New Year's Eve. Undisturbed by company, Zeno & I see in the new year with a small schnapps. As we prepare supper together by candlelight, Zeno tells me that (he says) all traditional cultures before the 19th century held the wife's family to be a bad influence on any marriage, even if they were kindly & helpful to a young couple. I wonder if that's true? I finish an interesting book Paul M. lent me, dismantling well-entrenched myths about negative Catholic influences on the modern world. 'Bearing False Witness' by Rodney Stark (not a Catholic) convincingly shows a set of claims, from Church antisemitism, hostility to paganism, hostility to science, vicious use of the Inquisition, promotion of slavery were all either hugely exaggerated or just made up out of whole cloth.
Friday. Zeno & I potter about at Robin's farm. Gyorgy brings strange news that Zsuzsi's horse Solero kicked his way out of his box last night and was found in the morning together with the two cows Daisy & Kamilla in their box, as if something frightened him in the night. In the day take Solero an apple and, back in his proper compartment he does seem a tad nervous and distracted, though he graciously acknowledges that I brought him a tasty snack for once. Here are some excuses for not doing homework.
Thursday. Robin drives off to Debrecen.
Wednesday. Robin & I tackle the chopped up acacia trees, moving the logs of firewood from under the big sheet of black plastic on the grass to the covered walkway outside the house. We stack them against the wall of the house, ends facing out, to dry out in a neat German-style, three-foot-high wooden barrier of fireplace fuel.
My laptop inexplicably dies. Might be another dead topcase.
Tuesday. It feels quite remote here, but what counts as remote?
Boxing Day. Empty pale blue skies scoured by scraps of cloud, like white wire wool. The upper studio windows next to the sofa look out on a bare tree, its bark golden in winter sun. One of the white shaggy komondor dogs has decided it is her responsibility to put me in my pen at night, so I find her dozing outside the door of the studio where I sleep the last two evenings and mornings. My Salisbury Review article about Scrooge goes online.
Christmas Day. Unto us a child is born. The latest estate worker Gyorgy pops into the kitchen early afternoon to announce a lamb was born this morning. Zsuzsi takes me to see the pigs, a new species on the farm since I was last here, and they have mud and trees in their chicken-wired enclosure. They crowd up against the wire, snorting and oinking loudly at us, indignant that we bring them no food. Nearby Zsuzsi & I visit the new lamb in a small roofed open shed fenced but without walls which can only really be described as a manger. The two of us climb on haystacks to see the other lambs over the wooden partition while the ewes watch us carefully. Darkness is already drawing in as we go back past the grumbling mob of swine. For dinner the girls make delicious roast duck with prunes.
Looking for another Scott, I find that hidden in his mass of nightclub-crooner ballads (each named after a woman), Scott Walker also wrote a handful of extraordinary compositions. Clean, crisp voice, rousing orchestral backing, simple-but-surprising melodies, clever-but-simple lyrics. Here's his grand monumental The Old Man's Back Again / then a
theme tune to a Spaghetti Western /
the psychedelic-new-childhood style Plastic Palace People /
another sound epic The Plague / and a defiantly ecstatic song of new beginnings:
Get Behind Me.
Christmas Eve. Back at Robin's farm on the Great Plain, and there are more animals each time. The whole thing is becoming very quack-quack here, a baa-baa there, here a moo, there a cluck, everywhere a so forth. After dark I slice strips of cloth out of a trouser pocket to stitch up ripped sleeves of a shirt.
Friday. Zsa Zsa Gabor died a few days ago, apparently at 99. Her joke about being a good housekeeper because every time she divorced a man she kept his house always made me uneasy, more so since I got to know Hungary. Her tall story about being deflowered by Kemal Ataturk was good though. Mid-evening after packing get to Robin's flat near Oktogon where I find Bela alone. We eat together and then while he goes to the other room to kill some imaginary commandoes in some virtual labyrinth on a laptop, I paint some of my fingernails silver to punish myself for biting them. Quite late, Robin, Bela, Zsuzsi & I drive across country in the dark, routing onto minor roads to get round some sad motorway crash.
Thursday. Among the animals, a Russian fisherman shows photos of his weird deep-sea fish, & a Russian biologist who spent decades successfully breeding tame foxes. Among the people, Japanese jazz pianist plays burning piano on beach, people convinced they remember watching a 1990s film that never got made, and another account of McKenna's favourite psychedelic drug, which still sounds alarmingly odd.
Wednesday. Another sexual-behaviour map: percentages of people in European countries who think consent is not always needed for sex. Eerie research suggests future criminals can be spotted even as toddlers. A major Swedish party's youth wing urges legalisation of incest & necrophilia: perhaps time to revive all those relatively boring & dead boring jokes. Venezuela's struggling socialist government gets festive by seizing toys off toy companies in the name of the tiny tots, reports one of our book's contributors.
Tuesday. Some chilly nights as temperatures drop. Thought-provoking map showing European countries legalising same-sex marriages over the last 20 years. I don't understand what the stripes mean, but behold the East/West divide!
Monday. On the time-travelling-Trumpster front, a fascinating suggestion that Honey Monster is attempting to rejoin parallel universes previously ripped apart. In other news, man with thin tie shoots Russian ambassador during art-gallery vernissage in Turkish capital.
Sunday. The ODNI & FBI are now falling into step with CIA claims that Russian state hacking enabled release of e-mails suggesting embarrassing things about Mrs Clinton's victory over Mr Sanders in the Democratic nomination. This detailed article describes what allegedly convinces US intelligence agencies that Russia tried to tilt the US election. Note the astonishing blunders that feared hackers of the FSB & GRU are claimed to have made, like adopting the name of a Russian secret-police officer during an exploit, or "forgetting" to set two accounts to 'private'. Plus an unrelated, but intriguing, article about the real-life struggles of Napoleon Hill, revered self-help writer and serial fraudster. (Not unlike the life of Carlos Castaneda 50 years later.) Interesting clues that one of Hill's later business partners was involved in Watergate in some unspecified way.
Saturday. Must be about 10 days ago now that I bumped into Xenia from the photocopy shop passing my building with a pram containing her six-month-old infant peacefully dozing inside. We chat briefly, while Baby snoozes.
Friday. Heartening news, O my brothers! Man flu is real.
Thursday. Apparently a strange 'Christian' cult is growing in China.
Wednesday. Provocative article + map claims immigration reduces almost every rich country's average IQ.
Tuesday. Two unusual articles for unusual people. The first urges death on Britons who voted to leave the European Union and gleefully argues Brexit voters are dying in larger numbers than the virtuous Remainers. The second reveals that lots of people in the USA are discussing whether Donald Trump has a time machine? Seems Honey Monster's uncle was asked to assess freshly dead Nikola Tesla's laboratory notes in the 1940s when the federal government seized them.
Monday. For more plausible evidence of Russian hacking: the 20,000 child-porn images supposedly found on the computer of Vladimir Bukovsky, long-time Russian dissident, exile, & critic of the KGB in his British retirement. The elderly, unwell Bukovsky, decades ago tortured by Soviet state psychiatrists, is countersuing Britain's Crown Prosecution Service. He deserves our help.
Sunday. A quick round-up of the latest allegations in the US presidential thingie. The CIA is claiming without citing any evidence that Russian hackers helped Honey Monster to win, even though those of us who were paying attention in the summer recall the incriminating e-mails in question being passed to Wikileaks by a (now-dead) Democratic National Convention staffer. A rather shouty retired British ambassador says the CIA is bluffing. Slightly more convincingly, the office that oversees all 17 US intelligence agencies also voices doubt & caution, although a bit more politely. Of possible relevance: a close relationship between the Washington Post, and Jeff Bezos, and the CIA.
Saturday. Refreshingly clear overview of gold market.
Friday. Not only are some evenings in this flat quiet enough to hear bubbles popping in a carbonated drink, but on occasion I can hear the muscles in my scalp and jaw move (it's a sort of low roar, like the sound of a distant bath filling). If I water my three potted plants, the rustling of water moving down through the soil is audible sometimes.
Thursday. Readable explanation of Bostrom's straightfaced claim we "probably live inside a computer simulation."
Wednesday. Interesting article about feared forthcoming Algerian civil war. Plus three articles about a scandal in the silver market,
three, emerging this week.
Tuesday. An article of mine about Sunday's vote in Italy goes online here. Meanwhile, academic paper ('Birth of the cool') claims written English fiction has become less emotional since 18th century / Biographer thinks Sylvia Plath might have been rejected by lover before suicide / Intriguing graph suggests people born since 1970 care less about democracy.
Monday. Buying some cheaper eggs all with white shells, realised that I haven't seen white-shelled eggs at the supermarket for years. Wonder if farmers now routinely feed hens some substance like caramel or some mineral to give the eggshells that country-goodness brown hue? Speaking of brown crunchy things, decided to check if burning my pasta sticks could affect health. Best that came up was an article about crusty bread & pastry: the Maillard Reaction.
Sunday. Rather political day, with Austrians (now they have enough envelope glue) choosing the Green presidential candidate by a narrow margin while Italians vote by a big margin against proposed changes to the country's constitution. One of our contributors noted market interest in this referendum some days ago. Partly an Italian protest against the devastation caused by the euro, partly a chance to force resignation of annoyingly smooth prime minister Matteo Renzi. Last Thursday's vote by a big swing to replace eccentric-but-once-loved MP Zac Goldsmith in Richmond, Greater London (one of the country's most pro-EU & pro-Green constituencies), with a pro-EU/anti-Brexit Liberal Democrat has been slightly marred. Allegations surface Lib Dems promised £1/4 m cash if the Green candidate stood aside. She did. The long-suffering Dutch finally get tetchy and address some pointed questions to their government about the euro.
Saturday. Unfortunate incident reported yesterday in Mongolia. Russian diplomat physically attacked the country's most famous rapper (of course, on the show 'Mongolia's Got Talent'), beating the man into a coma. Supposedly, displaying large swastikas in Mongolia is almost normal; ancient local symbol but also extreme-nationalist, anti-Russian symbol etc. Diplomacy thrives on free & frank exchange of views: "My son was hit in the face several times with a metal object."
Friday. Days and nights switching between temperatures. Sometimes warmish with winds howling or moaning through doorjambs & cracks all over the building, large crumpled leaves that look as if cut from brown paper piling up in mini-drifts in doorways. Sometimes mild rain, and sometimes numbing cold. Of course, local weather is not global climate, but apparently average global over-land temperatures fell by an entire degree Celsius, the sharpest drop ever recorded, just in the last 4 or 5 months. It seems the culprit might be the end of several years effect from a very warm El Nino current in the Pacific. For a bit of balance, here is a piece about possible major ice shelf calving in the Antarctic.
Thursday. Online chum Nick Jordan (no supporter of President Honey Monster, I should add) reports that "Last night I dreamt I was having dinner with Donald Trump. I gave him some much needed advice - something about making quick decisions like a businessman, not slow ones like a politician - and he gave me a battered, secondhand Rolex by way of a thank you. Then we went to the kitchen and put a couple of cats in the dishwasher. Only for a couple of minutes he said, it doesn't hurt them."
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
markgriffith at yahoo.com