Time to chuck out the old Right/Left dualism.

We need a completely new way of thinking about politics and we need to throw out the old Right/Left dualism.

It’s finished. It’s had its day, caused untold death and destruction throughout the 20th century and needs shooting in the head.

Yes, it was quite a useful tool because we humans are dualistic thinkers and we have a visceral need to split things into two categories – right/left, bad/good, up/down etc. But it doesn’t work any more. Partly because as the Right becomes more and more extreme, the Left is floundering, having lost its founding myth of Marxist thought. Partly because there are important political groupings that don’t fit into it at all – is the Daesh/ISIS death cult leftist or rightist? Neither, it’s a religious fundamentalism. Partly because a lot of political thought has become as sclerotic as the thinkers, tinkering with unimportant things.

We need a new axis to help us think about politics.

Here’s one.

 

<____________________________________>

Extremist                                                                     Moderate

 

It’s really about finding political similarities. Although people with leftist convictions often feel more comfortable with other lefties and rightwingers with other righties, there are a whole bunch of people who are completely excluded. What about Libertarians? You usually find them lumped with rightwingers, yet Libertarians are usually neither racist nor sexist nor interested in controlling what drugs people take. They are as anti-government control as any dyed-in-the-wool Anarchist. So where do they go?

Simple. On the Finney axis, moderate Libertarians go with other moderates like old fashioned liberals. Extreme Libertarians go with the extremists. Tea Party republicans obviously go on the Extremist end, moderate Rupublicans stay moderate. Where do we put the radical Evangelical Right? With the Extremists.

Like this.

<____________________________________>

Extremists                                                                                        Moderates

Communists                                                                                     normal Democrats

Tea Party Republicans                                                                     normal Republicans

Anarchists                                                                                        Liberals

Daesh/ISIS                                                                                        Episcopalians

Creationists                                                                                      Reform Judaism

 

Etcetera. By all means tinker with the lists but remember, this axis is about a willingness v. an unwillingness to listen, awareness of v. obliviousness to confirmation bias, ability to have civilized debate v. insistence that your viewpoint, is the only one.

Just in case you’re worried, in fact there are relatively few Extremists in the world. Most people are instinctively Moderate. The trouble is, a few Extremists with their passion and hatred and noise can have a truly massive effect on everyone else – as shown by the Tea Party and Daesh/Isis. They can convince unthinking Moderates that racism is fine and sexism is funny.

On the other hand, sometimes the Extremists’ passion and hatred and noise are what you need to change a bad status quo – for instance, the people who destroyed the Slave Trade were the Extremists of their time, while most white people were just toddling along comfortably, never thinking about slavery.

So we need both styles of thought. That’s worth remembering. It’s worth repeating. WE NEED BOTH STYLES OF THOUGHT.

Personally, I’m an Extreme Moderate, which is a whole other ballgame.

 

Big Fat Fail, Lidl Supermarkets

I’m going to be persnickety. Two things about Lidl (a European discount supermarket for my American readers) are seriously annoying me. One is kind of petty. The other is actually pretty important.

Let’s start with the petty one. Lidl in Hungary has normal trolleys and also smaller baskets on wheels. I like to use the smaller baskets on wheels, mainly because you don’t have to fiddle around finding a coin (100 forints or 1 euro) to put in the slot so you can release the trolley from its chains and start trundling it round. I never never have a 100 forint piece when I need one, or I have it in the form of two 50 forint coins etc.

Hungarian supermarkets also generally have a nice custom whereby they provide a small shelf near the checkout where you can put your basket after you’ve paid so you can sort out your plastic bag and avoid putting the eggs under the cabbage, while not holding up the queue.

All was fine with Lidl until this year when some kind of order clearly came down from on high, saying that you could no longer keep your little basket when you went through the checkout, you had to leave your basket before the checkout. So you couldn’t just put your shopping back in your basket after you’d paid for it, and trot over to the shelf to sort yourself out. No, after you’ve paid, you have to either a) put all your shopping in your bag immediately at the checkout which slows down the queue a lot and can be stressful for people who worry about that kind of thing; or b) you have to carry your shopping over to the shelf, requiring several trips, meaning you might drop the eggs, and anyway slows down the queue.

I told you this was petty, didn’t I?

It’s one of those stupid little rules that higher management love to invent. Probably they don’t want to pay the lad who collected up the baskets and took them to the entrance. Maybe it’s a fire hazard. Whatever. The fact that this rule is encouraging the Gauleiter element among the checkout girls and boys, is also irritating. I had a snotty girl order me to take my basket back to the other end of the queue the other day. Instantly reverting to childhood, I put the basket on my head, shouted “coming through!” to the uncomprehending queue and did my best to damage the basket when I dropped it into the pile. Then it took me a remarkably long time to put all my shopping in my plastic bag after I’d paid for it, while the girl sat back and rolled her eyes, the way Hungarian checkout girls often do. I’m not proud of this, by the way. But what do they expect? It’s a stupid irritating petty rule, impacts old ladies more than anyone else, plus you slow down the queue whatever happens and the queues are slow enough already because Lidl clearly doesn’t believe in making it easy to pay.

Remove this silly rule, Lidl. Find another way to save the basket-collecting lad’s wages.

So that’s the petty complaint. Here’s the far more serious complaint and here I’m really being unfair to Lidl because every single supermarket does it. But Lidl have pissed me off, so it’s them.

Do you have to put sugar in everything? I mean, the chocolate and the creamy puddings, that’s fine. I’m trying to cut down the sugar I eat and I’ve taken to reading ingredients lists. Ye gods. EVERYTHING has sugar (or artificial sweeteners which are worse) in it. Not just breakfast cereal and meusli and salami and tinned sweetcorn and sauces and seasonings and pickled cucumbers and bread and coconut milk and…

Frozen seafood? OSTRICH STEAKS? Why in the name of the gods of food do you feel the urge to put sugar in ostrich steaks? Aren’t they sold as healthy meat because low fat? Seafood is ALREADY sweet, do you have to put sugar in that? Why?

Well, I know why – it’s because sugar is addictive and you want us consumers to come back for more ostrich steaks and that’s the quickest and cheapest way to do it.

That’s not good enough, Lidl (and all the rest of you cheating crowd of big grocers). People are wising up to the dangers of sugar and in particular the dangers of sugar that you don’t know is there (ostrich steaks!) I’m not the only person cutting down on sugar. Sugar is quickly becoming the Supervillain of food, not poor old fat. It’s implicated in heart disease, high blood pressure and the pandemic of obesity sweeping the globe, not to mention it causes Type 2 Diabetes. And possibly Alzheimer’s, since it may be that Alzheimer’s is just Type 3 Diabetes of the brain.

You’re going to say you only put a teensy amount in the ostrich steaks. Well it mounts up. Take a look at the USA if you want an awful warning on what happens when you add a little sugar here and a little there. Their obesity levels are at 1 in 3 and their Type 2 Diabetes stats are following up the curve into the stratosphere.

Here’s my suggestion, Lidl. Be at the forefront of the grocery revolution. Introduce a line of products which have neither sugar nor artificial sweeteners in them. Like ostrich steaks and seafood without sugar, vitamin pills without sweeteners. Don’t add anything else like fructose and maltose which are also sugars. Just guaranteed no-sugar no-sweetener food. You can charge a bit more for them, I realise it’s going to be hard NOT adding sugar.

You remember. Like food used to be. No sugar in it unless it’s a pudding. Do it Lidl, your competitors will laugh and then they’ll follow you.

Oh and let  us keep our baskets, eh?

Why Donald Trump might be President of the USA.

I think I understand why Donald Trump can get away with anything. I’ve been mulling it over for a while and I think it all goes back to the US Apprentice “reality” series (2004-2016), the TV show that is basically an extended job interview for eight people. Donald Trump was a co-producer and the guy who said “You’re fired!”  At its peak it had an audience of over 11 million though its ratings have been steadily dropping and it has changed to using celebrities rather than real people. It’s still running, although Trump was fired by NBC in 2015 for saying rude things about Mexicans.

Now I don’t have a dog in this race. I’m British, I can’t vote in an American election. I only care whether it’s Hillary or Donald, because I don’t want to be nuked by anybody.

On the one side we have Hillary Clinton, whom nobody seems to like. True, she is a long-serving politician with a few skeletons in her closet and is accused, on small evidence, of corruption mainly because of her years in politics and being married to Bill.

The fact that she’s female in the world of American politics is a huge disadvantage. She has a much longer, more complicated and contradictory set of unspoken rules that she must obey than any man. If she raises her voice she’s told off for being shrill. If she doesn’t raise her voice, she’s told she’s weak. It’s odd but true that old-fashioned Europe is much more comfortable with female rulers. Just to remind you, in the UK we had Margaret Thatcher in 1979, or 37 years ago.

On the other side we have Donald Trump. I honestly can’t imagine a man less worthy to lead America. Based on what he says, repeatedly, he’s a bigot: he hates everyone except white men, or possibly, himself. His misogyny is legendary. He’s presently showing worrying symptoms of Alzheimer’s.  He has a lot of strikes against him on the financial side as well – including self-admitted non-payment of taxes which he regards as smart, routinely bankrupting small businesses by not paying their invoices (also smart) and being in the pocket of Russian oligarchs.

If Hillary or anyone female had that kind of backstory of sexual scandal and financial fecklessness, ridiculous ignorance and bullying of disabled veterans, she would be laughed out of the primaries. She would never run, let alone get a nomination, Republican or Democrat.

None of this seems to matter to Trump’s supporters.

I think there’s one explanation here for some of the male support for Trump. They may not be misogynists like him, but they still don’t like the idea of a woman as President because… well… it reminds them of Mom. We don’t have to get too Freudian here, but this is very clear from a lot of the unbelievable spite hurled at Hillary.

OK, so why does Donald have any support among women, which he clearly does. Why would any woman support a man who clearly hates women, puts them down, jeers at them for being fat and having periods.

Well, some of those women are diehard Republicans. They’re thinking: he may not agree with Republicanism, he may be a misogynist, but he’s our misogynist, so we’ll vote for him.

Now there is an unpleasant (and wrong) attitude in Europe, which looks down on Americans as crazy, ignorant, heavily-armed lunkheads and that’s why they want to vote for Donald. This is a stupid attitude. America still has the most vibrant economy in the world and you don’t get that if everybody’s dumb. You have the normal distribution curve but in general, Americans are smart because that economy is very harsh if you aren’t. Some of them pretend to be dumb, the better to sell things to the snotty Europeans. They’re also adventurous. Only eight years ago they voted in a black man to be President.

So why are any of them, male or female, preparing to elect as President, a man who is less intelligent than most of them?

I think it’s down to the “The Apprentice.” There’s an effect which makes the stars of soap operas and reality shows seem like one of us, friends or at least acquaintances. They come into our living rooms and bedrooms and talk to us, entertain us. We often talk back. Subliminally, we think of them as near neighbours, as people we know.

There’s a long-running radio soap in England called “The Archers” – an everyday tale of farming folk. I once heard that it was a very serious decision if one of the characters was going to have a baby – because the BBC knew that they would have to hire extra staff to cope with the flood of baby jackets, pompom hats and bootees that their fans would send to the fictional baby. The mother was real to the knitting ladies, she felt like a friend, so the baby was real too.

Even being quite a minor celebrity this way helps. Would we have had the Brexit vote in  the UK without cuddly old Boris Johnson, from “Have I Got News for You”, cheering it on? I suspect not.

Anyone we see so regularly, even someone as brazen and bigoted as Donald, unconsciously becomes part of Our Tribe. He gets to be Uncle Don, he’s funny, he shocks the liberals. He’s a character. He’s like the drunken, fat, unpleasant Sheriff that you can’t get rid of because, incredibly, everybody likes him.

They say things like “Uncle Don tells it like it is” and “Yeah, he’s a bit rough when he’s talking about Mexicans/Chinese/women (but who likes them, eh?)” They say, “Hey, Uncle Don, have a beer, big guy!”

That’s why Donald is going to be elected. Because the audience for “The Apprentice” have all accepted him into Their Tribe. Hillary has never been on a reality show, she isn’t considered part of anyone’s Tribe, except her own.

Uncle Don is shocking and funny and a lot of people feel they know him well. “Yeah, sure, Uncle Don, we’ll elect you. Have another beer.”

 

B*gg*r, we have to Brexit.

It’s very annoying when someone on Facebook makes a point from the other side of the Brexit/Remain argument which is not only valid but blows your argument out of the water. For the avoidance of doubt he was a Brexiteer but I’ll keep his name out of this until he gives me permission to use it.

I was banging on about parliamentary sovereignty, which I happen to believe in strongly. It was the only thing that tempted me to vote Brexit in the teeth of Farage, Boris and Gove (for people reading this in 2018, they were prominent politicians who lied their way through the campaign on the side of Brexit. Yes, I do mean Boris Johnson, the reality show star). Parliamentary sovereignty was being steadily watered down by the EU and the highest appeal court in the land was no longer in the land but in Luxemburg. I don’t like that.

My Facebook interlocutor (friend would be a bit strong) basically said, paraphrased: Cameron delegated parliamentary sovereignty to the referendum, making no mention of a two-thirds majority, which he should have, nor that it was advisory. In fact, he said it would be binding. He is the PM, or he was (2018ers, you can look him up). In the UK we live in what is really an elective dictatorship so he could do that, however stupid it was in retrospect. Obviously he thought that Remain would win.

This blew my argument about a general election and a vote in Parliament on grounds of Parliamentary sovereignty out of the water. Even the constitutional lawyers (Mishcon Reya) riding to the rescue of Remain are going to have trouble with that, especially if the Brexiteers get their own constitutional lawyers saddled up and galloping out.

I still think that a general election on the subject would be a very good idea but it’s no longer possible to say it’s essential.

Bugger.

So we are now going to have to crash out of the EU somehow, a vast change that will take years and billions of quid to achieve. The EU MEPs are saying “Goodbye, don’t let the door hit you in the ass,” only a bit politer. We’ve always been the awkward squad and as a result we probably had the best deal of anyone in the EU, but hey! What does it matter when you’ve now got that extra 350 million quid a week to spend on the NHS?

Oh we don’t. Oh dear.

There is also the nasty sight of English xenophobia crawling out from under its rock. I suspect that many ardent Brexiteers genuinely though that by voting “Leave” they were voting against horrid brown and yellow people and people who don’t speak English but insist on rudely speaking their nonsense garble where proper English people can hear them. They thought this because Farage told them so. In fact I suspect quite a few of them thought that voting “Leave!” was an imperative addressed to the horrid foreigners – as in, Leave, you bloody foreigners!

Of course, the idiots are now wondering why the bloody foreigners won’t Leave immediately so they torch Polish homes and shout “Go home!” on buses to third generation Englishmen and women who happen to be brown.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so disgusting and tragic.

How was Cameron so stupid? Well, he’s sloppy, of course, always has been. But it’s mainly that he and all the other Remainers, including closet Remainers like Boris, simply forget the people who live in the rest of England. If he thought of them at all, it was as a distant noisy crowd of people, all watching TOWIE and necking beer and doners (traditional English food, that). The oiks, as he probably called them at Oxford. Rather awful people, in fact. And the old, of course. A bit set in their ways. Not many of them. Surely the nice people outnumber the poor and the old? Don’t they?

No, you twat, they don’t. Especially in a neoliberal extreme capitalist system, the Poor VASTLY outnumber the Nice. A lot of them are often ex-Nice themselves and extremely angry about it. They were the cohort who voted Leave as a way to kick you in the balls, by the way.

And so Cameron ran his referendum, no two-thirds majority, binding, and dropped us deep in the shit becase he’s sloppy and has lived in the Rich Bubble all his life. I’m sure he’ll be suffering terribly in his Dordogne/Provencal/Tuscan villa (can’t be bothered to look it up, there’s sloppy for you).

You may have noticed that my contempt for the man is epic, even exceeding my contempt for Tony Blair. He had a responsible position as Prime Minister and he had a duty of care to all the people of Britain, not just the Nice. He had a duty of care to the Poor as well, the people who are too busy coping with being poor to check out the clever arguments, weren’t sure what the EU is (but googled it afterwards), trusted Farage because he likes a pint, trusted Boris because he’s funny.

But the Brexiteers won and now we’re stuck with it. Well done, Cameron. Great job.

Hoo. Fracking. Ray.

In the Referendum, please don’t be tempted to kick Cameron in the balls.

The referendum is tomorrow and the country seems to be evenly divided. I’ve read a lot of stuff for In and a lot of stuff for Out and to be honest, I’m still not sure. My postal vote has already gone in (hope it gets there in time) and I voted Remain.

Why? I wasn’t very impressed with the Out crew, despite my love for Boris. The great and good seem to be solidly for Remain – which immediately made me want to vote Out. The minute I thought I’d vote Out, Farrage would come up with something so outrageously racist that I’d go back to Remain.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

So now we need the Wisdom of Crowds. That’s the strange fact that a group of people will often come up with a better answer to a problem than any lone genius. The typical example of this is at those Summer Fayre competitions to guess the weight of the piglet in ounces/guess the number of marbles in the jar. It’s a fact that if you go late, add up all the numbers suggested so far, divide it by the number of people who tried, you will probably come up with the right answer. It’s strange, it’s counter-intuitive, but it works.

It’s why democracy works.

It’s why every vote is important, no matter which way you vote. The more votes there are, the closer to the right answer the result will be. I don’t mean “right answer” as in “the one I agree with.” I mean “right answer” in the sense of what is best for the country – it could be In, it could be Out, I’m honestly not sure.

So first, make sure you vote.

Secondly, try to resist the temptation to give David Cameron a good kick in the balls – which would be an Out vote. I know, I know, you see his round fatuous face, hear his oily “sincere” voice and toffy tones and you instantly want to machine gun him. Seriously, don’t give in to this.

The Wisdom of Crowds only works if everyone is honestly trying to get the right answer – not being distracted by the alluring prospect of watching Cameron spitting balls and shitting teeth.

So go to it, British Crowd. Let’s see what you got!

Climate Change March, Budapest, 29 November 2015

Well I went on the Climate Change March in Budapest.

I liked:

The friendly informal atmosphere, with everyone walking along and nobody trying to get in front of anyone else. There were leaders, mostly young students and the traditional mysterious Frenchman (Sartre? Camus?) but they weren’t too full of themselves. They pushed the sound system along on a bike and tried valiantly to get some chants started (but see below).

The organisation. At first I was worried we might be outnumbered by the cops, but in the end there was quite a respectable number of us, mostly youngsters and expats, with a few old hippies and punks (like me). I get a real thrill when they hold up the traffic for us as we walk past. Sorry, drivers, you must hate us… But it’s great!

I loved the samba drums – we could have done with more of them but the ones we had were great. I must get into samba drumming, it’s wonderful.

A beautiful final image – we were asked to pick up and carry autumn leaves and then at the end of the march, drop them in the Danube to symbolise the letters they’ve sent to the government (leaf and letter are the same word in Hungarian). Watching them fluttering down to land on the surface of the river was strangely satisfying, like playing Poohsticks.

I didn’t like:

The arguments I had with friends before the march – all saying, oh it’s not worth it, we’re doomed but not till I’m dead, what’s the point, one person can’t do anything, I’m sick of recycling, but I like eating meat… etc etc. I will get into the Competitive Austerity problem another time, but this really annoys me. The only thing that excuses you from a climate change march is having kids – and there were families with kids there. It’s important. Until we have sorted out the climate change problem, nothing else matters because climate change will KILL US ALL if we carry on ignoring it.

The speeches. Part of the problem was that they were mainly in Hungarian, valiantly translated into English as they went along. Now I’ve been here for two years, nearly, and even allowing 6 months off for having a stroke, I still don’t understand Hungarian very well. I can cope with a normal conversation, usually, but sooner or later the sentences will lengthen, the words will acquire a forest of endings and I will completely lose track. This despite a lot of work, may I say, so it depresses me. So bear that in mind when I say that I found the speeches too long and too complex, even when translated into English. Even worse were the points from an interminable pompous letter they had sent to the government. Honestly, I even felt sorry for Viktor Orban, though I’m sure he didn’t read it.

You need three points only, not ten. You need short punchy sentences. Like this. You need a poet’s ear for what people will actually hear.

When you’re shouting slogans, they need to be short and rhythmical, not long and well… lame. That’s why none of them really got going. Find a poet. There are lots of poets in Hungary, or there were. Chuck a rock into a kavezo and you’ll probably hit two. Even I can tell Hungarian poetry is wonderful, so I know you can do better.

See you next year!

The Mum, the Phone and the Baby

She was a nice-looking woman, with a loving smile for her toddler as they sat down in Miskolc station waiting room. He was clutching some pastry and sat next to her philosophically munching on it, with his little legs kicking high above the floor.

And then she took out her phone. Her toddler looked at it and his face sort of set. It was a patient weary look, but also somehow very lonely. He sat beside her, eating his pastry and dropping crumbs while she went on Facebook, texted her friends and played one of those addictive phone games, maybe Farm Story 2 which a friend of mine loves.

The minutes passed and all the mum’s focus was on the phone. She noticed when the toddler started scattering lumps of pastry everywhere, told him off gently, mopped up the worst of the crumbs and went to the bin with the toddler to throw out the remains.

Then she went back to the bench and focussed on her phone again. The toddler looked at her, looked at me. I smiled at him but he didn’t smile back, probably because I was a stranger. He looked at his mum again. Then he struggled his little fat body onto the bench face down, and started rocking to and fro on his tummy, rubbing himself on the bench.

We were up to 20 minutes now and his mum was still playing her game, hadn’t said a word to him. My heart bled for the little boy. She didn’t notice her baby comforting himself in the best way he could.

He stopped, tried to go to sleep but the bench was too hard. I really wanted to shout at the woman, tell her to pay attention to her baby, not her bloody phone, but I didn’t know how to express it in Hungarian pungently enough. Also in a long and loud career of tactlessness, I have eventually learned that people build walls of defense and pay no attention to what you say.

At last, after half an hour, the mum noticed the time and at last put her phone away. She put his little coat on and I used my useful position as a “néni” in Hungary – it translates as Auntie but basically means any woman over forty can talk to a mum about her baby.

I smiled and asked how old he was. “Two years old,” she said. “He’s very well-behaved.” I said and she smiled and picked up the toddler, gave him a kiss and rushed off to her train with him in her arms.

She was not a bad mum, in fact, I think that without her phone she would have been doing what I did when my kids were that age, talking to him, singing, playing games, going to look at engines – anything to keep the little bugger quiet, in fact. And considering how easily I get addicted to Facebook and games, I wouldn’t claim I would be any better than her now.

But oh it made me sad to see the little boy comforting himself all alone, next to his mum on the bench in Miskolc railway station waiting room.

Why I love Hungary.

I’ve now been in Hungary for 18 months – and I love it. Here are a few reasons why.

Men offer to carry my bag for me. I’m not Scandinavian so I don’t tell them off. I just give them my backpack and laugh as they stagger.

They have palinka.

Women say nice things about your clothes and hairstyle, shoes etc – perfectly genuinely. This is great because women are far more likely to notice those things anyway.

They kiss on two cheeks and the men do too, but in a properly distant way.

They have wonderful cakes. No, really, they do. Old fashioned cake shops are a little bit heavy, modern ones are heavenly (Central Kavezo).

Everywhere you go, even in the ciggy shop in a little village near Miskolc, they have excellent coffee.

They have an absolutely wonderful public transport system in Budapest (BKK) and a berlet (monthly pass) which you can use everywhere, even the Danube boats, for about 25 quid.

The trains have been known to run on time away from Budapest too.

They have Tokaji.

All the children I have met have wonderful manners.

People are generally, habitually polite. They say “koszonom” (thank you), “szivesen” (you’re welcome), “bocsanat” (excuse me), a lot. They say “Jo etvagyot” (Bon appetit – there IS no English translation) whenever they see you eating, even if it’s just a Twix.

They have four different ways of saying “you” both singular and plural: friendly, formal, friendly-formal and courteous. So eight. I’m still disentangling how this works and despite experience with French, I haven’t got the hang of it yet.

When two adults decide to stop addressing each other in the formal mode and use the “te” form they entwine their arms and drink palinka.

They do have dumb politicians who put up posters telling immigrants to go home (in very complicated official Hungarian). But they also have civil rights groups who put up posters in exactly the same style and colour, except these say in English: “We’re sorry about our prime minister.”

They are very affectionate and family-loving.

They are also capable of acting with amazing courage – as in 1956 when they took on the old Soviet Union and also in 1989 when they did it again… And won. Theirs was the honour of the first major breach in the Iron Curtain.

Boy, do Hungarians know how to party.

They genuinely love guests and although they’ve stopped taking the wheels off your coach so you’ll stay longer, if you can walk after a proper Hungarian dinner you’re… well, you’re a freak.

They are extremely good at the fighting sports like fencing, taekwondo and judo. However I have never felt the least bit threatened anywhere in Hungary.

They are very musical and have no snobbery about classical concerts only being for old rich people.

Their countryside is beautiful and so is Budapest.

Slouchy sullen young men with piercings in every pierceable bit of their face, get up immediately for old ladies on trams and offer them their seat.

They also do handicrafts at parties – very well. This is surprisingly fun.

They have a national health service which has similar problems to ours but worked very well when I had to use it.

They are brutally honest about themselves and will be brutally honest with you if you show you won’t be offended.

 

Why I don’t like Hungary.

The food is a bit heavy and can be a bit salty for an English wuss.

The children speak much better Hungarian than I do.

They have a special official government way of writing that is totally opaque, even to a lot of Hungarians. However the actual bureaucrats are often quite nice.

People in Budapest, when you ask them anything in Hungarian, immediately respond with a flood of excellent English which is a tad depressing when you’re trying to learn the language and have been told that your accent is really good.

Don’t call me Pat!

There are two kinds of people in the world.

There are people who, when you meet them, ask your name, listen to what you say and perhaps ask, “What do you like to be called?” Then you can tell them that you answer to Trish or Trisha, or Shitfer as in Shitferbrains or Moonflower Dancing Unicorn or whatever. And they call you what you prefer to be called and you ask them the same question and it’s all lovely.

And then there are the other people.

These people hear you say “Patricia” and then they arbitrarily decide to call you something different, like Pat. I don’t know why they do this, but they do. They don’t ask, they assume they know what your nickname is and they just say something like “Well Pat, what a lovely day it is…”

And I am left with a quandary. Because I hate being called Pat and I always have, ever since the day at school when the Religious teacher (are you there, Miss Coleman) said, “You don’t mind being called Pat, do you?” and at 11 I was too wet and shy to say, “Yes, I mind.”

Not that it would have done a lot of good because if you say to a person who has just arbitrarily renamed you something different, they get very shirty about it. They’re usually insulted, in fact.

Again, I don’t understand this but it’s true. They act as if you’d just spat in their face. “Oh,” they say, in shocked surprise, “Ok, sorry,” And they say it in that huffy way that you know means you will to them forever be a stuck up bitch and they’ll tell everybody else how rude you were to them.

If they’re completely clueless they’ll say, “Oh, don’t you like Pat then?”

If I say, “no, I don’t,” they’ll roll their eyes at this fussy irrationality. If I explain about Miss Coleman and all, sometimes they laugh and even say sorry. Then they continue to call me Pat. Next time they meet me, they’ll call me Pat. It doesn’t matter how many times I beseech them to call me Trisha, I’m forever Pat to them.

You can’t win this game. If you don’t protest, you’re stuck with a name that you hate because to you it denotes a tennis-playing redhead  with a quacking voice like a duck (long story). If you do protest, some kind of weird lock happens to their memory and you still get stuck with a name that you hate because etc.

Sometimes they get so indignant because they’re calling you Pat on the phone and you’re trying to explain you don’t like being called Pat, that they put the phone down on you for the wicked insult of you not liking the name they’ve randomly chosen for you without your permission. And then they sulk.

I call them Random Renamers. If I can, once I’ve found out what they like to be called, I call them something else. You know, like theý’ve just done to me. Sometimes this works. But not often.

Only one country according to .gov.uk – Britain

This is going to be short. That’s because I am very very annoyed with the Student Finance UK people. My son Luke is going to the University of Kent in September 2016 (to study Anthropology with a year in Japan, thank you for asking and yes, I’m very proud of him.)

He needs student finance which you have to apply for online. The Student Finance website quite reasonably asks me to supply them with my own most recent financial information. Only I can’t.

I had an account with them about seven years ago for Alex my eldest and I haven’t used it since. No, I don’t remember the password or the secret question about musical instruments (whut?) They supply a phone number for me to call to reset my password.

Except this phone number doesn’t work outside the UK. Do they supply an international number for people who have parents living abroad – surely I can’t be the only one?

Nope. Not as far as I can see.

Do they supply an email for me to contact them and tell them I need a number that works outside the UK? Any other address?

Nope. Not as far as I can see.

Stalemate.