Signs of moderate recovery from mother. Read Hebden Library copy of
Rise of Political Lying' by Peter Oborne. Oborne claims that the Conservative governments
of the late 1980s and early 1990s were marred by deceit from
a handful of mavericks like Neil Hamilton and
Jeffrey Archer, while the post-1997 Labour governments have been marked by institutionalised
lying - implicating ministers, ministries, No. 10 Downing Street, and the government as a whole.
then hospital. Judith drives back north.
with mother & Judith. Dinner with Judith in evening.
Judith drives down from
for the weekend to see mother. We realise we
have not met face to face for a couple of decades.
Last night finish mother's copy of the sternly-titled
of Lessons in Raja Yoga' by Yogi Ramacharaka, reprinted from 1905 at
some point in the early 1960s. Serious stuff - lots of repetition, as a good
course of lessons should probably have. Today, attend midday Communion on the correct day.
Visit hospital in the afternoon.
Gorgeous spring weather. I go to midday Holy Communion at
but find it locked. Julia, clearing dead
flowers out of the sunny churchyard, says it is on Thursdays, despite the notice.
She mentions her husband takes Modern Greek
evening classes in Huddersfield and tells me about the church music group. Mother
seems slightly better today when I visit.
Mother weak. Baptist church
sobers up. I should be less harsh.
See cardiologist at
Story of mother's weak heart confirmed. Very slight improvement.
Acting on a suggestion of mother's yesterday while partly lucid, I go to
in Mytholmroyd this Sunday morning,
and find it quite a help. There is a sermon about Jesus helping the fishing disciples net 153
fish, and the preacher cheerily mentions that
Augustine said the significance of this was that 153 is the 17th
number, and the triangle symbolises the holy trinity. After
the service, Graham kindly introduces me in the church hall next door
to Tim and Sara, who live on a narrowboat in Hebden Bridge.
They share boisterous tales of
inspectors being thrown in the canal by Hebden
At hospital, mother still frail. A kindly
friend phones in the evening to cheer me up.
Visit mother in hospital. No improvement. Finish her copy of Colin Wilson's
Outsider', the book that made
him famous at 24 as one of the "angry young men"
in the mid-1950s. Nothing about the book struck me as particularly angry or young.
It is a confident, sweeping discussion of "outsiders" in modern literature, tracing
them back from 20th-century existentialists like Sartre to mystics like William Blake
and George Fox. Dostoyevsky gets respectfully discussed in detail, as do Nietzsche
and Kierkegaard. Wilson
concludes that existentialism & nihilism are
spiritual urges, not always recognised as such. Some of the book was quite heavy-duty
- though clearly written - because the themes of wasted life and moral failure made
difficult reading matter this weekend.
hospital. Mother incoherent.
Mother very ill. Get doctor, then ambulance.
in time are visited.
Ambulance crew very cheery & kind.
Spend whole day at
Take mother to
Sunny, then chilly.
Read mother's copy of
by Colin Patterson. One of those books that
tells you it's a textbook by repeated use of one extra colour when simple black-and-white
diagrams would have been more attractive. In this case the colour is a slightly weak
orange, in a paler and brighter version. The diagrams are clear otherwise, and
Patterson dives into subtleties: ring species which are two subspecies that
can interbreed in one place and two separate species in another location, evolution
of blood haemoglobin, neutralism and junk DNA. Hard-going in places, but very good.
Valley drenched in bright, even hot, sunshine.
Meet cheerful, though limping, 9 or 10-year-old boy who
gives me directions. He hails his sister down the street and she does not react.
"You see? Told you
Bethany's as deaf as a post." he says sadly, shaking his head
at the ways of the world.
Try to work on Internet at
in Hebden. A large group of
men arrive -
the type who cannot sing, so therefore sing very loudly. I hope we can still count on
them to care about freedom.
Finish mother's copy of
Brummell', a biography by Ian Kelly of the dandy who got
early-19th-century London society men wearing the forerunner of the modern
suit and tie. His early rise is fun to read about. Brummell seems to have had
enormous aplomb and luck, the ability to make people laugh,
and an instinctive sense of style. The long slow decline of his
fortunes from about 1815 is harrowing however, including detailed
descriptions of his syphilis-induced madness in increasingly sad
French hotels, prisons and asylums.
The accumulating mass of begging letters from someone once so insouciant also make
for rather a distressing read. In a final afterword, Kelly suggests Brummell not
only changed fashion, but founded a type that lingered on in France
and England. That he inspired aesthete dandies of the 1890s like Beerbohm and Wilde,
fictional characters like Raffles, Hanney, or James Bond. Even that this
founding example of modern 'cool' crossed the sex
boundary for Coco Chanel to pull off a similar restyling of women's clothing in
early-20th-century France. This section could have been longer, and the long, slow
humiliation of Brummell's slide into debt and pathos could have been a bit shorter for
my taste. His wit hasn't quite aged well: clearly you "had to be there at the time".
Only when the Prince of Wales throws a glass of wine in Brummell's face sitting to his
right, and Brummell immediately throws his own glassful in the face of the person to
his right, cheerfully crying
"The Prince's toast: pass it on!" do we really
glimpse the quickness that makes someone remembered as a wit, even if not much they
said sounds witty two centuries of context later.
Orange phones me. He says mother's condition is irreversible.
Quiet day with mother.
Warm sun. Britain's government to
live so as to promote witch hunts.
Some improvement: mother tries
I finish rereading Richard Sennett's
of the Eye', a book about cities and moral ideas I first read Ryan's
copy of. Starting with
the unusual remark that it is rarely clear in a modern city "where to go to
experience remorse", Sennett writes an extraordinary study partly about
the districts of New York, Rome & Florence, and partly about social space. Some
of his text seems slightly overwritten, but the book is thought-provoking and
deeply intelligent. The third in a
time to read the first two.
Monday. Mother worsens. Gruelling night.
Catch train to
Mother insistent she wants to leave.
Nurses help us pack. Taxi home.
to Manchester. On plane meet some
Sheffield students who have
hitch-hiked to Prague & Belgrade finding how generous West European motorists
are and how unpleasant East European
motorists are to anyone trying to get a lift. Reach central Manchester just in
time to miss last train to mother's village. John kindly drives me back to his
house in Sale. Spend night there, we chat.
Hairdresser tells me there is a strike at the
endangering my flight
tomorrow. Visit fitness gym for first time in months. Enjoy familiar pinewood
smell in sauna. Hot sunshine on the streets, but cooling spring breezes.
Bus takes 10 minutes to crawl last 100 yards in sunny traffic jam,
puzzling out here in Ujpalota
until I remember today's date: people are leaving work early to
celebrate today's execution and Sunday's resurrection.
Manage to change lightbulb in functionalist kitchen-ceiling light fitting. As expected,
not easy. During day, finish my Christmas present from Nigel of Darkness:
Performance Hacks', by Ron Hale-Evans.
Slightly worryingly subtitled 'Tips & Tools for Overclocking Your Brain',
this is a rather well-written set of tricks for thinking more efficiently,
written [since it's an O'Reilly book] with programmers in mind, but with
plenty for everybody. Ranging from the semi-autistic [how to know the day
of the week for any Gregorian calendar date, or how to count to a million
on you fingers in binary] to the sensible [assessing priorities & risks,
simple mnemonic systems, getting a good night's sleep] this is definitely
worth reading. There are even some bits on self-hypnosis and breathing control,
albeit with reassurances that there will not be any "mystical
nonsense" to alarm readers.
Another warm, cloudy day with smells of spring blossom. By morning I go to the
sound studio and record two sentences for
I drop in at Mariann & Phil's for soothing ginger tea. Spot
an old thermometer screwed onto a doorframe in their flat, calibrated
in both Celcius and
units. Work most of the afternoon on laptop.
By evening, don leather trousers to play
Detlef the art-house film director for
& Sam. We shoot a scene where I audition Scott's brother Craig for a
Transylvanian vampire movie while
Craig's girlfriend, playing my aloof assistant Ulrike, sketches naughty things on her
Get home 11-ish to find light has failed in the windowless kitchen. Of course,
since this is an International-Style modernist building designed by functionalists,
neither Julia or I can see how to get the glass fitting off the ceiling to change
Mihaly holds our lesson in his modern, hi-tech car. We drive
through a sudden downpour across Budapest.
He describes his recent trip to South America: aggressive Brazilian girls, an odd
spiritual experience at the
Picchu Inca fortress, an Amazon jungle week
swimming in red rivers, black rivers, green rivers alongside rayfish and small
alligators. Later that evening another student, Andrea, mentions finding
Machu Picchu overwhelming. Dinner with
Scott, Sam, & the
Cycle off to next village to meet Edina. She and I stroll along the grassy top of
the flood dyke back to Tiszainoka in sunshine bright enough to burn my forearms red.
As we start along the dyke, we are chatting about Islam & Christendom. Just as I
am saying something about Islam being the only system left still claiming to rule
both the spiritual & material worlds, a wasp or bee hits me in the side of my head,
stinging me painfully.
hint not to mock the
of the Molecule, I suppose. Robin drives
me to Lakitelek early for my train, and we sit in the shade eating tasty pizzas.
As Robin sees me to my small local train to Kecskemet, he notices a handwritten
sign in the train-driver's window written in Hungarian runes. We ask about
this, and the driver, Gyorgy Katona, invites me into the cab for the half-hour journey.
As we chug down the single track between tufts of yellow grass and village stops
sometimes no more than signs in open fields, he tells me about his passion for the
railways and his own life path from Romania's Hungarian-speaking mountain region. His
sign in old runic writing says "I'm a Transylvanian
not a tourist." Gyorgy
tells me how he walked across the border into Hungary in 1988 with his
daughter on his back and holding his wife's hand. Since then he has travelled to
Britain and other countries often meeting railway buffs. He voyaged to Japan
to sit in the front of bullet trains with his Japanese colleagues. A happy memory
was riding the cab of an InterCity service with British engine drivers going at
125 miles per hour between Bristol and Derby. Before he visited
England, the diesel depot at Szentes gave him a wreath to
put on the grave of famous Hungarian railway engineer
Gyorgy Yedressik who died
in exile in London in 1954. He found Yedressik's grave in Streatham Park cemetery,
and was shocked to see no flowers at the tomb of the designer of so many Hungarian
locomotives. He laid the wreath on the grave of the man who, despite having to flee
the communists, wrote a letter from Switzerland giving up all his railway patents to
the Hungarian people, and whose name Mr Katona saw on the side of a
jumbo aircraft [Yedressik also designed a type of jet engine].
Returning to Hungary with some photographs of the cemetery
Gyorgy describes his pain when the
editor of the railway workers' magazine says the topic is unsuitable.
"It was like
a spade in my heart", the train driver tells me simply.
Some friendly folk on the
website talking about us co-operating
somehow to reclaim our freedoms. Late morning, cheery woman comes over to reclaim the
Shakespeare thesis I edited a bit. We sit outside, talking over my questions.
Mid-afternoon, chatty hydrologist pops over. He, Robin, Zeno and
I sit round on white iron garden chairs in warm sunshine looking at his
report about local spring water.
His report says all the different drillable depths near Robin's village bring up water
that is warm, but too salty or toxic to drink. Mother seems a bit better. Buy ticket to
fly back this weekend. After dusk, a vivid peach-coloured full moon
due east of
house gets Zeno's friend Monika excited.
Argument on phone with sister Judith, who has driven to Yorkshire and is helping
mother with her latest illness. When I tactlessly remind Judith of how
rudely she rebuffed my letter about all four of us jointly caring for mother
15 years ago, she angrily puts phone down on me. Drive with Robin's children to riding class.
Shapely Rita puts each child in turn for forty minutes on a very gentle horse
called Frida. As Robin and I stare at the horizon,
clops by on a
large stallion for a chat. The beast is at least 18
hands high. Hungarian
call its colour 'yellow' while British horse people call its colour 'chestnut',
so it's mid-brown.
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