Sunday, December 28, 2008


I'm listening to Salman Rushdie on The Wizard of Oz on Radio Four as I pack for my return to Budapest tomorrow. Disarmingly, it has just segued into some very pertinent - if a little histronic - discussion on homing, leaving and elsewhere.

You can listen here.

Friday, December 26, 2008


Wow. So, after this weekend I'll be back in Budapest, steeling myself for real winter and making a good and concerted effort at getting the PhD proposal down and finished. Until then, here's a little look at what Christmas looked like this end.

I took a slight return to UEA and made off with a Dr.

Returned to Hull just in time for The Rocky Nest's Christmas special.

My mother tried aubergine for the first time.

I spent Christmas Eve at Han n' Lee's, as is traditional.

The rounds on Christmas day.

It's been a tremendously disorientating two weeks, with quite a lag in location between brain and body. We return - which feels a little prohibited, like going back on a holiday that's just ended - one of us now a Dr., the other inching a little closer, maybe, but mostly dead, dead pleased to have the chance to go back to do a long stretch there. Trying to trick the human's surprisingly easy adaptation to unfamiliar environments (that almost disappoints with its lack of A-Effect) I had planned to make lists of things relevant and helpful to our fledgling life there with the benefit of the outsider's perspective gleaned from two weeks away. This clever attempt at double crossing failed, however, so I'll just have to try to remember my contact lenses and let the rest slide.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


A totally gorgeous concession to the festive period. Others might choose Fairytale of New York, but I've never heard anything as hopeful, as giddy, as weak-at-the-knees as this.

The specialness of St Etienne has been articulated a thousand times over, and I've never felt quite comfortable grappling with the grammars that rightfully belong to a certain kind of student from the early 1990s. Listening to St Etienne provokes a sense of second hand nostalgia usually only available from childhood memories experienced via an overweening older sibling. Even more disorientatingly, they seem to hit the sweet spot of a whole plethora of historical moments simultaneously. There's some great bits in here: Tim Burgess employing the indie-bloke monkey-walk on the race to the church, planting a kiss on the everso mature and sophisticated Sarah which misses the mark by miles.

Of course, this kind of utterly key sentimentalism about pop music is a site like Freakytrigger's stock-in-trade; read what they say about I Was Born on Christmas Day here.

And, of course, Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 12, 2008


There is something definitive, I think, about the gusts of pastry glaze and fag smoke that emit, at pavement level, from underpasses and metro stations here. Budapest, however, does also come in other flavours.

Before this week, we had yet to really breach Buda further than atmospheric transport interchange, Moskva Ter, largely due to the gargantuan, though no less atmospheric, Mammut Mall, which draws us in, every time, from square's northern edge. (You might call us Mall Conneisseurs: we've visited three of the largest in the Budapest metropolitan area already, each time, as if on a whim, by accident, 'oh look where we are!').

On Monday, however, we scaled - no - scrambled - no - tramped up the Gellért Hill to the Citadella then over, via Deli Station (where in 2006 we missed the airport bus and endured a hair-raising and wrenchingly-expensive early morning taxi drive to Balaton Airport) and the Mom Park Mall (ouch, caught!) to the Roszadomb. In the Buda Hills, the city does a brackish, lemon yellow, stucco'd thing rather well. These suburbs are famously bourgeoise, positively chi chi, an enclave of residential confections strung over the hill that's named after the flowers that dervish poet Gúl Baba, entombed nearby, is credited with introducing to the city.

Yesterday I went tramping solo on Margitsziget. This long, straggly island on the Danube has an altogether different feel. In season, it's a pastoral pleasure palace, with baths, spas, lidos, tennis courts, bike tracks and incongruous contiki-style kiosks doling out canned drinks and (utterly gross) oversized pretzels to the sweaty. In winter, most of its attractions are closed and hemmed in by wire fences or functioning undercover, to protect tennis courts and outdoor pools from rain and autumn leaves.

What's left is astonishing in its own right; modernist leisureworld architecture outcropped against skeletal trees, with the Buda Hills rising beyond on one hand and the concrete towerblocks of the Újlipótváros that line the Danube on the other.

BOOK AT BEDTIME/ Zadie Smith in the New York Review of Books

Much to my chagrin, in times of great ire I tend to become rather inarticulate. Hence, I'll say: just go and get a load of Zadie Smith in the New York Review of Books here. It's very late in the VIIth District and there's steam coming out of my ears.

Monday, December 8, 2008


So: Mikulás. I have nil capacity for doing a poorly-wrought rendition of non-English festival tradition this morning. All I know is gleaned from Wikipedia: go read about this folktale-with-menaces here. Suffice to say, I think you can probably guess who ended up with the virgács :(

Saturday, December 6, 2008


So, the second of this grand (some might say seminal) series has been delayed by a very unfortunate discovery. See, the common-or-garden cake is not the only baked good the cukraszda has to offer. On worse for wear mornings - of which, due to the thoroughly clement pricing of boozables around these parts there are a few - one naturally prefers the soothing combo starch n' carbohydrate to confectioner's cream, egg custard and the like. Thus, one would choose the scone-ish pogácsa, a cannon ball of salty pastry topped with cheese or similar. Some days ago, Joe discovered that these leadweight carb-bombs featured pork fat shortening pretty high up on their list of ingredients. Therefore, in the attempt to retain what is left of my hard-won vegetarianism (for I have no doubt that I am inadvertantly absorbing pork fat by osmosis most days), myself and the pogi-for-short can no longer be friends.

As far as cake goes, however, things are still grand (and if they're not, and, in fact there are morsels of duck tail studded through every one, please don't tell me). Today is Mikulás, which I shall post about at length later. Suffice to say, excitement levels at Kazinczy utca 7 were pretty high - this not only being something a bit like an extra Christmas but also the kind of aimed-at-children tradition-fest with a PG-rated folktale backstory that I'm a total sucker for. Occasion enough, then, for a trip to Muvesz, the fin-de-siecle, confectioner's cream paradise that I may (ahem) have mentioned previously.

I had francia kremes, a tower of pastry, egg custard, confectioner's cream and caramel glaze which is now, I'm almost certain, my very favourite cake.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


...except not really. I am knee-deep in writing obligations just now, no rest for wicked, etc. However, I do have a couple o' observations and some point n' shooting for yer.

1. Confidential to the clothes horses: H&M here is, like, as good as it was in Britain 5 years ago.
(Backstory: Way back in, erm, 2001, "London of the North" Leeds was the shopping Mecca for Hull's rag tag youth. At that point, without simulacra'd High Street (read: be-roofed wind tunnel) St Stephens, we were a little lacking. Favourite favourite for me was always H&M, which Hull sadly lacked, and whose multicoloured eurofashions always seemed pretty exotic. And, importantly, cheapex)

2. Subway, I think, has the same yeasty-and-tomato odour the world over. Except you'd ask for the pleasingly-transliterative szendvics here, natch.

Anyway. Photos! Then, back to it.

More on my Flickr here. Budapest is a total embarassment of picturesque, and I have become quite the shutter-bore.