Hardline communists outpacing the West in
vice & addiction.
August 30th; Friday. A sense of relief. More
chat about Mozart with Operatic Zita. Glancing at the Wiki page for
Fan Tutte, it seems the plot takes a dig at Mesmer, active
in mid-1770s Vienna, 12 or 13 years before the opera was written.
August 29th; Thursday. Up late while an English
friend Samantha gives me a fairly blow-by-blow account via text of the Parliamentary
debate in Britain about whether to wade into the latest American military catastrophe.
This time backbench Tory MPs (many of whom remember being lied to by Blair in 2003)
didn't buy the latest CIA fairy story.
Tories defying the whip force Cameron to back down (my puffed-up
Calderdale MP not among the brave
few, it would seem), and so Britain dodges a bullet. Some progress then.
August 28th; Wednesday. Becoming aware that Britain
is very close to joining in another ridiculous war to please the Americans is a bit
alarming, but the sheer vitamin-C-fuelled feeling of health and normality still feels
wonderful. There are streets. There are people moving around on them. I can walk around
too. We can talk to each other without me straining to keep smiling and not fall over.
Dark autumnal thunderstorm opens day with a rumbly fanfare as I set off with crippled
always-open umbrella to see new opera
singer student Zita. She laughs as she explains that her style of voice means she
cannot sing leading roles in Wagner operas, but instead gets roles like A Bird or A Flower.
To improve her English, I am making her explain the plot of Mozart operas to me. So far we
have begun on Cosi Fan
Tutte (Women are Like That).
August 27th; Tuesday. Managing about 40 hours
(including all of Monday) without ibuprofen, I decide it is safe to start on that
again strictly taking just two a day, with aspirin in between. I make a discovery. If I
doses of vitamin C (such as 2,000mg a day) adding in real oranges and lemons
on top of the pills, I suddenly feel massively better. Hooray! My immune system sends
me sweet little romantic messages all afternoon in gratitude I have finally remembered
its thankless toil at moments like this. I start to feel normal enough to look at my
hypochondria and general limpness of recent days and feel shocked.
August 26th; Monday. By late on Sunday night it's
clear that I went some distance past the safe dose for ibuprofen yesterday. Supposedly
the recommended maximum is 1,200 milligrams (two of the pills I bought) and in very very
serious cases it is sometimes permissible to take 3,200mg within one period of 24 hours.
I took 3,600mg within about 10 hours, and not surprisingly felt quite ill on top of the
toothache yesterday. At 9am today Monday on street attending the nearby dental-supplies shop my dentist has told me to go to for
temporary dental filling paste to last out this week, since he cannot see me for another
7 days. They sell it but turn me away, again looking baffled at the sheer thickness of
customers. They only sell to dentists, don't I know that? They must be thinking of the
warning explaining they serve only dentists - the warning that isn't outside their shop and
isn't on their website. Disgusted at my sheer insolence at trying to buy something from
them, still shaking their heads, they dismissively wave me a few doors down the street to
another dental supplies shop, where a jolly woman happily sells me exactly the paste I am
looking for, and affably tells me how to apply it. Some kind of order seems to be
returning. I take the teeny little pot home and apply some. At once start feeling better
emotionally, if no other way.
August 25th; Sunday. Out pacing the streets at
6.30am hoping to find somewhere that sells painkillers. All the staff in the 24-hour
shops look at me in astonishment. Why would shops that stay open night and day and
carry basic necessities like soap, matches, sugar, coffee, alcohol, flour, fruit, cheese,
batteries, sanitary towels, floor cleaner, cooking oil, disposable razors - why on earth
would a shop like that sell aspirins? Such a bizarre idea. Foreigners are so stupid.
Around 7.30am someone suggests the nearby petrol station, and I go there. No of course we don't
sell painkillers, fool, says one man with his face, rolling his eyes silently at my sheer
dimwittedness. Meanwhile another man working there ushers me through the garage round
the back and simply gives me two of his, asking cheerfully if it is a headache. No, a tooth,
I say. "Haha! They're the worst!" says the kind petrol-station man, making me feel better
before I've even swallowed the two aspirins he gives me. Back home, rest a little. At 9.45am
I am ready for the 10am opening of the pharmacy in The Shopping Mall, joining 3 or 4
old folk also waiting for the place to open. As we wait, 3 or 4 other frail-looking elders
join us. As the glass doors are unlocked just after 10, the frail-looking elders show a
sudden spurt of vigour as they push me out of the way to grab places at the counter. I focus
on conserving my strength, feeling calmed by the brightly-lit mirrored cabinets
surrounding me on all sides, all packed with painkillers. I can almost feel the soothing
hum of pain-numbing chemicals, more than I could ever need. They do not stock temporary dental
filling paste, but at least I purchase some ibuprofen, 600mg each pill, walk back home and try
to work or perhaps rest.
August 24th; Saturday. Increasingly insistent toothache
and a mounting sense of vulnerability as if I have a
hole in my head. I suppose I do, even if it's a very small hole. That tooth (lower right
wisdom tooth, since you asked) is horribly sensitive. I feel tired, faintly feverish.
Day ebbs away in a mix of ache and weariness.
August 23rd; Friday. Reconstructing later what happened
tonight, I realise that alternate sips of the hot and cold drinks, especially once the honey &
cinnamon in the herbal tea had turned into a sort of strange glueball, was probably unwise.
Exactly the right way
to pop out an old filling and then
swallow it without noticing.
August 22nd; Thursday. Teach Ella & Augusta in Buda out on
their sunny balcony while their young friend Xenia offers helpful suggestions. The enthusiastic
cocoa-coloured Labrador puppy Angus discovers it enjoys drinking from my cup of tea, placed
briefly on the floor for wasp-related reasons. As we talk about reasons to study history, I show Ella
the strangely lovely Sienese Sassetta painting of Francis
marrying Lady Poverty. By evening do lots of work and reading
online, including an hour spent writing a film outline involving two dentistry scenes, one at each
end of the film. Involved a microphone being inserted into, and then extracted out of, a filling. Lower
right wisdom tooth, since you asked.
August 21st; Wednesday. Now getting used to the nationwide
rash of special, government-mandated
tobacco shops that sprang up overnight 2 or 3 months ago.
They have an ugly, cluttered logo in pumpkin orange and worcester-sauce brown, two colours loved by
Hungarians, and often have no window display but an opaque white covering where the window would be.
In another country I'd say this was to give the smoker a feeling of shame, but here it is more to do
with instinctive contempt for customers. Since these outlets have no need to compete with anyone for
their addicts (all other shops are now banned from selling cigarettes etc), they can revert to
visual-aphasic norm and make the place look like its natural ancestor, a shabby faceless bureau in
which citizens who want something must grovel to an official of the state.
August 20th; Tuesday.
National holiday of the
man on the
ten thousand forint note, King Istvan, crowned in the year 1000 AD. Not sure if the crowning
was before or after he had hot lead poured into the ears of some local pagans. They'd failed to
get with the programme in his new Christian realm. It's tough at the top.
August 19th; Monday. The "bridge" for tomorrow's
Hungarian holiday, although all the Hungarians dutifully trooped into the office on
Saturday to make up for having today off work. Out walking in the sunshine, bump
into Marxist businessman friend Salih at a cafe table on the corner of my street, join
him for a natter and coffee: his an americano (despite him being Turkish), mine a double espresso.
Later I find a copy shop that's open, and trek out to the 24-hour post office inside the giant
Tesco near the Butterfly Street Metro station. This is to send my tiresome package of printed-out
e-mail letters to Britain's impossible-to-e-mail Local
Government Ombudsman to stop (again) my stupid local council auctioning my house.
August 18th; Sunday.
Another day wasted on paperwork dealing with my
halfwit local council in England.
August 17th; Saturday.
playing cricket somewhere today in the heat.
Heard Housekeeper Marika has been badly ill a couple of times this week.
August 16th; Friday. Cola with Marion, and lovely
lunch with John from London afterwards. Later on, an evening of merriment with The Bannock
and his friends. The game is
now definitely afoot, citizens.
August 15th; Thursday.
Laptop seems healed,
now on 4th hard drive in 5 years.
August 14th; Wednesday.
An American man has closed down the encrypted e-mail
founded, seemingly as a matter of honour, and he is banned by law from disclosing what state authorities
asked from him, even to his own lawyer. Now he closed the service down he finds that the spooks
are accusing him of breaking the court order he cannot even discuss.
This of course - not even being allowed to say what you are accused of by the state, even to your own lawyer - strongly resembles the grim
'RIPA' law that Prime Minister Blair enacted in Britain in 2000, immediately after 'modernising' the House of Lords so it couldn't stop him.
August 13th; Tuesday. If I wear
this device in public, will it make me clever enough to avoid being beaten up by people who think I look ridiculous?
August 12th; Monday.
Take lifeless laptop to conscientious gloomy Gabor at
the maintenance shop, feeling uncomfortably as if I am taking an injured pet to the vet.
August 11th; Sunday.
'Sugarozonben Elunk' by
Zsigmond Makra ('We Live in a Deluge of Radiation'). A cheery little 1970s Hungarian paperback, this
leads readers through a set of situations in which we experience radiation (from rocks,
cosmic rays from outer space, during medical X-rays, etc), accompanied by the now-adorable-looking
watercolour illustrations of scientists in white coats standing next to big machines. Pictures of the
type that the Hamlyn All Colour Paperbacks used to do. Testing my language skills rather severely, Makra
takes a breezy, pro-science approach to nuclear power, but is pleasantly generous with numerical
information and measurements - something English-language science books for children tend to shy away
from. Makra's book, on the other hand, has numbers in almost every paragraph of the book and a numerical
table or chart on every 5th or 6th page: a far better taste of what natural science is about.
August 10th; Saturday. A weekend without the distraction machine
looks to offer lots of time for offline reading. Complete
'Learn How to Study' by
Derek Rowntree, a book I found in the Mytholmroyd supermarket Old Books box for 50p. This was
teeth-grindingly tedious to read, though oddly, also quite good at what it explains. A monochrome
picture on the back of the book shows Rowntree probably in the early 1970s with a full beard and what
looks like a black leather jacket, by then already the uniform of no-nonsense young academics at newer
universities daring us to doubt their intellectual seriousness. The book itself explains how to read a
textbook, how to take notes and so on, and it must be doing it well since the book seems to have gone
through many reprints since my copy. Rowntree might be of the Quaker family, I don't know, but there
is a Low Church, North-of-England flavour to some of his amiable but blunt asides to Gentle Reader: don't
waste time, don't deceive yourself you're studying when you aren't, get yourself organised, don't think
your memory is better than it is, and so on. My edition has a subtitle saying it is a "programmed"
introduction, which, from what I see online, later editions dropped. This is the fascinating bit, the
glimpse of computing prehistory. The book inside is laid out like only one other I have ever seen, the
ghosted Bobby-Fisher book on chess from about 1969 I picked up at a street stall with Nina in Amsterdam
on a Queen's Day in the late 1990s. That book was not actually written by Fisher but by the Xerox
Usability Lab who invented the mouse-and-icon system for computers, and that too was a programmed text,
a product of the teaching-machine research of the 1950s and 60s. Each page asked a chess-move question,
you had to guess, and turn the page, getting the correct answer straight away, encouraging the reader to
co-operate: an early example of a truly interactive text. Rowntree's book (at least this 1970s version)
is a watered-down version of this, with every paragraph ending in some questions about study methods
summarising the previous few sentences, a horizontal line, and the correct answer right after. Unlike
the Xerox/Fisher book (the best, actually the only usable, chess text I've ever
seen) Rowntree's halfway-house use of the programmed-answer system left me feeling hectored and weary.
The effect is a bit like reading one of those income-tax forms that tells you which paragraphs to skip
- designed to be crystal clear, but in fact irritating and confusing. 1) Good content. 2) Nice cover art
with a restrained boxy labyrinth on a white background. 3) The unusual layout, though, is what makes it
interesting in one sense, but spoils it completely in another.
August 9th; Friday.
Get to the end of the surprisingly tiresome Vance Packard tome
'The People Shapers', all
about behaviour modification, genetic engineering and other Huxleyian topics as they looked in
the 1970s. This was another book I found 2nd-hand at the shop near Deli Railway Station. Vance Packard
managed to make an entire career out of the success of his first book 'The Hidden Persuaders'. He
graciously concedes it became a bestseller because it came out just when the scandal of subliminal
advertising rocked America at the end of the 1950s. I read that as a small boy, along with a second
('The Status Seekers', I think) and stopped there, feeling I had fairly much got the idea of Vance. So
it was interesting to revisit him and plough through this book of his. It turns out I was right - I
had got the idea after two. Packard chooses a field with controversial sub-topics, interviews lots of
researchers, and churns out a book summarising what he found, putting in the occasional sentence like
"Now that the genie is out of the scientific vat, what should we do about
it?" He is the Malcolm Gladwell of 60s & 70s, and the earlier period means there is less polish in the writing and a bit more data. We learn about behaviourism, hypnosis, genetic modification of babies, and a whole range of things that might give a reader an oo-er feeling about scientists subverting human freedom.
These are very important topics. Much of what is in these pages has now come to pass. And yet... Packard never really takes a position, or ties the bits together, or adds anything new of his own. All he does is, in one section, declare several times there should be a national (US) authority empowered to oversee fertility, cloning, genetics work. He calls it the Human Reproduction Research Administration. This never happened of course, so during the almost 40 years since,
researchers simply chugged ahead in all the fields he covered. Another magazine-article writer who never quite got the whole book thing.
August 8th; Thursday. With the heat particularly strident today,
I take a nap between 2pm and 3, waking out of a dream where I am at a small conference of world central
bankers. After long grinding talks I help the gathering to unwind. I casually perform
Nelly The Elephant
(packed her trunk and said goodbye to the circus) for them by banging two ballpoint pens on a range of 1/3-full, 1/2-empty, 3/4-full cups of coffee dotted around the conference table. Then I wake up. Later on in the evening, my Apple MacBook dies suddenly. If this is the hard drive packing up again, that would mean three hard drives have broken in five and a half years. Not a great record. I finish a book borrowed from Robin, called 'A Guide
to the Olympic Theatre' by Remo Schiavo, translated into English by Patricia Anne Hill. This is about a theatre in Vincenza, the Italian city Robin's friend Lisa frequently visits
out of love for the architecture of Palladio, and this theatre is apparently a major building of his.
Though finished in 1585, it is in effect his "unfinished" masterpiece, since it was partly built when
Palladio suddenly died, and some crucial decisions in the completion had to be made by his son and by
Scamozzi. The book has wonderful illustrations, wonderful at least in the sense that they are clear and
illustrate something already elegant, and the text goes in detail into the architectural quarrels (such
as: canopy or painted ceiling?) that have divided custodians and curators of the place ever since.
Another narrative goes through the plays put on there and costumes used in some of the recent ones. A
really remarkable-looking place I had no idea existed.
Wednesday. Lunch outdoors in leafy square with Henry & Pat. Pat knows a numerologist in Taiwan. Henry mentions this bleak-sounding film.
People who thought they could hear meteorites were ridiculed for decades: now turns out
they were right. Quieter than this cat
(disguised as a shark of course) riding a robotic
floor cleaner. Seems to enjoy itself.
curious mushrooms, and a diagram
a mathematical writer thinks is funny.
Sunday. Some fine snippets of Indian-film dancing, fighting, witchcraft, and singing action. In the relatively modest clip 1 a woman turns herself into a snake so as to battle another snake to the death, thereby protecting a sick man in a hospital bed from its lethal bite. In clip 2 (as far as I can tell) a woman is snake-charmed into submission (but then she fights back against his wicked spell!) by a rascally-looking wizard. This leads to a deadly dance-off by bagpipe-kazoo. In clip 3 from the same or similar film as 2, more erotic snake-themed dancing has the defiant heroine in esoteric combat with another bad magic man. With this one in the nick of time she puts on her most virginal white frock to partly negate, it seems, his dark hypnotic powers. Cracking stuff.
Saturday. More evidence my sleeping on the floor for years is sage. Zdravko uncovers a surprisingly plausible 3-year-old story suggesting that bed springs cause cancer. Read on, my friends.
Friday. Jeremy W. shows me an excellent short article about the life of an admirably awkward character who died in 1966. He titled his autobiography 'The Last Englishman' and it contains highlights like him signing his own arrest warrant, going on hunger strike in disgust at the low quality of his captors in Vichy France, and only unfurling his furled umbrella once in his life.
continues. A device is announced which silently hacks into RFID identity badges at a distance of a few feet. We were
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