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2005
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December 31st; Read a book by Rupert Sheldrake. 'The sense of being stared at' is straightforwardly sensible and daringly bizarre by turns. Once-orthodox biologist Sheldrake has, in the years since 'Nature' called his first weird book about morphic resonance "a book for burning", been doing experiments with animal telepathy. He has the innocent idea of, when people claim their dog "knows" when their owner is coming home, or even has formed the intention of coming home, methodically testing their claims. This book contains much of his material on this, but rather more. He makes the startling proposal that when children, primitives, and the ancients, think that vision is something coming out of the eyes, not just in, that they might be right and modern biology [for whom the eye is only a receiver of light] wrong. Next to that one, another suggestion - that waking a couple of minutes before your alarm clock goes off or your alarm call comes through [as I always do] is not a form of internal clock but an everyday form of seeing into the future - sounds positively tame. Clearly I underestimated Sheldrake when Andrew took me to see him in Kensington in the 80s. No shortage of boldness, whatever else.

December 30th; Visit very helpful e-cafe in Halifax. Grey, rainy day.
December 29th; John finds me in a Chinatown Internet cafe. Chilly night.

December 28th; Read the book I gave mother for Christmas. 'Penguin by Design' by Phil Baines, though a handsome picture book of 70 years of smart and clever Penguin covers, was oddly reminiscent of 'Stet'. Much the same period, 1935 to 2005, is covered, and there is the same story of decline. Idealistic young designers, editors and publishers slowly slide over the postwar decades towards ever more confused-looking books. Both accounts show modernism failing, as what looked sharp & new in one decade becomes old-fashioned in the next. For the first 15 or 20 years Allen Lane and his young designers were brightly confident that modernism and good taste were compatible - or even synonymous. It slowly emerges that they are neither: the same wistful history as modernism in architecture. What worked for both was a kind of classicism that insisted on undercutting itself. A gorgeous book visually, packed with sharp, attractive cover designs. Refreshing to read accounts of people who really cared about typefaces: the early use of Gills Sans shows Penguin's real roots in Bodley Head and the Arts & Crafts passion of the 1890s. But by the 1990s, when Penguin dropped the Pelican imprint under pressure from American partners for clashing with a US book series and for being "too highbrow", a similar failure to that in Athill's narrative becomes clear. A quick sum based on shop assistants' wages and cigarette prices in 1935 and 2005 suggests Penguin paperbacks have tripled in real price. Lose the founding mission to print smart, affordable, accessible paperbacks on serious subjects, and what's left of Penguin?
December 27th; In small hours finish mother's copy of Diana Athill's book about her life as an editor. 'Stet', despite being written in an upbeat, brisk tone, is rather a sad story. From the 1940s to the 1990s, Athill worked for Andre Deutsch, as a partner and book editor. Apart from enjoying offices at quite attractive London addresses, it seems neither Athill nor Deutsch felt they had much to show for five decades helping novelists like Mailer, Roth, Naipaul, Updike, Rhys get their first books published. She was charmed and inspired by him, but depicts Deutsch as nastily critical of colleagues he liked to their faces, slyly nasty about employees he didn't like behind their backs [until they left of their own accord], and deeply forgiving of himself. Andre Deutsch was a Hungarian. As being an independent book publisher in the 1980s grew ever bleaker, his phrase "It's not fun any more" sums up the firm's failure to outgrow its energetic but flawed founder. As authors join them and then leave them for bigger publishers, until Deutsch sells off the backlist to no avail, Athill's crisp, cheerful prose has an ever more depressing effect. A poignant moment at the end when she revisits an editorial office after her retirement and marvels happily that "It's still there" ["It" standing for "being young", she explains] makes me wonder if she was in love with Deutsch for decades as she toiled for him like a junior rather than a partner. Two tiny photographs on the book's cover show Athill, in one at what looks like an elegant yet lively fancy-dress party in the late 1940s. Beautifully written, not least because of her fair-mindedness. Yet imagining her polishing the prose of self-important novelists for fifty years seems a dreadful waste for all her protestations of having found it a lot of fun.

December 26th; Ryan phones from Michigan. Mentions Mises. Finish Mr Carlson's copy of the Robert Greene book, 'The Art of Seduction'. This ever-so-slightly-sinister tome is a typographically lush guide to seducing people, using lots of examples from both literature and history. By "lush" I mean playful use of shaped paragraphs at each chapter start and finish (text in ovals, triangles, shapes reflecting the personality type of that chapter), plus use of lilac italic margin notes quoting sources like Homer's Odyssey, Casanova's diaries, Stendhal on love and so forth. This part - the handsome design of the book - is presumably down to Joost Elffers, designer/editor/'producer'. (Elffers' book on birthdays is probably the one used at the party of Jaap's that Robin mentioned.) The design of Greene's book very successful - just a smidgeon of disappointment at finding typos on both page 107 and 108 in such an otherwise sumptuous, carefully-presented text. Am fairly sure it was Greene's other book (on laws of power) that I found on Andrei's bookshelves a couple of years back. Another set of lessons drawn from history and literature. In 'Art of Seduction' Greene distinguishes 18 types of victim for seduction, and ten types of seducer. The basic idea is: choose a compatible person whose weaknesses and illusions you understand, and use the seduction method that best suits your own personality. Though he claims that everyone wants to be seduced (he quotes one wit who claims that virtue is just an appeal to be more stylishly seduced), chapter headings like 'Mix pain and pleasure' or 'Master the art of insinuation' are vaguely alarming, nonetheless. Very readable and interesting. A queasy hint of the overdoing-the-box-of-chocolates feeling afterwards.
December 25th; Christmas Day. Chicken, cheese, mandarins.

December 24th; Christmas Eve. Find mother's old copy of Seidensticker's English translation of Murasaki Shikibu's 'The Tale of Genji' on a top shelf. Bit bulky for paperback format.
December 23rd; I finish the Peter of Spain logic book borrowed on Mariann's ticket, drop it off at the library on the way to the airport, and fly to Manchester. Two separate men, one at the airport, one at Victoria railway station, are so drunk that they cannot get off the floor. This book, 'Petrus Hispanus Mester Logikajabol' by Gennadiosz Szkholariosz, was a translation into Greek of the main mediaeval logic textbook by Peter of Spain from the 1200s. Western students used this text to study Aristotle and logic even up to Thomas More's time. The odd journey Aristotelian logic went on was translation from Greek to Arabic, Arabic to Latin in Spain, and - in this case - translation back into Greek just in time for Byzantium to fall to the Turks. The translator into Greek, Gennadios, actually saw the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and served as Orthodox Patriarch after the Turkish conquest. This dual-translation edition by the Joszoveg / Hianypotlo [Good text / Filling a gap] publisher had his Greek on the left [by the 1400s the Greek-speaking East was an intellectual backwater, and even a 200-year-old Latin text was cutting edge] and the Hungarian version of Maria Szabo on the right. Nice and short. Peter elaborates his own taxonomy of types around the Aristotelian syllogism, and lays out differences between categories of Aristotelian inference clearly. Extraordinary to read something by the mysterious Peter of Spain at last. Budapest's central lending library has no fewer than four copies of this apparently vital text on its shelves.

December 22nd; More merriment with Mr Carlson, this time with his friends the mellow Jack and the mesmerising Nora. I duck out of the party later.
December 21st; Cheery dinner with Mr Carlson.

December 20th; Hangover. Another Heesch tiling page.
December 19th; Mr Carlson joins us at the VoIP firm. Evening office party at a restaurant, accompanied by Politics Judit's utterly charming friend Isabel. I find I like Pina Caladas a lot, and the way Isabel pronounces it suggests there is a little squiggly tilde on top of the n.

December 18th; Help Liia move some boxes to Vera's. Vera gives me the rest of the almond scent she is burning because I like it so much.
At evening's end I get to the end of '
ISP Survival Guide', a densely written book from the office about Internet service providers. How do I start to describe this? One of Geoff Huston's sentences: "A sad reflection of the conflict of short-term objectives and longer term considerations is that the evident short-term motivations of ready and equitable access to the IPv4 address [which were the motivational factors in determining the current Internet address allocation policies] run the consequent risk of monopoly-based restrictive trade and barrier-based pricing as a longer term outcome of unallocated address space exhaustion." "Exhaustion" is right: the book is long and poorly written. Most sentences could have been cut in half or removed. Huston's networks never have shapes or grids or plans - they have topologies, architectures, environments and scenarios. Nothing less than four syllables will do. He is fond of words like 'germane' and 'antonym', and likes 'carriage' (the noun for carrying data) so much that he uses it eight times in one paragraph. At least 100 terms are missing from the glossary, and to make space for an extra ten pages of glossary this six-hundred-page block of a book could have dropped around two hundred pages of the kind of sentence quoted above. Some interesting technical topics are discussed - a chapter on payment models for data packets finds problems with all the best guesses of how best ISPs can charge each other for passing on Internet traffic. Some intriguing terms are introduced: I enjoyed "lollipop sequence spaces" and "split horizon with poison reverse", but some are introduced without any explanation at all, while others are only explained badly. One thing he does a lot of is explain a term 50 or 100 pages after he starts using it. Many of the diagrams are unhelpful, though some are very good. Things he understands well, such as network protocols, are explained too tersely, though embedded in long-winded sentences anyway. Things he understands less well, such as economics and business, are laboured at huge length. To be fair to Huston, he may not have expected many people to read it all the way through, and there were perhaps not many people qualified to write this book in 1998. On the other hand, that's what editors and ghost writers are for. Problem is, you need modesty to even think of hiring writing help, and wading through the closing hundred pages of his pompous non-predictions about Internet "futures" and "policy" should leave no reader in any doubt as to just how modest this writer is. One section has him archly apologising for using a word as "misused and meaningless" as 'multimedia'. This is after hundreds of pages of writing 'impacting' instead of 'affecting' or 'influencing' or 'changing' - and repeatedly using 'issues' instead of 'problems', or 'drawbacks' or 'flaws'... Why use one word for both 'topic' or 'theme' ('issues') and for things going wrong ('issues' again), so blurring what you want to distinguish? No surprise several sad, exhausted readers on the Internet are trying to sell this 30-dollar book for two dollars sixty. As Mark Twain said of the Book of Mormon: "chloroform in print".
December 17th; To get some better lightbulbs with more candlepower, I pop over to shopping centre. While I have my shoe off outside Media Markt trying to undo a stubborn shoelace knot, I find Erik standing over me. I undo knot, we buy electrical goods, we drink milkshakes, we sight Scott. On the top floor of the mall, Erik points out to me that the Palmers lingerie shop is exactly between a clothes shop called Envy and another clothes shop called Amnesia.

December 16th; After work and after a decade, I give Pista his maths books back. We shelter from the sleet in a small cafe.
December 15th; Lunch, catch up with Tim. After work, over a beer, I try to help sort out Reka's love hexagon.

December 14th; Meet Sebestyen. Start this. Meet Scott.
December 13th; Thoughtful piece via a&ld, on "radical losers", in journal with silly pun title.

December 12th; As we leave the house on the Great Plain at 7am, 5-year-old Bela throws a fit about which coat to wear. Georgina drives Bela to the nursery, and then Letty and me to Kecskemet. I reach the railway station just missing a train I'd like to have caught, and am told that the timetable has changed. This would be why the MAV muppets took the timetable website down yesterday, exactly the day their passengers would need it most? Presumably they don't know how to update a website offline. This mysterious timetable change makes me wait an hour and a half in Kecskemet to get on the 9.30am slow train to Budapest. After a long day, I relax over milkshakes with Kerstin.
December 11th; Cakes in Kunszentmarton. Train website down.

December 10th; Chilly day with lemon-sharp sun streaming across the Great Plain. I take photos of Robin's Etch-a-Sketch toy outdoors in the wind. Later we go for a walk: his over-enthusiastic dogs Vicky & Lupi run after the scent of some deer and need restraining & retrieving. Indoors I teach Kasper rules for 5x6 mini-chess, like those reduced versions Laszlo Polgar is promoting. After dark Robin & I drive to inspect the Tiszakurt Internet cafe, past a few farm cottages with strings of flashing Xmas lights draped over them. Tiskainoka's parish church has a five-foot-high pentacle made of fairy lights proudly mounted halfway up the belltower. In Tiszakurt's only bar we meet two excited girls dancing beside a jukebox.
December 9th; Give talk at office about Skype. Discussion afterwards quite good. On train to Robin's, I sit next to a large, quiet man in a suit & tie. We wish each other good appetite as we start eating our separate meals, and then wish each other good health as we sip glasses of identical beer. One European House!

December 8th; Waiting for my underground train to meet Politics Judit, I pass an Intimissimi lingerie poster on the platform. A Hungarian man & woman are casually examining the clinging negligee in the poster, talking about whether the mannequin's nipples have been digitally erased. I join the discussion. The man & I wonder if there is also something suspiciously Photoshopped about the area around her mouth.
Politics Judit is in full flow inside a cafe called Negro, next to the cathedral, where she introduces me to Isabel from Madrid [Judit keeps calling her "Spain"] and Robert from Hamburg. Tarot readings and good cheer.
December 7th; A lozenge of bright sunshine creeps across my wall as I wake up. As I get up and get dressed it crosses the board-mounted photograph of the Margit Kovacs ceramic sculpture [of a mother & two children] hanging above my bed. I could place a mirror or two to act as a silent alarm clock by directing a sunbeam onto my face at a precise time each morning [adjusting the mirrors a bit each week for the seasons]. Like the silent doorbell in 'Our Man Flint'.

December 6th; Wake this morning out of vivid dream about being drawn into a vegetarian sex cult made up mainly of petite, dark-haired girls dressed as giant peanuts. Am still coughing up chunks of phlegm. On crowded underground train to work, I blow my nose badly, so splatter dignified woman in glasses sitting next to me. Without comment, she carefully wipes my snot off her face while staring gloomily into the middle distance, as is the Hungarian way. At lunchtime we get a talk at the office from a motivational speaker who has no arms. After work I meet Sebestyen at the Academy of Sciences for a fruit tea, before getting to Buda to find that Andrej has done not one, but two, sonnets as homework. Perhaps eating all his fruit gums last time effective.
December 5th; 2nd half of interesting slide show about how to do presentations for managers.

December 4th; In the dining car from Szolnok back to town, a sad effort to be Xmassy has draped tinsel over some windows. One cord of blinking orange lights snakes the length of two tables at one end of the carriage.
December 3rd; Edina & Geza drop by at Robin's. We are all ill. Edina answers my questions about her thesis on witches, dragons & magic horses. Robin & Geza get involved in doing things with black ink on hundreds of old business cards. I discover Robin's Etch-a-Sketch toy.

December 2nd; Interesting meeting at work about ISP business models. Bump into Mr Carlson. Afterwards I rush to catch the last train to Robin's on the Great Plain.
December 1st; Fly to Budapest. I've found English flight crews always say "Use of mobile phones during the flight is forbidden because they can interfere with navigational equipment." Hungarian flight crews always say "Use of mobile phones during the flight is forbidden." Straight from airport to school to see Rachel, a charming history applicant. Afterwards, I see Franc's vast photo task for myself, laid out in rows and rows across his floor.

Mark Griffith, site administrator / markgriffith at yahoo.com

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