BKK – I love you. Budapest is the world’s best public transport city!

Now I’m really not a transit fan or a public transport nerd or a metrophiliac or whatever you call people who like to photograph buses and collect their registration numbers. But I have to tell you that Budapest is turning me into one.
Why? Because it has a wonderful transport system. Hungarians and Budapestis disagree with me on this, they tell me it’s terrible, it’s dirty etc. etc. They’re wrong. If you survived London Transport in the 1980s and have any experience of public transport in, say, Cornwall you will be gobsmacked at how good the system is here.
For a start there are eight (count them, 8!) different forms of public transport you can use here. There are the metro, the trams, the trolleybuses, the buses, the HEV (suburban trains), the funicular railway and the cogwheel railway and the boats. Boats! One of them is 95 years old and still works well, weaving up and down the Danube and providing a timetable service that costs almost nothing compared with the tourist boats (750 HUF or about 2 GBP).
You can buy a monthly berlet (season ticket) for less than the cost of a week’s limited travel on Transport for London. You can sit on a magnificent modern tram that is the longest in the world (4 and 6) or you can sit on a much older tram (19) and try to fathom the workings of the little ticket machines stuck near the doors where you punch your own ticket. Each ticket costs about a pound, by the way, if you don’t feel like getting a berlet. You can admire the super modern stations of the M4 metro line or sit in the cute little carriages on the M1 metro line, historically the second underground line in Europe after the one in London. You can also admire the noisy squealing of the M3 line trains which were built in Soviet times and look it.
By the way, Budapest often seems to check what London does first and then copy and do it better. Budapesti Kozlekedesi Kozpont claim to have modelled themselves on TfL, though they don’t have Oyster cards that continually drain of money, thank the Lord.
Budapestis to the contrary, the vehicles are mostly clean and they seem generally to run to time. Did I mention my berlet? I love my monthly berlet. It costs about 26 GBP and lets me travel on the metro, HEV, buses, trams and trolleybuses anywhere in Budapest, as much as I like, whenever I like. For a month.
Match that, Boris!

Smug and the Stroke

I’m sorry, but I’m smug.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that last March 20th 2014 I had a haemorrhagic stroke which led to me spending a week in intensive care, two weeks in a hospital ward and three months at home in Torokbalint. (Find the blogs here.)(Or you could if the effing link-thingy was working).
The doctors have got me on meds to control my blood pressure which have some side effects and don’t actually seem to control my blood pressure very well.
So I did a bit of looking around and found that there’s a lot of research that says about 45 minutes of vigorous physical exercise three times a week will control your blood pressure just as well as drugs as well as helping with things like hardened arteries, stress and flab around the belly (though they lied about the flab part).
Aha! I thought, if I have to run for 45 minutes three times a week to come off the bloody pills, I will do that thing because I purely hate to take pills. (Yes, I’m still taking them but if my blood pressure goes down I’ll come off them slowly). Anyway, I’ve always exercised since I found that martial arts made me a much nicer person in my twenties.
I am now running for 45 minutes three times a week – and I just found out that on Sundays when I run for 50 minutes, I’m covering slightly under 8 kilometers – or 5 miles.
So I’m smug.

The Headman and the Churchman

Prologue to A CHORUS OF INNOCENTS, the next Carey novel.

***

It was a small chapel, stone built and once dedicated to some Papist saint. Since then it had been whitewashed, had its superstitious coloured windows broken with stones and the head knocked off the saint, although her cow was left in peace. The old altar had been broken up as the reign of the King’s scandalous mother came to its riotous end, the relics hidden in it levered out and thrown on a bonfire to burn as superstitious trash. By the early 1570s there was a respectably plain altar table, well away from the eastern end so as not to be idolatrous and a very well-made plain and solid high pulpit for preaching. Mostly from visiting preachers though, because who would choose to live in the village so close to the Border with England and the bastard English raiders?

Once, memorably, the Reverend Gilpin came there after the mermaid Queen was safely locked up in England. This was very unusual. The reverend’s summer journeys kept him on the southern side of the Faery Wall, among the God-cursed English, but a laird had heard him there and invited him to come and preach and paid his expenses foreby and the everyone for miles about had gone to listen. They still tutted about it.

They had heard some very strange things from the pulpit that day. For a start, Gilpin didn’t read the Bible texts they knew and liked, the good ones about smiting the Philistines or the book of Joshua or an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth which was good sense they wholeheartedly agreed with. Nor did he talk about the wickedness of starched ruffs, or vestments, even.

He read them some unfamiliar parts of the Gospels: nothing useful about Jesus bringing a sword, no. Strange unaccustomed things he read them about making peace with your brother before you laid your sacrifice on the altar and some outrageous stuff about loving your enemy.

The men and women shifted their feet where they stood and looked at each other sidelong. Did Christ really say that? Really? Loving your enemy? Was the English reverend sure? It sounded… well, it sounded papistical.

Love everybody? What? The English too? Jesus never said that, did he?

And the Reverend had smiled with a twinkle in his small grey eyes and closed the Bible with a snap, then leaned his arms familiarly on the rail of the pulpit as if he was leaning on a fence.

“Did you ever in all your lives hear anything so mad?” he asked in reasonable Scotch and they all laughed with relief.

He must have been reading one of those wicked papistical bibles the Jesuits spread about, that must be it. Jesus couldn’t have said that about enemies. What you did with enemies was you hunted them down and killed them and all their kin, which made far better sense. Honestly, the idea!

But as the Reverend spoke on, they felt uneasy again. It seemed Jesus had said those mad things. He had actually said, right out, that they must love each other, not just their own surnames which was just about doable, mostly, but everybody. Even the English.

It seemed Jesus had said the thing about enemies too, he really had. There it was, in the Bible, which was as true and good as gold, golden words from God, incorruptible, like blasts of the trumpet against the ungodly. The foolish Papists had hidden the glorious words of Jesus in Latin black as pitch so only priests could know them; now the words were Englished and turned to Scotch as well, so anybody could read them, yes, even women.

So what were they to think? What should they think – that Jesus was mad? Crazy?

Everyone had goggled at such… surely it was blasphemy?

A stout woman spoke up from the back of the church where she was standing with the other women. “That’s blasphemy!” she shouted, “You can’t say Our Lord was mad…”

The English reverend’s long finger stabbed the air as he pointed at her.

“That’s right, goodwife!” he bellowed, “You are the truest Christian here! It’s blasphemy to say or even to think that Jesus Christ was mad because he was the Son of God!”

He was standing up straight now, leaning over the rail. “And if he was the Son of God, then how dare we listen to His words in the Bible and not follow His orders! How dare we hate our enemies? How dare we feud and kill and raid and burn? For if we do, shall we not burn in Hell?”

And from there the sermon had turned both familiar and frightening. Familiar in the loud words and gestures, but frightening in the meaning. For the Reverend was not inveighing against the Papists nor the French nor the courtiers. He was preaching against themselves.

Against any of them that went up against an enemy to fight him, steal his cows and sheep and burn his steadings. Which meant pretty much every man there of fighting age. He bellowed against those that cooked and brewed ale for the fighting men or quilted their jacks in the old surname patterns, which meant every woman and girl there.

He told them that they were wrong and damned, that keeping a boychild’s right hand covered with a cloth at baptism so it was unblessed and could kill without sin was a wicked Papist superstition. That the whole of them, body and soul, was blessed in baptism, so that they could rise up, soul and body both, at the Judgement Day – which might be very soon.

Yet because they had not obeyed their true headman, Jesus Christ, then they would be damned just as infallibly as the Papists or the wicked Anabaptists.

Many of the men were scowling and putting their hands on their knives or swords. The women were gasping with outrage while the children stared in astonishment at the small man’s daring. What was an Anabaptist? Did it have a tail?

He quieted for a while, playing them like a violin. It was all right. Jesus was a just and kindly headman, unlike many of the lairds hereabouts (that got a small titter). They could make things right any time they wanted: all they had to do was love their enemies, make peace with those they were at feud with and…

“Die?” sneered the laird at the front, who had his arms folded across his barrel chest and his henchmen in a tight knot around him. As he was the one who had paid for the reverend to preach he was understandably angry. “That’s what will happen if we make peace with the bastard English. We’ll die and our families with us!”

“You will not die,” said the reverend Gilpin, pointing at the laird, “You will receive eternal life.”

The headman spat on the stones. “I didna pay your expenses for ye to preach this shite,” said the headman, “Get on wi’ yer job and curse the ungodly, man!”

“I am,” said Gilpin, seeming blithely unaware that every man there was on the point of drawing steel. Or perhaps he believed God would protect him. Or perhaps he didn’t care. “If you fail to do what our Lord Jesus ordered – love God and love each other – you are the ungodly! You and the English both. All of you, both sides of the Border, are the ungodly.”

The laird drew his sword and shouldered to the front. “I paid ye!” he bellowed, “Now do whit I paid ye to do!”

A purse full of money flew through the air and bounced off the headman’s doublet with a thump.

“I don’t need yer money,” said Gilpin, “Thanks to God and mine own weakness I am a wealthy man. Ye’ve got a free sermon here. Now will ye listen to the Word of God, or not?”

There was a moment of total silence. Then the woman who had spoken before (against all scripture) started laughing.

“Och,” she shouted, “He’s a brave man at least, not an arselicker like the last one. You let him preach, Jock o’ the Coates.”

“So,” said Gilpin after a pause, with a friendly smile to all of them as some hands relaxed from the hilts of their weapons, “We have a problem. If the Lord Jesus wisnae a madman, then ye all are mad for ignoring his orders.”

There was a growl from some of the men and more laughter from the women, sniggers from the children. You had to say this, it was a more exciting sermon than the last one who had had a lot to say about the wickedness of vestments, whatever they were.

Over the next hour the Reverend Gilpin proved that Jesus had actually said they should love their enemies and then He had actually done that very thing when the Romans had nailed Him to a cross, which must have hurt. And then, to show them all what they were dealing with, hadn’t He risen from the dead, come back to life, not like a ghost or the curs’d knight in the ballad, but as a living, breathing man that ate grilled fish and drank with His friends?

There was no possible question that He had said it and meant it and done it.

Now they had to forgive their enemies too and live in peace with them. That was all there was to it. And once they set their minds to it, they would find it easier than they expected for wouldn’t the Lord Jesus be right there at their side, helping them all the way?

By the end of the sermon some of the more impressionable were weeping. One of the Burn grandsons was staring transfixed into space, as if he could see something marvellous there instead of just a smashed papist window.

Gilpin left them all with the blessing, the full blessing from the evening service. “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”

Then he went calmly to his horse that was tethered outside and with his servant behind him, mounted up and trotted slowly away so the laird could catch him if he wanted.

It was so memorable a sermon that the laird sent to an Edinburgh minister in case Jesus really had said that about enemies.

He had, apparently. He really had. Though according to the Edinburgh minister that didn’t count for Papists and a number of other people, including, of course, the English.

So that was all right then.

Strangely the laird invited him again and even more strangely, he came, riding a solid ordinary hobby with his silent deacon behind him on a long-legged mare.

However as he came to unlock the wooden chapel door, he found a gauntlet nailed to it with a badly penned paper that said whoever took it down would be the Burns blood enemy for life.

Gilpin looked at it for a moment and then ripped it down. He carried the gauntlet into the church with him where he explained to the assembled people why feud was wrong, challenges to single combat were wrong and the headman who had challenged him was not only wrong but stupid. He was risking not only a lightening bolt, not only the wrath of God but also an eternity in Hell which was no laughing matter.

Foolishly the headman wouldn’t leave it be. He sent to Gilpin to ask where he proposed to meet and what his weapon would be. Gilpin replied that it would be at the tower of his Lord with the sword and shield of God.

The headman arrived at the chapel the next day with his sword and buckler and a crowd of his surname who came to see him beat up the preacher who had defied him – or laugh at him when he didn’t arrive.

They found Gilpin standing there in his plain cassock, holding a large bible.

“Och,” Jock o’ the Coates said disgustedly. That wasn’t fair. The book looked heavy enough to do some damage if he threw it, but what if he made a lightening bolt come out of it?

“Well?” said Gilpin, coming forward with the Bible open and his thumb set in one of the end chapters. “Will you draw and strike, Jock Burn?”

“Ye’re not… ye’re not armed,” growled Jock, horribly suspecting some of his grandsons and nephews were laughing at him inside, which indeed they were.

“I am armed,” said the mad preacher, “I am armed with the sword of God’s truth and the shield of God’s word. Will ye not strike? Perhaps yer sword will not wither like a twig in the fire nor your whole surname go to dust and ashes with you left alone until your enemies catch ye. For those who live by the sword shall die by it.”

Jock Burn backed off, paling. No more was ever said about the challenge and the gauntlet.

That was the Reverend Gilpin. He helped broker the deal between the Dodds and the Elliots in the late 1570s which calmed upper Tynedale no end and saw to it that the worst offenders left the area. He kept coming every summer, at first with his quiet young manservant and then, after the man died of a fever, he kept coming on his own, sadder, gentler now. He preached at several Warden Days, on the invitation of Sir John Forster, the English Middle March Warden. He carried no more than an eating knife and a Bible, he slept wherever he could find shelter and he ate whatever the poor people he usually lodged with could give him. He preached from his Bible whenever anyone asked him to and always on Sundays.

Nobody had ever seen or heard of such a strong minister, such a mad churchman, who had said publicly that he gave not a feather for vestments and as for the Papists – well, hadn’t he been a Papist himself once, before he read the Bible and understood God’s Word better, and surely most of them were good men misguided with only a few actively serving the Evil One.

What was more he never laid a hand on girl or boy though he had no wife either. Many were the snares and traps set for him by cunning mothers with girls who would have liked to be mistress of his rumoured large and comfortable living in the south. When a gentlewoman twitted him on his wifeless state across her dinnertable, with her daughters on either side of him, he smiled and toasted her and her daughters.

“You see,” he told her, “I swore before the altar of God to keep chastity and although I was certainly a sinner when I was young and hot-blooded, now I am old and tired and no use whatever to a woman.” He smiled and bowed to both the girls who blushed. The mother found herself wondering about his deacon who had died of the fever but she said nothing and nor did he. All the girls who had hopes of his rumoured magnificent house at Houghton le Spring were sadly disappointed.

He only came to the Borders in summer – for the rest of the year he kept a school at Houghton le Spring, boarded likely boys at his own expense and paid for some of them to go to Oxford where he himself had studied Divinity and sung the Masses with the rest of the young men before Henry VIII’s divorce.

Slowly, little by little, some of the men of the surnames came to like him, the women too despite his obstinate refusal to wed any of them. The children had loved him from the start and the lads ran to meet him when they saw his solitary silhouette with his soft flat churchman’s cap and warm cloak over a ridge along the Faery Wall.

Then in 1583 sad word came. He had been trampled by an excaped ox in Houghton market, lay wounded for a month and died of lungfever on the 4th of March. Both sides of the Border were stricken at the news and Jock o’ the Coates Burn and some of the headmen from south of the Border as well went to pay their respects in the south at Houghton le Spring. Jock died a few months later, leaving his grown son Ralph as headman and the grandsons grown as well, a lucky life Jock never admitted he attributed to not cutting Gilpin’s head off when they had met at the chapel in the early 1570s.

And the seeds that Gilpin had sown, dangerous and revolutionary seeds that they were, lay in the soil of the people’s minds and here and there they set down their roots.

***

I wrote this early in 2014 and then decided to completely change the way I wrote Carey 7, which became A CHORUS OF INNOCENTS and my next book in the series. I forgot about it until I found it last week. I think this bit of it can go into A CHORUS OF INNOCENTS as the Prologue.

The story of the Reverend Bernard Gilpin is true, including the bit with the gauntlet. He is now forgotten but he was a remarkable man who did a thankless hard job on the Borders for no better reason than he believed they needed it and God wanted him to. I have used a little artistic license in my story about him, but not much.

New Year’s resolutions etc. blah blah

I only ever make one New Year’s Resolution at a time because I’m pathetically weak-willed and need to concentrate willpower on one object.
This is it. I will blog at least every Sunday about whatever I want.
I know you’re supposed to specialise but I don’t know how: this will be a non-specialist blog and you can check it out for interesting surprises.
Maybe there will be recipes, or political discussions, or loony stuff or things about my sufferings trying to learn Hungarian or… whatever.
That’s what it’s been up to now and I might as well carry on with that.
Thank you for reading this – next week’s will be much more interesting!

A little bit more about the stroke…

It’s coming up to six months since I had a strange argument with my right side that turned out to be a stroke – a haemorrhagic stroke, not ischaemic.

Things I really like about the stroke: I have got my weight and waist measurement down to what they have always wanted to be. This has been effortless because I no longer feel hunger the way I used to – as a constantly nagging child tweaking my skirts and wanting me to eat more. In fact, thanks to the weird thing that happened to my tastebuds (see below), I find it very difficult to decide what to eat. So I am now a normal size for my height and I love the fact that I can see my collarbones and cross my legs comfortably. Today I ran (very slowly) for 15 minutes and feel fine, no pains in my knees either.
This is such a big thing that I actually think having a stroke was worth it for the result of being a normal size. I’m a little paranoid about getting fat again but I don’t think I will because I normally feel full before I finish more than half of a portion.
I’m sorry if this sounds smug – but I AM smug.
Things I don’t like very much: my right arm and leg feel peculiar most of the time, both burning hot and freezing cold. Sometimes my right hand goes funny and shakes or clenches itself into a strange shape and I have to shake it out. My right leg drags a little if I don’t pay attention when I walk – but not when I run.
My tastebuds seem to have gone bonkers. Everything tastes too salty and anything sweet tastes ok for thirty seconds and then goes horribly bitter. I ate some chocolate raisins earlier – I still have a bitter taste in my mouth from three hours ago. I don’t like this at all and can’t taste if the food I cook is good. I can smell it though!
I still seem to need ridiculous amounts of sleep – though not the 12-14 hours a day I needed immediately afterwards. Nine hours is now about what I need – but I resent the waste of time.
I realise I’ve been very lucky and I hope the things I don’t like will go away eventually. Just so long as I stay the size and shape I’ve always, since I was 13, felt myself to be – despite being actually many pounds heavier. I even like the shape of my face now. I used to think it was round, now I realise it’s actually quite square, which is fine.
It’s both odd and lovely to look in the mirror and see there the body I always felt I really was, under the fat.

Youngest son on the way!

He’s coming to Budapest for a while on his year off, while he thinks what to do next. When I had my first child and people came and congratulated me, I told them to congratulate me if the baby made it to the age of 18. This is the third baby and he’s 18 – whew! I can stop being grown-up now and revert to 13 myself.
Or as I like to put it, 26. Yes, I’m 26 again. I like being 26 though the first time round I was quite unhappy because I was secketerying in the City of London, a job for which I had zero interest and less than zero talent. This time round it’s great! I think I’ll stay 26 permanently, at least until my youngest gets older than me. If you follow.

Being jolly daring.

There are those who, presented with a large red button labelled DO NOT TOUCH!, instantly touch it. People like my jolly daring daughter for instance.

I am not one of those people. So the fact that I’ve changed the background on my website shows INCREDIBLE courage on my part. Maybe the West will not fall as a result. (Maybe it will.)

We shall see.

At least I’ve temporarily fixed the problem with black on black print that was bugging me. Yeah! Hoorah!

Dancing in Hungary

We met while struggling to get a bus back from a big night sports event in Heroes’ Square. They’d stopped the buses but they hadn’t thought it necessary to tell anyone and a lot of people were standing about wondering where the buses were. Eventually a chap arrived and said something about no buses which I didn’t understand. I was starting to panic about sleeping on a park bench.

It’s all right, said the lady standing next to me, in Hungarian. We can get a tram to Keleti railway station from over there. So we trotted over there and got a tram to Keleti from which I got the last metro train and then the last bus home. On the way we discovered that she wanted to learn English and was willing to talk to me in very simplified Hungarian. Her not speaking English was important – a lot of Hungarians do speak it, very well, and then I get lazy.

She also told me she loved to dance and would I like to come dancing that Friday.

I would, I decided. So on Friday I turned up in one of only two dresses I own, to go dancing.

It was at Szechenyi garden in Varosliget, which is in a part of Budapest that is an enormous park and was also an amusement grounds until they closed it recently because everything was a bit old. There’s still a traditional circus there. It was like a cross between Regent’s Park and Alton Towers. Now it’s just a park with a massive hot spa and a zoo.

They had a band, playing hot old favourites from the 50s and 60s along with a lot of Hungarian boogie woogie which is so close to the originals you can almost sing along to Hungarian Elvis. And the dancefloor was crowded with people dancing – mostly jiving sedately. All of them were couples. Nobody was dancing by herself or round a handbag. It was really peculiar. The men were up there with the women, boogying away, most of them much more expert than me.

Well, I made a bit of a stand for women dancing by themselves which drew a few glares and I danced with some of my friend’s male friends which was kind of them. I don’t have more than the vaguest notion of how to boogie woogie, or jive.

On the Sunday we went out again, miles into the north of the city, by the Danube where there was another really excellent band and couples dancing away who were even less tolerant of a mad Englishwomen boogying by herself. Some of the stares I got from the ladies as I twisted to Johnny Be Good and Wild Thing were truly vicious.

I worked it out eventually. Once men realise that women can dance by themselves, they’ll stand by the bar and criticise instead, just as they do in England. You can’t let them know. It has to be a secret.

Pity about the couples thing but there you go

Not a stroke – thank God Hungarian trains have loos!

I knew I was in trouble as I walked up the path to Torokbalint station. I needed to go to the loo. I had been perfectly all right when I left the house and walked the twenty minutes to the station, the warning signals only started with the path.

Now Torokbalint station consists of this: two platforms, two sets of rails. On the Budapest side, the frame of a shelter with three metal seats. No. Loo.

And this wasn’t anything so simple as a pee. Oh no. This was a poo. In fact you could call it faeces. It was a major poo. I could tell that it had been waiting quietly for the perfect moment to emerge and now, NOW was that moment.

Go away, I said to it mentally. Go back. Wait. We can do this at the language school, we can go there where they have a nice loo. Not here. There is No Loo.

Hur, hur, said the poo, no, I’m coming out now. HERE!

You can’t, I thought, as I went and sat on the metal seat.

Go on, squat down and do it, do it, said the poo.

F**k off, I mentally commanded, you’re not a baby. Anyway, that’s disgusting. Wait!

Go on, I’m coming out now! chortled the poo.

I clenched my buttocks and tried to avoid the gaze of the Hungarian lady who had just arrived. I gave her a little smile to reassure her. She moved away from me.

Now! the poo was shouting, Now! Now!

No, I said, standing up and pacing in a circle. I didn’t care about the Hungarian lady, I was desperately trying not to foul myself. Oh god, stop! I thought.

Come on, now! Now! laughed the poo.

That’s when I started feeling funny. Not just the indescribable bear-down feeling that you get at times like this, but hot and cold. I realised sweat was dripping down and I was shaking.

“Come on, train!” I groaned and another two Hungarians moved away from me.

Now! Now! Now! chanted the poo.

I was feeling sick. My eyesight went funny and I couldn’t quite focus. Oh shit, I thought, is this another stroke?

NOW! NOW! NOW! shrieked the poo.

The train was arriving. I could hardly stand and had a strange bottom-sticking out posture and my legs were a long way away. I got to the door, managed to press the button. Oh thank Christ, there was a loo, next to some young men with bicycles. A lovely clean roomy Hungarian train loo.

I went in and at last I could let fly. I’d describe the sensation but that would be rude. It was… great. And the poo was surprisingly small, not the gigantic evil bottom-monster I expected.

Then I sat and juddered until the next station, washed my hands and face – the sweat was still dripping and went and sat down, feeling exhausted.

I was better by the time I got to Deli palyaudvar though I took the metro to the language school where I’m teaching instead of walking as I normally would. I still felt a bit shaky.

What was that? I wondered and texted my doctor friend Christine in a panic. She reassured me. Just my vagus nerve playing up, she explained. Quite all right, almost certainly not a stroke or anything sinister.

A spot of internet surfing later and all was clear: I’d had a spot of defecation syncope, was all. Anti-hypertensive drugs may worsen it – I’m taking them for high blood pressure of course, since my stroke. Sometimes people faint and foul themselves. It’s just the vagus nerve getting a bit overexcited, as Christine said. 10th cranial nerve, controls parasympathetic nervous system, brakes to the accelerator of adrenaline and cortisol, according to Wikipedia “controls the involuntary muscles in the digestive system, stimulating peristalsis and gastrointestinal secretions.” Possible origin of the idea of chakras. Long slow breathing with long exhales will stimulate it and get it to put the brakes on. Allegedly.

Bastard!

Bloody foreigner – Bureaucracy Games #3

 

I sat down on a very hard chair and took another look. Yes, no mistake, they had got through a whole two people in the time I’d been gone. So I did some meditation. Once you’re in the Official Standard Bureaucracy Game Waiting Room, you’re in an endurance contest and it’s essential to be calm or you’ll blow a gasket. If you turn into Basil Fawlty and rave about the British consul, you’ve lost humiliatingly.

Returning from the land of Om, I finally noticed a tatty notice in English on a pillar which alleged that if we wanted to get our documents back, we should photocopy them. Ah shit – the oldest trick in the book, the Duplicate Documents They Don’t Tell You About. Amazingly there was a photocopier and it worked. I quickly photocopied everything before it broke.

Back to sitting. Two nice girls asked me if I could change some money so they could work the passport photo machine. I did it and then thought… “Oh no! What about photos? Yikes!” The Passport Photo That Has To Be Precisely Correct That They Don’t Tell You About is a much loved late move in the Bureaucracy Game, I’m looking at you, USA. I was sure I’d had some passport photos taken a couple of weeks ago for something else, surely… I shuffled through my enormous rucksack with which I accidentally knock over at least one Magyar on every bus, and found… Three passport photos. Yess!

Back to waiting. 608. Lots of numbers beginning with 3. 610. More numbers beginning with 3. I looked around and realised that there were in fact two kinds of people in the Official Standard Bureacracy Game Waiting Room. Most were harassed non-Magyars, dressed either sexy-cute or smart-casual, recently shaved, haircut, staring at the digital scoreboard.

Some were Magyars, striding through importantly, wearing suits. One particularly fine gentleman was in a shiny grey silk suit, pink shirt, white contrast collar, cream-and-gold striped tie, with the jacket slung round his shoulders. Shit! I thought, realising what I should have worked out a couple of hours before.

Lawyers!

The implications were devastating. That means they haven’t separated out the Appeals from the easy-peasy-I’m-an-EU-citizen and there are LOTS of Magyars in England, so deal with me and get rid of me first. The mysterious numbers in the 3 series on the board are the ones who brought their lawyers. Hence the taxis skulking outside to take the important lawyers home. Shit! Shit!

Looking around with new eyes, there were lots of lawyers. One gent from the Gambia sat down and started barking fluent Hungarian into his mobile after gently explaining to his client in English what was going on. Then he started explaining to a fellow lawyer about how he was going to Vienna for a one day conference which was all paid for by some agency or other. Then he started a fascinating story about how a dentist in the north of somewhere had a big herd of cows and was actually paid in cows but before he clarified whether this was in Hungary, the Gambia or somewhere else, his client’s number came up and off he went. Both he and his client had come in some hours after me, I noted. They left before me too.

I sat. I wandered about. I asked whether I actually needed a passport photo. No, said the girl. Five fifteen, said the nearly stationary clock. OK. Now I was worried. There’s a particularly nasty late-game stand-by in which, if they haven’t got to your number before closing time, you have to come back another day and start again. I anxiously checked my diary: yes, I could ruin two more mornings this week if necessary.

Paranoia got too strong. I lost some Patient Waiting points by asking the information desk girl if they played the Closing Time move, but they didn’t. They just don’t let anybody else in after 6.00 pm. Slowly the OSBGWR emptied as the digital board rattled up through the 300s and in the 400s. A 627 flashed by and was gone. The 400s continued their slow parade.

Right, I thought, I know what’s going on. You’re playing the two queues system and you’re doing it badly. You’re putting the Appeals + Lawyers through before the boringly ordinary and easy EU citizens and that, as you should know, expert players as you are, is a Foul. You should at least have a quota for how many Appeals go through before waiting EU citizens and you know it.

It was late for calling a Queuing Foul but on the other hand, I knew I’d been accumulating Patient Waiting points and I should be able to do something with them. I went up to one of the girls who had been processing a different lot of people who was clicking through the digital numbers. Yes, she spoke English. “I wonder,” I asked with elaborate timidity, “if I’ve missed my number? I came in at 14.31.” She asked to see my ticket which meant she knew I had her: I showed it to her, 628, stamped 14.31.  “627 was quite a while ago,” I amplified. “You’re next,” she said and trotted backstage.

And I was. Ten minutes later I was into the Inner Sanctum with the booths and the bulletproof glass, in front of a very pretty girl with pink trousers and a cute layered hairdo with black underneath and bottle-blonde on top. In the time she could spare from flirting with the tanned lawyer at the next door booth who was sorting a footballer’s application, she input all the stuff, collected the photocopies, had me sign six or seven documents. Where’s the stamp, she demanded, perhaps hoping for a late turn of play. Nah. Very slowly I got it out of my purse and handed it over. Stamp stamp, sign sign, stamp. I read the card to check it had the correct details. Despite the tanned lawyer tilting back on his chair beside me, it did.

Hot plastic lamination – yess! A beautiful smell! I got the card (the other one comes later in the post.) Hah! I may have lost Rounds #1 and #2, but I narrowly won Round #3 and Round #4 is a knockout to me!

I won. Again. Hot damn, I’m good.