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2011
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April 30th; After two coats of paint, sand down chair to smooth joints.

April 29th; A bit tired from yesterday's quite busy day {4 meetings} fail to make it to Marion's house in time to see any of this morning's royal wedding on her television. Put second coat of white matt paint on chair. Enjoyable afternoon Arabic lesson followed by green tea with Bisan & Kristof at cafe afterwards.
April 28th; Breakfast with Marion. Dire tales of dishonesty & incompetence at the Music Academy.

April 27th; Read 'Art of the Dogon', an illustrated book I borrowed from Robin's library about wooden and iron sculptures from the Dogon people of west Africa. The book has a bold black-and-white photograph of each item mentioned. The most dramatic of these have the object looming out of darkness lit with plenty of contrast, increasing their eerie mood of archaic pagan power in a way that probably offends some people. Understandably, since this is an art book, Robert Temple's curious claims about Dogon astronomy & myth are not mentioned, though some of the discussion in the introduction and in entries on ritual sculptures makes repeated mention of their founding myth of humanity arriving on earth in a "celestial ark" from the stars. Discussions by Griaule & Dieterlen of Dogon artwork {the two anthropologists were pioneering documenters of the southern-Mali tribe from the 1930s on} relating almost every item to Dogon cosmogeny are downplayed. Author Kate Ezra warns carefully that some pieces have been overinterpreted, and that many Dogon artworks are simply not understood, absent more information about their ritual use. The carved wood and wrought metal objects come in a range of styles, and some confusion is caused by the way the Dogon use the word "Tellem" both to refer to a specific nation that lived in the area before them, and also more loosely to refer to foreign artworks and craftsmen of unknown origin. There are also more conventionally functional items: doors and metal latches with the same combination of boldness & vigour that for a while made Etruscan art so fashionable before the war. The most haunting Dogon pieces combine figurative and abstract elements in a way often seen in magical objects. These have strong lines and shapes strangely blurred by thick coatings of dried paste made from various food offerings to gods or spirits repeatedly smeared onto the objects in their shrines over years or decades. While only a few items are really compelling, here and there the hairs do stand up on the back of the neck {front view, back view}.
April 26th; Today Robin, Zsuzsi, Kasper, Bela, & I go to a paintball-firing range nearby in Tiszafoldvar, Letty having booked an hour for us, to find an abandoned building with a freshly painted maroon front and newly-laid tiles but also missing windows and random bits of rubbish strewn around in dusty grass. A rusting Trabant car parked in the garden long ago had one front side-door panel completely removed so instead of the words 'Arpad Sziget Paintball' along the side we only see 'Arpad Pain'. We sit around in sunshine phoning up the proprietors, but no-one answers.
Catch my train to Budapest, waving goodbye to Robin, Bela, & Zsuzsi at Kecskemet station, and roll into the capital an hour later feeling strangely transformed. Renewed even, given as it is Easter.

April 25th; Easter Monday at Robin's. We paint hard-boiled eggs in the kitchen. The strangely appropriate afternoon outing to a paintball-firing range {eggs with paint on the inside} gets postponed to tomorrow. One of the two tiny new kittens gets smothered when a well-meaning fox terrier buries it alive in sand to "protect" it.
April 24th; Christ is risen. Through the day into late evening, read another of the mystical Mike's books in Robin's library, 'The World Atlas Of Mysteries' by Francis Hitching. This develops some of the themes of the Michell book from yesterday. This is a nicely-produced late-70s large-format work, illustrations in black and white and also brown as the second colour, with plentiful maps. The text moves slightly oddly across a range of self-contained articles, on topics as diverse as human evolution, levitation, continental drift, Count St. Germain {with a map of places across Europe people say they met him between 1710 and 1820, supposedly looking as if he was "about 40 to 45" each time}, large 2 or 3lb blocks of ice falling from the sky, or primitive hairy men living in remote forests. Some interesting surprises: Erich von Daniken is rightly debunked, Velikovsky comes out much better than I expected, support for John Michell, respect for Robert Temple's claims an African tribe knows about the Sirius star system, and a quick demolition of the Bermuda Triangle thesis.

April 23rd; Sleeping in Robin's library {sleeping a lot, it seems}. During an afternoon doze, wake out of a second dream where I am in Toronto Airport. In the evening, stay up late talking to Robin and finishing another of Mike's books in the library, an intriguing book by John Michell called 'The View Over Atlantis'. It has perhaps the ugliest front cover ever. Titles spelt out in ants which are chewing away at a sort of window depicting a biplane flying in a sky full of drab watercolour discs, all in washed-out hues: a dull, irritating image unrelated to the contents of this 1972 Garnstone Press text. The actual book is entertaining though, a mixture of references to Egyptian pyramids, British megalithic sites, Alfred Watkins' pioneering book about leylines, ideas like Wilhelm Reich's orgone theory, all blended into a heady stew of ancient energies criss-crossing the earth in some vast mysterious web. Like the Peter Tompkins' book about the Cheops Pyramid, quite a lot about units of measurement. Michell does not yield too much to the usual esoteric author's habit of blustering possibilities into probabilities. Earlier in the day, since I've read many times you can hypnotise a chicken by drawing a chalk line on the ground and holding its beak to the line, Zsuzsi & I spend about 20 minutes running around outside, chalk at the ready, trying to catch a hen or rooster to do the experiment. Ridiculous-looking, but surprisingly quick and agile those chickens. Finally we catch one, draw the chalk line and hold its beak down. Doesn't work.
April 22nd; Good Friday. I wake out of a dream about a girl falling to her death from a walkway above an escalator somewhere in Toronto Airport. At Robin's the wire-fenced chicken coop the other side of the garage means that the day is punctuated with the occasional cockerel cry of cock-a-doodle. It's clearly four syllables though - the English storybook spelling of cock-a-doodle-doo just doesn't fit. A phone conversation with Zita P., who seems in good spirits. At one point, recalling how as a child she used to avoid the Easter Monday fertility rite of being splashed or sprayed with water or scent by boys, she cries triumphantly in English "The big boys might be strong with the whip, but I am little and clever and I can hide!" Off Robin's shelves read Bryan Magee's short book 'Aspects of Wagner', a 1968 book that tries to explain the huge importance of the German composer to the four generations just before. This book still has its blue library card in the front announcing that it belongs in St. Martin's School of Art Library, last due back February 1983. Wagner was strongly influenced by Schopenhauer, the true discoverer of the subconscious. However, even as Magee says this, at the end of the 60s Freud is still taken seriously enough that he writes of Wagner as in many ways "anticipating Freud". From today's vantage point it looks a lot more as if Freud was really a Wagnerian who built a whole pseudoscience out of 19th-century music's grandest violator of sexual taboos in opera plots. Magee emphasises the extraordinary extremes of loathing and adulation Wagner inspired in his music and his person, the remarkable understanding Wagner showed of his own methods in his own written account of how opera works, and the powerful influence he had directly or indirectly on almost every major artistic and intellectual figure up to the middle of the 20th century. Just to pick on one element, I was surprised to read that it is due to Wagner that auditoriums are dimmed once a performance begins, and the doors are locked to newcomers. On reflection, I rather like the idea of a return to people strolling in late if they wish, with auditorium lights left full on.

April 21st; Meet Robin in the evening. Chair now in fully-glued but unpainted state, awaiting its first strength test. We drive down to countryside after dark.
April 20th; Pleasant green tea with friend in cafe inside bookshop. We discuss ceramic techniques, broken ribs, and how love & life test us all. During day my phone misbehaves - fail to meet Robin. Late at night, finish rereading 'The Tempest', celebrated as Shakespeare's last major play, unless the adorably earnest Harold Bloom is right that "we're just not ready yet" for 'Henry VIII'. Prospero's treatment of the grumbling beast-man Caliban and the wispy, fleet-footed spirit being Ariel is very interesting, and clearly somehow about colonising faraway lands, yet also about something else. The sense that Prospero is Shakespeare himself, announcing his own retirement & summing up his own life, is also vividly persuasive but also not quite right. "Now I want / Spirits to enforce, art to enchant / And my ending is despair / Unless I be relieved by prayer," says Prospero in his closing monologue. He probably reminded audiences then more of Elizabeth's former court astrologer, John Dee, than of the playwright himself, even though the idea that Ariel is tragically noble poesy and Caliban is coarse earthy comedy and every writer must master both is vaguely tempting. Dee had fallen from grace and had ended his days in a poorly-paid sinecure as Warden of Christ's College, Manchester, whatever that was, dying in relative obscurity in 1609. The Tempest was first performed in 1611. Those theatregoers would have seen Dee as the penitent magician asking to be forgiven and prayed for, and he might also have been speaking for some other old Elizabethans asking the new Jacobean era for their understanding and political indulgence.

April 19th; Meal outdoors at French Institute with Henri. Warm sun, cool shade.
April 18th; Buzz-guitar-wielding 1990s Californians cover the Oyster Cult song about Japan's big lizard. "History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man. Godzilla!" Giant man-eating seafood in Far Eastern waters any day now.

April 17th; Finished the very short book RFID : La Police Totale authored anonymously, published under the wonderfully named 'Editions L'Echappee, Collection Negatif'. Doesn't disappoint. Part of a short set of short books with other attacks {one on mobile phones, another on nanotechnology}, the authors here waste no time accusing commercial & government sponsors of RFID technology {Radio Frequency Identification} of being after control of the population. These are the tiny, 1/16th-of-an-inch-sized "smart tags" lots of supermarket chains and passport authorities now embed in objects so they can be tracked remotely. This control, the authors argue, is starting therefore with this "internet of objects", in which pets, cattle, and pretty much everything else culminating in people will be objectified, uniquely numbered and tagged. This works up to a discussion of subcutaneous {under-skin} chips the size of a grain of rice or smaller which are being promoted as convenient and helpful for people who agree to have the injection. An appendix says that the very idea of identification cards is wrong because it imposes the presumption of guilty until proven innocent, something that's long seemed obvious to me but seemingly to no-one else except these Montreuil anarchists. Interesting detail: the authors claim Portugal's constitution rules against any unique numbering of Portuguese citizens.
April 16th; Strangely chilly weather, grey & white clouds, like being in England. Late at night finish John Holland's book 'Emergence' which is a thoughtful account of how complex order can emerge from chaos {'order from chaos' is the subtitle} through a few simple rules. He spends a lot of time on models and understanding of games like chess, or Conway's Game of Life, where easily describable basic rules evolve into surprisingly sophisticated, hard-to-predict behaviour. Dubbed on the cover as the "father of the genetic algorithm", Holland is rigorous if slightly plodding about game trees & recursive rules, and optimistic if rather vaguer about the point when a higher-level overview emerges from the thickets of lower-level detail. An unfortunate feature of the book is that the grey boxes on the page where his algebraic arguments go are strangely dark, grainy, and hard to read. Precisely the places where you don't want to be squinting to keep track of the subscripts. He also mistakenly uses 'obverse' to mean 'reverse' several times, slightly spoiling the impression of disciplined logic, but he has clearly worked hard on the topic and thought carefully about it.

April 15th; A brief power cut in the morning prompts me to finally defrost fridge. Memories of mother with her glass of martini stabbing at the freezer with a big knife, pouring in kettle after kettle of boiling water {which even as a little boy I realised would seal the cracks you want to open up, gluing blocks of ice ever more firmly to the freezer wall}, telling me that defrosting the fridge is one of life's tedious tasks I must do regularly. Avoiding hot water, I just pace the defrosting at room temperature over the day and with a screwdriver patiently prise the last few 5 or 6 lb slabs of ice cleanly out and into the sink each in one piece by late afternoon. Smooth freezer cabinet walls crisply defrosted & inside of fridge dry, not flooded with melted ice mother-style. Jolly Arabic lesson, after which Bisan voices some surprised concern at seeing cartoons of demons everywhere in Budapest and knowing no fewer than three Hungarian girls studying witchcraft. Later finish 'Drive' by Daniel Pink, the second of my 2-for-the-price-of-1 business-book purchases at Manchester Airport some weeks ago. Having already seen the eight or nine minute TED talk on the web about this research, slightly shocking to find how little the book adds. Psychology research has shown, says Pink, that rewards and punishments are effective motivators for repetitive tasks requiring little imagination, but - once people's basic financial needs are covered - you get far cleverer & better results by letting them take control of their work and aligning their efforts with a higher purpose. In short, people seek autonomy, mastery {of a skill}, and purpose. The research showed that children and adults paid for success in certain tests did them less successfully, viewed games as work, and showed less creativity in solving problems once carrots and sticks were introduced. The book is effectively a slogan which could have been puffed up into a quite interesting 6 or 7 page article, but in fact was pumped up into a 215-page book. The Twitter summary at the back in 140 characters does a disturbingly good job of replacing the entire text. It goes: Carrots & sticks are so last century. Drive says for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery & purpose. It's clear, for example, that much of the 2009 mortgage crash was created by over-use of bonuses and financial incentives for bankers which motivated them to do short-termist, even destructive things. However, I have the eerie reminiscence that every management book ever written since Taylor went out of fashion, so at least since Drucker & Handy half a century ago, has said just this. Don't try to control your people / give them a mission to be part of / let them redesign the task, yadi yadi yadi. Near the beginning of Drive, two 19th-century Mark Twain quotes pop up in my memory. One about rich men paying good money to drive horse & carriage on holiday who would never do this if someone else paid them to do it. The other the Tom Sawyer incident where Sawyer precociously tricks his child friends into paying him to "let them" do a chore in his place by pretending he is having a transcendent experience performing the chore {whitewashing a fence}. About three pages later, Pink mentions both these quotes. The Sawyer story is particularly worrying, because it shows someone tricking work out of his friends, of all people, by offering them the illusion of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Something tells me this is the main use to which US firms will put this research. The tiresome Hungarian-American Csikszentmihalyi and his "flow" get lots of respectful mentions, though the only study that is cited was a project where he messaged volunteers on pagers at random times of day to get them to write down whether or not at that moment they were engrossed and happily experiencing flow. Towards the end of Drive, I am thinking that the book has nothing that Maria Montessori was not saying at the end of the 1890s, and a couple of pages later, bingo, Pink mentions Montessori. I also recall that three decades ago, Volvo in Sweden experimented with worker-centred car-building, where small teams of men controlled how many cars they built, how fast and how well. Pink doesn't mention this story. Apparently morale and working standards rose hugely at that Volvo factory, but I recently heard it soon got abandoned because it didn't actually make money. Meanwhile Pink's book spells out in painful, almost Taylorist, detail how to inject self-motivated autonomy {or the appearance of it} into American companies, citing the usual examples like 3M, a company keen on innovations carried out by its employees in their spare time. The idea that you might let workers own some of their own best ideas slips past in a quick sentence about these "enlightened" companies happily controlling and monetising the fruits of their staff's day a month or afternoon a week of Krazy Kreativitee.
On page 163 he writes "And who knows? Someone in your operation might just invent the next Post-it note." Poignant example of the heady possibilities of this wild, revolutionary empowerment of your people. A new kind of stationery people use to nag themselves into doing more chores.
April 14th; More work on Joomla with Monika and gurgly baby.

April 13th; Leggy mannequins al fresco. The alert herbivore pose surely deliberate? Like a pair of Serengeti gazelles who've spotted the wildlife camera team.
April 12th; If you can afford studio talent like Miguel Migs to remix your song, even Britney Spears can sound quite good.

April 11th; Listening to several archived BBC radio discussions through the night with Melvyn Bragg. Annoyingly though, the ones I would most like to hear {particularly 'Baconian Science', 'The School of Athens' (about the Raphael painting) and 'Sparta'} don't play, and haven't worked for the year I've been trying every now and then to listen to them.
April 10th; Afternoon Joomla lesson from Monika as she intermittently breastfeeds her very good-natured baby. Late-night three-hour phone conversation over Skype with Nordic Maiden. The data was good.

April 9th; When the man in the watch & clock shop said my wrist band would not be sticky if I kept it looser, it sounded like a good idea. Of course, I later remembered I had tried this already, and it just resulted in the weight of the watch smoothly swivelling round to hang below my wrist so that I could not see the time. Loose enough not to sweat, slides round. Tight enough not to slide round, the leather strap goes wet with my sweat and tanning dye leaches into the skin of my wrist. Nice.
April 8th; A warm afternoon of sunshine fades into the curious thunder-promising dark blue skies you sometimes see in the summer. This is where light seems to be coming out of the bricks and stones of buildings as if they are glowing against the surprisingly dark sky, giving back the sun of earlier on. The air is quietly charged somehow, soft wind blowing in some change of weather from another point of the compass. As the yellow light does its last work of the day and the shadows grow long, I try out the new mega-gym a few doors down the road. Girl talks me through conditions at reception, then later as I go through to swimming-pool and sauna area, I talk to another girl at another counter who looks similar. Later learn they are twins. Must tune up my observation skills a bit. The inside of the brand-new shiny fitness complex seems to have been inspired by the cover art for some ambient lounge music. Indeed this is what plays throughout.

April 7th; Windy weather, and this block of apartments built in the 1990s howls and whistles in wind like a haunted house. Stay up late at night as the moaning wind sings under doors and along the corridor outside, reading Anne Miller's 'How To Get Your Ideas Adopted (And Change The World)'. Well-written and covering an interesting range of topics {inventions and pressure-group campaigns}, Miller is a clever woman who had a career as an engineer and now does consultancy on creativity. However, the book is a disappointment. It is essentially a tactful guide on how not to be a ranting mad inventor. Partly about the nature of creativity and partly about what changes minds and why people block or adopt innovations, there is nothing here not expressed much better in the 1960s and 70s books of Edward de Bono. The book makes four points : (1) The world will not only not beat a path to the door of the person with the better mousetrap, it will ignore and indeed actively oppose the new idea {of course} ; (2) Creative people have to understand why people don't want to hear about new ideas ; (3) Innovators must learn to diplomatically sell a new idea in the language of people unlike themselves {ie uncreative people} ; (4) Innovators must be prepared to share ownership of new ideas at some point. That's it. Really nothing new or surprising added. At one point she lets slip that she was in the team working on one small aspect of Sinclair's {even at the time obviously doomed} C5 electric pushchair, so perhaps this book is addressed partly to her younger self. Also, she is probably doing a service by collecting these thoughts into a book that people who have not yet read much about creativity can absorb at one sitting. Recall Reverend Berry at school: "In the country of the blind the one-eyed man is not king, the one-eyed man is mad". We knew he was warning us about how much the normals resent, even fear, creativity and talent. This still news?
April 6th; Dinner with Rob. Chair still evolving.

April 5th; Lunch with Robin, who is in good form - later as the sun goes in and it turns dark, stormy, dramatic, we both bump into Zoltan B. in a cafe.
April 4th; Warm sunshine. Read some of the beautifully illustrated Eco book about ugliness on the grass in the park on the island in the river. Dinner with Marguerite, back from her travels again. We meet her friend Aponella, and we three dine at Marquis de Salade, which seems to be an Azeri restaurant. Meanwhile, Woman With Radio Inside Her Head Attacks Gaugin painting.

April 3rd; Madamemoiselle very much at ease during dinner.
April 2nd; Finish Aldous Huxley's novel 'Island', published in 1962 a year before his death. A cynical British journalist is shipwrecked on an island somewhere in the South Seas, and finds himself in a society that is not quite perfect, but certainly in Huxley's view more socially advanced than Britain or the United States. This book is clearly the utopian matching book-end to his much more famously dark science-ruled dystopia 'Brave New World' from three decades earlier in the 1930s. It seems Huxley meant the two books to be read together. For one thing, the title Brave New World is a sarcastic quote from Shakespeare's 'Tempest', and 'Island' looks very much a non-sarcastic attempt to depict Prospero's island of magic working well where the locals are neither Calibans or Ariels, but a happy blend of both. There is some of Prospero's magic-tamed wilderness, some Eden rediscovered, and also Gaugin's Tahiti populated by Rousseauesque noble savages with a smidgeon of Margaret Mead's Samoa in the mix. His faith in what turned out to be Mead's Rousseau/Boaz-tinged gullibility about innocent cultures of free love is not made much of in the book, but might be its most serious flaw. This shows in what Huxley thinks are the big emotional problems of the main character. The central figure, the traveller, is haunted by three women, Molly, Babs, and his admirable yet finally embittered aunt. This novel is structured as an argument that the misery suffered by, and in turn caused by, these people would have been less acute, better handled, in the society of the island. The argument is made well, but I'm not entirely convinced. What mid-20th-century enlightened Britons like Huxley tended to see as specifically Victorian, specifically British, specifically Christian neuroses look at this distance more like universal woes suffered by people everywhere. Even as well-travelled a citizen of the world as Huxley shows some insularity in how he criticises his island of origin, Britain.
Yet Huxley is not naive about his fictional paradise. The island of the book has problems too. Not all unhappiness is conquered - it is rather managed and minimised - and there is a sensible mix of traditional & up-to-date. Unlike Rousseau and Mead, Huxley does not venerate raw authentic primitiveness per se as innocence, but rather envisages a small country with a composite culture. Industrial science imported by englightened Victorian imperialists is tempered by Buddhist/animist wisdom. Young people are instructed in Tantric sex {"the yoga of love"}, and careful use is made of a local psychedelic mushroom to deepen and broaden everyone's thinking on a few well-chosen occasions. The main ingredient, though, is the sort of cheerful common sense that might appeal to a post-imperial, post-Freudian, post-Victorian, post-World-War-Two liberal Englishman like Huxley. This is a quite complex blend, and inevitably large chunks of the book are preachy and filled with pages of earnest explanation. Yet Huxley hasn't completely forgotten how to structure a novel. There are a couple of genuine narrative surprises, three or four well-drawn characters, and some convincing emotional development - all there to get us through what he feels is his desperately important message of how we might live well in a good society. In terms of how much this society of hope is thought through in detail this book is comparable to Plato's 'Republic' {rather more sympathetic sounding and more practically imagined than More's 'Utopia', for example]. It is unlikely to get the same attention over the next few centuries as the Republic has to date, but if an essentially pacifist state which is easy to invade or take over can be taken seriously at all, this might be it. Some nice touches, like the religious scarecrows and the talking birds. However, the book is ultimately serious, describing a therapeutic transformation of one man and by implication his whole society if only it would listen. The drug scene is interesting, since Huxley himself with his 1950s book 'Doors of Perception' helped so much near the end of his life to popularise spiritual development via psychedelics. This fashion, which was to flavour so strongly the years right after Huxley's death, must owe a lot to these two books. I wonder how many 1960s hippies read 'Island'? Would be interesting to know. A compelling read.

April 1st; A gear train shaped like a Moebius strip. Not sure what it does.


Mark Griffith, site administrator / markgriffith at yahoo.com