Seems that in Germany women can get their unemployment benefit cut off
refusing to work as prostitutes. Gosh. I meet
Rob for hot
chocolate, and he tells me about his colleague
Zoli's new flat designed by Zoli's
architect girlfriend, with grey-painted concrete
floor, concrete bath and concrete washbasin. Rob then tried to soften things a little by making
them a furry light switch.
The only [non-trivial]
Constantine, Robin & I get surprisingly noisy on red wine at lunch.
Flat snowy land & bright sun in all directions. Britain's
government is introducing house arrest
muppets mess up train schedule, so the last connection for
Lakitelek on Fridays leaves Budapest Nyugati at 5.10pm instead of
7.30pm, but kind
drives out to Kecskemet to pick me up.
A girl pleased with how understated her look is (pullover, jeans,
the carefully simple haircut) sits down in
and quietly orders a glass of red wine.
Then her man arrives 15 minutes later, and her voice suddenly gets deeper, louder,
huskier. The confident, precise Hungarian-girl drawl.
Second day I drink a coffee. This could be
citizens. Apparently, a one-off dose of a slightly dodgy herb called
ibogaine can help people break an addiction. I could be free of the
bean! A coffee slave no more! Note picture of rather stern-looking
man with moustache on
website. Oh, and whatever you
do, steer clear of any printers built by
Drink my first
in over a week.
Drove back to Budapest with Robin. He sees dentist. I get seen to by two
who only want fifteen dollars for their eight-minute visit, and will make their expert
opinion (that's the name of the document: Chimney Sweeps' Expert Opinion) of Heather's
chimney available in a mere four or five days. They let me in on the gist of it, though.
Chimney no good. Chimney must change. What a surprise.
Later I see some of Viola's photos of
(a town in Transylvania, not the
trek into school for a brief quarrel, back home read some of a
diatribe about US
foreign policy, and then pop out again for a kebab.
& Georgina drive off with the children to Budapest to see
Jeremy & Zita's baby,
I finish 'A
Certain Chemistry' by
Millington. A strange mix of a novel, since I laughed out loud nine
or ten times [pretty rare with any book these days], yet found it also
an irritating read and hard work to finish. The narrator, Tom, is an
English writer living in Edinburgh with a Scots girlfriend called
Sara, ghost-writing autobiographies for celebrities who can't write
their own. He meets a sexy TV celebrity called Georgina, and begins
having sex with her behind Sara's back. On the micro-level, Tom's
stream of consciousness is well-observed, and when he is funny he is
very funny. Yet most of the better parts of the book feel like a
standup comedy monologue, and the rest is boring filling in between
those parts [or worse, standup material that isn't
funny]. Tom is duly punished for being a know-all egotist, but
already after a couple of chapters I was wondering why I cared about
this character [the book has no other characters worth mentioning,
though the cameo roles of Hugh and Amy are amusing]. I suspect that
Millington himself is rather annoying, and this book is partly
autobiographical. Tom is weak enough to lie to himself repeatedly,
feckless enough to cheat on his girlfriend, and fool enough to have
a living arrangement where she can throw him out. Further,
Tom's observations about people are acute and shrewd, leaving
this reader wondering how he makes such crass errors of judgement.
Then there are the inter-chapter notes from God, in a small
sans-serif font and seemingly a laddish Scots accent. God takes
pains to apologise for our hormonal drives, repeats that Tom, Sara
& Georgina are just examples [as if we weren't having enough of a
struggle staying interested in them] of the "bigger picture", and
confirms the overall unlikeability of the narrators, the two
women he's torn between, and the author. Millington has a good ear
for dialogue, though he makes Edinburgh sound dull. Still, how can
you like a narrator who loves a woman who calls him a "wee English
fucker" as a term of affection, and is genuinely upset when
she dumps him? Authorial
interjections like "I think
'experimental dance' ought to stop now, by the way. I'm not going
to make a big thing about this; I just
think it ought to stop."
sound good in a smart-arse comedian's routine. In a book, however, they
suggest an author full of himself and trying hard.
Quiet day. Georgina cooks venison. Robin & I drive to
when we get there, forget why.
Went to see
in her office, and had a strong feeling of optimism
walking over the brow of Bogar Street up in hilly Buda in brilliant
sunshine. After dark to
on the usual, crowded, overheated train.
Soon Stale Sweat Man sits opposite, and falls asleep after a few minutes.
Hungarians can be very tactful. We all pretended not to notice the smell.
Ticket inspector comes, checks the other three
of us in our group of four seats, then glances at Stale Sweat Man with a
blank expression and moves on. We could smell the alcohol
coming out of his pores, and before falling
asleep he seemed anxious not to offend us. No-one
complains that his ticket was not checked: all the
passengers & the ticket inspector assessed him as a hard-luck case and
simply stared gloomily into middle-distance. Part of what Marion's
means about the "muted" feel of Hungary, as if the whole
country has somehow had the volume turned down. Sometimes I feel
sure the entire country is in a permanent massive sulk. At other times,
there is something humane about the overall quietness. It's certainly
part of their idea of being civilised. I can still remember
the sculptor telling me with real admiration of how softly-spoken
people are in Portugual. A Hungarian estate agent might describe
the country as "low-key".
Quick drink last night with
Robin3 the futurist,
and Olen. Some proofing & tea today at Erik's. Later, I finished
I phone the
then visit their office with its remarkable opening hours (such as
1pm to 3pm on Mondays). They can fit me in next Monday afternoon, busy,
important chaps that they are. They'll get 50 dollars for "inspecting"
the boiler installed on Friday. If you don't believe all this, here's
website, complete with music, so sound cards at the ready: a Hungarian version
of that ghastly
sweep song from
For easy-to-use online privacy, bookmark
colleagues give Rajiv a birthday cake. He & two
celebrants find it hard to extinguish the candles, which
curiously keep relighting even after being blown out 8 or 9 times.
More work on the
school I mend Marion's
magnetic board rubber while Dusan begins his overdue essay on science & religion.
Clean bathroom floor after the two gas-fitters on Friday. Rather like babies with
shit, Hungarian workmen seem quite proud of the dirt they leave behind. Perhaps
they think it proves they did some work. Look! We drilled holes in your
wall! That's why bits of your wall are all over your floor now! Good, eh?
I gave two men - for 4 hours of very relaxed pottering around - after tax, over 6 working days'
pay, 30,000 forints. That's generously assigning 20 working days to each month &
upgrading end-of-2004 "average" net-of-tax monthly wages to 100,000 forints.
Terri said last week she couldn't find anyone to do a day
putting in shelves for 10,000 forints (more than twice average daily income).
None of the city's 16 other gas fitters whose correct phone number I got could even
be bothered to visit & give a price estimate for the job. Pretty fed up with hearing
Hungarians whine. They don't look very poor to me.
Lunchtime return Liszt-Ferenc-square flat keys
to Stephen. Herbal tea & soup with his 2 sons Lucio and Alessandro. We read through Steve's CD-Rom of the
genome and then take turns driving Lucio's
steering-wheel-activated singing and spelling toy.
In afternoon finish first draft of the
document. Evening hot chocolate with female
friend who relates recent adventures
with BonkMan, and now reports worsened back pains.
Day starts at 7.45am with four hours of boiler-fitting in the
bathroom by some engineers. My next step is on
Monday to phone Chimney-Sweeps Regulatory Authority (Of
there is) to book an inspection, since by midday today the
sooty-fingered ones had logged off for the weekend.
Then the boiler manufacturer can - for a "small charge" - make their own, second,
inspection (Tuesday? Wednesday?), and lo, the radiators shall be switched
on some time next week in proper accordance with the
laws of the Republic of Hungary.
Late afternoon: quick beer with Tim to talk about maps.
Day ends with curry at Jake and Lucia's. He tells me a fine limerick he has
written about a cat and a mouse who were sharing a louse. Sounded quite
5am start to catch flight back to Budapest. On train and plane read a short book
Nonsense by the authors of the more famous
All That. Of course, today's publishers gloss over it being written in the 1930s, but
the curiously innocent humour and clearcut class caricatures give it away at once.
Some lovely jokes, like the first two pictures (the stiff-shirtedly tweedy 'Decent Society'
and the enticingly naughty-looking 'Indecent Society') are simplicity itself. A diagram on
checking which way round you have mounted the horse. No less than three charts of horse
body parts filled with word jokes. The whimsy is tiring in places, but the romping tone
suggests the books must have been fun to write as well as read: I imagine two irreverent young
men smoking pipes back when irreverent young men still smoked pipes. Schoolboyish yet nicely
observed. The humour never dwells too long in one place, but flits on lightly. Two closing songs
and sections from two imaginary books featuring horses are neat parodies.
Intriguing to see fun being poked at jazz, a type of music nowadays taken
In the evening manage to get to Writers' Group at Elysia's, where the theme is
Quiet day around Hebden and Halifax. Read a short book of mother's about
Velasquez' by Dieter Beaujean, from Ko:nemann. Several of the paintings - like
The text describe his life as a Spanish court painter,
and he seems to have been shrewd &
support this, showing
a man with wary eyes who knows about cunning, but seems to have retained his humanity
even in the thick of court politics. Apart from the self-portrait/group-portrait
'Meninas', his best-known paintings include
He had the bitter-sweet luck to grow up, aiming for a career at court, just as
Spain's days as a world power was past its cusp, and lavish spending on grand art was the way Spanish
royals tried to hide the country's decline. Interestingly, the great national enemy, the rising
commercial centre of Holland
in a war for independence from Spain for most of
lifetime, had many of
the great painters of the previous century and the next, and Velasquez was
influenced by Flemish & Dutch artists. His greatest model, however, seems to have been the Venetian
to Britain with mother.
Breakfast of roast chestnuts on way to the
The building has a ground floor and a floor 0.
Sunday, 7am start. Final day with Tim at the
Back at the
factory. I add the coloured magnetic dots to the floorchart, a vital
and the Blue Cat is a good
script to read, the film being excellent, all the more striking since
of characters usually squeezed into a
successfully rewritten into a full
feature-length format, a rare accomplishment. Was a little worried though at how little credit the
original French series got. Might as well not have existed, for all
Bloomsbury books care.
gets one line on the title page, but the whole impression a casual reader gets is that Josselin, Danot,
Auclun, Cahier, Carreau, Liblang and others never worked on this film or the original series
Thompson, who wrote and narrated new English storylines for British audiences
to make it into The Magic Roundabout, was undoubtably talented, but in a foreword and afterword to
Bloomsbury's text Thompson is treated as the sole creator of the whole film.
Bloomsbury also manage several
typos, quite a feat for a children's film screenplay, and put only one critic's comment on the
back, a squirm-making line from the
Herald. Loyalty to the Herald, who once bought an article
from me, can't quite stop me from saying that this is not remotely like "Woody Allen narrating
about egg salad over a Japanese film", but is a stop-go animation story that charms both adults
and children with lovely models & sets, and stories in English that had both wit and whimsy.
The curiously political storyline of this film features a smooth-talking Blue Cat who cons
the sweetly innocent traditional characters into welcoming him into the Magic Garden, even putting him
up in Dougal's bed. Only the bluff-yet-adorable Dougal (Thompson makes him very much an alter ego of
Hancock) sees through him. The sinister cat aims to make everything blue, commanded by a disembodied
woman - the not-unThatcherlike Blue Voice. The cat carries out sneaky activities at the old treacle factory,
has a northern accent, and makes himself king. He is named Buxton, after the Derbyshire town whose grooved
quarry floor made the Roman axle width into the modern standard railway gauge. Since blue is the
colour of Britain's Conservative party,
Thatcher was accused by
Benn of being a 19th-century
and Buxton is clearly a jumped-up Northerner with absurd pretensions to social
advancement in the magic garden of southern England, the symbolism is intriguing. Especially for 1972
when Thatcher had gone no further than serving as Education Secretary in
Heath's 1970-74 government. While
perhaps not "frightening", as London (not San Francisco) Jessica claimed, 'Dougal and the Blue Cat' is by turns eerie and delightful.
Started Josselin/Thompson screenplay of
& the Blue Cat', published by
Tea with Tim. Finish
telecom firm and an
Still ill. Finish Terri's
Very politely, Pinker squares off against Blank Slaters like
to show how testable research is now mapping
the mind and behaviour, increasingly boxing in fuzzy humanists. Those on the left and
the right who still hold human behaviour inviolate, separate from experimental biology, are
Steven Pinker says, believers in
blank slate / tabula rasa. They want to find that
intelligence is not mainly genetic, that parental upbringing does steer children's personalities,
that sexuality ("gender") is just a social construct, not a biological fact, and so on. Sad that
all this still has to be explained. I recall feeling surprised in 1991 that Naomi Wolf could
still sell a publisher a book like
Beauty Myth', yet even today the beauty fact and other
facts like it continue to outrage US campus campaigners. Perhaps it's true that believers in
defunct theories never convert, but just die out. Anyway, Pinker crinkles on, carefully
explaining how statistics work, recounting what happened to poor
meticulously answers smears against hot-button research
that enrages the Politically Correct rearguard. Some of the good bits
are his quick overviews of philosophy: for example how
Sowell divides thinkers
into the Constrained (or Tragic) Vision (after
Edmund Burke) and the Unconstrained
(or Utopian) Vision (after
William Godwin). Surprise, surprise, biological research
increasingly supports Burke,
and other pessimists, and undermines Godwin,
and the other hopeful revolutionaries who unwittingly paved the way for totalitarianism.
I got bored in places. (Could have done without the
and Hobbes cartoon strips too.)
Pinker is desperately diplomatic and earnestly liberal, aiming to
reassure and soothe as many of the angry antis as he can. Quite right too, but perhaps this
makes for a slightly duller book. He uses 'entitled' oddly in a couple of places, as if it
was an adjective for a personality that meant 'feeling entitled' or 'arrogant'. Given how
he criticises opponents' disdain for evidence, a bit strange that
Sulloway's research into birth-order effects is discounted with no mention of
evidence. Pinker says (but cites no studies) that Sulloway fails to show that
pro-authority first-borns and more subversive younger children carry over their different
strategies into the rest of their lives. These include their relative political loyalties,
ruthlessness towards opponents, openness to new theories: all of which Sulloway claims to find
numerical support for. A little more detail on what's wrong with this environmental-influence
theory from Pinker would have been interesting - and honest.
In a shop window still decorated with spray-on snow designs this morning, saw lots
of window panes framing big pentagonal
This afternoon, in
a bookshop closed for stocktaking, a 1/2-life-size brown-plush moose
sprawls nose-down, dozing on the floor just inside locked glass doors.
Read some of Terri's
Pinker book. Hussam picks up someone's
thesis I'm grammar-checking.
Late drink with Mariann.
Wake to a eerie silence around noon. I assume Budapest's 1-million-or-so "workers"
are still sleeping off the party, and the city's one-and-a-half-million who are on
the sick or "retired" are as subdued as ever, at some point in the three-decade
hangover that starts somewhere in their late 20s and goes on until death.
One brave shop is open and sells me two surprisingly un-nasty cakes to
take to tea at
Terri's. She describes her successful
exhibition and her next photography show coming up. I decide that
I too want to have an exhibition of my photos this year. Better take some photos.
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
markgriffith at yahoo.com
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