With so many sitting back and waiting for others to step forward and save the world, coming across Broadlands Orchardshare community orchard was like … well, it was like the  taste of fresh apple juice. Back in2 2005/2006, a bunch of volunteers concerned about the obvious decline in Somerset’s orchards, got together  to do something about it. They’re also determined to do something about the growing dependence on imported apples while local fruit wastes away on the trees, unpicked and unused.

On the second Saturday of every month, volunteers meet at the 11-acre orchard, home to some 1100 apple trees. The work crews prune the trees, clear weeds and brambles, restore parts of the orchard that has been overgrown, and plant more trees. They even hold classes in tree pruning, earth-oven cooking, and willow weaving.

I caught up with them at the Farmers Market at Green Park in Bath a couple of weeks ago and watched them press some fresh apple juice.  I’m not a great lover of apples or apple juice at the best of times, but this I liked. The whole process was so simple – I want to find a press and bring one home to my dad – think of what we could do with our own apples.

It’s an ideal family day out – the kids would enjoy themselves as much as the adults. And in a world where technology is increasingly robbing us of any sense of achievement we might have at actually doing something real, it must be nice to pick, peel, and press the apples and then to literally enjoy the fruit of you labour. Does anyone know of any similar things in Hungary?

Grateful 10

I’m quite partial to a good speech and regularly complain about those who preside over religious ceremonies and fail to deliver, fail to captivate, fail to engage their congregations. And it’s not just in churches and temples that we see podiums. Politicians, too, have their moments – and their speeches get far more playtime than your average orator. One of my all time favourites is a speech given by Daniel Hannan MEP in 2009 when he calls Gordon Browne the devalued prime minister of a devalued government. I don’t know the man from Adam, and know even less about his politics, but I like the way he talks.

On the movie screen, my vote goes to Jack Nicholson’s 1992 speech in a Few Good Men. My young orator award goes to  12-year-old  Severn Suzuki’s 1992 speech to the United Nations. And for those that will stand the test of time, there’s Vaclav Havel’s New Year’s address in 1990 or  one I’ve interpreted myself (and enjoyed doing so immensely) – Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s 1868 speech The Destructive Male.

In Hungary this week, speakers of all sorts took to their podiums to commemorate the 56th anniversary of the 1956 uprising. While all were in Hungarian and I’m relying on translations, my vote goes to Gordon Bajnai. His speech is one that I hope will mark a change in direction: he frankly admitted that he had said before he was not a politician – but times have changed. He used the familiar with the people, and he recognised from the outset the key element of any country’s future – its young people: we don’t want a country to which our emigrated children will perhaps be willing to return one day – instead, we want a country they will have no reason to leave in the first place.

I’m used to politics where there is no discernible difference between the parties – every one of them being slightly left or right of centre. In Hungary, there are extremes – extremes that have me worried. This week, the Alliance of European National Movements (AENM) met in Hédervár. Jobbik, the British National Party (BNP), Italy’s Tricolour Flame, Sweden’s National Democrats, Belgium’s National Front and others sat around a table. Speaking (rather poorly) at the conference, Jack Buckby outlined his plans to rebrand nationalism as national culturism (opposite to multiculturalism) –  and thereby to defy accusations from the Left of being racist. This speech won’t be making my list of favourites any time soon.

In a week which saw the Israeli flag  burned outside the synagogue on Dohány utca; a week that heard Jobbik repeating its call for a special ‘gendarmerie’ to keep order in the countryside (i.e. police the Roma); and a week where party activists allegedly bussed in supporters from other countries to swell the ranks of the PM’s audience, I am grateful that at least one voice of reason could be heard. 2014 and the general election are a long way away – it’s good to see some opposition finally mobilising and the helm being taken by someone who seems to have at least an element of nous and the ability to relate to the people. Methinks that Gordan Bajnai’s speech of 23 October 2012 will mark the turning point in this country’s history. Fundamentally, we must ascertain that patriotism and progress – upholding national traditions and rejuvenating the country – are not contradictory, nor mutually exclusive terms.

Eva Balogh, in her blog post, notes that a politician was born… and I, for one, am grateful.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52


The disappearing cohort

So where do they all go – those people in senior management positions in Budapest who arrive into work on Monday morning and set about doing a day’s work only to be given an hour to clear their desk and vacate the premises? Is there a club where they retire to? A stomping ground that’s reserved for those who in some way or another have posed a threat to the powers that be and in so doing have needed to be dismissed, without ceremony or fanfare?

And what does this do for the morale of those left behind? Are they then set on tenterhooks waiting for their turn to come?  Does each day bring with it the thought that this might be the day when they will be told in no uncertain terms that their years of service and loyalty have effectively amounted to nothing and they, too, must clear their desks and go? Is their productivity halved, or even quartered, because they are now preoccupied with what might happen to them? And does not knowing the day or the hour turn them into nervous wrecks or, worse still, overly ambitious survivors who would sell their grannies for a pay cheque and a pension?

In position yesterday…

Today I heard of another such disappearance in Budapest. And although I have collected enough of them now to fill a respectably sized book, they never seem to lose their impact. If anything, the increasing numbers of these once-isolated incidences make their impact stronger. It started for me a couple of years ago when the head guy in a research institute I did some work for vanished from one week to the next. Even a naïve innocent like me didn’t take long to join the dots between his departure and the arrival of a new government. In politics, I can see how currying favour part of staying gainfully employed (serving at the pleasure of the President and all that). But can this also work for business?

… phone number reassigned today

There’s a school of thought that says that top managers should be prepared for these sudden departures, particularly when a company has been taken over. New bosses want new blood. Football coaches are fired if their teams keep losing. CEOs are fired if their company’s share prices keep dropping. Journalists are fired if they push the truth beyond its limit. But all these would have been clearly signposted – had anyone been paying attention. Organisations are predictable. The early warning signs are there. When high-up executives start reminding everyone to watch their spending; when big deals are no longer celebrated in style; when personal expenses are reduced or cut altogether – all these signal that redundancies are on the way. That I can deal with. That’s part and parcel of being in business. The smart ones read the signs and start subtly clearing their desks of all important stuff while contacting head-hunters on the QT.

It’s not what I do ….

But when invites to critical policy meetings dry up; when my opinions are no longer sought; when it’s not about what I do or don’t do but all about who I am and what I stand for, that’s worrying.

That the human work environment has made great strides since the Industrial Revolution cannot be denied. That working conditions have vastly improved is a certainty. That our workforce is smarter, stronger, and seemingly more astute is a given. We’re better educated, better trained, better managed than probably at any other time in history and you would think that this would come wrapped up with a nice ribbon of security. But the opposite is the case. We appear to exist more and more at the whim of someone higher up the food chain. Our careers no longer stretch before us with any kind of certainty. Our tenure has become more tenuous and one has to wonder what this is doing for the quality of our performance. Is this really progress?

…it’s who I am

Apparently I was once the most dangerous employee a particular company had on its books. When I asked why, it was pointed out that I didn’t have a mortgage, a car loan, or kids in college. Having neither debts nor dependants made me dangerous. The worst the company could do was fire me – and give me two week’s severance pay, enough to buy a plane ticket. I had the freedom speak my mind without being overly concerned about the ramifications of saying something someone didn’t want to hear. Because I wasn’t in debt, I could afford to have an opinion. And to think that I used to take this for granted: this freedom to do my job properly without fear of being fired for voicing a contrary opinion. In today’s world, this would seem to be a luxury few people can afford. It makes me wonder how far we have really come since the cotton mills of 1733…

First published in the Budapest Times 26 October 2012


I got to name a gekko…

As I’ve long since passed my biological sell-by date, I’ve given up any thoughts I might have had of naming my children. I had always thought to marry a gentleman and have what’s known in Ireland as a ‘gentleman’s family’ – one boy, one girl… Tadhg and Maud.

Tadhg because:
a) I like how it’s spelled and how it sounds
b) It was my greatgrandfather’s name
c) It’s Irish for Timothy and I’m a great fan of Ronnie Corbett’s Sorry!
d) It’s a name few people have

Maud because
a) I’m secretly in love with WB Yeats and he was in love with Maud Gonne, ergo…
b) of the song – Come into the garden, Maud.
c) of the movie – Harold and Maude.
d) it’s a name few people have.

Mind you, I’ve never hankered after children so other than not getting to name them, I’m not unduly upset at being without issue.

Gekko Elato kert Budapest

So, when my good friend and talented artist  Emese Dobonyi painted her gekko on the walls of Ellátó Kert, I was thrilled skinny to be given the honor of naming him. As he’s  a Mexican/Hungarian gekko with enough green in the mix to be Irish too, the obvious choice was Tadhg. I spent many an hour at Ellátó this summer in the company of her good self, enjoying the funky paintings and the down-home feel that the place has. I met lots of interesting people and enjoyed the diversity of thoughts, ideas, and conversation that has become synonymous in my mind with Budapest and its ruin bar scene. While Tadhg has been Tadhg since the wee hours of one particular July morning, ’tis only now that he’s been christened in public. And by virtue of this blog, I’m claiming his naming. Ta very much Ms Dobonyi…for Tadhg …and everything else. [I wonder how many tipsy Irish tourists have sat looking at that wall wondering at the connection – especially those who spell the name Tadgh.]


Elato Kert Budapest



A long threatening comes at last

There is nothing quite as beautiful as the spoken word, spoken well. And chosen well. Enter Neil McCarthy. Originally from Co. Cork, he now lives in Los Angeles, via Vienna, and although I’d be chuffed to call him a mate, the truth is I’ve only met him the once. And very briefly at that. He was in Budapest doing a gig at Treehugger Dan’s on Lazar utca and I’d gone along, on my own, to hear if he was as good as his publicity said he was.

At the time, I was feeling a little homesick – not for Ireland but for her people. For that rich and wonderful way we have of telling stories. For the calculated casualness with which we choose our words. For the pictures we paint with our  imagery and the tunes we create with our turns of phrase Even in the innermost of our inner cities, poetry is on the move. We have a way about us and McCarthy is better than most.

He sat onstage, with his trademark flat cap turned backwards, looking every inch the fellah who sits in my local at home, sorting the world’s problems over a pint or three. And a little bit of me fell in love with him. I’m not usually given to such flights of fancy but that night, I wanted to take his words home. I cornered him outside over a smoke and asked if he had a CD  – I had visions of listening to him each time that hankering for all things Irish hit me. He was thinking about it, he said, but in the meantime, he had a booklet that he could send me when he got back to Vienna. And he did.

That was three years ago. He’s come to mind since on that rare occasion when I hear something that resonates with me, something that captures what I see or feel:

My accent stands out more and more every day,
as if I’m deliberately, yet subconsciously, over-pronouncing
my Irishisms ~ Ecdysis

He came to mind when I was in Transylvania, gobsmacked by its beauty and struggling to find the words to do justice to what I saw.

What couldn’t, however, escape my mind were those
clouds, inhaling the lights below until they engorged
and wore their whirl of colours like the Roma on the
train; their children feverish and wide-eyed as they
leaned out of the open-door carriage filling their cheeks
with slices of Transylvania through the trees.~  Sighisoara in Mid-February

His poetry is pitted with phrases that make me want to adopt them as my own

Two years ago in Shanghai,
I saw buildings as big as
my ambitions. ~ Worry about it Tomorrow, Do

And then this morning, I get an email from him. It’s not addressed to me so I know I’m just one in a long line of BCCs. And honest as he is, he admits the same:

I apologise for the group email but the list of this one is big, and I will sit down and write to each and every one of you in good time.

He tells us of his new project – he wants a push to get a live CD of spoken word (recorded in Verein 08, Vienna earlier this year) into physical form. Three years, it’s taken, I think to myself. Three years. But a long threatening comes at last.  He’s using RocketHub to fuel the coffers and bring in some money to help make this happen. I’m not blogging this because he’s promised me anything other than the CD I will get for fuelling his funds and the poem he will write for me in memory of my mate Lori. I’m blogging this because everyone who has any love for the spoken word should hear Neil McCarthy – at least once.


Grateful 11

I’ve discovered a lot about myself this past week, particularly about the importance/significance of exaggeration in my life. I’m Irish, ergo I’m predisposed to storytelling. Why would I be mildy ticked off if I can, in the retelling, be extremely irritated? Feeling miserable sounds so much better than not feeling well. Voltaire pegged exaggeration as the inseparably companion of greatness. And I can certainly live with that illusion.

Eric Hoffer reckoned that thought is a process of exaggeration – the refusal to exaggerate is not infrequently an alibi for the disinclination to think or praise.  And God between us and all harm, I’d hate to be disinclined to either.

For the last week or so I’ve been inside, confined to quarters, and feeling miserable. The doctor diagnosed bronchitis and sinusitis, so any tips on how to deal with a cold were ignored. Don’t suggest home remedies or over-the-counter meds. The great medical minds in BP had ruled. I didn’t have a cold, dammit. I didn’t have the ‘flu. I had not one -itis, but two! [And there are those of you who think me a rational human being!]

As the drugs changed and the symptoms worsened and my Facebook updates became more graphic, I lost all desire to exaggerate. I was so busy being sick that I hadn’t the energy to add to it. Forget the -itises, I was having a horrible dose of reality mixed with hallucinations, cold sweats, and throbbing headaches.

And somewhere mixed in with that reality were the phone calls, the text messages, the e-mails, the Facebook check-ins from people I know well and some I barely know at all. That I turned down offers for help, food, and company is no exaggeration. And for those I’m grateful. But what I’m even more grateful for is that people stayed away. Odd, I know.

I’ve been accused in the past for taking people literally. Nay, accused is too strong a word, but I haven’t the wherewithal to find a better one. If you tell me you don’t want company, fine. If you tell me you’re okay, I’ll go with that. If you tell me not to come over, I won’t. I don’t factor in the possibility that you’re only saying this because you don’t want to inconvenience me in any way. I have perhaps too healthy a respect for other people’s wishes – and I’ve been wrong in this.

And I know some people struggled with me this week and wanted to help, and visit, and do what they could for me – and I’m grateful. I really am. But I’m even more grateful that you respected my wishes and didn’t. I’m the world’s worst patient. I need to wallow in my misery and get on with it and get it over with. I don’t want to be cheered up. I think that’s why I dread hospitals with an absolute passion. Why I hate visiting people  and why, when I do, I will only stay long enough to acquit myself.

So, as I slowly make my way back into the world of the living, one nostril at a time, I look forward to catching up on what I’ve missed out on and can only hope that you’ll still be returning my calls.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Just call me Jane

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in
possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. Watching the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice with a then boyfriend in Alaska, I was shocked to hear him say that Mrs Bennett reminded him of me. Needless to say, the relationship didn’t last long. Mind you, I’ve never quite fallen out of love with Mr Darcy – and truth be told, I’d quite happily watch Colin Firth paint a wall.

In Jane Austen country recently,  I was reminded yet again of my life-long wish to immerse myself in that era. And while I know she set two of her novels in Bath – Northanger Abbey and PersuasionPride and Prejudice will always be my favourite. I have no problem at all imagining myself as Elizabeth Bennett, complete with bonnet, lace parasol, and razor-like wit, out for stroll with old Fitzy on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

I think that when Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice, she  had me in mind…

A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment. Yep, I’ve been there!

 I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library. I hear you, girl. Mine’s not excellent, but it’s not bad either.
For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn? Imagine Jane on stage at the Gift of the Gab!
As for being stubborn: Laugh as much as you choose, but you will not laugh me out of my opinion. 
How many times have I heard the right words come out of the wrong mouth: …for he is such a disagreeable man, that it would be quite a misfortune to be liked by him. 
Then, of course, there’s the idea that absence makes the heart grow fonder and never knowing what we might have had until it’s gone:  She was convinced that she could have been happy with him, when it was no longer likely they should meet.
I wonder if life will ever conspire to allow me the opportunity to borrow this line: You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused, and interested you, because I was so unlike them. Or to be able to agree a relationship on this footing: My good qualities are under your protection, and you are to exaggerate them as much as possible; and, in return, it belongs to me to find occasion for teasing and quarreling with you as often as may be.
I think I know the man she was talking about here: We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the éclat of a proverb. Should I tell him? Oh where to find the balance: It sometimes is a disadvantage to be so very guarded. If a woman conceals her affection from the object of it, she may lose the opportunity of fixing him.
I fear though, that if time travel were a fixture in my world, and I could transport myself back to 1850 Bath, and conspire to meet the lovely Jane, she might indeed have written this for me: Mary wished to say something very sensible, but knew not how.

Bemused by Bath

I’ve been to Bath many times, but never really as a tourist. I’d never taken the hop-on, hop-off tour bus or even visited the Royal Crescent. I’d not been to any of the museums or taken afternoon tea. So spending a few days there in the company of the lovely MI, was a treat.

When you begin to scratch the surface and get past the tiered cake trays and afternoon teas, Bath has some interesting tales to tell. ThePulteney Bridge, for instance, is one of just four such structures remaining in the world. Designed by Robert Adam rumour has it that it might have been based on the  Palladio’s  design for the Rialto in Venice (the one that was rejected!)

Up at the Royal Crescent, the original thirty owners of the building only bought a length of the façade, and then built what they liked behind it. The lovely curve of the crescent visible from the front, turns into quite a higgedly piggedly mix of all sorts. Surprise, surprise, there is a name for this type of architecture: Queen Anne fronts and Mary-Anne backs.

In the squares around Bath Abbey, opera singers ply their trade as tourists and locals alike perch on the benches and enjoy their lunch or afternoon tea. This juxtaposition of formality and informality is just one of the many things that makes Bath interesting.  Way back in January 1539 Bath Priory was surrendered to the Crown. The church was stripped everything that could be moved – lead, iron and glass – and left to die. But the citizens of Bath rallied round – even if it was nearly a generation later – and rescued it.

The grandeur that is Bath is evident everywhere you turn. And the wholesomeness of life is there to see. Food festivals, home-brewed ciders, homemade cheese, farmers markets and boutique shops, the city reeks of individuality. While it does pay homage to globalisation and gives street space to national High street chains, there is still plenty of originality to be found.

There’s a quirkiness about the place that keeps you wondering. Was I really looking into an old Georgian library at a man in from the 1800s sitting reading a book? And despite its righteousness, it was here that the world’s first postmark was stamped on May 2nd 1840.  Rowland Hill ’s  penny black stamps had been distributed to post office around the country for the grand launch on 6 May, but Bath’s  main Post Office on Broad Street rather cheekily grabbed its place in history and started selling them four days earlier. It’s a gobsmackingly gorgeous city and one in which I’ll be keeping an eye on property prices.

Grateful 12

I feel terrible. I have a rotten dose of something that has my stomach doing somersaults, my joints screaming in agony, and my head wanting to explode. I’m looking at the week ahead with something approaching a quiet desperation. I have to travel. Pack a bag. Get on a plane. I have an inbox full of unanswered emails and a to-do list that stretches into November. Two of my plants – Fred and Ginger – look like they’ve given up the ghost. And I have no idea when I’m going to find the time to start my dissertation. I could go on but I’m boring myself… As I wonder what I could be grateful for this week, I remember a poem that did the rounds a while ago:

Be thankful

Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire,
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don’t know something
For it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations
Because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge
Because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes
They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you’re tired and weary
Because it means you’ve made a difference.

It is easy to be thankful for the good things.
A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are also thankful for the setbacks.

Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles and they can become your blessings.

Author Unknown

So, this week, I’m grateful that I’m sick because it reminds me of how well I usually feel. And I’ve made a mental note to self not to take good health for granted.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Bedroom: It started life as a plant stand

In the States recently, I came across vertical book stands for the first time. These were quite modern, and quite expensive, and quite impossible to pack in a suitcase that came with a luggage allowance, not to mentioned the two-week lead time needed to order.

Back in Budapest, there’s an antique shop just up the road from me that I spend quite a lot of time hovering outside. It’s small, and usually has customers when I pass so I’ve never had the wherewithal to go inside. Last month,  I saw this plant stand in the window. And I got to thinking that it would work just as well as a book stand. I thought about it for a couple of weeks, doing the ‘if it’s still there next Friday’ thing… and it was. And it does. Admittedly it’s not in an ideal location and will take a while to settle into that corner, yet it’s a nice ‘reworking’ of a 1920s Art Deco pot stand that hasn’t never been touched up… or so yer man tells me.