Monday. On Saturday rode up and down Budapest's new 4th metro line, opened only
the day before. Rather disappointing. Essentially they went for the standard German Airport
Look with high open stairwells, backlit panels, grey metallic colours, and a handful of
bits of public art. This is either low-key & scribbly, or large-scale abstraction.
Notice how this
hysterical article ("psychedelic"?) is forced to use photos again and again of the
only 2 stations where I saw any colour from the underground train.
Sunday. Hitherto concealed order continues
Saturday. Out to Timar utca to teach Reka, noticing huge images on the sides of
buildings that must have also been there on the 2 or 3 times I visited her last year.
Tasteless, and slightly odd I
didn't consciously make note of them before, looming over the railway station I get off
at. During the aformentioned light-suburban-railway trip I finish a book
by T.V. Vorburger & J. Raja called 'Surface Finish Metrology Tutorial'.
This is a brisk and well-arranged introduction to microscale roughness measurement of
machined surfaces. It compares measurement techniques involving stylus tracing as well as
devices using diffraction of light and then more exotic techniques such as electron
tunnelling or electrostatic potential, and reviews how filters distinguish
long-amplitude waviness caused by machining vibration from short-amplitude roughness (surface pitting). Replete with excellent black-and-white
line diagrams, the book's sheer clarity (published by the US National Institute of
Standards) makes it seem older than the date of 1990.
Friday. Go to an Indian dinner organised by a friend, where a slightly restless
crowd of us watch a documentary about the Sikh religion centred on the golden temple of
Amritsar in Punjab. During the day I finished a fine book borrowed
from Robin's library, a slim grey-blue hardback called 'The Shabby Paradise'
by Eileen Baillie. This is a simple late-1950s memoir by a woman describing
her Edwardian childhood as the daughter of an Anglican vicar in the East London slum
parish of Poplar. What makes this book work is two features. Firstly, intriguing details of
habits (including strange long-forgotten customs like groups of adults slowly skipping down
the street, but only on Good Fridays, or undertakers providing magnificent black horses for
funeral parades that had been made suitably glossy and black with thorough application of boot
polish), living conditions, pastimes from the 1905-to-1914 period. The book's second success
is how it reveals just what an adorable,
earnest little tot the author used to be as a 5, 6, 7-year-old girl.
Wry but straightforward, this unpretentious text lays out how proud that little girl
was of learning when young to mess about in boats (sleeping with a twist of tarred
twine under her pillow); how sensitive to loss of dignity; how fiercely loyal she was to
her father, the district, the nursery; the curiously logical mental pictures she, like so many
small children, came up with to settle puzzling features of life
("The Greenwich shore attained, Nanny would tartly urge the reluctant
horse and cabby as far up Observatory Hill as they could be made to go; and there we would
have our picnic tea, almost in the shadow of the observatory itself, where I presumed the
Astronomer Royal, surrounded by telescopes, to be sleeping peacefully all day in preparation
for staring at the stars all night"). Nanny takes her out on a thrilling tram
journey the very morning after 1911's famous Siege of Sidney Street and the tram driver
slows down in each direction so everyone onboard can get a good look at the side street
where the small group of anarchists led by Peter the Painter had held out for hours against
live fire from soldiers "and the will power of Mr Winston Churchill", then the Liberal Home Secretary. And the little girl notices many details of
the grown-up world. She writes of their
strong, defiant house-parlourmaid Elizabeth "She was as ebulliently
cheerful as she was capable, and would throw back her head and laugh loud and long -
generally at her own sallies - with a great display of pink gums and those large
white teeth. But once, tiptoeing into the forbidden regions of the kitchen, I found
her sitting at the table and crying noisily. I was utterly nonplussed at coming upon
the great, bouncing, rugged creature in an attitude of collapse, snivelling and sobbing,
her eyes red and swollen. It was the first time I had witnessed open adult grief. I
burst into tears myself out of sheer sympathy; but Elizabeth would never let me know
what private tragedy of the heart, or the purse, or wounded vanity, had brought about
this disintegration of her usual robust morale.
If I am to round off satisfactorily this little gallery of domestic portraits, the
largest canvas of all must be reserved for Nanny. Indeed the gallery would be incomplete
without her; even after half a century the small, neat, devoted figure stands out most
clearly in the fading light of that half-forgotten Poplar landscape."
In a wonderful sentence Baillie says of her Nanny ("mercifully" still alive and enjoying her
well-earned retirement at the time of writing in the 1950s) that "She can
still subdue me, in my own house, with a phrase."
Thursday. Out late enjoying coffee with a political Hungarian author & lecturer who
at one point said memorably that of the two Hungarian Peronist-nationalist parties (my
term, not his) the now-governing party Fidesz "are the ones who
have eaten" and Jobbik "are the ones who are
still hungry". On the left he said that Mesterhazy has committee-craft
but no other skills, Gyurcsany has the chutzpah to challenge Orban but also a bad track
record, and Bajnai is well-meaning but ineffectual. He crisply sums up the careers of
Torgyan and Csurka. Interesting chat in which he mentions two writers on money:
Wednesday. Out to dinner at the
club with Robin to listen to a short talk by the half-Russian author of
Unlike anyone else I've noticed in the press,
Matthews clearly sees that Putin
blundered by annexing Crimea - effectively uniting the rest of Ukraine against Russia,
solving Ukraine's ethnic division problem, and showing foreign investors that Moscow is as
unreliable and bullying as ever. The food was enjoyable, but bigger helpings would have been nice.
For those who take things personally, some deranged cover art, naughty name, &
miserable synth loop capture That Tuesday Feeling.
Monday. So many thrilling developments out in the world of news and
international affairs. An American scientific society is starting to worry that
the whole global-warming thing might
not be as open-and-shut as they once thought. Protesters occuping Taiwan's parliament
building don't want
closer ties with mainland China. Sinead alerts me to a French economist
who's looking closely at global trends in wealth
inequality. Someone has created a microscope mainly out of cardboard that claims to be very cheap and magnify
up to 2,000 X. Before you too excited, here are 5 ways "hackers could kill you right now." 'Hackers' or 'government
officials', it might be worth adding.
Sunday. I might have almost mastered the delicate gauging of how far to turn the hot-water tap
when filling my bath. A smidgeon too far and the water runs hot but cools to cold about 30
seconds after I leave the bathroom. Cold baths are fine when I want a cold bath, but expecting
a hot bath, waiting 15 minutes for it to fill at the low-speed filling rate, only to find a
bath full of water the temperature of cooled-off tea, is mildly sad. A fraction the other way
and the tap runs satisfactorily hot, also at a trickle. In this second scenario, a few seconds
after I leave the bathroom it stops supplying water at all. Luckily the hot-water boiler usually
makes a kind of dismissive "humph" noise at this point to alert me. By now I have tuned my
wrist muscles like a county badminton player. This is to get precisely the nudge of
non-twist needed to will that tap a couple of thousandths of an inch exactly onto
where it fills the bath with water which is also hot.
Saturday. One of the things Americans excel at: home-building stuff and generously
explaining how we can build it too. Make your own EEG sensors.
Friday. If you were ever suspicious of Richard Branson. Yesterday heard
this fascinating radio discussion. One of those now-mysterious debates lots of clever
folk once cared about intensely:
the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Thursday. A very long cow and a
sinking motor car.
Wednesday. Two old interviews with the late Christopher Hitchens discuss his contempt
for both Henry
Having made so many (by his account) unscrupulous and
ruthless enemies, hard not to wonder if anyone has looked into exactly how and when that
cancer of Hitchens' developed? The same interviewer chats also with veteran investigative
journalist Seymour Hersh, a man shrewd enough to always say clearly what he does not
know. Interesting material on how reckless early-1960s US President
John Kennedy was.
Tuesday. Back in Budapest. Basil seedlings looking a bit half-hearted. My student Akos
mentions that a period when Hungary will be the NATO member nation responsible for defending
Baltic airspace is coming up in a few months, and chuckles that Putin and the Russians
take Hungary and its 12 fighter jets rather less seriously as an opponent than the US,
predicting trouble up ahead. Leading literary agent Andrew Wylie expresses his massive
disdain for "megalomaniac" Amazon. "Wylie said he 'might'
publish with Amazon 'if one of my children were kidnapped and they were threatening
to throw a child off a bridge and I believed them'."
Monday. Another quiet day in the countryside. Fascinating interview with a thoughtful US army
lieutenant-colonel who has spent his career studying
psychology of battlefield killing. Interesting man: he finishes with
a disturbing and surprising conclusion at about 19 minutes in.
Sunday. Dark windy weather continues on the Great Plain. Last night (Saturday), while
Zsuzsi prepared dinner,
recycling some still tender mutton, Robin on his new laptop created an impromptu conference call
on Skype. He was chatting to Gio from Rio and Boris together in London, and Boris being French is
called on for cooking advice. Robin carries his laptop into the kitchen so Boris can hold
forth to young Zsuzsi on the topic of herbs and whether to separately heat up the courgettes
from the already cooked mutton. The versatile Russian-speaking Boris, currently on leave from
his frequent trips to the Caucasus, manages a three-way split between instructing Zsuzsi on
the herb front, telling us all that the recently dead Tony Benn was "a
dangerous idiot who would have turned Britain into North Korea", and
answering my questions on Putin's probable next moves in Crimea and Ukraine with
insidery-sounding confidence and detail. This evening (Sunday) Zsuzsi's friend Juci comes over and is in
the kitchen with Zsuzsi using her laptop. Seems they could not go riding today either
because horses (rather like women) don't like strong blustery wind. A naughty Turk suggests
that, by a still-binding treaty from the 1770s, Crimea should in fact revert to Ottoman Turkey
if it declares independence from Russia. At the same time,
the Republic of Venice is
stirring itself to correct Napoleon's vandalistic meddling in the 1790s, reasserting its
one-and-a-half-thousand-year-old identity. About time too. Been awaiting a Venetian
political revival a couple of decades now.
Saturday. Yesterday afternoon Transylvanian Lacko and his wife Jola showed Robin & me some of
the work he had done, proudly explaining in the garage how he had arc-welded some metal rod
together to make a new gate. He went into some detail on the welding equipment, explaining
that with good tools you can weld anything well, just as with a good cock you can fuck
a woman properly. Much laughter all round. Then outside the garage we
see how the new lambs have grown bigger, and Lacko points out how strong and confident the
new young ram is and how good a replacement he'll be when it's time to eat the current
paterfamilias of Robin's small flock. We see the movable fencing Lacko has fashioned out
of posts and boards so that the sheep can graze down a hundred square yards of grass or so,
and then be moved to another quadrant to nibble that back too. As we stand out in his sturdy
temporary paddock, the sun hovers near the horizon, a wobbly globe of molten gold. I point out
how beautifully it is
tinged with red, like a blood orange. Lacko tells us at once that this augurs a windy day
tomorrow (Saturday), and draws our attention to an accompanying faint tinge of pink stretching
out just above the horizon on both sides of the sunset. I ask if this is somehow linked to extra
dust hanging in the air and Lacko frankly says he has no idea why the red sunset predicts
wind the next day, only that the association works. Before we part he also tells me the
right size of carp to fish and how I should if possible fish for it at night, during a lightning
Today being Saturday, it is interesting to note that it is indeed romantically dark and windy the
whole day, exactly as Lacko predicted.
The man confidently 'outed' by journalists as the creator of the now-famous crypto-currency BitCoin
turns out to be unhappy about the publicity, adamant he has never created a crypto-currency, and says
they have the wrong man. In fact he's now instructing a lawyer.
Friday. Robin arrives around lunch time to drive us both down to the countryside. We find Zsuzsi inside
a supermarket in the country town of Kecskemet. Warm sun. On the topic of travel and maps,
an eccentric plan to split California into six states,
a recent bit of research on those mysteriously accurate late-mediaeval maps, and the curiously expanding Antarctic ice shelf.
Thursday. Promise a friend to learn an old memory grid.
Wednesday. One of my students, young Zizi, suddenly remarks that
"Swans are so Italian". She means they
look elegant, wear too much make-up around the beak area, and if messed with
suddenly get very aggressive. Unlike these swans?
Tuesday. So apparently dyslexia and attention-deficit disorder are just
made-up twaddle as well. Evidence really rolling
in these days.
Monday. Today my postbox contained a small card-sized sticker with
photo of some kind of flappy pancake-shaped underwater manta/sting ray fish
on one side and (in Hungarian) the following text on the other side: "185.
Eastern Pacific Sting Ray". A lot like the little cards in boxes of tea or cereals
about some category (like dangerous animals) children collected half a century ago. Or
else someone's saying they'd like to tase me.
Sunday. Frustrating day grappling with evil infections of the laptop. A heartening story
of a woman who joins a search party that's already looking for her. Always nice to hear about people finding themselves.
A bit less pleasant is the tale of a
man eaten alive by pigs in Italy, and then we have a startling allegation from Belgium that's
so startling the lawyers got it taken down in the last 24 hours. Goodness gracious.
Saturday. Reading about Northrop Frye.
Friday. Lovely lunch (at the
cafe just by the bridge that Anna likes) with the erudite
Peter P. It seems the owner is his cousin and today is the birthday of both this man
and his wife. He explains this as I open the door behind my chair to let the man
himself in from the rain, his hands full with a bunch of flowers and a bulky wrapped
gift. The cafe owner is greeted by his laughing wife who unwraps the big package and
excitedly pulls out her birthday present, a brand-new chain saw. "Exactly
what I wanted!" she laughs to the cafe in general, "No, really!"
Thursday. After decades of drivel & destructive sedition, The Guardian finally redeems itself with
a worthwhile news story: 16th-century cats wearing rocket-powered backpacks.
Wednesday. A mild-mannered but intelligent article about why someone isn't a 'sceptic' (or more precisely, a materialist).
Tuesday. Train back to Budapest. Vague stirrings of enigmatic uberhope as
spring plans comeback tour. Latest theory apparently is that
we're not fully adult until 25. That early?
Last night finished a book from Robin's library called 'The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici' by Christopher Hibbert. A grand overview with all the crucial family members well outlined over the period from the 14th to 18th centuries. What would have been helpful is a timeline or two, enabling overlapping lifetimes to be seen clearly, and more detail on some of the later patronage. While it is still extraordinary to realise just how many of the great artists of the Italian Renaissance (Fra Angelico, Fra Lippo Lippi, Michelangelo, Cellini, Botticelli, Donatello and more) were directly employed, promoted, and personally helped by Medici family members, there are later pieces of patronage connected to the rise of science that tantalisingly suggest that had Florence and their great family Medici managed another couple of centuries in the sun, the scientific revolution might have stayed and flourished in northern Italy. The ruthlessness of both the Medici and their enemies comes out well, though Hibbert makes the banking family sound relatively restrained. Nothing here to echo Anthony Blunt's eerie suggestion that the Medicis directly promoted neo-Platonist mysticism so as to subvert Florentine intellectual life and make it more amenable to political manipulation. Interesting portrayal of the firebrand priest Savanarola, and how he almost became the Italian Luther, 20 years before Luther.
Monday. Very quiet and restful day on the Great Plain. Things getting rather Graeco-Roman
in northern California again. Is it the return of the Purple People? "... or just another everyday San Francisco sex cult?"
Sunday. Online progress in the small hours with helpful advice from Cryptocash Sam.
Saturday. Robin & Letty drive out to the countryside with me, as I doze fitfully in the car,
bleary like a narcolept. I meet the new Transylvanian housekeeping couple Lacko & Joli properly
and hear about life in southern Romania. Interesting chat online later with Anaida. Oh yes,
Russian troops have invaded Ukraine to a/ "protect" Russian-speaking communities (perhaps the same
way they are protecting the pro-Russian president who fled Ukraine in recent days), b/ secure
their naval ports in Crimea. Events being described by one cruel wit as Obama's "Chicken Kiev" moment.
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
markgriffith at yahoo.com