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.
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.
On way to shop during a luminous dusk with scudding
clouds, have sudden, odd intuition that
village is a completely average English village. Not easy to put into words. Finish
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.
Read mother's copy of
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.
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.
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
this book apparently inspired both the real-life activities of IRA man
and the much more innocent film 'Passport to Pimlico'.
G.K. Chesterton, author of the
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'.
Finish Artist Edit's copy of 'Az informacio
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.
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.
Put up new maps mother has bought, one of the world and one of the British Isles, in her bedroom. Read mother's copy
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.
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.
up to Yorkshire. Most of England romantically lost
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.
Leave three hours early to get to
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
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
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
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
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
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.
drives me to Lakitelek, where we eat pizza while waiting for my train back to
Indoorsy weekend at
Robin's. Damp & misty outside.
Franc sends me this
Finish book of Robin's given him by Amir: Robert Wohl's
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
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
Interesting 3-hour BBC television documentary from 2004 about the parallel rise of the Islamists
inspired by the ideas of
Qutb, and the Neo-Conservatives inspired by the ideas of
Here, chopped into 6 half-hour
Also as 3 one-hour chunks:
Earlier-than-usual train down to Kecskemet. Meet Jana from Norway in dining car, writing
about seasonal depression for her degree.
& Georgina pick me up on way back from
Robin's visit to the masseur. We drive across the Great Plain through increasingly thick
Lunch with Isabel & her treehugging colleagues from
IOM. Drinks with Tim &
Surprising chilly fog closes in at dusk.
Drinks with Clemence. After working late on
I pop into 24-hour shop at 2am. A chubby blonde girl and a slim young male with
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
with peanut-butter filling and bid them good night. The two Hungarians,
expressionless, return their gaze to the screen, wishing me good night also.
Strange soft white meal at local pizzeria of sour cream, curds & cold spaghetti. Meet
with Constantine & Istvan. Later meet Andrea & friends in slightly sinister
Neil tells me
Montenegro is a kleptocracy, and describes a lively armed raid, carried out jointly with
the IOM, on a
brothel in Serbia.
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
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
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
give her my business card.
In small hours, finish a book mother sent me several Christmases ago:
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
Da Vinci Code', and the main idea of 'Possession' is a demurer version
Historian'. Page 422 starts with an
85-word sentence, starring the word
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
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
emblazoned with the logo of a Hungarian architectural-engineering firm
office again. See
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.
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
& I are bemused to see Georgina walk towards an obviously
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
at the new Eklektika location, at which she urges me to write fiction.
As a wood fire crackles in the hearth,
Robin & I see some of a black-and-white television 1954
Royale', with Barry Nelson as an American-accented "Jimmy" Bond, no
Norman theme tune, and even worse acting than films made now.
Robin searches for
since he has several medlar trees.
I finish the book
of Control' that
gave Robin a few years back. In this,
Kevin Kelly of
describes how biological ideas are converging with computing.
Lots of interesting stuff about
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.
reading in countryside.
Put wet clothes on line. They stay wet.
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.
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