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2009
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March 31st; In a spirit of nutritional enquiry for about a week I've been eating small amounts of raw liver each day. No noticeable change in how I feel, but today I realise that I now smell exactly like a large, friendly dog. This would be the kind of dog that clambers all over you in the back of someone's Range Rover, ever hopeful you know an interesting new game to play - that smell. Buying the liver produces effects too. Yesterday I am in the shop, ask for just two ounces, and a woman customer is simply unable to contain herself. "What on earth are you going to do with two ounces of liver?!" she squeals excitedly, absolutely bursting with gleeful curiosity. I tell her it's a secret, and she is utterly delighted with this answer. Her male companion ruefully smiles and gives me a man-to-man nod of admiration, visibly filing away the tactic of buying bizarre quantities of stuff in shops to strike up conversations with women for his own later use.
Anyone who loves or loathes the My Little Pony creature should loathe or love its mutant movie-star cousins a Finnish artist makes. Another niche filled.
Today in the sauna after training a girl - can I be imagining this? - tries to chat up another girl. A slim girl with brown skin and long, glossy black hair is preening while chatting with the group. A square-shouldered girl with a short-back-and-sides haircut comes in and awkwardly sits in silence in the steam in the only vacant space - I'm between the two of them. At a certain point Short Back & Sides asks Long Black Hair if she uses the solarium here at the club, a quite natural question given she is the brownest of them all. Yet an odd tension arises. Long Black Hair smiles, half closes her eyes and shakes her head slowly, as if to say "You realise I don't have to talk to you if I don't want to?" Three seconds go by, and the sudden silence is so uncomfortable a man over by the hot rocks feels compelled to chip in that he sometimes uses the solarium here. We wait for the brown-skinned one to deign to respond. Finally Long Black Hair murmurs "No, no I don't." smiling, visibly trying to close down the newcomer's conversational gambit. Another second or two of silence, and Short Back & Sides, strangely reminiscent of an embarrassed man, tries again. "Why not?" she asks. Long Black Hair continues to silently shake her head with her eyes half-closed, wordlessly telling the other woman to back off, almost mouthing "Oh no you don't, darling". No-one rescues either of them, and Long Black Hair finally murmurs "It's no good here." Short Back & Sides persists one more time, asking why. Long Black Hair, stretching out the silence for as many seconds as she can eventually mutters that it just isn't any good here, her whole body and face saying let that be an end to it, all right? Short Back & Sides takes the hint or accepts the snub, goes quiet, and leaves the sauna half a minute later.
March 30th; Lunch with Martin, in Feszek Club's quaint & empty restaurant. I have to break it to him that I'm a Burkean High Tory. He takes it pretty well, actually. We both watch our waiter thinking we don't notice he is bringing Martin back his original bottle of mineral water each time refilled with soda water. On the way back I bump into Jay for the first time in half a decade. He's now on his third Hungarian wife, and he tells me she designs and builds stoves. Weight-training, and the girl in black is being shown various muscle-demonstration poses by one of her minder/coaches, an almost sleepy man in loose, pale-blue pyjama slacks. In the sauna afterwards all she can talk about is the foods she craves - she's obviously on some gruelling micro-fat/low-carb diet. Trainer Man mentions the cravings he had on the same regimen some years back. Relaxing dinner afterwards with Eva, who tells me about Beethoven and El Pais and Spain's continuing controversy over the Madrid train bombings of 2004. So relaxing, I forget my sports stuff in the restaurant.

March 29th; Late breakfast with Gretchen at a place I haven't drank at since I introduced Jessica to Scott. We chat. I suddenly get a picture clear in my mind of what it is that's so irritating, yet also oddly soothing, about living among Hungarians. It's their inability to project a common grid into the space around them. Plenty of spikes & funnels, but no grid. Gretchen points out that even Hungarian bureaucrats don't seek you out for hassle - you actually have to hunt down state officials here to get them to give you a hard time. We walk through the Watertown, and her square has a statue of Mary haloed in a ring of stars. Two streets away, I pass a church I have seen often before but never really looked at. Halfway down the facade, about 60 feet above the main door, is that strange triangular Eye of God with golden rays of light familiar from the dollar bill. Inside this church a second sculpted Mary also has a loop of stars orbiting her head, like a cartoon character after a blow from a hammer.
March 28th; Tea with Noemi. Dinner with Franc. He kindly photographs a copy of the pre-print dummy edition with his big lights & clever macro lens.

March 27th; Quite enjoying how different my room looks with the table in pieces. Chat to Eva briefly. Do a bit of gluing & screwing with table. Might have solved the book problem - we'll see.
He who hears this without giggling has no soul: "Girl, you've got stars stuck in your teeth." Almost ranks with William Shatner.
March 26th; Just like the old days, watching bits of foreign films on 3 TV channels at once. Claude Chabrol's 'Les Biches / Bad Girls'. Plus a lovely Czech whimsy I should have seen years ago: 'Valerie and Her Week of Wonders' - like early Ken Russell, only rather better. Dinner at Magdolna's where she tells the chilling story of how, as recently as 1984 {yes, that year}, she had all her papers stolen while she was on a student visit to the Soviet Union. She was turned back when she tried to re-enter Hungary; the Hungarian Consul in Kiev called her a whore and sent her away; she spent days hiding from anyone in a uniform, in fear of Siberia. This is the most basic tool states use to control us, owning our identities.

March 25th; Yesterday disassembled kitchen table from its trestles. One beam is coming away and the top is warped. Time to reglue, add two stiffening beams edgeways, screw on the carrying handles, clean the top surface with turps, then seal it with that Danish oil stuff. Room looks pleasantly different with the new space where the table was. Lunch with Edith & her wire-haired fox terrier Simon. Buy 22 flower pots and three ounces of pig's liver.
March 24th; Beautiful moment at dusk when the yellow church is bathed in late sun but grey shadow is already sliding up the fronts of all the other buildings. Behind the rich yellow custard front of the church a deep lead-blue sky promises thunder, and a single traffic light glows green-blue against it like a jewel. An hour later dinner with Mystery Friend 2 and Edith. Mystery Friend tells us about a slightly curious trip one Christmas to a small town in Wales with his mother some years ago. The only place they could rent a room for the night was a DHSS hostel for homeless people owned by a Polish widow of a White Russian who had done some hush hush military stuff and then died. Gives a convincing account of how a Welshman threatens to break down the bedroom door of another Welshman who has purloined his sniffing glue. Polish widow explained she never had problems keeping order in the hostel and showed them how by unsheathing her mediaeval sword.

March 23rd; Useless trip to local hardware place to find they do not have hot-wire cutters for slicing plastic board. Political crisis continues here.
March 22nd; Fine video by creative shepherds.

March 21st; In the evening meet Jeremy 2, Csilla, & their Staffordshire Terrier puppy Lulu in a bar on Dob street. Jeremy teaches me the word 'reflux'.
Groove Armada again.
March 20th; Drill the children for their presentation. Presentation comes and goes [Astrid gets Stephen on stage to sing some opera at the end], and we get to the station 15 minutes before our train. Then Justin throws Carl's frisby up onto the station roof and has to climb a drainpipe to retrieve it. For a while all well as we zoom smoothly across eastern Austria, riding "the weasel". Until two of our team, each holding one of the 2 group tickets back to Budapest, get separated somewhere round Vienna because some people insist on running off for food each time we change trains. So I'm crossing western Hungary with Carl, Josh, & Gretchen - and since our group ticket is for three people we get fined by the inspector. Finally back in Budapest I drop my luggage and go out weight-training, where a cheerful man tells all of us in the sauna how he could set Hungary right with 400 loyal armed men.

March 19th; More songs & games with children by day. Drink rather a lot of schnapps during the afternoon. More drinks with the teachers by night. We try the smoky red wine Astrid's grandfather apparently established. Astrid tries to get one of our teachers, Stephen, a baritone opera-singer, to agree to sing at tomorrow's presentation for parents. Carl tells of passing a Wetherspoons pub in central Manchester, seeing two men thrown out onto the pavement in front of him, heads bleeding, and then realising they were the bouncers.
March 18th; Walk to some gardening warehouses at the end of Langenlois to look for glue and catnip seeds. Catnip is apparently 'Katzenminze' in German. Everyone very helpful and responsive. Drop in at the almost deserted school around 4pm, and find one of our teaching group, Stuart, in the school computer room, on his own, passionately playing Mozart on the upright piano that has been left in there.

March 17th; Tonight, out to dinner with the Austrian teachers. Head teacher Astrid drives some of us there and promises we will never forget Langenlois because of the way she drives. A lovely meal of cured meats and local white wine. Gabi outlines her plans for an urban gardening revolution in Hungary and I grow pleasantly confused on the wine.
March 16th; Teach small children by day, finish 'A Time of Gifts' by Patrick Leigh Fermor by night. The book closes with him crossing the Danube into Hungary at Esztergom. A lovely read, this is an elegy for a lost Europe that was still intact until quite recently. Though mortally wounded by World War One, the Europe that Fermor walks across as he hits 19 years of age in 1934 is still recognisably 19th-century. People he meets can remember a self-confident era of country-house balls and an apparently timeless though back-breaking rural scene, farming still largely done on foot and with horses. Since he compiled this book and the next volume (Hungary, Romania, and on to Constantinople) from notes after the war, he can move backwards and forwards in time. His main adventure during the war that was to come a few years later - kidnapping a German general on Crete - becomes another occasion to recall this fading silver age. His German prisoner gazes at the horizon and quotes a line of Horace. Fermor finishes the verse for him. For a moment the differences of the war are forgotten as the two officers realise they both had the same education, a classical one. Back with his youthful travelogue in 1934, Fermor alternates between sleeping rough with woodcutters in the forest and being put up in crumbling but still magnificent castles and chateaux. As he walks from the Hook of Holland down into Germany and Austria, the contacts with eccentric squires and wistful barons increase and he more and more finds himself staying in quaint splendour at their country seats discussing books and hearing stories from the still recent 1890s. This is until a sudden moment of awkwardness dislodges him from this gilded world and lands him in Vienna, penniless and hungry, to be fed by a kind and weary Salvation Army officer from Lancashire. I'm not sure if this book quite deserves the high reputation it has as a piece of great travel writing. It works because Fermor clearly was, and still was in the 1950s and 60s, a charming and attractive character, able to laugh at the ideals and beliefs of his own younger self without having grown cynical. His tone of voice is gentle and retains all the careless, hopeful certainty of youth. Yet his wide vocabulary is scattered across the pages in a most unfashionable way, almost as if the texture of words matters more than their meaning. Just one sentence on page 227 has 'lavoltas', 'corantos', 'hidalgos', and 'rowels', none of which I have ever seen before. While it's possible to guess they are horseriding terms, and lovely-sounding words in their own right, does that sentence actually say much more to a horseman than a non-rider? Ilex must be a type of tree, marguerite a type of curve, but imberb? Pargetted, incunables, aulic, banneret, aurochs, hydromel? Likewise, something suspiciously flattering in the airy way he drops in French & Latin quotations untranslated, as if all properly-educated readers will naturally be comfortable in both. Whereas German, a language he was picking up on his trip, he translates in footnotes. Similarly he gives the meaning of some Hungarian words in the last few pages (where a mistake mixing the words for beer & wine goes unnoticed by the editors). This book made me wish I could remember my school Latin, but since I don't, some extra footnotes wouldn't have hurt.
Wake up in small hours with not so much nightmares as unpleasant dreams. For example, watching a film within the dream where a witch's caravan is overgrown inside with weeds. A sink of brine solution contains a severed hand, twitching.

March 15th; Train to Austria with teachers. Destination, Langenlois.
March 14th; Dinner with Eva. Noemi joins us, and we go on to Politics Judit's party, which involves a bald dwarf king in a gold crown. Britain's NuLab state now wants us all to specify all journeys abroad, in advance. Next step, exit visas. Permission to travel. How do we make sure the people planning these arrogant laws never hold power again?

March 13th; Martin cooks lunch at his. Fine grilled chicken - Anett & I also try to comment critically on his spinach souffle experiment. Visit Russian library and try out my 3 or 4 prepared sentences on the library lady. She's sweet about it.
March 12th; Lovely dinner at Magdolna's, cooked by Zsolt. Afterwards, her daughter Eszter & I compare Tarot packs. Eszter knows the Tarot a lot better than me, so despite snuffly cold she reads our spreads.

March 11th; The mysterious message from some Agi to meet at the WestEnd shopping centre [on Monday I texted back "How will I recognise you?" and the girl return texted "White pullover, red scarf" - promising start] turns out not to be an accidental blind date :( ...but just Creationist Agi, wife of Russian Christian film-maker Paul, hoping I can advise her how to sell documentary services to British charities. She seems a little hurt when I gently advise her to play down the Biblical literalist stuff. Later on to the lizard restaurant for Mexican food with Journalist Edith, as she prefers to be spelt. We drink lots of cunning little lemon-ice tequila drinks with salt round the rim until I become disgracefully squiffy.
Online, Brighton-based mysteron Draco/Saaci recommends Kutiman-Thru-you. Of course, I like the straight-down-the-middle 'Mother of All Funk Chords' whereas man of refinement Mr Saaci prefers the more enigmatic 'I'm New'. Suspect his judgement is slightly swayed by the loveliness of the girl singer/s, but never mind. On the other hand...

March 10th; Cola & cakes with Film-maker Peter at the patisserie behind the yellow church.
March 9th; Surreal evening with Robin at Benjamin's office. I find myself trapped in a four-hour meeting with a group of about 20 people discussing the bitter politics of cricket in Hungary. Apparently the country's 150 enthusiasts and players are splitting into two rival associations. There are already two websites: 1 2. Finally we escape and Robin & I eat late at the kebab place.

March 8th; Franc comes over in evening. Show him my tin-sheet cutters. We have some salad & chicken, chat about business games and life.
March 7th; Mancunian smoothie-lounge producers Rae & Christian are b u s y since I last checked.

March 6th; World bourses still headed down. Visit orange-themed hardware place, buy 3 paintbrushes & some snippy shear things.
March 5th; Meet Benjamin & Alireza re cricket logo.

March 4th; No sign of Akos. Go to gym. In sauna a lithe, sporty blonde is sitting on her blue towel. When she pops out for a breather the rest of us notice she has a sponge for wiping off sweat in the shape of a jolly red crab. We tease her about it when she comes back in and she laughs. After the sauna, I reach a trance-like state in the bone-chilling cold shower outside. As I towel myself dry, she steps through the shower curtain, murmurs "Oh, I'm sorry" while calmly eyeing me up and down, then slowly moves aside so I can squeeze past and leave.
March 3rd; Collate addresses. Overheard in England.

March 2nd; Robin arrives in town from countryside. At night, we manage to jam cardboard into one of the back windows of the old Benz parked opposite my building, to stop the glass sliding down.
March 1st; Quiet Sunday. Tea with M a r t i n.

Mark Griffith, site administrator / markgriffith at yahoo.com

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