Monday, July 17, 2006


No, don't give me sunshine

I’m so not a summer person. As the temperature rises, so do the number of stranded-in-the-desert fantasies that float into my mind – unbearable heat, flies, pain and thirst. No, if I’m to suffer temperature extremes I’d rather it be on an icy mountainside where I’d simply curl up in a ball and drift gently off to sleep unaware of anything. So on a recent trip to Budapest the searing heat makes me rethink the sightseeing criteria. We can still visit the art galleries and museums on our list because they’ll be nice and cool, and what about having a look round that building over there – but it’s a thimble museum – yes but it’s air conditioned, it’ll be fascinating. Whereas that hot dusty Heroes’ Square that looked so interesting in the guide book with its statues and columns, suddenly seems a touch over-hyped - seen one statue…. and in any case, wouldn’t the view be better from that nice air conditioned bar up there. And later, I feel a little surge of joy when we go on a city tour and great drops of cooling rain begin to fall. As it becomes heavier our guide says “eef you have umbrella you are lucky, eef you don’t, you are unlucky, which makes me realise how funny language is – you think mastering it is all about the words but it’s also about capturing the sense of humour. That probably sounded funny in Hungarian, but said with slightly narrowed eyes, it has just a touch of menace in it. Something always on the list is trying out the public transport system, which is not that easy when the language has no similarities at all to your own and you have to get your tongue round four consecutive consonants before a vowel gets a look in, and with so many names looking so much like each other, a few u-turns on the metro are inevitable, but it’s fun - it still has an old world air of grandeur about it with lots of oak panelling at the stations. Another constant is my gullibility. My loved one always makes our destination seem a mere hop, skip and a jump away and I always believe him. So whilst we trek across scrubland then climb the 500 steps to Castle Hill, hugging walls and trees for the scant bit of shade available, I think “you’ve fallen for it again haven’t you” but we get to the top and he smiles and tells me it only took eleven and a half minutes and I think “ok just this once, but next time”! It’s also strange seeing a city in transition. Yes Budapest has a smart clean airport, and even a huge shopping mall (although it’s still the same few brands making all the money), but most of the streets have small shops and one, a few yards from our hotel, has me mesmerised every time we pass. It’s one of those old fashioned shops that sell everything and I mean everything. The window is crammed to bursting point with cleaning products, cosmetics, blank videos, toys, a fondue set and its centrepiece is a large flat basket containing coffee products and splayed out on either side of it two model legs display black fishnet stockings. Yes Budapest is definitely worth a return visit, but I’m thinking December, January time when it has sensible temperatures and we can take sensible clothes like overcoats, hats and gloves.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


So much still to learn.

Rob’s illness has brought a surprising revelation - an obvious one if you think about it, as most of life’s big issues usually are - that just as we often find the way others choose to live incomprehensible, it’s as true of the way they choose to die. Rob copes by denial which I find baffling so I have to remind myself that he has the right to deal with it any way he chooses. Of course he can see that his head and neck movement is becoming restricted, that his pain has to be controlled by opiates and that poisonous gunge now oozes from his tumour, but he keeps up a stream of optimistic chatter on how well the chemotherapy is working and continues to make long term plans. So we discuss all his treatment but never the implications of his illness. A McMillan nurse (they provide support for the terminally ill and their families) who visited my daughter and me says that after twenty years in the job she’s found that people have an idealised version of dying which exists only in films or in our heads. There is no normal, the dying don’t ask awkward questions when you’re ready, but when they are, families can be greedy and selfish, they don’t always ‘pull together’ and are often overcome with feelings of guilt for wishing that it were over. And the most difficult of all to accept is that illness doesn’t change your character and suddenly give you a spiritual dimension if it wasn’t there in the first place. So it’s ridiculous to expect Rob to start thinking about ‘important things’ when nerdy stuff, flash cars and gadgets are the important things to him, the same as they’ve always been.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Shakespeare does it again

It’s only football! Yes I know and I’d have said no more about it but for an article in the sports section of the Sunday newspaper, which showed that whatever observation a writer wants to make on the human condition, Shakespeare got there first. So even Hugh Mcllvanney, who probably reckons he can make a point as poetically as anyone, still had to dip into one of Shakespeare’s sonnets to recount the fall from grace of Thierry Henry by his horrible playacting to win a free kick in France’s match against Spain last week. Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds couldn’t describe more perfectly the disappointment you feel when someone as exquisitely gifted as Henry cheats.

Monday, July 03, 2006


Summer nights

Hot nights are here, sleep’s elusive and at 5 am I wonder if thinking about something really dreary – like Tony Blair’s desperate search for populist causes to polish up his image – will send me to sleep. He’s picked a good one this time by lending his support to that boring old hardy perennial, the Wimbledon women’s demand for equal pay. Well I suppose it’s a lot easier than using his influence to help the thousands of enslaved women around the world who would like any rights never mind equal.

It’s not a comfortable feeling being on the same side as the ‘blazered buffoons’ of the All England Club, who, despite the vast amounts of money they receive every year from the championships, still seem unable to develop a strategy to find a future British champion. But I agree with their decision not to award equal pay and can’t understand why some people find it so difficult to grasp that it has nothing whatever to do with sexism and everything to do with market forces. If the women’s game drew a bigger crowd, I’ve no doubt at all they’d be the ones with the extra dosh. Rugby players work just as hard as footballers, opera singers as pop singers, but don’t receive anything like the same money for the simple reason that football and pop are more popular.

Wimbledon has given its reasons that women don’t get the same prize money (a measly £625,000 compared with £655,000 for the men) as:
- Corporate hospitality packages for the Wimbledon men’s final sell at £2,750 compared with £1,750 for the women’s.
- A survey taken along the Wimbledon queue found that 50% prefer to watch men’s matches and 19% women’s matches.
- The Australian and US Opens cannot sell a women’s only day and now split the quarter and semi-finals to ensure at least one men’s single match each day.

I’d add another one to that which is that men also give us more for our money by playing five sets to the three the women play, so as far as I’m concerned, it’s game, set and match to the All England Club.

But the girls are appealing against the decision and there are even mutterings about strike action unless Wimbledon coughs up. Well, sorry girls, make sure you’ve made contingency plans or you might find yourselves match point down with no one to cheer you on.

None of this brings me any nearer sleep. What finally does the trick is the alarm clock. Within minutes of it going off, that delicious, sweet sleep of morning steals over me and I’m gone.

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