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2005
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January 31st; Seems that in Germany women can get their unemployment benefit cut off for 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 pseudo-brutalist 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.
January 30th; The only [non-trivial] magic hexagon.

January 29th; Constantine, Robin & I get surprisingly noisy on red wine at lunch. Flat snowy land & bright sun in all directions. Britain's Labour government is introducing house arrest without trial.
January 28th; The MAV 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 Robin drives out to Kecskemet to pick me up.

January 27th; A girl pleased with how understated her look is (pullover, jeans, the carefully simple haircut) sits down in Eklektika 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.
January 26th; Second day I drink a coffee. This could be serious, 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 demon bean! A coffee slave no more! Note picture of rather stern-looking man with moustache on ibogaine website. Oh, and whatever you do, steer clear of any printers built by these cretins.

January 25th; Drink my first coffee in over a week.
January 24th; Drove back to Budapest with Robin. He sees dentist. I get seen to by two chimney sweeps, 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 Brasso (a town in Transylvania, not the metal-cleaning solvent), trek into school for a brief quarrel, back home read some of a Chomsky diatribe about US foreign policy, and then pop out again for a kebab.

January 23rd; After Robin & Georgina drive off with the children to Budapest to see Jeremy & Zita's baby, I finish 'A Certain Chemistry' by Mil 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.
January 22nd; Quiet day. Georgina cooks venison. Robin & I drive to Cserkeszolo and when we get there, forget why.

January 21st; Went to see Olga 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 Robin's, 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 husband Paul 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 Levente 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".
January 20th; Quick drink last night with Erik, Robin3 the futurist, Bianca and Olen. Some proofing & tea today at Erik's. Later, I finished Moscow piece.

January 19th; I phone the sweeps, 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 their website, complete with music, so sound cards at the ready: a Hungarian version of that ghastly chimney sweep song from Mary Poppins.
For easy-to-use online privacy, bookmark ciphire.
January 18th; VOIP telecom colleagues give Rajiv a birthday cake. He & two January name-day celebrants find it hard to extinguish the candles, which curiously keep relighting even after being blown out 8 or 9 times.

January 17th; More work on the provisioning document. At school I mend Marion's magnetic board rubber while Dusan begins his overdue essay on science & religion.
January 16th; 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' average 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.

January 15th; 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 human genome and then take turns driving Lucio's steering-wheel-activated singing and spelling toy. In afternoon finish first draft of the phone-adapter document. Evening hot chocolate with female friend who relates recent adventures with BonkMan, and now reports worsened back pains.
January 14th; 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 course 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 Edward Lear.

January 13th; 5am start to catch flight back to Budapest. On train and plane read a short book called Horse Nonsense by the authors of the more famous 1066 and 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 rather seriously.
In the evening manage to get to Writers' Group at Elysia's, where the theme is dreaming.
January 12th; Quiet day around Hebden and Halifax. Read a short book of mother's about Velasquez, simply called 'Diego Velasquez' by Dieter Beaujean, from Ko:nemann. Several of the paintings - like this one - seem to fascinate art theorists and painters even more. The text describe his life as a Spanish court painter, and he seems to have been shrewd & professionally successful. His self-portraits 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 this and this. 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 his 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 Titian.

January 11th; Fly to Britain with mother.
January 10th; Breakfast of roast chestnuts on way to the VOIP office. The building has a ground floor and a floor 0.

January 9th; Sunday, 7am start. Final day with Tim at the paper mill.
January 8th; Back at the paper factory. I add the coloured magnetic dots to the floorchart, a vital contribution.
Dougal and the Blue Cat is a good script to read, the film being excellent, all the more striking since it was a set of characters usually squeezed into a 5-minute show 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. Serge Danot 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 'La Menage Enchante'. Eric 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 Glasgow 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 Tony 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 Manchester Liberal, 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.

January 7th; Started Josselin/Thompson screenplay of 'Dougal & the Blue Cat', published by Bloomsbury.
January 6th; Tea with Tim. Finish optimisation thing.

January 5th; Saw a telecom firm and an auto analyst.
January 4th; Still ill. Finish Terri's Pinker book: 'The Blank Slate'. Very politely, Pinker squares off against Blank Slaters like fellow v-spelling Steven Rose, 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 Locke's 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 'The 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 E.O.Wilson. He 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 Thomas 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, Hobbes and other pessimists, and undermines Godwin, Rousseau and the other hopeful revolutionaries who unwittingly paved the way for totalitarianism. I got bored in places. (Could have done without the Calvin 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 Frank 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.

January 3rd; In a shop window still decorated with spray-on snow designs this morning, saw lots of window panes framing big pentagonal snowflakes. * * * * * * 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.
January 2nd; Read some of Terri's Steven Pinker book. Hussam picks up someone's optimisation thesis I'm grammar-checking. Late drink with Mariann.

January 1st; 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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