came along with 'exceptional national benefits' (roughly defined as being something like new technologies and new work methods eg as provided by Japanese projects). No discrimination against UK companies, of course, but my job - expected only to deal with UK companies - was basically to say 'no'. The scheme only existed to avoid EU state aid problems - fat chance.

I do not like and do not trust the (EU) Commission. This started with my first EU related job (steel production quotas) and reached it's peak on EU funding work in the UK. WP reports that "The European Commission is investigating the move to see if it breaches EU rules, which stipulate that the money must be used for new investments in Poland and not merely to cover the cost of relocation". I have heard this before. The Commission's Competition DG is actually the most competent and objective I have worked with, but cases like this can encourage the Commissioner and his politicised staff to start all the hypocrisy and doubletalk politicking that furthers their aims of driving wedges between Member States and showing that they care more than national governments. On the face of it, Twinings has decided on location of a new investment, not on relocating an existing one, so the Commission are unlikely to have anything significant to investigate. A long and in-depth investigation, with tough political statements about the seriousness of stealing jobs would not be a surprise, however. The English workers won't have a chance, of course.

Interesting also that BBC News reports that "AB Foods Chief Executive George Weston said that the decision to open the Poland site was made before the application for the grant". In the UK we had (and maybe still do have) a "minimum necessary grant" policy for UK investment grants, including those funded by EU money, and a statement like this would have eliminated any grant possibility. (Actually, it would have him saying "misquoted", "out of context", etc.) Other countries such as France had a different policy (although the Commission told us differently) and Poland was starting to follow their principles when I moved back to London and, if it has any sense, will have continued to do so. Not that media reports about investment support should be trusted, as they often turn out to cover things like training, which had different principles even in the UK. Commission State Aid rules get very complicated at this stage.

Great to see the Mail's report that "Twinings was accused of using taxpayers’ money to move British jobs to Poland". EU money received by the UK is really UK money was a great favourite of Maggie's.

Finally' I'm sad to see that the company were reported in the Telegraph back in September as saying that "A significant number of our employees have also expressed interest in the opportunity to train Polish employees at the new site in Poland". Sad? I met a group of workers from the Newcastle area in Kielce several times. They were training Polish workers after their factory was transferred there - simply shifting the existing machinery, I think. They appeared to be incredibly miserable and hated being there. I may be wrong and I may have an erroneous regional stereotyped expectation that a group of young Geordie lads sitting around a table in a pub would be enjoying themselves. However, I can imagine how horrendously depressing it might be, even though, as one said rather morosely - "at least I have a job to go back to". It would be ironic, though, if some of these volunteers were actually Polish.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Dinner Party: What's to eat?

The family get together to eat and drink is one of the great features of Polish life. Although there are various set days - name days or birthdays, wedding anniversaries, etc, they come round often enough and can be filled with various ad hoc excuses to ensure a regular, but reasonably well spaced round of domestic parties. Since we are the only house dwellers in the family, we can also count on regular supplementary occasions, especially in the summer when the barbecue gets full use.

The standard format for meals (apart from barbecues) is a cold sit down buffet. In our family, the numbers usually vary between 8 and 14, which in a small flat can be quite crowded. (I don't know why we are all so glum when the picture below was taken - its not normal.)

The food some 10 years ago tended to be traditional party dishes, but, as we are sophisticated city folk, the ingredients have become more international and the recipes more inventive. OK, I'm joking about the sophistication, but what I mean to say is that I don't know how typical this change is. It used to be normal for guests to bring along a dish they had prepared to contribute to effort and cost, but that is much rarer now. This and the above picture was a party at Klaudia's and Mariusz's, my niece and her partner, and also the old family flat.

The cold buffet format is really great since it means that everything can be prepared at your own speed beforehand and it doesn't matter exactly what time people arrive - the people who prepare the meal could even be out with everyone else, although that isn't normal. The host/hostess can pretty much sit down with everyone else right from the start rather than fussing around in the kitchen all the time. There is sometimes a hot course - traditionally pierogi or pork cutlets, although it now varies: a Thai take-away from Warsaw's Maharaja has crept in a few times at Ilona's and Chris's place - the first time, we secretly delivered it to my sister-in-law so she could pretend (initially) that she had cooked it. The hot meal arrives about half way through the several hour sitting, so isn't shown below.

Vodka, drunk neat from the freezer of course, was originally standard, but is now balanced by wine drinking. (It was difficult to get wine when I was first in Warsaw.) Drivers do not drink, which is now assumed by everyone, although a few years ago there was still pressure for "just one" because "it's early". I just drinks lot of coffee when I'm driving, which may not be quite as much fun, but sitting watching while others are letting go is fine in itself. We are, in any case, fortunate in having room for people to stay in comfort, so we encourage everyone to come to our home, especially if we can establish a joint reason for the party. Our guests can then excuse themselves for not doing all the preparation: they bring along a few things instead. Everyone can also sit on standard chairs: sitting below table level on a settee is quite common in flats.

I used to cook quite a bit for these occasions, but I like hot meals and getting everything together. This went down well with everyone, but faded out for various reasons, ranging from Babcia's insistence on having her own vegetable salad, to the feeling that it was unfair that I should be doing everything. (I suspect the underlying/sub-conscious view that this was really women's work and that a woman should be doing it, but it was never put in quite such sexist terms. I kept insisting that I wanted to do it.)

However, I did get the chance on All Saint's Day last week. I label my cooking as 'What's in the Cupboard" style, which can include fridge or freezer. I've tried to think of a decent acronym to make it sound better, but without success: WC won't do. I was intrigued, however, that Warsaw restaurants sometimes produce similar things under the title 'Fusion'. Two things went down particularly well. Firstly, smoked cod surrounding curry spiced fried field and oyster mushrooms, together covered with gratin dauphonoise (Lidl tin) and sprinkled with breadcrumbs and grated hard Italian cheese - all baked in the oven. (None of these were bought for the occasion.) Second preference was oven-matured, fried minced pork shoulder with black-eyed beans and Thai Basil and Chilli sauce, supported by basmati rice with (reconstituted) dried tomatoes.

I probably got the Tao Tao Basil and Chilli (with garlic) Sauce from Tesco (Pruszków), but it had been on the shelf in the cupboard for some time. It's delicious, hence the advertising. I haven't been in Tesco since, but it was available in Real, Janki last week (about 6zl), although not in Auchan, Piaseczno.