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2008
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December 31st; My watch stops, so I only just get to the railway station with one minute to spare before my train back to the countryside leaves. I read the Yates book as the light slowly fades outside the carriage window, and there is more light coming up from the flat, frosty fields dusted with thin snow than down from the lead-grey sky of early evening. Meet Robin at Lakitelek and reach his house earlier than usual, around 6pm. Towards midnight, get text messages of good will on my telephone, including a rather mysterious one from Moscow. If any of you still have doubts that a long, hard recession is coming up, check this Swedish fashion website, reeking of long-skirtish, nostalgic, early-70s, Nouvel-Laura-Ashley downturn dressing. Decorative, childlike, protect-my-fragile-womanhood Victoriana if ever I saw it. Their motto: "We also hope that we encourage women all over the world to follow their hearts and embellish themselves without restrictions." Off you go then, girls. Get embellishing.
December 30th; Finish Martin's copy of 'The 4-Hour Work Week' by Timothy Ferriss. This book is worth reading, even if the author is an unusual-enough man that many readers will doubt if we can copy his success. The kind of American undergraduate with sufficient chutzpah to 1. neglect his studies, but make thousands of dollars giving presentations to other students about tripling their reading speed, and then 2. to take a year off college, go to Taiwan, set up a chain of fitness gyms, have it taken off him by the Taiwanese Triads, and return to the US penniless, is clearly going to be a bit difficult to equal. Nonetheless, an inspiring read also filled out with practical information for those ready to follow his example. His example is to set up a specialist online shop (selling products, not services), charge high prices, filter customers, keep suppliers and customers at arm's length, give his suppliers written authority to make 100 or 200 USD decisions without consulting him, and then exercise the self-discipline to only check his own e-mail once or twice a week at pre-agreed times. A wealth of links and references to specialist services that make all this out-sourcing possible, what he has to say on being rich in time, daring to travel, taking time off regularly to learn languages and new skills (in his case usually martial arts) is well worth reading. I hurried over to check out his website section on how to learn any language in 3 months, for example, and have to say the man is not stupid. Oddly enough, a couple of people have remarked that, in my inaccessibility (I rarely answer my phone), my focus on free time over money, and my refusal to commit to long-term responsibilities, I am already living this life. This is not quite right - a little more cash and mobility is needed for that - but it certainly represents a view I have had on work, travel, and life since my early teenage years. Despite first impressions, this is not another book about how to get rich quickly by becoming a get-rich-quick guru. Some good stuff.
Last gym of 2008. Again share sauna with the muscular girl and one of her trainers/spotters. They are mainly talking about her eating regimen. At one point he mentions he has got a good body spray she can use "at the competition". It leaves a gold tan effect and glitters slightly. She smirks and says "then against my skin, how is anyone going to see the gold.... medal?" and they both chuckle.

December 29th; Spot of red wine & soothsaying with Politics Judit & Yusaf. From the lovingly-done retro department, pizzicato 5, Frank Popp, this old one of course, and bonus points for effort to two very stylish videos by Dimitri from Paris. Last thing, walking home behind the yellow church through cold, foggy darkness I pass the curious building called the Roma Parliament. From a lit upstairs room comes the sound of live music: an effortlessly light blend of restaurant Gypsy and Jango Rhineheart jazz with an extra imaginative twist to the rhythm I can't quite place. It's probably good to be in that room right now, living only in the present, but fully. It crosses my mind that, almost without noticing, I got one of my most casual wishes and for some time I've been living in Toon Town.
December 28th; Sleep off whisky, vodka, e t c. Quiet day working.

December 27th; Ice-skating trip with children to Szolnok - I duck out of joining them on the rink. Proper parky outdoors once night falls. Before they skate, Robin & the four children kindly drop me off at Szolnok's Century Of The Common Man railway station: a grandly spacious box of concrete, marble, glass, and battered zinc. I ride to Budapest in the empty dining car of a brand-new Romanian train [Bucuresti to Praha] while the chef & the waitress play backgammon and smoke cigarettes next to the no-smoking sign. Meet Berlin/London Albert a couple of hours later near Moszkva square, where he takes me along to Zsolt & Anna's lovely party. Lots of attractive, affable people. A good time was had by all.
December 26th; Boxing Day. Not just one, but both my laptops have difficulties. One cannot reach the internet, the other will not even turn on (the Apple of course). Emerges that my modem has used up its cash balance, and the Apple is sensitive to cold. Funny to notice how most Continental socket boards (extensions where one plug can feed 2, 3 or more appliances) are designed without any thought as to where the plugs go. Therefore the holes are lined up in such a way that the lead from the back of one plug can obstruct the next socket. All they need to do is turn each socket by 90 degrees or 45 degrees so all the plugs come off the board sideways, not lengthways or at an angle. Quite extraordinary the things supposedly bright people do.

December 25th; Christmas Day. Wake up to fairly thick snow covering the flat, empty landscape around Robin's. Delicious turkey lunch. I give Georgina her first lesson in using computers. A couple of us watch another old Bond film, 'O.H.M.S.S.'. This stirs vague memories, and I feel as if I have seen the final wedding-day massacre scene at least twice before. Letty has not seen it before however, and is genuinely stunned when George Lazenby's bride, the Diana Rigg character, is shot dead in the final frames. Having seen two 1960s James Bond films two days running, I now sense how the whole fable works. Firstly, modern feminists might point out that the penalty for falling wholly in love with 007 is always death for a female character. Yesterday, a rather Filipina-looking Japanese girl gets poisoned for loving him, today a Mediterranean countess gets gunned down for marrying him. Secondly, in every film Bond faces the triple threats of deception, temptation, and brute force. His gallantry to beautiful girls is both his weakness, drawing him into honey traps without fail, yet also his strength, proof of his purity of heart. He is a strange melange of naive fool, protected by guardian angels, and erudite Holmes-like connoisseur on any topic. In tonight's film he reveals advanced proficiency in butterflies, brandy, and skiing. Last night, he happened to speak fluent Japanese. As I watch his character this evening brave all manner of dangers and beatings - equally for a damsel in distress and a tart with a golden heart - I start to see an odd cross. The Bond character is part-English knight, part-Casanova rogue. Loyal to England yet at ease in foreign courts speaking foreign tongues, this Philip-Sidney-like diplomat/warrior blends innocent patriot and guileful rascal. The ridiculous 'licence to kill' tag is the real giveaway. Still loved and needed at home [M, Q, Moneypenny], Bond is given permission by parental figures to be gloriously naughty while abroad. These stories are the vivid fantasy of a schoolchild allowed to play the best games of adulthood without losing the restless spirit of adolescence. In other words he's both a boy's idea of what it's like to be grown up, and a grown-up's half-memory of what it felt like to be a boy. Robin mentions to me the odd detail that when at Sunningdale prep school he saw in the names of old boys on the wall boards, alongside Ian Fleming himself, other old boys with names like Blofeld & Scaramanga & Bond, suggesting where Fleming got some names for the novels. Then Robin, like Fleming's fictional creation Bond, went on to study at Fettes. He recalls Sean Connery's helicopter landing on the cricket square, revisiting the school he had delivered milk to in the 1950s.
December 24th; Christmas Eve. After dark, light powdery snowflakes start to drift down in such tiny grains it is more like mist than snow. I feel a bit under the weather. Today is the gift-unwrapping day in Hungary, not the 25th or the 26th. We all watch 'You Only LiveTwice', which I am surprised to realise I've never seen, at least not since the 1970s perhaps on late-night television in black and white. I realise this is the tune that Robbie Williams used for his Bond-themed video several years ago. Most striking about this mid-60s Bond film is just how bad the Japanese accents are: perhaps now we've all travelled more, standards have risen.

December 23rd; Despite intermittent train strikes, not too much difficulty catching two trains down to meet Robin at Lakitelek railway station after dark.
December 22nd; Potter around a bit. Do more on book cover. Meet Elvira, a theology lecturer, in the sauna at the gym. We chat a bit about Quakerism, Jesus, and Liszt.

December 21st; Sunday. The Nyugati post office that opens every other Sunday of the year is shut today, the one Sunday it would be useful to have it open. Masterstroke.
December 20th; At the gym and the muscular girl in the black top is there. A couple of weeks ago, when I remark on her possible slight dikeyness, Jim replies this girl does some kind of extreme martial art and warns me I should hope she doesn't understand English in case she puts her weights down and comes over to beat me up. In the sauna today, she is chatting to a beefy bodybuilding type. They make room for me to sit down while Mr Chunky good-naturedly jokes about the sight of her giving him an erection. After a few more moments of banter, they step outside and continue to chat. The man of iron happily sprawls across the bench just out of my line of sight, off screen right, while the girl stands framed in the smoked glass door to the sauna, turning every 30 seconds so to check out her lean physique in what is a mirrored surface for her, but transparent glass for me. Each time she repeatedly gives her own body the up-and-down once over, critically examining the shape of each muscle, moving her bikini straps around experimentally, her gaze pauses at eye height for a few seconds so that we are looking right at each other, she standing outside the sauna door, I sitting on a raised wooden bench inside. Perhaps a slight glint of "I'm sure you like how I look almost as much as I like how I look - bet you wouldn't mind some of this, hm?" but of course no way to be sure.

December 19th; There are train strikes apparently. Odd vignettes everywhere. A day or two ago on the metro heard a squealing electronic tune, and the barrel-shaped peasant woman in full Transylvanian folk costume, including black head shawl, is the one who gets the mobile phone out of her basket. The day after, when in the Apple rip-off centre, I suddenly hear a woman yelling in her squawking voice that "...and I'll execute every mother-fucking last one of you" from the restaurant robbery scene in the film 'Pulp Fiction'. I turn round, and a very shy-looking blonde student girl in spectacles is embarrassedly fumbling in her bag for her mobile to turn it off, this snatch of taped speech being her phone's ringtone.
December 18th; Angry day. When I took my Apple in for maintenance this summer, it's now clear the hard drive really was damaged - they were just waiting until my guarantee was up before they admitted it. Six hours of queueing and negotiating in different Apple and Vodafone showrooms before it can access the internet.

December 17th; A morning press conference with Politics Judit in bubbly mood, elegant as ever. One of the academics tells me how one graduate off his MBA course running a big Romanian firm used to have to make regular appointments for union negotiators to beat him up on camera. The deal apparently was nothing too serious [no cuts, no broken teeth], as long as it helped rank-and-file members believe their shop stewards were driving a suitably hard bargain. Fascinating chat with Yusaf about Alan Greenspan, and Judit & Eva get particularly bouncy as we try to get Judit's vehicle out of a multi-storey carpark on the way home. After dark, Mystery Friend 2 makes dinner for a group of us. Edit, her dog Simon, always eager to help out, Eszter who once lived in Luxemburg, Robin, Tamas & me. Eszter tells me to try snowboarding before skiing. After the young ladies leave we watch one of Mystery Friend's DVDs, a late 1960s film called 'More'. Back when Ibiza was an exotic, almost Arab-sounding, location where a young German student type could get in over his head taking drugs with an alluringly dangerous blonde. Lots of scenes on remote, windswept cliffs overlooking inky blue Mediterranean waves. Photography better than the acting or dialogue, but the Pink Floyd score and the morbid psychological drama still compel. We sip some single malt while the femme fatale [played by an actress with the Jabberwocky-ish name 'Mimsy'] slowly drives her young beau out of his mind. Later, in the bar, Tamas is relating his frustration with one of the three latest girls he is courting in parallel, expressing his irritation with a certain amount of Continental passion.
Tamas : She suggested we go home and then she wouldn't let me do anything... OK, she sucked my cock at the end, but otherwise she wouldn't let me touch her!
Mystery Friend 2 (thoughtful, British pause) : Better than nothing though?
December 16th; Complete another entry for an ad brief.

December 15th; Kind Franc helps photograph pencils & needles with his macro lens.
December 14th; Breakfast with Martin, and afterwards we ferry a few boxes from his old to his new flat. Before a refreshing session at the gym I set up the tripod to use the last of the daylight [dusk at 3.30pm] to hold my camera vertically above some small objects I want to photograph. As I leave the flat, the tripod at the other end of my main room transforms in front of my eyes. About 18 inches up, the camera is screwed to an adjustable rod which is sticking out parallel to the floor, while the snout of the camera peers intently down, two loops of camera strap dangling at each side. Just like a terrier staring down at something, silhouetted against the French windows in the last fading grey light of a winter day. Its legs are stiff with intent alertness. Its muzzle is flanked by two ears, the loops of strap, and the horizontal rod is part backbone, part tail. Staring across the room in the thickening gloom, I try to shake the image out of my head, but it sticks. The dog does not even look particularly robotic. Despite having three legs, very much a feature of tripods, it looks vividly canine. Perhaps the cakeshop woman's daughter isn't the only person feeling broody. Returning from a weights session and a sauna after dark, I lengthen each tripod leg for some different shots. At once the dog illusion vanishes. Despite nothing else having changed, it being 30 inches high changes everything. The camera is no longer a head, the strap no longer ears, the rod no longer an excited tail. A couple of hours later, as I empty the washing machine after my first sleep on the floor in months, the quietness and sense of peace in the flat is astonishing. I pay attention to hanging each thing where it can dry: my white fluffy towel, my orange fluffy towel, my yellow fluffy towel. I wonder if this is what Tolle means by this haunting phrase of his about the "spaciousness" surrounding the "content of the present moment". Even if you admire the Germans, slightly abstract, but I think this is what he means. A muffled distant sound comes through walls or ceiling - somewhere in another apartment in this block someone is watching a {Roman? Mediaeval?} film with cheering crowds and a rousing orchestral score, just quietly enough to ignore or attend to as desired. Oddly, at this volume the muffled music actually accentuates the quietness.

December 13th; Wake towards midnight on Friday 12th, and work through the small hours online with Nigel of Darkness, looking at why my laptop is so slow and capricious, and trying to get some software he has built to work on it. Although I download this software, we are unable to establish remote access over the wireless modem so that from Manchester he can inspect my hard drive. Sleep much of day, and wake after dark.
December 12th; After finalising the night's work and e-mailing it in before Lidija's deadline, I am about 1/2 an hour late to meet Jim for a pre-gym coffee. He is very understanding, and listens with amusement to my zoned-out stories of feeling pleasantly odd after a night with no sleep. We do a reasonable session of weights. About 3pm at home I fall asleep.

December 11th; Rather long day. Errands in the day - at one point I buy a curd strudel from the traditional cakeshop behind the yellow church. I notice an orange on the counter evenly studded all over with cloves pressed into the peel, and tell the cake lady it looks nice. She seems wearily puzzled and says her daughter, who also works in the shop, made it but she doesn't know why. I say it creates a pleasant mixed fragrance and the cloves - if there are enough of them - effectively preserve the orange so it dries out slowly without rotting, and makes for interesting decoration. She shrugs and says but why does my daughter do stuff like this? Seeing she wants a different kind of explanation I say it's obvious her daughter is broody and needs to have children. The older woman confirms that her daughter is married but indeed has no children yet. As I leave the patisserie with my strudel her face shows the stirrings of a thought.
As dark falls, I make it out to a suburban street several bus stops past the terminus of the red metro line to visit A-plast, a plastics firm making the stuff I wanted to buy from Plastform. The Plastform ladies seemed a bit cross I got so interested in the see-through sheeting called 'uregkameras policarbonat' instead of the German wunder stuff they thought I was going to buy. They repeatedly told me the see-through sheeting would be the more expensive material [obviously untrue], and kept saying when I went into their showroom that they had "excellent relations" with A-plast, makers of the see-through double-thickness plastic board. I managed not to say "If you've got such excellent relations with them, why can't you give me their prices when I keep asking for the prices, and why can't you just order some in for me and add ten per cent for yourselves instead of making me trek out to some industrial park to see A-plast myself?" Much better at biting my tongue than I used to be. Out in west Pest I find my bus is following the HEV suburban railway line that starts out from Ors vezer square. This line might be the only track left in Hungary where the trains still drive on the left, rumoured to be a vestige of Hungary's rail lines having been laid out by British engineers a century ago. The fact that every other rail track I know of [including all the other HEV lines I've used in Budapest suburbs] has been switched over so trains go on the right is the reason I once missed a HEV train on this line by standing on the right platform in Continental terms and being unable to get across the tracks in time when my train came in on the left. Although the track is at street level there is a big fence of sturdy chicken mesh down the centre separating the two tracks precisely to stop people nipping across except at the designated crossings. I find A-plast, and they are helpful and intelligent. Their product has been strengthened since they left an old sample with the Plastform biddies a decade ago, and of course it is much cheaper than the German plastic/metal sandwich, excellent though that also looks. Get back to town excited, Franc comes round for tea, and around midnight I get down to serious work for patient Lidija in London, fuelled by four cans of some cut-price energy drink.
December 10th; Sleep late. See Regina about book layout. We meet in a Burger King after dark, and when I lend her three of my paperbacks as guidelines she asks where the barcodes are. I point out all three are pre-1971 and have prices in shillings and pence on them. Do some stuff at home for deadline, seemingly in vain once I reread the small print. Play more with the fridge magnet alphabets I bought a few days ago. A set of capitals and a set of lower case. All I need now is some punctuation magnets.

December 9th; Go to gym in the morning with Jim. On the subject of Hungary being full of good-looking women he mentions something Cellist Ben used to say. Ben, who briefly shared a flat with Jim, remarked that in Budapest he sometimes felt like the extra inserted into porn movies to make them look realistic. The one in the background of the bar scene with a glass of a beer and a newspaper, before the attractive types go off to a back room to rut. Later, after a detour through Islam, we return to British prudishness and George Best. Jim reminds me of the famous moment where Best, due to heavy drinking, is increasingly dropping out of the top level of football in his late twenties. A journalist is in Best's hotel room to interview him. There is a bucket of chilled champagne beside them, Best is relaxing in his dressing gown, and his latest model girlfriend, one of the Miss Worlds he's been seeing, is just finishing her shower in the bathroom a few yards away from where they're sitting. "So George," says the journalist, "where did it all start to go wrong?"
December 8th; Three rather visual weblogs: a painter on his daily routine; an art historian's weblog {rather sumptuous}; one about fashion photography - in other words leggy girls in lingerie. Swim at pool on island. On tram, finish an old Penguin book 'Evidence in Camera' by Constance Babington Smith, an overview of the Allies' aerial photographic reconnaissance in the Second World War. Found it in the second-hand bookshop on Andrassy street in surprisingly good condition, a 1961 copy. Babington Smith conveys the excitement and tension of photographic reconnaissance, never letting us forget the risks run by pilots flying unarmed aircraft to take high-altitude images of occupied Europe, and moving tidily through the different episodes in the politics of this new office or commander, efforts by the various services to take control of or split off parts of the surveillance pilots and their photographic interpreters. One or two vivid vignettes give sharp glimpses of the time: "Riddell's interpreters all wanted to have a hand in this triumphant occasion, and the six of them sat round waiting. ...
Riddell was smoking cigarette after cigarette, and Fane was playing about with a loaded revolver as he often did (he was a crack shot), while Fuller was trying to read an intelligence report, and the others were pretending to work. Fuller looked up and broke the silence.
'Where's Stolp?'
There was a shattering explosion and the girls screamed. An officer and several airmen came running in from the photographic section next door to see what had happened, and they found Fane laughing and the rest of the section speechless. In the huge wall map of Germany there was a neat round hole above the name 'Stolp'."
She then describes their dismayed disbelief at finding when the photographs arrive that the brilliant air raid on Stolp has caused almost no damage. A sad two pages near the end regretfully mention how French writer and pilot Saint-Exupery was lost on his last flight because he insisted on still flying photographic missions "when he was much too old and absent-minded" [at 43]. She quotes a couple of lovely paragraphs he wrote about the sublime thrill of high-altitude flying, and describes his most famous book as 'Flight to Arras' when today we would probably cite 'The Little Prince' as the book he is best remembered for. Babington Smith's and her colleagues' sincere shock, almost distress, at finding out after victory just how badly organised German aerial reconnaissance had been, is an interesting finish.

December 7th; Wasil, an online friend, points me to the same heartening story about Britain's arrogant DNA-grabbing coppers that Mystery Friend 1 mentioned the other night. By day, procure rollerblades. By night, with Mystery Friend 2 to a rehearsal of the Ionescu play Nora is helping out with. Rather compelling acting and directing. Some fun stuff in the middle as one character explores his subconscious as a cave system on stage. When at the end I show Nora my papier mache capital letters L & P and apologise for them being a bit Rainbow / Magpie the English director seems politely puzzled. Mystery Friend 2 most taken with the slinkier actress on stage. He then startles me a bit by saying that theatre is always a let-down because there is really no way to suspend disbelief. In his part of town we repair to the fashionable battered bar where the aloof staff are tonight slightly stunned because neighbours' complaints are having them shut down. From the shabby, trendy place I phone-text Nora in an effort to arrange a lunch date for Mystery Friend 2 with the slinky actress, while he enjoys a bowl of soup. By return text Nora demurs that her dramatic colleague lives with her lover and is a good girl. Elsewhere in the bar an exhausted-looking but smug Tamas is relating how he has been up a few nights with a beautiful lass, and he introduces me to his friend Pali, who works with a sign-language group. When I take my leave to go home, and add that I probably have my minimal love life because I simply can't endure the hours & days [or rather months & years] hanging around in boring bars waiting for chances to meet women, Tamas shrugs and says "Where else are you going to meet them?" Strangely depressing conversation. Get home stinking of cigarette smoke.
December 6th; Lentil soup after dark with Viki. We watch some Eckhart Tolle together online.

December 5th; More damned rain. Jim tells me his worries about Islam, and I mention Izzy Stone's re-examination of the case against Socrates. In the WestEnd shopping centre I dive into a crowded toy shop and find it a bewildering warren of tottering stacks of boxes. All of them are coloured in bright pinks, greens, reds, and blues, and not one, but two gazelle-like customers in the store complement low-key elegance with stiletto boots for that vital tarty touch. As a character in some novel ['White Noise'?] Consultant Mark told me about years ago kept saying, the data was good, but I still had to leave the shop in some confusion.
December 4th; Quite intense gym session with Jim, where we briefly meet John. Jim tells me about a former art student of his, Denis Yeung. It rains on and off the whole day, and just as in Manchester, I can't help feeling there's something deeply offensive about cold water dripping out of the sky onto me all the time. Meet Nora in the streamlined modern cafe at Kalvin square that she likes for a bagel and mineral water, and she tells me about an Ionescu performance she is helping with as well as a frustrating software brochure she is translating.

December 3rd; Gizella & Szilvia come over for a morning photography session. Buoyant as ever, they tell me they quit from the post office and chatter about moving to Holland in January in search of work. Fascinated by my wax tablet back from Robin's, and then by some British money lying on my table, they ask if our queen is on everything, paper & coins alike? It emerges they have a position on the Elizabeth-versus-Diana question, and take the side of the young, martyred princess. I get them to draw designs on each other's arms & legs & backs, and "hugi" ["our kid"] Szilvia proposes a dollar sign for her neck, insisting Gizella draw a fat, bouncy dollar S on her to show off her throat and breast bone. Early evening, meet Eva P, Martin 1, Canadian Martin, Mystery Friend 2, and the young ladies to see the newest Woody Allen film at the MOMPark shopping centre: 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona'. For the first time, I feel that Allen is really onto something with these comedy-of-manners films he has been making for years where he does not cast himself as a voice or a cameo role. The obvious parallel is with Henry James novels about the differences between American & European outlooks on life. Has Allen been trying to make novels on film all this time? In any case, I like this one. The plot: two very different American girls spend a summer in Barcelona together and meet just the bohemian types they have been longing to meet. The plotting is sure, the acting effortless, and a breezy voiceover briskly introduces each scene, catching just the right balance between mild irony and keeping the story rattling along. Clever, well-argued film, thoroughly enjoyable. After the cinema, we repair to the latest trendy bar place with glum, curt staff, where, as ever, the foreign clientele lap up the rudeness and gamely endure being sneered at as they try their Hungarian dinner-ordering vocab. The soup is good, the lasagne rather less so. I briefly run into Mr Erskine from the MTI days, who has had more adventures: he tells me how he borrowed a laptop, had it stolen from him in a cafe, and how he chased the thief down the street and rescued the machine. Back at our table, Mystery Friend [MF2] chats with Edit, who has brought her dog Simon. I mention wanting to get to know more Russian girls.
Edit [bent over Simon as she reattaches his leash] : I think they're just vile witches.
Canadian Martin : You mean the whole country?
Edit : No, just the women.
I ask about Polish girls, and, missing no beat, MF2 says "Like house-trained Russians", with the air of a bored tennis pro receiving a slow lob to his open forehand. At that moment, Martin 1 takes our collected wad of cash over to the bar to pay. I watch a moderately attractive Hungarian girl at the bar glance up to her right, checking how he looks, glance down at his wad of cash, and give him another quick once-over before looking away: an efficient 3-second, 3-glance assessment. MF2 and I agree to try rollerblading/in-line-skating together and I try to joke about rising above my lack of fitness to become a new man. "Liberate the Inner Pig", he declares suddenly with deadpan calm. "Release it to snuffle after fresh swill. Let it oink." As we part on the street he eyes the night wearily and murmurs to me, "Let it roam... freely."
December 2nd; Robin drives me over to Lakitelek for my afternoon train back to Budapest. The lad alone in the buffet car is even more furious than usual that I expect him to cook me an omlette. I ask about an onion omlette and he thrusts a menu at me explaining my set of choices. Mineral water with bubbles is also not available, he shows me triumphantly. Later he is fulfilled for the day to be able to tell me that use of a laptop in the dining car is now forbidden - the fault of customers who complained about drinks spilling on them of course. The train trundles into Budapest slightly late, and once at home I extract the twisted remains of a light bulb from the socket with the pliers Robin has lent me. A list of things to do very soon starts to pile up.

December 1st; Up early in the studio, I go down from the gallery to check the stove in the first glimmering of not-night, just about able to see my way. As I chop another acacia log in half so a piece will fit through the stove lid and fall into its glowing cave of orange embers, the grey light of pre-dawn brightens and the room takes shape round me. I use Robin's old but effective trick of embedding the hatchet blade in the log, turning the log round and whacking the back of the blade down on the chopping block with the weight of the log on top of it, and can meanwhile hear the humming of the cooling fan in my laptop up in the gallery, left on and still connected to the internet. There was a similar odd moment yesterday in the kitchen. Bela and Kasper left after lunch and Bela returned to surprise me, in a great coat and suddenly almost 6 foot 6 tall, with an improbably small, cherubic head on top of his huge body. Of course he was on the shoulders of his brother hidden inside the coat, but the illusion was surprisingly good. Children have probably been doing that jape for as many thousand years as there have been clothes to hide inside. A very brief glimpse of what life must have been like as recently as 1900, before radio, cinema, or television, when houses in the country were full of amateur dramatics and children rummaging in chests of old clothes to dress up in.
Robin & I drive a few miles to Kunszentmarton to talk to the glazier, a large, heavy, weary man who repeatedly sighs as we talk to him. I carefully draw a diagram of the three boxed, double-glazed, window casements he is being asked to make. He phones the frame-maker to come over the road and help him, gloomily indicating that we have already plunged into the outer darkness beyond his specialism. A little like the other half of a comedy duo, the frame-maker is small, cheerful and lively. Over at the lovely, pale-panelled cake shop, the big lady behind the counter is beside herself with excitement at Robin's presence, still agitated by his appearance in an article in Hungary's best-known women's magazine 'Nok Lapja' around 18 months ago. This was a review of 4 or 5 families where a Hungarian girl had married and had children with a foreigner. By the look of things, he and Georgina are going to be famous across the Great Plain region for several decades on the basis of that piece. We enjoy chatting to the broad jolly lady, though she talks with her mouth wide open showing us the cake she is chewing, which spoils the effect slightly. She is most insistent that Robin should do some paintings of beautiful stretches along the local river Koros. She genially warns me against the small, peculiar biscuit-cum-cake I choose to accompany my green tea, and is right to do so.

Mark Griffith, site administrator / markgriffith @ yahoo.com

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