Saturday, January 31, 2009

New articles, banging the usual anvils, published by Albion Magazine.
On continental influence on mid-century England here and on Raymond Williams' Culture and Society here.

Friday, January 30, 2009


He found the closest thing to an abstract image in our world and a system of painting it as figuratively as possible.

Bryan Appleyard on David Hockney's swimming pools, from The Pleasures of Peace. Appleyard has his own cheerful, intelligent blog here. In this book of his, subtitled 'Art and the Imagination in Postwar Britain' he grabs the reins of the historical forces of the period and manages to get them to play together rather beautifully. It's a wonderful kick up the behind for someone whose own study of the period sometimes seems all-too-prone to whittle the really juicy stuff into dry bone.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


During one of our semi-regular, Youtube-fuelled Britpop reunion parties, watching Sarah Cracknell attempting to rouse the crowd during Hug My Soul at Glastonbury 1994 got me thinking.

For a time, in the mid-nineties, St Etienne flirted with being a geniunely popular pop band. Bob Stanley, Professor Emeritus of pop, probably shoulda known better. Their blend of Italianate house, the BBC radiophonic workshop and kitchen sink drama could never quite leapfrog out of irony, become the loved rather than the love letter. Liverpool band Ladytron attempted the same manoeuvre a decade later, noting the success - from the opposite direction - of self-conscious pop bands like Girls Aloud and the Sugababes. Ladytron's attempt to make a break for it was roughly concomitant with the muddleheaded critical second-guessing and pseudo-broad church of popism. This critical stance attempts a straight-faced appreciation of pop music, in and of itself, and - like Jeff Koon's puppy - ends up obscuring the problem. Not familiar with the term? It's just one of a number of fairly pervasive and bad faith journalistic (UK-style) co-options of low culture which tend to masquerade as the daredevil flouting of cultural hierachy. Ask k-punk or Owen Hatherley; they're most sane and heartening on the subject.


As an undergraduate, a large part of my imaginative life was taken up by foreys into Englishness, a pursuit both blessed and blighted by the tinge of juvenilia, like all the best obsessions are. Indeed, with the sureity that only a nineteen year-old can muster, it hadn't occurred to me that many, many others were similarly busyied away, constructing their own imaginative landscapes to form a vast, collective hallucination of ice cream cones, film stills of Julie Christie, bunting, Sarah Cracknell's smile, seaside piers on fire, bald patches and anaglypta wallpaper.

Having spent the five years since then systematically chipping away at an instinct, on coming here I had thought I was too ensconced for a long spell in Hungary to reshuffle my picture of England. I was wrong, however; from here England has begun to reorganise itself into a solid shape and the view doesn't look too sprightly. What this amounts to, I'm not yet sure. In terms of my, ahem, literary pursuits it's a very timely boon (confidential to those with a friendly interest in my meatworld: it's just under three weeks 'til my PhD application is due), clearing much of the fog around the subject. In a wider sense, I'm far to innured to the perils of cultural relativism to begin to think comparatively about this fine, strange, new place yet. I'll think on...

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Újlipótváros is fast becoming my favourite district of Budapest. Its grids loosely overlook Margit Sziget and shade from rough n' ready to elegant and genteel as you edge closer to Parliament.

Lehel Csarnok

This marvellous place wasn't giving up its secrets too readily on my fly-past. Google tells me it's a market hall, built in controversial style to resemble a ship.

What lies beyond Nyugati Station.

Construction work in Budapest works something along the lines of the painting of the Forth Bridge. From eight onwards on weekdays, the street of the VIIth (and indeed most other districts) are hemmed by chaps in overalls toting minature coffees and dragging on strong fags. Clearly here they'd knocked off in a hurry.

The weather here seems to have turned on a sixpence: after an early January of -7 degree maximums the last few sunny, smoggy days have me convinced that spring has sprung. It's doubtful - freezing February will surely bite me on the bum - but for now, ice cream (that's fagylalt) seems close.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


A week of first drafts and deadlines and wobbles and interviews topped out last night with cake n' beer at Muzeum Cukrászda and a Twin Peaks marathon*. Today was a virtual write-off, but is about to be redeemed with Frost/Nixon at the strange and beguiling Muvesz Cinema. For someone as slow off the mark as me, the lag between Anglo-American and Hungarian cinematic release dates is a real boon.

*Of which there is much to say, natch.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Ever-mysterious, Budapest occasionally borders on the completely incomprehensible. Countering, we roam town concocting muddleheaded, bad-science rationale.

This isn't smoke, or Budapest's infamous smog: it's steam rising from the duck pond at the City Park. Our explanations ranged from the park's proximity to the Szechenyi Gyogyfurdo (that's the orangeish neo-classical baths where old men play chess), to the heat emitted by the Millenium Metro (the oldest in mainland Europe) which runs underneath.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


New Years Eve, Budapest-style:

We went to Kincsem Park for the New Year's Eve horse races. The park is out in the city hinterlands, in an area dotted with enormodrome stadia and suburban retail developments. When we arrived, the park was empty and freezing, freezing. Through the grand Hapsburg-era entrance, where a ragtime-ish brass band played, there were more signs of life; hot wine, beer tents and sausage stands meant it must be party time.

Thousands of Budapestis arrived in dribs and drabs to watch rag-tag cart racing, show off their ski suits, neck beer picnics and catch of glimpse of Overdose, a 5 million euro thoroughbred and the day's main attraction.

We supped expensive beakers of hot wine, exclaimed at the cold, caught the drips running off our noses and retired for curry and beer towards teatime.

Tuning into the grammar of the way that other places celebrate is bewildering. In the run up to New Year, we tried to gauge the flavour of New Year, Hungarian-style from the festive paraphenalia being shilled by street corner stalls: cardboard trumpets, streamers festooned with cartoon pigs, hole punch confetti and halloween masks. It all made a pretty incomprehensible sort of sense as we found ourselves in Vörösmarty Square towards midnight where I had to shush my Mother Hen-ish instincts as several different kinds of carnage went off all at once.

I guess we were expecting some kind of PG-rated civic fireworks display, Health and Safety checked and set to some bombastic classical standard, Rendőrség-tolerated street drinking and sausage vendors.

What we got was a fireworks free-for-all; every have-a-go Dad in the city seemed to come with their personal gunpowder stash and deployed their arsenal in the clearing outside Gebeaud.

Kids blew trumpets, the brave waved firecrackers, students conga'd and we - ever utterly susceptible to all kinds of carnivalesque public disorder - joined in, self-administering cherry brandy and 535 HUF (1.94 GBP) fizzy wine until it all got too much, and we beat a retreat first to a bar and then, toting Pom Bears, home.