day. I jangle like a bunch of keys.
mentions civil unrest in Slovakia.
Don't these Johnson
solids look lovely?
Ryan explains some career plans.
After dinner with
and another detailed discussion of his
Mariann takes me to the converted attic complex of Balazs, Gyula,
Miroslav. Jens & Margo were also there. After tabletop Santa-Sumo between Balazs &
Gyula's 3-inch-high clockwork Father Christmases, we get down to playing
rather odd Hungarian folklore cards (the tale of the bellringing peach definitely
worth checking out), followed by pick-up-sticks and quick bursts of
and Napalm Death
on video before M & I left. Excellent
'Grease' recalled Harriet & Jessica's curious ritual
evenings Cressida told of years ago.
First class went reasonably well.
Didn't get much done today.
Cappuccino with Mariann
at cakeshop round corner. Thrilling tale of mewling but unharmed kitten lost in space
at bottom of liftshaft for 24 hours.
Popping into IBS,
I meet two delightful teachers. Glittering winter
After an early breakfast in the petrol station where we slept, the fuel line bursts
a few miles before the border into Austria.
Robin fixes it as brilliant sunlight bounces
off melting snow and trucks welly past. Later, within sight of the border in Hungary,
we get a puncture and Robin is again struggling while I stand around being a bit
useless. Something stops him getting the old wheel off to change the tyre. After an
hour of banging with brooms and hammers, he fixes this too. Back in Budapest for a
cup of tea by half-past eight.
Slept in the car somewhere near the
across the front seats.
Got some kip between 1 and 3.
Robin picks me up from Nigel's in Catford and we hit the South Circular,
driving down through Kent by 8am.
Christian's in Cologne decorated for this week's
Carnival. Nuel shows us more of
Schlichting's drawings. No news of
Nuel, Robin & I watch
'The Taking of Pelham 123'
on television dubbed into German.
Of course, when the
cop negotiator Walter Matthau says "Gezundheit" in
German over the intercom to the
hijacker who keeps sneezing
the dubbers left it in German in the German-language version. I was waiting for them to make
say "Bless you" in English.
has the best stock in London.
didn't have the French book I wanted, were very keen on closing time,
and had an odd system where customers find prices off photocopied lists
on the wall arranged by code and publisher [lacking the publishers of lots of books
in their stock]. Just putting prices on each book would be too much like hard work, would
it? Like so many things 'European', their books are mainly French, plus
Spanish & German material. French staff, quelle surprise. At least eight European
languages with ten-million+
speakers represented by no more than a couple of grammars each. Perhaps change the pompous name?
& Cutler much better.
Fiona & Nigel back from
Listened to music by 'Normal'.
In the mood to read a copy of
McVicar by himself lying
around. Striking to see the three sections, each written at different times and
each shorter than the one before. The first, a taut, wirily written tale of action
and emotion, the second far more introspective but still angry, the third wearier and
wiser as he slowly gains more distance from his lifelong nightmare and builds his new
self through books. The first part [his first two escapes from prison] shows his
shrewd, clear intelligence, but the later parts, as one-time thug McVicar moves deeper
into academic sociology, shows remarkable self-understanding and painful honesty.
Intelligence tested. Apart from the obvious and thought-provoking points about crime
and prison, I immediately wondered how many of us strip away our own illusions as
methodically and coolly as McVicar the longterm convict eventually did. Quite
early he identifies machismo and male defiance as a kind of culture of
self-delusion which makes criminals more criminal the more they are isolated. Step
by step he unpicks his own misunderstandings about his father, mother, and sister and
how he hid from himself the suffering he caused them. He spots the weaknesses and
self-deceptions of prisoners and warders, and then applies this analytical lens to
himself. The effect of a small prison riot at Durham, where inmates occupy an
office and read their own files, is particularly interesting. Although McVicar comes
over as an already reflective and sharp-minded prisoner, it is hard not to see this
as a turning point: bland, inaccurate, shallow assessments
in their decade-old records amaze him. Realising he is a mystery to the penal system seems
to start him wondering if he is a mystery to himself.
Oddly, this made me want to read some of Nigel's Greek epics and myths: is
McVicar someone who somehow finds his way back out of the cage of male pride
and rage to help heal our own anger? He sees his son's mother's
part in leading him out of his emotional labyrinth. He praises
[he of Radio 4's 1970s 'Stop the Week' discussions] as
a good sociology teacher.
Book shopping. Later, Rigo & Fiona join us for vodka.
On a mission of mercy Nigel takes me to
by bus, where we drink two coffees
each at Nero's
as darkness falls. Later Danny Fletcher comes round - first
meeting in a decade. The 3 of us go for a noodle meal.
Juno gets two walks in one day. By day, two small boys in the park ask me if Juno is a
something dog [she is half
Great Dane, but friendlier
than that sounds]. By night, Nigel & I take Juno on a big walk through some south London
suburbs as far as
We go up a hill through a churchyard, rest on a
bench, look out over the city lights, and share some vodka.
Nigel & I visit the
Nigel kindly invites Fiona & me out for a curry at the quiet, crisply-table-clothed
whose italic blue neon sign looks from outside
High Street a lot like 'Taste of Edam'. Fiona cheerily asks us what we
boys actually did with our weekend.
Nigel brings back some
papers - slightly better than the Sunday
papers I bought last week. As many as 5 or 6 quite readable articles.
Coach journey down from north to south, into those postal districts packed
like wheat. A brisk walk after dark from
to Charing Cross across some kind
of royal park. Train from
to Nigel's in Catford. I sat across carriage
from two criminal-looking males chatting quietly in Polish.
Bradford to buy
Walk with mother outdoors.
in the rain. Doodled indoors.
in the Shoulder of Mutton with
a few days ago was relaxing. Perhaps
my talent is about to be
I find her
book by Harold Bloom she'll enjoy.
I buy Mama four Sunday
papers, complete with vast supplements on houses, holidays etc.
The full-page 1950s Punch
cartoon about there being nothing in the papers swims
eerily to mind, because now there really isn't. Not a joke any more. One quite good
article about stem-cell research, two funny television reviews, and a couple
of mildly interesting book reviews, and that really is all that 4 'quality' broadsheets
have to show for themselves out of a total of at least two hundred pages. ?
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
contact at otherlanguages.org
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