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2012
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November 30th; Interesting to see how solid-faxing / 3D-printing, whatever you call it, is finally getting proper notice. I remember trying to persuade Salon.com to take an article from me about this in 2000 or 20001 and the tech editor Andrew Whoever being pretty dismissive of the interest value of this technology for an article, however "cool" (his word, used rather sneeringly) it was. I wonder how his book on open-source programming is doing these days? An admirable retailer retires and gives his three shops to the staff he employs in them.
November 29th; Finished Richard's copy of 'Byzantine Aesthetics' by Gervase Mathew, which is exactly what a Late Antiquity art-historian should be called, right down to the one-t Mathew. Richly supplied with black-and-white photographic plates, my only illustration quibble is with the line map of the Mediterranean in the front and back - it could easily have had more towns marked on it. Mathew is so engaged with his topic that you realise he can see in his mind's eye a host of images, mosaics, churches, icons, frescoes that make each sentence he writes crisp and nuanced. For the rest of us, a little more plain explanation might have helped. He deals in half a chapter with the Iconoclast versus Iconodule controversy that divided Eastern Roman Empire opinion from the 750s to the 850s AD. Naively, I had imagined (because it was the bit I had heard of, of course) that this would occupy a big slice of the book. Mathew downplays the religious difference between the two sides, stressing that the Iconoclasts still had religious images, adding that the moderates were the stronger party on both sides, and that economic and social forces were important in choosing which camp you were with. In one place he describes the sense of vision as foremost for Byzantines, a few pages later saying that the sense of touch was foremost for Byzantines. However all the way through he charts a shifting heirarchy of favoured colours, a pre-eminence among intellectuals given to mathematics, a to-and-fro movement between literature and pictures as the most important arts, and a consistent love of precious materials. The merit-based, non-aristocratic civil service is a steady theme from the 400s AD to the 1400s, creating what he calls a kind of Graeco-Roman Confucianism. The decline and collapse of Byzantium in the decades up to the 1450s, finally crumpling under the strain of 800 years of persistent military attack by Islam, released an entire bureaucracy of highly educated Classical mandarins to the West in need of teaching work. Clarified for me that Ravenna and Venice, despite being physically in the Italian peninsula, are more part of Byzantine history than Western Roman history. Interesting to read him state what seems plain looking at Sienese art by painters like Duccio, that this part of the Italian Renaissance was directly Byzantine in inspiration. He has a curious distinction between 'open-window perspective' (Florence +) and 'wall-niche perspective' (Byzantine). Mathew thinks that Giotto's shallow-box-like sense of depth came directly from Constantinople. I am not sure I could follow his idea that Byzantine perspective went forwards, into the space in front of the picture frame, with depth lines tapering not backwards to a horizon point (as we see in Florence with Fra Angelico), but forward to a person in the room viewing the image. He says the Byzantines had gently curved horizons and not one, but a host of rival perspective schemes - diagrams might have helped with that. The architect, artist, geometer, experimenter Anthemius of Tralles, designer of the Haghia Sophia church in the 530s under Justinian, sounds an interesting Leonardo-type figure. Some of Mathew's writing is lyrical. The book closes with these words "Though Byzantine civilization was first forgotten and then travestied in the West, something of Byzantium remained wherever there was a belief in the dominance of cold Mind." I found this a puzzling ending, as if the real substance of the book somehow had not even begun.

November 28th; Proof that cats are better than dogs.
November 27th; Digital beat, breathy Latino vocals. Meanwhile Finnish funkster Jimi Tenor elevates to higher planes.

November 26th; The odd thing about warning songs is that until you meet someone like the person mentioned in the lyrics they sound interestingly weird. Only by the time the words chime with some foul experience is the warning loud & clear, and by then of course it is too late. Probably because pop songs are so short, the lyrics can only be the roughest of outline sketches - not like a novel where you would recognise the person as soon as they walked in the door. As so often, after many years only just clocked this as about a kind of woman you really can have the misfortune to meet, not just a songwriter's fantasy. Oh dear, yes. 'Strange Brew' - love the line about how this girl would act on board a boat during a storm at sea.
Finish Zizi's copy of the second of the Hunger Games trilogy - 'Catching Fire'. Lots more fine character-driven storytelling. Again had the vivid experience of dropping out of my daily life altogether once I opened the book. More gruelling adventures and emotional dilemmas for adolescent Katniss as she discovers just how dangerous it was to displease President Snow and The Capitol by the way she won in the Hunger Games (book 1).
November 25th; Two days ago finished Richard's copy of 'Medieval Thought' by Gordon Leff. Densely but carefully written, this is a helpful overview of the period from, as the subtitle puts it, Augustine to Ockham. Shows just what was so good about Pelicans before some conceited American litigator demanded Penguin close the imprint. Fine short introductions to various philosophers and theologians (and for much of the scholastic period the two were hard to distinguish) but with so much ground to cover, inevitably the head swims a little. Not least confusing is how many thinkers of that era or discussed in that era had names starting with A. Apart from Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, there are Abelard, a couple of Adelards, the Islamic thinkers all with A names of course Avicenna, Averroes, Al-kindi, Al-Askari, Al-farabi, Al-gazali, Avempace, Alfred the Great (not the King of England), a couple of Alberts, Anselm of course, plus others like Amaury of Bene (Amalric of Bena) who seems to anticipate Spinoza by five centuries, Aureole, .....et al. Not all of them start with A - there is a medieval thinker called Hermann the German. There was me thinking Hermann the German was the timber merchant from Hamburg I met for the first time at college (in his long coat opening my door to welcome me into my own room). Reading about about how three rival thinkers all themselves starting with A differently reconcile Augustinianism with Aristotle can be a bit disorienting. Nonetheless, Leff does a sterling job, patiently unfolding how Paris theologians and schoolmen reacted to different waves of Aristotelian texts, each with different layerings of neo-Platonic and Islamic interpretation over the period between 1000 and about 1400. The overall narrative has natural science (championed by teachers like Robert Grosseteste at Oxford) emerging almost as a byproduct of the schoolmen's efforts to reconcile logic, faith, and God's created world with a final separation of faith and logic under Duns Scotus and William of Ockham just late enough for investigation of nature to have established itself in place of the old trivium and quadrivium of the liberal arts. He never says this, but I got the strong impression that the corresponding Islamic separation of faith and logic happens earlier and more decisively, well in time to smother natural science in its cradle in the Muhammadan world. A photo of Leff shows a young-looking earnest man - apparently an alumnus of A.S. Neill's experimental free school at Summerhill. His book about Paris and Oxford universities in the 1200s and the 1300s must be excellent.

November 24th; Striking photo of Old Sarum, pre-1200s Salisbury. Not much left.
November 23rd; Few days ago did sound work in a suburb I had never seen before (the 20th district) in a house on a leafy street. Met Annabel, Liz again, and ex-drama-student Will newly arrived in Budapest from a never-ending Chekhov rehearsal in a Manchester basement. The 20th district reminded me, with overcast yet wide skies and its vaguely defeated-looking locals, of a town like Burnley. I pass three cheerful women on the leafy street cackling about how the daughter of one of them refers to a particular type of pink as "panty pink". One shop sold only cans of beer. Several outlets devoted to tools and bits of car engines.
Walking back from Budapest hospital clinic district (the metro station is helpfully named 'Clinics') I pass an immensely depressing Victorian building I had never looked at properly before. It has a high central entrance door, half open to reveal a steep flight of wide steps right inside the door. Dirty orange brick, and the front screened by thin, weary trees all of which have shed about a third of their green-yellow leaves. Felt right at home.
Apparently China now has entire counterfeit towns.

November 22nd; See a small tubby man at Nyugati metro station shuffling along in a bright grey (yes, grey can be bright) pseudo-work-jacket with orange lettering on the back saying in English 'OLD LIFT' to give it (I assume) that fake-industrial trendy something-or-other. He is pulling a shopping trolley marked cleared on the covering flap, again in English, 'Bag For Shopping'. Functional chic! A bit like that time at college I bumped into Tom the Mathematician back from the supermarket where he had obtained a plastic shopping bag made up of one giant photograph of fresh vegetables life-size; three cucumbers, five onions, four apples, three carrots.... (you get the idea) and in his excitement had purchased three cucumbers, five onions, four apples..... to put inside the bag. I can still see the look of innocent joy on his face as he showed me that inside his carrier-bag-shaped picture of one cauliflower and two sticks of celery etc was, oh yes, one cauliflower and two sticks of celery etc.
An English opera-singer/songwriter/pianist/poet/painter living in Italy (Bologna, for that mediaeval university feel). One of her songs & one of her books.
November 21st; Early Facebook page for Anna & Zizi's mum's cold-pressed soap business. Proper website not yet ready. Please Like generously.

November 20th; A new sunspot system that might zap us with interesting rays.
November 19th; Last night, got all brisk and housy and cleaned and tidied up what is apparently the Feng Shui money corner of my apartment. To save you all ten minutes of your lives I can reveal this is either the leftmost corner relative to you as you enter the front door, or the south-east corner. In my case, the two are the same place, so it should be doubly simple to get the good chi gurgling around nicely.

November 18th; Another night walking through the shopping centre lit only by illuminated Xmas trees, I pass a small group of people sitting cross-legged on the floor while sticking big adhesive five-pointed stars to the synth-marble floor. Six Hungarians in a circle, two of them slim girls with long brown hair and pointy faces in the almost-very-pretty category, meaning they are probably there "overseeing the design side" as they might phrase it in London. Although relaxed and speaking quietly, the six are calmly having a quarrel, I suppose about aesthetic decisions connected to the sticky stars. Some stars are lilac and some are gold-coloured. As I stroll past them, a succession of fuck/shit/cunt/arse/cock comes out of a bloke in Hungarian and then one of the girls replies calmly in kind as they each express their creative differences. No-one raises their voices even once. By day, over the sound system in the same shopping centre, Ordeal By Christmas Hit continues. Only one week of it, in November, and already it is starting to be a strain. There seems to be only one Xmas pop song no department store or mall ever plays, and that is this one (not so strange it never gets played really). Neither fish nor fowl, it is the Kinks in 1977, trying hard to be jaded & punk about Xmas yet already sounding drained. Barely a decade earlier they themselves were their own day's alarming youth.
November 17th; Seems that fracking we hear is so lethal has been setting the Americans free of Arab oil suppliers. Article courtesy of Eric.

November 16th; Watch a 2006 Woody Allen film with Jeremy & Csilla, called 'Scoop'. About a giggly yet earnest American girl reporter trying to solve a murder mystery involving an English aristocrat. I got very nervous watching it, not sure why. Allen's incidental music gives the film the odd feel of an updated Ealing Comedy. Radio show about the extraordinary life of Simone Weil. Interesting how she started out a kind of very spiritual socialist, and became a very intellectual Christian. A journey all intelligent left-wingers need to make, probably.
November 15th; Finish a book called 'Az intelligencia' ('Intelligence: a very short introduction') by Ian Deary, translated into Hungarian by Katalin Balogh and Monika Takacs. A crisp introduction to the controversial psychology of intelligence testing, I found it quite hard going. My Hungarian must be getting crap again with lack of practice. There is interesting material on the idea of 'g', the mysterious idea of general intelligence which seems predicted by lots of special types of intelligence correlating rather well with each other. New Zealander James Flynn's thesis that IQ has been rising across the world over the last century is discussed, along with all the obvious possible explanations such as better nutrition or more puzzle-type questions lurking in the backgrounds of children's lives such as on the backs of cereal packets than before the war. Data from the Minnesota Study of Twins Raised Apart added to the Texas Adoption Study look bleak for the environmental theory, since adopted children seem to have no correlation with foster parents' intelligence scores at all, while correlating well with genetic parents' IQ levels. Worse still, some adoptive children had some contact with their genetic parents (so it might be environmental after all?), yet comparing all the adopted children across the sample (some with intensive contact, some with sporadic contact, and some with no contact at all with genetic parents) shows no correlation at all between time spent with genetic parents and closeness to their IQ levels. Another feature on that same scatter graph claims that the average difference (about 6.5 points) between the IQ levels of two identical twins is only about 1.5 IQ points away from the average difference (about 5 points) between the IQ levels of one person and himself measured at two different times. Another section is about the theory that measured intelligence rests largely on decision speed. Need to improve my intelligence, if people can do that. Oh yes.... this book strongly suggests they cannot. Silly me.

November 14th; The brand-new lift doors are cured of their horrid noise but have a different fault now. This time I leave the lift and enter the flat while they are still closing 10% and banging back into the frame, over and over again every 5 seconds. I can hear the lift struggling to close its doors for about fifteen minutes from inside the flat. Strange how it is the new machines tend to fall sick these days. In days of yore the older the machine, the more likely it was to go wrong. These days with all those microprocessors around, it seems the newer the machine, the more likely it is to break down. Curious allegation about Karl Rove supposedly attempting to fix the presidential vote in three swing states.
November 13th; The lift doors have been making a hideous squealing noise when opening or closing for two or three days, as if a trapped shard of glass is being dragged through the metal groove back and forth each time the doors open or close. Lady Waks doing her radio show again. Striking that fidgety tic she has of constantly touching the knobs and switches for no reason, probably a way of staying in time with the rhythm to track when she wants to mix stuff in and out. Notice at 2 minutes in how the previous DJ, a gallant fellow, has to wait half a minute for her to even notice he is waiting to kiss her goodbye. Music gets interesting at around 15 minutes.

November 12th; Ebipere, one of the most lucid contributors to our economic-crisis essay collection, seems quite enamoured of accounting-identity-driven chartalism and the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) folk. Am a little surprised, to be honest. Had him down as more of an Austrian.
November 11th; Still waiting for money to come through. Not easy times, citizens.

November 10th; This seems to be Russian girl DJ Lady Waks on her day job at a radio station in Sankt Peterburg, as they call it. So finally - after a century of radio and TV, we have radio with pictures. A fixed camera watching a woman play records, who sometimes dances around happily to her own record collection, briefly posing for the fixed camera and then ignoring it for stretches. Isn't it funny?
November 9th; Rather tasteful Christmas trees with large gold-coloured baubles and lights are being set up in the shopping centre by small groups of careful technician men speaking in quiet voices when I walk through late at night. Is the start of the 2nd week in November not a bit on the early side? The Americans at least have Thanksgiving as a kind of festivity valve to stop Christmas leaking backwards any earlier than late November.

November 8th; Some remarkable news stories in recent days. Probably the most important is about 1) political change at the top in China. Major news about a country that matters a lot right now. Intriguing biological research - we all have bits of other people's DNA slopping around inside us, for example that of brothers, sisters, parents, children. Mothers in particular seem to have scraps of 2) their children's DNA littering their brains. Some man in Britain managed to get a court to 3) enforce a bill he sent to a telemarketer for wasting his time. We like those stories. Some scientists apparently 4) make gold look purple (outrageously the article has pictures but not the one we obviously want to see, idiots). An interesting long piece (Jimmy-Savile-driven, of course) 5) about pederasts and kiddy-fiddlers in the olden days of the BBC is going quite well until the author degenerates into the Guardianesque habit of trying to see some social symptom or bigger trend. The modern sociology-worshipping equivalent of Victorian handwringing over fallen public morals. So we get paragraphs like this: "And so you open Pandora's box to find the seedy ingredients of British populism. It's not just names, or performers and acts, it's an ethos. Why is British light entertainment so often based on the sexualisation of people too young to cope? And why is it that we have a press so keen to feed off it? Is it to cover the fact, via some kind of willed outrage, that the culture itself is largely paedophile in its commercial and entertainment excitements?" Classic hack tactic of baseless speculation put into question form, then disappearing pretentiously up its own arse. If you step round and over these puddles of bad writing, some fascinating material in the article.
The last two striking bits of news. One of our book's contributors, zerohedge, alleges 6) widespread voting fraud (electronic and machine-related) on both sides in Tuesday's American elections, while Greek magazine 7) HOT DOC gets into trouble with the courts for publishing a list of rich Greeks' Swiss bank accounts, said to belong to people who are evading their taxes.
November 7th; Since my apartment is rich in cardboard, I build second cardboard pyramid on the alleged Russian model. Despite the only online guide I can find being a cheerful geezer who thinks 55, 55 and 72 degrees add up to 180, and that the narrow angle can be the 72 (he good-naturedly apologises to his school maths teacher in the middle of building the thing, so you can't be cross with him), I manage a 2nd, larger, version of the little one on my desk, about 18" high. It looks about the proportions of the photos. I do feel much calmer now, but was hoping for something a bit more impressive & objective than feeling much calmer in the next few days. I should be patient. American voters last night elected the official military-industrial-complex candidate Mr O, having been scared into it by the prospect of the other man becoming president, the fall-guy wildcard military-industrial-complex candidate Mr R. Simple ruses are the best.

November 6th; Again pruning the tomato plant sitting on my desk as Anti-Market-Garden Mark instructed me, I notice an amazing adaptation. When I pull off a leafy green shoot one morning, the three remaining leafy shoots are all in one vertical plane to one side, like a fern frond. By the afternoon, the three have rearranged themselves at different angles and spaced evenly around the main stem. Slav girl DJ Lady Waks has been busy the last year or so. Not many people get to publicly dance around to themselves playing their own records. Nice she doesn't care how desultory and awkward the paying guests look, even the 2 angels. With less feedback and distortion (except where intended, I suppose) this, this, and this.
November 5th; An ex-girlfriend gently rebukes me when I ask what people wore at her party I could not attend belatedly marking the November 1st holiday five days ago, reminding me that the Hungarian Day of the Dead is not a costume or fancy-dress event. I mention to Anthea today that the original Guy Fawkes Night was almost a disaster which, had it happened, would have been considerably worse than the US 9/11 attack of 2001. England's entire ruling elite and administrative class - its monarchy, aristocracy, legislature, executive, and judiciary - would have been killed in one massive terrorist bombing. Plus the culprits were not a shadowy non-state group, but agents of Catholic Spain, the planet's foremost superpower and police state in 1605. This was an empire spanning the globe which used judicial torture for ethnic cleansing and ideological oppression on a vast scale for over a century, and which had almost conquered England less than twenty years earlier. No wonder English people have been celebrating the failure of that conspiracy for 400 years. Remember, remember, the 5th of November!

November 4th; Finish something lent me by Zizi, one of two sisters I have started teaching. Had noticed film reviews for 'The Hunger Games' without really reading them, so she lent me the first volume of the trilogy which she has read all of, being pretty good at English for a 14-year-old Hungarian girl. I gather 'The Hunger Games' by Suzanne Collins is not quite a children's book, perhaps a novel for 'young adults'? In any case, the storytelling craft is superb. Perhaps only twice a year do I read a book which I find hard to put down, that I have to ration myself to so as to get other things like deadline work done, where I am startled to find my heart beating loudly at certain points, or where I get off the underground metro train and have to stand on the platform to read one more page before stepping on to the escalator up to the street. I don't know if Stephen King (no mean storyteller himself, though I don't like the horror genre) does any logrolling, but I have no difficulty believing King's endorsement on this cover that he found it gripping. Starting in something recognisable as a post-apocalyptic West Virginia, it is a dystopian novel about a hideous TV game show in the future where 24 teenage children are released into a wild area to fight to the death until only one child is left alive, the aim both to entertain, and to rub in a military victory by the rulers of the oppressive state of Panem over the subordinate 12 districts. Zizi apparently already knew of or had guessed the parallel with the sacrificial children sent regularly by subject kingdoms to fight the humanoid bull in the Minoan labyrinth of Knossos. The whole story is so well told it seems churlish to point up anything but perhaps the business with the artificial leg is wrong for such an advanced era, and the horrific climax is imaginatively told but again is so extraordinary that one wonders why the Capitol ever needs to fear or deter rebellion if it has such powers. Nonetheless, I am not going to be able to resist borrowing Zizi's copies of part 2 and part 3, which might show my two plot doubts are judging Collins' storyworld too soon. Interestingly, Collins manages to convincingly blend the rival dystopias of 'Brave New World' and '1984' in a way I have never seen, mixing the moods of both (friends have been telling me recently that both Orwell and Huxley were right, and we are getting both futures together). Of course these books are always about their own time as well as the distant future. Orwell very nearly called his satire 1948, swapping the final two digits only at the last moment before publication, and it is recognisably about 1940s post-war austerity Britain. Brave New World is recognisably about the life of a slightly snobbish, well-educated Englishman like Huxley himself living well as a hack scriptwriter in the drugs-gossip-and-sex-obsessed milieu of 1930s Los Angeles. In the same way, the Hunger Games is about the vile instincts that are fed and manipulated by "reality television" today. Perhaps only Philip K. Dick really saw a few decades ahead just how sinister television might become. The trailer for the film shows the book is better, for the usual reasons. Some things simply work better inside the head, with the reader led by the narrator's voice.
November 3rd; Read an enjoyable book lent by a friend, called 'The Source Field Investigations' by David Wilcock, which is packed full of strange science, reporting (depending on your point of view) interesting research or wild hearsay. Lyall Watson from the 70s is quoted, and those experiments with wiring lie detectors to plants and putting cardboard pyramids over razor blades are back, in centre place in this book. Hard to do the boldness of this text justice in a review - the main ideas seem to be that 1) gravity and time are linked in some deep way (time indeed can be slowed down or sped up, and anti-gravity involves time travel), that 2) sacred geometry is real (and that Kepler was on the right track trying to fit Platonic solids between the planetary orbits), that 3) life and all biology is guided by fields not just instructions encoded in proteins, that 4) DNA absorbs and emits light as one of its main functions, and 5) the precessing Great Year of almost 26,000 years is of deep importance as the ancients thought, not just one of many astronomical cycles of mild interest. The author, while insisting he is not creationist, shares the deep antipathy to Darwin so many Americans seem to have. (I wonder if it irks them that a Victorian Englishman is still of more importance to world science than any American scientist yet? That never struck me before, but rather like the 'Great American Novel' thing, could it be the absence still of an American of the stature of Newton, Einstein, Darwin riles them slightly?) In one part he writes that Pasteur's experiment to see if rotting food in sealed flasks turned into maggots was designed to prove Darwin's recently stated theory of evolution, whereas I always read the Paris prize was intended to test the ancient spontaneous generation theory. Fascinatingly this book even resurrects 6) spontaneous generation as something to take seriously. Something exhilarating in someone prepared to reinvent so much and go against so much orthodoxy at once, even if Wilcock does say 'proven' and 'rigorously' much too often to be safe. Since I view science as mainly about having a go and trying something for yourself rather than just taking someone's word for it, the book's sweeping claims 7) for a new species of tall pyramid being built since the 1980s by Russian scientists seem particularly apt for me to test. Here is a wonderful picture of the biggest of these new steep pyramids, designed by Alexander Golod, a sort of latterday Russian Buckminster Fuller. This book tries to put the pre-materialistic world back together again, the lost unity Hegel says we all yearn for. It ends by insisting the cosmos is not as materialism sees it, and that the key to everything, even the laws of physics, is compassion. The last four sentences in the text are in italic. Rather movingly they read "I love you. I am sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you."

November 2nd; Weather gets chilly. In recent days seems to be dark in the flat and almost-dusk the whole day, in that way so familiar from the North of England. Coming back in the dark from IT Attila's electronics start-up company the HEV suburban railway stop next to the main road always has a completely empty return-direction platform at half past seven in the evening. At quiet moments the overhead train wires go slackety-slack-slack as some gust of wind or vibration from a passing lorry set them swinging and clicking against each other for a beat of 4 or 5 before stillness returns. Around now when chatting with staff in shops inside the Corvin plaza they start asking me what the weather is like outside or if it is dark yet, the way we used to when people came into the windowless financial futures exchange in London during the winter months.
Perhaps facial beauty is "the stare that paralyses the will of the world"? This article says beautiful people are boring, which they often are of course ...but guess which country that was published in.
November 1st; I hear the twin toddlers from across the landing sometimes, always burbling to each other in piping, sing-song voices as their parents shoo them in or out of the flat like ducklings. I have heard that many small twins do this, carry on a kind of never-ending dialogue/monologue with each other. A few days ago, unusually, we all share the lift. Both twin girls must be 3 or 4, always immaculately turned out in matching hair ribbons etc. The mother has the blank robotic face of sleep deprivation whenever I see her. She and the father are in the lift with me and the father by contrast has the slightly crazed cheerfulness of a proud, happy man who has not slept well for many months but somehow is coping. I ask him if the twins are a little tiring sometimes, ho ho? Immediately both tots, side by side at the back of the lift, stop chanting dooby-dooby-doo to each other and silently look up at me in unison, aware they are now the subject of discussion. It is not quite eerie enough to be a Midwich Cuckoos / Village of the Damned moment but I am left in no doubt that they are suddenly paying close attention to me.

Mark Griffith, site administrator / markgriffith at yahoo.com