Rubbing the magic lamp

Being branded an expat in a foreign city comes with many labels and tags. At first meeting, many assumptions are made and the usual litany of questions is asked. Being a woman, there’s the assumption that I’m here because of my husband. When that gets a shake of the head, it’s assumed that I’m here because of my job. When that gets another shake of the head, the words ‘independently wealthy’ flutter around the conversation, remaining unspoken, while the question every expat has had to answer more than once is finally issued. What are you doing in Budapest?

There are all sorts of answers to that, depending on the day. I dislike being tagged an expat, although I’ve long since resigned myself to the fact that it is something I will always be, as long as I choose to live in Budapest. What amuses me though, is the mistaken assumption that because I’m foreign, I have money. And, unfortunately, when you’re not on an expat package, or didn’t come over in the early 1990s and set up business then, it’s rarely the case.

This monetary divide splits the expat community into two: those who have the wherewithal to attend the many worthy big-ticket charity dinners and balls that go on in the city and those who simply don’t. But that shouldn’t exclude us from contributing in some form or fashion to the countless hundreds of charity initiatives that form part of the social conscience of the city we have chosen to call home.

Last week, I met the Patzauers, Éva and Gábor, the husband-and-wife team who founded Csodalámpa Alapítvány (the Magic Lamp Foundation). They lost their young daughter, Dóri, back in 2003. She was just eight and a half when she died and had been sick for eighteen months. During that time, this remarkable couple realised that children like Dóri, grappling with a terminal illness, need a special kind of emotional support to help them through. Their young lives, so often cut far too short, need a special ray of hope; they deserve to have their wishes come true.

The Patzauers set up Csodalámpa and in their first year, granted wishes to two children. In 2013, ten years later, they granted 287. Remarkable. Nine-year-old Csaba who dreamed of being a goalkeeper got to play with the Hungarian National Football team. Milla (10), Fanni (15), and Melissa (16) went to Rome to play with the dolphins. Harry Potter fans Vivien (9) and Marci (6) spent the day at Hogwarts.

That night, I also met Réka, a beautiful young woman who radiates hope and joy. Her wish was to meet her hero Johnny Depp. I shook the hand that had held the hand of Johnny D. Some six months after meeting him (they’re still in touch, by the way), Réka got the all-clear. A miracle.

1586_Daniel_ 017 (800x600)To raise funds, Csodalámpa organises fashion shows, concerts, and comedy nights. They run cookery classes – the Wish Kitchen – where supporters take classes from top chefs in town. In cooperation with Libri booksellers, actors in five cities regularly sing and read to kids in Csodalámpa reading corners. No wish is too big or too small. Whether it’s a box of Lego (Dániel, 4, pictured) or a visit with the Pope, the Foundation finds a way to make it happen.

There is room for all kinds of support and all are welcome. Check their website for how you can contribute. And if time is a luxury, think about contributing to their crowdfunding campaign. Every forint helps. Five minutes of your time and a few forints can make a big difference to some young person’s life. It’s not much to ask. Not much at all.

First published in the Budapest Times on 27 February 2015.



The backstory

What’s that flower? How old is that church? Are all those cows milking cows?
I don’t know, he answered. I don’t know. I don’t know.

I could drive a teetotaler to drink with my incessant questions. And a series of ‘I don’t knows’ disappoints me  – irrationally so, as it’s very often my standard reply when I’m asked about buildings in Budapest. So I told my Italian friend that day many years ago when we were half-way up Monte Rosa in the Italian Alps, I told him just to make up a story. Any story. I really didn’t care what he told me as long as he told me a story. I think he surprised himself with his creativity and I had a hard time deciphering truth from fiction.

I have a friend in Malta, SM, who is a walking repository for historical facts and trivia about the island and its people. There’s no limit to what he knows. He could, of course, be making it all up, but do I care? Not a bit. And I doubt it. There’s way too much sincerity there.

We’d been to see a play in Santa Venera one night a couple of weeks ago. An AmDram production that was so obviously enjoyed by those in the audience who had friends on stage but left me in need of some sustenance. Wandering through the late-night streets, we happened across a bakery that was still open to those who knew the knock. We went inside and while he was buying his bread, he gave me a tour of the types of breads and cakes on offer, along with their associated traditions.

20150206_231134_resizedOutside, looking skywards at the moon, I spotted one of many lovely old buildings that seem to be crying out for some TLC. I noticed the broken windowpanes. He noticed the empty flower pillars.

balcony 2Apparently, back in the day, when the daughter of the house was in search of a husband, she’d put flowers  on the ledges on either side of the window. This told the single men in town (and their mothers) that she was open to be wooed. Interested suitors would pass beneath the window and call to her, or perhaps sing. If she was interested, she’d appear and engage in conversation. If she wasn’t, she’d stay put, not showing herself, but no doubt sneaking a peak or three as she made up her mind.

balconyThis was in the days before online dating, before apps like Tinder that let you browse through catalogues of online photos saying yay or nay as the mood takes you. This was even before classified ads and personal columns. Before matchmakers. And what a lovely way it was, too. Romantic, if a little public. But what of the girl who posted the flowers only to find that no one stopped by? And worse, the whole town knew of it?

While I found myself mentally going through the checklist of necessities – I have a street-facing balcony, I have flowerpots, and I have hope – I could also hear a voice telling me to get with the twenty-first century. And not for the first time, I realised that I may well have been born into the wrong era.



2015 Grateful 45

‘Do you know how long I’ve been waiting for you to come into my life?, I asked. He looked at me, a little taken aback. We’d only just met and he didn’t know me from Éva. ‘Mushy peas’, I said, practically salivating as the sibilants rolled off my tongue. ‘Mushy peas.’

And the light bulb went on.

I had heard a rumour sometime last year that my neighbourhood would soon be home to a fish’n’chip shop and I was thrilled skinny at the thoughts of being able to nip round the corner on a Friday for a meatless lunch. It finally opened in January and yesterday, I nipped and lunched and enjoyed it all immensely.

20150220_160704_resized (428x361)

Bubba’s Water Grill has fish’n’chips and garlic mayonnaise and mushy peas. It has other stuff, too, like salmon and calamari and fish soup and fish burgers, but it was the basics I was after.

It’s a fast-food joint, although no one in there was in any particular hurry. You order at the counter and pay and then sit. In a matter of minutes, your lunch is served – on plastic, in plastic, and with plastic accessories. (The only drawback of the whole experience, but one that is reflected in the cheap-as-chips price.) They have water on tap from a cooler – fizzy or still – and the place is decked out in nautical gear. The service is great. Noticeably great.

20150220_155840_resized (452x256)I had ordered the small portion as I was going out to dinner that evening and admittedly, did balk a little when I saw the two pieces of fish on their bed of chips. But it was plenty. The fish was meaty and firm and the batter light and airy. Just the right combination. The chips were irregularly shaped (a giveaway methinks showing they were hand-cut potatoes and not the frozen, bagged commercial ones) and cooked to perfection. I even got an extra portion of mushy peas, so happy was I to see them on the menu.

This week has been difficult  grand (oops forgot I’d given up complaining for Lent!). It was longer than usual, full of people, and completely energy sapping. But in a good way. Finding Bubba’s open for business and doing business as business should be done – with efficiency, good humour, and a quality product – was a lovely end to my week. And for that I’m truly grateful.

It is worth a try? Definitely. Will I go back? Absolutely. Bubba’s Water Grill – Corvin Sétány. Open  11 to midnight.

Interested in knowing more about the Grateful series?


Out in the cold

When I first started delving into the depths of diplomacy, I was intrigued by the protocol involved. It beggars belief. I’m all for manners and etiquette and enjoy a formal function, but after numerous role-playing dinners for new diplomats brushing up on their protocol and etiquette skills, I began to question the seriousness of it all.

DinnerPlacing my cutlery on the table exactly one-thumb measure from the edge became a fixation. Checking that my various wine and water glasses are in the correct order is a ritual. And if I were a protocol officer, I’m sure I’d have many sleepless nights over seating plans and last-minute cancellations. I’ve heard tell of the UK sitting in one UN meeting as Great Britain to avoid having to sit between the USA and the then USSR, as country representatives were seated alphabetically.

The order of precedence fascinates me. Prior to the Vienna Congress in 1815, whenever diplomats from different countries got together, chaos ensued. Who would sit beside whom? Who was the most important in the room? Who drew the short straw and got the seat beside the one no one else wanted to sit beside? Such was the consternation that they finally sat down and agreed on an order of precedence, an agreement later enshrined in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in 1861. The order of precedence is still invoked for formal dinners, public ceremonies, and other national celebrations to avoid favouritism.

According to the Gospel that is Wikipedia, there are 82 embassies in Hungary, so 82 heads of mission, or ambassadors, which form the diplomatic corps. They are ranked in order of when they presented their credentials (i.e., a letter from the head of the sending state to the President of Hungary, asking him to accept the ambassador and accord them due credence), so the longest-serving ambassador in the country takes precedence over all the others. But there’s an exception: the Papal Nuncio. He scoots to the top of the list in Catholic countries, and ranks first, even if he’s the latest arrival.

Putin an dorbanAs I write, Vladimir Putin is in town. It’s Tuesday. He arrived mid-afternoon and is leaving later tonight after various meetings, a laying of wreaths, and one public appearance. The inner city has been closed down since noon and was due to reopen at 9pm but apparently everything is running about three hours late. Public transport has been disrupted. Traffic has been diverted. Anyone living or working within spitting distance of his itinerary has made sure that they’re carrying proof of where they live or work. Going out for an early lunch and then not being let back into the office because you can’t prove you work there is something that usually happens where there are film crews in town and walking out of your front door could mean walking on to the set of a Hollywood movie. But this is real life.

merkel;The fuss made is usually determined by whether it’s a state visit, an official visit, or a working visit and also probably has a lot to do with the degree of risk involved. Angela Merkel’s visit earlier in the month didn’t warrant nearly as much disruption, so the level of attention accorded to Mr Putin could say more about his notoriety than his prestige or the entourage, 8 planes, and 30 cars he brought with him. Who knows? I’m just glad I wasn’t waiting out in the cold for a glimpse of the man himself up at the Presidential Palace. And yet a part of me would have liked to have seen him in real life – just to see what all the fuss was about.

First published in the Budapest Times 20 February 2015

The moaning of life

And so Lent begins. Forty days of giving up or taking on something I wouldn’t normally do stretch ahead of me. I’m not that much into structured penance – I figure I do enough of it naturally. But rather than do something (as I tried to do last year), this year, I’ve decided to stop doing something.

moaningAnd no, I’m not giving up the drink or my occasional cigarette. I’m not giving up bread or sweets or ice cream. I’m not giving up travelling or reading or anything else I delight in. I’m giving up complaining (aka whinging, moaning, bitching).

And 19 hours and 21 minutes into the first day of my 40 days of abstinence, I’ve already failed three times. It’s hard. I hadn’t realised how often I complain. I’m quick enough to hear it in others but I had thought myself a little above it. Silly me. I’m just as bad if not worse than the worst offenders I know.

It’s little stuff.

How’s everything?
Mad. I’ve had three workshops this week and I’m knackered. Way too much people time. Feel like I’ve been dragged through a ditch backwards.

I’m being generous here and only counting that as one (as it was all said in the same breath) instead of the three or possible four it actually is.

FFS, how difficult is it to get someone do to their job? It’s not like it’s the first time we’ve been here and every time we have to ask for the same crap. And we’ve been on the schedule for weeks – it’s not like they’ve not had time.

That gets counted as one, too, as it’s directed at the same entity. Admittedly it felt good to get it out rather than keep it inside but as I caught myself in full flow, I had to wonder why I waste what little energy I have on venting.

How did that happen? I can’t believe I don’t have a free weekend till May. Where was my head? What was I thinking?

complaintsNo one to blame for that but myself – and my pathetic time management skills. But complaining about myself to myself? What purpose does that serve?

It’s going to be a long Lent – with lots of lessons – and maybe, by the time Palm Sunday arrives, I’ll be cured of all my complaints. One can only live in hope. Bear with me though – this whinge-free me won’t appear overnight. But if you hear me complain or whinge or moan or bitch, feel free to remind me of my mission. Once. You’ll be taking your life into your own hands if you remind me a second time. I know my limitations.


2015 Grateful 46

I heard with great sadness that a South African friend of mine passed away this weekend. Being an inveterate romantic, he picked a good weekend to go. I met this wily nonagenarian when I was visiting his country in 2010 and immensely enjoyed the five days I spent at his home.

Since then, we enjoyed a semi-regular email correspondence that went in fits and spurts as the humour took him. I might hear from him every day for a week and then nothing for a month or three. Mixed in with the litany of complaints, which ranged from having no one of sound mind to talk to (the downside, he said, of living to such a great age), to the South African mail going on strike, L always had something interesting to say: an observation, a throwaway remark about times gone by, a fleeting thought so prescient that at times I wondered if he did indeed have second sight.

sky dead tree half sunWhile I was in South Africa he found in me a willing ear for stories others had long since tired of hearing (could that man talk!). I was fascinated. By him, by the country, by everything that I had misunderstood and still failed to understand. He described me, back in 2011, in the first of his many emails, as a soundbox – a sort of drum that if someone strikes you can hear what the music means. In other words, he explained, I had acquired the ability to listen.

He had it in his head that I was a journalist and as I quickly learned, once he got something in his head, it was there to stay. No amount of explaining could shift that notion and in the years that followed he regularly sent me snippets of his memoirs, stories that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. He told me that I was shrewd enough to realise that people loved to talk about themselves and now that I’d asked the question – Tell me L, tell me about your life – he’d take his time in answering.

In 2011, he wrote to tell me that he’d been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and that he had taken to writing poetry. He sent me this:


What are you staring at?
Did you see a ghost?
I will tell you what you saw!
You saw a man
Dressed in a Sheepskin coat that is glazed with dirt,
A hound that is going through Hell,
And now without the strength of a louse.
When I look in the mirror in front of me
I can understand why you are staring,
Then when I look in the mirror behind me
What do I see?
I see a dangerous giant,
Again I look at the mirror in front of me,
I cannot reconcile the two pictures, these pictures
But this I must state, and my words are true,
Where you are, I have long since been,
Where I am, you will sure arrive.
I tell you my words are straight,
And there is nothing you can do,
So Dear friend out of the past
I bid you farewell.

He said I’d recognise in it strains of Dan McGrew and Jack London – I didn’t. I just saw his fear in facing his mortality.

In the next few years, he told me stories of his father who fought in the Battle of Majuba Hill in 1881.  I met Rassie, a reformed alcoholic gifted in the art of laying sewage pipes.  I met Steenkamp, a mechanic who talked to his machines. And I met the infamous Polly, whose hands touched every major dam built in the country. I heard tales of working in RSA, of machines shops and idiotic laws, of drunken skirmishes and  life lessons. I read of Bezuidenhout and his two wives, and L’s days on the ham radio with General  de Villiers and how he was honoured to hold the man’s hand at his death. Each email brought something new. He told me stories of growing up amongst the Zulu. He told me of their customs, their games, their code of honour. He gave me a rare insight in to a world I would never see for myself.

English wasn’t L’s mother tongue and at times I wondered if I understood what he was telling me. My attempts to clarify things only made them worse. He expected so much of me that it was difficult for him to accept that I simply didn’t understand. Neither of us had much patience so there were a few virtual skirmishes and email hang-ups but eventually one of us caved.

His crowning glory in life, what he saw as his biggest success was that he ‘produced two most brilliant children’ and if ever a father was proud of his girls, L was.

What occupied him most lately was God, religion and life after death. ‘So you see, my dear Mary, after all these years of reading far and wide, I have to make up my mind where I stand.’

The most upsetting of all was when he said he could not write because of his deteriorating health. He thanked me for being ready to look at his views and he hoped that in the dim future that I would ‘sometime think of what an old, decrepit man had to say about the world in general’. And then he bounced back.

This happened a couple of times but this time, as the emails became more difficult to read and his frustration at the keyboard not typing what was in his head became more obvious, I began to doubt if he’d see his 100th birthday. And he didn’t.

This week, I’m grateful, extremely grateful, that I got to know L, however superficially, however briefly. The side I saw of this multifaceted man was quite remarkable. And my world will be a little less bright without his emails. He’d have liked to have had the last word, so I’ll borrow his:

So Dear friend out of the past
I bid you farewell.






Painting over the cracks

I’ve spent the majority of my adult life in rented accommodation. I never had to worry about maintenance or broken appliances. If something went wrong, I called the landlord and they’d either come out themselves or send someone out to fix whatever was wrong. No bills. No estimates. No heartache. Magic.

Now that I’m my own landlord, it’s a different story. If something goes wrong, there’s no one to call. I have to sort it, fix it, and pay the bill … and in Hungarian, too, or more likely with the help of a Hungarian-speaking friend. Six years into this, I’ve been lucky to have had little in the line of major catastrophes ‒ a flooded kitchen, a blocked drain, a broken microwave ‒ a little inconvenient perhaps, but fixable within the budget.

Somewhere along the way, I’d heard that you should paint the outside of your house every three years and the inside every six. I have no idea where that came from. I could well have imagined it. But it’s etched so deeply on my brain that I have taken it as fact and when my six years of ownership rolled around, I decided I needed a change. It was a clear choice: move or paint.

I did my research. I took advice. I looked critically at my pictures and paintings and mentally rearranged them in my head, all the while creating space for more. I stretched my Hungarian vocabulary to cover a broader range of colours, and added things like ‘ladder’, ‘finish’, and ‘picture rail’ to an ever-growing repository of words.

The painters said they’d need five days if I wasn’t there; seven or eight if I was. So I left them to it. I had no qualms about leaving five lads in my flat while I escaped. I’m a trusting soul. They seemed lovely and indeed they are.

Never for a minute did I think, though, that it might be a good idea to be there to see the paint going on the wall. I’d chosen the colours so why wouldn’t I be happy with them? But I never factored in the light: daylight, dusk, wall lights, ceiling lights, they all came into play with the result that the colours in my head didn’t quite transfer to my walls – nothing was as it seemed.

I went for Jane Austen blue for my guest room and while it’s more Jane in her youth than in her dotage, it works. Despite major misgivings, I’d allowed myself to be talked into a yellow Tuscan wash for the kitchen and I have to admit that I like it. While my office isn’t exactly the olive-green I’d imagined, it’ll grow on me. It’s the gold-fading-to-cream look in the living room that simply didn’t work. Where was my head? But it’s all fixed now.

cfrackThe painters have been and gone on schedule. And they even cleaned up after themselves. I was mega impressed. I’ve made my choices – and they were my choices – so whatever blame there is to apportion, it’s all mine. And I’m sure that time will cure the few misgivings I’m left with.

There’s no doubt that my flat has changed; it’s not exactly what I’d envisioned, but it’s definitely different. Mission accomplished. I still love my flat, just as I still love this city and this country, yet perhaps the veneer is fading and the cracks are showing in more than just my four walls. Will the new paint satisfy my need for change, I wonder, or is it just a temporary fix, cosmetically applied to cover a deeper unrest?

First published in the Budapest Times 13 February 2015

Life is too short to stay in one place

These last two days have been awash with emails and phone calls and texts and Facebook messages in an attempt to take advantage of Wizz Air’s 20% discount on all flights and flight+hotel packages out of Budapest. Had they (Wizz) not emailed me and told me that this offer was available, I’d have been none the wiser and might have been somewhat more productive than I have been in the last 48 hours.

I had my heart set on five days in Cyprus but that wasn’t to be. Those I asked weren’t free or had been there before and were in no rush to go back or couldn’t give the immediate commitment I needed. Cluj was another option – it’s high on my list for 2015 – but again, there was little interest out there. Sofia, too.

naplesA chance email about something completely unrelated opened up a conversation with one friend on travel. Negotiations started. Cities were considered and discounted. We needed somewhere neither of us had been before so we settled on Naples. The fact that I’m going to Italy for a week in April was neither here nor there. Flights were booked. Advantage was taken of the 20% discount, and I’m already scheduling my carb days to allow copious slices of pizza. Mission accomplished. Need to travel satisfied.

parisThen last night, I ran into another friend who was having a similar itch to go somewhere new. Anywhere. Just for a weekend. The ‘I couldn’t possibly justify another trip in March’ crossed my mind but was so fleeting it didn’t gain any traction. I remembered a hotel voucher I had for the K&K hotel group and thought of Paris. They’ve never been. I’ve been but years ago  and I didn’t like it. I’ve been promising it a second try for decades.  So we’re booked.

I blame it all on the Wizz Air marketing department. It’s their fault. What can I say? Some women spend their money on designer shoes and handbags – I prefer to spend mine on airplane seats and hotel rooms – when they’re on sale, of course. Life is too short to stay in one place. And as Robert Louis Stevenson supposedly said: I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.

2015 Grateful 47

I’m late this week. Not like me at all. Truth be told, I’m in such bad form that I’m struggling to find anything to be grateful for. I had a manic week in Malta with early starts and late evenings and lots of meetings, workshops, and conversations that required energy – far more energy than I had to give.

I came home to my newly painted flat to find that the colours I had in my head didn’t quite make it on to the walls. Add this to the stark realisation that it’s going to take a while to hang my pictures and find that mirror and sort out my crap and the impatience in me bubbles to the surface creating an angst that I don’t need right now.

And I brought back a chest cold that is morphing into a head cold and making me miserable.

I’m in the middle of a two-day workshop and although it’s the last place I want to be (my bed is much more appealing) faking it is all part and parcel of being front and centre. While every bone in my body aches and my head is thumping and my chest sounds like I’ve been on sixty a day for forty years, none of that can show.

It’s one of the most asked questions regarding public speaking – what do you do when you so don’t want to get on stage but you have to? How do you overcome whatever ails you?

egoI stammer. Some days I can’t say my own name. When I make a restaurant reservation, I use the name Ann Clarke. And over the years, Ann Clarke has become my alter ego. When Mary Murphy can’t be arsed or feels miserable or would rather darn socks and sort spices then face a public, Ann Clarke comes to the rescue. Because her life is so compartmentalised and because she doesn’t get out all that often, any excuse to appear in public is a relief, something she welcomes, craves even. In my mind’s eye, she’s taller, thinner, with short blonde hair and ankles. And she has a slight American twang. She’s never phased; nothing gets to her. She runs her world with a military-like precision that is coupled with just the right amount of humanity to ensure that she treats everyone equally and is never taken advantage of.

There you have it! This week, I’m grateful for Ann Clarke  and the number of times she has come to my rescue. May she live long and prosper.

Bagpipes and bonsai trees

‘I understand the inventor of the bagpipes was inspired when he saw a man carrying an indignant, asthmatic pig under his arm. Unfortunately, the man-made sound never equalled the purity of the sound achieved by the pig.’ Well, Alfred Hitchcock, I don’t agree with you … and I’ve heard both.

There’s something about the bagpipes that touches the nerve centre of your soul. They’re haunting, as if the music was coming from another world, a parallel universe where power is fashioned by spirit rather than by strength.

I grew up thinking that uilleann pipes came from Ireland and bagpipes came from Scotland – but the first set of pipes actually came from somewhere in the Middle East. Theirs is a long, colourful, much debated history. Back in 1745, they were deemed ‘instruments of war’ in Scotland where being caught playing them meant certain death. Early Roman coins show Nero playing the pipes and not the fiddle as Rome was going up in flames! Every day is an education in my world.

Pipers in Scotland and Ireland are in their hundreds. In Hungary, you might find ten. There’s just one working pipe band – The Budapest Highlanders Pipe Band – a five-man-strong mix of kilted, sporraned pipers and drummers, all Hungarian. When I met this charming, talented bunch of lads recently, I couldn’t help but ask why…why the pipes?

L/R: Gabor, Dani, John, Gergő, Imre. Photo: Brendan Dunne

L/R: Gabor, Dani, John, Gergő, Imre. Photo: Brendan Dunne

The newest member of the band, Gergő Schmidt, explained his story. When visiting Scotland as an 8-year-old boy, he fell in love with the bagpipes. When he was 15 he realised his dream of playing them. He started off with some Hungarian pipes and then about three years ago, moved on to his set of Scottish Hardie bagpipes. He’s still learning and while learning he plays the snare drum with the Band. Snare drummers, apparently, are even harder to find than bagpipers in Hungary, so Schmidt has cornered the market.

He was attracted by the music and its unique sense of power coupled to the calm that is its essence. A landscape gardener and a grower of bonsai trees by trade, the patience required to master both his profession and his hobby is quite similar; the placidness he exudes testifies to how well suited he is to each.

piperAs lead piper, Imre Jarabek holds the veto card. They’re a band, not a democracy, says Schmidt, with a smile. Someone has to take a decision when they can’t agree. By day, Imre is a forester, another occupation that requires tenacity and patience. Pipers Daniel Pásztor and Istvan Murányi teach Latin and work in the cosmetics business, respectively. Gabor Zimboran plays both the tenor and bass drums; his day job is running (and teaching at) an Irish dance school. Collectively they are the Band.

They get together twice a month to practice – no mean feat considering they live hundreds of miles apart. And they play some regular gigs around the country. They’ll be at the head of the St Patrick’s Day Parade in Budapest in March and I’m hoping to see them play at the Celtic Festival in Sopron this summer in the company of kilted caber-tossing foresters. They say they owe their exposure in large part to the ministrations of Zoltán Magyar, President of the Hungarian Scottish Society, who has facilitated introductions to Scottish pipers and helped raise their profile in Hungary.

As I listened to them banter with visiting pipers from Scotland at the recent Burns Supper in the Corinthia Hotel, I was struck by what a leveller music is. No matter their nationality, their profession, their religion, their beliefs, their age, their ethnicity, their language … those who share a love of, and a passion for, music will always be at home together. The world needs more of it.

First published in the Budapest Times 6 February 2015