Thursday, March 04, 2004


God help us all if the digital revolution really does result in all of us working from home. Bugger all would get done. More than 70% of my working week is now spent at home and I think I shall have to move into a shed in the garden to get whatever it is I have to do finished. I find mid-task that I have a burning desire to go and stare at the fish in my daughter's aquarium rather than continue earning some dosh...or make a coffee...or roll another cigarette...or check out my favourite blogs...or make a monster sandwich...or take the Blades into Europe again on Football Manager 2001. It's 2003 now and we've just beaten Real Betis 2-1 in the Champions' League final in only my third season in charge. Maybe I should give Neil my number.


It was one of the first things that struck me when I started to become fairly proficient in Hungarian, enough to listen to football commentaries anyway, but I'd completely forgotten about it until today. During a break from earning a fairly honest crust, I chanced to switch on the TV and Sport1 was showing the DVSC (Debrecen) - Bruges match again.

Now let's imagine say, Sheffield United - Bayern Munich on BBC (Imagination not up to it? Shame on you!) and we would witness commentators striving earnestly to remain dispassionate, disinterested and totally impartial. The only time they might show favour and reveal their colours would be whilst covering an international event...the Olympics maybe, but you would still never hear the 'we' word. Nor would you hear them urging on the team or sighing with relief whenever the opposition miss a gilt-edged chance to score.

Not so here. Every Hungarian club playing against foreign opposition is heartily supported by those commentating on the match and it would be unheard of here for any Hungarian to want the opposing team to win. Contrast this attitude with that of at least 60% of the English viewers who watch European football with an intense desire to see either Arsenal or Manchester United get absolutely hammered.

What is it with us English? How is it that we have become the only nation on Earth whose population is made up of individuals with absolutely no common conception of and no desire to experience just what it might mean to be English? English society has become so divisive that there is now no common thread with which we can connect to each other. Absolutely nothing to draw us together in any bigger unit than a football crowd. And even then there's the Happy Clappers and the Glass Half-Empty Brigade casually lobbing gratuitous insults at each other on club message boards. Why?

I think it may have something to do with tradition. We don't have any. That's right. Squat. Diddley. None at all. Whatsoever. Go on then...try it. Sit down in your favourite chair for just a minute and try to think of one English tradition in which the vast majority of English people participate.

Got one yet?

Binge drinking? Granted, but hardly a socially unifying phenomenon, I wouldn't have thought.

Derbyshire Well Dressing? Er...that's Derbyshire, right. I'm talking national here.

Remembrance Day? Oh, so buying a plastic poppy once a year is now social adhesive? I think not. Most of the population couldn't give a flying one, anyway.

Queen's Birthday? Oh, come on! Maybe there was a time when the monarchy provided a focal point for the expression of patriotic feeling but those times are long gone. I can't imagine off hand a more divisive topic than royalty. Inherited privilege...freeloading wasters etc. I for one, am totally pissed off that despite never having had to swear an oath to QUEEN and country (my emphasis) which as far as I know, you still have to do in some branches of government, I am still classified as Her Majesty's SUBJECT (again, my emphasis) and not a citizen of the country in which I was born.

Okay, time's up. See what I mean?

Still not convinced? Okay then...let's take Hungary as an example and have a quick gander at all those things that help bring a people remind them of what it is that has made them what they are.

National Holidays.

St Stephen's Day.

Celebrating the crowning of the first Hungarian King who unified his people for the first time which resulted in the birth of the Hungarian Nation-State.

March 15th.

A nationwide remembrance day commemorating the ultimately unsuccessful revolution against the Hapsburg Empire of 1848. Every Hungarian town still has streets named after the heroes of this uprising.

October 23rd.

Commemorating the again, unsuccessful uprising against communist rule in 1956.

All the above are remembered and participated in by nearly all Hungarians.

Special days and traditions.

Carnival is all through February but especially the last Saturday.

November 1st.

All Saints' Day. More popularly the Day of the Dead when people visit the graves of their family and sit candlelight vigil remembering the ones they have lost. One of the most beautiful sights I have ever witnessed. My partner makes a special trip to the town of her birth to visit her father's grave and no, she is not in the slightest bit religious...she does it as do most Hungarians to honour the memory of their loved ones.

Easter Sunday.

A continuation of pagan tradition whereby all Hungarian men visit every female of their acquaintance and sprinkle them with perfumed water in return for a kiss and a painted egg...all the while reciting deliciously bawdy rhymes such as...

Red eggs, blue eggs
I've also got two eggs
Up with your skirt
Down with your panties
I'd like to sprinkle your bunny


Everyday at midday.

Every church bell in Hungary rings out in remembrance of that day in 1526 when the Hungarian army was defeated at Mohacs and 150 years of Turkish occupation started.

Name days.

Every day in Hungary is a saint's day and for those people sharing the name of a saint (that is everybody living in this daughter included as her middle name is Emma) this is their name day. A birthday here is a private family affair but a name day...blimey. I have to lay in vast quantities of food and drink for mine (coincidentally, my birthday as well) as all my friends and neighbours will turn up to congratulate me. One of my favourite days. Even at work, those whose day it is will bring in home made cakes and wine to celebrate with their colleagues. And get this...everyday is somebody's name day.

Pig killing.

Most Hungarian families will kill a pig or two before the real onset of winter. I go halves with a friend of mine on a couple and we get up ridiculously early in the morning, pick up the pigs, drive them up to a friend of ours who owns a bar out of town and is also nifty at butchering porcines, stoke up on a warming palinka or few, do the deed with the pigs...the first menu item is fried blood...and spend the whole day cutting up the animals into joints and making sausages, black puddings, smoked hams and meat loaves. Oh, and getting drunk, of course. A real family occasion...I kid you not. Everyone is there...all generations of the family together as they are also at...

The Hill.

No, not that sadistic film starring Sean Connery, but a word for word translation of that mainstay of Hungarian family life, the vineyard. No, no. Don't get carried away. Think of it as an allotment...slightly bigger where the sole crops are grapes from the vines and fruit from the trees and with a small two down - one downer building thereon. Of the two down, one will be a kitchen and the other contain a press and the entrance to the downer...a cellar containing several barrels, wine for the storage of. Anything from 300 to 800 litres is the norm. Enough for the family for the year with a little left to put down. Waste of time really, it's best drunk young the following year and boy is it good. Do NOT think home wine making here...this is professional stuff. So, how does this affect social unity? Well, maybe not all of society but one of the smallest social units is the family which, in England seems to have shrunk to Mum, Dad and two kids. Even the grandparents don't seem to have much of a role to play other than that of unpaid babysitters. Anyway, here the vineyard belongs to the family, it provides a shared experience between all families. All work on it, from the youngest to the eldest. Harvest time and they will all be there. Even at other times, there is usually a brick built barbeque there and as the wine is in the cellar there is many a time when the whole family will get together to celebrate, sup some nectar and fry a bit of bacon. Point is that it is a focal point for all the family, young and old and it is something we just do not have in England...a shared place which belongs to all of us alike. Just come here...I guarantee that within a week you will have been invited to a 'hill party'.

New Year's Eve.

A culmination and an ultimate expression of common, shared identity. Yeah, we party here, too. But at midnight everything stops. Everybody stands as still as they are able and listens to one of the most beautiful and haunting melodies I know. The Hungarian national anthem. Everybody stops whatever it is they were doing and sings. And thinks about the words and what it means to be Hungarian. At that moment every single Hungarian, wherever they may be, is united with every other one of his countrymen in an intense feeling of belonging. I just cry my eyes out. Three contributory factors, I'm usually pissed by this time...two, you gotta hear the music...but most of all, I think, because I realise that there is no occasion at which I can feel the same sense of belonging. Even the words...God save the Queen? No way! It starts with God bless the Hungarian people, with good cheer and prosperity...a quite different and most admirable emphasis.

Writing this lot has made me realise maybe, just why it is that we have lost all our traditions and a feeling of common Englishness (if we ever had it, that is). Look again at those Hungarian national holidays. Every single one of them represents a heroic defeat. Getting whupped. Maybe it's easier to celebrate defeat than it is to crow about victory. I for one would feel uncomfortable celebrating Agincourt...which the French lost anyway, rather than we won...or Empire Day or anything like that. Maybe we should have a Dunkirk Day...but then again, I don't think I could feel comfortable celebrating a gigantic military balls up that cost so many lives...but I would like to remember those civilian sailors making their way across the channel in boats little equipped for the open sea in an attempt to rescue those cut off on the beaches.

Oh well...I'l just have to put my little plastic flags away until the next binge drinking championships then. Ingerlund...Ingerlund...Ingerlund!

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