to links pages 
phone texts to Skype = mark-griffith
Saturday. A very odd list of countries ranked by "ignorance". Despite cafe waitresses knowing the population of all the surrounding towns and villages, and Britons being apologetically vague on lots of subjects, Hungary supposedly comes second-worst in a list of most ignorant countries, and Britain is supposedly second-best-informed. Dodgy methodology, I think.
Friday. Slightly unkind: The awfulness of Gwyneth Paltrow; Harsh words on Hillary Clinton; plus a candidate in the day after tomorrow's French election who has suggested 100% taxation. Millions of French people actually support him. Taxation only of "the rich" of course.
Thursday. Apparently the US has a community of people who dress up as animals ("the furries"), and some of them dress up as stormtrooper wolves. Or something.
Wednesday. Heavy rain in a now-quite-chilly Pest. This rainfall irritates me, and I learn my shoes are no longer watertight. Perhaps the moment for some "egoless" images: Tantric abstract paintings, devotional objects rather than artworks.
Tuesday. Gyuri drives me to the Lakitelek railway station. The single-track local service leaves Lakitelek on time but there are delays at Kecskemet. Listening the station announcement tune (four rising chords) I try to remember how long it is since the jaunty train-station call sign used under communism was replaced - it certainly continued a good few years after the change in regime. It went doo-dooby-doo dooby-doo, sounding pleasantly old-fashioned & perky. I remember two string players from Britain studying at the Liszt Music Academy telling me how cleverly structured that old tunelet was as a composition. Kecskemet being something of a Crewe-style railway hub, we get lots of announcements of incoming and outgoing trains, alongside the delays for my train being repeated and adjusted. I wonder if anyone in any railway system on earth has ever tried to create a small battery of call signs? This would be so that the ear can instantly pick out northbound, eastbound, southbound, westbound service announcements with perhaps a difference of tone for arrivals and departures. It wouldn't be hard to create a 5 or 6 chord tunelet with shifts to make 8 or 16 versions of the same announcement music that passengers can recognise as variations of one thing but also pick apart (for example just play the little chord sequence backwards and forwards to differentiate arrivals and departures). I've also wondered for years if hearing the same noise hundreds of times a day drives people working at airports, train stations, or just cash registers, a bit mad, and some variety might heal their souls. Something tells me the answer to my question about a rail system with a set of call signs is no.
Lightly dozing in the carriage on the way back to Budapest, my mind drifts back to the mystery of seat design. That not only has centuries of work upholstering stage coaches, train seats, seats in cars, buses, aeroplanes not created a comfortable seat, but has amazingly produced its precise opposite - a hollowed-out shape that optimises discomfort. Yet what everyone obviously wants is protruding cushioning, if possible adjustable (for example, under the shoulder blades), that the spine can drape itself over, that supports you semi-upright and holds you softly in place against the natural slumping of the tired body. Considering the obsession at hundreds of design colleges since the 1920s with "rethinking" the chair, this small but endlessly repeated failure suggests mass dimness & unhelpfulness of almost magical dimensions. Reach town just in time to teach Zita then David.
Easter Monday. Weather turns chilly. Pityu shows me how to cook the roadkill April Hare, Magyar-style. Garlic, strips of pork fat, + white wine. Very tasty.
Easter Sunday. Kristos Anesti! Robin & Constantine drive back to Budapest, leaving me with the dogs, farm animals, Gyuszi, Gyuri, Pityu, and the star-filled country sky. A photo of Antonio Canova's Cupid kissing Psyche awake with a nicely caught sunbeam passing through translucent marble wings. Someone has kindly read out one of my "superb" articles and you can listen to it here.
Easter Saturday. Last night as I stumbled far too late to the studio to sleep, I was guided across the lawn by light in the windows of the smaller next-door winter studio. These are lit up orange by heating lamps dangling over half the floor where chicks of various sizes are bustling about chirping at each other or else dozing in small groups. Inside the larger studio, up in the gallery area, a wasp seems to want to get into bed with me. Tangled up in bedding, I try to shoo it out of the snug pillow area, and it indignantly stings my tummy. I score a few hits with the pillow, a white ring appears on my skin where the sting was, and the insect grumpily retreats to safety under the empty bookcase.
Today, drunk with long hours of sleep, I stumble out far too late into warm midday sun. I suddenly realise that the tree right by the door now has huge purple blooms dangling from it. The thick, slurred mumbling of bumble bees, a much deeper fatter buzzing than the wasp, marks which blossoms they're clumsily clambering in and out of like portly country parsons. Past the still-cheeping indoor kindergarten of baby chicks is another tree fully out in white blossom. I visit Zsuzsi's skittish horse and give him a half apple, and Gyuszi explains to me which birds are which in a large chicken-wired area where they are all squawking, creating a mediaeval-market-square sort of racket. Round the back by the trees, the pigs make peevish snorting noises at me for failing to take them food again.
Further excitement as Robin, Constantine, Bela, and I attempt to chop bits of wood and make an outdoor barbecue, complete with improvised spit, to roast a lamb. Pityu shows me how to chop logs more effectively. The large white Komondor dogs, Domor & Sissi, appear less shaggy & matted. They seem to have been trimmed and are a bit more mellow and lighter on their feet as a result. The lamb cooks to a wonderful crispy, salty, smoky flavour. After dark, Robin & I drive over to some nearby villages to obtain bread and chocolate and we then drop in on the half-deserted Tiszafoldvar funfair. Tucked behind a colourful neon-lit magic roundabout with no-one on it, we try shooting with an airgun at a stall of prizes. Each prize is held up by thin wooden sticks, and I manage to score a hit right on the hip flask Robin wants to acquire, instead of the sticks. He takes over with the rifle, discovers it shoots slightly to the right, snaps two of the three sticks, and having spent enough on firing gets the dented flask the stallholder wants rid of. It now looks as if it once was inside his jacket and saved his heart from an assassin's bullet. We then have a quick drink in a sleepy-but-vaguely-futuristic cafe with concealed lighting recessed into green disc-shaped cutaways in the ceiling. In the usual odd Hungarian way, when I ask the curvy serving girls the population of Tiszafoldvar, they promptly reply 12,000 and know the populations of several surrounding towns to the nearest 500 inhabitants.
Mood of bleak darkness just in black and white: An illustration of the much-maligned Countess Bathory perhaps fitting the Day of Burial.
Good Friday. Drive into the countryside with Robin, Bela, & Constantine for Easter. Several transparent bags of eggboxes in the back of the car rustle peacefully as we motor across the republic. Bela asks if I am focusing my chi.
Thursday. John Coltrane does something odd with the circle of fifths. Physicists say they've made a substance with negative mass. Tibetan monks found chanting bits of Derek Parfit.
Wednesday. Last night Jessica and I move and assemble more furniture. Jessica gets annoyed about a recent version of Beauty and The Bear Man, as she calls him.
Tuesday. Criminals with a meth lab get raided. Police find the drug-makers have a pet snake which has absorbed so much of the chemical in the air through its skin the serpent is addicted to meth.
Monday. I knocked a drinking glass off a counter onto the tiled kitchen floor on Thursday, smashing it into dozens of smithereens surrounding me. Helpfully, I was barefoot at the time. Wearily, I picked up all the tiny fragments until it seems safe to move off my spot. I manage to get away with only one splinter in one foot. Days later as light shifts with the hours, miniscule curved shivers of glass continue to wink cheekily, safely nestled in the fibres of the kitchen rug. Are they mocking me? Meanwhile, inmates inside an Ohio prison build themselves two computers hidden above ceiling tiles.
Sunday. An odd thought comes to me that the young Mr Putin looked like a less-pretty version of the Illya Kuryakin character. He from the 1960s Man from U.N.C.L.E. television series with its brass-boosted bongo-drum beach-guitar music. Even odder, the young Mr Trump looked like a sort of sci-fi fusion of both the Illya Kuryakin and the Napoleon Solo characters.
April 8th; Saturday. If wind makes whistling and moaning sounds going through doors and windows even on bright sunny afternoons, does that mean the building is poorly made? I keep seeing snatches of invented 1940s movies in my head: "Damn this dark, lonely house, with its weird unsettling sounds!" So, a slightly unsettling colour-blot test.
Friday. Finish another book from generous Amanda, 'The Magician's Nephew', by C.S. Lewis. The opening two chapters felt strange, because I remembered them clearly, despite never having read the Lewis children's books. Then realised I must have heard these chapters, perhaps twice, somewhere like Book at Bedtime on BBC radio, or perhaps on the TV read-aloud show Jackanory. Soon after, I got to chapters that stirred no smidgeon of memory, rang no bell. The storytelling is good and the Ulster Christian author blends themes of morality and personality smoothly. To my surprise, towards to the end of the book as I was reading it on the 19 tram, I had to close it. At the point where The Witch or Queen is tempting Digory to disobey Aslan by stealing an apple to save his dying mother's life, my heart starts beating so hard I had to stop reading and restart later. All the way through, kept thinking of the article I saw in either The Spectator or The Salisbury Review years ago, saying that, Philip Pullman, the author of the 'His Dark Materials' series had written his new series to attack and subvert the Christian subtext of the Lewis Narnia children's stories. The Magician's Nephew is a kind of prequel to the main series of stories.
Thursday. A piece on hacking human DNA: doesn't quite deliver.
Wednesday. A very nice example of how the right choice of spooky music, a 5-minute slideshow, and very short bits of text can create an engrossing mood of mystery and unsolved thingummyness. Nos. 4 & 2 my favourites.
April 4th; Tuesday. I finish the collection of Dion Fortune's wartime letters kind Amanda sent me 'The Magical Battle of Britain'. The calm, self-confident tone of Fortune's descriptions of how her group contact higher spiritual entities (including Arthur & Merlin) so as to defend the British Isles is extraordinary. Here she modestly jokes about her address being bombed during the Blitz: "October 27th 1940 / In our last letter we asked our members and friends to invoke for the protection of 3 Queensborough Terrace, and in this letter we have the ironical task of informing them that we have been bombed out of it, though without casualties; so it may be maintained that the invocation was at least a partial success, though your Leader and her Librarian look like a couple of sweeps owing to a difference of opinion with the roof, which fell in on them, but tactfully refrained from hitting them.
It has often been alleged that Dion Fortune is a Black Occultist, and we regretfully admit that the allegation can no longer be denied; however it is hoped that soap and water will restore her to the Right Hand Path and her students will be able to once more hold up their heads before a world always too ready to think the worst."
The text is intercut with short news bulletins to give context of the war. Interesting to see the February 11th bulletin in 1940, Britain's darkest hour: "Paper supplies are cut by 40% as rationing is introduced. In Birmingham, five IRA bombs explode."
April 3rd; Monday. Mark Steyn on Islamist use of threats to silence critics.
April 2nd; Sunday. Sounds bizarre. Migrants' children going into comas if their families don't get Swedish citizenship. A poisson d'avril story from yesterday?
April 1st; Saturday. Interesting article about Uber trying to swing the Brexit referendum for Cameron. Strange how the URL misspells the author's name.
Recent weblog entries
Who can translate the next 300 words into
us and there will be revelry.
Languages dying out each week
- who cares?
We do - otherlanguages.org is gradually building a reference resource for over five thousand linguistic minorities and stateless languages worldwide.
Thousands of unique language communities are becoming extinct. Out of the world's five to six thousand languages, we hardly know what we're losing, what literatures, philosophies, ways of thinking, are disappearing right now.
We may soon regret the extinction of thousands of entire linguistic cultures even more than we regret the needless extinction of many animals and plants.
The planet is increasingly dominated by a handful of major-language monocultures like Mandarin
Chinese, Hindi, Arabic, Indonesian, Urdu, Spanish, Portuguese,
English, Swahili, Russian, Cantonese Chinese, Japanese, Bengali - all
beautiful and fascinating languages.
But so are the 5,000 others.
These are groups of people?
Linguistic minorities are communities of ordinary people whose native tongue is not their country's main official language. Swedish speakers in Finland, French speakers in Canada, Hungarian speakers in Slovakia - and hundreds more - are linguistic minorities.
And totally stateless languages are the native languages of some of the world's most intriguing, little-known, cultures. Like the Lapps inside the Arctic Circle, the Sards in Sardinia, Ainus in Japan. Cherokee in the US, Scots
Gaelic in Britain, Friesian in the Netherlands, Zulu in South Africa.
There are only a couple of hundred recognised sovereign states and territories, so 5,000 languages - more depending on how you count - are the native tongues of linguistically stateless people.
How could I help?
You don't need to learn an endangered
language - any more than go to live in the rainforest to help slow its destruction.
A good start is to just tell friends
about websites like this.
Broader public interest makes it easier
for linguists to raise funds and organise people to learn these languages while there's time.
That's right. There are people who love languages and are happy to learn them on behalf of the rest of us, but they need support, just like zoologists, botanists, or historians.
Fewer languages still sounds good to me
Depends what you think languages are for. They're not just a tool for business. We never said you should learn three or four thousand rare languages - or even one. And which ones we make children learn in school, or whether we should force children to learn languages at all, is another question.
Typical scene in a European city;
Chances are, folk here speak some sort of foreign
A century ago - before we understood
ecology, and when we cared less about wilderness, most educated
people would have laughed at the idea of worrying about plants or
animals going extinct. Now we understand how important species diversity
is for our own futures, we are more humble, and more worried.
In the same way, linguistic triumphalism by English-speakers who hated studying foreign grammar at school is dangerously ignorant as well as arrogant. Few of us know what we are losing, week by week.
How many people realise these languages have scientific value?
You can think of these languages across the planet as beautiful cathedrals or
precious archeological sites we are watching being destroyed. That
should be motive enough.
But these five thousand languages may
also hold clues to the structure of the human mind. Subtle
differences and similarities
between languages are helping
archeologists and anthropologists to
understand what happened in the hundreds
of centuries of human
history before written history. And
that is one of our best chances of understanding how human brains developed over the thousands of centuries leading up to that.
Wireless radio can be a great comfort to those unable
to leave the
textbooks in which they live *6
Study of the mind and study of language go hand in hand these days. The world's most marginal languages are actually precious jigsaw pieces from an overall picture of who we are and how our species thinks and evolves. Every tiny language adds another brightly-coloured clue to this academic detective story.
Yet researchers have hardly started sifting through this
tantalising evidence, and language extinction is washing it away right in
front of us.
And worst of all, most people have no idea that there is this
fantastic profusion of cultures across our world, let alone that
they are in danger of extinction. Even just more people learning that
there are still five thousand living languages in the world today (most
of us would answer five hundred or fifty) is already a huge help.
We English-speakers hardly notice English - it's like air for us.
But every other language is also an atmosphere for an entire cultural world,
and each of these worlds has people whose home it is. Each language encapsulates a unique way of talking and thinking about life. Just try some time in a foreign prison, being forced to cope in another language, and you'll realise how much your own language is your identity. That's true for everyone.
Minority languages are a
One of the most basic.
Dozens of millions of people worldwide suffer persecution from national governments for speaking their mother tongue - in their own motherland.
Many 'ethnic' feuds puzzling to
outsiders had as their basis an attempt to destroy a linguistic community.
Would the Northern Ireland dispute be quite so bitter if we
English had not so nearly stamped out the Irish Gaelic language, for
example? Almost nowhere in the world does a language community as
small as the few thousand Rheto-Romanic speakers - the fourth
official language of Switzerland - get the protection of a national
government. Next time you see some Swiss Francs, check both sides of the
But outside exceptional countries like
Switzerland or the Netherlands, speakers of non-official
languages have a much less protected experience.
Speakers of minority languages are often seen as a threat by both the governments and the other residents of the countries where they were born, grew up, and try to live ordinary lives.
They experience discrimination in the job and education markets of their homelands, often having no choice but to pursue education in the major language of the host state: a deliberate government policy usually aimed at gradually absorbing them into the majority culture of that country.
Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow, of course *7
Most governments are privately gleeful each time another small
separate culture within their borders is snuffed out by a dwindling
population or a deliberately centralising education system.
The United Nations is no help. It is an association of a couple of hundred sovereign states based on exclusive control of territory, almost all of them anxious to smother any distinct group or tradition that in any way might blur or smudge the hard-won borders around those pieces of territory.
The usual approach by sovereign states is to deny their linguistic minorities even exist.
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
*1 image from , with thanks
back up to top of page
*2 "Al-Araby" in written
*3 "What?" in American Sign
Language; image from , with thanks
*4 "Big" in written
(read more); image from , with
*5 image from , with
*6 image from , with
*7 image from
'B?ume', with thanks to
Bruno P. Kramer,
and Franckh-Kosmos Verlag
Friday. An American photographer, who is very modest about his hobby, but has a slick website with some lovely images of planets, the moon, and the sun.
Thursday. Interesting article suggests that healthcare reform is impossible in the US. The writer says the unspeakable truth is that there is a kind of state-supported socialism for better-earning white folk.
Wednesday. Campaign adviser to The Donald before Kellyanne Conway, a Mr Manafort, seems to have sent a very interesting set of messages to his daughter's phone.
Tuesday. A 2014 item: physicist Mersini-Houghton suggests that Hawking radiation defuses nascent black holes before they can holeify. So there aren't any, in her view.
Monday. 3rd afternoon helping Jessica assemble flatpack furniture. A Hungarian friend of hers mocks our slowness by text message. Luckily we finish today though, with only 8 screws and 8 little white plastic screw-plugs left unused.
Sunday. 2nd afternoon helping Jessica assemble flatpack furniture. Specially for Paul McC, an interesting .pdf about carbon-dioxide levels in earth's atmosphere. Aside from restating how weak claims are that human-emitted CO2 decisively raised global temperatures, this Greenpeace co-founder's paper intriguingly suggests that added anthropogenic CO2 rescued the world from dangerously low levels of the nutritionally vital gas.
Saturday. 1st afternoon helping Jessica assemble flatpack furniture.
Friday. Crossing the river over a bridge, a low sharply-bright setting sun glares into the inside of the warm tram. This brings back a kind of generic memory of school I think we all have. It's a sunny day, we're stuck in a classroom, dustmotes are floating through sunbeams, and for some reason curtains or blinds are unavailable to get the sun off your neck. Something a bit sad about being stuck indoors unable to hide from bright sun shining through glass.
Here's an interesting debunking of a common legend about the Rothschilds.
Thursday. Get to the end of book from kind Amanda giving more detail about how the Siege of Malta proved the high-water mark for Not-So-Magnificent Suleyman's attempt to retake Sicily, close off the Mediterranean to Christian shipping, and renew Islamic invasions of the half of Christendom they hadn't conquered already. 'The Great Siege: Malta 1565' by Ernle Bradford goes day by day through the siege in which the Maltese islanders and a mere 9,000 Knights of St. John Hospitallers, only recently forced to leave Rhodes by a Muslim military campaign, resisted 40,000 of the Turkish Sultan's best soldiers and a huge naval armada. They fought almost to the last man. Two things emerge: the loyalty and grit of the local Maltese islanders throughout the ordeal, and the unbreakable determination of the 70-year-old head of the order, La Valette, again and again stiffening the resolve of his knights when others were wavering. He himself plunged into the thick of the fighting in full armour at several points during the merciless heat of the long, thirsty summer of 1565. The author at one point describes the sheer toughness of some old men in that era - almost unimaginable now. This blow-by-blow account helps us to imagine it. Paving the way for another thankful defeat of Islam at Lepanto six years later, the Siege of Malta was one of the most important military events of the last 500 years. Bradford wrote this history when a second huge siege of the island, in the 1940s by Nazi Germany, was a recent memory.
Wednesday. Martin McGuinness, gangster warlord, torturer, murderer, liar and - once he came under personal attack from targeted attempts to kill him and his family - coward (aka "peacemaker"), dies in his bed aged 66. The sectarian conflicts in Ireland, which he did so much to poison and intensify, and so little to genuinely heal, remain. Gerry Adams, no less self-centred, looks anxious.
Tuesday. Run into Jay on street walking two handsome black labradors. He tells me a ghost-writer friend of his decades ago in New York was behind the 'French Connection' book & film.
Monday. Sun without sunspots every day for a fortnight - the longest period in almost a decade. More cool weather likely.
Sunday. Oddly cheerful article about the "Byzantine" trick images that show how easily "AI" visual "recognition" can be fooled. Anyone cosy with the concept of self-driving cars should read this.
Saturday. Some miscellaneous Bassett's Allsorts of data & discussion: (1) a chess problem Dr Penrose believes is vulnerable to human, not computer, intelligence; (2) A US Democrat bemoans thinking inside the Democratic party; (3) A Republican with an odd-sounding thesis about a
continued Obama role in US politics; (4) Scientists ponder how brains seem to
keep thinking 10 minutes after death; (5) 10 real Lysistrata-style
sex strikes that happened; (6) Perhaps interesting statistics on consumption of pornography in Muslim countries.
Friday. Must see a barber. My rapidly-growing mullet is moving dangerously into Teddy-Boy/North-Korean-dictator coiff-fusion territory. Speaking of police states: more good data from one of our contributors.
Thursday. Read a copy of 'The Real Right Returns' by Daniel Friberg. I don't really agree the term "right wing" is the one to use, but he argues trenchantly in clear short sentences for a non-violent, unembarrassed return to traditional values in Europe, a sort of moderate nationalism/Eurocentrism. Insofar as he suggests in one or two paragraphs we have lost something by exiling aristocrats from power, this could even qualify as real right-side Legitimist stuff. Rather charming be-a-man-about-it and we-must-protect-the-womenfolk themes embedded in the Proud Christendom manifesto.
Wednesday. Toothache returns, annoyingly on the day every single shop shuts to honour Hungary's opportunistic me-too uprising on March 15th 1848. This was a couple of days after Vienna rose up on the 12th & 13th, just for some unkind context. For this I have to spend an hour searching for a pharmacy that will sullenly serve me antiseptic against the pain through a small cubby-window at a higher price.
Tuesday. Sankt-Peterburg DJ chooses a surprisingly gentle, soft-centred set of tunes for show #420, while dancing around mainly for the benefit of someone on her phone. Could this be lurv?
Monday. Train back to Budapest. Lovely Indian dinner with Zoe & Mark, who tell me some gossip both useful and entertaining while insisting, despite my doubts, that Brussels is another dimension of boring. In separate developments, gentrification is apparently an evil plot.
Sunday. Some heave-ho at Robin's in the countryside as Gyorgy, Istvan, Robin, and I use shoulder bands to lug a big metal stove into the studio. Zeno the Alchemist directs operations. Apparently when I fall asleep in a corner of the studio later, I snore like Domor the larger Komondor dog, serenely undisturbed by sounds of sawing and hammering.
Saturday. Read a copy of 'What Am I Doing Here' I find in Robin's library, a miscellaneous set of essays, some very good in parts, by travel writer Bruce Chatwin. In an offhand remark at the start, Chatwin confesses to once lacking confidence in his writing. This might concentrate some readers' attention. Indeed his essays rather depend on closely observed situations with unusual people in exotic locales. Yet the actual writing, as he candidly half admits, is not so good. The final essay has a curious penultimate sentence where someone advises him not to let anything artistic get in his way. The essay closes cutely with the one-line paragraph, "I have always acted on this advice." The essay before (about a fly) ends with the one-line paragraph, "'It must have come in with you.'" An essay about three before that one ends with the smug one-line paragraph, "I too am mystified by this story." On top of which, like O. Henry's citizen of the world who betrays himself in a remark on his home town, Chatwin's composure suddenly slips when he meets two British soldiers who were in the Falklands War, unable to hold his parochial anti-patriotism in. In one rambling essay about Indira Gandhi, a string of recollections and vignettes, some good, are jumbled together, and in parts it's confusing to follow what's happening. The article about Chinese emperors and rare horse breeds has some fascinating reflections on the pastoralist, the settled farmer, and the hunter. His piece about Afghanistan and several others have small moments of anti-western snobbery. The exotic foreigners are loveable and admirable while Englishmen abroad less discerning than himself are crude and narrow, almost as if he was getting Kipling upside-down. The metal of that subdued sneer against his own civilisation glitters into view in a couple of places. At the same time, Chatwin is so wonderfully travelled and has met such a rich range of interesting characters it's very easy to overlook how much enjoying his writing derives from them, and to not notice his lack of skill as a storyteller. An uncharacteristically readable piece about someone he met in old age, nihilistic German officer and diarist Ernst Ju:nger, forms an odd mirror to his own writing. It seems the German was skilled at writing coldly grand accounts of heroic violence balanced by eerie, refined botanical scholarship. Chatwin would like to have been an equally dazzling (perhaps more peaceful) English version of Ju:nger, I sensed.
At the end of a quite charming couple of pages near the end about a fine-art customer called The Bey, who Chatwin seems to have been very fond of, he strains to say something bittersweet about the man. We get an arch mixture of admiration and condescension: "I write about the Bey because people of his kind will never come again. His life, I suspect, was a bit of a sham. The Eye [his aesthetic taste] was always young and pure." Why on earth should "people of his kind -- never come again"? And given Chatwin's distaste for any imperial vision that makes people like the Bey possible, why should it in any case matter if people of his kind never come again? This collection left me wondering if Chatwin's life was a bit of a sham.
Friday. Robin picks me up and we drive by night out of town into the countryside. We stop at a garage out on the puszta. While I finish my coffee inside he goes out for a cigarette, being careful to stay away from the pumps. Two Romanian men are struggling to change a tyre (with no tyre-iron) on their van - oddly enough a van filled to the roof with tyres. Robin astonishes them by handing them the keys to his new car over by the petrol pumps and telling them to get the right tool out of the back while he continues his cigarette at a safe distance. Once we are out in the Great Plain, he shows me a giant bar of soap two inches thick and about a foot square. He obtained the bulbous cuboid pumpkin-coloured bar, positively craggy with craters and deep cracks, from an antique dealer. It has a date from 1960 scored into it with a knife. He tells me he bought a second one, even bigger, for the flat in Budapest.
Thursday. In the last 2 or 3 weeks there are renewed signs of flirtation from Lady Luck, though like all women, she wants me to show my cards first. I'm not saying Fortuna is "fast", but she certainly seems to reserve her come-hither looks for the bold. It really is as if there's a certain perfect blend of self-critical realism and cheeky chutzpah that it takes to turn nothing into something. Or turn a pumpkin into a taxi cab to glamour.
Wednesday. Long-term study of vegans finds a vulnerability to mental illness. Cheery cartoon pig on my block of lard seems to agree. Meanwhile, a very interesting piece of research concludes that banks are just as unhelpful as Bob Hope said, and poor people are rational to avoid them.
March 7th; Tuesday. About 10 days ago, one of the male cashiers (oddly they, but not the women, are made to wear black shirts) at the supermarket in the shopping-mall basement asked me with a twinkle in his eye if I didn't "usually go to Shatzi's till?" (I assume that's a Germanic name meaning something like Little Treasure.) The idea I always go to whichever queue is shortest seemed not to have occurred to him - though I try to have a jolly micro-chat with whichever cashier scans my bar-coded purchases so perhaps I don't seem like a man in a hurry. I asked him which one Shatzi is, thereby probably answering his real question. The little red-haired one, he said, puzzling me a bit, since there are two such. This evening, I'm surprised to see a new person sitting alongside a male cashier, learning by watching. The small slinky brown-skinned girl, perhaps Gypsy, I've seen for a few months strutting around on shelf-related errands deep in the store now doing her one-or-two-day apprenticeship to become a cashier. She seems perky, restless, looking forward to the extra pace of things to do.
March 6th; Monday. President Honey Monster's Trial By Rumour just gets more and more interesting. Added to this.
March 5th; Sunday. Feminist lady says what she wants.
March 4th; Saturday. "Queering outer space."
March 3rd; Friday. An engine with no cams. Moving pictures!
March 2nd; Thursday. 3 days ago finished first of the package of books posted by kind Amanda. '1565: The Great Siege of Malta' by Joseph Elull is a useful short introduction setting out the main events of Suleyman the Magnificent's attempt to conquer Malta that year, and thereby subjugate the Mediterranean and resume earlier Islamic invasions of Europe.
March 1st; Ash Wednesday. To mark the day, woman MP & Christian sports a cross smeared in ash on her forehead to a parliamentary committee meeting. Good for her.
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