The Three Witches

Actually I’d really like to call them the technical term for lady-dogs, but I’m trying to be nice and clean up my act. I’m calling them witches.
So. These are three girls in one of the classes I teach in Sajokaza. They’re fifteen or sixteen years old and they have total contempt for everyone and everything, especially stupid English women (if England even exists) who keeps talking to them in stupid English (it’s just noise because it’s not lovely clear Hungarian) and even expects them to write stuff down in their notebooks (whut?)
One of them is a pretty fat girl with lovely black ringlets and a round face who giggles a lot. One of them is a classic troubled teen, petite, boyish, constantly playing on her ancient mobile and flopping about with her feet stuck out in front of her and going to sleep theatrically with her head on the fat girl’s shoulder. Often she doesn’t turn up which is good news for me. One of them clearly has a good brain but doesn’t see any reason to use it and makes cutting witty remarks occasionally which the stupid English woman doesn’t understand, but mostly just plucks her eyebrows, gives herself a manicure and puts on her eyeliner and mascara (remarkably accurately considering she’s using her phone as a mirror).
I tried moving them to the side of the room, old fashioned lift-top desks and all, but they came back. They didn’t want to have a beauty party by themselves, they wanted to make sure nobody else got a chance to learn stupid English either.
And I want to say to them – I totally grok you guys. I’m like totally grooving…
No, I don’t. What I do want to say to them is: I was you, once upon a time. I wasn’t quite as selfish because I was happy to sit at the back of the class and write stories. I only broke out the attitude if some stupid teacher tried to teach me some stupid language like French and kept insisting I answer her stupid questions. I slept through most of the French lessons, head on the table, probably snoring. A friend from those days remembered me knitting through one lesson and when Mrs Wood told me to bring her the knitting, telling her I was only doing it to try and keep awake.
Occasionally I would triumphantly take the other girls’ attention away completely by letting them read my “Alias Smith & Jones” stories in the lesson.
I don’t think the Three Witches are doing anything as creative as writing stories, but then if mobile phones with games on them had been invented when I was a stroppy fifteen year old, I would never have done anything except play on them.
Of course I could tell them that they’ll regret all this when they get older and especially when the brainy one realises she could have done something better with her young life than (probably) get pregnant and that possibly learning stupid English might have helped her do it. They wouldn’t listen, of course, even if I could cobble together the Hungarian to say it, because they already know everything.
So I think, well, Mrs Wood, you should see this, it would make you laugh a lot. Karma’s a wonderful thing.

I’m on the train (again)

This is a rant. I’ve said how great BKK is in Budapest, how punctual, clean and genuinely useful it is. I’ve said nice things about Hungarian trains (they have lovely clean toilets on them, when they’re new rolling stock).
This is not nice. Because it’s not nice to advertise a train as arriving in Miskolc at 8.30 am when it’s really going to arrive at 9.00 am. It’s not nice to do this when a lot of the people on the train will be relying on connecting with a local train going to Kazincbarcika which leaves at 8.41 am – me, for example. It’s really unnice to do this with the last train at 19.30 on a Sunday which is supposed to connect with the Kazincbarcika train at 21.40 but doesn’t. I had to be rescued from Miskolc that time because it was that or an overnight stay on a bench in the station yard.
In fact I have never experienced a train to Miskolc which got in on time. Which is pathetic.
I’ve experienced similar lameness with trains in Cornwall although at least they usually hold the branchline train to Falmouth if the Truro train is late.
It’s more important to have punctual trains in country areas because in the countryside very often the next train after the one you missed is the next day. In some places buses only happen a couple of times a day, if that (in Sajokaza for instance). These areas are poor so people can’t just switch to a car. They’re stuck. In fact they’re worse off than their grandparents were because they aren’t such good walkers and they have to walk along the verges of busy roads, not pleasant country lanes. Footpaths? Don’t be silly, the area’s much too poor for that.
It’s worth pointing out that it makes it much more difficult to get a job if you’re stuck in the depths of the country with two buses a day and no car – a fact that probably hasn’t occurred to any politician because he’s got a car, of course.
Things like train networks always make rich-bubble people cross and they say nonsensical things like “it’s time to streamline the rail network” and “public services should pay for themselves.”
You can streamline a fish, you can’t streamline a network because it’s supposed to have lots of little twigs on it. If your body streamlined your blood system, your hands and feet would turn black and drop off.
And public services can not pay for themselves because they deal in distributed goods which benefit the whole of society but are not economic for an individual to pay for. Practically no train services make an actual profit because they can’t charge enough to the individuals – this is why every time South Eastern trains hike the ticket prices again, the roads get fuller of cars and people start muttering darkly about moving back to London to live in the broom cupboard that is all you can afford now.


Or why you can’t let a historical novelist near your family history.
Last week I posted a blog about my grandmother, Dr Lilla Veszy Wagner (Anyuka). This has caused a certain amount of controversy in my family and on one particular point I think they are absolutely right.
I said that I thought my grandfather, Counsellor Matyas Veszy (Apuka), had kept kosher all his life – which would mean of course that his conversion to Christianity was not sincere and that in his heart he was still Jewish.
Well I’ve been told by my siblings in no uncertain terms that this is wrong: Apuka’s conversion to Christianity was as sincere and faith-based as Anyuka’s and there is plenty of family oral evidence to show that he ate bacon and pork and documentary evidence to show he was an active member of the Reformed Church in Hungary. It’s also clear from many of my mother’s stories that he felt he had a very special relationship with Jesus Christ, who would always look after him and his family.
Worse still, as my brother has pointed out, to have pretended to be a Christian would have been something he would have considered utterly dishonourable – and if my grandfather was anything, he was an honourable man. It was an integral and vital part of him. In Hungarian one word for “honour” is “tisztelet” which connects with “tiszta” which means “clean.” When he was asked to take the brief for Cardinal Mindszenty in the cardinal’s show trial under the Communists, that was the word Apuka used when he said (against the advice of his friends) that yes, it would be an honour. Mindszenty wasn’t allowed a lawyer in the show trial so Apuka didn’t appear. It was dangerous enough just to take the brief.
So I got that spectacularly wrong and I’m sorry.
Why did I get it so wrong? Well because I’m a novelist not a historian which means I dig around in the great and wonderful quarry of history and when I bring up something interesting or when I find a few little clues that might point to something interesting, I grab them and weave all sorts of speculations and stories around them which might later turn into a novel. I’m doing something similar at the moment with the character of Fr. John Gerrard – a 16th century Catholic priest. That’s fine: a 16th century Catholic priest doesn’t have any descendants to be upset by the stuff I’m making up about him (probably).
I can’t do that with my grandfather. So I’ll start digging and researching now, despite the fact that my Hungarian can’t even cope with children’s stories yet, and document everything as thoroughly as I can. Maybe I’ll write my mother’s story as non-fiction, maybe I’ll do it as fiction if I can’t find what I need – but it’ll be clearly labelled as one or the other.
No more half-arsed speculations.