Being walked by a dog

Hammer 2I’ve never professed to being an animal lover. Perhaps it has something to do with losing a succession of pets as child to poison and cars. I learned from an early age not to get too attached to anything on four legs.

I did dog sit a couple of dogs for a week once in Alaska and quite enjoyed the experience. It was nice to have someone rush to the door to meet me each evening and these lads were too old and too lazy to need much in the way of exercise.

I recently toyed with the idea of getting a pup but then realised quite quickly that they would be on their own more often than not and as I struggle to keep my plants alive, I wouldn’t be too optimistic about my pet’s longevity.

Working from a mate’s house in Dublin today, I was asked to take the dog, Hammer, for a walk. I like him. As dogs go, he’s intelligent and funny and very handsome. They said that he’d let me know when he was ready. About 12.15. And on the nose, he jumped up on the chair behind me and gently began to push me off. I got the message.

I took some poop bags, having been instructed that if he pooped on the path I was to pick it up. He mightn’t, they said. But then again he might. And he did. Four times. Four separate occasions. And I lost all but one bag along the way so it was quite the chore. Me walking the streets of Dublin with a tiny plastic bag full of dogshit is something might not have captured the interest of the paparazzis even had there been any about, but I felt as if I were on parade.

And then he peed. At least ten times. It seemed as if he was answering messages left for him along the way because make no mistake, he was walking me, not the other way around.

Many lifetimes ago, when I was visiting from Alaska with my then boyfriend, we stayed with the same friends. He got up one morning and went for a walk before breakfast under instruction to be back within half an hour. An hour later no sign. We’d warned him that the streets of Dublin had evolved without much planning. All the houses on one street look the same and rarely do those streets run in straight lines. This was back in the days before mobile phones so we had to set out in groups to see if we could find him. I was left to stand guard at the front window in case he should pass back this way. Which he did. Two hours later. And, in typical male form, denied ever being lost.

Today, I walked those same streets and got just as lost. I have no sense of direction at the best of times and hadn’t a clue where I was. I was conscious that I had a speech to write and work to do and that time was ticking by. I was getting anxious. And Hammer knew it. He looked at me with something approaching despair and said ok, ok, I’ll take you home. And he did. Amazing.  I’m left wondering which one of us is the smarter being.

 

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Someone asked me today if I ever tired of travelling. The hassle. The queues. The lost luggage. The never-quite-knowing-how-much-a-flight-will-cost until you press the final button. The packing. The unpacking. Did I  mention the hassle? And I said no. Never.

Travelling is something you like or you don’t. Very few people are ambivalent. For many, it’s a chore. Something they have to do for work. They rack up hotel nights with the same frequency as others make cups of tea. For others travel is a choice. Something they do once or twice a year. The annual summer holiday with months spent planning where to spend those two weeks. And perhaps a week around Christmas, visiting family at home or abroad, or skiing. More still mark anniversaries and birthdays and notable occasions with a city break to somewhere foreign. But for some, like me, travel is an innate part of being. I can no more imagine not travelling than I can imagine not sleeping.

Yes, I’m lucky in that I have a job that facilitates my trips. I can work anywhere I have an Internet connection. Unless I’m giving workshops. And recently, when asked for dates for workshops in October and November, I froze for a minute as I looked through my diary and realised that for two whole months I would have to be in Budapest at least two days a week. Which left with with a five-day travel window.

time off

It’s not that I have anywhere in particular I want to go. Rather that I want to be free to go should the opportunity arise. A Serbian friend mooted a week in Israel – but I don’t have week. Two weeks in Iran was also on the cards but I don’t have two weeks either. And for a while, my narrative voice kicked in and I was caught up in a mental castigation of not being able to say no. I could have just said I wasn’t free. But that wouldn’t be true. I could have declined to bid on the job but that, as a freelancer, would be tantamount to heresy. You take what work you can get (within reason) when you get it, because you never know when the next lot will come along.

Some time in the last few months, my attitude to travel has changed. I missed out on tickets for Pink Martini who are playing next week in Budapest. I’m kicking myself. I’d give the toenail on my big toe to go see them live. So what did I do? I checked other tour dates in Europe and when I found myself trying to work in overnight train trips to Munich at mad h0urs mid-week, I realised that I enjoy a luxury denied to many. I’m living smack, bang in the middle of Europe. Getting a train to another country is often quicker than a drive from London to Newcastle. Flying between capitals is relatively cheap – and while the environmentalist in me screams NO!, the twenty-first century me pays her carbon dues and plants trees to offset her airmiles and reasons that as her dad wouldn’t set foot in an airplane, she can use his allocation, too.

This week is a quick trip to Ireland for a book launch. Next week is a quick trip to Malta for a workshop. Florence is also peeping over the horizon, as is Venice. And the States are calling – again.

If I’m not thinking about travelling, something is definitely wrong in my world. I’m grateful indeed that I get to indulge this particular passion and that the world is big enough to keep me thinking (and travelling) for many years to come.

The privilege of old age

oldage3When I was 10, I thought 50 was ancient. Forty years seemed like an eternity through which I would never pass. But now that I’m just a couple of grey hairs from that particular milestone, I find myself revising my perception of age. Even 90 doesn’t seem old  anymore.

My dad will turn 90 next year (I think). He has enjoyed (or suffered) a modicum of fame during his career with An Garda Siochána (Irish Police) and at one stage was reputed to know every garda in the country by name. Now, when he’s not up the garden digging potatoes, or hauling turf in from the bog, he can be found on the golf course.  Fair play, I say. The man is a legend – in my corner of the world at least.

This week, I met another legend from a different world. Another nonagenarian whose life experiences are the stuff history is made of. Born in 1921, Hórváth János was the youngest member of the Hungarian parliament when he was elected in 1945. And when he left office in 2014, he was the oldest serving parliamentarian in Hungarian history.

In the years in between he trained as an economist, worked as a mechanic, and lectured in economics for years to a body of students who still visit him today. In 1944, while part of the Arrow Cross resistance, he was arrested by the Gestapo, imprisoned, and sentenced to death. He escaped just hours before he was scheduled to depart this world.  In 1947, he was arrested again, this time by the Russians and accused of being an enemy of the people. He was sentenced to four years’ hard labour and did his time.

In 1956, he escaped a second time, to America, as a diplomat of the revolution. There, he got a PhD from Columbia, ran twice against the rooted incumbent Democrat Andrew Jacobs for a seat in the House of Representatives, and rubbed shoulders with US Presidents Bush Snr and Reagan. The man is indeed a legend ‒ a legend now back in Budapest after more than 40 years States-side ‒ hale and hearty with a twinkle in his eye that belies his years and speaks to the young man still very much alive inside.

oldage1Statistics show that we’re living longer, healthier lives. Yet falling birth rates and increased life expectancy come with the social problems of higher dependency ratios: we have fewer people able to work to support an aging population. Many argue that were we smarter about how we’re handling the migration crisis currently underway, we might be in a position to redress this imbalance. Something certainly has to be done.

In the meantime though, I think we need to take a new look at the aged and the aging and instead of seeing old age as something akin to a disease, perhaps we could listen to American social activist Maggie Kuhn. She had 90 years to conclude that ‘old age is not a disease – it is strength and survivorship, triumph over all kinds of vicissitudes and disappointments, trials and illnesses.’

oldage2Perhaps if we listened a little harder to what these nonagenarians have to say, we might not end up making the same mistakes over and over again. Perhaps if we took the time to engage with them more, not as frail human beings approaching the end of their days but as fonts of wisdom and knowledge who could teach us a thing or three, we might make benefit from their years of experience. Perhaps if we paid more attention to how they have arrived at where they are, we might better appreciate the sanctity of life and realise that old age is indeed a privilege denied to many.

First published in the Budapest Times 25 September 2015

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There I was, on Friday night, sitting on stage at the New Orleans Music Club in Budapest. As you do. It was the Final of the Finalists, the 31st and final round in the English-language speech slam that I’ve been presiding over since 2009. Five finalists had come together to see which one of them would take home the honours.

For those not familiar with the event, five competitors each give five-minute prepared speeches on a topic of their choice and then a three-minute impromptu on a topic chosen by the audience. For his impromptu, Rupert Slade drew me – yep – a slip of paper asking him to talk about me – Mary Murphy.

Now, I’m sure that had I not been in the room, he would have had little trouble meeting that goal. It’s easy enough to talk about anyone if they’re not there to contradict or take offense. But I was there and I wasn’t about to go anywhere.

As the audience waited for him to give up the dirt, I sat  on stage wondering where he was going to go with it.  Rupert knows me well enough to have some stories to tell and has a way about him that would make that telling very entertaining. And as he is not exactly backward about coming forward, I readied myself for public exposition – but it never came.

He talked about my losing weight – the equivalent of a piece of checked luggage on RyanAir. He talked about my blog and my thing about being grateful[so I just couldn’t pass up this opportunity].  He talked about my run-in with sheepdogs on my way to mass in Transylvania. And he talked of how I’d told him to invite his now wife out for a coffee after the GOTG final in 2012. [Apparently, I tell... ]. And he said nice stuff, too, about GOTG and the difference it has made to the orphanage.  And he did all this in the most horrendous stage-Irish accent that was so bad it was  funny.

And the audience was  left wondering.

He didn’t slag me. He didn’t divulge the undivulgible. He left that to me.

When you’re doing anything even remotely humourous on stage, the best person to rag is yourself – you’re the only one who might take offence and you know your limits. I tell stories. About me. About my experiences. And occasionally about my mother. Most have enough truth in them to be credible. But the choice of what to divulge is mine.

Rupert could have gone with the easy option – but he didn’t. And for that, I’m truly grateful. Perhaps I’d be better than most at taking a public roasting but I’m glad that I wasn’t put to the test.

 

 

The least we can do

Hungary has made the news in Ireland. When I was there last week it seemed like all anyone was talking about was the migration situation. Pictures of Keleti train station. Pictures of Szeged. Pictures of the fence. Pictures of families sitting, waiting for an uncertain future.

The one overriding question asked of me was “Is it as bad as they say?” And the only answer to that is no. It’s worse. And then they asked why Hungary (and by implication, Hungarians) wasn’t doing more. People in Germany were offering up their homes on AirBnb. Austrians were driving to the border and beyond to pick up families and take them home. Angela Merkel was offering to take in hundreds of thousands. Ireland might only be taking 4000 (to our shame, some say) but Hungary doesn’t appear to want any at all.

I had neither the political nor the sociology background to answer their questions with anything even approaching authority. But when I started to talk about my experiences and what I’ve seen and heard and read, I was a little surprised at what came out.

None of the current Hungarian government is on my Christmas card list. Neither is the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary. I believe they both could have done more. And yet I found myself taking quite a defensive position.

I reminded my petitioners that here in Hungary, people don’t have much. Monthly take-home salaries are figured in hundreds of euro rather than thousands. Flats are small. There are no spare rooms to offer.

Some 40% of the population hasn’t enough to make it to the end of the month. Farmers watch as the crops they need to get their family through the winter are picked clean by those passing through. Many in the east of the country live hand to mouth. Many in the cities, too.

And while the international press might scathingly report on the quality of food provided at the camps, they forget that patients in Hungarian hospitals fare no better. And while they castigate the police for their heavy-handedness, they forget that Hungary, as a Schengen border country, has been charged with keeping that border safe.

And yes, it could all have been done differently. Ideologically it’s a shared border that should be manned by all Schengen countries. The responsibility should not fall on Hungary alone. But then does Hungary want help? Yet another question I cannot answer.

refugees_walk_beside_motorway

The government here is making a hames of it all (and it’s not alone).  But the people, individual Hungarians, are showing a generosity of spirit that should not be forgotten. It has to be difficult to see Keleti awash with young people scrambling not for food but for places to plug in their smartphones. To see queues at Western Union as money is wired for train tickets out. To see placards thanking Germany and shaming Hungary.

It’s an impossible situation. Everyone has an opinion. Many are simply afraid.

Afraid that ISIS might be using this exodus to Europe as a cover. Afraid that we might wake up one morning to find our churches replaced by mosques. Afraid that our poor and our homeless will lose out to those who are looking not for a safe place to live but for a better standard of living.

Fear makes us say stupid things. It makes us batten down the hatches and indiscriminately protect what we have. It makes us add exclusivity clauses to which neighbour we should love.

And while letters of accusation fly back and forth between governments and EU leaders scramble to get their act together, more and more refugees arrive at the Schengen border in the hope that they will be granted access to a safer world. The very least that we can do is to show some compassion.

First published in the Budapest Times 18 September 2015

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I fell completely, madly, hopelessly in love today. I’d met him before, briefly, a couple of years ago, and while mildly taken with him then, it was nothing compared to what I experienced today. A drop in the ocean. A grain of rice in a paddy field. A grape in a vineyard. Today, I fell hook, line, and sinker.

He’s cute. He’s blonde. He’s constantly smiling. And he’s two.

I can’t say that I miss not having kids. Occasionally – very, very occasionally – I wonder what it might have been like. But it’s a fleeting thought, one that doesn’t last very long. It didn’t happen. End of. I’m a firm believer in what’s for you not passing you and being a mum obviously wasn’t for me. Given that my levels of patience are questionable at the best of times, it’s probably best that way. I have no regrets.

Down2But this little man is adorable. And he has Down Syndrome. He’s not a Down Syndrome child – he’s a child who happens to have Down Syndrome. And that’s not just semantics.  Down Syndrome is a genetic condition caused by the presence of an extra chromosome and this third copy of the twenty-first chromosome has an amazing effect on the world. Some it repels, most it draws closer.

Many years ago, in Alaska, a friend of mine whose son has Down Syndrome, was telling me how another parent of a child with DS had asked her if there were ever times when she wished her son was normal. Why, she answered, somewhat surprised, sure he if was ‘normal’ as you say, he’d be someone else.

Down

Today I got to experience those amazing eyes, that infectious laugh … and the hugs. And the uncomplicated, unadulterated joy of being.  And for a short while, I managed to be completely present.

Last night, in Belfast, I listened to Eckhart Tolle, a German-born Canadian resident who has been lauded as the ‘most spiritually influential person in the world’. I read his book – The Power of Now – many years ago and have recommended it or given it as a gift to friends over the years. And while I liked his message, I never really took to him. Quite irrationally, I never really liked him. But today I do.

Far from being the tall, ramrod straight, officious, imperious German I had imagined, he’s a short, hunched, lovable chap with a mischievious glint in his eye. He sat on stage looking strangely like a cheeky schoolboy who knew something none of the rest of us had yet grasped. And over the course of 90 minutes or so, he let us in to the secret.

He talked to us about egos. About how our mental commentaries turn neutral situations into marked unhappiness. About how we merge reality with a fictional image of life that we make available to others via social media. He talked about our thought-burdened sense of identity. About the illusion we have that  in order to hold our life together, we have to think about it all the time. About how our thought forms give us our sense of self.

And he told us of the gap that exists between two thoughts – the space where one thought finishes and another has yet to start. That stillness. That awareness. That presence. And he said that if we looked into the eyes of a baby, we could see how they look at us without thinking about how much they like or dislike us, about how our glasses look, or how many wrinkles we have. They have yet to form thoughts so they look and they see and they’re in the moment, in the now. [And if we didn’t have a baby to hand, we could do the same with a dog.]

And today, when I was enjoying the hugs and the smiles and the love from this little miracle, I finally got what Tolle was on about. Today, when we were out and about, everywhere Finn went he radiated joy. He lit up the restaurant. Random strangers drawn to him came over to say hi. People passing us in the village turned to smile. It was magnetic. And for a while, as people engaged with him, they were present, completely present. It was  quite something to behold.

This week, I’m grateful to a two-year-old for the laughs, and the smiles, and the unconditional love. And for teaching me how to be present.

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When the blues cry for Mary

One of the many reasons I like living in Budapest is the neighbourhood feeling that can still be found in parts of the city, corners of the capital that still have a village feel to them. Take Budafok as an example. Home to what is, in my mind, the best wine festival in the city, the streets and squares are taken over one weekend a year by local vineyards selling their wines (from as little as 200 ft a dl), local cheese makers selling their cheeses, and local craftspeople selling their wares. All available courtyards are put to use as temporary stages are erected to showcase the best of local talent. It’s a family affair with plenty on offer to suit everyone.

Wandering back down the main drag on Saturday evening (Day 1 of the two-day festival), we nipped into the courtyard of Megálló Étterem in search of food. Fed well on kolbász and pickled cabbage, we also sampled one of the wines on offer and were readying ourselves to move on to meet some friends at the Pezsgő tér where the relatively well-known band Group ‘N’ Swing were due to entertain the masses. But just one song into their first set, the band on stage held sway. The only moving we would do would be to the dance floor.

JackCannon-picture (533x800)The Jack Cannon Blues Band (interestingly named after two piece of electrical cable) lists its genres as blues-rock, hard rock, blues, funky, R&B, and soul. The lads nailed a couple of Jimi Hendrix covers Let me stand next to your fire and When the wind cries Mary ‒ and played a couple of new ones of their own (in Hungarian). Lead vocalist and harp player, György Zoltai (Zozo), says he plays the harmonica while thinking with the head of a guitarist, which goes some way to explaining the sound he gets from the tiny instrument. It’s the stuff goosebumps are made of.

With Ádám Biró on guitar, Péter Gyergyádesz on bass, and Attila Lakatos (Lakat) on drums, the four are a force to be reckoned with. The lads have been playing in this current group since 2012 when Lakat added his drums to the mix. Ádám and Zozo have been playing together since 2006 and were joined by Péter on bass in 2007. The three had notable success as an acoustic trio in national and international blues festivals. Back in 2008, when looking for gigs abroad, they stumbled on a Czech website and inadvertently entered (and won) one of Europe’s most prestigious international blues competition, Blues Aperitiv, in the Czech Republic. It was the first of many competition wins for the lads and once you’ve heard them, you’ll know why. They play abroad two or three times a year in Poland and the Czech Republic and play semi-regular gigs at Old Mans Music Pub here in the city (next gig is there on Tuesday, 22nd September – The Jack Cannon Acoustic Trio).

For them, the blues is not just music. It’s how they live and see the world. And when they play the blues, they’re sharing their world with their audience. Some performers have it, some don’t. Call it personality, call it presence, call it what you will. It’s hard to describe but you know it when you see it. I’ve sat through gigs where the performers, although excellent, could just as well have been playing to an empty room. There’s little if any difference between hearing them live and listening to them on CD. And I’ve lived through gigs where every cell in my body was hopping. The difference between passively listening and actively engaging is what makes bands like the Jack Cannon Blues Band memorable. They’re impossible to ignore and even more impossible to forget.

First published in the Budapest Times 11 September 2015

Under construction

I’ve gotten presents that have been extravagantly beribboned and expensively wrapped and yet failed to live up to my expectations. I’ve also had the most amazingly appropriate gifts wrapped in newspaper and tied with a piece of string. Ya never know what you’ll get.

Oradea (Nagyvárad) is a little like that. Once the cultural capital of the Carpathian region, it’s still the cultural capital of Transylvania, if not the whole of Romania. Just 8 km from the Hungarian border, for years the city was passed back and forth between the two countries. And while the bus station and the 30-minute walk into town are nothing to write home about, when you turn the corner into the old town, even if it is under construction, it’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous.

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When I say ‘under construction’ I mean it. But not the sort of construction site that is closed off to the public. One where pedestrians get to walk alongside the JCBs and get up close and personal with the pneumatic drills, stumbling to their heart’s content, taking their lives in their hands as they do. But it’s worth the dust, and the stumbling, and the dicing with death because when it’s all done it is going to give other European squares a run for their money.

Moon Church (Biserica cu Lună)

Moon Church (Biserica cu Lună)

Unification Square, as it’s known, is home to myriad churches and a palace. Moon church is quite unique and with its astronomical clock that depicts the phases of the moon. Inside, it too is being restored. Oradea’s facelift runs deep.

The  Baroque Palace (Palatul Baroc) is built in Viennese style and has a total of 365 windows. Originally built in honour of Maria Teresa, up till 1945, it was home to the local Roman Catholic bishop. But then the Communists came and borrowed it, not returning it until 2003. 

Baroque Palace (Palatul Baroc)

Baroque Palace (Palatul Baroc)

 

Black Eagle Passage (Pasajul Vulturul Negru)

Black Eagle Passage (Pasajul Vulturul Negru)

Black Eagle Passage (Pasajul Vulturul Negru) is another gem undergoing renovations. And it’s still open for business. The numerous bars and cafés beneath the glass-roofed arcade are still plying their trade and the crowds keep coming. Parts of it are covered in builders’ plastic and scaffold but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone. The bits still to started on are magnificent. A night here alone would be enough to entice me back – I didn’t stumble across it until a few hours before my train so it needs to be revisited. Mind you, the jury is out as to whether Vultural means eagle, vulture, or hawk…  but no matter which bird it’s called after, it is something to be behold. 

 

IMG_0827 (800x600) (800x600)IMG_0851 (800x600)

The Crișul Repede river divides the city in two and the other side is no less beautiful with its theatres and museums lining a long pedestrian street.

The Oradea State Theater (Teatrul de Stat Oradea) is one of over 100 theatres designed in Europe by two Austrian architects whose names I have yet to track down. A busy pair these two. [Note: from the inimitable IZ – the lads were Hellner and Fellner but apparently this one was designed by others due to some sort of money issues.]

And it was right across from here that we stayed. In the fab Astoria Hotel. Had I a trunk full of evening dresses, I could have stayed a month. 

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A late afternoon decision and the almost miraculous appearance of a local shark (illegal taxi driver) saw us heading towards Stana (Sztána), one of nine villages in the commune of Almaşu (Váralmás). As we bounced (I kid you not) along a dirt and gravel road, I realised why the Romanian map feels the need to show three classifications of road: main roads, asphalt roads, and dirt roads – the latter are well-travelled. Given that most rental car agreements would ban travel down such byways, it must put half of the country out of reach of tourists, which might explain why strangers in the more remote towns and villages are such a novelty. Transylvania is one part of Romania that would be a perfect home for a Rent-a-Wreck franchise.

IMG_0772 (800x600)IMG_0763 (600x800)Stana is Romanian for sheepfold. And there were lots of sheep and a few people and a nest of houses, and a church, two shops, and, strangely enough, lots of new-builds. Yep. Seems like EU money is pouring into this tiny community with a massive guest house going up on the outskirts of town. I’d heard that one of the conditions for getting these EU grants is that you have to undertake to have an indoor recreation area – which is why they have a table-tennis (ping-pong) table in the cellar. Go figure.

We were the only guests in the Kék Iringo, an old house that has been renovated to within an inch of its life. A shame really. But hey, we were treated like royalty and looked after like we were the last two women on Earth.

IMG_0761 (800x600) (2)A wander around the village included a beer outside one of the two shops – this would seem to be what passes for entertainment. There’s a lot to be said for passing the evening in the company of neighbours on the village streets – but were I living there, I’d wonder on those nights I stayed away whether I was the topic of conversation. That they build seats into the gateways and porches says so much for a tradition of meeting and mingling. I had thought it might be a bus stop but then remembered that there are no busses.

IMG_0647 (800x600)A few days earlier, while driving from church to church, we’d passed a number of sheep stations. Our driver warned us about the dangers of marauding sheepdogs, who do their  best to ensure full employment for walking guides. The shepherds, apparently, make cheese on the spot. And, when I think of the age I’ve reached without ever questioning where ewe cheese comes from, I’m shocked at how surprised I was to think of sheep being milked. Sometimes I really doubt my own intelligence.

IMG_0795 (600x800)We’d planned to walk over the fields to the next village of Petrinzel (Kispetri) in time for a Reformatus service at 10am. In the distance we saw a horse-drawn cart ferrying other churchgoers from village to village in a scene that could have been plucked from The Little House on the Prairie. So much so that I could have sworn I heard the theme tune as Laura’s freckled face flashed in front of me. We could see the church in the distance and the path was relatively well-worn. We’d not get lost.  But then we saw the sheep and later we saw the dogs (all three of tIMG_0797 (800x600)hem). The shepherd obviously didn’t see us as no amount of waving would get him to look our way. And dressed as I was in my Sunday best rather than usual hill walking gear (if I had any), I did sort of stick out. The sheep seemed determined to thwart us. Just as we thought the coast was clear, the dogs came back. Three attempts we made, walking a little further each time before doubling back. Eventually, at 10am, just as the service was starting, we gave up.

Everyone carries a big stick when they walk further than the village. Kids can play in the streets but not venture out into the hills. Which is a shame, given the gorgeous countryside they have as a back garden. Traffic, which is practically non-existent, doesn’t keep you awake at night – but howling dogs do. And just when you get off to sleep, the roosters start crowing. Were I to live here for any length of time, I’d go demented. I need my sleep. And on the rare occasion that I fancy a walk, I’d like to be able to walk from A to B unaccosted.

IMG_0781 (600x800)We all live different lives. Yes, there might be overlaps and similarities, but each life is unique. Every now and then it’s nice to get a new perspective, to get a  glimpse of how other people live. It’s fun to play what if and imagine how well I might fit in, how I’d adapt. If nothing else, it makes me appreciate what I have. And while living the experience is wonderful, and being treated like royalty is something not to be dissed, the simple joy of sleeping in my own bed is one I’d not trade for the world.

Yet again, I’m grateful for the wanderlust, for the need to see new places and experience new things. I hope it’s something I never grow out of. As Mae West supposedly said ‘you only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.’

 

 

 

 

The cheapest legal high you can get

If I had a pálinka for every great idea I’ve had that’s come to nothing, I’d be in a state of permanent inebriation. I could live out the rest of my days high on the fumes of failed ambition. Great ideas I can do. It’s making them happen that confounds me. Not, of course, because I’m incapable; more because I just can’t be bothered. There always seems to be something else to do, something more important, something more immediate.

Over a lingering lunch about six years ago in a restaurant called Vadász just behind Arany Janos metro station, I sat in the almost surreal British-pub like interior with my good friend Gretchen Meddaugh. We were bemoaning the fact that so many people in Budapest had yet to appreciate that speaking in public is one of the best, and cheapest, legal highs a body can get. Forget the pálinka – if you needed something to make you feel alive, all you had to do was to get in front of a microphone and speak.

As the conversation bounced back and forth, we parsed and analysed the various forums in the city that facilitated speaking in front of an audience and decided that it needed one more – one that was unfettered by rules and regulations, one that was unstilted rather than scripted, one where people could come in to their own. And Gretchen made me do it.

Since then, each year (bar one), expats and Hungarians alike have been testing their mettle, getting on stage in front of friends and strangers alike to see if they have that gift which is universally attributed to the Irish  – the gift of the gab. And yet after five successful seasons, which have produced five stellar finalists, there’s not one Irish person to be seen amongst them. The mind boggles.

GT2The gift of the gab is variously defined as (i) to talk idly or incessantly, as about trivial matters, (ii) the ability to talk readily, glibly, and convincingly, and (iii) the ability to speak easily and confidently in a way that makes people want to listen to you and believe you.

In two weeks’ time, on Friday, 18th September, the Final of the Finalists takes place.  Rupert Slade (2010, English), Patrick McMenamin (2012, Scottish), Hans Peterson (2013, American), Viktor Morandini (2014, Hungarian), and Jennifer Walker (2015, English) will compete to see which one of them has that unequivocally Irish trait, that ability to talk to just about anyone, just about anywhere, about just about anything.

For those of you who have yet to attend the charity speech slam (where have you been?), it goes like this. Each contestant gives a five-minute prepared speech on a topic of their choice and a three-minute impromptu on a topic suggested by the audience. [And we’ve had some doozies over the years – can you imagine speaking for three minutes about peas? Or curtains? Or pavements? Or why bird poop is black and white?] Five judges chosen on the night will decide who gets to take home the trophy.

It’s all happening at the New Orleans Music Club on Lovag utca in the VI kerulet and kicks off at 7.30 pm. Doors open at 6.15 pm for those who’d like to eat. Tickets can be purchased from the venue (10am – 5pm) and cost 2000-2500 huf. All proceeds (every single forint) go to the Irish Hungarian Business Circle’s Give a Little charity campaign that supports Topház Speciális Otthon a Special Needs home in Göd. See www.speechslam.com for more details. Come along. Be entertained. Support the cause. In today’s world of redundant political rhetoric, it’s not often that you get the opportunity to see hot air and bluster do some good.

First published in the Budapest Times 4 September 2015