Saturday, 28 May 2011

Sony DSC S3000 - close ups

My actual price was 369zl and there is at least one place on the internet advertising the package for 368zl.

I'm continuing to try things out, but I'm still not happy with the sharpness. I am starting to fear that this is because the JPEG compression rate is too high (at all megapixel sizes) for my preferences. If so, this is the first camera I have had with this problem.

However, the speed of start-up and its ability to spot focus at close range has allowed me to get the above pictures of very small butterflies/moths on the wing or stopping still for just a second, in a way I have never been able to do before.

Although the picture lacks the precision I would prefer, it still gives good close-up detail. (The camera doesn't have a close-up setting, but I had never been able to figure this out on other cameras anyway.) This spider was perhaps half a centimetre in length.

I think the camera is set up on the assumption that the users will be taking pictures of faces and similar focus points. I'm not having so much luck yet with more distant objects. It never occurred to me that I would have to take several shots of this old country cottage.

Keep on trying.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Sony Camera Bargain

Looking for alternatives for paying to get my Canon repaired, I found a Sony 2011 Limited Edition package for just 370 zloties in Tesco in Piastów. (The calendar inside the camera starts in 2011, so it really seems to be a 2011 model.)

Apart from the camera, cables, etc that are standard with all/most cameras, it has two rechargeable batteries with a charger, a 2 Gb memory card and a small bag that you can attach to a belt. Since that seems to bring the cost of the camera down to about 300zl, the value is incredible and highly recommended to anyone who hasn't got any of these things and would like something to carry around for taking snaps. (Tesco Piastów still has some.)

I've included Misia's Nikon in the picture as a comparison, which I have been borrowing and which has been my regular companion. I'm not fully used to the Sony yet, but was worried about the sharpness of the pictures, but I suspect this is because I have been using a 'steady shot' feature, which from one test shot a short while ago, makes the picture slightly blurred. If this is solved, I should be happy with it. Indeed, its ability to focus and adjust exposure for close-up objects like flowers is the best I have experienced.

It would have been nice to have a found a camera that I could use without taking my glasses off, but I suspect that that aspiration would have camera developers splitting their sides with laughter. My little Minolta Dimage G400 had this capability, but, although the Canon that broke had an eye-level viewfinder, that didn't.

All the above pictures were taken with my Minolta Dimage Z1, in the middle below, with the little Minolta on the right. (Canon box on the left.) The Z1 was my first ever digital camera, bought about 8 years ago when I recall thinking it was incredibly cheap. It's basically a standard digital camera with an SLR structure and, apart from not fitting in my pocket, remains my camera of choice. It has some oddities, but is brilliant overall. (I was bit too over enthusiastic for the little Minolta, when trying to photograph that beautiful red ball of fire rising in the morning.)

That picture was taken with the Sony with the steady shot feature still in operation - the precision might have been better otherwise. All the pictures were taken at roughly the same time this morning. It was dark and cloudy and I had to use the flash for all of them. I didn't add any additional room lighting, which often gives a better result. The picture required some adjustment of the contrast, but that's easy enough to do in Picasa. The same goes for the Nikon, as shown below: the pictures from that are normally much sharper, however.

Assessment goes on, but it has one very fun gadget: a one click panoramic feature: simply click once and then turn the camera smoothly round until it shows you have turned far enough. The process is amazing simple - even I could do it straight away. This 180 degree picture is taken in the little village of Konotopa, west of Warsaw near Ożarów. It will soon burst into public consciousness as the Konotopa interchange on the western expressway.

To see how construction is progressing - 20 May, right click on the picture and open in a new tab, or just double click on it and navigate away from this page. This should bring you to the Picasa view page. Press on the magnifying glass on the top right of the picture to get a better view, which can be expanded again and the picture rotated.

I spent hours trying to find code that could easily integrate a rotation feature onto the blog directly, but couldn't find one. If anyone knows of one ...

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Eating Ecstasy

What is the emotion, 'ecstasy'?

A dictionary definition includes "Intense joy or delight; a state of emotion so intense that one is carried beyond rational thought and self-control".

A pictorial definition is:

From 2011 05

It isn't my practice to spy on people, but very occasionally the sight is so compelling that I just have to take pictures. I asked for and received permission to publish them.

He was eating spaghetti, but couldn't say what went into the sauce: he just adds a random mixture of Italian herbs. However, his suggestion for a quick delicious pasta is simply to add tuna. His favourite is Prince's in sunflower oil, which he thinks is only sold in Tesco - he gave us a can to try. (For some reason I can't understand, this was immediately checked to see if it had passed it's sell by date when I brought it indoors.)

I don't like tuna, although I keep trying it when others have it at home, to see if I can adjust to the taste. My own recommendation for a quick pasta is to add pesto sauce. I normally buy this from Lidl, but can't show a picture: we've run out. Nobody told me and I wonder if it will be mentioned when I next go shopping. I always ask before I go and we have a notebook in which we write things we need, but I still frequently get asked "did I buy" or even "why didn't I buy" things that no one has told me we want. (Window cleaner and sanitary towels this week.)

I commented before on Polish eating methods that were new to me. The pictures above serve to illustrate the second eating style described in that post, but watching someone enjoying their food so much is so delightful that I can't imagine delicate mannered English people taking offence. In any case, I'm thought to be strange when I eat spaghetti. I prefer to use a knife and fork, which is easy and ensures I don't get specks of sauce over me, but which seems to be very questionable behaviour.

Monday, 16 May 2011

My Old School

I had just been looking for a picture of my old school chapel for something I was writing, but never finished. It brought back a wider range of memories, so I looked further.

I lived most of my life from age 5 or 6 to 18 (roughly 1958 to 1971) first at Russell Hill School in Purley, transferring after a couple of years when that closed and became a Roman Catholic school (1961?) to the Royal Russell School in Croydon. I just lived at home in the holidays - about 4 months a year.

There is a Pathe news clip about the school from the 1920s, linked here, with the opening picture below. I suspect the camera crew did not have the equipment that allowed them to film inside, which gives the whole depiction of the school a rather strange open air feel: no sitting in dull classrooms.


In case it disappears, the accompanying text - figure out the abbreviations for yourselves - about the school reads:


In 1926 or soon after, the boys and girls were separated into different schools, which the film predates.

Titles read: 'Warehousemen, Clerks and Drapers Schools, Russell Hill, Purley, Surrey. How the Textile Trade of Great Britain (comprising Wholesale and Retail Drapers, Tailors, Hosiers, etc.) cares for its orphans and war orphans. We have our own school hospital, where casual "out patients" are speedily attended to and more serious complaints have every care and attention.'

CS Nurse wraps bandage on boy's hand. *A wedding sequence follows that may be intended to show the fashion work of the clothing trade, together with a reminder of marital happy times - marriage and  children - whilst First World War memories of the mass extinction of a large slice of the male population, leaving many children fatherless, being fresh in people's minds.*

DS procession in park - older boys in military uniforms; younger in shorts & jackets - all marching in precise rows. MS short pan: Group of boys & men stand on porch clapping; a few others run up; some w/ cricket bats. Long lines of girls in pinafores do graceful stretching exercises outdoors; building in BG. Title frame re smart cadet corps boys in uniforms like British Army; doing drill; quickly changing places then marching round in a big square. Physical training: 2 instructors in uniforms and lots of boys (now just in shirts & trousers) running toward camera. They suddenly stop and quickly form 2 rows. They do exercises - spreading arms & doing slow squats. Next; field full of boys playing leapfrog. Games. Title frame re. rush for swimming bath. Bunch of young boys in shorts run really fast up to door in brick building; man walks through crowd to unlock door; they start to enter.

Title frame: 'Every woman ought to be able to cook and mend stockings! The boys have gardens of their own.' CU girl ca. age 12 stirring food in bowl. CU girl darning; sitting in flower garden. Boys working in garden at the orphanage. Girls in fairy-like costumes do Shakespeare - looks like 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' - 2 older girls speaking while younger ones run round & dance. Theatre. DS cadets march. Girl Guides marching past camera. Girl Guides practice first aid; bandaging another's arm & making sling. Guides salute and drill in yard - pan left; row of girls; then 2 getting badges pinned on; others at left hold flags. Next; girls carry stretcher across field. Then girls do push-ups, lying over benches. Next; walking on low balance beams.

Shot w/ arch in wall in FG; group of girls & boys through it. Girls playing tennis; on grass. Indoor swimming pool; young boys enter in old-fashioned swimsuits; dive in from narrow side. They play; swim; dive; & do somersaults off edge. Girls in pinafores, straw hats; walk along path in grounds. School time: Boys drawing at desks outdoors; teacher assists pupils. Girls at table outdoors; making crafts. CU 2 girls stitching. Teachers pose. Mayor & others walk across yard. CU 2 boys planting tree. Crowd behind rope. Mayor etc. seated, more walking about. Boys at finish line of running race. Boys step up to get prizes from Mayor; give flowers to lady. Awards; honours. Kids play in sand. CU 6 young (teenage?)girls in swimming gear. Cute.

Even accounting for the focus on external activities, it all appears very militaristic. Although in a less toned down way, this continued. In my time, all boys were included in the Cadet Force, which was then aligned to 2 Para, with the commander being then the only non-professional soldier to be promoted to (Lt.) Colonel - Colonel Starkey. It continues today.

Apart from the comfortable looking army uniforms - we wore itchy Second World War woollen battledress, this is 2009 picture is very reminiscent of my own times, although the girls were lucky enough not to be forced to participate. I eventually made Lance-Corporal and was asked by Colonel Starkey - also the Art Teacher - not to participate any more. He got extra money and I didn't have to march up and down the parade ground. More current pictures are available on the school website.

This picture however, is probably from 1960-63. I'm on the right.

The Welfare State made charity schools of this nature redundant. Royal Russell virtually went bankrupt, but the introduction of fee-paying and non-boarding pupils in the last years of my internment led to the charity function disappearing soon after I left: it became a normal-style private school. A short history of the school is on their website.

The school has recently put a number of videos on You Tube, although embedding isn't enabled. It's marketing material, but I do remember some of the buildings and other bits and pieces. In fact, apart from the buildings and the colour, the Pathe film is more reminiscent of my time. What is most interesting, however, is the fundamental change in views over 90 years about what might be of interest in a school - there is virtually no linkage between the two sets of material.

We had Saturday evening dances, where we were allowed to wear our own clothes instead of school uniform. We had a single old fashioned record turntable attached to the main hall's non-hifi speaker system, but the room had to be bright enough for the supervising teachers to see everything and ensure that no hanky-panky (kissing) was going on. So it was almost completely dissimilar to the Royal Russell Model United Nations '07 Glow Rave.

One of the school's sports field is in the background below. We used to sunbathe near the trees on the right, but the maths teacher was on duty one day, who ordered the boys to a different field so that girls and boys wouldn't be together in nastily enticing beachwear. He was the first Polish person I knew - a really nice guy, actually. I remember from much earlier being in a group playing tennis racket guitars - possibly Cliff Richard's Living Doll (1959), so this video shows how music has changed, but not the wish to perform.

Winners of competitions were applauded, with perhaps an occasional cheer: rather different from current practice.

Royal Russell today, Bydgoszcz tomorrow. Is that alcohol?

A tribute to a Royal Russell based summer school in 2008, run by Churchill House School of English follows. There may well be some Polish participants in the video.

The summer school production of Heavy Potter********The Soap Opera. Part 1:

My mother told me that I got at better education at Royal Russell than I ever could have received where we lived, but she wouldn't have sent me if she didn't have to work full-time: today's state benefits didn't exist then. I'm grateful for the education, but counterbalancing this are various negative facets of my character that might well have been built up by the experience. I have no feelings of nostalgia about the old times, but it was fun to fill in some blanks in my memories of the past. Old school friends? They came from all over England, none near me, and I never again saw any of the people I lived with for 12 years again. Aah, sad, but it's only when I went to the school website recently that I started to wonder what had happened to just a handful of them. Alison Bain, I loved you, or at least your body.

So this post is just a pointer for myself in case I want to remember further in the future. It's a function of getting old, I guess.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Hallucinate with the mosquitoes from Mars

First, an hallucinogenic webpage called Neave Strobe courtesy of Pauline. Click on "click me to get trippy", stare at the centre of the screen and then look away. The effect lasts for 10-15 seconds. Click on the screen to return to the menu.

Having had my first mosquito bites a few days ago - ironically enough while spraying plants with insecticide, they seem to have quietened down for the moment. Strangely, over the last couple of years, they did not seem to be significantly worse in the house than in the 3rd/4th floor flat in Warsaw. However, they could be a major torment on warm evenings in the garden. (Picture from Wikipedia.)

OK, we've got (actually, I must check) deterrent chemicals, but one tends not to think of using them when just stepping out of the house into the garden. They aren't perfect anyway. In any case, when I'm working in the garden, there seems to be a specific moment in the evening when amiable conditions make them all wakeup and suddenly decide to have my blood for supper. Yummy!

The bite is an irritant, but the main problem is scratching them, which makes the whole experience far worse. The good news is that you can train yourself not to scratch. It's an automatic reaction and probably inevitable for the first few, but rub with the soft part of your finger rather than the nail. As further bites come along, it's fist clenching time as you control your urge to scratch/rub. It's a bit like trying to give up smoking, but after 20 to 30 bites you start to adjust and after 50 or so you should be largely able to ignore them. (Maybe double those numbers, I don't know really.) It doesn't stop me from regularly waving my arms about and slapping parts of my body, but the exercise is probably good for me anyway.

We were once told about mosquitoes and the ignorance of Polish peasants by a consultant friend of ours. He had worked on an EU pre-accession training programme to persuade them to stop using DDT. The trainers explained the dangers of DDT and told them about the new chemicals that were equally able to protect their crops, were not more expensive and were readily available. However, the farmers were so stupid that they continued to use DDT - just because the alternatives did not get rid of mosquitoes. There were some nods of sympathy around the table, but I was still itching from the 32 bites I had received at a barbecue in the field of a small farm. The old man who owned the place was very proud of not having used DDT or any other dangerous chemicals. The problem was not the farmers, but the people who designed the programme. They had produced a training programme to meet EU objectives, but had completely failed to consider the needs of the farmers. The new chemicals were ineffective and the farmers could quite reasonably feel they had been lied to. Why take any account of what liars say? My itching irritated sympathy was very much with the farmers. The programme had failed because of stupidity, but this was in Brussels, not in Poland. (EU training programmes never actually fail, however.) The consultant took this a bit personally for some reason. Sorry, but it was the mosquitoes' fault.

Whilst on the topic of things that bite, or at least bark: Kazik Staszewski, who I consider to be Poland's greatest (only?) international quality, popular music artist. I've translated his 'Mars napada', but need to finalise it. Here's a preview: his video - the first 15 seconds are silent, so no need to adjust your set.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Had to check my emails

It was good to meet you all at the gathering on Saturday. The weather's really too lovely to sit in front of the computer, but I had to check my emails.

My new Canon camera stopped working after about a month, but I took the opportunity of the rare visit to Warsaw to take it in for repair at Fototronic on ul. Żurawia - the entrance is just off Żurawia, in the small side road near Patrick's pub, where the multi-story car park entrance is. The assessment is free and the email came within the promised 3 days. The cost of repair is high (240zl for "unblocking" (zablokowany) the lens), but may be the market rate. However, why pay so much for what seems to be a very low quality product? If only Konica Minolta were still on the market...

After lunch at Maharaja in the Old Town - rice noodles with chicken and sea food, spicy - we popped into Kuchnie Świata at Kilińskiego 3.

This has a good range of Asian food ingredients, although its Asia seems to centre on Thailand, with some extension to Japan, with sadly little outreach to India. The prices didn't seem exorbitant for a specialist shop in an under-supplied market. Indeed, if anything, I felt they were cheaper than the hypermarkets. I bought a large packet of small dried chillies - used for the first time last night, and Panang Curry paste (which doesn't have sugar in it). It looks like it's one of a chain of shops, so you may find one elsewhere. Unfortunately I wasn't allowed to take pictures inside.

Too late. (Hey, it pays to advertise.)

Walking up Długa, the Armed Forces Church door was open and we popped in to look - the first time I've been inside. I didn't go into the main church, for some reason I often feel this is trespassing, but the Katyn memorial is on the right side of the vestibule. The sculpture you immediately meet is impressive, whilst the main part of the memorial is the more striking because of its low key character - the sheer numbers of those killed comes across well. The number was most immediately impressed on me, however, by first seeing a small side plaque listing the names of the military chaplains who were amongst those killed: not a huge number, but just chaplains! Equally interesting is the area on the other side of the church entrance, which contains a lot of small plaques giving soundbites commemorating those who fought and died for Poland. It would be an interesting task for someone just to photograph them all, translate them into English and add a few notes of explanation. For immediate foreign interest there is a plaque for a Liverpool born Polish-Irish woman who decided to become Polish, which always arouses Polish interest. Another commemorates the Polish-Americans who fought in the Polish Army in France during the war, which on asking turned out to be the Second World War.

Meeting you, Paulina, was something I had wanted to do and it was lovely that I had the opportunity. Sorry that I got confused about whether whether it was your website I thought so much of - my bad memory for names, but it was. Its just that you were completely different from what I had envisaged. You definitely have black hair in your picture and I had envisaged a very tough outspoken woman that I might be slightly scared of saying the wrong thing to. I was completely wrong on both scores. I hope we have the chance to meet again.

I hope to pick up on your - name withheld for some reason I'm not sure of - suggestion of a beer before too long as I have to go back into Warsaw to pick up my useless Canon. I'll give you a call.

I can't remember the wine bar's name and I wasn't impressed enough even to take a couple of minutes to check it. It's in one of the side courtyards off Długa, but the on-street notice stand is easily missed. It has a huge selection of wines ranging in price from 37 to 230zl, whether for drinking or take-away I don't know: it didn't occur to me at the time. I was surprised only to find one champagne, but the bottles of Cava, which are more in my celebration price range, looked interesting - three varieties of one brand. No beer, though. Wandering around the place, it's much larger than its first impression. There was one comfortable looking room right at the back with settees and armchairs - the kids were playing there - and the garden would be nice enough in good weather. (The white wine was cold, by the way. I always feel that I have to ask this, even in Polish Wine Bars.)

Having left, I walked down to Marks and Spencer to buy English strength tea bags: a 240 pack of Extra Strength with 3 grams in each bag. They're the ones with the blue and black Angel perfume style boxes. About 24zl, which at 10 zl per hundred tea bags makes it good value compared with 'quality' tea bags in the shops. Taking account of the tea quantities, the price is equivalent to Tesco's own brand Ceylon tea bags, which I generally use myself. Marks' teabags aren't as good as PG Tips, but Europa Express coaches and hence our routine supplier no longer go to England. Having got tea, I then proceeded to add various discounted treats to the shopping basket. The Extremely Chocolatey White and Dark Chocolate Rounds were much appreciated when I got them back home, not that anyone actually eats chocolate, of course.

Finally down to the tram, but for some reason I overshot and landed in Patrick's, just to say hello for old time's sake. It was one of the earliest of Warsaw's pubs, but the barman (Krzyszek) has been there from 5 days after it opened, which I think means he's been working there 12 years. I first visited it a few weeks later. Why's he still there? A shrug of the shoulders. He's not old. He told me that Michał, his companion barman from those days (when they used to do 24 hour shifts) is still manager for the Russian franchise company after TGI Friday in Janki closed, which was good to hear. I feared he might have been given the sack. As always, just sitting down to a beer, my warning call came, so drink up and go.

At the tram stop, I was reminded of the wonder of Warsaw's Urban transport system.

No not the girl smoking, the barely dressed model or even, depending on your preferences, the handsome man, but the fact that it works. My mind went straight back to waiting for my bus outside Richmond station. I had thought these electronic time checks would be wonderful. I knew that keeping to the timetable was science fiction, but I thought that science could, plus or minus a bit, tell me how far away the bus was. I watched in sheer fascination as the 3 minute wait rose to 5, 10, 15, 25 minutes and then disappeared. OK, maybe the GPS, or whatever, system thinks the bus is here, so wait a few minutes. Nothing, so it's better to walk - I would have been home long ago. However, it was like reading a boring detective story: you want to know who the murderer is and whether you guessed correctly, but you don't want to jump to the end. A few minutes later my next bus appeared on the electronic list, due to arrive in 20 minutes. What would happen? My bus arrived 5 minutes later, whilst the timing on the list still showed 20 minutes. Of course, it's pretty obvious what I did next time. I thought it can't happen twice, didn't I? How do they do that?

Having written all this, I though I wouldn't be able to post it: the system didn't seem to be working, but it has just started. I'm soon going to start feeling guilty for wasting hours of sunshine or floor cleaning time, so mosquitoes are for another day - first bites yesterday.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Learning English: Cabaret

I said somewhere that I was still learning English. This time it is the word 'cabaret'.

It's a word that was part of my acquaintal, rather than employed vocabulary, if those are the right words. I knew it enough that if someone had said to me 'there is going to be a cabaret", I would have understood that there was a show or entertainment included. However, I was not so sure of the extent of its meaning that I would have in turn said there was a cabaret when I was telling someone about the show.

I was recently listening to Charles Brown, when it occurred to me that he is the one entertainer that I would like to have at a restaurant where I was having dinner. I like his music, obviously, but he has a personality that, even on his records, gives a feeling of intimacy with the audience and, although his music is often rhythmic, its balance with more melodic songs means that the constraint of sitting at a table would not spoil the entertainment.

This type of music maybe of limited interest to most people, but I absolutely recommend it to any person trying their best to play piano - his ability to play amazing flows of notes without even taking any notice of what he is doing is awe inspiring. Merry Christmas, Baby:

Charles Brown - Merry Christmas Baby przez goldrausch

However, I struggled to think what word would describe such a show, sitting at a table during or just after a meal.

It was only today, after hearing a Polish Kabaret on the radio, that I looked into the two meanings.

My English dictionaries confirmed that it was entertainment provided to people sitting at tables in restaurants or clubs (presumably therefore for a meal or possibly just a drink) - see the film Cabaret.

However, I am still reluctant to talk about seeing Charles Brown in cabaret. It sounds wrong to me. I'm not sure why, but I think it's because of the impression that cabaret artists are second quality performers, with those of exceptional quality making it to 'ex-cabaret artist' standard. I would therefore probably have to use a formula something like 'seeing Charles Brown performing in cabaret' although even this feels rather demeaning for a such a first class performer. Strange, maybe, but that's the way it is.

Not that it matters now, since he died in 1999, but his music endures.

'Kabaret' in Poland seems in practice to mean a theatre based comedy show. At least, there seem to be a large number of 'Kabaret', which are exactly that. The English and Polish words therefore seem to have different meanings. However, Polish-English/English-Polish Dictionaries largely equate cabaret and kabaret. Not only do none of them refer to sitting at a table rather than use of theatre style seating, one of them specifically identifies both 'kabaret' and 'cabaret' as theatrical. They are all appear to be wrong, therefore.

Polish dictionaries confirm that the primary meaning of 'kabaret' is theatre based, although the type of entertainment described, including dancing and singing, is much broader than the most of the Polish Kabaret that appear on TV. There is a secondary meaning of a restaurant or cafe (rather than the entertainment itself) that provides a show (while people are at their tables). One of them describes the show as mainly being satirical - light entertainment (rozrywkowy). Maybe the meaning in Polish is evolving.

Whatever, I would like to go to see and experience a Polish Kabaret. However, to be honest, the main reason is to confirm that it's something I would never have ever wanted to experience in the first place, although it would be rather nice to find it is something better as a live experience than watching it on TV. For some reason, they remind me of comedy acts that appeared on a British TV show reproducing (pre-television) music hall entertainment (Olde Tyme Music Hall?). There must be better comparisons with more modern English comedy, but the only other thing I can think of is Monty Python without its silliness and overall sense of fun.

Monday, 2 May 2011

The Constitution of 2 May

It's a strange type of public holiday even in Poland. It's a mandatory leisure day off for most, with shops closed, but there's no sense of celebration or focus to it. However, what do I know about the Polish Constitution of 2 May?

Most of my knowledge of Polish history has been picked up as background to researching Młochów history. The local Sobieski family were bigwigs in the parliament at the time, but I was not particularly focusing on the constitution. My knowledge is therefore sketchy and much of what I recall may therefore be inaccurate. I have not checked any of the facts or name spellings when writing this - the idea is write what I remember. Here it is.

The importance of the Constitution comes from it being the second written constitution, at least in modern times, following the US Constitution. It is therefore the first Old World (European) example. Although it borrowed some principles from the US, it was in many ways different and was itself used in the drawing up of at least one other constitution. The fundamental difference between the US and Poland seems likely to have been that Poland had to deal with its existing nobility structure and its relationship with the King, neither of which were appropriate for the US (I think).

The most fundamental issue dealt with by the new constitution was the change away from a voting system requiring unanimity in decision taking among the noble representatives in the Parliament, to one of majority voting. The unanimity requirement was seen by its supporters as an outdated way of blocking decision taking, needing to be replaced by a system that could provide effective government. I don't know whether or to what extent this was simple majority voting (51% wins). I think there was a reduction in the regularity with which the King had to consult the Parliament (from 6 months to 3 months or something like that), amongst other changes. However, all such elements are very hazy and may be completely wrong. I also think that the parliament which established these changes was called The Great Parliament, although The Long Parliament might be a more descriptive title.

The Polish King (Poniatowski?) never fully implemented the constitution, although I don't know what elements were kept in abeyance. The most remembered result of the new, more efficient majority voting system was the decision by Parliament to approve the partition of Poland, with the Kingship of the remaining territory of the Kingdom of Poland being handed as a hereditary position to the Tsar of Russia. His formal title was extended to include 'King of the Commonwealth of Poland'. I'm again a bit vague on these details. One of the opponents of majority voting dramatically screamed "over my dead body" when the vote was being taken, earning himself the position of modern Polish hero and a subject of Polish painters, whilst failing to make any difference. One of the elite Polish colleges bears his name, whatever it is.

The Tsar said/implied/was thought to have agreed to abide by the Constitution, but didn't. A new constitution was offered, but this didn't materialise either and Poland became a country where the King was all-powerful, subject to whatever practical pressures he could not deal with by punishment or execution. Since this King was also Tsar of (all the?) Russia(s), etc - a three line list or something like that - the political influence of the nobles in Poland rapidly declined. Even Grand Duke Constantine the First, later acting as Crown Prince of Poland and intermediate Polish head of state, had little influence on its fate, although sympathetic to the Polish nobility.

The Constitution of 2 May is a minor and slightly depressing footnote in Polish political history. However, its celebration is, I assume, because of its place in the evolution of political thought. I have no idea where it stands in this regard. Indeed, the very little I know suggests that, apart from it being written down, it was just part of the logical evolutionary flow within the contemporary Polish political system.

What is far more fascinating is the system that pre-dated it. I am used to political change starting from all-powerful monarchs established through a combination of historical precedent/divine right/inheritance/military power. Power then moved from the monarch to the nobility and/or rich; eventually being spread among people more generally. Exceptions are generally revolutionary, reflecting failure of the leadership structure of the time to adapt to wider tendencies. The Polish system of nobles not only freely choosing their Monarch, but also deciding that a foreigner would be better, cuts right across the political principles that I was used to.

When asking about choosing foreign kings, I have been told that "they were probably better than choosing between Polish nobles", which is completely logical, but which contradicts my traditional concept of national identity. This may just be my ignorance, but I'm pleased to have that challenged. Deciding to have a Russian Tsar as King under the 2 May Constitution is not as bizarre as it initially seems.

In honour of another celebration over the last few days, one of the ways of looking at this different political perspective is to consider it as a balance between ego-nationalism and collective nationalism - I have made up both terms, so there may be better descriptions.

Ego-nationalism is a perspective where the country is virtually a living entity, which in times of powerful kings/leaders is often closely related to that person, for good or bad: Elizabeth I, Louis XIV or was it XVI or both, Napoleon, Margaret Thatcher, Saddam Hussein, US Presidents, etc. Poland appears to have a more collective approach, where the nation/country is the sum of its people (however either of those two are defined). Historic figures are remembered for events and normally appear to be semi-mythical and legendary figures.

One might have expected this to change somewhat over the last century, as nation and country have become more closely aligned, but even Piłsudski is not viewed as an embodiment of Poland. Lech Wałęsa seems to have come closest, but even this has faded for the moment. Lech Kaczinski was proposed, but it was only his death, not his life, that provided any unity of focus, so it has not been accepted. Jaruzelski would be such a person - characterisation of an ego-Poland, but he is a denial of the real, collective Poland: an ego-anti-Poland.

However, there is one clear ego-representation: John Paul II. He did not rule here in any sense and his ultimate role was as leader of an international organisation, the Roman Catholic Church. He combines the role of being both an individual member of the collective of the Polish people and an ego-reflection of that collective - a very special person. That he was the first Pope chosen from outside the elite in Rome for 200 hundred years, or whatever, provides an interesting parallel with his home country, which had once thought it natural to choose a foreign king.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Polish Supermarket Price Comparison

I've been otherwise pre-occupied, so sorry for the long delay in posting. I fear it may be an inevitable part of the non-winter period, but I'll try to write more.

For now, a simple message: Real hypermarkets are horrifically expensive: I would spend thousands of zloties there each year if I used them regularly.

There was a television report comparing supermarket prices, which spurred me to check my own shopping. I've been doing family weekly shopping for some 30 years or so, with 10 years of Polish experience. In Poland I have, of the large supermarkets, shopped in Tesco, Auchan, Carrefour, Real and Leclerc. However, I have always tended to use Tesco as the main shop, with others as an interesting alternative. I also use Lidl as a second shop to visit.

Living in Młochów, I primarily have the alternatives of Tesco and Lidl in Piastów, and Real in Janki, with Auchan (also with Lidl) in Piaseczno being only a very occasional option - it is more difficult to get to. Tesco and Lidl are standard routine.

There are many reasons to choose a supermarket, but price is an important factor. My impression was that Tesco was clearly much cheaper for my own shopping pattern, but I had never tried an objective comparison. Over the last two days, therefore, I produced a comparison.

The result?

A shopping list costing 444 zloties in Real, would cost only 380 zloties in Tesco. Real is a whopping 64 zloties (17%) more expensive. Visiting both Tesco and Lidl - there isn't one available close to Real - makes Real even worse. I would be spending 87 zloties (23%) more. If this was just 40 weeks in a year, Real would cost me an extra 3,500 zloties.

Even if there was a Real and Lidl combination, this would still be 42 zloties (11%) more expensive.

I thought I had pictures of storm clouds over the Real part of the Janki shopping centre, but I must have deleted them. I did see this in the entrance a couple of months back, however. That place is familiar.

My shopping list is not comprehensive, but with over 60 regular purchase items, I feel it reasonably reliable. They are all routine purchases, although not all bought each week. We all have our shopping peculiarities, with this list reflecting mine. (I may also have messed up the spreadsheet calculations, of course.)

Its a bit messy, but a download of the spreadsheet is available at Supermarket price comparison.xls. If nothing else, you will be able to see some of the secrets of my shopping habits.