Saturday. I wake out of a curious vivid dream. I'm in an open-plan office and have been given some computer code to write. Oddly, I know I can do it if someone shows me a starting example, but nonetheless have no clue how to begin without that. A pretty girl I was in love with many years ago is there and I find myself asking her for help. Of course she can write me an opening case to get my code script started she says, asking did I really not trust her to help me? Why didn't I ask her earlier? she reproaches me. I gather her petite, yielding form into my arms, feeling her not-too-heaviness close as we kiss, gratitude blurring with love as she melts. I wake up right then, rested and a bit puzzled. An hour later, at our morning Obuda shopping mall lesson, Board-Game Orsolya tells me that Chinese shares fell heavily this week. Perhaps I should check strange portents in the heavens again.
Friday. Get train back into town. Weather still damp and cool. Now that the Inter-City carriage on MAV trains have plentiful electrical sockets (just new this week as far as I can see) it would appear I can use the internet on the train. Except that the power cuts out every few minutes: 3 times on one socket, 4 times on the other socket. A Hungarian engineering student sitting opposite me 2 days ago explained how it's caused by a power surge when the train does certain things during the journey and is quite normal. So why did this problem never happen with power sockets when they appeared on British trains ten years ago I asked him? (Of course I should buy a new laptop battery.) The electrically-informed student seems startled that there might be a solution to this power-outage problem, and that someone has found it. Meanwhile fun decadence continues across the west - UCLA academic dies in a chum's sex dungeon while being tied up and suffocated with sticky tape. Woops.
Thursday. As I climb up into Robin's country attic to look through my stored boxes, a strange effect there as I enter the warm air up there (however cool outdoors) I notice every time. It's a precise layer of hot air just at the top of the stairs - I can feel my head entering it, then my shoulders. Like rising up through some fluid and sliding into a layer of oil floating on top of the first liquid.
Out at neighbouring towns in a sunny afternoon with Zeno the Alchemist, Gyuri driving us in Robin's green Mercedes. We tick off a veritable list of errands, including new bicycle inner tubes in a surprisingly big hardware store that seems to ramble through a complex of interconnected 19th-century farm bungalows. There is a chat in a dusty lane with a handyman we interrupt during his lunch about the cracked hinge on the car's vertically-opening hatchback. Visits to two animal-feed wholesalers involve filling twenty odd sixty-kilo sacks with seeds. The giant barley & wheat warehouse has piles of each on a cement floor one each side of the giant doors. An almost straight-edged boundary where the colour changes from the yellowish wheat to the pale brown barley marks a kind of valley between two huge mounds. Maize warehouse is smaller, more a garage, and contains an almost perfect low cone of orangey-yellow dried sweetcorns on its cement floor. A stray cockerel struts past us as we fill and tie closed the sacks. Both places have rugged industrial scales (bit of rust) with a balance bar and a giant metal plate taking several bulging sacks. Back at the farm, Gyuri, Zeno, Istvan and I empty the sacks into big bins in an outhouse. The fat white pillows of the tightly curving sacks are like giant buttocks. As we support them from slithering out of grasp while the seed surges into the bins and the weight shifts inside each sack, I find it almost irresistible not to pat them or slap them like babies' bottoms. As dusk slides into night, we walk back from the unbuilt wall. We sit outside, Zeno repelling insects with his roll-up cigarettes. He tells me about Marx's and Lenin's esoteric interests and how neo-Platonic the Kabbalah is.
Wednesday. Slightly windy and rainy when I catch the train to Lakitelek and find Gyuri waiting for me in his car at the station, as sweet-natured as ever. Fascinating late-night chat as Zeno tells me all sorts of interesting details about astrology and a worrying moment in 2019 when a new, he says, more difficult period Begins For All Of Us. Oh dear.
Tuesday. Cue low throbbing bass synth: Electrical Ants Arrive.
Monday. Obvious but important thoughts on European guilt.
Sunday. Much of day unwinding with Film-maker Jessica. In the evening we both watch on her Netflix service a film neither of us have seen, the first film screenwriter Paul Schrader got to direct himself, American Gigolo. Striking how much a film from 1980 has aged now (far too many scenes with sunlight entering a room through half-closed venetian blinds) but interesting to see the story trying to penetrate Richard Gere's character's contradictory layers of slickness and naivete. Schrader's visual limitations are strongly shown up - very much a script-writer's film. I recall the writer/director himself long ago talking about the famous scene where the high-end gigolo lays out his choices of outfits in a row and is selecting which jacket, shirt, tie, trousers to wear ("Like a craftsman selecting his tools" said Schrader). Now I watch it properly, struck by the matching naffness of all his smart rentboy clothes.
Saturday. Spend much of today chatting with Michael. Join him in his mid-afternoon taxi to the airport, where once he has passed through the boarding gates on his way to Johannesburg, I set about coming back into town by public transport. On the bus (two buses in succession in fact) I meet a wry German academic who is attending a Budapest conference about operations management and two cheery Danish women attending a different Budapest conference about (appropriately enough) positive psychology. At one point towards the end of our shared bus journey I ask the Danish women what the secret of happiness is. Laughing they exclaim: "Love, of course!"
Here's El Michels Affair performing El Pueblo Unido & Detroit Twice.
Friday. Last night I slept 11 hours before our usual 7.30am start to the teaching day. We finish the three-day songs-and-games mission and bundle ourselves into a taxi to cross the border by about 2pm. Then begins the longish train journey from Szombathely back to Budapest. On this journey I finish the other book I borrowed from Michael, 'The Mathematics of Love' by Hannah Fry, published by TED, now a book publisher as well as an organiser of unpaid science talks. It's a short book. It mainly seems to be powered by the reader's expected amazement that there are actually mathematical papers published about optimal ways to pick up the opposite sex in bars and so on. It's a bit thin, and the sorting algorithm that shows how men who approach their preferred women in order of preference (which generalises to doctors picking hospitals to train at and other stuff) pair up best definitely leaves some basic things unexplained. Such as why anyone consistently prioritises being approached. There's obviously an algorithm to explain that too, the fuller mathematics behind Bagehot's remark that "A man who does not make advances on women becomes the victim of those women who make advances on men". It would have been nice to see those two effects discussed together. The text is clear & witty, but each short chapter has a double-page illustration in the middle with crudely painted semi-cartoon men and women with mathematical signs floating around them. Not recommended.
Thursday. Ear ache is receding, and I took care to sleep 13 hours last night. The relief of sensing the illness being beaten back is sweet indeed.
Strangely, this (it actually has the word 'bilingual' in its name) is an Austrian gymnasium/grammar-school
where children must study either Croat or Hungarian (as well as German and English). There are local communities of Croats and Magyars who have been in that region for centuries. Before 1920 this town was inside the borders of Hungary, and there is a noticeable profusion of dishy-looking girls, both among the students and the teaching staff. Four pretty female teachers I meet are all Hungarians. I actually hear almost as much Magyar being spoken in the staff room as German. There are even a couple of students who actually commute (or pendle?) to the school from inside Hungary, crossing the nearby border twice a day (the Croats are too far from Croatia for any to do this). One girl in one class I see is studying Croatian, German, English, Latin, and Russian: perhaps the best teenage linguists I've encountered in Austria.
Wednesday. Here at a very pleasant grammar school in the town of Oberwart. These places in Austria are curious. Somehow too prosperous to be proper villages, too sleepy to be towns, too rural to be suburbs. They have apparently functioning watchmending shops with spacious window displays, and odd little cafes with chrome bar stools permanently hosting the same three guests from day to day. Rather Camberwick Green somehow. Beautiful sunlight and blue skies. I've never seen so many neatly-clipped hedges, friendly dogs, and well-kept pots of flowers outside the affluent districts of a big city.
Today's teaching extremely difficult, since I got no sleep last night, not a situation I'm used to coping with. The teachers are very kind and I'm lucky that the school doctor is in the school today on a Wednesday. I finally see him after the third lesson, and he writes me a prescription. He is the old-fashioned avuncular type we vaguely remember from decades ago. Whiskery and twinkly-eyed, he peers into my bad ear with the same little light-beam thing doctors used when I got ear infections as a five or six-year-old. I run out into the sun to actually buy the drugs in the short break between, I think, lessons four and five. Oh joy, the drugs seem to work at once (doubtless more relief than medical action) and the pain begins to go away.
Tuesday. After visiting Keleti station twice yesterday, the second time at 10pm to change my ticket, a trouble-free journey to Austria. My travelling companions are Greg & Fred. We reach the guesthouse around 5pm and a cheery local plies us with schnapps. Like magic, the mild ear infection of last week I thought I'd beaten with five leftover antibiotics from Michael's bathroom medicine drawer a few days ago snaps back into action, renewed in strength. I spend the last few minutes before 8pm finding an out-of-hours pharmacist and buying a small bottle of ear drops. They have a distinct smell of hospital alcohol which is oddly alarming and reassuring at the same time. I go to bed, the pain slowly growing, like the ear aches I constantly got as a child, like a knitting needle being forced inch by inch into the side of my head. At the point where I realise I am not going to get even a minute of sleep during the night before my first day's teaching, I sit up and finish a detective novel borrowed from Michael cheerily called 'Bones Under The Beach Hut'
by Simon Brett, one of my mother's favourite authors in her final years. The book has a slight feel of being written on autopilot, and there is a curiously snobbish disdain for other people's snobbery in the observations of social life on England's south coast. Most of all I detected in the way the two heroines are written up a dislke of social ambition or respectability among people other than the self-consciously modest "ex-Home-Office" main character. (Not unlike Le Carre's snobbishness about snobbish views from people who aren't him.) There's a slightly glib tone to much of Brett's writing. Things are not just so - they are "predictably" so or "inevitably" so. Very well veiled venom towards people who are not diffidently middle-class and in some distant way left-wing. An older woman who speaks her mind and believes people should be stylish and smartly dressed, the only obvious old-style Tory in this early-21st-century (2011) story, is described with poisonous hatred. A pompous drunken man who has grand airs of being a radically subversive (he believes) painter is treated a little more gently. There is some clever misdirection in the plotting, but perhaps Brett has written too many detective novels and is a little bit slick now.
Monday. An admirable man has just died who was kidnapped & tortured several decades ago.
Sunday. A 1970s book worth a look? 'The Inevitability of Patriarchy'.
Saturday. An account of when & why a man finished with his girlfriend.
Friday. On recent trips to Robin's farm in the Alfold, various things stick in the memory even a few weeks later. A bush not just humming but mumbling with bee activity while being surrounded with small white butterflies (and one or two in other colours) crackling around the leaves almost like sparks coming off something electrical. The wood in the front door and its frame which now smells comfortingly (if that's your thing) of dog. One of the two big shaggy off-white komondor beasts routinely folds itself into the 3-feet-wide, 18-inch-deep space into which the front door is recessed. Forcing us all to step over the slumbering hound on entering or leaving the house. Now the aroma of dog has sunk into the wood and you can detect Sisi's or Domor's repeated presence just from the smell there even when they are snoozing somewhere else during the day. A memory of the lean suntanned figure of Zeno the Alchemist sitting on the mobile motormower, cigarette in mouth, hat on head, chugging around various stretches of lawn as the sun beats down.
Tonight, alone at Michael's, I finish Alvi's copy of 1965 Philip K. Dick novel 'The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch' with this curious but ultimately appropriate cover. This 2003 review by his old editor Michael Moorcock accuses Dick of letting the amphetamines speak too loudly in the storywriting. There is certainly a kind of narrowing through the book, with an increasingly frantic plot and ever-more interchangeable characters (as the older, more literary Moorcock notes). As if the book descends into a kind of paranoid narrative tunnel. Nonetheless the business story of the book, with its tales of miserable homesick Martian colonists taking hallucination-sharing drugs to try to remember the idyllic Earth of past decades that pollution has by now ruined, is striking. The way this drug interacts with a pathetic-sounding boardgame or dolls' house of small tabletop models, there in their cramped sleeping quarters on the surface of Mars, is especially poignant. Fascinating to look back at wildly-varying cover art for the novel, seeing how little some images explain the story:
seven. Moorcock's review perhaps fails to appreciate how interesting it is that Dick was already by 1965 finding theology vital to exploring the science-and-matter cosmos of early-20th-century sci-fi futures.
Thursday. Lovely evening over at Robin's flat reading Tarot for Erika & Krisztian. A little corner is created with candles and an old faded-baize card table, so I can do my Madame Zaza bit. We all eat some delightful meat sauces Robin conjures up with Bianka's help. Aniko arrives later. Weather has been pleasantly cool for a few days.
The man who wrote 'Godel, Escher, Bach' explains why Google Translate isn't intelligent. Two slightly drier, more technical AI articles on natural-language inference and ungameable objectives make the same point.
Wednesday. Spending time chez Michael the last couple of weeks is the first time in my life I've seen a lot of people using the Segway 2-wheel things, all day every day. There's a rental shop nearby, and whole crocodiles of tourists whizz by these parts of central Pest standing on their travel pods. I can still recall the hilarious moment during launch when it was promoted with the promise it would be "bigger than the internet". Still, laughter aside, after about a decade and a half, we can now say Segways have found a secure niche among forms of wheeled transport, somewhere between the unicycle and the roller skate.
Tuesday. Finish Lorinc's copy of 'The House of Silk', an intriguing attempt to write a new Sherlock Holmes mystery novel by Anthony Horowitz. This is hard to do, so he deserves applause for even trying really. Still, what comes out is an odd blend of Conan Doyle, Dickens, and Mrs Gaskell. He is a little too keen to focus on the dreadful conditions of the poor, too ready to insinuate the awfulness of the rich, and too inclined to have characters tell Watson they have read his stories about his friend Sherlock in the Strand Magazine. This is not exactly breaking the fourth wall, but perhaps it counts as prodding the third wall. Without injecting spoilers, there is also a desire to have the story resonate with more recent sinister conspiracies of today. There's also a bit too much repetition of the Decent Chaps With Revolvers Going To Lowlife Place Of Danger, something Conan Doyle always measured out with a better sense of pace. Nonetheless, I wanted to find out what happened next, so he was doing something right.
Monday. In world news, apparently President Honey Monster has refused to sign a communique from some G7 or G8 meeting (refreshing to see someone do that at last) and has shaken hands with the leader of North Korea, perhaps a good thing, perhaps not. Canadian Quebecois leader Sinbad and his French inspiration Teacher's Pet both annoyed about Trump threatening tariff retaliation and saying really all tariffs should just be junked.
Sunday. 9 or 10 days since Michael took me as a guest to his super-luxurious fitness gym. I had to put up with Tunde K, there by chance, following me around the place trying to say hello. The reception staff were charming though.
Saturday. One of those brave, commendable articles that tries to explain controversial cosmology, along with "dark matter", "dark energy", and multiple universes, to lay readers.
Friday. Final episode of the BBC adaptation of Trollope's 'The Way We Live Now'. Excellent climax to five nights of entertainment chez Michael (I got the first episode split over two nights in my annoying way). The Longstaffs emerge as the most repulsive family, but we agree one, in the depths of her horrible, indignant self-pity, gets the best line: "I've been jilted! -- by a Jew!!" The satirical edge of the novel's title has some layers. Part of the effect is aristocrats making a great fuss about acting honourably while being horribly slimy and self-interested. Another part is other, sometimes poorer, characters showing surprisingly stubborn, steely moments of honour when we least expect. What stood out for me was perhaps the best bit of casting work I've seen in a television show. Almost every character "looked" right.
Thursday. One of many useless thoughts that come back to me year after year. Why do twin-tap-mixer showerheads get sold with no way to wrap the tube round the fitting when not in use? In fact made so that if you try to coil them neatly round the two taps, they slide off, clanging into the bath in a tangle? Which dickhead signed off on that piece of genius design? Not to mention the habit of putting a little blue dot and red dot to indicate temperature directions on the moving handle, instead of (a few do this, a few) at a fixed point the handle moves past. Not even depicted as arrows. A lesser sin than the deliberate frustration of neat tube-coiling though. How hard is it to grasp in the first few seconds of the product's first fifty years that those two features are thick? I told a friend that these shiny "modern" chrome-spiral-covered covers are a lie, and the thing that actually conveys the water is an unglamorous rubber tube inside. She was shocked. Typical modernist fakery.
Wednesday. Young 'uns getting measurably stupider. Surely not?
Tuesday. Ridiculously broad set of patents applied for by an AI firm.
Monday. Interesting tale of gun-use statistics in the US. The point is not so much that they show how many crimes were stopped by an innocent person producing a firearm without having to use it, but that these figures were hidden by the organisation that collected them.
Sunday. Shoppers at self-service check-outs feel entitled to steal a bit.
Saturday. Finish watching the 1968 film 'Rosemary's Baby' with Michael. Curious, after seeing Mia Farrow in the role of a young innocent manipulated by corrupt older people into having a sinister baby, whether that had some real-world influence on the actress many years later accusing Woody Allen of sexually molesting their young daughter? An incident that investigators at the time concluded was a false memory implanted in the little girl, rehearsed with coaching by Mia the mother? Also interesting as the first American film by paranoid Polish director Roman Polanski who not long after lost his pregnant wife and child-to-be to an attack by Charles Manson's "Family". Then shortly after that Polanski was himself accused of raping an underage girl. Despite the cleverly crafted mounting sense of dread and creepiness, the apex of the film is the hallucinogenic seduction dream on the boat, particularly the floating mattress. There are many other fine shots, such as cigar smoke drifting across a doorway from an unseen part of a room, and a false-relief moment when a helper seems to turn up in a blurred street, but then is claimed by another waiting person. Hard for me not to wonder though if the topic of the film somehow affected the off-screen lives of Farrow and Polanski and others.
Friday. Gently cruel but funny article from Toby Young, giving advice to Owen Jones about speaking to half-empty rooms.
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