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2009
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December 31st; Apparently a rare astronomical event tonight, says spaceweather.com - a lunar eclipse on a blue moon on a New Year's Eve. At least according to the modern, slightly dull, definition of a 'blue moon' current since the 1930s, namely the second full moon in a calendar month.

December 30th; Drinks with Martin, Mystery Friend 2, Gregor, & Zsolna. Later meet Nicholas, who works in public lighting. Two snatches of early Northern Soul, when it still had the hollow, tonking dancehall sound, from the wondrously-named Brenda & The Tabulations: The Wash / Scuse Uz Y'All.
December 29th; Meet Howard & his friend Peter, who tells of designing lettersets for early dot-matrix printers in the old days of computing. I tell them about Marjorie Hall of the home budgerigar breeding and the four scrabble sets in different languages.

December 28th; Journey back to Budapest by train, finding a locked empty compartment on the crowded overheated train. The sticky sign explaining why the empty compartment is locked is that the heating is not working. Perfect! Amazingly, I persuade a female attendant that I actually prefer a compartment without MAV's usual airing-cupboard levels of hot stuffiness, and she lets me and two gruff male Hungarian students in to relax in a comfortably cool compartment for once. Join Alvi for coffee straight from the train, who has inspiring things to say about e-books and the world of i-Phone apps, and am still lugging my luggage when I join Mystery Friend 2 for a drink somewhere else after that, meeting Zsofia again & her friend Kata, complete with deep husky voice. Martin & Mystery Friend 2 take me to the Feszek club disco cellar, where a mix of haircuts and tunes almost make it a psychobilly event.
December 27th; Hospital reports that Georgina now fine and sends her back in the morning by bus. Marcsi comes over, cooks turkey, and we all pull crackers. After dinner we watch a film on video, 'The Blue Max', a rather interesting mid-1960s film about German World-War-One fighter pilots, what women will do to satisfy their hurt pride, and what men will do to maintain the honour of an officer corps. Some sharp characterisation and a couple of clever plot surprises.

December 26th; Boxing Day, beautifully sunny again. Georgina is ill, an ambulance is called, but gets lost looking for the house. After half an hour the ambulance men get the hang of the one-street village, arrive, and take Georgina to hospital. This song shows how Hugh Everett's son, an "Eel", earns his living. A refreshingly down-to-earth North Korean car advert (its music oddly like that still played in some Hungarian Balaton holiday resorts, Robin points out) & a South Korean beer advert. Which looks sillier? On the other hand... Then again, on the other other hand...
December 25th; Strangely warm Christmas Day. While sunny, almost warm enough to go outside with no shirt. Sun dips below horizon under complex, interlocking clouds, lining their serrated edges with golden fringes. I walk through mild rain to the end of the village. By the time I turn back at the water tower, the sunset has been boxed into a single window, an oblong slot of sky framed on three sides by walls of blue-grey cloud. The Tiszainoka church has the five-foot-high pentacle of fairy lights on the side of the bell tower again, blinking on and off, while a single strand of richer, more flame-coloured fairy lights loops between the two bell-tower windows like a dribble of luminous honey. After dark, drenching rain & spectacular lightning.

December 24th; Christmas Eve. Take chocolates and a shirt-making project to the seamstress in the next village. Finish Robin's copy of a book of essays by Roger Scruton called 'The Roger Scruton Reader'. Scruton makes clear, well-reasoned points: modernist architecture offers no elements which can be reused as references to dignify simple buildings or help them refer to past & future; the fox hunt and its hospitality rituals symbolically reaffirm patterns of land ownership; erotic love is aimed at a personality; Burke's point about the unborn and the dead also being partners in any social contract alongside the living explains how continuity underlines any culture that aims at the eternal; good teaching is not pupil-centred, but knowledge-centred. I don't quite agree on wine and some of the references to Schelling & Kant elude me. I'm not sure if the USA is the healthy, robust nation Scruton thinks it is - he writes how Americans "constantly rehearse their founding myth" as if this is not good evidence there is something seriously wrong with that founding myth and that Americans know this deep down. Nonetheless, I can still recall Emma planning to attend a Scruton talk just to shout him down, obviously unaware his insights go deeper than anything she ever supported.
December 23rd; Quiet but strange day in the Hungarian countryside. Play chess with Kasper & Bela, and draughts (I lose) with Zsuzsi. The intense cold seems to be lifting. All the same, the base of the Christmas tree is still sealed into a block of ice the size of the tin bath outside the garage it has been sitting in. I get the two girls to bring out hot water, and there's an odd moment when I'm trying to cut into the ice block and Zsuzi says in a significant voice, "Shall I get ...the axe?", obviously quoting some vampire/zombie/werewolf movie. Both she & Letty start giggling. Zsuzsi brings me the axe and looks like she rather enjoys carrying it.

December 22nd; Slow, restful journey into the rustic wasteland of southern Hungary. Find I have an hour and a half changing trains in Kecskemet, and discover an empty restaurant playing eezee-listening acoustic-guitar-accompanied ballads, real Radio 2 stuff. Yet right now, in this mood, oddly restful. First proper meal since food poisoning yesterday morning. I hold it down. Arriving on the Great Plain, find Robin will be an hour late due to an event at church. I sit in the tiny part of the Lakitelek railway-station pizza restaurant where there is no smoking, drinking pear juice with fizzy mineral water and checking e-mail on my laptop. They let me charge it up from the power socket just to the left of the cast-iron range. After an hour, Robin & his younger daughter Zsuzsi pick me up.
December 21st; Wake up early several times in night with diarrhoea, which turns serious when I want to vomit but cannot. Food poisoning again? The low point is 9am, when for about ten minutes I lie on the comfortingly cold tiled floor praying to either vomit or lose the feeling I need to. It does ebb away quite soon after I frame my desperate hopes. I potter slowly through rest of day, making sure not to slip over in the thick white snow or the greasy grey slush, getting quite a lot done, but eating nothing. Train ticket for Robin's village tomorrow, some gifts, wrapping paper, renew postbox, mail out Christmas cards far too late of course, buy some white cotton fabric, lots of queuing. Do some more papier mache, and meet Mystery Friend 2 in the evening. He persuades me to eat some pasta and half a sandwich. This goes quite well, so, emboldened, I even drink a beer. We discuss Hungarian and Balkan women's bodies & characters, how "if Hungary was part of London, it would be Catford", and what fun it is to watch a girl with her eyes open heading into a disastrous marriage due to her being too cowardly, lazy, or unimaginative to show her hand to the kind of men she really likes. Talking over my morning illness with MF2, and its similarity to the sudden bout of poisoning that stopped me going to Austria for a week's work in February, I begin to wonder if slightly soft, vacuum-wrapped cucumbers are the culprit. Had another one yesterday, just as I had one of those cucumbers on the day before that horrible 2-day illness ten months ago.

December 20th; Snow still just sits around outdoors on all horizontal surfaces, being cold & white, not doing anything. The crisp yet chunky sound of Rodney Hunter's band : Definition [2] / Let Your Soul Guide Your Heart / and, with Earl Zinger, Physical. Steve Angello's remix - a moodier version of Gadjo's 'So Many Times'.
December 19th; Go to Keleti railway station to meet a friend on her delayed overnight train from Romania. Am struck by genuine chilliness in the station. People expect it to go 20 degrees below for a few days. We lunch & chat until Mystery Friend 2 arrives from airport, having just flown in from another exotic country. In the evening I find some interviews with the young Bobby Fischer on YouTube. Here's one. We join Martin & Zsofia for dinner.

December 18th; Snow presents itself in Budapest. A lovely online list of weird books, including such gems as 'Blessed are the Cheesemakers', 'Soldier Bear', 'Jewish Chess Masters on Stamps', 'Teleportation: a How-To Guide', & 'Why Do I Vomit?'.
December 17th; Two songs about male self-deception, and a man's uneasy alternating between feelings of omnipotence & helplessness. 'Superman Lover {Something Wrong With Me}' by Johnny Guitar Watson, bringing back the strange moment in the outdoor bar after Martin's Hallowe'en dinner party where Martin & Mystery Friend 2 at the bar struggle to chat in the confusing company of Miss Non Sequitur, while I retreat to a sofa and look up at the stars. Then Mel Britt's poignant hope-against-hope Northern Soul anthem 'She'll Come Running Back', which one online poster concisely describes as working off the contrast between the "joyful, chugging beat and the sad, sad lyrics".

December 16th; Mulled wine at Jeremy 2 & Csilla, bumping into Kath and her friends Kate & Greg. Meanwhile, Andeas sends me links to two videos Robin & I watched at his flat in Cologne almost 3 weeks ago. Charming custom where children dressed as the three wise kings bless a house in southern Germany, and an eerie forest scene where an adult {later to act Goldfinger} bewitches a child.
December 15th; Finish the book Elysia kindly sent me some time back, 'Tarot: Theory & Practice', by Ly de Angeles. Ly, a self-proclaimed Australian witch, is a confident & cheerful-sounding person who is clearly an accomplished and instinctive Tarot reader. So instinctive that in places, it is hard to see where her ideas are coming from - she writes things like "Look at those two cards there, don't they look threatening?" without having said why. Her English is a bit odd sometimes. She twice uses the phrase "with no discernible differences to blowflies or elephants" {I think she means 'similarities to', but I'm not sure}. There are a few curious sentences, but mostly the impression is of a self-assured, breezy personality who has some difficulty explaining how she perceives patterns in spreads because it all seems so natural to her. An interesting index at the end gives some surprisingly specific meanings for cards in the company of other cards {"Knight of Wands + 10 of Wands + World = backpacking", "9 of Cups + Devil + 2 of Cups = a situation where deviant sexual extremes give pleasure"} - surprisingly specific in view of how much she has counselled developing intuition. Perhaps each Tarot reader needs to create their own such glossary, almost from scratch, as a kind of vocabulary of images to use in readings? It's hard to imagine many cartomancers agreeing that 8 of Cups or 7 of Wands have "no consistent correlations." My three main quibbles are these.
(1) It could have been physically smaller. The large-format floppy paperback ill serves the subject matter, and wastes space woefully. Big margins are left unused, and the diagrams of card spreads are smaller than they need to be, yet much harder to follow than the clear diagrams in Pollack's '78 Degrees of Wisdom' which fit into a standard paperback page that could go in a coat pocket.
(2) The diagrams are hard to read. Of course, it being a Llewellyn book, it's natural to illustrate it with the Llewellyn Tarot pack, but since this set uses lots of muddy midtones plus a very elaborate italic font for the card labels, when shrunk down in black-and-white - unnecessarily small on the page - the result is that you are looking at a layout of small blurred oblongs of grey. They could easily have been left as empty rectangles with clearly printed labels to denote the cards, but they weren't. Unless you are deeply familiar with this specific pack and can recognise dim outlines of images because you already know the pack, the diagrams will simply be illegible. To compound this, Angeles uses a complex set of spreads, eight in all, to thoroughly look at a client's question, and understanding this sequence of spreads is central to grasping the book. She has her own version of the Celtic Cross, for example. The positions in these are numbered, and then we move on to a couple of case histories, proceeding through each of the eight spreads in turn, only in this case without numbered positions. As a concession to the illegibility of the diagrams, each spread gives a list of the cards, giving the number of the card's position, but in order to locate the card on the diagram, you then have to leaf back several pages to find the key for the position numbers. There is so much space on each page, this could easily have been shown in each diagram by numbering the positions on the page. In a couple of spreads in fact this was done, showing someone saw the problem, and then failed to follow through and finish the job.
(3) The pseudo-science tests the patience a little. Most readers might not know much about the scientific references Angeles airily drops into the text, but it is hard to think they would not care - otherwise why bother referring to quantum physics or "Y-Node Theory" at all? In one footnote, she announces that "In 1933, the International Committee of Weights and Measures adopted the triple point of water.... as the Kelvin"... not how I remember school physics - and why in a Tarot book? The Kelvin is a degree of temperature the same size as the degree Celsius only counting up from absolute zero {like the Rankine for Farenheit}, and the triple point of water {ice, water, water vapour in equilibrium} is used to calibrate the Kelvin, but it's not the same thing as the Kelvin. Since footnotes like these are not needed, readers will ask themselves what the point of an opening section about the Big Bang is anyway. Angeles seems to understand her own view of how deterministic a Tarot reading is, but I'm not sure I do, or that the quick tour of magazine physics helped. Other features undermine her message - a couple of anecdotes, like one about her first client with AIDS, are repeated almost verbatim in different chapters. Slips like this unwittingly give the impression that Angeles is not so experienced after all. Getting a writer or editor to interview her might have made a better book.

December 14th; Travel out to A-Plast & buy new 20-mm transparent sheeting cut into boards. Decide to come off the nasal spray for a day tomorrow after reading this about the active ingredient.
December 13th; Saint Lucia's Day. If I was living in Sweden, I could see girls wearing crowns made of candles this evening. Annika tells me it's regarded as a jolly good laugh sometimes for groups of them in their white costumes to enter the hotel bedrooms of people attending the Nobel Prize ceremony uninvited in the middle of the night. Accompanied by TV camera crews. If you didn't know about the custom, being woken from a deep sleep by some strapping blonde with lit candles in her hair singing a carol in Swedish might give you a really strong impression for a moment or two that you were dead. Anyway, I'm not in Sweden, I'm in Hungary, and at least this morning I was not dead but still rather poorly. However, the dubious-sounding nasal spray Rob sternly recommended me last night by both phone & e-mail turns out to be extraordinary. What on earth is in it? Surely nothing as puny as mere antibiotics. I arrive at the WestEnd mall to look for a pharmacist that opens on a Sunday, feeling optimistic and on the mend but very fragile. This is after two days of drinking Coldrex/Lemsip, taking vitamin C, and eating nuts & vegetables like a forest hermit. The cold even in the tunnel between metro and basement entrance to the mall is remarkable. Not actually uncomfortable, but I feel like my skin has been removed. I enter the shopping centre in the pleasant daze of the stupified convalescent, strangely, childishly aware that there are lots of people around me, and that they are moving about, sometimes quite close by me, purchasing things. In some peculiar way everything seems new, and surprising, fresh. Something looms into sight, and for about half a second I'm quite frightened: a person wearing a giant plush dog's head, with a basket of chocolates. Even though they are obviously there to spread a mood of good cheer and I know it is not really a werewolf or dogman, I'm still vaguely nervous as we pass. The soft grey dog mask is huge and ugly. I get to the pharmacy, which is open and brightly lit, and I drift in, feeling tremendously calm. Two skinny Gypsy lasses in tight jeans, like cartoon drawings of tarty girls, look utterly astonished when I gallantly indicate they should go to the counter before me. Seconds later, I too am served. Even as I sit outside in a handy armchair struggling to open the nasal spray and pierce its nozzle with my biro, I feel passive & patient. Finally, I squirt some up my nostrils, and wander down to the food court to see if I ought to eat something. After about ten minutes quietly grazing on a plastic bowl of Greek salad, I realise that events & perceptions have become sharp & purposeful. My head starts to feel clean & crisp. I begin to feel strong enough to start ticking things off my to-do list. By the time I am in the photocopy shop half an hour later a curious mood of poise, energy and composure has me in its grip. I then proceed to methodically burn through a list of goals all afternoon & evening. I tell you, citizens, this stuff is the real deal.
Lots more old clips of 80s group Trabant have appeared on the internet {a sort of Hungarian version of the Young Marble Giants, with less backbone than the Leeds group but richer rhythms, richer melodies, and better-looking members}. Even this music can't make me feel gloomy. Bringing back various parties I was at with my Hungarian friends {at least until I got rid of them} who took exactly this view of life, here are: Rovid Seta {Short Walk} / Ez a Haz is Ledolhet {Even this Building could Crumble} / Maniakus Depresszio {...duh...} / Lo {Horse} / Fekete Otto {Otto Black} / Napszuras {Sunstroke} / Harang {Bell} / Kesz az Egesz {It's All Over}. There's plenty more where that came from. Bracing, inspiring even - at least it is if you're wired on headcold medication.

December 12th; Foul headcold continues. How dare this thing invade me? Rob sweetly phones me up, rather concerned by my online raging against the infection. Somebody cares! Recall both my former Hungarian landlady's frank astonishment when Nina was ill and I went round to nurse her {"No Hungarian man would ever look after a sick girlfriend," she chuckled, baffled by me as much as admiring} and an intriguing remark of my mother's many years before. Most girlfriends, mother warned me, wouldn't want me to nurse them when they were ill ...because that would mean I would see them not looking their best. I might stop finding the girl attractive. Actually, thinking over the landlady's claim, one Hungarian male exception: a mad architect I once knew who had a samurai sword {and showed me he could use it by attacking a shrub} was very caring about girlfriends and in fact ex-girlfriends. He was constantly popping round to hospital to see some girl he had gone out with five years before. I also remember that he had very powerful arm muscles because he hauled himself up a rope to the ceiling of a two-storey-high barn every morning, not using his legs. Meanwhile, someone in Britain I only know online who calls herself Morningmoon sent me this compelling shadow theatre clip. This is an American group of dancers who seem to have named themselves after a fungus that lives on horse or cow manure and has a sort of spring-loaded system for firing spores a yard or so distant from the mother mould. Takes all sorts.
Several times in the last fortnight, recalled how Andreas & Nuel in Cologne both had horizontal strips of blackboard paint over the tops of their apartment doors, with a formula scribbled on in white chalk. Apparently a rather lovely German Catholic custom where the home is blessed & protected by the initials of the three wise kings from the east {Casper, Melchior, Balthazar} - the three letters also encoding the Latin for "Christ Bless this House" {Christus Mansionum Benedictum}. The official magic is done by children who come round in costume. Andreas' lintel inscription read 20 * C + M + B * 09, showing he moved in this year, and he found Robin & me a clip on YouTube {wish I could find it now} of some German children dressed up as the wise kings singing a traditional carol to bless a brand new office. Wonderful stuff.

December 11th; Still ill. The strongest reaction I feel is sheer rage that my body has been violated by some filthy virus or bacillus, defiled again. I cannot do anything, I am at the mercy of some other organism choosing when I sneeze or cough, making my head ache, making me tired, working my body as if it was a puppet. How can I make sure this never happens again? The facts that I have a strain injury in my right hand and my laptops seem to be getting slower & slower are not particularly helpful either. This book looks quite interesting but pricey. Aniko at the plastics firm sends me an e-mail saying there are two more sheets of the 20mm sandwich in the storage room there - am starting to speculate on how to redesign book case to be both stronger ...and perhaps simpler.
December 10th; Last night's illness takes hold, damn it, and I wake at noon on the sofa, wrapped in a duvet, still coughing and sneezing. This is where I stay for a couple of hours, reading 'The China Study' a book about diet & disease. My head is full of muck. Especially irritating is the way snot moves around behind my face when I breathe, yet I cannot get it out by blowing my nose. Campbell & Campbell's book claims decades {even centuries} of evidence that many diseases are caused and exacerbated by eating large amounts of animal-based protein & dairy products has been repeatedly suppressed, ridiculed and sidelined by academic medicine and US lobbyists for various farming groups and processed food manufacturers. They recommend a diet of beans, vegetables, fruit, & nuts, and give data to show this austere {but evolutionarily authentic sounding} regimen slowing and halting cancers, curing diabetes & obesity, relieving autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, curing heart disease - the list goes on. An interesting bit at the end relates how the older Campbell, the father Colin, found himself being smeared by industry lobby groups. He reveals that even the book editor asked if each chapter could have a different recommended diet for each disease please? Not just the same food suggestions each time? Reductionist complexity sells. Common sense that sounds just too simple to be true, doesn't.

December 9th; Wednesday. Robin drops by, getting phoned by one person for the first 20 minutes he's with me. Here's an almost alarming party sound from Dj It0, a remix of remixes, percussively rich to the point of fidgetiness. Intriguing cover art suggests some kind of Nouvel Art Nouveau reclaiming sterile modernism for leafy curviness. Part of the same tune {'Hooked' by the 99th Floor Elevators}, one mix earlier: Ben Preston's version.
Extraordinary photographs from the sky above arctic Norway early this morning. Most observers so far think the startling effect comes from "a malfunctioning rocket, possibly an ICBM launched from a Russian submarine." "A rocket motor spinning out of control could indeed explain the spiral pattern." From spaceweather.com.

December 8th; A club track celebrating the yappishness of girlies: 'I See You Watching', remixed by Paul Rincon. Bernie Madoff's gaolers are talking to me. Leggy Andrea is back at the fitness gym, pounding her way through her daily 7-mile treadmill run. She looks fit & rested after a couple of months' work in Italy. She is in a good mood, and immediately wants to know if I have managed to get hold of that fearsome appetite-suppressant she still misses the hit from.
December 7th; Journey out to A-plast, in the suburbs past Ors vezer tere, to buy see-through acrylic sheet to front Robin's print & a couple of other things. The place on Izabella utca wanted thirty quid for two sheets of plastic, while A-plast ask twenty three quid for those two and six other sheets of plastic. On the suburban HEV train I finish one of mother's books, 'Life in the French Country House' by Mark Girouard, a generously illustrated book about furnishings and organisation inside chateaux over several centuries. The 15th to 17th centuries are the most interesting part - somehow the country life of the 18th century gentry is already a little hard to take seriously knowing the French Revolution just a few decades later will cut lots of their heads off. Some interesting themes show how different France is from England - for example the basse-cour, a kind of adjacent courtyard full of chickens, sheep, geese, the odd goat or cow, was unembarrassedly right in front of many a grand chateau. Effectively a kind of giant fridge for live food, French nobles saw nothing odd in it for some centuries, then gradually it crept round the side of the chateau from the front, and after that moved a few hundred yards away over another century, sometimes behind some trees, influenced by fashion following English prudishness about farming, workers, and food. This work area - sometimes in the form of a model farm - was a common preoccupation among progressive landowners, making Marie Antoinette's experiments in dairy farming not as strange as later centuries thought them. Likewise, French nobles saw both bedrooms and bathrooms as social spaces for conversation and intimacy, while the English tended to regarded them as specialised areas only for sleeping or only for bathing. Whereas French chateaux never quite embraced the long-standing English fixation for centring a country house on the grand hall, even as it slowly mutated into the still-pivotal entrance corridor.

December 6th; The extremely slim cashier girl in the grocery across the road looks absolutely mortified to have been made to wear a pair of furry red horns and silver tinsel ribbon as a rather obscure gesture to St. Nicholas's Day. Later, green tea & quick chat about bullion, contango, and backwardation, with Ilan, who is on his way to a Steve Reich concert with his wife. Ilan is very happy with his new suit.
December 5th; Surprised last night to get a call from Inese. Also invited to a party by 3-Chick Tamas in the labyrinth of caves and tunnels under the Castle District, but get bored after ten minutes in the claustrophobic tunnel system, and leave after saying hello to Tamas and Carl. Today I reread the New Scientist article about shortsightedness, laze about a bit, and spend an hour training at the gym. Then after dark meet Inese, her friend IT Zita, & Howard. We stay out late talking of this & that.

December 4th; Mock interview with the 3rd student I should have seen yesterday. Mulled wines with Marion afterwards, hearing about her new blog and the successful launch of her 2nd autobiographical book about life in Hungary. On the bus travelling to do the mock university admissions interview {this time I manage to be early} I finish a remarkable book of Mike's, Robin's mysteriously vanished Geordie sculptor friend. At least 100 of the books in Robin's library out on the Great Plain are Mike's. At first a slightly offputting title, 'Secrets of the Great Pyramid' by Peter Tompkins turns out to be too impressive to be cranky, quite convincingly overturning some academic prejudices not just about Egypt, but about the whole ancient world of the Eastern Mediterranean: Greek, Mesopotamian, Persian, & Roman, and even later. This is effectively two books in one. Tompkins reviews a string of investigations of the Great Pyramids from early Arab digs in the Middle Ages onward, and his text is richly accompanied by wonderful old engravings and monochrome diagrams - mostly from the original explorers & archeologists, as well as from the artists accompanying Napoleon's expedition to Egypt. After that a long appendix by Livio Catullo Stecchini really forms a second book. Stecchini explains how Tompkins' review supplied a last missing piece for his own thesis, that all the measured dimensions of the Great Pyramid at Giza justify interpreting it as a scale model of the northern hemisphere aligned with north, marking - in a certain interpretation - the geodetic midpoint of Egypt, and encoding data the Egyptians were proud of and regarded as of sacred importance. These include values of pi and phi, vital for the golden section, as well as their units of cubit and foot, measured by star observation as subdivisions at various latitudes of one degree of rotation by the earth/sky. The argument is fairly persuasive that the Old Kingdom was aware of both the precession of the equinoxes {marking the 20-minute difference between the solar year and sidereal year} and the slight flattening of the earth's shape at the two poles, subtleties of calculation only equalled again in the 19th and 20th centuries. From this emerges a completely different history of old measurement units such as the foot, inch, ounce, gallon, mile etc throughout ancient and mediaeval history. Stecchini argues that fractional variations in the length of the foot across the ancient world depended on the latitude at which the earth's rotation was measured, and hence the linear measure {and measures of weight & capacity derived from it} calibrated against the earth's rotation through a single degree or minute of geographical distance. He adds that the French metric system actually underperformed European and Asian ancient measures since those built in time as an integral component by setting lengths with regard to the earth's rotation, while the metric system failed to incorporate time, to the regret of its founders. Stecchini complains that classicists have woefully patronised the ancient world, ignoring those cultures' passion for measurement & precision {in favour of a romantic post-18th-century view of the ancients as myth-dazed dreamers with an intellectual world built out of fables & legends}. He is also scornful of more recent fairy stories, such as the English foot being fixed by King Alfred's own bodily foot, rather than by exact astronomical methods.
Stecchini also claims the English loss of certainty over the English foot, and the corresponding loss of French certainty over the pied de roi, both emerged comparitively recently - since 1500 - from monarchical absolutists aiming to enlarge royal power {Queen Elizabeth I on one hand, and Colbert on the other}, legally restricting the privileges of the guilds. The guilds had been guardians of the proper measurement of those standards for their respective latitudes, not unlike the way that observatories set local times for time zones a couple of centuries later. Published a couple of years too early to incorporate the well-reasoned speculations of Davidovits & Morris in the 1980s that the early pyramids were built from blocks of a very superior kind of concrete even now hardly distinguishable from granite, Tompkins & Stecchini cover all the other major theories, from sensible to silly. They stop just short of mentioning von Daniken's wild-eyed case that "aliens built them". An excellent book, which could nonetheless be improved by a little proof-reading {one or two typos, and mistakes such as suggesting that bat dung "thickened" from 16 inches to 28 centimetres - of course that's a reduction} and a couple of pages each simply introducing basic terms and ideas in geodesy / geometry / metrology / astronomy. Many readers will wade in, tempted by the gorgeous illustrations and the twists and turns of each century's adventurers measuring their way round various ancient monuments. Still, the broad, restful margins would be a perfect location for more explanatory notes to smooth out parts of the numerical discussion.
December 3rd; Do mock university interviews with two students at Marion's school, one applying to Cambridge, one to Oxford. I get there embarrassingly late, due to just missing the tram, then just missing the 1st bus, then just missing the 2nd bus. Sigh. Some oldish but still cheerful Hed Kandi-ed Gadjo.

December 2nd; Make surprising progress building bookcase, sinking extra holes on the balcony with hot skewer then hot screwdriver. Franc drops by for tea just at the right moment to hold the whole object straight while I change boards. Restart papier mache, and mix cinnamon into the glue water. Later on, schnapps with Neighbour Katalin, who is very sweetly apologetic for killing every single one of my herblings bar the cactus and what she thinks is nettle but is actually the 3rd pot of lemon balm. The other fifteen dried-up plants look at me reproachfully. Katalin offers to buy me new plants and seeds.
December 1st; December: year almost over. Robin drives out to Tiszainoka just in time to pick me up and drive me to Lakitelek to get my 11.30am train, the last one today that gets me to Budapest in time for the 4.30pm philosophy talk by Rob Hopkins. Martin & I meet, and hear Hopkins outlining his account of why he claims photographic pictures are more 'factive' than hand-made pictures.

Mark Griffith, site administrator / markgriffith at yahoo.com

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