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2010
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March 31st; Yesterday, more 5mm steel rod, this time cut to 15" lengths, from metal wholesaler. Today, tea with Dorina & Annamari.

March 30th; Last night finished Martin's copy of 'Temporary Autonomous Zone' by Hakim Bey. Interesting set of anarchist writings emerging out of his research into pirate utopias from around 1600 to 1800. Erratic but exuberant style as often with anarchists {though of course, he's a post-anarchist anarchist}. Bey praises enclaves which might last anything from a few hours to a few months {festivals, collectives, communes, parties, underground conspiracies}, in which radical utopias can be experienced now, not as an endlessly deferred golden age-to-be. He quotes Pearl Andrews as suggesting that The Dinner Party is one such temporary autonomous zone. Book includes some exultant, stream-of-consciousness writing which is usually entertaining and occasionally exhilarating. Lovely page about a park at dusk full of awkward American boys pretending not to be bored or embarrassed by their fathers teaching them baseball. Slightly worrying revelation that Bey dedicated himself to the rather alarming goddess Kali at one point in his travels, close to the homeland of the Naxelite rebellion. He's well-read enough to know that Nietzsche advocated racial mixing, not racial purity {as his sister and the Nazis re-read him}. The best material is from his research on pirate-run colonies. Still hopeful about the promise of the internet {the book is from the late 1980s}, his breezy use of long sentences packed with things half-referred-to raises a lot of questions. I wish he'd gone into more detail on several mentions thrown in {Moorish Orthodox Church, Sir John Woodruffe, John Dee's "occultist imperialist" project, the Croatans}. The prose is meant to excite to action - to be almost performative in Austin's sense. If you can sail over sentences like "We have seen the ghost of Rene Guenon, cadavarous and topped with a fez (like Boris Karloff as Ardis Bey in 'The Mummy') leading a funereal No Wave Industrial-Noise rock band in loud buzzing blackfly-chants for the death of Cutlure & Cosmos: the elitist fetishism of pathetic nihilists, the Gnostic self-disgust of "post-sexual" intellectoids." on every page without exasperation, then the overall effect is uplifting.
March 29th; Last night's full moon lights haunting Hungarian woodland scene by astro-photographer.

March 28th; Bookcase now has shelves. Awaits wheels. Also I probably need to find a reel of that ferociously tough strip newsagents use to truss stacks of magazines together.
March 27th; Stay up all night piecing bookcase together. Adrafinil + energy drinks + candle smoke. A heady mix, citizens.

March 26th; Teaching methods continue to evolve.
<< Kyle Stephenson, a 14 year-old bastard from Carlisle, said: "I've just noticed that Mr Hayes has been stood outside my house for the last three hours setting fire to things and laughing really loudly. In some indefinable way, I have a feeling things are going to be very different from now on." >>
March 25th; Thursday quite peculiar. Wake up early and walk Jolene. Bang on time and looking very girly, Memory Eve and Caroline turn up in the pawprint van packed with dogs and puppies, to collect Jolene. They say they can take her back to Catherine today, her Irish foster mother, who has reappeared. Good that the nervous Jolene will not need to spend a night or two in kennels after all. Buy afternoon rail ticket for countryside, and get to Martin's for tasty lunch, where he lends me a copy of 'Temporary Autonomous Zone', by Hakim Bey, and we chat about The House, The Boat, and The Garden as refuges against the professionalised world of centralised production. Perhaps I should add The Kitchen to that list. Get on train and read some of Bey, some of Frayn, and reach Robin's in time to see his new cracked-mud artworks in the last of the afternoon daylight around 6pm. I mention to him how intriguingly trangressive it was that Jonathan Barnes, specialist on Greek thought, turned up to give his talk last week dressed in 1790s? 1820s? clothing {breeches, silk stockings, dress shirt with ruff sleeves, hair tied back in pony tail}, as apparently he always does. None of us referred to it of course. How interesting such a simple thing can have such a powerful effect.

March 24th; Meanwhile, Polkinghorne & creationism.
March 23rd; Another frustrating day trying to contact American businesses which force you to fill in forms because they wish to save on salaries by not answering phones or reading correspondence. Finish a history book 'Giordano Bruno & the Embassy Affair' by the wonderfully named John Bossy. Rather beautifully written, Bossy adds to the scholarship on Bruno, a curious encyclopaedic thinker burned alive by the Counter Reformation in 1600. Bossy's claim, carefully argued with good evidence, is that Bruno worked for a couple of years as a spy for Queen Elizabeth's secret service run by Walsingham. Bruno spied from inside the French Embassy where he lived as a guest in London during the early 1580s. Bruno, though nominally an Italian Catholic monk {Dominican}, seemingly hated the Papacy even more than Calvinists {whom he also hated}, and - if Bossy is right - was happy to help the English cause. Puzzlingly different causes looking back, yet the underlying nastiness is familiar enough.

March 22nd; Some odd events in recent days. The dog and I got locked out of my flat on Thursday, and I had the humbling experience of needing a locksmith when my mobile phone was locked in my flat. The nearby hardware shop very kindly let me use their phone. Jolene has a leash with tiny dogbone designs printed along it. Between each pair of differently-coloured dogbones is the curious slogan 'Oh my doggy', which feels foreign, though they are each three perfectly good English words. Several strange phone calls from unhappy friends today.
March 21st; Sunday. Finish 'Electronics', by Roger Bridgman, one of those picture books done together with London's Science Museum. Gorgeously laid out, with lots of items lying, as it were, on the white paper of each page. I'd have loved these as a child. But I think I'd have had a complaint that I still have now: why is it not all to scale, or at least given a scale? Surely the whole point of things sitting on the surface of the page is to be, whenever possible, real size? If they cannot all be, why are there no dimensions? Also, gives you the feeling you have understood lots when in fact you haven't. One solitary page had a simple circuit diagram on it. Sobering to see how long I had to stare at it to work out what was going on...

March 20th; Mexican lunch with Mystery Friend 2. Jolene the Labrador/Alsation mongrel is tied to a leg of our table outdoors on the sunny street. A kind waitress brings a bowl of water for Jolene, and Erik drops by. At home the almost complete kitchen scales quietly bide their time.
March 19th; Day makes serious effort at sunshine from 9am to 5pm. Some frustration not getting the damn coupon code for the e-text sorted out. The Germans say I can call them, but every time I phone throughout the day, no-one answers. Just like yesterday. I must repeat my experiment of a fortnight ago with cooking spaghetti in my electric kettle, since that went quite well. The 'lomtalanitas' starts in this district this evening, and the pavements begin to fill up with the utter junk people can throw out of their flats for a day or two when a "lommy" is announced. Mysterious heaps of folded cardboard, broken chairs, smashed glass, and random slabs of chipboard appear, along with fat Gypsies guarding their beach-combed treasure.

March 18th; Finish 'De Imaginibus' {'On Images'} by Thabit Ibn Qurra, translated into English by Christopher Warnock. Though pleasantly slim, with notes and commentary from Warnock on each section, much shorter than expected and leaves almost all its astrological underpinnings assumed. Apart from page 32 being page 31 printed a second time, and there being no diagrams, fairly well laid out.
March 17th; Up early for haircut. Later in day pick up Jolene, an ex-stray crossed-Alsation bitch, from Memory Eve. Jolene has to be the most nervous dog I've ever met. She refuses to get on three trams in a row, flattening herself to the ground so I cannot pick her up - apparently it's the beeping noise which reminds her of some dark episode in her past, since she is also frightened to get into my lift which makes the same sound. She constantly needs love and reassurance, and repeatedly assumes the cowering, submissive posture as if anticipating a beating. I seem a bit ill, but I am sure it will pass.

March 16th; Watch a TV series with Dorina: 'The Pervert's Guide to Cinema' narrated by Slavoj Zizek, Britain's latest favourite funny foreign intellectual. Zizek steers clear of Marx, but sticks close to Freud with his entertaining ramblings about various trendy films past and present. Hitchcock is central, of course, as are Chaplin, Kubrick, Disney, Tarkovsky, Lynch. When he excitedly declaims to camera lines like "We are now in the Lynchian universe" I find myself falling asleep though. With the whole of cinema to range over in search of supporting examples, it is hard to imagine any thesis that could not be made to sound plausible. And something about Freudian interpretation gives itself licence to say anything and be committed to nothing. Zizek at one point enthusiastically says we all dread the living father and want fathers dead, knowing full well that if some viewers protested that, no, they actually quite liked their fathers alive, Zizek would simply rephrase his claim to place it beyond refutation. Much of this faux-shocking stuff that is meant to provoke is what makes him fun. Kubrick's orgy scene from 'Eyes Wide Shut' proves the poverty of male sexuality; filmgoing is like staring down the bowl of the lav waiting for horrid stuff to back up from the subconscious; flowerbeds are lewd scenes of plants flaunting their genitalia to passing insects, and so on. Amusing, also, to see Slavoj burbling away on a boat on the lake from 'The Birds', in the cellar from 'Psycho', in the sitting room from 'Blue Velvet', on Gene Hackman's hotel bedroom balcony from 'The Conversation'.
March 15th; Finish the book of ideas in novel form that Martin kindly gave me, 'Lila ', by the same Robert Pirsig who wrote the backpacker's bible 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' a couple of decades earlier. Not having read more than 20 pages of 'Motorcycle Maintenance' I relied on Pirsig's claim that this is the more important book. The narrator, who still has a Greek name, is steering a small boat down canals and rivers of the eastern states of the US, on the way to the sea at New York, where he is going to carry on south towards the sun. On the way he meets someone called Lila in a bar, and, against the advice of a male acquaintance, lets her hitch a ride on his boat for a day or two. The story skilfully cuts in and out of their experiences on the waterways of America and the narrator's internal thoughts about anthropology, philosophy, history - all part of an ambitious attempt to fuse metaphysics and ethics. At first I couldn't quite place what seemed somehow familiar about the tone of voice, some of the same impatience as Debord but also some of the same charming confidence and apparent openness of outlook. Then I saw Pirsig was born within a couple of years of my mother, and something of their early beatnik outlook jumped into focus. Young enough to be part of the post-World-War-Two mood of new beginnings in the 1950s and 60s, but just old enough to have been formed in childhood by the earlier post-World-War-One mood of new beginnings of the 1920s and 30s. Like Debord, this is also a highly readable text made up of a string of interesting assertions also, though differently from Debord, disguised as an argument. Pirsig gives us two main ideas in the book. The first is that "Plains English", an American vernacular of very simple, direct sentences without adorning adverbs and so on, is actually something that came into American English from the native Indian tribes. Pirsig recalls seeing cowboys-&-indians movies where both sides are speaking simple, chiselled sentences of honour and conciseness and credits this to the Navaho, Cree, Siouxse et al. This is not unlike one of my mother's often stimulating and clever guesses that seemed to open new doors for discussion, but that she rarely paused to re-examine. What makes this a bit worrying for Pirsig's book is that several far more plausible explanations offer themselves. It never occurs to him that the thirteen colonies being largely founded by nonconformists from the British provinces, most of whom had been denied formal educations on religious grounds, are going to straight away have a simpler form of speech. On top of this, the presence of non-English-speakers on the East Coast in 1650, 1700, 1750 like Swedes, Dutch speakers in what was recently New Amsterdam, many German-speaking colonists, is going to further simplify the English everyone used as a lingua franca. Why bring in the Indians at all? And if you do bring them in, what gives Pirsig the idea that native American languages are plain, simple and devoid of "curlecues" as he puts it? Never having learned one to an advanced level, most likely, not that this makes Pirsig shy about dropping names like Benjamin Lee Whorf, who did bother to learn Hopi. A couple of respectful mentions of Margaret Mead and the Samoa she misdescribed further reveals the usual American offhandedness about the value of learning someone's language quite well {as Mead didn't} before you pontificate about their culture. In fact, the complexity of native American languages is notorious among linguists, but in a foreign language like English the Blackfoot or whoever are obviously going to express themselves simply as most 2nd-language speakers have to. They don't know enough words or expressions to speak with subtlety in the white man's tongue, simplified enough as that already was.
This already should warn us about Pirsig's more interesting suggestion, that we can give levels of value to different levels of organisation: material, biological, social, and intellectual. With admirable boldness, he sets out to dissolve metaphysics into ethics, unaware he has rediscovered a fairly well-trodden path. Not unlike Hegel's historical forces sacrificing individuals for the sake of higher forms such as nation states, Pirsig says what is right on the social level is often wrong on the biological level and vice versa. This intriguing move allows him to remain scathing about Victorians {who he believes never spoke simply} and so himself remain part of the non-hypocritical 20th-century moral relativism he likes, while at the same time sneaking back into his thinking some of the heirarchical moral imperatives he so loathes the "Victorians" for. It is an interesting word for him, like "aristocratic", and he applies both sweepingly {the word 'Victorian' occurs eight times on one page}. A couple of mentions of the First World War help to explain this. He casually refers to the Great War as a barbaric slaughter of a generation etc etc, both explaining how horrible the Victorians were as people, and showing where their "attitudes" inevitably lead. This is High 1930s thinking, and books like the one I finished a couple of days ago reveal just how misleading it is, and how much of a grip on our imaginations it still has. This received image of World War One is licence in the minds of people from Pirsig's generation and since to dismiss the entire century before 1914 {or even dismiss all history} as decadent, stiff, & morally sick. Talk among adults as you grow up in the 1930s of the all-too-recent horrors of the trenches fuse with strangely remote sepia photographs of people in rigid, unsmiling poses and impractical-looking clothing. Together this mixture of emotional remoteness & uncomfortable closeness produce for people of that decade a just-escaped Dark Age against which one defines one's own ideas. It never strikes you that everyone looks serious & formal when camera shutter speeds are slow and photography is an expensive service for special occasions. The weirdness of his slant emerges when Pirsig contrasts the plain speech of the Plains Indians to what he calls European aristocratic style, when in fact codes of honour, simplicity, and frank speech are very prevalant among the aristocrats he's never met but believes he knows all about. Of course, it's bourgeois people who speak elaborately. Bizarrely, he even claims the 19th century was a non-intellectual era. Beguiling as his set of categories {material, biological, social, intellectual} is, he does not explain when it is acceptable for a "lower" sense of "quality" to take precedence over a "higher", and in fact avoids the hard questions {such as ethical dilemmas} altogether. He proclaims that lots of traditional philosophical discussions have been dissolved out, but few readers familiar with those problems will agree.
As his female boat guest goes insane {a common manoeuvre among male novelists who get stuck depicting a female character} we get some memories of Pirsig's time in an asylum and one last overplayed hunch, that Lila's "religion of one" is just as valid as the bigger religions, which are "just as mad". The idea that a priest gamely proclaiming the Catholic host to be literally the flesh of Christ is in the same category as his female character claiming her doll is a live baby is self-evidently daft. Plenty of anthropologists Pirsig should have read show that however odd religious beliefs are to outsiders, they are carefully bracketed in that culture, and do not interfere with daily life in the same way mad people's odd beliefs do. Plains American common sense should also tell Pirsig that he is worried about what nutty Lila might do on his boat as she talks to her doll and describes "going to the island" precisely because he knows deep down that hers is a case very different from a priest saying the wafer is someone's flesh. Would he be equally worried for his own or his guest's safety if an average priest was hitching a ride on his boat? Of course not. We don't seriously think that the priest is unlikely to wander off and forget his way home because his strange beliefs about transubstantiation are shared by people in the community where he lives. Nor does that priest need support from fellow believers in the sanctity of Mass to successfully cook himself dinner or rewire one of his plugs without anyone worrying for his safety. Lila is finally whisked off, away from the boat, freeing Pirsig's narrator character from his very sensible worries about her. Her disappearance also frees Pirsig from his quiet struggle to rebrand Victorian morality as both hip and his, so the book can end.

March 14th; Finish Martin's copy of 'Society of the Spectacle' by Guy Debord, the 1968 Situationist tract that formed the call to action for at least some of the students in the Paris 'events' of that year, as they were drolly called in France. Debord refines the standard Frankurt School Marxist line that our whole culture - the 'media' - is now the tool advanced capitalism uses to separate us from our own lives. In brief, it could be summed up as saying that not religion, but television, is the opium of the masses. The Frankfurt idea is that advertising, low-brow newspapers, radio, TV, what we now in Britain call 'celebrity culture', are all a kind of hall of mirrors helping capitalism to control us. What does Debord add to this? Not much, though he trenchantly accuses both Soviet Russia and Maoist China of being part of the same spectacle of digression & deception. This is a highly readable text made up of short and long numbered paragraphs, a good way as Wittgenstein and many others found of disguising a string of interesting assertions as an argument. Somehow numbered scraps of text look important and rigorous, as if it's already clear that future commentators will need a way to identify each jewel-like statement they put under their critical lens. Portentous lines like "A critique seeking to go beyond the spectacle must know how to wait." or "...they cannot set themselves any lesser task if they wish to be recognised and to recognise themselves in a world of their own making." give us the rousing feeling this is the product of analytical clarity on matters of urgent importance without ever telling us quite how. Only by squinting closely at some of the detail {he swoops in and out of historical sections with impressive breeziness & elan} can you see how unsupported the whole edifice is.
Just glance at Darwin, and we have an alternative view of the 'spectacle'. The spectacle might, like fashion, be a self-reinforcing web of images spun by no-one in particular, not necessarily benefitting a certain class. Debord comes close to comparing it to an organism without making the final step because that final step would deindustrialise and declass Marxism. Marxism's obsession with factories makes it one of the last solid monuments to the era of Big Shed manufacturing. A social organism like a city, or like today's mass media, might benefit all parties to some extent and survive and grow simply because we find it harder to see its costs. Despite the preference for stylish handwaving instead of evidence, this is an entertaining book with flashes of insight. A section about theories of historical time is a bit dull, but for the true believer it helps give him that feeling that Debord has checked all sections of his theoretical structure and it all fits together brilliantly. Perhaps some Frankfurt School writings are not describing only capital but also Kapital? Along with the mass media whose manipulative power it so obviously envies, Marxism itself rather shimmers and hovers "above our everyday lives", deluding each new generation, "able to seamlessly absorb each new event or critique" into its "spaceless, timeless" spectacle of theory.
March 13th; Feeble attempts at sunshine. Over afternoon green tea, look at some sociology of religion with Dorina - Pink Dandelion is an academic who writes about Quakers. By night, make second batch of lemon-and-ginger angel cakes, burning them slightly.

March 12th; Get home-made kitchen scales to the point where the pans hang properly and it's usable. Get central frame of bookcase upright.
Finally, someone captures what I feel about the characterless novels, charmless pomposity, and intellectual shallowness of the prewar Russian emigree girl still mysteriously venerated by the American hard-of-thinking. Lovely piece by Anthony Daniels sums up the derivative "philosopher" Ayn Rand. "In her expository writings, Randís style resembles that of Stalin. It is more catechism than argument, and bores into you in the manner of a drill. She has a habit of quoting herself as independent verification of what she says; reading her is like being cornered at a party by a man, intelligent but dull, who is determined to prove to you that right is on his side in the property dispute upon which he is now engaged and will omit no detail."
March 11th; Outrageous. Snowing again. I take a little set of online tests to see whether my brain is more masculine or feminine. I score high on both styles, coming out exactly 50/50. So that's where my superhuman essence comes from.

March 10th; 2nd philosophy talk about informal logic with Martin. Then to pub quiz, where our team do not come 4th last, but due to influx of fresh talent {Zsuzsa and Mobile-Network Rob} we do better. 3rd place procures us each a miniature bottle of Bailey's Irish cream. Earlier in day finish an interesting book borrowed from Jeremy 2. 'Mud, Blood, and Poppycock' by Gordon Corrigan is that very unusual thing: a book which is readable, well-argued with plenty of evidence, and has a surprising, even startling, claim. This is a new revisionist history of Britain's experience of World War One. Corrigan builds a very convincing case that 1) Britain needed to fight the First World War, 2) lost far fewer men in battle than France or Germany, 3) far from being senseless slaughter, British casualties during battles like the Somme and Passchendaele were the same proportionately as in the Normandy landings in World War Two and were unavoidable battles forced by the need to take pressure off French forces struggling with mutinies, 4) British officers were not hidebound traditionalists but learned fast and were very innovative, ahead of all the other countries in tank warfare and use of aircraft, 5) Army generals and other officers were not safely out of fire but spent a lot of time, perhaps too much time, touring the front-line trenches meeting the men, 6) The perception of heavy casualties was due to volunteer regiments being hastily recruited from large numbers of men from single towns or factories in the early months so concentrating losses in tight communities instead of spread across the country as armies worldwide learned to do later, 7) British soldiers were not in the trenches for weeks on end, but were carefully rotated, spending only short periods {3 or 4 days} in the firing line at the front, with longer periods either resting or stationed in safer positions further back each month.
This last point was the biggest surprise for me, given the popular picture we have of The Great War as an unending misery of mud-filled trenches, shell shock, rats & frostbite. Corrigan gives figures for five battalions showing how they spent each day of the four Januarys of 1915, 1916, 1917, and 1918. He writes "...it is unusual to find any battalion spending more than four or five days a month continuously in the firing line." In January 1917, for example, none of those five battalions spent a total of even one week in the trenches, and that's adding together time in the firing line at the front and time in safer support trenches behind the front. In January 1915 two battalions spent 13 days that month in the trenches {the other three were 7 days, 9 days, and 7 days} but for 1916, 1917, and 1918 these five battalions on average spent less than a week in the trenches in the month of January. Furthermore, not all that time in the trenches was in the firing line. Four of those five battalions never spent longer than two days continuously at the front under fire in those four months, and usually only two such high-pressure two-day periods at the front in each month. 3/4 to 7/8 of the men's time was away from fire behind the front. This is not the impression I {or anyone else, I reckon} has ever received from films, novels, and poems about the horrors of the Great War. Also, many of the darkest anecdotes about that war come from the French and German armies, which neglected to rotate men as carefully as the British, and so did leave exhausted soldiers in the line of fire for weeks or even months. Corrigan says this is precisely why both French and German forces suffered serious morale problems and mutinies by soldiers against their officers. Lloyd George emerges very badly from Corrigan's narrative, constantly interfering, extending the war by scheming behind the backs of effective officers, he and Churchill wasting lives and munitions on impractical schemes like the attack on Gallipoli and reinforcements for Italy. General Haig emerges well.
Perhaps the most suspect thing about the current consensus of the war as a senseless "murder of a generation" is that the people who lived through it, as Corrigan points out, did not see it that way. Throughout the 1920s, the Great War was proudly seen in Britain as having been necessary, well led, difficult but important and worthwhile. Current myths about World War One really make up an early revisionist interpretation which began to take hold in the appeasement era of the 1930s among the children of the 1914-18 generation. Here's an interesting paragraph about how the British army with its frequent rotation of men kept morale high and suffered no mutinies while the French army saw a massive collapse of morale which almost lost the war. "As conscripts [French] pay was derisory, their rations were bad, and their welfare facilities almost non-existent. In some units there had been no leave for twelve months, and for those fortunate few who did manage to obtain leave, arrangements to get them home were regarded by the French staff as a very low priority. The French army was far more egalitarian than the British, and was {almost} a meritocracy; but many British officers commented with surprise that while French officers led their men in action most gallantly, once the battle was over the officers decamped and left the men to their own devices. British officers had it drummed into them that the welfare of their men was one of their major responsibilities; they organised football matches, set up canteens, administered leave, laid on band concerts, ran theatricals, held gymkhanas and inspected the men's billets and meals regularly. It has been suggested that it was the social difference between officer and soldier in the British army that allowed officers to be in close touch with their men's off-duty activities without the risk of undue familiarity; a contrasting situation to that of the French, whose officers were far better educated professionally than were the British, but who came from the same social class as many of their men. Whatever the reasons, the French army was ripe for what happened." What happened was collapse of morale, mass desertion and mutiny - the real reason British soldiers had to fight the Somme to take German pressure off the collapsing French army, despite the deep misgivings of British officers about fighting that battle then. Fascinating - how much else of the history we think we know is dangerously distorted myth?
March 9th; Philosophy talk about being sceptical about one's own existence. Not sure if I was there, but Martin & Henry turned up.

March 8th; Dinner with Dorina, whose quote of the week translates as "The camper van is the highest achievement of humanity."
March 7th; In very junior role help prepare impressive dinner at Martin's. The finale is a pudding of chocolate, cream, olive oil, and flaky salt. Random quotes of the day: {of Heathrow Terminal 5} "It's like the future. It's beautiful.""Bacon is basically a delivery mechanism for salt." Also a memorable anecdote about a vet student who was drawing fluid off a foal, forgot he'd left the tap open, left the room, and so drained the poor baby horse dead. A bit like that gloomy blood-transfusion scene in 'The Abominable Dr Phibes'.

March 6th; Bitter cold wind. Get sad. Go to OBI home-improvements warehouse. Mistake: get sadder and start sending people nasty text messages.
March 5th; Go to mobile-phone showroom of Pannon, where a sweet girl at quarter to 11 tells me my balance is 85 forints in the red. Strange, since I think the connection should be cut off as soon as my pre-paid 5 gigabytes finishes. However, they once said that it can run for another half hour or so because the system is slow to catch up with my balance. All right then. I pay her 6,500 forints, and she says the 5 gigabytes is ready to use. I go home. At home I cannot connect to the internet. I go back to WestEndCity shopping centre to sort this out. Another well-meaning girl investigates, and puts me on the phone to someone. He tells me that actually I owe more than four thousand forints to Pannon. I say this is unacceptable, since Pannon's moment to tell me this was 10.45am this morning, not half an hour after I pay in some money. Furthermore, I never agreed to be billed like that. The whole point of paying ahead is to not go into debt - if the company does not cut me off once the 5 gigabytes is used up that should be their problem, not mine. The man at the other end of the phone keeps saying he understands, I reply if he understands then his role is to sort out my problem, he says he must abide by company rules, I point out to him he has no integrity if he accepts a wage for following rules that are dishonest. The lad down the phone seems almost in tears by the time he tells me I can "ask" for my case to be considered if I write to some e-mail address. Extraordinary - as if I have been a naughty customer and must request an exception be made for my bad behaviour. I tell him to send the e-mail himself since he is getting a wage to be there and I'm paying it, then I leave the showroom and go back to Vodafone on the next floor of the shopping centre.
If anyone has experienced the same sneaky behaviour from Pannon, contact me on markgriffith 'at' yahoo.com - it seems plain that their software is designed to wait until a customer has paid some money in before revealing the size of the made-up extra charges they want to levy on people they call their "pre-paid customers". Given that my service got cut off yesterday evening, it really isn't credible that it showed me 85 forints in debt for the next eleven, twelve hours, then - within minutes of me paying in 25 pounds - suddenly realises that, goodness!, it should have mentioned I owe another 20 quid. So transparent. It clearly infuriates Pannon that they have any customers at all who don't wish to run up the open-ended bills phone companies like to feed off. They obviously hate the idea of people paying fixed amounts in advance, so being able to control how much they give the phone leeches. This must be why Pannon deliberately sabotage their own pre-paid service and slyly turn it into a way for customers to run up a debt, like the good old days of telephony. Of course, I never got Pannon's promised warning that I had one gigabyte left, and I didn't get the more important warning message that I had used up five gigabytes, nor any warning that I was about to be charged because the service would stay open. Pathetically devious business model of the classic Hungarian kind.
I wish I could reveal that the visit to Vodafone went smoothly, but in fact it takes two visits, albeit speaking to two quite charming and helpful girls, and the rest of my Friday, to get the Vodafone service working on both the Apple and the PC laptops. On the day's fourth visit to a mobile-telephone showroom, I bump into Mary, anxious because she has been cut off without explanation and has to go to the airport to catch a flight in an hour. Vodafone at least seem to understand what 'pre-paid' means, but when I leave them, Mary is still trying to sort out her problem.

March 4th; Up late to accomplish stuff, then, without warning, internet runs out.
March 3rd; With Dorina to see 5-minute slide-show talks at the Ignite event.

March 2nd; With Henry to philosophy talk.
March 1st; "I am Vladimir. I crush you."


Mark Griffith, site administrator / markgriffith at yahoo.com

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