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