More work on
book proposal. Robin's photographer friend Piera arrives from London.
Russia article and
article. Akos & his lovely half-Syrian wife
Zena come to stay the night at Robin's. The mysterious Zeno, who is also expected
but has no phone, does not come. Akos & Robin are good at table tennis, I find.
On the stopping train to
dusk falls over the Great Plain. I send a phone
text to Scott
to apologise for not going to his Hallowe'en party tonight.
He texts back that this is a pity, because his party will probably be
groaning with crumpet. Scott means girls, but I get a sudden
vision of mediaeval banquet tables groaning with actual crumpet. Monks
feasting on posset & capon. I get out at the deserted Tiszaug signalmen's hut.
Chilly, almost dark. The last traces
of sun tint the horizon magenta on one side, indigo on the other. Three-syllable colours
all over the place.
Go to dance class at wrong hour. Then an iced coffee with
who has a slightly lost-in-the-supermarket experience entering the
Robin, unable to go,
refers me to excellent party hosted by
William to show paintings by
These mainly featured slightly wild-eyed girls, more waif than gamine, as seen by a
Freud. As if in response, the party was full of chic, soft-eyed girls, more gamine than waif - in fact so many delightful & charming people there, quite wrong to name anyone.
Mihaela back, kindly offers Romanian page.
& Alan for drinks later.
Early night. Ten hours sleep.
Lunch with Liia at
Like yesterday on the Great Plain, it's warm & sunny again.
& Letty see me off in Kecskemet. Dull train trip back. Quick drink with
where the waiter decides my tip is insufficient,
so extracts extra from my change. Not convinced this country is going to learn.
Georgina afraid to have her
cards read. Letty decides she disapproves of the whole exercise.
Grey, rainy. Catch train to meet
Food not bad at
Goa, either. I finally
send first part of proposal to
sends news of her
job in the US. Perhaps everything does
with an e, after all.
cafe has WiFi.
Wake up humming 'Strangers in the Night'. The bookshop near the office still has its small
blackboard outside with a chalked message in Hungarian: "book, from the bookshop", which,
since they put "book" in the object form, suggests you fill in a verb in the imperative.
Reminds me of the large sign outside Ghana's Cape Coast University bookshop in the mid-70s,
which read "You too can own a book".
also has no WiFi, despite being listed as a hotspot. I strike 5th time lucky at smoky old
Szimpla Kert, however,
where part of the bar has a WiFi signal, the first venue in Budapest to honour its promise
on this point. Despite the "garden" label ('kert'), Szimpla looks set to stay open for the
winter, with the courtyard roofed by some kind of tarpaulin-type fabric. Better
get used to air replaced by cigarettes.
Wake out of depressing dream about an unstoppable crystalline growth taking
over the world, and go into the office earlyish. By night I try to find the WiFi hotspots
Sark Cafe and
Zsolnay Cafe: neither is on. I pay six dollars for a middling beer and a small bowl of soup, and an irritated waiter at the half-empty
tells me that they switched off the WiFi five hours before I
arrived because the restaurant is too full in the evenings. Very South of France.
hotspot list looks promising, though.
Wake up in Budapest. Put more details into Scott's
IMDB page. Attend
& Kalman's poetry-reading event
near Deli railway station in the evening.
Bright sunshine. Nigel & I have a late breakfast at a
cafe table spread with
supplements. I bore Nigel, burbling on about jigsaws & packs of cards. The
to Luton airport is uneventful. A French-looking girl across the aisle sulks all
the way. On the flight, I ask if I can have the beer & crisps changed to fruit juice & crisps.
This cannot be done, but when I order the crisps & juice as two separate items (& cheaper) this is no problem. The second stewardess adjusting my seat gets offended when I gently explain the seat is broken, snapping at me "Did I say anything? How am I supposed to know that?" Ah yes, Hungarians. At Budapest it takes 15 minutes to get passengers on and off an unnecessary bus that drives us 100 yards - we could have walked it in 1 minute. Then it takes 1/2 an hour to
get us through passport inspection, so making me miss the last BKV bus. So I must
pay for an overpriced minibus and put up with more self-important Hungarian girls,
irritated by a customer who actually asks for a receipt.
Train down to London, for over four times the price I could have paid for it if
website was not designed by
muppets and so worked properly. I find
Nigel at home. Together with Rimas, his Lithuanian builder, the three
of us have coffee together
while throwing around a squeezy purple rubber ball covered with
that glows in a sequence of gorgeous green, blue, pink, orange lights
when it hits something. This magnificent toy was indeed too good for Nigel's giant
Juno, moping under the kitchen table, but Nigel chides me for voicing this
thought aloud and hurting her feelings.
I try to buy a train ticket online, learning what a rubbish website
Official discharge from hospital, so mother no
longer out just "on leave". Dr Orange, face to face, looks startlingly like Andrew,
right down to the beard, build, soft voice, and slow, thoughtful manner.
Read Thomas More's
in Paul Turner's mid-60s translation from the Latin.
Story' is referred to in the introduction as being
a favourite of More's - a book
he and Erasmus translated from Greek. As a 1st-century-AD story of
people on the moon wearing flexible glass clothing, eating smoke, and breeding without
women, it sounds very curiously ahead of its time. More's Utopia sounds bearable and
cheering to someone with
sense of duty, humour & discipline, but pretty ghastly for
everyone else. Thoroughly worked out in detail, yet curiously unreflective, it has
numerous upside-down pre-Malthusian explanations of poverty and trade, all committed
to the lump of labour fallacy [still with us among
speculative thinkers who,
unlike More, should know better], and a wonderful section on gold being seen with
amused contempt, as material for children's baubles or chamber pots, not viewed as
better or cleaner than other metals. The simple insights that gold became favoured
for decorative trinkets because it is soft and easily worked to a fine level of
detail, remains shiny without rusting, and does not cause irritation when worn
next to the skin, seem never to have occurred to More. This is all assuming that
the book is not meant as a huge wind-up, but is a satire only in the sense of
saying how things could be, and having the occasional dig at contemporary
institutions with funny names like Lietalk [Parliament]. The translator suggests
we should take More at his word, and makes a convincing case of unpicking attempts
to show that More's views elsewhere differed. Utopia resembles a monastic life
with modest added facilities for marriage and families, and More's own lifestyle
suggests he was sincerely recommending Utopia, a country that placed fairness and
good will above what he seemed to see as England's and other European countries'
traditions of luxury, hypocrisy, privileged elites, and overworked peasants. It is
interesting to see the authoritarian undertone in his imagined state, where everyone
keeps an eye on everyone else, and contrast this with More's own experience of
the authoritarian nature of Tudor England - his failure to express support for
Henry VIII as leader of the church in England leading to his own execution. On one
level, More was clearly an astute, yet principled, politician and manager of men.
On another level, Utopia suggests he hardly understood people at all.
Mother & I shop, then cook a chicken.
Reread mother's copy of
by M.I. Finley, and got a little less vague
on all those backward-counting dates in the 400s and 300s. A nice, tidy account of
what made one of the greatest periods of human history great, and what kept it
nonetheless sadly fragile. Especially intriguing that after
made their great start at objective history, no subsequent historians
followed their lead. Then finished a copy of
that mother bought me 3 or 4 years ago. Some rather
plodding analytical essays about philosophy of mind, including a discussion of how
changing one's mind is a good way to understand the process of thinking, a piece
which is not quite a defence of free will, but a suggestion that there is room for
a defence, and a detailed discussion of pain in which Dennett divulges that he found
that by paying close attention to his own pain in the dentist's chair he was no longer
distressed by it. That paper mentions how some painkillers remove pain, while
others leave pain there, but the patient no longer cares about the pain. The
suggestion that perhaps pain is an instruction to stop doing something accompanied
by the urge to stop it [requiring that the being be able to choose what to do and
what to stop doing] almost, but never quite, occurs to Dennett, who still defends the
idea that a robot programmed to complain about a pain, just as a human would, to all
intents and purposes is experiencing the same thing as the human.
One essay discusses consciousness with the aid of several flowcharts, and a curious
paper suggests that people could easily be instantiations of
machines if they are
Turing machines [UTMs] simulating one or other Turing machine at different times.
This seems odd, since we need another mechanism to change the Turing machine the UTM
is simulating, and since the
Problem clearly rules out any living creature
evolving to be a Turing machine [since it would get eaten while stuck on a non-halting
calculation]. Of course Dennett has moved on since the 1980s, but to have thought so
carefully about the topic even then, and yet to have come up with so little, is a bit
depressing. I don't really know what to make of any of Dennett's thinking on mind.
Finally got through the last few pages of Pollack's second volume.
Eight Degrees of Wisdom: Part 2' covers the
Arcana, and three types
of Tarot reading. Pollack muddles herself in a couple of places, overlooking an
illustration printed upside down [two
reversed cards and one right way up, where it should have been one reversed and two
the right way up], and on page 134 writing that "...the left hemisphere ... deals with
rational and linear activities, while the right hemisphere ... deals with intuitive,
creative and holistic activities. (Left-handed people would appear to function the
other way round, the right side governing intuition, the left rationality.)" Elsewhere,
however, she retains her clear approach, and sums up the meanings of the other 56 cards
in a 78-card pack, card by card. Back when I read lots of
Dummett at college,
I was intrigued he had written a couple of non-philosophy books -
the Tarot. Might
be time to check those out. As with Part 1, the puzzling charm of Pamela Colman Smith's
for the Rider Waite pack is a big part of the book, especially as Smith
& Waite decided to create a picture for each number card, breaking with centuries of
Tarot tradition. This means there is a lot more to say or imagine about the three of
swords, the four of swords, the five of swords and so on - since they each have an
illustration of their own. I bought a Rider Waite pack in Bradford to practise
Pollack's chapter on readings, and a friendly shop assistant warned me to beware
of the power of the cards by imagining a bubble around myself which I should
fill with blue light.
Why would anyone go out of their way to buy food or drink at a hostelry which
charges to connect you to WiFi?
which offer free WiFi deserve our custom far more.
Bradford Internet cafe helps out again - I drop in at Ed's for bread &
cheese, then to his friend Galia
[a Mordovian speaker]
for tea & cake. Later I try
out WiFi in Leeds at a free-access hotspot in the bar of
hotel. On the slow
train back from Leeds, I read the book Ed lent me, which he warned me against:
Watching' by Geoffrey Beattie.
A psychologist [the cover bills him as 'Dr
Geoffrey Beattie'] writes a picture book meant to be both fun and thought-provoking
about body language at the beach. Unfortunately, many people read
Desmond Morris a
couple of decades ago, and there is not much here that is new or interesting. People
mirror postures if they like each other, and adopt non-mirror postures to show that
they dislike someone, or to create distance. They mark out territory with towels or
beach umbrellas, and... that's about it. Repetition suggests the 120-odd pages with
large colour photographs was hard to fill.
Page 9: "On holiday we often sit on
miniscule and very crowded stretches of sand with thousands of others, all jostling
for the best spots, all jostling for easy access to the water and the cafes to the
rear. Furthermore, on most beaches there are many different nationalities all cooped
up together, often not even able to speak a common language. The potential for some
sort of misunderstanding is enormous".
Page 46: "We sit often on a crowded stretch
of sand with thousands of others, all jostling for the best sites, and all jostling
for easy access to the water. On most beaches, there are many different nationalities,
all crammed together, often not even able to speak a common language. The potential
for misunderstanding is enormous, the potential for open conflict surely could not
Beattie explains at least four times that beaches are interesting
because people there wear very few clothes, so cannot show their social status
as easily as usual. A handful of detailed descriptions of incidents on the beach
[attempted approaches of girls by boys, families ignoring a nude male bather by
looking elsewhere, a conflict between two Glaswegians and two Germans over poolside
recliners] just add to the hum ho factor. Don't pay money for this book.
It seems mother will not need an
scan after all. We cook together after I try out
WiFi in Bradford.
Manchester for a laptop.
Mother continues to get better. I read one of her books, called
Eight Degrees of Wisdom: Part 1'
by Rachel Pollack, which is not just about
the Tarot pack, but about a specific section of a specific Tarot pack: the Major Arcana
of the Rider Waite pack, redrawn in 1909 by an American woman born in England called
Colman Smith. Overall the book is short, clear and sensible, sticking to the use
of Tarot cards as psychological reference points rather than magical predictors of
future happenings. Smith's drawings are attractive,
faux-mediaeval, vaguely reminiscent of some
Book illustrations in the 1890s. These sometimes get contrasted with
differently designed cards from other packs, although only three or four of Rider Waite's
are sharply changed from earlier Tarot sets. Pollack avoids claiming that
Tarot is ancient or Eastern, and while making some convincing sounding comparisons with
Kabbalistic tradition, and dropping in
a few times, steers fairly clear of most
occultists' tendency to see Buddhism, quantum mechanics, and
Sufism inextricably blended
wherever they look. Pollack writes as if Smith was working to close instructions from
Edward Waite, and Smith gets less credit than you might expect from a woman writer.
The pack has his name, not Smith's, perhaps rightly if he edited her drawings rigorously.
The book's structure is clear:
explains each card in turn, with one or sometimes
two pictures, following up with the second meaning in the case when the card is 'reversed',
so if it is upside down as a picture compared to the other cards when laid out.
Mother readjusting to home. I finish an indifferent book from Hebden library called
'The Pig that Wants
to be Eaten - and 99 other thought experiments' by Julian Baggini,
one of the last decade's many book efforts to show folk what stimulating stuff philosophy
can be. Sadly, the book succeeds both in making the thought experiments look silly and the
resulting philosophical discussion sound dry. Perhaps forty thought experiments might
have worked better, though the publisher probably begged for them each to be kept as
short as possible.
closes triumphantly with a thought experiment along the lines of 'would you
eat at a restaurant which was very cheap because the staff are all low-paid immigrants
who have to live in the cellar?' then claiming that buying imports from countries with
low-wage labour amounts to the same thing. He says that
"conversely competition from
Nest cafe means properly paid workers elsewhere lose theirs",
showing that he does not
of labour fallacy, and completely missing that Japan, Korea, Taiwan
[and every other rich country] all got rich, as China & India are currently
getting rich, precisely by competing initially as cheap-labour manufacturers. Nor does
he realise that being poorly paid in a high-wage,
cold-winter country with expensive prices is not the same as being paid the same
amount in a warm country with cheap prices. He calls
comparison with other people's wages in other countries bogus, when of course the real
comparison is with what food and shelter costs in those countries, which in turn sets
average wage levels there.
A number of the experiments close with Baggini saying something weak about
how there is still a lot to discuss, or it is hard to decide what is the right answer.
Nice idea overall, but neither the writing nor the thinking really up to the challenge. As
with many book ideas built using a round number like 100, several of the thought
experiments are not really any such thing and show the writer was struggling to make up
Room metaphor gets complicated by being translated into another,
unhelpful metaphor which is even more obscure than
Later I finish
by Matthijs van Boxsel, translated into English by Arnold and Erica Pomerans. Filled
throughout with small line drawings taken from woodcuts and engravings over the last
five centuries, this is an odd and intriguing book. The front cover photograph, a close-up
of a sheep gazing into the camera lens with amiable curiosity, is particularly appealing.
Claiming that intelligence really emerges from stupidity, and
that "no-one is intelligent
enough to understand his own stupidity", dotted with literary quotes about daftness
and dull-wittedness, van Boxsel seems to be saying something clever, carefully disguising
its own cleverness. An odd section in the middle dives into a discussion of the French
formal garden versus the English garden tradition of Capability Brown, contrasting the
French 'ah-ah' with the English 'ha-ha': one being a flat trench enabling the formal
layout of Versailles-style French gardens to seemingly carry on horizonwards without an
edge, while the 'ha-ha', the one-sided English trench, apparently does the opposite,
bringing the countryside into the garden. At least if I understand what he's
saying. [Both trenches are virtual fences for sheep or cows, hidden to
human spectators looking from a distance.] Another bit hidden among all
the joking is about Mandeville's
of the Bees', which he says in 1714 claimed that
exactly the qualities which make individual people so irritating is what enables them
to work together successfully as a community - foreshadowing Smith's remark about
the butcher and baker supplying us with meat and bread out of self-interest, not
out of benevolence. Elsewhere, van Boxsel suggests that the stupidness of constitutional
monarchy is vital to making democracy work well - he makes this paradox quite convincing
too. Some irritated book reviews complete a charming package.
Scientist asks "Surely
no-one would buy such a book? But it turns out the tome was a
true believers in the virtues of cleverness].
Tatler gets on the
front cover, saying "Some may not need this;
for everyone else it's essential." My
favourite is what sounds like an exasperated
quoted as tartly remarking "I tried reading the book in
A morning of negotiating on the phone. Dr Orange cautiously agrees that I can take
mother home this evening, but that she remains legally in
hospital. Ed takes me
there, and drives us back. She is extremely glad to get out. Each of the four days
I visited, the compulsive patient was anxiously cleaning behind the
hand rail in the ward corridor. We leave him still at it.
A day conferring with Ed as to how I should get my mother out of hospital. We meet in
Bradford's importantly named
Museum of Photography, Film and Television, where I am immediately taken with
a book written by a Dutchman called 'The Encyclopaedia of Stupidity', and so buy it.
Ed laughs when I complain of the overwhelming aroma of chip fat in the museum's clean
and modern looking restaurant, so go elsewhere for lunch at
a place called the Love Apple. He shows me an
Internet cafe near his
home. On my way home from the hospital, I sit down to a dinner of battered haddock,
with the stupidity book, in a completely empty
Halifax fish-and-chip restaurant [with much less chip fat in the air], called Pride of
Whitby. As far as I recall,
is one of Britain's former fishing ports consigned to poverty
nautical miles of territorial water for itself in
the mid-1970s while successfully portraying countries like Britain as aggrandising bullies.
Entering mother's dark empty house at night I smell the warm, furry
scent of her several-years-dead Alsation, Liam.
A very alert grey squirrel
crosses the track at
Hebden while I wait
for my train to
Halifax. On the train a
slumped man gloomily watches a miniature television screen
in his lap. The death of
Caulfield, an artist I liked when at school, makes the Guardian front page.
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
markgriffith at yahoo.com
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