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.