Endearingly daft competition about daft book titles. I definitely vote for 'How to Sharpen Pencils'. A much neglected art. As I leave Medical Attila's in the small hours after an evening of hilarity, I find a bentwood chair in a small cluster of stools, mirrors, and boxes on the street right near his door. Seemingly not part of the district-by-district thing they have here of people dumping old stuff on the street one or two days every month for the rest of us to scavenge, but a smaller, more localised outbreak of furniture abandoning. The other bentwood chairs are damaged badly, but this one looks like it can be easily saved. Facing the night-time river I sit for a quiet moment in the misty chill on the street corner, testing its chairhood, and it passes. I proudly carry it home.
Intriguing cult movie deserving a watch - the only project where Ringo Starr and Peter Sellers collaborated: a memory-jogging review of enigmatic late-60s film 'The Magic Christian'.
In my local mall's basement supermarket spot a leggy blonde in tasteful long coat purposefully bearing down on some shelves of macaroni. Acting on a louche impulse I stroll round the back of that aisle to check her figure in profile. Suddenly she is not just looking at them, but fixing the bags of penne, fusilli, and those little curly snail-type ones with a powerful stony glare. Respecting her wish to be alone with the pasta, I potter off, remembering one last item that deserves a place in my shopping basket. Moments later I choose my check-out queue, and am standing behind a rather flustered brunette who needs help getting her groceries onto the moving conveyor, for Time's Rubber Belt Shall Wait For No Man. We banter. Feeling a vaguely psychic fidget of irritation in the small of my back, I glance round to discover that out of the ten queues available the haughty blonde by chance finds herself standing right behind me. As she witheringly stares elsewhere to avoid watching me help the hapless brunette, the blonde is practically rolling her eyes at the ceiling.
Via Zdravko, intriguing start to a map of failed proposals for US-state partitions in the past. Falls frustratingly short of its own mission though, with not even a wireframe overlay of current state boundaries. Especially striking how an American can call a map historical, yet forget to put any dates on it. Duh. Nice pastel colours though.
Instead of a grating for scraping the soles of our shoes outside our building's front door there is now just a
crisply rectangular concrete tray set four inches deep below the pavement surface, with a cardboard box standing on end in it. The coloured cardboard box is so we notice, instead of tripping into the concrete depression and hurting ourselves.
A song with video by someone called Delilah titled 'Love You So'. In the on-and-on-and-on category.
Sometimes the smell of someone's cooking fills the landing or stairwell in my apartment building. Nearly always the effect of this is stomach-heavingly unpleasant. Is this because the cooking is bad (as it often is here)? Or is it an effect of location ....some kind of fatty stew which might be appetising if you were at a kitchen table and very hungry but which is nauseating as a disembodied aroma smothering a tiled public space?
Anyone who understands this time-reversal physics story, please drop me a line. It's not actually about reversing time itself, before anyone gets too excited, but (I think) about sending signals with reversed shapes like sound-cancelling sound waves. I'd still like a slightly fuller explanation, though.
Finish Zizi's copy of 'Mockingjay', the third in the trilogy of young adult novels about Katniss, the adolescent girl who in book 1 volunteered to fight and probably die in the Hunger Games, a vile gladiatorial reality-television contest taking place a century in the future. Collins ambitiously keeps to the moral high road, and has her confused cynical heroine in this final third book tackle the big themes - revenge, mercy, justice, trust, spirit. Compelling storytelling which, despite some unconvincing moments and some fumbled parts, arouses powerful emotions. Still churning inside me when I read the last page and put it down.
Need more intelligence? Easy. Read this.
Got to the end of a wonderfully odd collection of short stories, Jeremy's paperback copy of 'The Blue Lenses and other stories' by Daphne du Maurier. The surreal 1970s cover art is both helpful and misleading in explaining what the stories inside offer. Apart from evoking a world really from a couple of decades before the 70s, the other thing they have in common is an intense emotional empathy. Each time du Maurier imagines herself into a character's worldview, often a distinctive peculiar view. Frankly, not all the stories work. There is something not quite right about the plotting in two of the three longest stories. The piece about the wartime British/American film star has some slangy English and dialogue which somehow ring false. Yet when she hits her key, the effect is extraordinary. The title story, The Blue Lenses, has a haunting strangeness which blithely ignores categories like sci-fi or fantasy. It is the mood & emotion du Maurier homes in on every time. The final story The Lordly Ones (misdescribed on this edition's back cover) achieves a vivid, dream-like entry into a child's mind. The Pool is almost like the source, the magic well from which the power of the other stories seems to grow. Perhaps the most successful, The Chamois is a fabulously sly tale: presenting itself in crisp clear tones which evoke a time, a place, several cameo characters... and yet rearrange into an eerie, compelling myth. The female narrator in The Chamois is with a group of men ("at some time in the early 1950s") in a remote hunting lodge in the Greek mountains: "'Fine,' I said, shrugging my shoulders, and making a concession to femininity I took out my lipstick. There was a little cracked mirror hanging behind the counter. The men watched in admiration. My status was established. I knew that, without a word from me, those blankets in the room above would be redistributed before the night was older, and the best folded for me in the cupboard apart. The Greeks paid tribute to Gaia before the birth of Zeus."
The supermarket check-out ladies in the basement of the shopping mall nearby, who all light up with friendly banter when I say hello, have one striking little passive-aggressive habit in common. It comes when they put each metal bar (meant to divide up purchases by different queuing customers on the rubber conveyor belt) into the slot at the side of the belt. A simple flick of the wrist sends each bar whizzing down to the back of the queue where it is needed, but they never do this. They place each bar with a sort of deliberate limpness in the slot close to their seat, so customers back down the queue must constantly squeeze and crane past each other to extract their little bar from the crowded section of slot near the front. It's a tiring, boring, and badly-paid job ringing up other people's shopping, of course. But I wonder if it feels better making customers stretch and push past each other, or whether wanging the separator bar down the slot each time would make a cashier feel more dynamic and in control of their job? One way to find out, I suppose.
Surviving drone attacks: a handy guide.
Minimalist interior decor.
Odd moment about 5 or 6 evenings ago when Peter the Businessman drives me down to the terminus of the no. 1 tram line. I am saying my radio-talk-show interview has just passed 80,000 downloads, and he chuckles softly. "So it's started then," he says quietly as we park.
A book to conjure with, 'Sex and Rockets' : long-awaited biography of the magnificently unhinged Jack Parsons.
Annunciated golden words float in the air, as an angel's greetings should.
One of Anna's sisters says in Japan they have green Kitkat bars.
'Kill Anything That Moves'. There's a book title.
Another Zdravko link. Intriguing-sounding Great-War-era German biologist born in Estonia. Family fortune crumbled before he could benefit but hung on to the "villa on Capri". An anti-Darwinian, anticipated lots of ideas in computing & information theory.
A photo to make me giddy and queasy.
An article of mine goes up on t'internet. Vote if you will, citizens. Tosha says my Texan radio interview with her had 75,000 downloads in the first fortnight. I am famous.
Do studio tracks sometimes get written hoping to be used during fashion shows?
Of course they do. Listen to Jen gravely murmuring her po-faced poesy over a lounge beat crafted for leggy mannequins to strut to.
Normafa hill with Kathleen. In a snowy clearing up in the woods, we stumble on a small meeting of big-shouldered men in black zip-up jackets, with Arpad flags, Arpad armbands, and banners bearing rather unsettling phrases such as 'Blood and Honour'. They are commemorating some event in the 1940s. Kathleen and I natter over bowls of soup inside the restaurant for a couple of hours, touching on a range of subjects like Budapest's Renaissance Tranny, the effects of 50 years of TV, whether cardboard library cards are still legal.
Perhaps the most memorable World War 2 poem. Odd how in just 20 years, the elegaic confidence of World War 1 poets (whether pro or anti that war), their sense that there is a heroic full-on moral meaning to the world, so a reason to protest if it goes missing... this coherent vision had vanished. 'Naming of Parts' is recognisably a late-20th-century ditty, puzzled with itself, academic, tentative, mysterious in its oblique symbolism, a bit fragile. Extraordinary that the war against Hitler should produce writing like this. As with the crystalline, remote poem about night under canvas in North Africa I once found in a World War 2 anthology, a verse written by a young Enoch Powell, poets' sense of their own growing obscurity by mid-century is almost tangible.
An odd pleasure in being very slightly hung over. Time is slower and more intense. The rubber flange on the automatic bus doors becomes more visible in detail, you notice odd scratches and scuffs on kerbstones, a woman in the supermarket with one sleeve turned up and the other flopped back. This is of course the level of hangover where no headache has appeared. Headaches are no fun.
Man Rebrands Pencil Sharpener As Zen Concept Thing. Wonderfully pretentious piece of pseudy wibble in Wired, the magazine of the tech hiperati. "The medium I work in is ideas" explains Berman, adding however that "It was of the utmost importance to me that it be an actual product." So that's what I've been doing wrong. Of course!
Increasing reliance by Washington (or an old reliance becoming increasingly obvious) on executive assassination and torture. Which way is Britain going to swing at this fork in the road? Noam Chomsky in an interview makes an interesting point about the "loss" of China in the 1940s.
Moslem Brotherhood members crucifying opponents in Egypt (ie nailing them to trees) - hoax news story?
A new blog about politics, from a friend's daughter. Makes me curious - wish I could read German. Over among the educationalists, finally they are starting to admit that learning is not just about 'skills' but also about 'content'.
Strange relationship Hungarian retailers and wholesalers have with stock control. Whether they be small shops staffed by the owner and his family, or large supermarket chains with (you might think) professional buyers who understand how to order stock, it's clear no-one here operates stock-reorder levels. These are the way to know when to reorder some item (and know in what quantity to reorder it) before it runs out. Instead, things constantly run out and weeks go by before they reappear in shops, rather as if the economy was still communist. The new people at the pizzeria now put nasty melted cheese all over every pizza (overcooking it in the process) and no longer make slices as tastily as the previous folk, so that place is off the list. Meanwhile the four main kinds of food item at the big supermarket in the basement of the shopping centre that I find affordable and edible have all run out at the same time. The 24-hour shop routinely runs out of the only things I can eat there too. Am haunted by the remark of a Canadian years ago when I asked him why he was looking forward to leaving Hungary: "When I need to buy a thing, I like to go to the store and get that thing. Not wander around for three weeks looking for it." Here is how stock reordering works. Pretty simple stuff, considering all the Hungarians getting "business-school" degrees in the last 20 years. So.... (Average daily sales of item) times (Number of days average order takes to arrive) = level your stock falls to at which it is time to reorder. Example: Cheese Brand A sells 3 to 5 packs a day
(average 4 a day)
and takes 8 to 10 days
(average 9 days)
to get delivered, so when there are only
4 x 9 = 36 packs
of Cheese Brand A left in your stock, you place another order. Is that massively complicated?
Warm enough today outdoors for no coat. The strange mood of uplift continues & strengthens. Another of Hungary's sudden early springs? / A short piece on how passengers get angry if the taxi driver takes the shortest route home. // Someone proposes a city designed to baffle aerial drones. /// Article about a lost prewar family of Old Believers found still alive in 1978 in a remote part of Siberia after decades without seeing another person. The Lykov family knew nothing of World War II, but in the 1950s noticed satellites, fast-moving stars in the sky, and worked out that they were "fires" that humans somewhere had launched into the night. Striking how sensitively the Soviet geologists who found them reacted: "The silence was suddenly broken by sobs and lamentations. Only then did we see the silhouettes of two women. One was in hysterics, praying: 'This is for our sins, our sins.' The other, keeping behind a post... sank slowly to the floor. The light from the little window fell on her wide, terrified eyes, and we realized we had to get out of there as quickly as possible." They came from the Siberian Old Believer community that fled east in the 17th century, rebelling angrily against 1666 reforms in Russian Orthodox liturgy.
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