Kenneth Galbraith died yesterday aged 97. Today, Georgina & I cycle into
the village to see if we can borrow a chain saw. Lajos agrees to lend
one, and brings it over to saw the legs off a garden structure. Later Geza
comes over to do some sketching, and Edina comes over to go over the translation of
her witches-&-dragons thesis with me again, and correct my Arabic homework.
& I drive to Tiszasas to meet a carpenter, who tells us that the city of
Venice is supported on piles made of
pine? On the way back we pass a warehouse
with white walls, bright blue metal roofs, surrounded by fields of intensely
yellow rapeseed. In the afternoon I bake a carrot cake from Georgina's recipe.
My old Bulgarian accountant friend Ljubo kindly sends me the first ten thousand
just in case they should come in handy. Later, another visit to
of The Stapled Head, whom we disturb playing football with some friends in his long,
narrow garden. He shows Robin and Bela and me some antiques, plies us with strong
red wine made from his grapes, and explains where his garden hedgehog lives. Back
at Robin's, the wine forces me to doze for a couple of hours,
sliding in and out of very odd dreams.
Back in the gym. Later, run to catch train to
Robin's in the countryside.
Due to residual post-flood-peril silliness, bits of rail track are closed off, so
train from Lakitelek to Tiszaug turns into a bus. A completely silent group of
country people wait patiently under a tree outside the Lakitelek railway station
next to a blue coach. I ask them if it will pass through Tiszaug. One or two
nod, eyeing me suspiciously. After ten
minutes a small group of men plod wearily over to the bus. The man who is the driver
stonily ignores us, not meeting anyone's eyes, his normal sullenness up
a couple of notches to achieve the internationally-understood
Gloomily he puts me off at some sliproad blocked by a road barrier, vaguely gesturing
the village is just down the road. The closed railway station where Robin
is patiently waiting for me is in fact two miles away. This is not brought closer
by my mistaken sunny half-hour detour walking rail bridges, crossing the
lakelike swollen river Tisza, its far edge
lost in a vista of half-drowned trees. Eventually Robin and three of his children find
me somewhere in the village of Tiszaug, resting in the shade outside a bar.
Oversleep for my morning appointment with Drew, who kindly buys us a breakfast of
soft, doughy cheese & sour-cream things inside the big market hall. He does this
while recording my munching sounds and interviewing me for his
Then we have a couple of
liqueurs and chat about life. Swimming pool
closed so I go weight-training instead. Perhaps a blessing, since so hot today I
might have sizzled like a strip of bacon at the open-air pool.
Urban geographer Jane
Jacobs dies, aged 89. It was her books that first got me interested in
Pre-lunch drink with Robin. He describes visiting
and his tame ravens, kestrels, and most enticingly, a completely albino peacock.
to meet a cheerful Jeremy at Menza, where I hear first-hand how Jeremy got
stabbed a few weeks ago.
He describes the taxi ride with British Friend Over For Weekend, who,
in an advanced state of merriment, began tickling the Hungarian taxi driver with
some paper money. Taxi driver slightly over-reacts by calling a heavy friend to
meet them. They meet. Heavy mistakenly sets about Jeremy with a big piece of wood
(While British Friend Over For Weekend cowers in back of taxi?), but when Jeremy
removes wood from thug and gets him by throat, thug stabs Jeremy in chest.
Surprisingly he is well again after a couple of days in hospital, describes the police
as friendly, and successfully identifies heavy in a line-up - who is now apparently
looking at three to five years inside. All a bit unnecessary from sneaky, cowardly taxi
driver, seems to me. As a finish, Jeremy chucklingly discloses that British Friend
Over For Weekend is apparently quite senior in Customs and Excise, and on the Monday
morning after presented a research document to Chancellor Brown about British binge
Early evening fruit juice with Mihaela, who kindly presents me with a tiramisu! She
enthuses about the Guy-Fawkes-themed film
is for Vendetta' she saw the night before.
Later, on to another venue for drinks & cakes with Rob, who is a bit poorly. He shows
me pictures of his 8-month-old daughter Mali looking quite pert and thoughtful.
We chat about religion until
appears, surprising us with news of her improving
Russian. All rather social really.
Second session at Liia's dentist. This time a descaling session - referred to in
Hungarian with quaint directness as removing "tooth-stone". I am naturally very
frightened of his nasty, whizzy grinding tool, though he tries not to hurt me.
In his waiting room before getting started, I finish the last couple of pages of
the unspellable Bernard Lietaer's
Future of Money'. A bit sad that a book on
such an important topic, by someone so well qualified to write it, is such a mess.
It is appallingly edited. The final (and most interesting) chapter is called 'A
primer on how money works' but throughout the chapter the top of each page says
'A primer on how money work'. Several graphs have careless errors in - one has
what looks like fragments of dates left in mixed with amounts of money. Other
diagrams are hideous, with no errors, but creating confusion with unneeded stick men
symbolising union between hovering boxes of jargon. The typography
is ugly, with a mix of san-serif and serif fonts, some in grey
boxes, some with horrible square bullets. The whole is dotted with
more grey boxes called "sidebars", not to the side at all, but interrupting
the main text like advertising breaks. The book is larger and heavier than
necessary, with very thick paper. Sad, because when Lietaer
says that alternative currencies are the most important social force of today, he
is right, but no-one will believe him, unless, like me, they've been interested in
this for years and don't need persuading. He gives a clear explanation of how
interest rates discount the future, while demurrage (negative interest - a charge for
holding money) does the opposite. His book is full of interesting nuggets,
like the fact that the Dutch dyke-builders
are still faithfully paying interest on perpetually-dated 16th-century land-drainage
bonds, or that the Roman Catholic church only stopped condemning usury in the 19th
century. Some points - like his worry about the scale of speculation in the world
currency markets - are well expressed, and he has a lively tone. I would have liked
to read more about his background as a currency trader and central banker. This book
might be an excellent way of reaching the activists he most wants
to address. His time-travel vignettes of life in 2020 were embarrassing, but
they might get the message across to many. The material about
Gesell was the
most interesting. By evening to Castro's for a chat with Margo. Using their WiFi, I put a
Your Own Currency
proposal onto MySociety.org's site in Gesell's honour.
Coffee Company cafe on Terez crescent turns out to have a WiFi connection,
but a very poor one. A waiter tells a guest it is a German firm.
I finish two of his books I was enjoying.
is an account by E.H. Shephard of his childhood in the 1880s, with his own pen illustrations.
Guide to Elegance' is a book by Genevieve Dariaux telling women how they can dress smartly and look chic.
The book itself is sumptuously printed, with a clean blue dust cover and perfectly laid-out pages. It gives no visual evidence of
having been discreetly edited up to date (from 1963 to 2003) with a handful of extra mentions of things like mobile phones. The
style is clear and sharp in the French style. (Women should not go clothes shopping with girlfriends. Lipstick should never be
outlined.) This crisp simplicity is slightly spoiled by the lack of credit to any translator from the French, and a handful of
mistakes. One point has a typo across the page from a use of 'disinterested' where Dariaux meant 'uninterested'. Nonetheless,
the rational, modest tone with which Dariaux explains how she "transforms a plain woman into an elegant one" is like a drink of
cool water on a hot day.
Meanwhile, Shephard's book is beautifully written,
in clear, simple prose. It expresses his nostalgia for the years when he was a small boy, very much loved his mother, drawing
very well already aged eight. His writing is never cloying or sentimental though. In his sketches his own small self looks
startlingly like his drawings of Christopher Robin in the Winnie the Pooh books that - much to Shephard's annoyance - became
the work he was best remembered for.
On the train back to Budapest I finished the last of the four ghastly Euripedes plays in
English in the Penguin Classics edition of
and other plays I picked up for one pound at Oxfam in Hebden Bridge, translated by
Philip Vellacott. This
last play was 'Heracles' (Hercules). The hero arrives back home from his labours just in time to save his father, wife and children
from ignominious death, only for a goddess to send him into a fit of madness (motivated by little more than spite), in which Heracles
then murders his own wife and three sons. The supposed nastiness of women (and by
extension, goddesses) is something of a theme running through these four plays. Medea
kills not only her husband's new wife (with a poisoned dress & crown she judges the
other woman's vanity will not be able to resist) but her own two children so as to
distress her unfaithful husband to the extreme. Hecabe gets a group of women together to
cunningly lure a bad man into a trap. Once he is in their tent, they slit the throats of
his children, and then hold him down and put his eyes out with their brooch needles.
Rather more heavy-duty than I was counting on.
Once off the train, I make it the birthday parties of both Mr Saracco (where I meet
a drum manufacturer, and his lovely companion Inez) and Reka (where I meet Bence and lots
of other former students). Much revelry.
Because of the
in surrounding villages, helicopters and small planes fly over
house all day. Some lower-lying villages have already been partly evacuated. Francis
sends me a link to
home page. It covers
upside-down maps, two-dimensional computer languages, and the inspired
by which people agree to give money to good causes if a certain number of others
river Tisza is now brimming right at the top of the dyke.
& Georgina went to the dyke with food & refreshments for volunteers, helping them fill
sandbags for an hour before I even got up. They say the whole village was down
there, shovelling sand until it ran out. Worrying thunder and heavy rain all afternoon
stop us from going back for a second session that will be possible when the new sand
Rise late feeling ill myself. The doctor comes in his orange car to visit Robin,
and while he's at it pronounces my blood pressure normal.
PublicWhip.org.uk e-mail me
a list of MPs who voted against ID
cards [high on the list] and
for ID cards
[low on the list].
is the list. Going out of the house at night here, I face a
barrage of throbbing frog music in the grass. It seems to occupy all the sound space
between baritone and treble, and like a wall of sound gives the impression of being 5000
frogs, though it's probably nearer 15. From indoors there seems to be a high insect
trilling on top, but no actual insects outdoors yet. It's still frogs all the way down.
& I cannot visit Balla's studio, because Csongrad is cut off by
flood wardens. Robin still ill.
& I drive to Kecskemet to deliver Zita to her train,
learning by phone as we drive back that the now less-enigmatic Aron was waiting
for her in the railway station so he could kick or knock her coffee out of her hand.
More excitement! Later a thoughtful painter from Csongrad,
Balla, arrives for lunch and he & Robin discuss karmic destiny [Balla is Buddhist],
his years living in Sweden, and the role of art in society's spiritual life, rather
testing my interpreting skills. As an aside, Balla mentions that
he is currently interested in women with body-builders' physiques.
Anesti! We all paint eggs in the kitchen. Mid-afternoon: egg & spoon race,
3-legged race, and grandmother's footsteps. Afterwards, Georgina & Zita cook a
wonderful Easter Sunday roast followed by delicious lemon pudding. I awake from
an early-evening snooze to see the enigmatic Aron leaving in a scene of some
confusion just as this dinner is about to be served. Apparently drunk, he sets off
into the night in only the shirt he arrived in, returning some hours later to
sleep in the table-tennis room.
Out in warm sun pegging up my wet washing on the line to the sound of a distant
cockerel. I sit on a white garden chair in sunshine, and find that a
green frog with a stripe down each side is sitting on the chair next to mine. Not
believing those stories, I do not kiss it. Later to Tiszakurt with Robin,
Kasper, Bela & Vicki the fox terrier in the Izh motorbike with sidecar to meet
Constantine. We are stopped while motoring along the top of the dyke because
water is high and vehicles are banned in case
vibrations cause the dyke to leak. Kasper eats a couple of beetles for some
reason. Tea in garden with Constantine later. After dark the enigmatic Aron arrives
to sleep on the floor in the boys' room.
A peaceful, tranquil Good Friday. Returning from a little Easter shopping with
near Cserkeszolo, he takes me to meet
Csaba of The Stapled Head, who warmly welcomes us with palinka/schnapps, jaffa cakes,
and multivitamin juice. We meet Tomika, his easygoing tyre-mechanic friend.
Hospitable Csaba gives
Robin a pot plant and takes us round his kitchen garden: his almond tree is in
blossom. I play with the large blue
die his promotional hostess
girlfriend uses to award people
Mall gift cigarettes. You tap the bottom and after a little flashing sequence,
illuminated green dots settle down to show a number from 1 to 6.
I briefly hide behind my fingers while Csaba proudly
plays the DVD of hospital photos from his toboggan accident in
Sud Tirol. We also admire
Csaba's cellar full of water which he has on occasion stocked with fish, and
the goats' skulls he sells on the Internet after boiling the heads.
Rob tells me that he had started becoming worried about his dentist, even before I
to see him. Apparently on Rob's last two visits, his Tatra street dentist had been
talking slightly unsettlingly about giant cracks in Rob's teeth, and urging him as a
cure for this to drink something over four pints of beer each night before going to sleep.
Manage to get on the last train to Kunszentmarton to be picked up by
upset myself on the last leg of the train journey reading another of Euripedes'
nasty tragedies about vengeful women.
14 hours sleep. Suitably refreshed, float over to see Liia's dentist, bumping into
cheerful Liia herself just leaving her appointment. Mr Dentist tut tuts over my panoramic
jaw x-ray, and convinces me to have my remaining
tooth removed so as to scrape out an apparently
menacing cyst underneath. Once out, the tooth indeed looks to have reached a pretty sad
state. What a wonderful thing is anaesthetic. Final mineral water
with Houcyne before Easter later.
To Kalvin square for a quick and efficient
dental x-ray, then to
office to pick up the books and papers I left there in January. Looks fairly deserted (Adam no longer works there, among many who have left) but still some kind of minimal business running under the new CEO. Lunch with Liia, Les & his fiancee from Croatia, Mr Carlson, and Paul. Then Houcyne and I walk up Gellert Hill, making me feel very out of condition. Perhaps a little foolish of me so soon after a four-day fast.
Wake at 11am after four hours sleep. Beautiful spring sunshine. After an extra-long cold
shower, and generally making myself fresh and sweet-smelling for any dentist that will see
me, I stroll out into the sun, light-headedly thinking about food.
A short but vaguely tiring walk down Tatra street takes
me to the address of Rob's and
dentist. His sign has no phone number or opening hours on it, just two names and the word
'dentist', so I press his buzzer.
"Yes?" replies a weary yet smug voice. Pause.
I ask if he is the dentist and I can come in.
"No surgery today", he replies, sighing at
my stupid presumption that I can simply step into his clinic. Who do I think I am? After
two months in Yorkshire, I really had forgotten what Hungarians are like - he acts like
he is patiently putting up with me. I point out I have no way of knowing
when his clinic is open. He tells me to phone for an appointment without telling me his
phone number and our conversation ends. I walk slowly onto the main street and notice
something I have never seen before. A bright sunbeam strikes the overhead tram wires,
highlighting two coppery streaks hovering in mid-air as they follow me down the crescent.
I get on a tram to the next possible dentist, recommended by
on Saturday. An angry-looking pair of women, mother & daughter, are near me on the tram,
and when it suddenly brakes they both lose balance and crash into me and into each other.
They don't apologise to me, of course, but they do start colourfully swearing at each
other. I get off, find the second dentist also closed. At least it has a phone
number on its street sign, even if no clinic hours. All around, drawn out by the spring
sun, are large numbers of pretty Hungarian girls. Without exception they are all
immaculately slim, and either stony-faced or scowling. Friends have suggested in the
past that these two facts are connected, and that a large minority of young Hungarian
women, to keep their figures at mannequin standards, are only eating five or six small
meals a week. Perhaps my short break from eating gives me some insight into what it is
like to be a
Hungarian girl - constantly hungry and tired? I am just drifting along in
slow-motion, but if I had to do even a mildly challenging job in this state, I might
well also be bored and tetchy. This seems like it could explain the slenderness and
irritability of Hungarian girls until I remember that I know plenty of slim women
from other cultures who are cheerful and hard-working. Then Liia's dentist phone-texts
me an appointment for this afternoon. Taking a break, I check e-mail, and find that,
this weblog has been mentioned in
major news title.
Float over to Deli station to be early for the dental check-up.
His waiting room is full. When we meet, I immediately take a liking to this dentist.
I cannot tell if his brisk friendly manner is due to seeing me
a potential long-term customer, or
a sick patient it is his chosen vocation to heal, but I don't need both. Just one of the
two will do. Either are preferable to people who resent customers on principle. I recall
an incident in my first months here which gave me an early insight into the national
character. I was extremely ill and feverish. Two Hungarian doctors were keen to have a
lesson, and we agreed the English practice would be in return for the medicine I needed.
Though I felt close to passing out, they made sure they got their sixty minutes' worth of
English practice before I could take the drugs that they had laid on the table in
front of me. An instructive introduction.
Liia's jolly Dr Kertesz makes a refreshing exception. He says my gum infection is not
serious and can be treated on Wednesday. He reassures me I can eat today. However, I'm
glad I denied even a sugary fruit juice to the evil bacillus in my mouth for a couple
of days so as to starve it into peace talks on my terms. Later, I break my fast with
bacon & eggs with milkshake followed by earnest flossing, brushing, and disinfecting,
and a couple of hours early-evening sleep.
Complete third day without food or drink, apart from water. Feels quite odd. As if
everything is slowed down and strangely simplified. A not unpleasant sense of
semi-exhaustion. This left me too tired to either go to
film recommended by Mihaela or
poetry reading at the new address of the
Institut he mentioned when he met us on the street yesterday, but an early night seemed reasonable, except that I found myself wide awake until 7am. Quite interesting, this
Mineral water with Mihaela, who tells me she & Bryan saw a fascinating
illusion in their flat today - an
inverted image of the
street below, somehow projected onto their ceiling, camera-obscura style. Later more
mineral water with Houcyne in the Muzeum Cafe, where he espouses a wonderfully easy-going life philosophy.
Wake up in Budapest after 12 hours of sleep.
problem seems to be reasserting. Decide to stop eating.
Get to Victoria in time for
coach to Luton. I can sit on a cool stone plinth in the shade, swinging my legs and enjoying
lovely spring sunshine on the other side of the street while the driver has his coffee before leaving Victoria.
On the coach, near where I am sitting, a man in clean, newly-ironed suit is slumped asleep. After an hour on the motorway, we reach Luton town.
The sleeper awakes and asks me
in a slurred London accent for the time. I tell him. He then asks if you have to get to the airport two hours before a flight? I say not
usually, and he then asks me exactly the same question again, revealing he is not simply drunk, but very drunk indeed. Something about the
mismatch between his smart clothes and his mid-afternoon drunkenness is puzzling until he makes a call on his mobile. He speaks loudly and
rudely, calling somebody a fool repeatedly. He speaks with that weary
tone of loathing in his voice that the totally pissed often have, but as he is speaking Hungarian, all is now clear. In the airport,
the drunk man joins the back of the queue at the gate, getting irate with me when I mis-hear a question in his slurred English. He's thankfully
sent away by the official because he has the wrong gate, the wrong time, and the wrong airline, though he has managed the
right airport. On the plane, by chance meet Paul from
Asylum, and at Customs in Budapest get chatting with
Houcyne, a hydrologist.
Orange juice with Adrienn near Charing Cross Road, buy new bag. Later with Nigel to meet Danny at Simon Jenkins' 50th
birthday party in an
bar, where I meet Phil of
Train to Saffron Walden to see
the homeopath. On top of the plutonium, he suggests I try essence of scorpion.
Train down to London to Nigel's. Changing trains, I go through the barrier at Leeds for half an hour to look at some books in W.H. Smiths.
As I go back onto the platform to catch my train, I put down mother's heavy leather Gladstone bag in an empty ticket-barrier channel, get my ticket out and show it to the inspector. As I crouch and replace the ticket, a youngish woman leaving the platform with two trollies heads straight for my channel, though others are vacant. As I apologise and get out of her way, she passes me, saying sharply "I didn't realise you were able to stop here". It takes me a second to realise I have just been told off, reminding me how adroit many women are at thinking up snide little remarks, and at seeking out opportunities in the day to use them on someone.
Finish mother's copy of
'The Eternal Darkness'
by Robert Ballard, a book about his career in deep-sea exploration. Interestingly,
Jacques Cousteau emerges
as a major pioneer, not simply a TV character. I had no idea he invented the acqualung [Nigel tells me just
now as I type this in, that it was for use against Nazis when Cousteau fought with the Free French]. Ballard
emphasises the coldness and blackness of the deep ocean, the lonely remoteness of being miles down with, in
the early days, only a tankful of buoyant gasoline with which to return to the surface. After good material
on pioneers like the Americans Beebe and Barton, and the Swiss scientist Piccard, who set both height records
in the upper atmosphere and depth records in the ocean when he invented the bathyscaph, we get down to
Ballard's own career. It is also impressive, and spans helping verify the tectonic-plate theory of continental
drift, developing new kinds of deep-sea submersible, discovering the hot-seafloor-vent ecosystems,
and finding the wreck of the Titanic before anyone else.
Go to Leeds to pick up my
Trainline ticket to London.
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
markgriffith at yahoo.com
up to top of page