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2006
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December 31st; Read the 'Philip's Guide to Electric Living', by Anthony Byers. An odd period piece I bought in the early 1980s, when it already seemed a world away from 1975. Household electrical appliances explained in photos of a house with several different hideous wallpaper patterns. Detailed explanations of eight-track recorders, convection radiators, food blenders, dishwashers and tumble dryers, along with smiling people in 1970s haircuts. An interesting sentence asserts that colour television is more real than black-and-white, not the reverse, showing that many people felt otherwise about early colour screens.
December 30th; Read mother's copy of 'The Rise of Christian Europe' by Hugh Trevor-Roper. When working for wartime intelligence Trevor-Roper claimed Kim Philby had sabotaged the efforts of German intelligence director Canaris to bring down the Nazi government and negotiate peace with England. Here he writes about the period from the early sacks of Rome to the Portuguese explorations of the 1400s. Fascinating. Lots of clearly-explained sections show how and why feudalism worked when it did, and how and why Europe continued to change and adapt, even when repeatedly attacked by apparently tireless enemies for centuries.

December 29th; On way to shop during a luminous dusk with scudding clouds, have sudden, odd intuition that this village is a completely average English village. Not easy to put into words. Finish 'Introduction to Spanish Poetry', a reassuringly slim dual-translation book edited by Eugenio Florit. A preoccupation with love, as one might hope of Spanish poems. Rather embarrassingly, takes me quite some minutes to realise that San Juan de la Cruz is Saint John of the Cross. Almost all poets represented by only one poem.
December 28th; Read mother's copy of 'Cat's ABC' by journalist Beverly Nichols. Amusing, but rather arch, writing from a dedicated cat-lover in 1961. His terms "F-people" and "non-F-people" probably play on the then-recent Mitford book about "U" and "non-U. Some of it is delightful, though detailed instructions as to how to play with cats, particularly how to stroke them, stop barely short of admitting he is arousing them sexually. Nauseatingly twee in places, light and happy in others.

December 27th; Read 'Secrets of Palm Reading' by Peter West. West apparently had a career as a fraud investigator with a "major UK corporation", using palmistry and graphology to uncover deception. Pretty clip-art throughout the book, but the hand-shapes all look worryingly similar. Groups of photos showing five different "earth hands", five different "fire hands" etc, would obviously be much clearer. Later on read, or rather 'do' a book of personality questionnaires, 'Meet Yourself as You Really Are' by Prince Leopold of Loewenstein & William Gerhardi. Have seen this, and its off-putting cover of orange discs arrayed in an endless orange grid, lying on the bookshelf all my life without reading it. A 1960s reprint of a 1930s book, the inside cover shows photos of two slightly cross-looking middle-aged authors in suits, resembling the kind of New Men who set up advertising agencies after World War Two. I go through it, answering conscientiously, and am led to a half-page section 17 which starts: "Yours is a happy disposition.... Thus your life is rather insouciant, a broad, swift river, sparkling and many-coloured." This then refers me to Section 22, which has another half-page, finishing my profile encouragingly with "...You enjoy giving - unconditionally. You enjoy giving pleasure.... It is written: 'God loveth the cheerful giver.' And this, we feel, applies eminently to you." Finally, someone understands me. Apparently this book is often described as an early hypertext, since it leads the reader on forking paths that make up a total of [supposedly] three million different composite personality descriptions. Prince Leopold appears to have been an Austrian psychologist who was a 1930s refugee to England from Nazism, and Gerhardi a novelist born and brought up in a wealthy English trading family in St. Petersburg before World War One.
December 26th; Read old paperback copy of 'Napoleon of Notting Hill' by G.K. Chesterton. Reminding me of Nigel of Darkness's remark at school that he'd like to be the king of Crumpsall, this book apparently inspired both the real-life activities of IRA man Michael Collins and the much more innocent film 'Passport to Pimlico'. G.K. Chesterton, author of the Father Brown mysteries, wrote this, his first novel, in 1904. It is a comic vision of a virtually unchanged Britain of horse-drawn carriages and gas lamps eighty years in the future, in 1984. In what starts as a joke, boroughs of London acquire heraldic colours, and the men of Notting fight to the death to protect the "sacred hill" from the massed armies of Bayswater. A good dry run for his excellent 1907 novel, 'The Man Who Was Thursday'.

December 25th; Finish Artist Edit's copy of 'Az informacio kultusza' by Theodore Roszak, translated from the English by Gyongyi Gieler. American author Roszak traces the rise of computing as a subject in schools and universities, describing it as a cult with a wholly mistaken philosophy of how to teach thinking. Convincing in parts, though a bit too focussed on details of 1980s funding. Nice material on the 1970s emergence of personal computers, and how little they justified their early hype as liberating tools for social transformation. Strangely persuasive now that the Internet has changed so much and yet, in certain important ways, so little. A bold early bet that artificial intelligence would never really deliver the goods.
Cook chicken for Christmas Day dinner with mother. From one of her old cook books try clove & lemon stuffing. 5oz white breadcrumbs, 1 1/2 oz butter, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, 1 beaten egg, juice of 1 lemon, 2 oz fat bacon chopped, 3 or 4 shallots finely chopped, 1 teaspoon of lemon thyme, rind of 1 grated lemon, 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves, salt & freshly ground pepper. Successful.
December 24th; Read 'The Riddle and the Knight' by Giles Milton. A curious book about the tall stories of a 14th-century traveller, John Mandeville, who inspired later Europeans to circumnavigate the globe. Milton is reasonably honest about his investigative failures, and ends with the interesting suggestion that Mandeville was making a veiled, satirical case for tolerance, writing a 'Gulliver's Travels' almost four centuries ahead of Swift.
Clean mother's brass weights [2oz, 1oz, 1/2oz, 1/4oz] with wire-wool oven-pad thing.

December 23rd; Put up new maps mother has bought, one of the world and one of the British Isles, in her bedroom. Read mother's copy 'The World of Late Antiquity' by Peter Brown. Intriguing journey through the 600 years between Christ and Mohammed. Notable how tenaciously pagan Greek and Latin culture hung on for centuries, even within Byzantium. Brown describes the different character of each century, relating how the character & mood of the Eastern Mediterranean shifted generation by generation from Julius to Justinian.
December 22nd; Mother reasonably well. Finish her copy of 'Intellectuals' by Paul Johnson. An entertaining, satisfying and erudite book which is also a little naughty. While it is immensely enjoyable to read just how rude, selfish, and dishonest people like Rousseau, Shelley, and Marx were, Johnson is not entirely honest with us. A portrait of a conservative intellectual [Edmund Burke?] might have balanced things. The contrast between the odiousness of the intellectual Cyril Connolly and the more human man of letters Evelyn Waugh jars a little with Waugh telling a journalist that he saw his children for "ten - I hope awe-inspiring - minutes a day". Johnson claims that intellectuals are wholly new in history in their post-18th-century form as social theorists freed from responsibilities to a church or existing doctrine, which must come as a surprise to anyone who has read about Socrates, Diogenes, Aristotle and so on. He uses 'intellectuals' to mean 'left-wing or radical intellectuals', claiming that a conservative can only be a 'man of letters', an idea which needs proving rather than just asserting. He is also remarkably coy about his own youthful socialist period. If socialists and radicals are necessarily anti-social and self-centred, Paul Johnson's own period as not just any young socialist, but a famous editor of The New Statesmen in the second half of the 1960s, might have deserved a paragraph - or at least a sentence. The style is readable, persuasive and fun, though the use of 'adamantine' to qualify self-centredness palls a little with repetition. Interesting to read about Gollancz's pretend-independent but secretly communist-party-run Left Book Club influencing public opinion in prewar and wartime Britain, perhaps even helping to swing the 1945 election for Labour.

December 21st; Catch earlyish train up to Yorkshire. Most of England romantically lost in fog.
December 20th; Varnish all six surfaces of an 11-foot length of wood to help with the Nigel of Darkness's home improvements. Meet Piera & Giacomo in town briefly, for a cup of tea and to give Piera my notes on desert book. She shows me her photos of the Indica show opening on a Riflemaker Gallery page.

December 19th; Leave three hours early to get to Budapest's airport Ferihegy for flight to Gatwick. Arrive comfortably in time. At the departure gate an hour in advance, I find a cluster of 5 or 6 stewardess-type girls sitting behind a counter. Realise they remind me of the women selling perfumes in Kendal Milne department store in 1970s Manchester. All have the same make-up policy: too much foundation and too much blusher. From 25 to 55, the women all look somehow creosoted, as if they have tinted their skins with all-weather wood-stainer. On the aeroplane I am seated next to a reasonably pretty blonde American girl very much in love with her blonde English lad friend. As we fly, they are both reading the same copy of a book about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center in 2001, cuddling together to read each page. A curtain hangs past me at about twenty degrees to the apparent vertical inside our cabin while we gain altitude, showing where down really is.
On my packed train from Gatwick airport to Catford, a placid, unflappable mother is trying to calm a perky little girl who keeps crying out "Christmas lights!" in excitement every time the train passes a house with coloured lights in the window. The mother gets out her mobile phone and starts to write a text message to Santa Claus about the naughty things her small, bouncy daughter is doing. Partly playing along, partly intrigued, the little one demands to see the text. Her mother hides the phone against her bosom. "Nah - it's personal," she reprimands in a flat, sensible London accent, "This is between me and the big man in red." The rest of the carriage reads its newspapers in silence.
The Nigel of Darkness, and Juno, his large dog, greet me in Catford. Just before we go out to dinner at the Chinese noodle house, Nigel mentions getting recently turned down by a blonde Finnish girl "because it's Ramadan". The worst excuse he has heard since a girl said she couldn't go out one night because she had to "hose down her iguanas".
December 18th; Wake out of odd, vivid dreams last three days at Robin's. Saturday morning some students were teaching me Finnish until I woke up. Sunday morning I was being given some kind of locker or pigeonhole key in a university with lots of intricate corridors. This morning, I am being pursued by some killers who will smash a hole in an indoor glass tank at least fifty feet high to drown me. I outrun the massive wave, and scale a tree in a nearby street to find something which is a cross between a cubby hole and a bookshelf at first-floor level with a cramped selection of cook books and some student squatters. At some point the killers find us, kill all the students while I hide, and the place transforms into a deep blue cricket-pavilion version of a vaguely smart tree-house restaurant, where I am oddly safe and alone. Then I wake up.
Robin drives me to Lakitelek, where we eat pizza while waiting for my train back to Budapest.

December 17th; Indoorsy weekend at Robin's. Damp & misty outside. Franc sends me this Christmassy cartoon.
December 16th; Finish book of Robin's given him by Amir: Robert Wohl's 'The Generation of 1914'. In five dense chapters & a conclusion, Wohl looks in turn at the ideas & myths about the generations of young men most affected by the First World War in France, Germany, England, Spain, & Italy. In each chapter, the myths of national loss are different forms of what Wohl calls "generationalism": for example, the Spanish chapter is mostly about the ideas of philosopher Jose Ortega. The overlapping effect of reviewing the differing stories each nation told itself - not just about loss of life in the trenches, but more about lost opportunities for regeneration & social transformation after 1918 - is intriguing and powerful. By the end of the book none of the accepted truisms about early-20th-century Europe look quite the same again.

December 15th; Interesting 3-hour BBC television documentary from 2004 about the parallel rise of the Islamists inspired by the ideas of Said Qutb, and the Neo-Conservatives inspired by the ideas of Leo Strauss. Here, chopped into 6 half-hour parts: 1 2 3 4 5 6. Also as 3 one-hour chunks: 1 2 3.
Earlier-than-usual train down to Kecskemet. Meet Jana from Norway in dining car, writing about seasonal depression for her degree. Robin & Georgina pick me up on way back from Robin's visit to the masseur. We drive across the Great Plain through increasingly thick fog.
December 14th; Lunch with Isabel & her treehugging colleagues from IOM. Drinks with Tim & Mr Saracco.

December 13th; Surprising chilly fog closes in at dusk. Drinks with Clemence. After working late on desert book, I pop into 24-hour shop at 2am. A chubby blonde girl and a slim young male with dark hair behind the counter are impassively watching a porn channel on television, on which a girl is taking a bath and masturbating. I buy a chunky Kit-Kat with peanut-butter filling and bid them good night. The two Hungarians, expressionless, return their gaze to the screen, wishing me good night also.
December 12th; Strange soft white meal at local pizzeria of sour cream, curds & cold spaghetti. Meet Isabel.

December 11th; Cake with Constantine & Istvan. Later meet Andrea & friends in slightly sinister restaurant.
December 10th; Over beers, Neil tells me Montenegro is a kleptocracy, and describes a lively armed raid, carried out jointly with the IOM, on a brothel in Serbia.

December 9th; Woken up at comfortable hour by quiet metal splash of a football being kicked into chainlink fencing six floors below. Find I have shifted off the sofa onto the floor during the night or morning for better sleep. Get dressed, and walk to nearby Polus Center shopping centre. On the way I pass group of 6 or 7 differently-sized boys playing football on a small asphalt area, and see the sound is not chainlink fencing at all. Their playing area is surrounded by seven-foot-high steel caging with the cage doors removed.
During day on bus and tram, finish book sent by mother, called Simplified Chinese Characters by Tan Huay Peng. Peng illustrates each of his/her books, it seems, with slightly daft little drawings of pony-tailed Chinese folk, and lots of clear, nicely-laid-out ideograms. However, in a choice piece of Oriental obtuseness, this book, written in English, does not teach you any ideograms. It explains tedious rules for converting between traditionally-drawn ideograms and newer, more-simply-drawn, ideograms without explaining what any of them mean in English. About fifteen characters are translated in the book, and about three hundred are not. Pages 52 to 68 are entirely taken up with tables of Chinese ideograms compared to each other but not translated into any Western language. Pages 98 to 127 have more tables which at least this time give the sound, in Latin letters, of each character, and lots of simplified and unsimplified ideograms, but no translations. The rest of the book gives transformation rules, but still no translations. Like looking at wallpaper. How thick can Peng be, exactly? The book has text in English, and yes there must be an audience of readers in English who know all the ideograms and would like to know the rules for matching traditional to simplified, but how precisely would also writing in some meanings in English hurt this main aim? I wonder if 90 per cent of people who buy this book think, like my mother, that it is a simplified way to learn Chinese characters, or 99 per cent? Peng's relationship with his/her publisher is obviously completely untroubled by any distracting thoughts of what readers might want or think. The word 'Mandarin' (I guess that is the language whose sounds are given in Latin letters at the back, not Cantonese) does not appear once in the book. Dullwittedly socialist and Asiatic in logic, despite the Singapore publisher.
Renew contact with Margit and other Seven-Sisters teachers at an Argentinian restaurant. Later, at another restaurant, two very pretty "consume girls" come in to carry round a small roulette wheel and publicise some cigarette brand. As I gaze wearily at my beer, one, a gorgeous lass of about 20, introduces herself to me as Regina, a former student of mine at Xantus. I give her my business card.
December 8th; In small hours, finish a book mother sent me several Christmases ago: 'Possession', by A.S.Byatt. A curious novel, shortlisted for some prize, and very good in parts, but overall oddly unsatisfactory. Never quite believed in any of the characters, though some are well-drawn caricatures. All about archivists and literary scholars chasing down letters and diary evidence of a hidden love affair involving Randolph Henry Ash, a (fictional) grand old man of Victorian poetry loosely modelled on Tennyson. Some well-written, but rather long, pastiches of Victorian verse are included as chapters. It is a sort of detective story, where the reader is invited to join in with the textual sleuthing. Like many whodunnits, a large part of the book works by flattering the reader. At points, some of the writing is so pat it reminded me of bits of 'The Da Vinci Code', and the main idea of 'Possession' is a demurer version of 'The Historian'. Page 422 starts with an 85-word sentence, starring the word 'aleatory'. A paragraph down we read: "They sat over buckwheat pancakes in Pont-Aven, and drank cider from cool earthenware pitchers and asked the difficult questions." A sentence which could have come straight out of the Dan Brown masterpiece.
At the top of the next page we get this self-satisfied exchange.
She: "There's an ancient taboo on seeing childbirth. Early versions of the Melusina myth have childbirth instead of the bath."
He: "Repeating patterns. Again."
And so on. Good final chapter, but not what I'd call readable.
Yesterday saw a lorry drive past LurdyHaz emblazoned with the logo of a Hungarian architectural-engineering firm called Gravitation.

December 7th; Visit Malev office again. See Elme.
December 6th; Two separate tram accidents get me to Malev ticket office in LurdyHaz at one minute past four. A tubby little security man lets the people in front of me in and then enjoys telling me that the office closes at four.

December 5th; Georgina drives Robin & me into Budapest at lunchtime. At a petrol station we get out to stretch our legs. A perky Piera phones me up from London as I look at a white image stencilled onto the forecourt tarmac: a small stylised lorry. Because its paint is still wet, three traffic cones and a wheely bin surround it as protection. In Budapest, Georgina parks by Pottyos utca metro station, the part of town where she grew up. We go into the metro station, and Robin & I are bemused to see Georgina walk towards an obviously closed ticket office. A wall of glass shows a wall of closed venetian blinds, and lots of posters stuck on the outside of the glass. To our amazement, Georgina begins to talk to a small square space in the corner, about 6" x 6", where three Venetian-blind strips have been cut back so a hand can pass through a tiny sliding panel of glass without having any of the rest of the blinds open. Wonderful glimpse of Hungarians' fear & loathing of the customer.
Lovely meal with Rob in slightly odd, deserted restaurant with brown & amber Moscow-businessman decor. I hear about his loutish Russian neighbours, and he asks about Mr Saracco and the Nigel of Darkness. Chat ranges widely. Afterwards, inspiring drinks with Liia at the new Eklektika location, at which she urges me to write fiction.
December 4th; As a wood fire crackles in the hearth, Robin & I see some of a black-and-white television 1954 version of 'Casino Royale', with Barry Nelson as an American-accented "Jimmy" Bond, no Monty Norman theme tune, and even worse acting than films made now.

December 3rd; Robin searches for recipes using medlars, since he has several medlar trees. I finish the book 'Out of Control' that Azhar gave Robin a few years back. In this, Kevin Kelly of Wired describes how biological ideas are converging with computing. Lots of interesting stuff about Tom Ray, John Holland, Doyne Farmer, John Koza, among lots of other people, and their work on breeding equations, evolving shapes or pictures, discontinuous evolution, emergent order - in fact everything except explaining why artificial intelligence isn't intelligent yet. An early 1990s book, and some bold predictions have not quite come to fruition. Yet, despite some rather sticky prose, definitely worth reading.
December 2nd; Quiet day reading in countryside. Put wet clothes on line. They stay wet.

December 1st; Refreshing beer with Paul. Meet Robin in station ticket queue. Constantine strolls along in buoyant mood, back from America. He almost joins us on train trip down to Great Plain. Georgina picks Robin & me up in the dark at Tiszaug in Zita's old Benz.

Mark Griffith, site administrator / contact@otherlanguages.org

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