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2007
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January 31st; Lunchtime lesson with Languages Judit, bumping into Xantus Reka in the teahouse. Drinks after with Paul. Hour in Foreign Language Library: struggle to read isolated sentences from newspaper article Isabel brought me back from Spain. Go to art exhibition opening to meet Andrea. Formaldehyde-filled tanks with what look like severed human groins and thighs floating in them set a Damien-Hirst-like tone. Wall filled with brightly-coloured prints showing women in naval uniforms or doll dresses against wallpaper patterns of porn actresses, swastikas, knuckledusters shaped like metal cows, the usual. Andrea finds me, introducing me to tall, handsome Dutchman I completely fail to recognise as Jaap. He seems very slightly hurt when I ask his name. Leave in good time for lovely spiced soup at Terri's in the bright company of Liia. We drink wine, meet (without getting too close to) Terri's new kittens, and exchange news.

January 30th; In the not-so-small hours finished Robin's or Mike's book 'Icons and Images of the Sixties' by Elena & Nicolas Calas. Perhaps this is an early example of that horrible current use of the word 'icon' to mean anything anyone has heard of. Detailed art book tracing artists and art theories moving through Pop Art to Colour Field artists and Minimalists. Quite liked Al Held, Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland, Barnett Newman, Allan D'Arcangelo, Tony Smith, Ronald Bladen, Robert Morris and Donald Judd. A little odd that so many artworks were about colour in a book illustrated throughout in black and white, but many artists clearly discussed. Difficult to see how to go further: almost every artist opens a new direction and then takes it, seemingly, as far as it will go.
Train back to Budapest.
January 29th; Late-night naughtiness from Robin's Komondor. In his garden the dog rolls on its back for me to tickle it, shows affection, then when I try to take it to the garage (it goes there every night and I have taken it there before), it bites me on both arms. Very Hungarian.

January 28th; Teach Eva in village. After dark drive with Robin to Kecskemet, to drop off Letty & a friend at school. Tea & cake in small cafe. Jeremy phones up on Robin's mobile while we are in the yoghourts section of the 24-hour supermarket.
January 27th; Cycle to Tiszakurt for tea with Edina, whose doctorate in folk-story research has been recently awarded. Return in dark, after wiring Edina's cigarette lighter (which blinks blue and red when lid is open) to saddle of Letty's bicycle. Moon lights road through gaps in cloud. Large white dog Lupi decides to hide when time comes for Robin to put him in garage for night.

January 26th; Quiet train journey to Robin's. Restaurant car on train replaced by bicycle van with jammed door, so I cannot eat lunch and two cyclists must squeeze their bikes into corridor at end of train. Weather chillier.
January 25th; Tea with Paul, in baker's near Keleti station. Tea at Isabel's office, where she lends me intimidating book. Soup with Ilan, who gives me jar of fresh black peppercorns from Indian spice coast. Beer with Tim, in deserted Scottish bar preparing for Burns Night. IM-chat online with Dandelion, who suggests some IT forums. MattBlack locates Mr Spock, singing about The Hobbit.

January 24th; On bus home last night, finished library copy of 'Vile Bodies' by Evelyn Waugh. This was the book that Nigel of Darkness [because ill] was vomiting while re-reading last month. Patchy, unsatisfactory novel. Enjoyable in parts, I didn't feel it really earned the label "sardonic satire" on the back cover. Waugh seems to make fun of many groups and types in 1920s Britain, and at first glance he is mocking both the snobbery of the Mayfair Smart Set [The 'Bright Young Things'] and the desire of others to be accepted by them. On closer inspection, you realise he would like to be part of the Smart Set himself, and his crueller barbs are reserved for social climbers and snobs further down the social ladder. The way the Bright Young Things talk is interesting: they use phrases like "too too shy-making". While 'cringe-making' and 'sick-making' have survived into today's English, you don't see 'shy-making' now, though it is subtly different from 'embarrassing' and clearer. Many of the cameo characters are a bit dull, and much of it [lengthy dialogue overheard on buses or cross-channel ferries] isn't quite funny enough. One particular evening of parties, which ends with a hanger-on peripheral to the elite thrilled to be able to invite back some Bright Young Things to her house for drinks in the small hours has the punchline that her house turns out to be No. 10 Downing Street, and Daddy is this month's slightly common Prime Minister [called 'Brown']. This joke obviously was frightfully witty at the time but seems a bit pleased with itself now. A recurring story of a drunken Major forms an irritating shaggy-dog subplot, where Waugh lets us see him glibly spinning his yarn. The ending is weak. However, some scenes are excellent, and the climax of the motorcar race is well-observed and cartoonishly funny. On page 161 Waugh makes a curious contrast between everyday, High-Street cars which stay in one piece, and the repeatedly disassembled and reassembled racers. "Not so the real cars, which become masters of men; those vital creations of metal who exist solely for their own propulsion through space, for whom their drivers, clinging precariously at the steering wheel, are as important as his stenographer to a stockbroker. These are in perpetual flux; a vortex of combining and disintegrating units; like the confluence of traffic at some spot where many roads meet, streams of mechanism come together, mingle and separate again."
By day teach Miklos and Attila, meet Kath to discuss her website, then join Isabel & Politics Judit for revelry, where I also meet Moncsi, Gabi, Olli and equally lively folk not ending in i.
January 23rd; Lesson with Languages Judit, who now has place at Cambridge. Bob takes me to dinner with Ben. We talk about double-headed eagles, the cult of Mithras, and dodgy carpet dealers in New York.

January 22nd; Drive with Georgina to Kecskemet and catch train. Eat omlette. Budapest. Meet Bob for pizza. He mentions student quoted in Chronicle of Higher Education saying "My Dad is still into the whole book thing."
January 21st; Damp, grey day. Men with guns and dogs cross Robin's land, failing to flush out any birds. The Home Office grows so dark it wants to split, like a bacillus, into ministries of "Security" and "Justice".

January 20th; Robin & I drive to Kecskemet in the evening to pick up Letty from a school gymnastics trip to Debrecen. While we wait for her at the station, we start to examine one of those machines that takes a passport photo, but pretends it is a charcoal drawing, pencil sketch, watercolour painting etc, at the touch of a button. We watch the video screen where a rapidly-moving photo of a hand whizzes back and forth filling in bits in the pantomime drawing that is of course just a modified photograph. More like a kind of brass rubbing, Robin points out, than a drawing, since none of the strokes form lines, but just make a scrubbing motion which gradually fills in the edges and tones of the hidden image. It even makes a deliberate mistake and audibly says "Oops", before correcting it: one mistake per drawing. This automated pavement artist can fake a sketch of your face elongated (option labelled 'Modigliani'), squashed (even less plausibly labelled 'Renoir'), or normally, but against an exotic background such as the Arc de Triomphe, the Parthenon, the Colisseum, Tower Bridge, some desert island beach, some tulip fields with windmills. In fact anywhere but Kecskemet.
January 19th; Get some work done. Georgina drives Zsuzsi & me back to the countryside after I reach Pottyos utca Metro very late to find them still chatting to Ildiko.

January 18th; Kalman sends us all Star Wars in Turkish, oddly. Understated green & black look adds a touch of Flash-Gordon refinement lacking in the vulgar original.
January 17th; Rare good sense: Why airline security is a waste of cash.

January 16th; Complete some important tasks, oh yes.
January 15th; On afternoon bus into town, driving west towards a low-hanging sun, again have the odd feeling of being somehow protected. Meet Kath to discuss linen trading. Ulysses at RoF sends me some music.
In the morning, finish 'An Experiment with Time', by J.W. Dunne, a really quite odd book. I suspect that this is the sort of book that Timothy, my first logic tutor at college, thought logic was useful for dismantling. I would accuse Dunne's book of being dull, but it is so odd, that 'dull' is really not fair. Dunne, a pioneering aeronautical engineer, building aeroplanes for Britain's military during World War I, describes his growing curiosity about his own dreams between about 1900 and 1920. He concludes that dreams are composed of a jumbled blend of memories of past events and premonitions of future events. Being an engineer, he decides to investigate this carefully and systematically, keeping a dream diary, and initially limiting himself to dreams seeming to relate to the period of two or three days before - and after - the night of dreaming. He estimates the probability each dream is irrelevant, mildly relevant, or strongly relevant to events before or after it. He then decides that, since relativity has opened up the physics of time in new directions, to take the idea of time as a fourth dimension seriously, and to carefully draw lots of diagrams. Unconcerned with the time-dilation effects that relativity [which he appears to understand] reveals, Dunne proceeds to examine the human observer's experience of noticing how normal time elapses. He arrives at an infinite regress of observers and dimensions of time, so that ... Observer n in Time n observes ... observes Observer 2 in Time 2 observing Observer 1 back down here in our apparently familiar Time 1. With winning frankness, he points out that a tradition of philosophers who regard any infinite regress as a sign that an argument has gone wrong, just rules them out on principle, and this should not put us off accepting that an infinite regress exists if the evidence and the logic seem to demand it. Colin Wilson, who breezily said that Dunne only needs three levels of regress, definitely misunderstood this book, whatever else is true. It is either none or many. Dunne's idea that there must be an observer to observe the experience of [a lower-dimensional observer] experiencing time is the cause of the regress, and it is easy to imagine Daniel Dennett dismissing this as another version of the Cartesian theatre. Since quantum physicists and David Lewis seem comfortable with a vast proliferation of universes, however, Dunne's infinite series of time-dimensions perhaps deserves to be reconsidered - along with his idea that we dream of probable future events. Dunne points out that the very act of dreaming a premonition shows that an event is not fixed in advance, and suggests a kind of endlessly-proliferating tree structure of possible future timelines. The non-existing yet somehow real entities posited by Alexius Meinong [About whom goes the ditty "Last night I saw upon the stair / A little man who wasn't there / He wasn't there again today / Oh, how I wish he'd go away..."] leap to mind. Dunne's argument is closest to an inversion of John McTaggart's proof of the unreality of time. Instead of letting the threatened regress imply the unreality of time, Dunne chooses to assert the reality of time, and so deduce the reality of the regress. Curiously, he says that keeping a dream diary is "exhausting", not a word I'd associate with the dream diaries Esther, Jake & I kept for some weeks some years ago. Dunne has one good tip though, if you cannot remember your dreams on waking. Ask yourself what you were thinking on waking, and work backwards from there.
Naff cover image of thirty-foot-high human heads made of bricks.

January 14th; Bilingualism staves off dementia for just ...four years? No wonder nobody bothers.
January 13th; Landlord Dezso arrives to redo wallpaper after water damage from upstairs. I sew on button. Doze two hours. Julia makes cakes. I eat a salad.

January 12th; Even quieter day. Total inactivity threatens.
January 11th; Quiet day. Much sleep. Do some sound-recording work in Buda for Istvan the video man.

January 10th; Farewell brunch with Nigel at Catford cafe. I finish with wonderful cherry pie plus ice cream, and he explains that only pie with custard gives him the glorious feeling of "being fully anchored in the world". Take train to Gatwick airport. On Malev aeroplane, I have slightly uncanny experience of hearing my own voice playing on the safety video. The video features a computer-generated passenger family who bob about a bit like Thunderbirds. Catch last bus and last metro train into Budapest.
January 9th; Nigel of Darkness photographs my hand on a piece of card. I paint the plinth of his house white.

January 8th; Paint Nigel's cupboard. Someone wants to put a giant banana into space.
January 7th; Length of varnished wood now separates Nigel's backyard in two: behind it are the now-clean pink & grey flagstones in a checker layout, between it and the back door is white gravel a couple of inches deep. Finish Nigel's copy of 'The Seven Basic Plots' by Christopher Booker, which I also bought mother for Christmas. Booker explores classic plotlines from myth, literature, opera, movies and distils them down to Overcoming the Monster [for example 'Beowulf', 'Gilgamesh', or 'Dr No'], Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. A thought-provoking book, with an extraordinary conclusion closely argued across the closing couple of hundred pages. Putting a lot of weight on Jung's idea of archetypes, Booker says storytelling started to go amiss in the early eighteenth century ['Clarissa' in 1748 is a notable early warning sign in his view]. That was when it diverged from classic story patterns which used to be about central characters maturing, integrating their masculine and feminine sides and coming to see the world around them whole. This sweeping idea that the last two to three centuries have seen a breakdown in proper storytelling is very interesting, and provokes hostility from at least one reviewer. Mars-Jones is perhaps not happy to have the entire modernist sub-canon that informs his own writing criticised. While catching a couple of errors in the text about 'Jaws' and 'Star Wars', he shows himself up as a skim-reader when he accuses Booker of seeing female characters as only fit to be absorbed into male heroes. Booker repeatedly says that both male and female characters must reconcile themselves with their opposites. The extraordinary conclusion, that Western civilisation has gone badly wrong and that modern stories reveal this, is so far-reaching it deserves thoughtful consideration. Any analysis which dismisses Proust, Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, most Hollywood films, Edward Bond, Harold Pinter, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, most opera, all composers after Beethoven, much of Dickens, Thomas Hardy, even Richardson, is definitely worth a closer look. A sentence or two on Booker's own role in founding 'Private Eye' during the early-sixties satire boom might have been appropriate. Would also have been wise for Booker [or Mars-Jones] to take a passing look at other analyses of story-telling, like academic narrative theories.

January 6th; Help Nigel chisel cement traces off the flagstones in his back yard with a high-pressure water jet. Danny Fletcher comes over. We all go out for a drink. After Danny departs, Nigel & I watch Marc-Henry's short film about terrorists and hostages.
January 5th; Read 'Just Like Tomorrow' by Faiza Guene on the train down to London, translated from the French by Sarah Young. Entertaining, light - though strangely South London in feel once Arab Paris banlieue backchat gets translated into English that's well street.
Cup of tea with Marc-Henry in Notting Hill, then reach Nigel & Juno in Catford.

January 4th; Reread 'Snobbery with Violence' by Colin Watson, himself a writer of detective stories. A history of crime fiction in Britain. Very revealing on just how sadistic and prejudiced much pre-war popular English writing like the Bulldog Drummond oeuvre was. Concludes with the intriguing suggestion that post-war characters James Bond, Harry Palmer and others are not really heroes of 'spy' novels, but form a homegrown British secret-police literature.
January 3rd; Read mother's copy of 'The Myths of Love' by Denis de Rougement. de Rougement makes the interesting case that Christian Europe has an attitude to the erotic unlike that of any other continent, an attitude [among men] which oscillates between two extremes represented by Tristan's selfless loyalty and Don Juan's restless greed. The writing in places is beautifully lucid. In other places ["This touching admission is one of the moments where Gide exists, "irreplaceable", where he rejoins his true person, because a Third Person in himself, which is his true ultimate self, finally assumes the insoluble conflict of his two souls."] it's like wading through chilled honey. An odd bit where he meets Gide is interesting. So is his literary criticism of writers and thinkers like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Nabokov. Despite some extensive discussion of Oriental religions, he claims Asian civilisation has nothing like Europe's tragic eroticism, though I keep reading that the 12th-century European courtly-love literature was Sufi-inspired. Curiously, it never once occurs to de Rougement that there might be another position apart from these two poles of Tristan and Don Juan. "Worse than a Don Juan, worse than a Tristan, would be a married Don Juan or a promiscuous Tristan" is as near as he gets to considering polygamy. The idea of loyal love to several women seems never to cross his mind as a cultural alternative, let alone the idea that this might be exactly the reason those Asian civilisations avoid his Tristan / Don Juan dichotomy.

January 2nd; Clean out mother's back yard and trim back ivy. Read a copy of 'Celtic Twilight' by W.B. Yeats I found lying around. A set of anecdotes about Irish villagers and their reported meetings with the "faery people". Hauntingly elegant story-telling from 1890 to 1900, when Yeats was an occultist and not yet into his fascist period.
January 1st; Read 'Sins for Father Knox' by Josef Skvorecky. 1960s Czech detective stories in which Eva, a blonde nightclub singer, dizzily solves mysteries while in each story breaking exactly one of Ronald Knox's commandments as to what no detective-story writer should ever do. The final story, involving homosexual men, spoils this conceit, since homosexuality cannot by any stretch of the imagination qualify as use of the supernatural in a story as Skvorecky weakly claims. Otherwise very entertaining.

Mark Griffith, site administrator / contact@otherlanguages.org

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