Sunday, 29 November 2020

Get with the Programme

More and more the lives of individuals in English speaking countries are being fenced in by other people's -isms and identity obsessions. Those other people, the ones building the fences, would say that they aren't "other people" but "the righteous". I would call them crashing bores.

This morning, reading the Sunday Telegraph, I noticed an example of the kind of thing I mean. I decided then that I would try to make a blogpost whenever I noticed other examples, so that one day we can look back and see where the palings of the fence went in. 

The example from today was in an article on new fiction by a writer called Claire Allfree. Bear in mind that the newspaper the article was published in is considered to be to the right of all the people usually springing to mind as considered extreme right, (Genghis Khan is the usual cliche used).

After a bit of waffle about coronavirus and lockdown and blahdy blahdy blah, Claire Allfree got down to the substance of the piece, which was telling us about the novels that have been published this year. "The future for literature ... looks cheerful - in young and diverse hands," ("diverse" is such an overused word at the moment), she told us, before going on to declare all the recent contributions of "veteran white male authors" pretty rubbish: 

"All feel like a retreat into a somewhat glorified past, away from such highly charged subjects as race, entitlement and sexuality, even though that is what now defines our cultural landscape", 

she explained. 

Leaving aside the plural subject and non-matching singular verb in that last sentence, don't you find that statement just flabbergasting? Since when have we started judging fiction by subject matter? So much for - well the list of books that would be found wanting if that's the standard is so long that I really don't know where to begin. The idea that subject matter should be the first port of call when making a judgment about a work of art is a very dangerous one - it points directly to a road marked “censorship”.

But get with the programme: our cultural landscape is now defined by race, entitlement and sexuality, and books published now that don't include at least one of those issues are just "a retreat into a somewhat glorified past".

I wish publishers the best of luck, if that is going to be an industry wide approach to book selection. I used to like browsing in bookshops, but from now on I guess those will only be secondhand bookshops. Yes, I think it's time for me to retreat into the glorified past of literature published before this year. 

Thursday, 26 November 2020

When We

Someone once told me that lots of people from South Africa & what was then Rhodesia moved to Perth in Western Australia after things changed politically in their home countries. According to my informant, these immigrants quickly became known by the Western Australian locals as “when wes” because they began most sentences with “When we were back in South Africa/Rhodesia”. 

They were the nostalgic "when wes", whereas I’m a "when we" of the future. That is to say, most of my sentences now begin “When we go back to normal” or “when we can travel again.”

My “when we” today is about when we are next able to go to England. It goes like this:

When we can travel in England again, let’s go to All Saints’ Church in Daresbury in Cheshire. There we can look at a set of stained-glass windows showing scenes from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.  Carroll (really Charles Dodgson), was born in the parsonage at Daresbury.

I learned of the windows thanks to a charming article by Lucinda Lambton that I kept from a 2017 copy of The Oldie but have only now got around to reading.

The article also contains this passage, which I’m sure will delight all Australian readers:

According to the painter Ford Madox Brown, Dodson based the dormouse at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party: 

“on a pet wombat belonging to the painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who described his much-loved animal as ‘a joy, a triumph & a madness’. It slept a great deal & James McNeill Whistler wrote of dining in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea with, among others, George Meredith & Algernon Swinburne, with the somnolent wombat curled up on the epergne throughout the evening.” (What acquaintance I've had with wombats suggests that must have been an extremely sturdy epergne).

For those unfamiliar with wombats, perhaps the most famous of the species is The Muddleheaded Wombat. I once left a copy of The Complete Stories of the Muddleheaded Wombat on a Vienna tram and when I went back it was gone, which has left me with the delightful possibility that there is one person somewhere in Vienna who is guiltily expert on the Muddleheaded Wombat's exploits.

There was also an alternative wombatesque Sydney Olympics mascot, creation of Roy and HG (whose nightly television programme, I am reliably informed, became a great favourite of Viktor Orban during his visit to the Sydney Olympics - and quite rightly as it was totally hilarious, but also hugely impressive that a European could quickly grasp Australian humour; even some Australians are a bit slow to a laugh at times).

The really big question though is: was Rossetti’s wombat the glow in the dark kind?

Sunday, 22 November 2020

Tamás the Tank Engine

One beautiful day about a month ago, we walked out to Budapest's railway museum. I took lots of pictures, but didn't really have a great deal to say about trains, apart from the fact that some of the ones there made me think of Tom Courtenay and the train he travelled in in the film of Dr Zhivago. Then I came across this little video clip compilation, and I thought - well, what did I think? I thought, gosh, trains are quite fun and I've got a whole collection of photographs of old trains that might interest someone or other, so I might as well stick them in a blog post. 

And so here they are.

This is the entrance to the museum, which I think used to be a railway station. It is, not unsurprisingly, very close to the railway workers' flats I mentioned in this post.

This fellow is supposedly the Unknown Worker, dedicated to all the thousands of workers involved in post-war reconstruction. In 1946, he was placed on a prominent corner of Andrássy ut, the beautiful avenue that leads to Budapest's Heroes' Square. He later got moved about, according to political eddies.
The sculptor's name was Turáni Kovács Imre. I would have to say that, for a figure who is supposed to have an anonymous, everyman appearance, he bears an uncanny resemblance to the man who my father liked to refer to as "Dirty Linen", aka leader of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 24.
This one is newer and also didn't always stand at the museum. It is called railway builder and, if you really truly want any more details about it, write to me and I'll pass them on. 

This is a model of the Eastern Railway Station. I don't know why it appealed to me, given I can walk up and look at the real thing any time I please. I think I find miniaturised copies of real-life things attractive. They are usually done with great care and there is absolutely no point to them, and I'm always drawn to things that demand skill to make and have no function.

Outside the hall where the miniaturised Eastern Railway Station stands, a whole semi-circle of train carriages stood. One of my daughters rang while I was looking at them and described the difficulties of having returned to work but having to do her job while wearing all sorts of visors and masks and who knows what. I became so absorbed in this conversation that I very nearly fell into a large deep concrete hole that is just to the right of the edge of this photograph. I am not sure I would be writing this or anything else if I had fallen. But, luckily, I noticed it in the nick of time. Phew.

After that little excitement, I strolled around rather aimlessly photographing everything I saw out of sheer happiness that I wasn't lying at the bottom of a concrete hole.

This little signal box, or whatever it is, seemed to have come straight out of a toy railway set:

I suppose the whole museum had the slight feel of a toy railway set in which suddenly we were to scale with the toys.

I assume this car that only runs on rails had something to do with dragging trains about but I did wonder if when they first invented cars they might have thought that they could only work like trains, running along laid track. A car of one's own rather than mixing with everyone else in actual train carriages would have been beyond deluxe first class. Although no dining car might have made it in certain respects disappointing.

I climbed into this one and tried to imagine dealing with its enormous boiler and controls:

Among all these handles and gauges and oil and coal, there was this sweet little emblem, screwed on to one of the engine carriage walls:

This was the one I thought could have been in Dr Zhivago. Splendid in its own way.
I was very surprised by the pointed ones - could they possibly have been designed as some kind of weapon, rather than mere transport?

In the shed where the model of the Eastern Railway Station stands, they also had a framed copy of an old timetable from 3rd October, 1913, in other words just before everything went horribly wrong:

The timetable hung near this carriage, which is exactly the kind of thing that makes me love Hungary. I cannot imagine any other country making something like this:
So far as I can tell it was made in order to be able to carry St Stephen's hand (normally kept here in Budapest in the basilica in the Vth district) all around the country, which it did between 1938 and 1942. 

Right next to this magnificent, gaudy thing, stood the most Thomas the Tank Engine-like engine in the place:

I liked the plain wooden interior of its carriage, although it must have been pretty hard going to sit in over any distance:
Here in all its magnificence is the coach that led us to go to the train museum in the first place, the dining car of the Orient Express from 1912:

Having walked seven and a half kilometres from our place to the museum, we were not a little disappointed that seeing inside it was just one more pleasure we were to be deprived of by the virus that we are all now ruled by. No one else was there, but, you know, enclosed spaces, can't be too careful. 


This, by the way, one my prize for cuddliest train engine of the museum.

Saturday, 21 November 2020

Looking Forward

I put on a coat I hadn't worn for a few weeks this morning and when I put my hand in my pocket I found there was something there. I pulled it out and saw that it was a mask I had made out of one of my husband's old ties. I looked at it and thought of the future, hoping that one day quite soon I would put on a coat and find there was something in the pocket and pull it out and see it was a mask, and it would puzzle me for a millisecond. Then a faint memory would come back to me and I would think, "Oh yes, I'd almost forgotten about those mad days when we had to worry about all that rubbish."

Thursday, 19 November 2020

OH & S

In the 1930s, not far from our place in Budapest an insurance company set up business. Spurning anything as tawdry as mere billboards, they decided to carve their advertisements in stone on their facade. They covered everything from alcoholism to getting tangled up in telephone wires, war and revolution to getting bits of yourself mangled by various bits of machinery, having heavy things dropped on you, something happening to you in a pottery studio, the bony hand of death grabbing you while you are disporting yourself in a gay baths (at least I assume that is what’s going on in image no.4). The only one I’m completely baffled by is the one involving pig carcasses.

There is one situation that they didn’t predict though, and that is going mad from being tangled up in contradictory pandemic regulations for too long. While the Hungarian government has managed things with a much lighter hand than most, the Europe wide panic seems to be increasing, rather than receding, and it is this that I find alarming (in fact, if I’m not very careful, I can be found teetering on the very edge of the conspiracy rabbit hole [peering in, I can just make out something about a great reset, Davos, someone called Schwab].) 

When one considers that we now understand that the new virus that we are all being constrained because of only presents extreme danger to some people and that doctors have now worked out quite a few ways to make many of them better, it is hard not to feel faintly suspicious, given how genuinely damaging the measures we are being forced to accept are in so many ways. 

It all is so worrying and baffling that, although I have many blog posts I would like to write (not to mention a project I am actually supposed to be working on), the only way I can take my mind off things is to leave my desk and go outside and walk and walk and walk.

I admit I haven’t picked the ideal season, but one can wrap up well.

Is it just me? Is anyone else beginning to wonder if responsibility for our own decisions is ever going to be restored? Is anyone else beginning to worry that, even if our freedom is restored, our economies will be so ruined that the Chinese Communist Party will explain politely (at first, if we are lucky), that as we are now entirely financially dependent on them we need to understand that we must also accept their total rule.

Yes, the gloom is here again, I admit it - time for another walk.