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!