with Language School Paul.
Plain to Budapest. Dusk fog closes in on train. Small trees blur into smudges.
DNA, and then
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
Dahl, so I read him the chapter on witch recognition.
After some thought Bela asks me if I think Mummy might be a witch?
Quiet day at
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.
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
Early evening, Robin & I drive out to countryside.
writing for Piera &
Water starts pouring down walls from flat upstairs.
While travelling yesterday, finished reading book Piera gave me:
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.
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
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
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."
A college contact, Charlie Chan,
Nigel, asking me to
Albanian port for him.
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
in New York. This completes stage one of the
Western Sahara book.
Armstice Day. Wake up at Piera & Giacomo's. Piera & I have breakfast together at a
cafe just off Gloucester Road. Piera sweetly buys me
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
"Jews of the air".
Back to Piera & Giacomo's for more work on Western Sahara project. By night I finish a
book in Piera's spare room:
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
Nek Chand Saini,
Niki de Saint Phalle and
He tells an interesting anecdote about the young unknown
Hirst describing himself to a friend as overawed by a 1983 retrospective show of collages by
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.
Wake up somewhere near Gloucester Road, in Piera & Giacomo's spare room.
Online chat session with her &
working on the book for the afternoon. After dark,
ring Nigel of Darkness from Piera's, disturbing him during a
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
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.
Piera & I compare notes
Victoria, calling from New York. Party after.
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
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
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
can hear us, but we cannot hear her] we discuss an article called 'The Poet' in their book about the
Sahara desert people.
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.
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
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.
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.
After an hour exploring the
Malev offices in the
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
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
for some years before things improve again. Home to sleep, and, as they say in this
world, "edit my appearance".
Wind howls round the house all day. I collect my shirt & socks from the line
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
world. The background architecture & scenery looks a bit like
Med crossed with an artist's impression of a 1980s shopping development, except that
some visitors have kitted their
out with wings, tails, or blue rectangles
attached to their heads.
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
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
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
to sum up Hungary for a friend back in Holland: she described it as "a cross between
'Twin Peaks' and
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