September 30th; Monday. Woman in North Dakota
marries herself, looking very pleased about it. No-one else can treat her the way she deserves to be treated, right? On the other hand, someone else has researched whether bomb-disposal experts risk becoming emotionally attached to their robots.
September 29th; Sunday. Finish a book of Robin's called
'Hafiz: Tongue of the Hidden', a collection of verse by the mystical Persian poet translated into English or reworded in English by someone called Paul Smith. Presumably (obviously a common name) this is not the
ex-Barnado's boy who became a successful
fashion designer. There is also a long introduction which usefully puts the poet's life into historical context. Unfortunately, the actual translations (assuming the original verse is good, which the immense reputation of Hafiz suggests it is) are dreadful. To keep to a rhyme scheme authentic to the original verse form, Smith twists sentences with the clunking insensitivity of a McGonogall, though without getting anywhere near the satirical so-bad-it's-good frontier. Lines like (281. The Purpose of Love) "You said: 'Not my desire to unite with Him, it was.'" or "You said: 'To Me, sky's angry; it, for love unfit was.'" Hafiz emerges from this book as an interesting man, a sort of Islamic George Herbert, but I feel as if I have yet to actually read a poem of his.
In the afternoon, the black-and-white kitten (Polly) that takes after its father Pom Pom gets stuck up the horse-chestnut tree, climbing higher and higher in a bit of a panic. Zsuzsi and I spend fifteen minutes trying to coax her down, throwing conkers at upper branches to scare her down to lower boughs. As Polly perches, squeaking, just out of reach, we try to get her to clamber onto one end of a skateboard but without luck. Finally Polly summons the courage to try crawling down the main trunk, loses her grip and drops into my arms.
September 28th; Saturday. Seem to have snuffly cold. The two Komondor dogs (Do:mo:r, the widow of Lupus, and Sisi, the daughter of their lovematch) are very friendly and good-natured. As Sisi steadily enlarges, I tell them apart by Sisi's fur still being whiter than her mother's, which has grey dirt rubbed into her shaggy mane. The swelling with insect eggs in one of Do:mo:r's front paws seems to be healing well after Zeno sterilised it for several days in a row with plum schnapps. Meanwhile, here is what linguists think
Indo-European sounded like 6,000 years ago.
September 27th; Friday. Get the train back to Lakitelek. On the train I finish a short book from Robin's library, first published in 1944 and reprinted in 1946, with watercolour illustrations and some engravings.
'The Londoner' by Dorothy Nicholson has a sonorous prose style, and blithely cruises through twelve centuries of the city's history without it seeming at all like a forced march. A typical sentence from the Anglo-Saxon opening section runs "The main objects of the Londoners have always been their trade, their liberties, and the proper conduct within the City of a pleasant life of industry, sport, pageantry, and the free practice of their religion, with peace and orderly rule to secure them." Perhaps she consciously had something like the flow of the Thames in mind, hard to be sure. With admirable self-restraint, the Second World War and the Blitz (hardly finished at the time of printing) take up not even four full pages in total at the end. Her gravely lyrical history-teacher style occasionally shows sharp humour, as when she writes that "The implications of the fall of France were not perhaps fully grasped, and there was a tendency to regard the Battle of Britain, while it was being fought, as the world's transcendent sporting event." The overall effect is splendid, echoing from an era not quite yet lost. The last page closes with a slightly odd eight lines of verse from Francis Thompson, the last sentence of which runs "But, (when so sad thou canst not sadder) / Cry; and upon thy so sore loss / Shall shine the traffic of Jacob's ladder / Pitched between Heaven and Charing Cross."
Robin drives me through darkened countryside back to his place, and after
switching off the engine of the blue Benz he shows me some boxes stacked on a bench inside the garage. They contain his Hungarian friend Zeno's
equipment: beakers, retorts, distillation chambers, all in finely-worked glass. Robin managed to drive them across the country without cracking a single one.
September 26th; Thursday. Slightly strange readjusting to being back in town. Experiments confirm (of course) that
no longer believing in free will makes people behave less morally. Neuroscientists think their work proves free will an illusion: another group of supposedly bright professionals turn out not so bright after all.
September 25th; Wednesday. Robin drives Zeno and me back to
Budapest. Jumping out of the elderly blue Benz and running through traffic I just get to Operatic Zita's front door in time.
American comedian claims children shouldn't have mobile phones. Clearly said.
September 24th; Tuesday. Some of
Robin's grapes growing on the
trellis/loggia/whatever thing have swollen so much that they wedge
each other into tight bunches like giant green cobs of maize.
Distant intermittent thumping sounds, like a blanket on a washing line being hit by a golf club, echo across from an orchard a mile or so away. Apparently some kind of firework-like explosive device to scare birds off the fruit trees. Oddly soothing at this distance. Sheep getting less nervous about me. One brazen ewe followed me across the garden to where I was, glass of cold black coffee in one hand, inspecting my clothes on the drying line, and it made several attempts to sniff the glass of almost black liquid.
Last night an extraordinary storm, all wind shushing through trees and
no boring rain, followed a truly eerie sunset and seemed to bring some
kind of large-scale change. Too soon to say what just yet.
September 23rd; Monday. Wake up at 6am sharp, to an eerie blue light inside the studio. Peeping over the top of the sofa I see a jumble of indigo panlids of cloud filtering a sweet, intense dawn underlighting the edge of one whole side of the sky.
By late morning sit in sun on terrace listening to the wind in the leaves and the patting sound of horse chestnuts off Robin's big tree hitting the half-grassed-over brick path every half-minute or so. In unrelated news, global warming scientists admit they mis-estimated the greenhouse-effect speed, the creator of a risk model explains how it seems to show Iran isn't developing a nuclear bomb, a slightly odd article tries to claim US feminism was a CIA project, and someone interprets the Islamist attack on a shopping mall in Kenya in the past day or so as another bit of blowback from reckless use of Al Qaeda by Western spooks.
Sunday. Last night after his cricket drove with Robin out of
Budapest out into the countryside. Last week on the elderly blue
Benz, the back left tyre shredded, and then the spare tyre on the
same wheel punctured the next day. This time Robin is driving
Gyuri's car, and something is wrong with the bearings on his back left wheel, making it hot enough to burn and melt the plastic
in the hub cap. Robin skilfully nurses the car across the dusty
flatness of the Great Plain as night falls and a fat pumpkin-coloured
harvest moon bobs around just above the horizon, watching over us.
Back at the house, Robin's old friend Zeno is waiting for our arrival.
Soon he and Robin are chatting with each other in French, the language
Zeno learned specifically so he could communicate with his friend Robin back in the days when Robin could not speak Hungarian, and when Zeno the Latin translator and mediaevalist felt learning English would be an abominable concession to 18th-century Anglo-Saxon liberalism.
Today, out on the terrace, drink black coffee with Zeno and get some interesting answers from him about his views on freemasonry, the 1860s, and the twin-track strategy (as he sees it) of fake nationalism being deliberately played off against fake internationalism. By night, I finish a book borrowed from Jacqueline, Ernest Gellner's excellent 1983 book
'Nations & Nationalism'. A stimulating short book from a wonderfully clear
thinker, Gellner outlines his unusual thesis on nationalism.
He sees it as a product of post-agrarian education, which he sees as a product of industrialism, saying that universal education demands a national culture, and as protection for that, a sovereign state. Better phrased by Gellner himself, "Equal access to a scripturalist God paved the way to equal access to high culture. Literacy is no longer a specialism, but a pre-condition of all the specialisms, in a society in which everyone is a specialist. In such a society, one's prime loyalty is to the medium of our literacy, and to its political protector. The equal access of believers to God eventually becomes equal access of unbelievers to education and culture." For Gellner, Marx got nationalism completely the wrong way round. Far from nationalism being a fake guise for the real dynamic of class conflict (what he amusingly calls Marxists' Wrong Address theory) nationalism is the real thing, the true consequence of the rise of industrial society, while open class conflict is for Gellner a crude early stage within the rise of nationalism.
Saturday. Cup of tea with recently married Terri & Alvi, who tell interesting stories
of Alvi's mobile-payments software start-up, the wedding in Brighton, what life in
Zurich is like, and some petty behaviour by staff in
of DressBox, switching wedding frocks on Terri in the 10 minutes while she went out of
the shop to a cashpoint. Doubtless some girl in there thought she should be getting
married in Terri's place. So Terri made her own dress.
Friday. So this is how
banking works? Funky Porcini.
Very enjoyable evening lesson with Operatic Zita. This time we drink some wine instead of coffee
so we don't hear her kettle as usual saying in its polite American woman's voice that it holds
"alkaline water level 2" when she fills it from the tap. She tells me that three friends in Italy
declared her their 'lucky piglet', bringer of fortune to others. She adds that yesterday was not
just a full moon, was not just the transit of Venus across Saturn, but also marked Pluto coming out
of a six-month period when (from our perspective) it was retrograde. So yesterday the recently
demoted outer ex-planet went back to moving in the "right" direction. Must revisit astrology,
perhaps to the fond but sad concern of my rationalist college friends.
Thursday. I go to the slightly bleak cityscape between Keleti Station and the national
sports stadium to be fitted with a costume for my very small part in November's filming
of a 2-part History Channel feature film. This will be about the late
circus/music-hall era life of Budapest-born escape artist
Harry Houdini. Always nice the way film-making attracts pretty girls.
As I travel across town after this to my final root-canal appointment with Viktor the
dentist (where in the waiting room I get to know Lance, an American playwright) that acid-yellow sunshine cuts sharp shadows across refreshing, brisk streets. Autumn looks promising and life's not so bad.
Wednesday. A couple of very good friends stop my house being auctioned (illegally)
by my stubborn council in Yorkshire
at around 11am, quite literally the 11th hour since 12.30 is the time set for the auction.
They do this by kindly paying the ransom and getting the cash to the council.
Tuesday. It seems both Robin & I might miss the train back into town, as yesterday's
puncture on the back left car tyre is compounded by another puncture on the replacement tyre. Csaba of the Stapled Head is an hour late to pick us up, but cheerfully suggests he can race the train and catch it at a small stopping station, Nyarolinc. He drives us there, empty gas bottles clanking in the back of his car as he takes corners with enthusiasm down country lanes, playing the classical-music radio station loudly. We get to Nyarolinc a good 4 or 5 minutes ahead of the single-track stopping train, and Robin & I continue on the journey back to Kecskemet and from there Budapest.
Quiet day with Robin in the Great Plain. Saturday with Constantine and Zsuzsi and
Letty was fun with the splendid birthday cake, which we are still eating today. I read
another of Robin's books, 'Mervyn Peake' by John Watney,
a biography of the distinctive man who was both writer and artist, best remembered
today as author of the Gormenghast trilogy. Though lovingly done, and
written with the greatest respect for the subject, this book is from about halfway
through deeply depressing to read. Perhaps precisely because it was written with the
full co-operation of Maeve, Peake's loving widow, it focuses far too much on Mervyn being
insufficiently appreciated for his unusual talents during his life. Also increasing
anxiety over money as the 1950s and 1960s ground on, sleeping sickness caught unnoticed
during his boyhood in China gradually looming larger and larger as degenerative
Parkinsonism. Instead of concentrating on the art and the writing, helping Peake's
reputation to rise above those two decades of indifferent
public reception, we are drawn down into a morass of detail - no private letter, no
shopping bill or account of unpaid debts seems too small to leave out. The gloomy minutiae
of the later years of struggle after a dazzling start in the 1930s and 40s crowds out the
really interesting stuff - the haunting contents of Peake's imagination.
Yesterday, just before travelling to Robin's for the weekend, finished a short book of his called
'The English Gentleman's Child' by Douglas
Sutherland with atmospheric cartoons by Timothy Jaques (rain and high-ceilinged dark rooms are well represented). The book has a dry, crisp humour, about as dry and crisp as a water biscuit.
Typical quote: "Ladies may also have certain idees fixes derived from well-meaning, usually frustrated, female relations. For example, my own daughter, staying over a wet half-term with a maiden aunt, asked her somewhat querulously why it always seemed to rain at the weekends, to which Auntie replied in a low, conspiratorial voice: 'Well, you see dear, God does not really like the working classes'.
My daughter, to give her her due, considered this most unjust of God and held it against him for
Kind friends & intelligent enemies praise my latest print article in London
The Salisbury Review,
available at select booksellers.
Subject: mafia movies.
Here's a photo of
September 13th; Friday the 13th!
My cocky local
council, despite breaking
several laws and having had this pointed out to them repeatedly,
press ahead. Today they put my house up for auction, confident in their
power to bully mere householders into doing as we're told. Today's
more interesting link is this wonderful photograph of microscopic
inside an insect's body. The first example
of real cog wheels found in nature apparently.
September 12th; Thursday. Svelte
Nikolett at the late-night shop is wearing a sleek black top with large
capital letters printed across her chest in glittery sequins. She
good-humouredly lets me write down on a receipt what the 2"-high letters
spell out. They say 'AUELVNCK'. Now a very carefully explained
article for those who believe that either (1) clothing sizes don't change, or
(2) they only change downwards to make women feel bad, so that an evil new
size 4 replaces the old size 6. Here's how clothing manufacturers and retailers
adjust clothes-size scales over time.
September 11th; Wednesday.
More stories about the manipulated news over Syrian leader Assad's supposed
use of chemical weapons. How rebels captured some of the warheads, and how Washington
plausible. Going deeper,
here is a book from some years ago alleging that
the Soviet Union could only industrialise in the 1920s
with behind-the-scenes assistance from a sort of
Hegelian/Machiavellian cabal of Wall Street bankers.
Looks worryingly well-researched, but haven't read it yet.
September 10th; Tuesday.
Some grandly Expressionist clips from Herzog's 1979 film 'Nosferatu'
to choral music.
Several decades later, Herzog and a fellow producer talk about a film they
helped fund and promote called 'The Act of Killing', part-documentary,
part-fiction, about death squads in 1960s Indonesia. From their ten minutes
of remarks sounds like something far stranger and more uplifting than that
depressing description suggests. Herzog shows his astonishment and
excitement at a younger man's film-making without the faintest trace of envy.
September 9th; Monday insect news:
giant waspocalypse crosses Channel. Why Britain? No megahornets in Hungary yet.
September 8th; Sunday. In the
morning I finish a book borrowed from my student Ella, called
Different Girl', by Gordon Dahlquist,
which apparently (he says at the back) started life as a libretto for an
opera. Strangely moving, it's a kind of sci-fi story about four
orphaned girls on an island who do everything together, looked after by
two middle-aged people called Irene & Robbert (yes, bb). Another girl arrives, called
May. She is the girl who is different. The story is set in the near
future, although enough details are missing (since there are many things
the little girls do not understand) to leave us unsure what kind of
events led up to this tale. The overall effect is a haunting examination of
love, told through the pedantic, thoughtful eyes of one of the orphans.
September 7th; Saturday. A good
article with some lovely photos, about Cristobal Balenciaga, 1950s fashion designer.
September 6th; Friday. One of the
boldest AI predictions
yet. No more call-centre staff within 5 years, eh? This might match up
with an article arguing maths doesn't describe the cosmos
uniquely well. I'll believe AI phone-response when "machine
intelligences" actually understand simple
tests (the latest game-like tests demand basic knowledge
of how objects appear) rather than just look the answers up.
Another way to punish customers who dare complain, more like.
September 5th; Thursday. Talking of
medical intervention, here is a rather good piece of prose writing by a
woman about her boyfriend
having demons cast out of him in Arabia. I cannot
quite work out if this is a fictional short story or something that really
took place, but in either case notice how - despite it being the man who
suffers the pain and the whole ridiculous ordeal - the real story is
September 4th; Wednesday. Day before
yesterday saw Viktor the dentist and learned a filling had not come out at
all. Instead I must have the horrible-sounding "root canal" thing. He
digs down into my lower right wisdom tooth with tools rather like
pipecleaners to scrape out my nerves. Viktor, bless him, then shows them
to me on the end of his pointy metal hook. My nerves are reddish yellow
blobs of muck. They're
not blue! Another lie we were all told.
As The Nigel of Darkness mentioned to me several years ago,
historians quite recently discovered
we used to sleep differently.
More on the back story to the imminent attack on Syria prompted by
Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons. Weapons that actually
appear to have been used by his enemies,
the Islamist rebels, and to have been supplied to them in
classic false-flag operation by some of the Western spooks
seeking to manipulate the public into supporting their
attack on Assad.
Some biologists think we might be losing
our minds. The synaesthete who says
each Tube station has a
taste is probably part of that sharper
past, like people who can easily hear the difference between
a second and
pitch 18th-century musicians used
for A above middle C, 432 cycles a second.
Did the second one strike Gentle Reader as softer, less "shrill"? Meanwhile here's
another attempt at the consciousness problem of why and how
you feel it's you being here
when you think.
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
markgriffith at yahoo.com