Friday, December 30, 2005


A winter wonderland? Maybe. If you're dressed for it.

On the other hand, shorts and a T-shirt might just prove sufficient should you ever be required by law to shovel the stuff off your pavement frontage.

Or even, out of necessity, dig out your car prior to a shopping expedition.

I'm not at all sure that this is doing it any kind of good whatsoever.

Monday, December 26, 2005


Today is St Stephen's day and, being fortunate enough to have a next door neighbour who answers to the call, "István!", we popped round this evening to wish him all the best on his nameday.

I had bought him a bottle of the finest 2000 Tokaj Fürmint and for this, and our sincerest congratulations, we were rewarded with roast stuffed chicken, fried chicken thighs in breadcrumbs, Wiener Schnitzel, roast spare ribs and rabbit stew with garlic and chillis followed by a rich and varied assortment of cakes and confectionery, all washed down with copious quantities of brandy and home made Tramini wine.

All that was missing was the roast canary on a spit. Trust the Blades to fuck up my Christmas.

Anyway, as we were leaving, he pressed upon me a plastic coke bottle containing 2 litres of aforementioned Tramini and also a goody bag of cakes.

Every day is somebody's nameday here in Hungary.

I think I might just have stumbled upon a whole new lifestyle.

Saturday, December 24, 2005


Just done the rounds of neighbourly present delivery and have sampled the hospitality at each and every one. 11:30 in the morning here and I'm presently pleasantly plastered.

Now I've got to go and cut the tree down, trim it to size and somehow get it indoors and upright.

I have a feeling it isn't going to be easy.

Uncy asks, "Why don't you just take the house outside?"


I guess it's my neanderthal genetic inheritance telling me that real men chop down trees, wear high hee...oops.

Anyway, job done. Only minor injuries, flesh wounds, a pine sap rash up to my biceps and an entire string of now defunct fairy lights draped haphazardly over the dog's kennel which interrupted their freefall after they had been precipitately defenestrated in frustration.

I only hope that the firestarter, upon returning from watching Narnia at the cinema this afternoon, demonstrates the requisite inordinate levels of appreciation otherwise she'll be sleeping under aforementioned lights tonight.

Thank God for beer and home distilled pálinka.

Your very good health, one and all.

Sunday, December 18, 2005


"Even the paddle-shift gear change works well, allowing for the full PlayStation driving experience. The F430 also has an F1-style manettino switch on the steering wheel that allows you to adjust the suspension, traction control and gear shift depending on your mood. This means that if it's icy the car will take care of everything; then there is a normal driving setting where you can pretend that you are a good driver, safe in the knowledge that the car is holding your hand; a sport mode where, like a boxing referee, the traction control will only kick in if someone is going to get hurt; and a race mode where everything is switched off and it's just a matter of time before you kill yourself." Michael Booth - The Independent

Yeah, but what a way to go, eh?

Thursday, December 08, 2005


As the sabbatical enters its fourth month and Kan the Man Enterprises Inc. is still operating at roughly 20% of maximum output, I have been forced into a reconsideration.

Even when the chimneys were belching out under full steam, Idris was also gainfully employed and yet, beyond cooking the (very) occasional meal and making sure that the socks (mostly) went into the laundry basket, I did very little in the way of domestic maintenance and I now wonder why this was so.

Did I expect her to somehow make up the massive difference in our salaries by putting in all those extra hours?

Was it because I was the child of a housewife who stayed at home while my father ventured forth in search of provisions?

Or was it because I have dangly genitalia and am therefore, genetically indisposed to perform household chores?

Maybe all of the above are responsible, at least at a sub-conscious level, but there is an inescapable and undeniable suspicion that the major factor in my dereliction might just have been sheer bloody laziness. After all, if someone else was prepared to do all the work, who was I to interfere with the natural order?

The present situation however, is such that even I cannot justify my continuing to do bugger all now that I am at home on 4 out of 5 working days although the demands of the internet and televisual media outlets are more exacting (and time consuming) than you might think.

I have found it strange and yet logical that one of the first symptoms of unemployment is serious and serial sloth. One stays abed until the forenoon and neglects both blog and facial hair alike. One's consumption of comfort food cranks up the cholesterol levels and tobacco intake assumes alarming proportions. One walks briskly past the beers temptingly arrayed on supermarket shelves and yet has a weekly blowout courtesy of the stockpiled Islays.

So, will a new squeaky clean, freshly shaved and pinafored Kan arise phoenix-like from this slough of stagnation?

Not for a couple of days at least. Froggy has the sniffles and will be off nursery school starting tomor...oops, today. She's promised to teach me some magic tricks later.

An au pair out of a hat might be a good start.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


You have Santa Claus. We have Mikulás. For you, he's yet to come. For us, he's been and gone.

The custom here is that, as in most of mainland Europe, Santa arrives on December the 5th and is usually accompanied by Krampusz, a devil like figure whose role seems to be to reinforce the underlying message that Santa's gifts are conditional upon good behaviour.

There is also gift giving on the evening of the 24th when, in sure and certain proof of the resurrection, it is the 'baby' Jesus who dispenses the largesse. Not wishing to inculcate such twaddle into the impressionable software of my spawn, I tell her that the English Santa has been delayed and will probably arrive in the dark watches of Christmas Eve. I fear I am fighting a battle I cannot win.

I am prepared to participate in the collusion required to perpetuate the myths of Santa, the Tooth Fairy et al because I believe that deep down, where it really matters, most kids are aware of the games we adults play and are generous enough of spirit to humour us in our folly. Or if not, then we assume that the trauma of discovery is fair preparation for an adult life of similar disillusionments and revelations.

But the legend of the baby Jesus? Notwithstanding the fact that he was supposedly resurrected at the age of...what was it...32, how is it that all good Catholics have sufficient faith in the discriminatory powers of their offspring that they can expect them to accept that one mythical figure is just that and that the resurrection of another is a reality?

It's all very strange.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


The first in a series of 'Words of Advice for Young People'.

Anything you can unscrew the cap off isn't worth drinking.

An annual $24.95 for a referrer service?

I believe the phrase I'm searching for is, "Fuck off."

Right now.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


I tasted a spot of enforced sobriety last night and I'm not at all sure I like it. Get this. I volunteered...yup, you heard be the designated driver for an evening out at a nearby hotel and restaurant complex where we were lustily entertained by a thirteen piece retro rock 'n' roll/R & B band.

Four forty-five minute sets and only one trombone solo. Shocking. Anyway, a lot of mineral water under the bridge later and my mate's wife finally lets rip with a two minute tirade during which I was invited to "go in a cunt" for committing the heinous crime of failing to ask her to dance. I had to forgive her of course. She had obviously failed to understand the direct relationship that exists between consumption of alcohol and my stepping the light.

Picked up Froggy from the babysitters' this morning and discovered that she had been regaling them with repeated choruses of that Ian Dury classic, 'Fuck Off, Noddy'. I have no idea where she gets it from.

Now you must excuse me. Megyek a picsába.

Monday, November 07, 2005


It would appear that the practice of stating the bleedin' obvious on product packaging has finally reached Hungary. To whit, one milk carton. Itt nyí here.

Phew. Nearly had me foxed, that one.

I find it a wee bit surprising, given their obviously low estimation of consumer intelligence, that there is no indication whatsoever of in which direction the cap should be unscrewed.

No milk for me today, then.

And please don't get me started on 'serving suggestion'.

Friday, November 04, 2005


It's so good to see the Shoe back up and running after a hiatus seemingly filled with sex and violence and brought to an end by drugs. It would seem that some people have all the luck.

It was interesting to read Jess's take on that old Stoic, the Marcomanniacal Marcus Aurelius Antonius.

I would be much more interested however, in the story of Faustina, his wife. However did she put up with him?

Or did she, in fact, grin and bare it all to Avidius Cassius?

I think we should be told.

Edit: Er...I've been told. Here.

The Day of the Dead. The non-digital dearly departed were nearly joined by the trampled remains of my Nikon Coolpix 4100 as none of the 15 easy to use scene modes proved capable of dealing with the conditions obtaining at the time which were, pitch black bar the candlelight. Setting it to 'night landscape' met with a virtual slap round the chops from the flashing red hand, halt icon as did, strangely enough, setting it to 'fireworks display'. Or maybe I should have taken a tripod.

Steadying the camera atop sturdy tombstones was a bit of a no-no given the rather reverential nature of the occasion but I did find one grave unspectated and managed to surreptitiously squeeze one off without disturbing anyone's sense of propriety. Well, all except Idris that is, who gave a very good impression of not being in any way with me as long as I had camera in hand.

Of course, Froggy's firestarting propensities meant that candles would have to be lit but where? Idris hails from another town so we have no interred family here. The fact that we only had one common acquaintance led to us ending up at the grave of my ex-girlfriend's mother and lighting a candle or two to her memory. Rest in peace, Hugi.

I had never given much thought to what I would like to happen to me after my demise, reckoning that whichever way I was disposed of, I would hardly be in any position to object. Even my square foot on Islay is only a lifetime lease and any desire I might harbour to have my ashes placed on the shelves of The Whisky Shop in Lincoln is surely destined to be unfulfilled. But the idea of burial? A return from whence we all came? I don't know. Notwithstanding the problem of finding anywhere to bury me that wouldn't involve my being a fully paid up and practising member of one of a select few religious organisations, the idea of having a focus for remembrance is quite appealing. Well, if I were the one left behind, it would be anyway. My father was cremated and, although I remember him, often and everywhere, I sometimes feel the lack of the focus a grave would provide.

On the way home, Froggy was unable to resist a quick pose with these bronze ballerinas and, as you can see, her favourite colour is now blue. She hasn't wholly abandoned pink however, as evinced by the boots and I have a suspicion that it will be a while yet before I can consign all things princess to the attic, an outcome devoutly to be wished for. Bye-bye Barbie, parting would be such sweet...

Monday, October 31, 2005


From time to time Kan Towers is invaded by creatures the provenance of which is a complete mystery to me. One of the joys of living in England is that the indiginous insect population never exceeds the size of say, a daddy-long-legs and although, as in the case of those tiny black flies which alight on anything white in Lincolnshire during the summer months and are known locally as 'thrips', their sheer numbers can be overwhelming, one is rarely faced with anything which may force one to accept the existence of that which could not be described in any way as normal. Take this little beggar for example, which found itself on the wrong side of the mosquito netting this morning, a fact that would probably account for the rather itchy protruberances on the back of my thigh at the moment. After all, if something this size can breach my defences, just how many skeeters have snuck through undetected? A thing of wondrous form and strange beauty though, is it not? Diaphanously winged and provided with limbs far too long and interestingly jointed to be in any way aerodynamic, it would appear to be some kind of mutant grasshopper, a cicada maybe? I consulted my neighbour, whose closeness to what we may call nature is somewhat less distant than my own, by some considerable margin I might add, and he informed me it was a sáska. My joy at finally discovering tangible evidence of the existence of the creature after which all inhabitants of this village are nicknamed, myself included, although in my case the appellation is usually prefixed by 'trainee', was tempered by the fact that I was no closer to an identification I could actually understand.

A quick reference to the dictionary, usually a last resort the reason for which will be all too clear to any ex-pats reading, revealed sáska to be locust. Now you may call me sceptical if you like but I do have a vague memory of the locusts kept in our biology lab at school and, although sharing some characteristics with this specimen, were sufficiently different so as to provide me with no reason whatsoever to revise my opinion of multi-lingual dictionaries. A quick inspection of the grounds was all it took to reassure me that its sudden appearance was not as a scout for some invading army although were frogs to fall from the sky and rivers turn red at anytime in the near future, I should be forced into a reconsideration.

I suppose I could have gone the route of the Bush Tucker Man and deep fried it whole in breadcrumbs...mmmmm, crunchy, tastes just like chicken...but I am far too squeamish for that. I enabled it to escape and watched it fly away. I say fly, but it would seem that wings were an evolutionary afterthought and it still hadn't quite got used to them yet. (I know - still and yet in the same sentence. Tear me for my tautologies.)

So, 'tis Hallowe'en this day. Not, as yet, celebrated here but should trick or treating ever catch on amongst the scabby kneed and snotty nosed, I may have to make a slight adjustment to the wiring of the bell push. I would prefer to go for a kind of tazer effect, enough to disable but just this side of lethal. I'm a bit strapped for cash at the moment and would have to dispose of the charred and partly cooked remains myself.

I did make one concession however, and carve a pumpkin. I know I wasn't aiming for a scary, snarling rictus effect but I am not quite sure I was intent on producing an inane grin, either. Oh well, it's the Day of the Dead tomorrow which, while not quite being of the same festival nature as it is in Mexico, does produce some wonderful candlelit scenes in the cemetery of an evening. If I can lay off the malt for long enough into the hours of darkness and can actually be arsed, I shall post photos.

Don't hold your breath.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


A bit of old news maybe but a petition worth signing all the same.

It's interesting that they refer to the animals used as bait as 'pets' though, wouldn't you say? Definitely an appeal to English cultural sensibilities there. And the fact that it is directed against the French also adds a certain spice, non?

But it does highlight just what it takes to interest the public in animal rights issues. Do I think animals have rights, by the way? Well, no, I don't actually. Rather that there are some rights over animals that we do not have but that's pure pedantry.

It did set me to thinking however, about the whole animal 'rights' debate and what a can of maggots it always turns out to open. Is agreement possible given the fact that whichever way you choose to look at it, the issue always raises more problems than it can ever hope to solve?

Most people, a staggering majority in fact, will find a kind of half-way position on the issue, neither wholly for nor wholly against and their standpoint will usually coincide with their own individual lifestyles.

If we start with the RSPCA name itself, there are two immediate problems of semantics...define 'cruelty' and also 'animal' please.

Let's take cruelty. Some would have it that it means the unnecessary inflicting of pain. Again, what is necessary? I need to fish, ergo spearing this larval insect is okay. The testing of some drugs and medication can still only be carried out on live animals...necessary for the greater good, justified solely by our need as a species? You cannot use this argument without elevating ourselves above all other life. Where you draw the line after this is pure sophistry. Most would draw it below standard abbatoir practice, that's for sure and tuck into their Fray Bentos pies with nary a thought.

Is it the ability, as some suggest, to anticipate pain that renders an animal capable of receiving cruelty? I'm not altogether sure of that. A baseball bat to the back of the head might be unexpected, but would it be any the less cruel for that?

And we really are stuck aren't we? Some also suggest that further research into the pain sensitivity of maggots etc is 'necessary' and yet, how can we do that without causing their wired up little bodies some degree of pain and measuring their responses?

You might well say that my banging on about larval insects and such seems to serve a rhetorical purpose only and you'd be right. But it does lead me on to the second problem definition, that of 'animal'.

Unless you are of the biblical view that man has dominion over all living things and also that this gives us the right to exploit anything which falls outside of the species sapiens in the genus Homo, you will probably have your own ideas as to which living things may be squished and which may not. And you would probably be surprised to find that on this point, there is a general consensus among the population of the UK.

Just ask yourselves this. What is the biggest animal onto which it would not be altogether kosher to inflict cruelty?

And the smallest?

Now think awhile and figure out what those two animals have in common.

If they both belong to the class mammalia, then you are representative of the great majority.

And why should this be? Look no further than Disney, I would suggest. All mammals are highly succeptible to anthropomorhism whereas it is extremely difficult for even the best animators to invest their renderings of reptiles and/or insects with any degree of cute.

In the same way as most evil villians in Hollywood speak with English accents (all the Romans in the Last Temptation of Christ being the best example of this), nearly all the villians in the cartoon world, the really evil ones mind, the pantomime baddies if you like...snakes nearly all.

We have a natural sympathy for animals like us...with warm blood, live birthing, cute little blinking eyes. I think one of the reasons that Alien was so successful was that the creature was just that, alien, unlike, other.

All else is culture. How anyone who eats meat can decry the asians for eating dog is beyond me...well, from a purely logical point of view, that is. Seen from a cultural perspective, ours places a much higher (more human?) value on dogs than pigs and it becomes understandable that there should be an almost visceral disgust at the very idea. Culture is deep and very self-reverential. At this level, logic flies out the window and the belief that our way is the right way takes over.

Where am I going with this?

I honestly don't know. As one quite capable of holding several equally strong and contradictory opinions simultaneously, I am much more interested in the arguments and points raised than I am in reaching any conclusions. As I see it, the two extremes are that we all turn vegan or act as something at the top of the food chain 'em all.

As neither of these are practical, or even desirable, a compromise is called for. Unfortunately, this is impractical due to the impossibility of ever getting more than two individuals to reach one.

Apart from agreeing that three points on Saturday would be absolutely aces that is. We’re playing Cardiff, I believe.

Altogether now.

“You only sing when you’re mining...”

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Tautology alert. Overheard on BBC radio news.

"...current relief effort that's on-going at the moment."

Standards, eh?

Absolute proof that dogs just do not care.

A drunk who claimed he had been raped by a dog was yesterday jailed for 12 months by a judge. Martin Hoyle, 45, was arrested by police after a passing motorist and his girlfriend found a Staffordshire bull terrier, called Badger, having sex with him at the side of a road in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.
Yorkshire Evening Post

Don't you just love that little detail, 'called Badger'? Rather untypical of an English paper not to give his age though, wouldn't you say? I am curious as to whether the whole sordid episode could be explained by either adolescent compulsion or middle aged desperation.

One has to assume that the motivation of the buggeree in question will forever be unknown to us. After all, just how drunk would you have to be? Or maybe he had drunk himself into such a state that he saw with perfect clarity that, when faced with a Staffordshire Bull in attack mode, the only option available to him was to drop his kecks and assume the position. Surely he would have been wiser to have gone for a plea of self defence.

And I cannot help but wonder at whatever spirit it was in which said passing motorist and his girlfriend alerted the local constabulary. They could hardly argue that the act was non-consensual and breached their ideas of animal rights. I am left with the conclusion that they acted as they did out of a sense of moral outrage or, to put it in a more old-fashioned term, disgust.

It may indeed be the case that the poor dears are even now suffering post traumatic stress disorder and are in need of a lengthy course of counselling before applying for a guest spot on Oprah or some such ("We can't ever do it doggy style again and he'd never even asked me about the possibility of anal before...") but it seems to me, in this case, symptomatic of a wider malaise in our society, an inability to take the random blows of life on the chin, to get up, dust oneself down and stagger onwards.

I mean, just whose interests have been served by that 12 month sentence? Staffordshire Bull Terriers'? Society's? The man was absolutely arseholed (forgive me) for chrissake and possibly beyond all reason. Would it have been such a travesty of justice had the dibble hauled off the dog, made the necessary sartorial adjustments and taken him home to sleep it off?

Oh well, at least it was a bloke otherwise we might have had the problem of what to do with the heir of the dog.

Down boy.

Monday, October 17, 2005


" emerged that Downing Street was studying measures to combat antisocial behaviour - including 'baby Asbos' for children under 10 and forcing hardcore antisocial neighbours to live in 'sin-bin' units guarded by security staff and monitored by CCTV."
The Independent.

I wonder how long it will be before that coverage is syndicated. Asbo olympics, maybe? Hubcap wreck derby...back garden hedge hurdles...have it away on your toes pursuit...

New England under New Labour...some Jerusalem.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


The soundtrack to a day's autumn cleaning.

Billie Holiday - Rain or Shine
Boozoo Bayou - Night over Manaus
Capt. Beefheart - Semi-multicoloured Caucasian
Charlie Parker - All of Me
Clash - London Calling
Cream - Badge
Depeche Mode - Goodnight Lovers
Elvis Costello - Veronica
Frank Zappa - Zomby Woof
Happy Mondays - WFL
Jefferson Airplane - Somebody to Love
Jimi Hendrix - Hey Joe
J J Cale - Call Me the Breeze
John Martyn - Excuse Me Mister
Joy Division - Isolation
Limp Bizkit - Get Your Groove on
Mando Diao - Down in the Past
Manu Dibango & Salif Keita - Emma
New Order - Touched by the Hand of God
Nina Simone - to Love Somebody
Peter Gabriel - Shock the Monkey
Quantum Jump - Captain Boogaloo
Radiohead - Ladytron
Roberta Flack - Tenderly
Roni Size - Brown Paper Bag
Talking Heads - Girlfriend Is Better
The Smiths - Sweetness

Trust me. You really do not want to think about the image of me dancing with the vaccuum cleaner.

Hi hoooooooooo.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Hungary's gradual descent into western style democracy continues apace and has recently resulted in a revision of the local bus timetables in order that they may resemble those of the various and multitudinous companies feeding off the mummified remains of the public teat which I believe was once known as British Rail.

I can well understand and, to some extent, sympathise with cosmopolitan urbanites regarding their desire to keep the rural peasantry out of their soon to be gated city enclaves but when their exclusion zone shrinks to include the suburbs wherein I have staked out my own particular corner of a foreign field, then sympathy morphs into indignation at quite a phenomenal rate of knots.

It used to be that I could arrive at the shelter in the sure and certain knowledge that there would be a maximum wait of one and a half to two cigarettes before my transportation would arrive and I would be whisked thence from the ploughed, plotted and pieced towards the bright lights, devilry and temptation of the metropolis, remembering to reset my watch from 1950's time along the way.

At the bus stop on Saturday evening however, a quick perusal of the timetable was all it took for me to realise that although I desired the company of the teeming sophisticates, the feeling was in no way reciprocated. I had missed the 1830 by some several minutes and the next municipal tardis was not due to arrive until 2000. The intent was all too apparent. "Come if you must," went the sub-text "but you can either arrive an hour early or a quarter of an hour too late."

The fact that I was silk shirted, Italian suited and rather expensively shod mitigated against my talking myself aboard any of the passing haywains (I kid you not) so there was little recourse other than to walk. After all, 7kms can't be all that far, can it?

The least said about the actual journey the better. I arrived at about the same time the later bus would have done with a raging thirst and neither in the mood nor the physical condition for dancing. At least the first set had started and the bar was almost empty. I drained the first beer as mine host was pouring the second and it was this I took to a table to listen to the jazz being piped in over the PA system. Barbara Thompson!

It was at this point that I had the first of a whole series of similar conversations which were to cause the gyp my feet were giving me to gradually recede from my consciousness over the course of the evening.

"Good God! It can't be Simon, can it?"

I had to go through a quick checklist before even considering a reply. Whyever the hell not? I'm not drunk? I'm well dressed? You're used to maybe finding me in some roadside ditch somewhere? All very pertinent questions as it happens but I don't think I'll go down that road, it would lead to far too much self-knowledge than is good for me.

"Where have you been hiding? Can I buy you a drink?"

You will, no doubt, have intuited that here was a question the affirmative answer to which was for me, the work of but a moment to supply. And so it went. It transpired that the only strategy necessary, free drinks for the acquisition of, was simply to have turned up at all. It certainly helped that the Culture House had, for the night, assumed an admittedly upmarket version of the role of Conan-Doyle's Picadilly Circus, a sink into which all those of my acquaintance drained.

A word about the music on offer. Risible. I gave Ravi up until the beginning of the third number to impress and then back to the bar hied me. Socially, an unqualified success. Musically, a non-event.

Only one contretemps the entire evening, somewhat of a record for me I freely admit. I fell into conversation with a quite spectacularly drunk Kenyan chappie who accused me of being a crazy Englishman.

Well, I couldn't stand for that, could I?

"No, no, no, dear boy. Crazy, OLD Englishman."

Oh well. If you have been, be sure to wash your hands.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


I've managed to persuade Idris to transfer her accounts to the bank which has my custom.

First class service, Gold credit card, interest free overdraft, personal financial advisor...

Of course, the fact that they're giving away two free tickets to the Jazz Festival to each new customer who transfers has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with it at all.


Tuesday, October 04, 2005


The first real contest of desire against necessity is upon me.

Ravi Coltrane is plying his trade on Saturday night at the annual Nagykanizsa Jazz Festival and I am in a quandary.

It's not the admission price of 2000ft which worries me, after all it's only about a fiver; nor is it the likelihood of my not being able to stay out of the bar for the whole evening, that's a given; it's more that, having succumbed to the bar, how many drinks do you think I'll be able to cadge before being forced into a round myself?

Any tips on strategy would be most welcome.

Monday, October 03, 2005


I'm not quite sure what sound a balloon makes when it bursts. No, that's not right at all. The sound, I am all too familiar with; my ability to accurately transcribe it is in doubt. The effect, as ever, is the same. Hands full of razor sharp cuts and a face which feels like it has been forcibly stuffed into a nest of mosquitoes. Please forgive the biologically inaccurate simile, I guess I should have said fire ants but I didn't want to overstate my case.

When I began this, what shall I call it...annual sabbatical? Anyway, whatever label I choose to append to it, it was in the sure and certain knowledge that it would, as it has done for years now, end with a sigh of resignation and an acceptance of the reality that duty calls and that I must do that which I must do, mark the fucking scripts and teach the courses.

Only now, there are no scripts (fucking or otherwise) to mark and no courses to teach. And now that the twin pillars of my financial security have been removed, I find myself looking up at the roof and wondering, "How long?"

The Hungarian education system has recently undergone a complete overhaul with the result that, for the moment anyway, independent international language qualifications are not as necessary as they once were. Once the system settles down, this situation may well change, in fact I think it will but the upshot for the independent language schools is that, as long as kids are forced into a study of English and/or German alongside their preferred subjects at A-level, one, their lives will be more difficult and two, the demand for out of school tuition will fall.

So, it is time again to put my tried and trusted maxim of, "Worry not, something'll turn up" to the test. In the past it has proved infallible but that, as I am sure you are aware, is no guarantee of future success.

I find it interesting how the mindset changes. Suddenly, everything has a price tag. After years of casually tossing everything I fancied into the shopping trolley with nary a thought, there is now a reconsideration, a balancing of desire and necessity. I have, tonight, drunk all of the beer that was in the fridge (this post comes to you by courtesy of Beck's, in direct contradiction to the Amstel and Stella in the title of this blog, by the way) and have thuswise drawn a line under that part of my weekly shopping bill. The fact that I have now started in on my stocks of Islay causes me not one twinge nor pang of guilt. I have supported this family for more than ten years now and in some style so I reckon I have more than a little credit in the bank as far as that goes.

And it is to her credit that Idris recognises this and has gone around all the nursery schools in town promoting her music nursery service and ensuring at least a minimum fiscal stability until such time what, exactly? As my savings run out?

Three months due today on the life insurance/pension least that's running at me when I'm 60, I'll be fine.

So, from hence, whither? Bugadifino. I'll pour myself another cut price Finlaggan and remind myself of the mantra, "It'll be alright, you know it will".

Oh, fuck.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


Not being in possession of a laptop abroad can be a problem when combined with the dearth of internet cafés in small Croatian coastal towns and an impatient desire to know the result of the Watford match; not to mention a somewhat niggling suspicion that the video sections of some of the less puritanical sites I have been known to peruse may have been updated during my absence.

This situation, perforce, entailed a daily post-breakfast constitutional into the centre of Vodice and it wasn't until Wednesday morning that the Sunday papers hit the kiosks and I was able, at last, to learn of the fightback to victory from 2-0 down at Vicarage Road.

Such is the depth (in this case, probably more an indication of shallowness than anything else) of my emotion regarding the team, the elemental connection to which I inherited from my father, that there was, throughout the jollity of the previous evening's rather raucous bevy-up, a recurring, albeit brief, synaptic flash of anxiety combined with guilt in equal measure that I might just be celebrating when all manner of misfortune had befallen and that our unbeaten start to the season had gone, as some say, tits up.

A rather odd little phrase that one, wouldn't you say? I'd be interested, from a purely liguistic point of view, in any explanations as to its etymology but it occurs to me that, and please correct me if I'm wrong, in the case of tits being up, there is an unavoidable collocation with such wonderful little adjectives as 'pert' and 'perky' which, if dwelt on for any longer than, let's say, three tenths of a second, will also conjure up images of rowdy young buttocks punching against seams of jeans. All in all, quite a deliciously positive mental picture in fact.

I realise it is rather difficult not to be tittist about the whole thing, but from a purely aesthetic consideration, I am sure that most tits themselves, if asked, would express a preference for the ever so slightly upward over those which have already begun the long and somewhat inevitable, great journey south.

Anyway, my fears having been proven happily to be unfounded, I returned to the hotel with a much lightened conscience and was pleasantly surprised to find how remarkably easy it was to persuade all those whose wish it was not to spend the day rotating themselves on the beach barbie, that is to say all those over 18 and possessant of dangly genitalia, to join me in the bar for a wee celebration.

And so it was that the consumption of the previous evening, prodigious by any standards, was exceeded nay, dwarfed by that which was to follow.

I guess we were fortunate in that the circumstances were perfect. The weather was hot and the proximity of the bar to both restaurant and swimming pool meant that meals were taken and cold plunges endured throughout the day with the result that come the evening, we had drunk ourselves into a state that can probably best be described as fully functioning intoxication.

Shortly after the evening meal, when we were joined by those of far less dangly genitalia than our own, we actually worked out that all things considered, our holiday venture was now in profit which brought smiles all round and another pile of rounds with which to celebrate our joint investment. There was an easy clarity, a rarely achieved state, sober or otherwise, of being totally who you are and where you are in the moment when you are. Our consortium was such that there were groups within the group which knew other groups but there was no communality as a whole until this night. All our natural social reticence seemed to disappear and the dynamic was such that everyone was swept along on a wave the riding of which brought out all which was the best in each of us; without thought, without analysis or any self-consciousness, we were carried beyond ourselves to a place which seemed outside of time itself and where the sound of the gently lapping waves on the shore was punctuated with that of joyous laughter.

Someone had had the foresight to bring with them several bottles of home distilled pálinka which enabled us to continue the party on the beach long after last orders and, lying flat out on the pebbles below a vast and starry night sky, not even the mosquitoes could pierce my mood.


Sunday, September 25, 2005


Considering we were a convoy of five cars for over 6 hours of mainly motorway driving, it was a reasonably relaxed journey. We arrived at about 1 o'clock in the afternoon of a dismally grey Croatian day, unpacked and strolled down to the sea front which was almost deserted...except for us and these two that is.

We had a pretty restrained evening in the bar that night and, as the weather had not improved much the next morning, we drove into Sibenik where I caught Froggy explaining to her minder that the ice-cream shop is over there.

It is a wonderful town, a delightfully random collection of buildings typical of a small and thriving port. I spotted this chap and his dog in the main square and, lacking the cojones to approach closer, had to take this shot with digitally enhanced zoom. Still my favourite picture of the entire week, though.

The weather cleared up later in the day and the sunset seemed to promise better things for the morrow.

As we were in a more celebratory mood, that night in the bar was considerably less restrained than the previous one had been and we were beginning to entertain thoughts of actually finishing this holiday in profit, which had been but a dream while we were under the impression that anything other than beer and soft drinks would have to be paid for.

The first glance out of the window that morning did indeed look promising... did the sight of a rainbow over Vodice.

And it did in fact turn out to be a quite wondrous morning, a fact which must have been responsible for the flotilla of small boats pouring out of the harbour.

Feeling rather...what's the word, nautical...yes, that'll do, we decided to venture out onto the open ocean ourselves in a glass-bottomed boat...

...where we engaged in a spot of lung assisted only diving, fetching up for Froggy's wonder and delight the following oceanic swag. All unharmed and returned back from whence, of course.

Another obligatory sunset shot...

...and then things get rather hazy. Here's me after about 0.001 beers too many. Photo by courtesy of Froggy Fotography.

I'm afraid I can't blame Froggy for the quality of this one but I really like it. You know that feeling you have when things begin to get shall we say, fuzzy and you are in need of 'woman, when with fevered brow'? Well, a ministering angel flew out of the night.

There was only one bar available for the use of all-inclusive guests and we soon realised that, it being waiter service and that there were far too many tables to too few waiters to ever be able to guarantee an adequate supply line, we would have to order in bulk at every opportunity. The reason why the waiter on the right is such a blur is that he was hoping to get past our tables without being collared for another order of, "Molim...decet piva...nein...better make that zwanzig biers...twenty cognacs...eight camparis...zehn grappas és dva cola...hvala."

At least I finally got to find out who ate all the pies...

...while Idris got to discover the joys of grappa assisted dancing. Grappling?

Four people with but a single catch that bloody waiter's eye.

And just what is it with Hungarians and facial topiary? Anyway, Idris recovered from the grappling with a brandy and a small cigar.

I am reliably informed by sources far more sober than I was at this point that Pepe and myself made this little lot disappear in the half hour immediately following last orders.

Oh, and Jess. On the scale of our monumental bender of last July, this one was so good I'm gonna have to give it a five.

At least this time, we were able to sweat off the hangovers by the pool.

And, seeing as how Blogger's photo service is on the frazz and I've had to post these one at a time with Hello and then edit them all into one whole, that is all you're gettin' fer now.

Bowmores all round then?

Saturday, September 24, 2005


Remember my saying that our 'all inclusive' Croatian adventure would only cover beers at the bar and not spirits?


I think we were in profit by around lunchtime on day three.

Saturday, September 17, 2005


I am now well into my third month of unpaid holiday and beginning to entertain the merest suggestion of an idea of a suspicion that I could get used to this.

Oh well, if anyone wants me, I'll be in the bar.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


There are those who get it and those that do not. Even those who would consider themselves inbetweenies, allowing themselves to become caught up in the excitement of a rugby world cup, an Ashes series or the trillery of Henman hill, are naught but delusionary and their natural place is among the latter group together with those who would scoff at my ability to name the Blades' promotion winning side of 70/71.

And yet even amongst those with the sensibility to appreciate a sporting contest in its entirity; to see in it, at its best, a metaphor for most of that which is contained in life itself, there exists a similar schism, often within the same person, between the connoisseur and the fan.

I enjoyed the Ashes series immensely, being able to watch two tests and catching the others, including the last at the Oval, on t'internet and was as trouser squirmingly pleased as pleased can be at the eventual result but here's the rub. Had England lost, my long-haired German Shepherd would have approached me and not sensed any need for the avoidance strategy she so successfully employed after our loss to QPR earlier in the season.

And it is this inability to over-ride emotional response to sporting outcome that discriminates the fan from the connoisseur. I can thrill to Federer's glorious cross-court backhand, exult in a nonchalant Flintoff lofted on-drive over the ropes and admire the practice-honed mastery of the art of fast bowling demonstrated by Glen McGrath but give a George Best the ball against the Blades and all I will be able to feel is fear. The sight of Trevor Hockey homing in on his lower legs with murderous intent in his eyes would not have filled me with anxiety over the possibility of the greatest talent in the football league being in traction for the rest of the season. On the contrary, my voice would have been raised along with 30 000 others in a cheer of heartfelt relief.

And out of all the sports in the world (and for my purposes here, I include as sport that which we could call games, where the contest is mano a mano and not against the clock or the tape measure), there are maybe only two which, in England anyway, can inspire this kind of reaction and create the true and rugby league, the White Lightning of sport intoxication, the rest is wine appreciation society.

What sets these sports apart from the others? Fans from connoisseurs? Well, I guess the facts that generally, they are predominantly northern, working class and tribal. Go back some eighty odd years and you will find much the same attitudes at work in the rivalry between Yorkshire and Lancashire in the Roses matches. Now I do not suggest for a minute that there is no spirit of rivalry between Portsmouth and Southampton say, but I'm sure it is less intense, less visceral. The exceptions would be some of the London clubs but even here it would come down to reinforcement of an identity within a larger mass of population.

And it is visceral, you know. You can take the boy out of the working class...

Hate is probably far too intense a word to employ in this context but spending my childhood in S11 surrounded by arrogant, gloating, glory seeking Wednesday fans resulted in shall we say, a certain antipathy towards them that has not lessened in magnitude to this day. Scratch any seemingly rational Wendy fan and you'll find the grunter underneath, the one convinced that our TC was an effete homosexual and that theirs was a gift from the gods.

My schadenfreude at the recent history of Leeds United can only reasonably be explained by their ransacking of our club and pilfering our best players over the years. I can never quite forgive Chelsea for buying Alan Birchenall either.

Are my family aware of this negative trait in my otherwise exemplary character? Well, Idris will always wait to see my expression when I come out of the study after having listened to the commentary before initiating conversation or not and my daughter?

There will shortly be a sports day at her nursery school, one of the events of which will be a football match between the fathers of the girls and those of the boys. After telling me this news, she seemed to consider for a while before asking,

"Does this mean you're going to be able to kick Zoli then, daddy?"

I could have answered, of course. But I am her father and have responsibilities.

Monday, September 12, 2005


A comparative study of the relative merits of Islay malts kept me up until the wee small hours this morning so it was with some degree of annoyance that I was awoken while the forenoon was still in single figures by a persistent ringing of the doorbell.

The obstinate nature of the endeavour convinced me that it was the collector for either the water board or the refuse collection service and, despite my state of less than total awareness, I was reminded of the Yorkshire chinese rentman joke...she ent in.

Trying to return to slumber under this aural assault proved fruitless so I did in fact, get up and clumsily set to bringing to a concurrence the ingredients of several strong coffees all the while fervently hoping that she was bruising her finger on the bell button.

Anyway, she came back this afternoon and, notwithstanding the fact that England were 199 for 8 and more or less guaranteed the Ashes, I was not well disposed to receive her favourably. I grabbed my wallet and headed for the gate.

"So you knew you'd have to pay then?" said she, on espying the wallet.


"I came this morning, you know."

"Yes, I heard."

"So?" She asked accusingly.

"So. I was in bed and if someone chooses to disturb me at that ungodly hour by leaning on the doorbell for half an hour, I'm buggered if I'm going to answer it."

"I didn't know you were in bed. I saw the cars (autók) in the drive and thought..."

"Thought? You saw the doors (ajtók) in the drive and..."

"Cars, not doors..." in a helpful spirit, correcting my Hungarian.

"Shall we speak English then? Here's your money, now piss off."

It's at times like this that I realise I will never quite be able to shake off my innate Englishness.

I've been feeling guilty about it ever since.

Friday, September 09, 2005


Lothar Matthaus being interviewed in English after the Hungary v Sweden game.

"...we dominate possession, play really well and get hit by that fucking goal..."

And the translation?

"...and I'd like to congratulate the Swedish team."

It happens quite regularly here. Hungarian commentators like to pretend to some knowledge of foreign languages and their simultaneous interpreting is often, not to put too fine a point on it, pure invention. I did enjoy this one though.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


I've just listened to Beck's 'Where it's at' on VH1. A more plagiaristic reworking of the Doors' 'Riders on the Storm' I have yet to hear. Sheesh.

What goes around...

Monday, September 05, 2005


"Okay," says I, handing over the balance of the €490, "where is it we're going again?"

"Vodice. Just west of Split."

"And that's for the three of us, right?"

"Yup. Price is for the suite. Same for us and we're four."

"And just what do we get for that?"

"Suite in a four star hotel, balcony overlooking the sea, indoor and outdoor pool, sauna, private beach, four meals a day..."


"Sure. Breakfast, lunch, tea and supper. Games room, gym, bar..."


"Opens at 10 in the morning, closes at midnight, all you have to pay for is spirits."

There is a pause.

"So how many beers do you reckon we're going to have to drink to be in profit?"

"About 300."

Sunday, September 04, 2005


An easy one, really. Which one is missing and can you spot the intruder?



Just because...

Friday, September 02, 2005


There seem to me to be two types of ex-pat. One has never really left home and gravitates towards others of like origin the better to air one's petty grievances that here is all the worse for not being there.

They do not all fit the stereotype to an exactity but one is never in any doubt that for them, home is that which, for whatever reason, they have left behind. Usually, but not always, they are not ex-pat by choice but have been sent abroad by their employer and there is as a result, an undercurrent of resentment which will always prevent them from ever being more than minimally satisfied with their situation and will certainly feed their feelings of isolation almost to the point of paranoia. You can find them congregated in ex-pat bars, usually (at least here in Hungary) with a faux-Irish theme and wide screen Sky TV.

The other type are harder to find, have burrowed deep, sometimes in country, have learnt the language, maybe taken themselves a spouse and have absorbed and more importantly, accepted the culture. Almost all are wherever they are through choice and most have what may best be described as a past. They may enjoy their uniqueness but will not try and make a virtue of it but will be self-deprecating and have a rare ability to laugh at themselves. There is a self-sufficiency about this latter type, an understated confidence that has its origins in difficulties faced, obstacles overcome and the knowledge that they have, metaphorically, survived. They may not all be totally in control, after all who is, but all have taken control of and responsibility for, their own lives. It also goes without saying, but fuck it, I'll say it anyway, that these latter make far more interesting drinking companions than the former.

And it is in these lubricated conversations that the talk sometimes turns to home.

There is an inevitable duality and a certain disconnectedness involved in being an ex-pat of this second type. The duality is a natural consequence of being a foreigner in a place you call home. Read that sentence again. Do you grasp its import? You may, in an instant, assume I refer to being an ex-pat abroad but how many of you realised that the same is true of an ex-pat in one's native country?

I do not ascribe to myself all of the wonderful attributes I assigned to ex-pat Mk II but I am assuredly of their number and share the same problem of defining exactly what it is we mean by the word 'home'.

On my many and varied travels, I return to England at least once every year to catch up on family, watch the Blades, put faces to internet names and replenish my stocks of Islay. It should feel like coming home and yet...

I know that all of you have brains and are therefore possessant of a critical faculty but I lack your familiarity with whatever it is that is current in the culture and tend to take whatever irks me as being representative of the national psyche. I need only give one example;

Altogether now!

"You only love me for my debit card."

I mean, Jesus fucking H Christ! Is it me that is or the marketing men and women that are so out of touch with the intelligence and sensibilities of the average Brit that this advertisement was commissioned, accepted and paid for by one of our largest financial institutions?

Okay, it's a piss poor and rather pathetic example, I know but here's another. I took my daughter to Playtowers in Boston while we were home, one of those indoor activity/adventure playgrounds where kids can climb, slide and explore to their hearts' content on five levels of rope bridges etc etc etc. You should have seen her eyes light up when she saw it for the first time. We were there for three hours. She loved it.

And then, the very next day, I happened to be reading the Independent when I came upon a piece written by some snide tart including the phrase, "I'd rather take my kids to some pikey soft play centre than..." and it occurred to me that there was absolutely no chance whatsoever of reading that sentence in any language other than English and I realised that I had become, truly, an innocent abroad.

And I think that is the key. Innocence. Moving abroad helped me to regain mine to some extent. To be able to see at least some things without the filters of class, snobbery and prejudice getting in the way of my enjoyment.

These however, are but fripperies. There are things going on at a much more fundamental level which increase my feeling of not at home at home and this is where the disconnectedness comes in.

Small talk. I can't do it. Fourteen years of neglect has worn away at my capacity to hold reflex conversations. I can't do phatic communication in English anymore. Walking into a country I greet everybody? Shop assistants making polite noises at me are replied to earnestly, not always a problem...had I not been with Idris, this would no doubt have got me a few dates but I cannot blend in anymore. I confused a check-out lady in Tesco by laughing at the information on my receipt that I had saved four pounds 50 by spending nigh on 80 quid. She even tried to explain, bless her.

And language at a more global level. One of the reasons I write this blog, apart from opening a direct line to Jess that is, is that I love my language and where else can I write at a non-learner level but on here? And yet English has been my second language for at least ten years now, in terms of time spent actually speaking it and one forgets. The right word refuses to come. Even during this entry I find myself writing such bobbins as, "whatever irks me as being commensurate of the national psyche" and I have to edit frequently as I go.

So do I have a 'home' in England? I don't know. I was born in Sheffield and yet my parents upped and moved to West Keal in Lincolnshire where I return now. Is it my home? Well, I own 25% of it but I have never lived there. My solo 2 day sojourn in Sheffield was a revelation however. It truly is the most beautiful city in the world. Forget your monuments, buildings and other such edifices, this city has trees. More fucking trees than any other city I have thus far visited. I stayed in Nether Edge within walking distance of Beautiful Downtown Bramall Lane and on the Sunday after the match (I was in a good mood - we'd won) I just drove around all of my old haunts, Greystones, Ecclesall, Bents Green, Ringinglow, Fulwood, stopping on Greystones Road opposite the Highcliffe Hotel where I engaged the shop assistant in earnest conversation as to why I was buying a dozen bottles of Henderson's Relish (a kind of Sheffield balsamic vinegar for the uninitiated) and revelled in the sheer beauty of one of the biggest cities in the country. And yet, I don't live there anymore. I have no base there. My childhood home is now occupied by strangers and is the tree I dared not climb, here is the pub in the tap room of which I experienced oral sex for the first time, here is...

Okay, so we all fly the coop, leave the nest and some of us experience the shock of our parents selling what we thought of as ours and moving elsewhere but for us ex-pats, the wrench is greater...we do not share your history anymore. We are of you and yet removed and if our home is not with you, then where is it?

Well, I guess it is where we have made it and matter how well you learn the language it is still not yours. Your software is still geared towards another interpretation of the world and your expression may not find voice in the language of your chosen country. And how do you define yourself, portray yourself to others? Through language. A conversation at the Nelson, with Raul, post match in Sheffield.

"Simon, you're an educated man..."

How did he know? Through language is how. And just how can I, as a foreign speaker, hope to be able to convey the same information in a language the majority of the vocabulary and register of which will forever remain a mystery to me? How can I show people who I am? I have post graduate qualifications and yet my Hungarian is not of the same standard as a post graduate Hungarian student...what?

Oh fuck. At least my friends know roughly who I am. We're all going on a week's holiday to Croatia on the 17th. And none of us can speak the language. Wahey! Equality at last.

Oh well, patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel...home, however...well, that's easy.

Home is where the malt is.


Oh, almost forgot...home is whatever country that is currently thrashing the Aussies at cricket. Thank fuck it's mine!


Wednesday, August 31, 2005


Fifteen odd hundred kilometres across five countries and we pull up alongside UK immigration on the Calais side of the Channel. I am tired and my record on this trip of language selection has not been good...German to French speaking Luxembourgois, French to Flemish speaking Belgians, you get the picture. Anyway, I decide to leave the greeting to the young guy in the booth.

He takes our passports.

"Jó napot kivánok."


"...wha...but...hogyan...jézus jó istenem."

"Dint tha know? Oop in Yorkshire, 'Ungarian's t'second language nah."


"Well, ah'll go to t'foot of our stairs."

I didn't go into any more detail, the third one would have suggested enemy action.

On to French customs where we are stopped by a member of the Gendarmerie.

"Jó napot kivánok."

Only got a bloody Hungarian wife, hasn't he?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Oh, well. It's that time of year again when Amstelladagain takes a sabbatical. It's the annual malt run. We're off to England this evening and posting may be sporadic if not non-existent. Only one firm plan...the 20th at BDTBL.


Saturday, July 30, 2005


From the BBC.

Alan Sneddon, a Notting Hill resident, said: "We'd been looking at all the police moving about, taping off all the area, and at eight minutes past 12 there was this almighty bang.

"There didn't seem to be any sign of smoke or anything, but the bang was big enough to shake the ground.

"It seemed more like an explosion. It was one great, big bang - buildings shook and everything."

Sergeant Dibble. "You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off."

Stuck for content? Just hit the archives.

Ambisinister (adj) Descriptive of one possessing an uncanny ability to look like Michael Howard in both left and right profile.

Irremissible (adj) Descriptive of any penalty awarded to a Premier League side when playing Championship opposition. Refers to the fact that should the first attempt be unsuccessful, the referee will order it re-taken until such time as a goal is scored.

Ketch (n) A good one of which all this year's debutants will be out to snare.

Hagridden (n) Where the rather hirsute giant in Harry Potter settles down to watch the big game.
(pp) What you find you have been when you take the Stella goggles off in the morning.

Couchette (n) A very laid back vegetable of the marrow family.

Eldritch (n) What one's mummy always hoped one would marry into.

Pusillanimous (n) An aversion to female genitalia.

Brummagem (adj) Of things that are cheap, showy, tawdry, or counterfeit.

Thanks to Jess for the words. The definitions are mine. Except one. I had to include the real definition of Brummagem. Some things are perfect just the way they are.

Thursday, July 28, 2005


Why is it that almost any spellchecker bundled with any software application you care to mention, designed for use on that wonderful invention, the computer, will always highlight the word 'internet' as something it fails to recognise? Mmmmmmmm.

Friday, July 22, 2005


I lost my surrogate grandmother on Tuesday.

When I first came here, 1991 it was, my thoughts were more on escape than on arrival, on port of departure rather than destination. England, my England, had disappeared, the connections I felt were to something that existed only in memory. The country had changed and I had remained stubborn and steadfast. Or was it the other way round? Either way, I'd had enough of witnessing the destruction of my working class heritage, watching it being stripped of its dignity and worst of all, colluding in its own emasculation. And yes, sweet hearts, before you berate me for my choice of noun, women can have balls, too. I was desparately tired of football score body counts, of a society seemingly bent on proving Thatcher's theory of its non-existence, of the deification of giddy princesses and the elevation of the celebrated over the truly important, of ignorance over education, wealth over worth.

It is also highly probable that all the above was just an excuse and that I was a 33 year old fuck-up with zero prospects in serious need of a fresh start.

Anyway, I'd financed myself through university by dint of two years working on the land and now, in proud possession of post-graduate certificate (with distinction), I was disembarking at Ferihegy Airport, Budapest.

It could have been anywhere, or so I thought at the time. All I needed was a blank first page. Now, when I think back, I'm not so sure. I'd had numerous job offers, Japan, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy but no matter how much I reconsidered (thanks for that word, Lisa. I shall treasure it), I would always come back to the job in Hungary. Now, I think what I needed was not just to travel in terms of distance but also in time. And I would stress that this is an observation made from where I am at this moment, that any idea I might have had about Hungary being somehow 'behind' was at most, sub-conscious.

So, there I was. Descending from the plane onto the land of the Magyars (the Hungarian plain in fact) and I had the strangest sensation. Not of departing, nor of arriving. Of returning.

I didn't, at the time, draw any analogies between the concertinad gangway and a birth canal as I had singularly failed to so do between the aircraft and flight, but I was thrust, alone, helpless and totally dependent, into a very alien world.

We all grow up with some awareness, minimal as it may be but pervasive nonetheless, of cultures beyond our own. We hear European languages and accents, are possessant of some knowledge of croissants, bratwurst and paella, may possibly have GCEs in French and German and even be able to place Liechtenstein on an outline map of Europe but to hear the Hungarian tongue is to have all one's frames of reference rendered absolutely useless.

So whence came this feeling of homecoming? I cannot say. It was real and it was visceral. If I attempt to rationalise it now, maybe I can point to the fact that every Hungarian on the plane applauded as it landed so happy were they to be home; to the lack of automation, the appearance that every process I witnessed on that day depended upon people. That there was little apparent distinction between them, no Armani suits, no visual markers of difference. There was no uniformity, nor drabness but there was nothing by means of which I could make any of my accustomed assumptions as to class, education, wealth, mind-set, anything. Here it seemed that everybody started with a clean slate. That any judgements to be made would be on the basis of internal and not external evidence.

Newly born then, and unable. The only Englishman in town. I was contracted to provide English language tuition to oil company workers and my first two courses were made up of drillers, oil rig workers, complete beginners. I was billeted in a guest house in a spa-village in winter. Nobody could speak English. There was nothing, and I really do mean nothing, which could provide any connection whatsoever to the life I had left behind. To the me who I was, and indeed am.

What could I give of myself? How could I show anybody who I was? How could I recognise a kindred spirit, a possible friend? Oh, I indulged in drinking competitions with the drillers, and rather surprised them by holding my own against all but the seriously alcohol dependent. We even arm wrestled and they were similarly taken aback...those years on the land paid off in more ways than I could have imagined. We had no common language beyond the basic English I had taught them and yet, even now, whenever the accidents of life make our paths to cross, we celebrate, remember and renew our bonds. They accepted me. Without artifice. Without the sophistication of language. Without pretence. Few people will ever have the opportunity of knowing just how good that feels.

And yet, our lives together existed in a bubble. They were given time off work to study and most of them were from other towns, temporarily resident in the company's holiday villa where the courses were held. They could go home.

And then there was my third course. I was three months in and beginning to entertain what could possibly be described as second thoughts. It was just before Christmas and, as much as I enjoyed being here, the bubble life, the disconnection from everything that my lack of Hungarian entailed was beginning to exact a toll. Three things happened in remarkably quick succession. First, I met Iván. He had escaped Hungary to live in a suburb of Chicago and had returned after the change of regime. God help me if I ever utter the phrase, 'collapse of communism' in anything other than a herein type context. He was a jazz musician, an alto saxophonist playing the tenor and the piano in coffee bars in town. He shared my interests in jazz, fucking young women and drinking good quality liquor to excess and expended his endeavours towards fulfilling my ambitions with regard to the second with all his attention. He failed. Chemistry and pheremones might just be valid explanations of the horizontal dance but the lack of a common language can prove insurmountable. And it did.

Until one day...he had developed a taste for pool in the States which was unfortunate for him as I am aces in that department and would regularly remove quantities of the specie from him in wagers. Anyway, we were playing in a local bar and speaking English which drew the attention of a rather stunning young English speaking lady (yes, no, maybe) who happened to be in the right place at the right time. She told me later that she had had the thought, "Have him washed and brought to my tent" but anyway, he introduced us. I fell. Hopelessly, illogically, arse over apex in love with her. She had the remnants of Genghis Khan's genetic inheritance and her slightly slanted ice-blue eyes had me in their thrall. Jess's later observation that she could not imagine the two of us together would have been prescient had it been made in time but there you go.

And yet, these two events would not have been enough in themselves to keep me here. Okay, I could now speak English, both to a friend and to someone with whom it was my pleasure to carnally explore on a regular basis but something was still missing. I am so hard to please, wouldn't you say?

But my third course was teaching executives and middle management based in the town where I lived. The chief mechanical engineer of the company was part of it, a Slavic looking, verdantly mustachioed chappie with whom regular readers will be familiar by virtue of my visit to the vineyard post of Saturday, May 14th 2005. He invited me to his house where he and his girlfriend were bringing up twins from his previous marriage. We all went swimming together on Saturday mornings and, as my Hungarian improved, I allowed myself to be drawn into a conspiracy between them and against their father that further reinforced my belief that I might just be worthy of something.

X is only 10 years older than me and yet I allowed him to slip into the role of my surrogate father with ease. He took me to his vineyard and to his parents' house in the nearby village and I was introduced to his mother and father. I believe Shulz had Linus say that happiness is a drawer full of warm socks but he had obviously never met the Xs. X senior would ply me with his 'toolpusher's wine' and parade for my perusal his knowledge of American cuss words..."dumb ass mother fucker", X junior would regale me with tales of just what a hard ass his father could be and X himself would just leave me to get on with it as best I could.

His mother took me under her wing, devoting to me exactly the same attention she paid to her own son. His father delighted in my enjoyment of his wine. He was the same age as my own father (adoptive, in case you forget) and yet he was a grandpa to me, spoiling me and chastising me in equal measure. His wife performed the same function but with more buns and cakes.

I am not sure that, without their attentions and ministrations, I would not have cut and run for home. They gave me a stability, a frame of reference...a family.

X's father provided the inspiration for my eulogy at my own father's funeral, (Wednesday December 17, 2003) having himself expired shortly before that event. And now...

I mentioned travelling back in time, or it seems I did, 'tis such a distance ago but his introduction to me of a way of life that was so connected to the land and through which the idea of family was perpetuated and preserved, the vineyard as family cohesion, remained formative.

However, X's reaction to his father's death was to embrace Catholicism, to collude, with his mother, in the theory that those who do not believe are destined for the fires of hell. This included his own common law wife and brother in law. And, if truth be told, myself.

Now, I am never at my most comfortable with those who have faith. My own lack of it makes it impossible for me to have any feelings of empathy whatsoever with those who do.

The funeral of his mother, which took place today, therefore, was an interesting exercise. It was a full catholic affair with knobs on, including numerous hymns and several recitations of the Lord's prayer and interminable Hail Marys.

I stood at the periphery, a part and apart. I walked a little closer to the graveside and blew a final kiss at my grandmama. A recognition. Gratitude for what she had done and what she had meant to me. And I watched my friend. He was distraught. He tossed the first sod onto his mother's coffin and handed the trowel to the other members of the family who performed the same task and then withdrew.

The chants and entreaties finished and the mourners dissapparated. I remained. I watched as the mourners paid their respects and got the fuck out. Only X was left. He saw me. We moved towards each other and embraced. Long and hard. Everybody else had gone. And I knew that, for him, at that moment, God was not enough. What really mattered was friendship and that, at that particular instance, I was what he needed. A friend.

Voya con dios.

Thanks for the memories,


Tuesday, July 19, 2005


For the first time in my life, I have actually managed to poison myself without the assistance of any alcohol whatsoever.

I'll be back as soon as I am able to stop trying to turn myself inside out.

Should I succeed, however...

Friday, July 15, 2005


Go here. Animate. My own rather risible effort is in commemoration, on the occasion of its first anniversary, of the infamous 'Evening on the Woodford'.

Thanks, again, go to Lamps without whom etc etc.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


It just gets better.

"In this difficult hour, the people of Great Britain can know the American people stand with you."

US President George W Bush.

As long as you're not within the perimeter of the M25, that is.

Sunday, July 10, 2005


Part 3753

I caught the beginning of an interview on CNN yesterday in which a foreign correspondent based in the States for an Arabic language newspaper was being relieved of any illusions he might have had about the standard of reporting necessary to sustain broadcasting any news event for an indefinite period.

The second question in ran something like this.

"So you condemn the atrocity, but what you will be accused of...what people will say, is that you haven't condemned it enough. Why aren't you out on the streets expressing this condemnation more forcefully..."

I confess I gave up at this point, flung the zapper at the screen and rather shocked the shit out of my daughter who must have thought that daddy had finally lost it.

I mean...such a brief utterance, but parse it any which way you like and you will not find any justification for this woman ever finding work in journalism again.

First of all, the cowardly disguising of her own prejudices by the mealy-mouthed, "what people will say..." displayed an arrogance of such enormity it beggars belief.

Secondly, the implication, as yet unproven, that the act was in fact carried out by 'Islamic' terrorists and the unspoken assumption that, as a Muslim, he was somehow complicit in it, that the perceived under-reaction of the arab world betrayed its real emotions, those of satisfaction and celebration should be grounds enough for dismissal in any news agency. I don't remember the people of Boston being subjected to such accusations in the wake of any IRA 'atrocity' that they had funded.

And then there's the implicit racism expressed. That Muslims cannot be trusted to tell the truth. That what they say must be filtered and translated along the lines of, "Well, you may say that, but we know what you really mean is..." On top of that, we have the assumption that this guy, purely on the basis of his ethnicity and religion, can be addressed with the second person plural 'you' and his answers taken to be representative of arab opinion. Well, they're all the same, aren't they? And then that Muslims should be held to different standards from the rest of us. Why should their reaction and condemnation have to be of any greater magnitude than our own? Should the Pope have taken to the streets of the Vatican? Catholics everywhere flagellated themselves in public after the latest in a long line of IRA pub bombings?

And lastly, this was one journalist interviewing another. The complete lack of respect shown to a fellow professional was stunning. What was it that allowed her to believe that the level of her integrity was so above his? The fact that he worked for an arab newspaper? The fact he was Muslim? Or have CNN's pay cheques so fuelled her astonishing arrogance that she now believes herself above all accepted standards of reporting?

Do you think I could bill her for a new remote?


Saturday, July 09, 2005


This little interlude is brought to you courtesy of the BBC wireless telegraphy network and Messrs. Stephen Fry, Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Barry Cryer.

GG. Negligent - a man who wears lingerie
SF. Cryogenic - when you turn out in a photo to look like Barry
BC. Stir fry - to arouse Stephen
TBT. Parsnip - dad's vasectomy
TBT. Marmite - mum's possibly up for it
GG. Wallaby - someone aspiring to be a kangaroo
SF. Countryside - to kill Piers Morgan
GG. Tomahawk - a vegetable of prey
BC. Diphthong - to wash an undergarment
SF. Lip synch - a lady's intimate washbasin
TBT. used by Piers Morgan
BC. Placebo - a Spanish tenor who does nothing for me
SF. Rectitude - the angle at which a thermometer should be inserted
GG. Homophobe - somebody who doesn't like the Simpsons
SF. Portent - the Milennium Dome

Thank you and goodnight.

As usual, the comments passed tell us more about the commentator than the subject of the comment. Forgive me if I paraphrase somewhat.

US. "The contrast between the purity of our motives and the sheer evil of theirs has really struck me."

Israel. "...blah, blah, that terrorism is not just an Israeli problem."

Russia. "We will carry the fight into Chechnya..."

Spain. "As we know from our experience of Madrid..."

France. "Eye veal stand ear beyaind ze zlaimee toad end unch myzelf ohvuhr ze rostrum in zee ope zat ze vohturz recogneyez meye sinceriteh."

UK. "I find say...anything...without...pausing pregnantly...every...few the...hope...that...such delivery...conveys my deep...and heartfelt..."

Amstelladagain. "Comment me do."

Thursday, July 07, 2005


Anger? Frustration? Fury? Uncomprehension? Confirmation? What a fucking mess, the lot of it.

All I can feel right now is sadness. A very deep and hopeless sadness.

What a fucked up species we are.

Monday, July 04, 2005


"Are you ready to start a revolution? Are you ready to change the world?"

Whatever. Right behind you, Madge. Oh, and pass me some of that cake, would you?

I'm sure the intentions were good but how could it help but be misunderstood? How could it have avoided becoming just another part of the whole elaborate web of half-truths, misinformation and spin?

I keep asking myself just what it may have achieved. Beyond getting Pink Floyd back together again, I can't come up with one, single, solitary thing.

Awareness has been raised, eh? An awareness of what, exactly? That there are problems in Africa? That the G8 nations should "do something about it"? That people can make a difference and influence policy by attending a concert? By signing a petition?

There are problems in Africa. Yet most people would still, when asked, state dictatorship, corruption, war, drought and famine as the main ones and might make vague noises about debt relief if pushed. These are problems and very real ones but I can't help feeling that an awareness of probably the biggest long term problem that Africa faces is as far from most people's awareness as it ever was.

This is the simple and unalterable truth that it is not in the economic interests of any of the G8 countries to do anything which might place the fate of Africa in the hands of Africans themselves. G8, if it is anything, is business pure and simple. A club of the rich and powerful the job of which is to ensure the continuation of its wealth and power. A charitable organisation it most certainly is not.

The European Community's Common Agricultural Policy is probably more of a long term threat to Africa than Mugabe et al and yet somehow, I can't quite see France turning its back on its farming lobby. Votes lost there would far outweigh any gained by the opposite course of action.

G8 countries, or more exactly the corporations based therein, control a huge slice of African economies and we aren't talking technology here, we are concerned with the G8 control of agriculture and staple foodstuffs, cocoa in the Ivory Coast and maize in South Africa. Countries rich in natural resources and minerals like the Congo are at the mercy of the G8 companies who control them. No amount of debt relief is going to make any difference to these situations whatsoever.

And as for the debt relief itself. Oh dear. Unconditional it isn't. Proposals at the moment make any debt relief contigent upon taking steps recommended by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, institutions with an excellent track record of protecting the interests of donor (G8) countries and with no interest whatsoever in handing any degree of economic power and control to those countries forced to follow their directives. Free trade is not an issue as long as it cuts only the one way. Their markets must be opened to our multi-nationals while protectionism thrives at home. Tony Blair, our touchy-feely Uncle Tony, so concerned about ethics and foreign policy that he threw his weight behind the privatisation of the water supply in Ghana and made a lot of British investors very happy indeed. He listens alright. Just not to Joe Soap is all. The British trade in arms to Africa has been worth over 1 billion. How many stealth taxes would Gordon need to introduce if that lot disappeared? And we still want to stop the wars?

Another proposal, as I understand it, is that for every dollar 'given' as debt relief, that self same dollar will be taken out of the country in question's aid budget. A wonderful little bit of legerdemain that probably won't make the headlines.

And the G8 itself? More like the G1 plus 7. I would trust about 70% of the population of the US to make the right decision on just about anything you care to mention but as long as these people have no voice, as long as they are removed from the democratic process and their views remain unrepresented, our trust will have to reside in that chimp George W and his neo-con cohorts. Does that thought fill you with optimism?

My biggest gripe with the whole Live8 thing is that it has given people the luxury of allowing themselves to feel that they have in some way made a difference and can salve their consciences with the thought that by attending, they were expressing their solidarity with the people of Africa. Well, maybe they were but let's not kid ourselves that the things that may have been achieved are anything other than minimalist window dressing.

When Africa decides to follow the examples burgeoning right now in South America and says, "No mas", only then will I allow myself to feel a flash of hope and optimism.

Until then, "Put your hands in the air!"

Saturday, July 02, 2005


I wake up. Slowly. Idris is back and she is hoovering.

"Why do you always do that when I have a hangover?"

"Because I do it in the morning?"


Friday, July 01, 2005


Froggy and Idris have gone to her mother's and I am home alone.

The first crack of thunder jolts me out of my TV watching semi-awareness and seconds later all the lights go out. My first thought is for the PC. Yes, I had left it on.

Suddenly, all hell breaks loose. Doors and windows slam and there is white noise. I rush round closing all the windows and notice it is hailing. Not quite golf balls but it is close. There is a bang outside. A ladder I had left propped up against a wall has been blown down narrowly missing my motorbike as it descended. The windows in the conservatory are open. They open horizontally at the top of the frame and the blinds are down and flapping wildly. I try to roll them up but the wind is too strong. I shall have to close the windows.

Spoons. I can't close them from the inside as I had opened them fully, taking the metal retaining slider off in order to open them to their full extent. I shall have to go outside. I am naked and it is urgent.

Ouch. Ouch fucking ouch. Think a sadistic acupuncturist with more arms than Shiva and you would still not be anything approximating close.

The terrace is already aflood and I notice that most of the plants have already been forced into a very low altitude drooping posture so I decide to leave them there.

I dash back inside and the hail turns to rain. Sheets of it. I look out front and the road is awash. The drainage ditch which but a few minutes before had been empty is now bursting its banks and I start to consider taking the engine out of the Trabant to improve its bouyancy. I have visions of floating off in the direction of the Croatian border perched on its roof with my dog and single malt collection.

I am setting up candles in the room when I hear a dripping sound. Well, I say dripping, splashing would be closer. I track it down to the conservatory. I can only see by lightning flash, illuminating everything for a brief moment of utter clarity but by moving around, the impact of water on my body gives me an accurate idea of where the leaks are.

For the second time in a week, I dash round in search of buckets and then I have one of those light bulb cartoon moments. It's the conservatory, right? There are plants in the conservatory, are there not?

I hoick all the cane furniture into the house to dry and rearrange the floral layout. It is undoubtedly not pretty, as I discovered when the power returned but it was pretty damned effective at both damage control and simultaneous irrigation. Job done.

I go into the study. To be near my single malt collection. Just in case.

Monday, June 27, 2005


I have two jobs to do today.

Three or four minutes into the first one and I am jolted sharply out of my rather sonambulant post-awakening state by a sudden 'whoosh' and a rush of cold water splashing all over my mentionables and causing me to completely lose my place in the Elmore Leonard novel I keep in the throne room.

I react entirely in character and say, "Fuck". A lot.

A quick investigation of the cistern reveals it to be beyond all hope of repair so it is with an internal "Later" that I grab a coffee and head for the study to continue my content assessment job.

Three or four minutes into this one and...there is no 'whoosh', just an unresponsive screen and the inevitable realisation that my service provider has gone tits up again. Later having arrived much sooner than I thought it would, I test my ability to fit and install a new cistern by dismantling the old one. I turn off the stop cock and disconnect the flexible pipe. It flops limply, issuing a thin stream of water onto the bathroom floor. I have an incontinent stop cock. I go to fetch a bucket all the while wondering what the plumbing equivalent of prostate problems might be.

The cistern is now in kit form on the floor where I leave it while I check the PC and discover that the server is back up. I allow myself to be distracted for a while and do a quick blog hop. I see JonnyB has linked to me with the tag 'This man needs help' and I find myself in wholehearted agreement.

I can't quite summon up the will to carry on with the web site content stuff and decide to go to the cistern shop where I ask for a 'víz tartó' instead of 'tartály' and am met with blank stares all round. I am reminded of the time I was at the checkout in Tesco and asked for a tent (sátor) instead of a plastic bag (szatyor) and the time I asked an old girlfriend in front of a group of her friends whether or not she was still showering (zuhányozni) when I meant smoking (dohányozni).

The problem now is that, being a phoneticist, my pronunciation of Hungarian is such that I am often mistaken for a native and people don't make the linguistic assumptions they would normally when communicating with a foreigner. They expect semantic exactitude and suffer system lock when they do not get it. In the present case I am reduced to pointing and carefully enunciating, "One of those, please".

I make my purchase and hurry home with none of that feeling of warmth and excitement that is the usual result of having a recently bought package in the boot of one's car. I step out of the car and into dog shit. Not only that, but I also notice that she has been in search of cool ground and has decided that the freshly watered earth around our equally freshly planted green pepper plants would be ideal.

So it is no wonder that I feel just a trifle unfortunate as I kick off my shoes on the step and enter the house where I am greeted by Froggy and Idris.

 Posted by Hello

Suddenly I don't feel so unlucky after all.

And the new cistern? I'm just off for a quick void. I'll let you know.