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2006
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November 30th; Lunch at Mariann & Phil's. Meet both Rob & Robin at Muvesz cafe, along with Kath & Jeremy.

November 29th; Up at 5.30am again to meet the wiry, alert driver Istvan for the 2-hour journey out for day of teaching at Linde near the Austrian border in Repcelak. By chance I get to Blaha Lujza square for the pick-up 20 minutes early, at 6.40, and so does he. He has reckoned on a longer driving time since we are in a smaller-engined van this week, its grille behind our seats packed tight with brand-new truck tyres. They rub against each other during the journey, making little squeaky sounds, a lot like party balloons. As we motor west he tells me about his near-fatal motorbike accident when young, and the years of rally driving he started as soon as he got out of hospital. Istvan's travel-time estimate is spot on: once again we arrive at the door of the administration building five minutes before teaching begins at 9am. After a six-hour day, am driven home with Aniko by Zoli, an SAP developer who helps out at Linde. On the road, as night falls, Aniko & Zoli start discussing why combined road-rail freight is vital, but the interchange facilities haven't yet been done right. In Budapest Internet cafe, work on Piera's book until midnight. At busstop and on night bus out to suburb read the short book 'The Human Body' that mother sent me. By the wonderfully-named Moff Betts, this is a fifty-page book of short articles & lovely black-and-white line diagrams. A fabulous, intricate drawing by Scientific American illustrator David Goodsell is recognisable on the immunology page. Surprised to read about the thymus, which apparently declines after puberty, and that cell-repair at night would hurt if you weren't asleep so as not to feel it.
November 28th; Wayne alerts me to this excellent page: how numbers from the Books of Genesis and Revelation are encoded into the A4 paper-size standard.
The dog with the foghorn howl is starting to annoy me. Its hoarse mooing echoes off the 11 and 14-storey blocks of flats round here at odd times of day and night. The creature sounds brain-damaged: perhaps its Hungarian kicked it once too often.

November 27th; Work on desert book, do two mock university-admissions interviews at school, then get across town to the Toastmasters restaurant dinner Peter has organised and kindly invited me to. There I chance on Artist Edit with Mr Carlson. I am wearing her black collarless shirt when we meet, but she takes this in quite good spirits. After the meal, Peter, wearing a toadstool hat (Fly agaric, I think), introduces three speakers, all excellent. Mr Carlson suggests that ignoring terrorism is the only way to reduce it, because publicity is terrorism's fuel. Jacques from South Africa explains how living in Mozambique changed his priorities in life. David lists the lessons we can learn from practising public speaking, likening them in turn to a number of distinctive South-East Asian mammals. Afterwards, late-night session in Internet cafe, completing yacht article.
November 26th; Last six months or so have been going to sleep on my side with my forearms crossed at about face height. Is this odd at all? About the same time I made the switch from flat to bubbly mineral water.

November 25th; Intensive work on desert book.
November 24th; Work on desert book. Pizza at Marxim's.

November 23rd; Meet charming Linde folk in Repcelak.
November 22nd; Cappuccino with Language School Paul.

November 21st; Train from Great Plain to Budapest. Dusk fog closes in on train. Small trees blur into smudges.
November 20th; How to extract DNA, and then hack it.

November 19th; Into village to teach Eva. After dark, Robin to airport for week in London. Once again must put boys to bed. Bela requests to be read more Roald Dahl, so I read him the chapter on witch recognition. After some thought Bela asks me if I think Mummy might be a witch?
November 18th; Quiet day at Robin's. While he is off with Georgina at the girls' school evening event in Kecskemet, Kaspar & Bela request Roald Dahl's 'Witches' as a bedtime story.

November 17th; Up early to alert men in blue overalls to wet walls. Work all morning in kitchen for Piera & Victoria, sleep an hour, pack, take bus into town to meet Robin. Early evening, Robin & I drive out to countryside.
November 16th; In Ujpalota, writing for Piera & Victoria. Water starts pouring down walls from flat upstairs.

November 15th; While travelling yesterday, finished reading book Piera gave me: 'Fire in the Mind', by George Johnson. Though the writing is florid in places [there cannot be just layers, there have to be "wedding-cake layers"], it is written with passion and held my attention on the train to Gatwick, on the plane to Budapest, and on the bus to my suburb. Read the final page over a midnight ginger ale in the pizza restaurant round the corner from my block of flats, not even distracted by the shapely maids behind the bar. Johnson's book is an odd mixture of chapters about the traditional beliefs of Native Americans in New Mexico and the Christian sects and churches also flourishing there, and more recent controversies in science being debated at institutes at Santa Fe or Los Alamos nearby. The idea is that these are all attempts to explain the world, competing cosmologies. It makes for an intriguing book, though not all the strands quite come together. But individual chapters are excellent - one of the best summaries of the disputes in subatomic physics I've come across, a good chapter on information as a physical fundamental, and some interesting passages about the Big Bang, chaotic indeterminacy, evolution. Many good things, well explained.
November 14th; Fly from London Gatwick to Budapest. A strange, empty corridor at Gatwick airport burbles softly joyous New Age music to me as I go down it, perhaps to soothe away fear of flying. As we land in Budapest and leave the plane, Malev plays us an instrumental version of 'Hotel California' that makes it sound even more like lift music than usual. At Budapest airport bus-stop, meet a friendly Bulgarian student and his father. Last night, the Nigel of Darkness described a dream he had a couple of years ago: in the dream, Nigel shaved Linford Christie's head, superglued a yellow flashing light and siren to the man's scalp, set the siren off, and then solemnly warned him "Now you can run, Linford, but you can't hide."

November 13th; A college contact, Charlie Chan, Skype-phones Nigel, asking me to buy an Albanian port for him.
November 12th; Late afternoon learn by phone that mother has been taken into hospital in Yorkshire. Several phone calls later, she tells me that she has discharged herself, is much better, and back home. Over some pasta in pesto sauce, Piera & I have our final transatlantic Skype chat with Victoria in New York. This completes stage one of the Western Sahara book.

November 11th; Armstice Day. Wake up at Piera & Giacomo's. Piera & I have breakfast together at a cafe just off Gloucester Road. Piera sweetly buys me some science essays she enjoyed, coining a slightly worrying new English word, "fierceful", to describe me. Back in Catford, Nigel mentions a retired submarine commander he once knew who called starlings "Jews of the air".
November 10th; Back to Piera & Giacomo's for more work on Western Sahara project. By night I finish a book in Piera's spare room: 'The Eclipse of Art' by Julian Spalding, an art curator. He attacks most installation-based art as insincere and lacking in human content. There is an interesting section on how post-war art education helped, he says, damage contemporary art in Britain. Spalding mentions less high-profile artists who deserve more attention, including Eduard Bersudsky, H,C. Westermann, Nek Chand Saini, Niki de Saint Phalle and Peter Angermann. He tells an interesting anecdote about the young unknown Damien Hirst describing himself to a friend as overawed by a 1983 retrospective show of collages by Francis Davison. Spalding put that exhibition on at the Hayward the year before Davison died, still largely neglected. Hirst then tried unsuccessfully for two years to make art as lucid as Davison's. As Spalding adds sourly, after this, Hirst "learned his lesson", and started to make the kind of art which has since made him rich and famous.

November 9th; Wake up somewhere near Gloucester Road, in Piera & Giacomo's spare room. Online chat session with her & Victoria working on the book for the afternoon. After dark, ring Nigel of Darkness from Piera's, disturbing him during a Second Life (SL) session. Back in south London around 9pm, eat bowl of cereal while catching up with Nigel. Glancing back at his laptop screen we note that Nigel's SL avatar, a scantily-clad girl, seems to have taken a virtual initiative without consulting him. She is on her knees, sucking off a male avatar called Eros Citizen. Nigel raises a sceptical eyebrow: "I don't recall Mr Citizen asking if he could fuck me in the mouth", he says, rather aggrieved. Close evening with pink wine.
November 8th; Piera & I compare notes with Victoria, calling from New York. Party after.

November 7th; Reach Dulwich College over an hour late to meet archivist - she is very understanding. Tasty salad lunch, then couple of hours with her looking at school records for Wodehouse & Chandler. Back at Nigel's, receive stress-inducing phone call, then go into town to meet Piera, and give her Robin's prints and disc. With Giacomo we all enjoy some lovely ravioli while waiting for Victoria to phone us by Skype from New York. After an hour's struggle with the connection, we manage a three-way conversation. In a mixture of speech and typed text [Victoria can hear us, but we cannot hear her] we discuss an article called 'The Poet' in their book about the Western Sahara desert people.
November 6th; Woken 7am by whichever dog it is nearby that lows like a distressed cow. First few days here, I thought it was a plumbing problem inside the apartment block - a long, slow call: half howl, half moo.
Pack for afternoon flight to London. Bump into Tim at Malev staff office - over a quick drink he tells me about a fascinating-sounding book on the history of English. Make it to airport early, find Robin with portfolio of prints, and sail through baggage check. Doze on aeroplane before getting to know my seat neighbours: a Hungarian girl working in a Middlesex hotel, and an Irishman who has written a book about giving up smoking. For the first time ever, Malev staff are friendly and sweet to me on the plane: because of my staff ticket? Train from Gatwick to the Nigel of Darkness. Juno on rag, but otherwise cheerful. An Argentinian electronics friend, Marcelo, pops round: it is Marcelo's birthday. While he and Nigel discuss soldering, I experience some unexpected intimacy on Second Life. To sleep, late on Nigel's sofa.

November 5th; Short Sunday at Robin's. Evening train back to Budapest via Szolnok station, with the usual two-minute sprint along the cream-painted tunnel between its palace-of-workers cement ticket hall and its remote platform 15 with three minutes between trains. On the train, when it then arrives half an hour late, a closed sleeping car separates me from the restaurant, until I bang energetically on the glass and shout. A large, placid man from somewhere else on the steppes appears, speaking no Magyar. He shrugs and mimes helplessness elaborately at me through the windows until he has the idea of squeezing the sleeping-car key through the rubber lips of the locked doors for me to open them from my side. Once I have finally lugged my bag, bulky with laptop and heavy yacht-manufacturers' brochures, down the whole length of the international train to the dining car, I find an affable Hungarian cook in his fifties, a shirt, tie & grey cardigan, who has some difficulty preparing an omlette. Late mint tea with Clemence in Budapest.
November 4th; Meet Boo Boo's yacht-magazine editor about work. Train to Robin's as evening falls. Robin gets worried as Vicki the fox terrier goes missing, but she turns up at midnight, bloodied from a fight, perhaps with a fox. Robin sets off into the chilly darkness with antiseptic and a bowl of hot water to clean her wounds in the garage.

November 3rd; After an hour exploring the Malev offices in the Lurdy Haz shopping centre and then queuing in them, find that my free ticket to Britain leaves out airport tax, meaning that I recorded their inflight messages for them in exchange for me paying about a hundred quid and getting two empty seats at near zero marginal cost to the airline. Teach Mihaly, learning in our chat just why it is so dangerous to distil your own spirits [the first fraction of methyl alcohol that condenses off at several degrees below the alcohol]. Then find Language School Paul, briefly meeting his three bubbly students, Agi, Judit, & Lilla. Since the pointless clock move it is now chilly and night-time already at quarter to five in the afternoon. Paul & I go to Ferenciek tere for a quick beer, over which it dawns on us that much of Europe is going to be Finlandised by Putin's Russia for some years before things improve again. Home to sleep, and, as they say in this artificial world, "edit my appearance".
November 2nd; Wind howls round the house all day. I collect my shirt & socks from the line in Robin's garden just as the sun slips below the horizon. On the walk out it is a huge disc of something brighter than gold, like molten metal. Three minutes later it's gone, leaving a salmon glow smeared across one corner of a dark sky. Train back to Budapest, where I cannot find the party Politics Judit mentioned. Back in Ujpalota, I meet some people online in an artificial world. The background architecture & scenery looks a bit like Club Med crossed with an artist's impression of a 1980s shopping development, except that some visitors have kitted their avatars out with wings, tails, or blue rectangles attached to their heads.

November 1st; Wet, overcast Day of the Dead, as the national holiday is called in barrel-of-laughs Hungary. Find Bela the 7-year-old watching a disturbing cartoon on television called Courage the Cowardly Dog. A two-headed witch enchants a loveable granny into letting herself be stitched into a magical patchwork quilt made of trapped souls, like a kind of seductive euthanasia. Courage, a small pink dog, is the only one to rage against the dying of the light, and in the end rescues bewitched elderly members of a needlework club from the quilt. Surprisingly creepy, though, especially as our hypnotised granny is bodily absorbed into the demonic embroidery, first her legs, then torso, finally her head.
Stumble on clever interactive kaleidoscope puzzle.
After dark, walk down to village cemetery, where 60 or 70 candles flicker in their small red jars. Several families are among the gravestones, lighting candles, and chatting quietly. Hungarians almost seem to visit their dead ancestors every November 1st as if they were still alive, a bit like the Chinese. Reminds me of Nina, asked to sum up Hungary for a friend back in Holland: she described it as "a cross between 'Twin Peaks' and 'The Addams Family'".

Mark Griffith, site administrator / contact@otherlanguages.org

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