Starbuck moves in – at last!

Written Saturday evening.

It is a momentous, even monumental day. January 18th will live long in the memory of all Strangely Park residents, especially those in 2C and more especially for those on the first floor of that glorious edifice. For the first time since moving to our apartment we will have an across-the-hall neighbour – yes, Starbuck is moving in!

For those who have not been keeping up with the adventures of Strangely Park, which will be all of you, let me explain the code. Strangely Park is my name for the residential estate we live in. If you look over on the right and select the Strangely Park category you can read all about it. Posts have been intermittent but there are 36 of them since 10th November 2012. Starbuck is my name for our new neighbour, chosen because we are led to believe she works in a high level position for a well known coffee company, but not Starbucks. Names of all residents and workers here have been changed to protect the innocent and in a pointless attempt to avoid being sued for libel. That said, the names do have some relationship to the people they represent. The Fitness family are fit, the Chemicals own a drug store, Hemingway is a writer, Hagrid looks like Hagrid…and so forth.

Anyway, today is a day we have been waiting for for far too long. It was on November 22nd 2012 that Starbuck first got a mention here because that’s when she started the renovation of her apartment and the noise was hard to miss. Work (AKA noise) has continued on and off since then despite the builders assurance when they started work that they would be finished at the latest in May that year. Still, 14 months is about right for a Polish style remont of a 150 m2 apartment. Actually, I think the apartments on that side are slightly bigger, about 160-165 something like that, but a slightly awkward layout compared to ours.

She has not spared any expense. The whole place was gutted and built anew in what appears to be a very high standard and she has not even constrained her enthusiasm to the interior of her apartment. She has renewed all the windows, all the railings around her balcony (neither of which needed renewing) and even been influential in making improvements for the whole building such as an improved bicycle storage room, a drying room (into which she has installed her dryer), an additional storage room, new doors for the basement rooms, new rails and panels for the staircase and we’re told the staircase will be painted next week. I must say it is nice to see so much money being lavished on our building and to see that we are not the only people who have confidence this is a good place to live and worth investing in despite the problems.

My imagination is of a formidable, highly organised and proper, German style, business woman. There is a German connection and almost certainly she speaks the language so as far as I can see she’s got all the right qualities to be the people’s champion going head to head with Palpatine and Darth Muller of the Evil Empire. We shall see on which side of the force her loyalties lie although Florence Nightingale seems to like her a lot so I doubt she will succumb to the darkness.

I think our neighbourly relations could go either way. She’s been the catalyst for a few good things as I’ve said but she’s also complained already even without actually being here. Whilst the lobby area outside our front door was not being used – no Starbuck and Penthouse + Slightly Dangerous always use the lift – I have, on rare occasions left bags of rubbish in the lobby prior to moving them on to the trash room up by security. Rumour has it that her builders made a comment about this and then she complained which resulted in a special notice on the front door asking people (no names) to take their rubbish straight to the trash room so as not to encourage the rats. Rats! I’ve never seen a rat around here. This complaining was a bit premature methinks because I’d never do such a thing when she was resident here and given that we’ve not said a word about the 14 months of noise….well, not a great start. If true. I shall reserve judgement until we actually meet the lady.

No signs of anyone knocking on the door and asking for a cup of sugar or a spare bratwurst yet but there is more noise as the removal company wheel stuff in.

Interesting times ahead.

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Parking and driving fast

Couple of quick observations from experience in Warsaw.

The smaller a car is, the faster it will be moving unless it’s a Skoda in which case it doesn’t matter what size, it will be going even faster.

Etiquette dictates that you should park nose first into any parking space (that is not parallel to the street of course – although that is questionable for some). Parking arse first, reversing in, is what I was taught and always practised in the UK. It seems to have the advantages of a fast getaway as well as, more importantly, allowing considerably better vision of the street you are pulling out into. – i.e safer.

The Polish way is actually made doubly dangerous because of the pedestrian habit cum sport of walking as close to the back of a reversing car as you possibly can, even if the car is moving and ideally making full use of blind spots. Reversing out of a parking space is therefore a highly risky venture.

I often try to imagine this second observation is not true, just my imagination but then once every six months or so some kind elderly person gives me an earful for parking the wrong way around.

I just scanned the parking at Strangely Park – the only person parked arse first is me. Would also be my wife if she wasn’t in the basement.

In fact my beautiful wife was berated not too long ago by the lady we call Cruella de Vil (yes that is the correct spelling) who lives on the ground floor opposite. She was complaining that my wife was making too much noise (doing nothing more than normal when parking a car) and didn’t she realise that people live on the ground floor. Or something. I suspect this was supposed to be a rant about parking the wrong way around and pointing the exhaust pipes at her bedroom/study/kitchen whatever it is (15m away behind a tree and a bush) but she was too traumatised to explain properly.

The scene is Cruella de Vil on the day she inspected her apartment before buying

  • Ground floor apartment – check
  • Parking spaces right outside the window – check
  • Where do I sign?

Cruella

Darth Muller gets a visit from the rozzers

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It’s all happening at Strangely Park this morning!

I’ve written before, I think, about the bad blood that exists between the Evil Empire (developers and past administrators) and the Chosen Ones (current administration), a toxic relationship that has had a bad influence on the proper running of the estate since the beginning. Well, a breakthrough of sorts happened in the spring when votes were cast in favour of doing some proper maintenance works, primarily the roofs and all the external insulation. Evil Empire were against it of course with their usual claim that everything is fine but it was passed with an accompanying increase in the remont fund.

The roof works are being done now. Our building was first and is finished, they then moved over to the Fitnesses building next door. The insulation works will be done in the spring.

According to form it was not long before letters started arriving in the post box, first from the Evil Empire making all sorts of claims then a repost from the Chosen Ones. This was followed by a true to form reply from the Evil Empire that ended with “we’re going to sue you” followed by a response slapping down all their complaints. It’s stupid crap like Evil Empire wanted to see how the tendering was done because think it was done badly and Chosen Ones saying “well your firm was invited to bid but didn’t even reply”.

Work was stopped for a short time but has since resumed.

The paperwork stopped coming and Evil Empire resorted to emails with pictures of what they consider to be bad work and titles like “Nightmare in Mochina”. This getting responses from residents like “please take me off your propaganda mailing list”. Really, it’s getting silly.

Anyway, Darth Muller can’t help himself and has spent considerable time climbing the scaffold and mooching around on the roofs with his camera. I saw him doing this a while back and wondered about the health, safety and security aspects of his actions. This morning he was up there again on Fitnesses roof while they were working.

Next thing a police car arrives. I can hear the boss of the roofers talking to them and explaining there’s a lunatic climbing up their scaffold and getting in the way plus some discussion about whether he speaks Polish or not. The policemen go inside a presumably speak to Darth who is by now inside his apartment.

I was waiting for screaming and shouting followed by Darth being escorted away in handcuffs but sadly the police left empty handed.

It really is a shame these two sides can’t cooperate. The Evil Empire do have a lot of history, knowledge and skills that could be used to everyone’s benefit and it’s not a bad thing to have some checking going on but their approach is just so damned negative all the time, always claiming that nothing needs to be done because everything they did 15 years ago is still in perfect condition and always with legal threats. If they could just accept that not everything they did was great, that after all this time work does need doing and then offer to help min any way they can, life would be great but I think hell will freeze over before that day arrives.

Never a dull moment here at Strangely Park.

Trouble at t’mill

Strangely Park is gripped in a glorious “after summer” with Volvo Polestar skies and sunshine. Twenty something centigrade during the day but the evenings give a glimpse of what is to come when the temperature drops to sevenish.

People all over Warsaw are making the most of it with barbecues and beach parties. The Rapsters have really gone for it this weekend and taken over from Kurwa Gang, who it has to be said are losing their grip in terms of long periods of noisiness and general bad behaviour. Rapsters have been going since yesterday sometime, invited a bunch of friends round, got the music blaring and and engaging in drunken frolics on the penthouse balcony. At least nobody has fallen off yet. When they need a break they take the yappy dogs out for a walk whereupon they go mental with joy at escaping the noise.

As I sit here I’ve enjoyed a karaoke version of Felicita followed by an animated version of Je T’Aime, a disco remix of Bony M’s Gotta Go Home and the M C Hammer classic, U Can’t Touch This. Looks like they are settling in for a long night. With luck this is a 90’s themed “leaving party”.

Hemingway, a known hater of the Rapsters, being as he lives underneath them, has been forced to unwrap the MG and go about town in his Toad of Toad Hall outfit. Chemicals, also on the ground floor of Rapster’s block, have just returned from their day out. Parked the X3 got out and looked angrily up at the top floor of their building. It’s not going to be pretty.

We’ve been out on the bikes down to visit Warsaw’s latest “beach” in Zoliborz. Essentially, if you tip a couple of skips full of sand close to the river, play some music, serve drinks and arrange a few deck-chairs it is a beach resort. The exercise was good.

On Zoliborz beach!

Sunday, April 7th

Strangely Park has been stuck in a “Where the hell is Spring!” depression for a while now. We’ve had brief glimpses of what was coming, one day of sunshine, followed by yet more snowfall and dropping temperatures. The terrace has been cleared at least ten times now and we are really hoping there is now light at the end of the shovel.

The days are getting longer. Late home from work on Friday at around 19:30 and it was still light, just. Today is glorious enough (5C and sunshine) to have the awning extended and to enjoy some terrace time. By the end of next week we should be above freezing day and night and be basking in somewhere close to 10C. It’s all heading in the right direction and we are staring to cheer up a little!

We have tried bravely to improve our mood by bringing surrogate sunshine into our home with bookings of a spring break in Barcelona and a summer holiday in Emilia Romagna, the bit close to San Marino, whose football team have been out and about recently. They have an all time record of; Played – 118, Won – 1, Drawn – 5, Lost – 112, Goal Difference – minus 468. Their win was against Liechtenstein. You have to conclude that being a pinhead of a nation does not bode well for footballing success. Nevertheless, we look forward to visiting them this summer.

Around Strangely has been nothing unusual given that everyone is stuck in the same fog. Oleg and his wooden snow-bat brigade have been ever present. The Fitness family have been really going for it. Hemmingway has had the Rolls out a couple of times. Kurwa gang had a wild weekend. Florence Nightingale has needed a couple of signatures, one of which was a vote to spend money on upgrading our bicycle room. Apparently, Starbuck, whose renovation is still going on, decided it would be a good idea to upgrade our bike room. I suppose this was driven by the fact that there is nowhere for her to put her bike! It’s a decent sized room but has no racks on the wall so the floor space is full of standing bicycles. Could probably do with a coat of paint and a stronger light bulb too. Anyway, we were invited to spend our money improving this basement room and we refused. In simple terms we said “When the problems we currently have inside our apartment are fixed, we are happy to join in with improving the building as a whole but until then, no way are we contributing to anything.”.

There’s a chance this attitude might hinder our drive to win the “Resident of the Month” award, if there was such a thing. This would be a shame because on all other fronts we are streets ahead of the competition. Our balcony was cleaned of snow almost immediately, every time, we are 100% up to date with all our payments, which is more than most people around here can say and we are not at a state of war with any other residents. We have the annual meeting of the management committee coming up in April and in between all the fights I’m hoping for a rosette, diploma, knighthood!

A nice thing about Strangely Park is that being so close to the river we often see migrating birds using the river as a navigation aid. I’ve just seen 30+ Canada geese on their way north. Wikipedia tells me Sweden is a summer breeding ground for them so I suspect that’s where they were heading.

Away from Strangely, Beloved was regaling me with tales of the parking mafia, still a problem here in Warsaw. They take two main forms. Firstly the parking attendants whose job would normally be to help you to park but here is to make your life difficult and to grab as much money for nothing as they can. You arrive at a car park that clearly has many empty spaces, the attendant says there is nothing available, you schmooze a little, he thinks he might be able to find something. On your way out he does not open the barrier but approaches with an outstretched hand. Beloved’s last such encounter was at a place where she was a customer of the place that had parking places made available for customers but still had to pay Mr. Peaked Cap. Second scam, if there is no attendant there will be security guards who will ask you if you would like them to look after your car in a voice and manner that suggests if you don’t they will themselves make sure it gets damaged.

You can avoid these morons sometimes if there is street parking, as long as there are no drunks. The drunks cruise the parking slots and when one is emptied they will stagger over to it and wave their arms around. For this helpful service they also expect to be paid. Some also offer to look after your car. Best to say you will pay the drunks when you get back because most of the time they have buggered off somewhere else by then.

Sunday, February 24th

Balcony Stats

I’ve cleared my third metric ton of snow off the balcony this weekend. This is based on a calculation that a cubic metre of fresh and fairly fluffy snow weighs 100kg. We have 25m2 of balcony, the snow reaches a thickness of between 0.25 and 0.5m before clearing and by that time it is a mix of fluffy and more compressed (heavier) snow with a bottom layer that is pretty much solid ice. So, I think using an average weight per clearance of 1 ton is conservative and I’ve cleared three times now. Using a small plastic shovel!

The snow is thrown over the handrail, which clears the evergreen privacy screen around Mr. Misery’s terrace, most of the time, and is forming a decent sized hump on the slope between his terrace and the road to our basement garage. Oleg gets some extra work of clearing the slippage from the roadway.

The second stat relates to shoelaces. If anyone ever asks you “How long would a shoelace last if it was used as a device for keeping a balcony door closed?”, the answer is “About a year.”. You never know when that one is going to come up in a pub quiz or crossword so worth remembering.

For some reason our balcony doors only have a handle on the inside. Perhaps security reasons, or just cheaper construction costs. This means that if you want to go out onto your balcony you have to leave the door open. You can try to pull it towards you by getting a grip on the rubber seal around the glass but this is hit and miss and even if you get it closed any gust of wind will open it again.

In the months of good weather and with cats trained not to jump, this is not an issue but nobody wants to leave the door open when it is below zero outside or when they have inquisitive young kitties who wouldn’t think twice about jumping and then disappearing for a week. Add to this a slightly greater use of the door for smoking purposes and you have a design fault that needs correction.

Being from the Heath Robinson school of home engineering I assiduously avoided thoughts of fitting new doors and concentrated on easy wins. Perhaps the best idea is to fit a sort of hook and eye arrangement to the outside. With the right glue and the appropriate size and shape equipment I could manage this but I’ve not really investigated properly yet and I’m slightly worried that someone will try to open from the inside when hooked outside thereby either breaking or making a mess. Once I start gluing or screwing things to the UPVC outside I’m sort of committed and if it doesn’t really work then it’s going to piss me off.

Hence the shoelace. I recommend a long one, ideally taken from a pair of ankle high Converse All Star shoes owned by your Offspring. Tie one end around the handle of the door and wind the rest of the lace around until it is not hanging so far down that the cats think it’s great fun to attack it and try to destroy the blinds at the same time. Then, when you need to be on the balcony you unwind the lace as much as you need and go outside holding the loose end. When outside, tie the lace to the handle used to open out the sun blind or if you prefer you can poke the skinny end of the lace through the decorative hole in the coffee table (assuming not covered with snow) and then tie that off. If it is a short trip you can just hold the lace until you go back in.

If you want to add some pageantry, why not come up with your own version of “The Passing of the Lace”. When more than one person has gone to the balcony and someone needs to reenter the home there is a need to “pass the lace” to someone still outside. Frivolous use of costumes and trumpets works well although not late at night as the trumpets annoy the neighbours.

This product, which I have called “Balcony Freedom Lace” is guaranteed for a year although the loose end of the lace may lose the plastic shield that scrunches it together and allows you to poke through the decorative hole at any time from nine months onwards . No worries though, for a small monthly fee you can sign up for my “Service Pack” which guarantees you a new lace in the event of catastrophic failure plus one of our service engineers will happily come and “reverse” that lace for you should the plastic shield on one end fail prematurely. We also have a nice line in coffee tables that provide various ways to tie off shoelaces, just check the website for details – http://www.balconyfreedom.com

As there must be a goodly amount of pent up demand for such products at Strangely Park I am currently working on packaging and will then set up a small sales display at the security office.

Third balcony stat is for calculation of heat loss. You will notice that the snow never quite settles close to the walls or windows. This is because your apartment is losing heat, which is melting the snow. In our case, the distance the snow is from the windows is three times the distance it is from the walls. This is a clear indication of global warming and if you measure these distances regularly you can calculate how much of Greenland will disappear by the year 2025.

Finally is the “rate of grout decay”. Grout is the stuff used to fill the gaps between the tiles on the floor of your balcony. The constant ingress of water followed by freezing and thawing means that this grout will come loose. By my estimation you will lose 1m of grout every winter assuming the original job was done according to the usual standards of workmanship that can be expected from a Polish “Goldenhand”. Use this stat to calculate how many years will pass before your tiling becomes so unsightly as to need grout replacement therapy. If you then enquire how much this will cost, you can save a little each year and not be caught out by this unscheduled home repair cost.

Next week – ten things you need to know about your guttering.

Sunday, February 10th

A walk around Mochina East rarely qualifies for a Captain Oates style “I am just going outside and may be some time.” but is worth doing anyway.

For us a walk starts with heading out the back door of Strangely Park, a gate in the fence that leads via a short flight of crumbled concrete and brick steps up to the top of the dyke or ‘wał’. We were very grateful for this dyke in May 2010 as it saved us from what would have been a fairly catastrophic flood in which waters would have completely engulfed our apartment, which was the Isolation Ward at that time.

The waters of the Vistula had risen to something around 7.8m, the highest for many decades and caused immediate problems of flooding in numerous areas in and close to Warsaw as well as ongoing problems of high water tables since then. Living right next to the river made for a nervous time, so much so that we had already moved daughter and easily transported valuables out of the apartment and were walking along the dyke at regular intervals to check the flood level. It was on one of these checks late at night with only a small torch that we had our closest ever encounter with a large wild boar who seemed to be doing similar flood water checks on behalf of their family!

In the end the water reached about a quarter to a third of the way up the far side of the dyke wall before receding. This was already at the height of the ceiling of the Isolation Ward. Without the dyke we would for sure have been flooded.

So, once up the steps the choice is to go left into Mochina Park or right in the direction of the bridge. If you went straight on you would eventually be swimming in the river after you had fought your way through trees, swamps and beaver territory. A walk in the park, following the paths, is between 3.5 and 4km long. Going the other way is more of a semi-urban experience and shorter at between 2.5 and 3km. We decided to go right, which brings you very quickly to a fence that the idiot owner of the palace built right across the pathway in a classic statement of “This is mine, screw you!”. And so a pathway that had been in popular use since at least WWII was suddenly ruined. The enjoyment of many spoiled for nothing because so far at least, building the fence is all he’s done. No remodel of the palace, no habitation, no landscaping, nothing beyond a selfish statement of ownership.

So it is then that our path now follows around the arrogant fence to the other side of the palace grounds, a slippery and slightly dangerous route in this weather there being no more than a metre between his rear fence and a slope down to marshland with the path covered in ice. On the far side of the palace the path winds uphill through rough woodland before it eventually leads into the small streets and signs of civilization.

It was interesting to notice a “for sale” banner attached to the trees as we exited the woods although tough to work out exactly what was for sale. Is someone following the lawyer’s example and selling off another stretch of the pathway or does it relate to a nearby plot for housing? Hard to say but a banner in such a remote location is unlikely to generate much interest.

As you start to move up the first street more “for sale” signs are found. These are clearly focused on an empty plot and a long thin row of newly built houses. Developers in Mochina East are nothing if not imaginative in terms of trying to extract the maximum income from the minimum amount of land, something we don’t suffer from at Strangely Park thank goodness. The new houses look okay but they share one small access street with houses built one behind the other heading back away from the road. By the looks of it none are occupied yet.

As you wander the narrow lanes you can see reflections of the area’s history. The first recorded settlement was back in the 14th century, then in the 16th century a royal game park was established and in the 1750’s the palace was built by a wasteful and incompetent German statesman at the court of Saxony and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Aside from the palace, what is still very evident today are the remains of summer homes and villas built in the 18th and 19th centuries as well as the later villas constructed as part of the Mochina Garden City project and its “marriage of town and country” that was designed before WWI and part executed immediately after. There are also numerous garden plots, what the Germans would call ‘kleingartenanlage’ or the Brits would call ‘a very posh allotment’ where people tend their fruits, flowers and vegetables but also have the ability to sleep over in their small dacha.

At the end of this particular lane is my favourite opportunistic development. One of the historic villas stands, or stood, on a fair sized plot and with a good amount of space between it and the lane. The owner has recently used this space to build two semi-detached houses. These new houses now stand squeezed between the villa and the lane with no garden on any side and little more than the pavement between the front door and the road. The villa is likewise compromised as it now has restricted parking space, entrance only via a narrow drive down the side of one of the new homes and no nice views. The view to the far side overlooking the river must have been great before they constructed a new and pretty ugly bridge and the other side, towards the lane, now stares at the back end of these new homes. Somehow they have managed to take one potentially superb villa and turn it into three homes that don’t quite work.

A little further takes you to the bridge end the street that forms the spine of Mochina East as it runs centrally the full length of the inhabited area. Turning left would take you under the bridge, straight on winds through peripheral bridge junction construction, all flat tarmac and green soundproof panels to end up at Makro, the Huta and shortly thereafter the Metro station. Ignoring those, we turn right and head back towards Strangely Park.

Just before you reach the entrance to the palace driveway on the right hand side is what we call the “gypsy house”. A monstrously oversized home, unless they have 15 children, built very slowly in a style that tastefully combines The Parthenon, Caernarfon Castle and the Palace of Versailles. It was a concrete shell for quite some time but we notice that it is now looking significantly better externally although still no signs of anyone actually living there.

For a change and a slightly longer walk we bypass the street that would lead to Strangely Park and climb over a scrubby hill we’ve never climbed before. This leads straight into the back wall and then around the side of the large modern house someone built next door to the McDonalds. It stands on a street only used to access the park and indeed overlooks the park so without the fast food and need for high security walls it would be great. Depending on what they paid for the land, this house is roughly a $1 million investment. There aren’t many people that would invest that much next door to a fast food joint but then this is Poland. They have growing experience of buying and developing but not of selling and so the idea that proximity to a busy 24HR drive thru hamburger joint might not be everyone’s idea of heaven does not really factor into their thinking, or if it does they will believe that if they are patient enough there will be a buyer who shares their vision.

Avoiding the temptation of a Happy Meal we turn right down the side of the park. Past the wilderness area, past the family recreation area with BBQ pits and plenty of space for mucking around and then on toward the river. Another right turn and a short walk along the dyke gets us back to our gate and then home – just in time for a nice cup of tea!