My brother Mark Finney’s eulogy of our mother – Daisy Gizella Emőke Finney née Vészy

DAISY FINNEY EULOGY

Today I would like to say a little to celebrate the life of the quietly extraordinary woman who was my mother.

There are too many stories for just twelve or so minutes. They could fill a book and thankfully my sister, Patricia, is currently working on one. All I can do is to provide a few highlights and describe some of the people who shared her life.

Daisy grew up in Hungary in a well-to-do, highly intellectual family. Her father was a lawyer and a decorated hero of the first world war, her mother a writer and novelist who later became a psychoanalyst. She was an only child and was doted upon. Here is a brief extract from a beautiful tribute written by her cousin and friend: Vivian Foti-Wagner:

“Our greatest pleasure was when we could have sleepovers and spend the night together as well, either in our apartment or in their house. During these times we were chatting non-stop, probably until dawn if one of the strict grownups didn’t come in and turn off the lights. We never ran out of topics to talk about: the chatting and the giggling started at bath time in the evening and wouldn’t stop even while washing and getting dressed in the morning.

Emőke was a fundamental person in shaping my personality and my identity. I thank the Lord that He has gilded my childhood with her presence, which is radiating into my whole life.”

When, despite the avoidance tactics of the Regent, Miklos Horthy, the Germans occupied Hungary in 1944, Daisy Emoke was sent away to relatives in the country near Lake Balaton. Her parents stayed behind in Budapest and worked in the Resistance Movement against the Nazis. They were arrested by the secret police, miraculously released and eventually joined Emoke.

Then they were arrested again, in the spring in front of Emoke during a roundup of “undesirables” and taken away to be shot. On being led away, her father said to her. “Don’t worry, Emoke, we will be back for Easter.” She could not understand why everyone seemed so sad. Her father had promised something. He would keep that promise. And he and his wife did, through their own series of extraordinary adventures. As she was triumphantly reunited with her parents she rebuked the grown-ups for their doubts saying they, as adults, ought to know better.

One story best describes for me the gulf between my lucky generation which has known an enduring European peace and those who were caught up in that global conflict and, for that matter those who to this day throughout the world have had to flee their homes and their countries and become refugees.

This is what she told us. “We were travelling back after the end of the war to Budapest. We had walked across battlefields ankle deep in spent cartridges and I had seen sights not meant for a 12 year old girl. But it was alright. My father was with me. He had escaped the Nazis and had evaded the Russians and we were now going home to our beautiful house…if it was still there.

Now we were stuck at a station on a train going nowhere a few miles outside Budapest. We watched a train puff past and it became apparent that it was bound for Budapest and we had missed it. There were Russian soldiers about, which made everyone nervous and a railway worker said that the best thing would be to walk to the next station. The other passengers started setting off across the fields but my father, instead of following them, decided it would be easier going along the railway track where he (with his terrible sense of direction) could not get lost. Our path led along an embankment and people were gesticulating at us but we ignored them.

It was then that I noticed the unburied bodies from a recent skirmish , still with their boots on. This was unusual. Generally boots were the first things taken. I told my father who looked worried. I then pointed out some metal spikes I had seen sticking out of the ground. My father, who was a few steps ahead of me with my mother, went quiet and stopped. He could loudly lose his temper when faced with a miscalculated invoice but was always icy calm when it mattered, as it did now. We were standing in a minefield. “Don’t touch them, Csillagom (my little star)” he said using his endearment for me. “Just walk in my footsteps, only in my footsteps.” And so I did.

After the war, with the political situation becoming ever more dire, my mother escaped to Switzerland using, unbeknownst to her, a forged passport, where she attended a finishing school in Lausanne. There, she made many friends, learned fluent French and broke a few hearts of students attending a nearby boys’ school.

Despite my mother’s world being turned upside down she never lost her faith in her father’s miraculous ability to solve anything, do anything, find anything but it was a shock when as a student in England she met her parents at Victoria station on their arrival after their escape from Hungary . She didn’t at first recognize them as all she saw was a little old couple struggling with their suitcase.

Daisy’s first few years in London were not happy. It was so strange to witness her parents’ poverty as they subsisted in a tiny bedsit in Herne Hill. Thanks to her great friend, Anita, Daisy lived in a service flat in Bayswater. Her mother worked as a librarian and Daisy assisted her father with his work on émigré politics. She was relieved when her father’s unerring ability to spot a good location and to know the right people secured them a flat in St. Johns Wood.

In 1956 she worked assiduously with the British Council for Aid to Refugees helping to deal with the huge influx of refugees from the Hungarian Uprising which had been brutally suppressed by the Soviet Union tanks. At that time refugees were welcomed with open arms by this country.

Despite English not being her first language and being away from her parents, staying with a variety of her mother’s friends in England since her mid teens, Daisy had done well in all her exams and was able to study law in preparation for becoming a barrister. At Grays Inn she was worshipped by a number of young men. On the periphery of her little coterie was a tall, dark, handsome man whom she had noticed but whom she did not really know very well. Late one afternoon after a pleasant time spent in the Students common room she announced that she was off to buy some typewriter ribbon. “I’ll come with you” said one Jarlath Finney and indeed he did, as she said herself at his memorial, for the next 45 years.

Just before her marriage, Daisy was asked to join a particular organization. This organisation’s public persona was as a charitable foundation which received donations of books from publishers and organized their distribution to countries behind the iron curtain. It was, in fact, a CIA front. The subtle operation, which ran for 37 years, was dubbed in one article “the Marshall Plan of the mind” and was run by George Minden a Romanian intellectual and refugee. He said, perceptively, that the main thing the West was up against was “not Marxist obstacles but a vacuum” and that “what is needed is something against frustration and stultification, against a life full of omissions.” The communist authorities, while resisting direct attempts at propaganda, could not stop these mass charitable gifts of books – of the great literature otherwise denied to the populace, of ideas and information that they would never otherwise see and of an alternative world out there, just across the barbed wire. When the breakup of the Soviet Union and its satellites took place, it was in no small part due to the ability of the people to think, to see beyond what was fed to them by the state and to choose and demand freedom when the moment came. My mother worked quietly and efficiently for that organisation, charming and wheedling from publishers and running the London office single handed for eighteen years. To quote from an article by John Matthews:

“Daisy Veszy, a young upper class émigré from Hungary, whose Oxbridge English, together with her soon-to-be-acquired name, Finney, disguised her foreign origin, was a person whom Free Europe had earlier tried to recruit. She had luxuriant dark hair surrounding a pale and pretty face, from which flowed a mellifluent contralto voice… In the all-male bastion of British publishing, she found her femininity raising eyebrows, but the fact that she was charming, attractive and had a law degree of her own, invariably broke the ice.”

Daisy adored Jarlath. In supporting him and his career, she subsumed her own. She never practised as a barrister but, had she done so, her determination and intelligence would no doubt have carried her to success. In those days, however, she chose to bring up a family – as well as the work of running the London end of a CIA operation, which she was able to do largely at home, while she acted as referee, mediator, comforter and enforcer to four children. She did, however, find time to become a magistrate and was a mainstay of the lay bench at Horseferry Road magistrates court where she greatly enjoyed the challenge of dispensing justice in this most important historical bastion of the English legal system.

I knew my mother dressed well but it was with the selfish eye of a son that I saw her and I did not really notice…until going through some old photographs recently restored by Gavin, it struck me quite forcefully that, whether as a twenty-something posing on a stone seat in Edinburgh, a young mother going for a walk in Devon with her toddler children, sitting in a deckchair in our garden or attending Vicky’s first holy communion, she always looked effortlessly glamorous. Her outfits were beautifully matched and generally set off by a pair of elegant high-heeled shoes. Even in her later life I recall my daughters noting with respectful awe at a family get-together that my mother was wearing a Chanel suit.

Daisy was, to use her own words, utterly bereft when Jarlath died. We all fretted for her as she sat alone in her house and eschewed activities where she would be able to socialize and meet people, although she did venture out to attend this church from which she derived great solace. “You need to get out of the house more” we said. “People will not come to you!”

We were wrong…people did come…in particular…

John Freeborn was an acquaintance and neighbour. He had lost his wife, tragically to cancer some time before and he started spending time with Daisy. He soon became a firm friend and her close companion who took her on the holidays she always wanted to go on but never did, who went with her to the theatre, the cinema, restaurants and cafes, the houses of friends and relations; even to visit Hungary again for the first time since she had left as a child. It was John who organized the transport of a stained glass window showing Jesus calming the storm which had been dedicated to her father’s memory but had languished in a box after its church had been demolished. It was he who enabled it to be placed in the church which her father and a friend had planned many years before and which had finally been built, and he took her to Hungary to unveil the window and to meet friends and relatives, some of whom she had not seen since childhood.

It was John who gave her back her zest for life and it is thanks to him with his quiet, good humoured determination, calm nature and often wicked sense of humour that until dementia took her, and in fact beyond, Daisy enjoyed several most happy years. As Altzheimer’s took an ever more malicious hold, he cared for her, at increasing emotional cost to himself as he tried to maintain for her a sense of comfort, security and normality. Patricia then stepped in to look after Daisy for nine months but still he was always on hand to help… every day. Even when we had to move her to a wonderful care home near me in Farnham , John battled with the M25 traffic at least once a week to visit her.

We all owe John such a debt of gratitude for all he has done for our mother and he has demonstrated how one should behave as a friend, a companion, a Christian and a gentleman of honour.

So – an extraordinary eventful life. Often a difficult one. But above all, the life of a woman determined to be brave, to survive no matter what obstacles were thrown in her path, to love the country of her birth and the country which took her in, to do the best for people who needed her help, to love life, provided it was interesting, and, of course, at all times to be dressed with impeccable style and élan wherever she happened to be and whatever she happened to be doing. We all miss her.

Mark Finney 22 February 2017

The Hungarian Language Test

OK, so I’m trying to learn Hungarian at the moment, and may I say, it’s bloody hard. There are various reasons for this and one of them is that Magyar is very definitely not in the huge Indo-European language family. Pretty much all the other languages of Europe are in that family, with the exception of Basque and Finnish – and Hungarian. Its family is Finno-Ugric which means that there are some tribes around Lake Uigher in Siberia and the Finns who speak something similar, though not very.

The Hungarians are quite proud of this, of course, and have an unfortunate tendency to laugh if you tell them you’re trying to learn it. They then shake their heads and say “Magyarúl nagyon nehéz” which means that Hungarian is very heavy, meaning difficult. Thank you, I know.

But this uniqueness means that Hungarian is perfect for a little test I am going to recommend to all language theorists.

If you’re talking about the original mother tongue, the ancestor to all living and dead human languages – yes, New Scientist 6 February2016 “The Eloquent Ape”, I’m looking at you – then you need a quick and easy test to make sure you’re not talking nonsense. Hungarian is a quick and easy test.

So, let’s say you’re searching for common sounds and similar-sounding words in languages all over the world. You find common sounds in all the languages you know like German and French and maybe even Sanskrit, and there it is. You proudly announce that this particular sound or word is universal, across all human languages and therefore part of the original ur-language.

You’re just being provincial. You haven’t ventured out of the comfortable branches of the Indo-European language group. That means you’re leaving out all sorts of languages like Mandarin or Qechua. But it’s hard to learn non-Indo-European languages and you need that test for non-Indo-European languages so you don’t waste time. Ta da! Hungarian is perfect. It’s indisputably spoken by humans and most of its words are very different. If you find your favourite candidate in Hungarian – well, maybe you’ve really found a proto-word. If you don’t, maybe you haven’t. Plus there are Hungarians everywhere and the educated ones seem to speak three or four languages. Every language lab needs at least one Hungarian, if only so there’ll be someone there who’s rock-solid on transitive and intransitive verbs (don’t ask).

There’s this researcher called Meritt Ruhlen at Stanford University, California, who contends that sounds like tik, tok, dik and tak mean “toe” in lots of languages and so must be from the ur-language.

Hungarian? The word for finger is “ujj” (ooee) and toes are “labujj” or leg-fingers. Ujj. Not very like toe, is it? You could argue even the concept of toe is sort of weak.

Numbers? Sure, in most Indo-European languages they all sound a bit similar up to ten. In Hungarian they go “egy, kettő, harom, négy, öt, hat, hét, nyolc, kilenc, tíz”. OK, so ten is similar. Oh and in Japan they apparently have different counting systems for people, long thin things and round things. So which one do you choose?

Ruhlen says social communication words like “who, what and where” and “he, she, it” are thought to be ur-words too.

Guess what you use for “he, she or it” in Hungarian? “Ő” That’s right. Just the one. “Ő” means “he,” “she” and “it”.

And that old favourite, Mama? Contentious. In Hungarian the word for mother is “anyu” – no “m”.

So Hungarian is a very special language, simple in some ways, fiendishly difficult in others. It’s quite young, having arrived in Europe with the fierce Magyar raiders only in the 9th century AD. Unlike Indo-European which reaches back to Persian, Hittite and Saskrit. Hungarian has an ancestry that’s lost in the roiling chaos of the nomad tribes on the eastern steppes. Also it got tidied up in the 19th century.

So if you’re looking for putative ur-words in Hungarian, and they’re totally different, maybe they’re not ur-words. Maybe you’re wasting your time looking for an ur-language before the Tower of Babel?

Personally I don’t think there was any such thing. Languages spoken by so-called primitive tribesmen aren’t simple, they’re complicated, even if they lack numbers after 5 or the idea of left and right. Simple is what you get when two languages like Anglo-Saxon and Old French crash into each other on an off-shore island and rub all the case-endings off (a sort of linguistic mating called a Creole which is what English is).

I think that the tribes that walked out of Africa all started with complicated languages of their own that had been evolving and developing since before we were human. The amazing social technology of language has continued to evolve and encourage sex between its enormous number of varieties right down to the present.

And when we get into space, languages will continue to flower and seed and change. Possibly something like a lingua franca will evolve from English or Spanish or Chinese but I bet that every habitat, every country on every planet will have its own complicated and irregular language. It’s a wonderful thought.

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!

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.

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.

Hello Taxpeople! Here’s a nice idea for you.

Very few things make me anxious – but two of them are anything new involving computers and anything at all to do with tax.
So you can imagine how delighted I was when the Hungarian tax people told me I had to fill in my Hungarian tax statement for 2014 online. It was only available online. There was no way of doing it offline, on paper for instance. No. Shiny stylish computers only.
We logged onto the general tax site which took a lot of doing because the tax people had sent me an email with a link in it and I’d parked the email in my keeper file and forgotten about it. Why? Well it was in very very complicated Hungarian bureaucratese which made my brain go numb at the first word, so I missed the sentence in the middle of it all which said it was only valid for five days.
So we got to the right page to change the password and made obeisance to the computer gods and got another link and put in a password which the computer didn’t like because not enough numbers and we did it again and finally got into the bloody system.
Now we needed the 14KATA form. Hokay.
We typed 14KATA into the search box and hit enter.
Computer had never heard of it. Variations? Nope. Look through the dozens of menus and submenus. Nope.
As I write this, there are small business people all over Hungary, searching desperately for this form because they can’t afford an accountant and, like me, they have suddenly realised they only have a week to the deadline for filing the thing. All over Hungary, people are peering at computer screens and wishing and wishing they could find the 14KATA form, somehow, somewhere. Some of them are probably in tears.
Yes, we rang them. After the usual rigmarole with the computerised switchboard, we got through to a human. It’s on the .gov website not the tax website. Of course. Why would it be on the tax website when it’s a tax form? How silly of us!
My friend has now sent me out of her office because she can’t cope with bureaucratese and the computer as well as having me sitting there vibrating and dry handwashing over the bloody form. When I left she had found 14KATA through three different submenus, though she had to install a specially wonderful automatic formfiller first.
Ladies and gentlemen of tax authorities everywhere. I have some wise words for any of you who bother to read this. So pay attention.
You need to make tax paying very EASY and SIMPLE. Why? So people will do it and you will get their money. Just because you have a PhD in Informatics, Taxation Obfuscation & Complexification, doesn’t mean they do.
EASY and SIMPLE.
So, for instance, when you can predict that lots of people, without a PhD in the above, will be wanting to file their tax statement, you make the form available under the search box as 14KATA. No, you can’t have fun playing with nesting submenus. Every search box anywhere in the system needs to be able to lead to the 14KATA page. That’s all.
Nice boring little link: searchbox – 14KATA – form.
That’s just to start with. I haven’t even got to the form itself yet.
Luckily my friend Dora is not only fluent in English but is a very good administrator and extremely patient. I don’t know where she’s got to on the actual form. I’m afraid to ask.
That’s all for the moment, tax people. Just think about it. We have to pay tax if we want to live in a civilized society because it costs money to supply one. One of the reasons why Americans live in a less civilized society than most of Europe is because they mostly believe that only suckers pay tax. One of the reasons why Scandinavians live in a more civilized society than most of Europe is because they seem to accept the need to pay tax.
But get this, taxpeople. It may be news to you, but nobody actually likes paying tax. And most people regard the time they spend dealing with tax forms, stupid government websites and madly complex bureaucratese in any language as an additional and very unwelcome tax on their time, on top of the tax they pay in money.
So make it SIMPLE and EASY.
Unless of course you’re relying on the fines for late filing to pay the wages of the taxpeople.
But that would be silly. Wouldn’t it?

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!

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.

Bloody Foreigner – Bureaucracy Games #2

The following Tuesday I still had three weeks to complete the Bureaucracy Game and get the special card/document/stamp you have to have to avoid deportation or something. I’ve learned the hard way against the expert players in the UK, that when you have to play the Bureaucracy Game, it’s no good putting it off until the last minute. You need plenty of time so that you can play at your best with the champion players inhabiting whichever branch of the state you’re dealing with. Once you’re up against a deadline and they  know it, you’re doomed.

I only waited two months in the hope I’d be able to understand a bit more Magyarul. Ha! “Magyarúl nagyon nehéz” say the Magyars sympathetically when you tell them about your crazy plan to learn it, which means literally “Hungarian is very heavy”, but actually means it’s difficult. It’s complicated, is what it is, and they’re very proud of it and of it being non-Indo-European (Finno-Ugric, if you’re interested). So not even the numbers sound familiar.

Anyway, I followed my usual Bureaucracy Game strategy and gathered every document I could think of, got confirmation of where I’m living, teaching contract, passport etc etc yadda yadda. This is so worthwhile. I still remember the joy of watching the sad deflation of the little man with the dodgy toothbrush mustache and starched shirt in the Spanish equivalent of the Bevándorlási és Állampolgarsági Hivatal. Among the many documents I had brought him were two that were not mentioned on any list anywhere but were still completely essential. Hai! Yeah! I win, Mr Toothbrush Mustache, and you LOSE. He knew it too and my prize was the relevant card in record time so he could get rid of me and Forget.

With the light of battle in my eyes and a rucksack full of paper ammo, I headed for the correct bus. Bus #1, check, bus #2, check, Ujbuda Tesco’s, check, hello Bevándorlási és Állampolgarsági Hivatal – and yes, hooray, there were plenty of pissed-off foreigners hanging around, some black, some brown and quite a lot of them Chinese. Plus two taxis waiting by the side of the road which I should have recognised as a sign of trouble.

In I trotted to the first office, ignoring a sign telling me that holders of Type D passports should go somewhere else, on the grounds that if I was a Type D passport holder, I’d know I was, on account of having a funny Cornish-pasty-forehead and being a Klingon. Luck was with me – there was no queue for the information desk, although I was in the Official Standard Bureaucracy Game Waiting Room – about 50 bored people distributed around 70 very hard chairs in a striplit stuffy hot room, all gazing in despair at a digital noticeboard with numbers on it. Uh oh, I thought.

The nice girl at the information desk spoke embarassingly good English, as so many Magyars can, and told me that I needed a special payment stamp which I could only get from the Post Office across the road and asked if I had my Ehic card (European Health Insurance Card, if you’re wondering). By sheer good paranoia I did have it, as I carry it with my passport in case I’m in an accident. Or, as it turned out a few days later, have a stroke.

She gave me the essential Magic Ticket for the queue lottery (628) and when I looked, there was only 601 showing alongside several other sequences of numbers starting with 2s and 3s. OK, I’ve got an hour or two, I though in my innocence.

Across the road I twice completely circumambulated the large shopping centre, looking for the Posta. Various helpful Hungarians tried to explain where it was and I still couldn’t find it, until a girl at the Tesco’s information desk led me to it personally and I found it in a separate section only signposted with a toyshop. So well done, Tesco’s customer survice, you gained me some good points so I could win Round #3 of the Bureaucracy Game. Finding the Posta was their second try at their favourite Invisible Office gambit and might even have worked. Heh!

The nice girl at the information desk had written down the name of the special official stamp I had to get, so I got it, easy as pie. The whole thing had only taken an hour.

Back I trotted to the Bevándorlási és Állampolgarsági Hivatal, feeling optimistic. Back to the Official Standard Bureaucracy Game Waiting Room with the digital board and the numbers.

They had got to 603.

Stroke tales – food, glorious food!

I was getting better in Kutvolgy hospital. The craziness of the first day was over and I was sleeping and waking, getting up, moving around very carefully because my right side still felt a bit not there and was numb, particularly to heat. I seemed to be doing an awful lot more of the sleeping thing – being anally retentive I started to time myself and discovered I was doing up to about 18 hours asleep in the first few days.

That’s about the amount a cat can sleep, by the way, if nothing more interesting is going on, which just shows you.

It took me a while  to notice the first major change. In fact it sort of crept up one me because the hospital food at Kutvolgy is… Well, it’s terrible. In a heartbreaking way.

I’ll give you the outlines. At 8 o’clock a nice nurse comes round with a big bag of rolls and some little packs of food. Healthfood like three slices of turkey ham, or three slices of completely flavourless cheese and some cucumber. Each patient got two rolls and a little pack. At 5 o’clock in the evening she does exactly the same. If you make the mistake of asking for a gluten-free diet (guess who?) you get two slices of “bread” that makes styrofoam look appetising.

The nurses and the doctors all wear bright white, by the way. It’s a caste thing and I didn’t have time to work out the rules, but essentially the whiter your clothes, the more important you are, and if you also wear a white coat, you’re a doctor.

The main meal of the day is lunch. Someone comes in with a big tray with two covered dishes on it. The smaller one contains some kind of soup – thin soup with veggies in it, usually, a non-negotiable start to most Hungarian lunches. This is dull but drinkable, especially if you got the floating carrots down quickly.

And then there was the main course. There was usually a lot of it, which was a mixed blessing, because it tasted awful. It was always overcooked. Occasionally it was completely unidentifiable, like the sort of bready loaf with some meat in it. Sometimes it was readily identifiable, as with the meat and two veg which I kept getting, although that doesn’t mean you could identify the meat. The veg was always mushy. Sometimes it got quite exciting: there was one occasional when my roomies got meat with sour cherry sauce, thick with cornflour. Awful. There was even tarhonya which is usually a nice kind of pasta with meat. Awful. How do they make everything taste like last weeks’ leftovers?

And yet, someone down in the kitchens was clearly trying. There were lots of different ways of serving it, though it all tasted pretty much the same. You never knew what you were going to get, in a boring way.

I didn’t really care, because a weird thing happened when I had my stroke: I completely lost my appetite and my consuming (in all senses) interest in food. It’s still just not there though I’m trying to remember to eat at regular intervals. Food also has a thoroughly nasty taste after a few minutes. Apparently this is a common side effect of stroke, which means it’s only a matter of time before some supermodel or starlet tries to induce a stroke to get the cool no-appetite effect.

But it wasn’t just me: my roomies and I bonded over the question of what would arrive for lunch and how awful it would be.

I puzzled over this and I came to a conclusion, prompted by some of the doomed television attempts to improve the food in our own lovely NHS. The ingredients were usually fine and the people cooking them not bad or evil people at all. They just couldn’t tell the difference between good food and bad food. They would make something revolting and think it was delicious. As they went about making their appalling lasagne they probably felt all warm and cuddly as they imagined the poor sick people eating it. Everybody laughs at hospital food, they’re thinking now as they stir, but mine is delicious and wonderful.

It’s an unsettling thought. At the moment, I’m one of them.