Monday, 31 January 2011

Bouncing into Spring

I just saw the weather forecast on Polsat: spring, the weather rather than the season, is coming in the next few days. You heard it here first. Goodbye to winter sunrises.

It was a few days ago, but the sun just rose up above the edge of the world below the cloud cover, disappearing for the rest of the dull, cloudy day.

Twoja Pagoda has the first day with temperatures above freezing in Warsaw on Thursday, 3rd February, then lasting to 15th February, the last forecast day, although night time temperatures are only positive from the 13th.

Accuweather also starts above freezing weather from Thursday, but it gets freezing again from the 10th, with only two nights above freezing in the whole period.

It's not settled yet and the two forecasts can be expected to change (possibly even before you check the links, should you feel the inclination do so), but my earlier post's forecast of a couple of weeks (or so), dates spring to start around Friday, 4 February - not bad. Without any seaweed, either ... fingers crossed.

Thinking of Twoja Pagoda, it has a large selection of weather based photographs linked from the forecast page, including the best of 2010. Most of these 'best' had me thinking how good even my photographs are, but I did like the first one:

Then I looked at the general gallery, where this magic image came first:

Since we are shortly saying goodbye to winter, the 'Poland in the Snow' album may also be worth visiting in a month or so, to remind us of how marvellous winter was.

And, whilst I'm in an advertising mood, TVN Meteo, the TV weather station often has really good photographs as well (and often lots of duff ones, of course). Whilst a number of the girls, guys and indeterminates on my site list also have some wonderful stuff. A post by Micheal Dembinski immediately sprang to mind where this brillaint photograph is just the first.

I vaguely recall that Michael has a copyright notice for his photographs, so please do not copy it or even, as I have rather cheekily done, reproduce via link to it, unless you are clear about the law on promotion of the author by limited quotation. Please follow the link just above the picture to visit his site.

I rather like my "the law on promotion of the author by limited quotation". I've no idea what it really means, but I think there is something in the UK like this. (No idea about Poland, though.) Anyway, I'm hoping that Michael will like my praise - lick, lick.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

RE-calculation (Real Estate taxes)

Clearing out one of those old items, this from 9th December last year and again from Polish Market Review. It commented about Poland's position in a 2010 report on tax on the sale and rent of domestic and commercial property in various countries. In summary:

Taxand: Poland places light tax burden on sale of property

Poland charges one of the lowest taxes on the sale of real property, according to a report by Taxand, an international network of tax advisory firms.

Commercial-property owners in Poland pay an effective tax rate of 4.28% of the selling price, the third-lowest rate among the 23 countries covered by the study ...

The effective tax paid by homeowners [selling] in Poland, at 11.04%, is lower than in all the other countries except two ...

Taxand's website publications page links to a digital edition of the report, where the study is shown on pages 28 to 31 of the viewer numbering. This shows Polish tax rates of:

Home for sale - 11.04% (3rd lowest of 23 countries)
Flat for sale - 9.62% (4th lowest)
Home for rent - 25% (5th lowest)
Commercial sale 4.28% (3rd lowest)
Commercial Rent - 15.67% (6th lowest)
Hospital - 29.35% (8th lowest)

Poland's VAT rate rose 1 percentage point for 2011, which I assume will affect these, but them other countries may have changed rates as well. The clear message, however, is that Poland is a good place for buying property, whether private or commercial.

I'm not sure how commentators who advocate transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor, such as Beyond the Transition, will view this. However, a public debate on reducing the size of property defined as 'social housing' for VAT purposes - it qualifies for a lower tax rate, and such a change would therefore raise the tax level for many houses (but not flats) on the market - quickly led the PiS (I think) government to quickly deny that it had ever considered the proposal. (How this affected the cost of our house would have depended on whether the integral garage space was part of the house measurement size.)

In any case, I can't help but think significant changes in housing taxes would undermine the still low-level state of the domestic, built property market, reducing necessary growth in housing infrastructure. I also suspect that, at least compared to the UK, low income groups have a much higher level of property ownership, especially in the poorest, rural areas. The phenomenon around major urban areas of poor small farmers finding that their land is a significant source of non-farm income, is a prospect that still awaits much of the country. However, it can be widely anticipated at some time in the future, possibly not too distant. Increased taxes might therefore effectively undermine increased balance of wealth, should that be your objective.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Buying Beer and Narcotics

I'm trying to get through a number of old items I have accumulated, but I looked at Polish Market Review: I'll get rid of these quickly.

Polish market leaders for beer are Kompania Piwowarska, which produces Lech, Tyskie and Żubr (my favourite standard beer), amongst others. The producers of Żywieć also used to regularly make it into top place, depending on the strength of their advertising, but I did get the feeling Żywieć itself had been loosing popularity in the last few years. A friend of mine, Steve Bickle, once said it "tastes like piss", having to explain he meant it literally. I had to agree.

If you're not into alcohol, I also learn that a law is being amended to stop non-prescription purchase of more than one packet of anti-catarrah medicines like Cirrus, Acatar AT or Sudafed. The objective is to combat excessive consumption of these medicines for narcotic purposes, made possible by their similar effects to amphetamines. Now you know. If you live in Dolnośląskie, Śląskie, Małopolskie or Lubuskie, you're helping to account for 83% of national sales of these products. They're either very naughty or very snotty people.

Where to buy? A survey covering shopping in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia shows that the Polish group, Biedronka is the favourite (ie most frequented) grocery store, followed by Tesco, et al.

I'm not sure if the links are working and, if not why. I will try to correct it later if not, but you should be able to use the link to Polish Market Review under News and Information in the right hand column.

Butlins 1963: Hi-de-hi

Pauline said that she would like pictures of her Dad, so I went through my collection to see what I could upload to web Picassa for her and came across the following two pictures, which she might also like to see (but might not like the world to see).

They come from our holiday in Butlins in Clacton in 1963. You should have no problem guessing that Pauline is the sweet young girl in the middle of the picture. Sitting beside her is her brother Martin, with her Mum, Olive next to him. I share the embarrassment, by being in the front.

From John

My Mum is second from the left below.

From John

Click on the links at the bottom of the pictures for more pictures of John through the years.

This was all well before going abroad for sunny beach resort holidays became standard and, although later subject to ridicule, was quite an acceptable way of spending one's holiday. The lady on the left of the picture and her two children on the right were from a rugby playing family from Twickenham, who in those more class dominated days - John would understand that statement - seemed very classy to me.

The TV series Hi-de-Hi! showed little of the life of the campers, but I do recall feeling a degree of familiarity with bits that they did show. My memory is extremely vague, but the chalets shown in the following clip seem similar to the little I remember.

I assume I had a great time, but other things stick in my memory: terrible food in a horrible canteen restaurant (a memory brought back in Polish spa hotels) and the camp being surrounded by huge wire fences with guards at the gates (a memory brought back by ...). They were intended to keep non-paying visitors out from the camp's facilities and entertainment, but it still looked like a prison camp from the outside. "Do not climb on the fences!"

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Uncle John

I'm not sure when John Stemp was born, but maybe 1932/33.

I don't know when that picture was taken and, although I was told several times that it is him, comparison with the next photo raises some doubts. From 1938/39 or thereabouts - John on the left, Stella (my Mum) on the right and baby Margaret on Clare, their mother's knee.

A few years later, John at the back, with Great Uncle Charlie, for whom I also hold special affection.

John on the left in 1972, with Olive, his wife, in the middle of the couch; the three great uncles, Jim, George and Charlie; and George's wife, Nell.

On the Norfolk Broads in 1982, with John second from the left, husband Jack with Aunty Margaret and Stella, second from the right. My brother, Richard and I are at the ends.

John came over to visit us in Warsaw in 2004.

He and I did quite a bit of travelling and sightseeing. When looking through the many photos I'd taken, he seemed especially pleased with my attempt to show him chatting up the ladies. In a motel beteen Kielce and Krakow:

In Krakow:

And in an Inn on the road south from Oświęcim.

John died yesterday, 26 January 2011. He is remembered.

I found that I had a sequence of pictures from Gdansk where he was walking away from me - click on the black surround first. Whilst I was going to present this in a way that would now have some metaphorical significance, I decided that he would have preferred me to think of him laughing at the suggestion that it be called: "Where did you say the toilet was?". I've therefore added back the final picture.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Polish Freaks

I just saw this headline juxtaposition in Polish heavyweights at Davos economic forum, which then leads: President Bronislaw Komorowski, Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski ... with the next headline being: Poles to become as fat as Brits?. Its good to know that heavyweights like Komorowski, et al are not normal.

Do you sleep well? Yes? Be careful who you tell, because you're weird. If you see people looking at you furtively and whispering to each other, they're talking about you, you freak. (68% of Polish people have sleeping problems according to the TV this morning.)

I'm proud enough of my own independence of mind to prefer the word 'eccentric'. Back at the end of November, I saw an article in Polish Market headed "Setting New Accountancy Standards". I thought might be worth reading - that's' pretty weird in itself. Revisions to accountancy standards rarely hit the general press, but can arouse enormous emotion in the business community, especially in the US. Changes are widely viewed as an attack on business integrity and entrepreneurial freedom. What new standards and what was the Polish reaction? However, it turned out that the article was just a space filler, saying virtually nothing and with the wrong headline.

However, I thought it would be helpful to insert a summary, since the actual answers are mainly waffle.

Professor Zbigniew Messner, President of the Accountants Association in Poland, talks to “Polish Market’s” Janusz Turakiewicz about keeping high accountancy standards in light of the global economic crisis.

Q. How do you assess Polish accountancy in the context of the global economic crisis?
My summary: No problem.
A: When Poland joined the European Union in 2004, our accountancy laws did not call for much adjustment, as Poland had been using statutory rules of accountancy standards and the certified auditor profession for ten years. Those rules took into consideration all the requirements of proper accountancy functioning in a modern economy. It should be remembered that the acts were based on long-standing achievements of the Polish academia staying in close touch – also during the period of planned economy - with the key global centres shaping the accountancy solutions worldwide. The combination of this knowledge, other scientific accomplishments, and business practice experiences along with the joint interdisciplinary reflection – even if only during Accountancy Congresses – has made it possible to adapt legal and organisational solutions of accountancy to the current economic needs.

It is often said that many crisis phenomena in the global economy result from the violation of the rules of business ethics, including those related to accounting. What does your Accountants Association do to prevent such situations?
My summary: We've copied what other countries do, but businesses decide for themselves.
A: The quality of accounting stems from two factors: personnel qualifications and the observance of professional ethics rules. The Association of Accountants in Poland has been active in both fields for a number of years. We have introduced a system of professional certification allowing for obtaining professional qualifications at consecutive stages – from an accountancy assistant to a certified accountant - and ensuring constant improvement of skills and knowledge of both our members and other accounting professionals. We have also approved an accountancy ethics code which specifies the rules of behaviour expected of people working in this field. It reduces the risk of situations conflicting with applicable laws and professional canons. Our solutions are based on principles developed by the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC). There is a positive climate of public support for our actions, reflected in the growing number of companies signing the Accountancy Ethics Code, and the participation of chief Polish business organisations in the Employers Council at the Accountants Association in Poland. Therefore, we hope that the necessity to observe rules of ethics in regard to financial statements will be taken seriously by the people who are active in all spheres of business in Poland.

Q: For many years the Accountants Association in Poland has taken part in the work of IFAC and European regional organisations. It has cooperated with professional accountants associations in numerous European countries. What Polish experiences are we transferring at the international level? What solutions – developed due to those contacts – have been implemented in Poland?
My summary: We have lots of foreign trips, doing some work in Poland as well.
A: We have been an active member of IFAC for over 20 years. Our representative is a member of the Developing Nations Committee at IFAC. Our delegates take part in the World Accountancy Congresses. In Poland, we have been popularising IFAC solutions, such as educational and ethical standards mentioned before. Let us not forget that the first texts of International Accounting Standards in Polish, announced by the European Commission, were based on translations prepared by our Association. We are also active in Europe, participating in the European Federation of Accountants and Auditors for SMEs (EFAA) based in Brussels. Furthermore, we carry out projects within the framework of bilateral cooperation with various organisations from a number of countries.

Smug and self-satisfied? Me or the Professor?

(I was going to put the last summary as a cynical alternative, but, then, I remembered being at a Brussels Standards meeting attended by a representative of the Polish Standards Organisation. Poor chap. If it hadn't been for me introducing myself before the meeting, he wouldn't have said a word. Does 'active' in the last answer mean:  'they speak' ?)

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Happy Birthday Misia

Misia was 13 yesterday.

Its not an ideal picture, but it was Monday evening, with just the four of us sharing a cake with candles. I think the proper celebration is arranged for Saturday. (I'm often not informed of such things in advance.)

The picture of her below is even less ideal, but it also contains part of Babcia . I am not sure how many months old Misia was at the time, but less than 1 year.

Here's Misia at four months.

I tried to get a proper picture of Babcia yesterday, but there is something about her face that routinely makes photographs so unflattering as to be virtually unrecognisable. I am sure she would prefer you to see her in Hel first - in the centre of the picture.

Monday, 24 January 2011

The Great Escape

I was surprised recently to find out that the prison camp on which the film The Great Escape was based is in Poland. I am so used to be being told about all the famous events that happened here, that it is something of a shock to find that the location of one of the most famous and most loved World War Two films isn't one of those tourism places that are routinely mentioned as being of interest to foreign visitors.

If you want to be reminded of the film, try the original trailer and Steve McQueen's motorcycle jump - both from You Tube.

The camp is one of several in Żagań in Western Poland, with the museum website providing details in English. Żagań itself seems to be a place worth visiting if you are in the area (although I have never been there myself).

It is near the German Border, about 40km south-west of Zielona Góra. I've never been there either - apologies to Marcin Głuchowski for that, but I want to some day. I must try to get to Żagań at the same time. (There's a hidden reference to me in Marcin's link.)

My namesake wasn't as handsome as me in real life. It's just a camera trick.

If you're just in Warsaw for a short time and feel disappointed that you can't get to see any of these famous Polish wartime camps, have a look at my old post on the Friendship Estate.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

An Australian's in Town: Nadarzyn Brass Band

The conductor of a Tasmanian Brass Band is currently in Nadarzyn to arrange mutual visits between their band and Nadarzyn Fire Service's Brass Band, which I was told is the best in Poland. Time to find out more.

Founded in 1998, their main successes are: winner of the compulsory competition march programme during the 20th Polish Festival of Voluntary Fire Brigade Bands in Krynica Zdróy (June 2009); winner of the Regional Festival of Brass Bands in Warsaw-Ursus in 2008; winner of the Inter-Voivodeship Brass Band Festival in Suwałki in 2008; gold medal for Concert and silver medal for March in the International Festival of Brass Bands in Rastede in Germany in 2008; winner of the Voivodeship Festival of Brass Bands in 2007 and 2006. See their website gallery for pictures.

They perform in Poland both at marches:

And at concerts:

And abroad - New York and Singapore here:

Apart from the band there is a hammer and anvil player and Aneta's added touch of glamour.

International appearances include Italy, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Ukraine, China, USA, Singapore, Malaysia, Hungary, and Germany. (I thought I saw a reference to the UK, but I can't find it now.) The following picture come from an appearance at the 2010, 2nd Minden Tattoo, Germany. (The flags are part of the theatre backdrop.) See also Bild (images) 33 to 53 on their gallery.

They have now recorded three CDs. A break during recording below:

And they have appeared in a TV advert:

What, no Aneta? Maybe she appears somewhere in this alternative version.

Friday, 21 January 2011

A Snow-filled Wonderland

I used to have some Jamaican friends in London who took in their nieces from back home. The two girls were about 7 and 8 and arrived in summer, but what they were most excited about was seeing snow on Christmas Day, still five months in the future. Their Christmas stories and Christmas cards had always showed snow, but they had never seen any.

Since it is really spring and the current colder spell is just an aberration, I can admire the results of the first new fall of snow without trepidation, both in the garden:

And on the way to the shop, where the road was still good enough for cycling by both the brave and the foolhardy (in the distance on a moped).

The slideshow below shows more. (Click on the black edge to show the controls.)

Spring at last

Spring? Its snowing for the second day! What's he on about?

Polandian and W-wa Jeziorki have both had a bit of the weather miseries. My own feelings on the False Spring Blues identified my body feeling that spring had arrived whilst my mind was busy telling me it hadn't. The obvious corollary to this, although it only occurred to me after, was 'what if my body is right and my brain was wrong?'.

The reason for my body to be fooled was quite obvious. Although we have had a lovely period of warm weather, it is just the middle of January - near enough mid-winter. The weather has been so warm that the snow and ice around me had almost all disappeared. The pond had changed from this:

To first a flooded garden:

And then, after pumping out the water over five days, there is only a small area of ice floating on the water. As Babcia said several times "the green is lovely".

Spring was definitely in the air. I met more people walking around the estate in those warm days than throughout the whole snowy period. The dogs on the way to the shop had figured out it was the mating season - Mika isn't allowed to do naughty things, but she has dragged me further than the winter norm, sniffing whatever she could find. Mole hills had appeared on someone's drive just by the shop. Some mosquitoes were buzzing around. Mind you, they all might be fooled as well.

However, tidying up in the garden, spring is already here. OK, daffodils, alliums and bulb irises normally appear when the snow melts, but they are well advanced.

But flowers in bloom?

So many other plants starting to grow, such as these aquilegias.

I nearly dug out the chrysanthemums in May last year because I thought they were dead, but they are already alive and well this year.

I sought help from the professionals. A Google Translate of Twoje Pogoda - click on forecast for the next six months - gave:

February milder

February brings the withdrawal of the winter. In the first half of the month we still have to deal with snow and frost, but in the second half will be the first deeper thaw. The temperature will rise quickly and it is possible that the first puffs of warmer air will appear before the end of February.

March has spring

Winter resolved early, so in March we will be able to enjoy the early spring with higher temperatures than usual this month.

The forecast for the next few weeks is mainly below freezing, but not deepest cold. It won't take much for the weather to be just a bit better then expected for spring to be maintained. So I am now hoping that it has not been a false spring, but that we have entered a short false winter.

Scoff, laugh, ridicule me, whatever your wont, but do you know what I saw on Monday?

Not a clue? Skylarks! They leave here for the winter, but they had come back, singing and flying around me (leaving the next day, so I suspect they were stopping off on their way north). On Sunday, there had been the flight of large ducks/geese/swans heading north: a less concrete sign, but it all adds up.

Don't be surprised in a couple of weeks or so if the news announces that spring has arrived unexpectedly early in Poland this year.

Are these tree buds opening?

Of course, there has to be a spoil sport. The lady in the shop told me that the winter will still kill everything off. Tuesday's 'red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning':

She's wrong - I feel it in my bones.