Facing down the terror

Were I still in school, today would mark my last day of term. Were I in a full-time, paid, pensionable position, today would mark my last day of work before my holiday began. But as writing for the Budapest Times and going to mass on Sunday are the two most regular fixtures in my life right now (and admittedly, I’m a tad more religious about my Times deadlines that I am about mass), this last column in July is what marks my summer break.

This time last year, I wrote about the fun trips I had taken and was planning to take. I was full of the joys of life, grateful for the opportunity to see so much of the world both at home and abroad. My column ran with the title ‘Making Memories’ and ended with the lines ‘Whatever you do this summer, enjoy yourself. And take the time to make some memories. We know not what the future has in store.’

In the intervening 12 months, the world has gone mad. This week alone saw a knife attack claim the lives of 19 people and injure 26 more in a facility for disabled people in Japan. In France, an octogenarian priest, Father Jacques Hamel, had his throat slit in church while saying mass. The headlines noted that he was the 236th victim of jihadists in France since 2015. That struck me as odd. Not in that the number was so high, but that there was a number at all.

Also this week, Irish print and broadcast journalist, Vincent Browne wrote his own headline, claiming that ‘terrorism works only with the complicity of the media and its sensational reporting.’ I’ve been bothered for some time about the role the media plays in what we think today, in how we feel. It’s as if it is doing our thinking for us. Were we better off when news took time to travel? When we didn’t have news feeds clogged with videos of atrocities? When stories of terrorism were curtailed? I wonder.

A few paragraphs into his piece, Browne completes his heading: ‘Terrorism works only with the complicity of the media and its sensational reporting, for without the sensational reporting of such incidents, the intended terror would not materialise.’ He makes his case with statistics showing how the small proportion that deaths by terrorism represent are lost in the annual homicide figures for countries like France, Germany, and the USA. He notes that around the world, more than 1.2 million people die in road accidents [something we could rectify] and concludes with the observation that ‘the usual hysterics and attention-seekers don’t bother with these banalities.’

As I get ready for what is usually a quiet month for me work-wise, as I get set to close out the first half-century of my life and celebrate a big birthday, I do so with a heavy heart. I spent a lot of time with kids last week and I wonder what the future has in store for them. We adults are making a right mess of things. The world’s leadership landscape has rarely looked so bleak. Our elected, or soon-to-be elected leaders, offer little by way of hope. Our media seems hell-bent on fomenting the hatred sown by fanatics. And we’re all being sucked into a vacuum of despair.

focusing on goodWe need to stop focusing on our differences and start focusing on what we have in common – life. And we need to live that life, the only one we get, with a conscious thought for the children who will inherit our world. We need to take responsibility for what we say, for what we post, for what we share. And we could start by facing down the terror, by spending just one day focusing ONLY on the good stuff. It might just catch on.

First published in the Budapest Times 29 July 2016

Size does matter

Whoever said that size doesn’t matter has never been a victim of the one-size-fits-all dress design. They’ve never been driven to the brink of distraction by the lack of standardisation that makes a size 14 an 8 in Spain and a size 8 a 14 in Samoa. Size plays such a huge part of our lives that it can’t but matter. Can you be medal-winning 5-foot-tall basketball player (assuming you’re over the age of 18) or be a successful 14-stone jockey? I doubt it.

I’m quite partial to size. There are times when being in awe in the face of magnificence is humbling, a good calibration for those times you start to believe your own hype. I’m a sucker for descriptives like the smallest pub in Ireland or the largest church in Portugal. And it was to the latter that I was recently drawn. Now, of course, having done some homework, it turns out that it’s not actually the biggest church in Portugal any more. That’s now in Fatima. Depending, of course, on which source you believe.

IMG_6061 (800x600)In the middle of the medieval town of Alcobaça, the church is part of Mosteiro de Alcobaça. Entrance is free to both on Sunday before 2pm but at other times, there’s a charge to enter the monastery.  It was late. I was hungry. And I was monasteried out. But I can always use the three wishes you get when you visit a church for the first time and I was curious to see for myself what the hype was about. Just how plain could such big church really be?

IMG_6066 (600x800)IMG_6068 (600x800)Wow. Wow. Wow. A minimalist’s dream, gobsmackingly gorgeous in its nakedness. What gold and gilt there was, were hidden in the side chapels. The rest was plain. Very plain. This, apparently, had something to do with the Order of Cistercians, the monks for whom the monastery was built. They’re rumoured to have liked clean, architectural lines. Mind you, the late seventeenth-century altarpiece depicting the death of St Bernard shows that they might have changed their minds a little as the years went on. The polychrome-painted terracotta is said to be representative of their pottery style.

IMG_6075 (600x800)There are two tombs in the church, those of King Pedro I and his mistress Inês de Castro. His sits on the backs of lions; hers on the backs of half-men/half-beasts. Theirs is a curious story. She was assassinated by Pedro’s father back in 1355. He was understandably a tad upset with this level of parental interference but once he became king himself,  he had Inês’s remains transferred to the tomb in Alcobaça. Although just a little late in having his way, the story goes that he crowned her Queen of Portugal and had everyone come and kiss her dead (and no doubt decomposed) hand. Gruesome it might be but there’s something touching there … if you think about it.

In contrast to the church, the tombs are very intricate. Same style apparently but at the opposite end of the Gothic spectrum (if there even is such a thing). And while his touchingly depicts scenes from their life together, hers showcases the Crucifixion and the Last Judgement. The artist must have had a sense of humour.

IMG_6096 (800x600) IMG_6072 (800x596) IMG_6073 (600x800)There are other tombs in one of the naves, too, one of which might be Pedro’s dad and his mistress’s murderer (nothing like keeping it in the family!). There’s also  a lovely little chapel of exposition that saw quite a bit of traffic when  I was there. The church is really something. So far removed from the ornate edifices usually associated with the Catholic Church. It was clean, airy, huge. An excellent place to regain some perspective.

Having dinner afterwards at one of the many outdoor cafés nearby, the evening sun added even more to its majesty. It’s really is quite something. Next time, I might just make it to the monastery.

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Wedding presents

Back when people moved into their first home when they got married, wedding presents weren’t an issue. A toaster. A half-dozen wine glasses. A casserole dish. Linens. Cutlery. Anything went. But today, most people have lived together before they get married. They already have a house together (a joint 30-year mortgage is the new engagement) and so need little by way of stuff. So what to give?

Back in the 13th century, King Dinis I of Portugal set a trend. When his wife, Queen Isabel, visited the village of Óbidos, she fell in love with it. He, having the kingdom at his disposal, gave it to her as a wedding present. The precedent set, the heirs to the throne followed suit, bestowing the lovely town on their brides. Until 1883, the town was owned by the current queen of Portugal. That’s one for the sisters.

Today, it’s a popular day trip for tourists staying in Lisbon and its surrounds. The lovely medieval town is made for postcards and chocolate box lids. It’s gorgeous. At various stages it was home to the Romans, the Visigoths, and the Moors, before being taken by the first king of Portugal in the twelfth century. The castle is remarkably together and towers over the little town, with its cobblestone streets, and floral walkways.

It’s quite a hub of activity year-round with a chocolate festival in March,  its famous Holy Week festivities at Easter, and an Ancient Music festival in October. It has one of the world’s first hotels in a historical monument (the castle) and a tableau of eateries, one looking better than the next. Some 3100 people live here now and it probably gets half that again in visitors every day.  Definitely worth a visit if you’re in the vicinity. Worth going out of your way for, too.

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On being an aunt (4) – 2016 Grateful 23

aunt1Well, the boy has gone. Back home. To his parents. I survived. He survived. He even went shopping (hates it) and bought presents for everyone. He’s not fond of parting with his money but I managed to spend most of it for him and by the end of the week he was volunteering to spend it. That’s progress.  That’s an education that will stand him in good stead down the road 🙂  He really has the makings of a lovely young man.

He said he loves Budapest. Loves the city. Loves the atmosphere. When I asked what the best part was, he said it was making new friends. Knackered though I was, I found the energy to be suitably impressed. It wasn’t the fact that he could do what he liked when he liked (mostly) or eat what he wanted when he wanted (always) or decide what to do each day without having to consider his brother. It was that he made new friends. Perhaps there is hope for the human race yet.

The boy is a game addict. He’s rarely without his phone or his iPad or whatever it is he plays his games on. But this past week, his new friends were into different sorts of games – the ones you play with people, using your imagination. Had I to graph his phone usage in the week he was here, it was trending downwards. That’s good, I think. That’s definitely good.

The place is quieter without him, even though he’s more the speak-when-spoken-to type – unlike his brother who would talk for Ireland. It feels a little empty. And while I enjoyed his visit, I’m glad to have my space back. I need to work. To get back to doing everything I had planned to do last week and didn’t. The bills have to be paid.

AuntI’m getting glowing reports from across the sea. I could well be his favourite aunt right now (but he only has two). He’s even said that he’s coming for the whole summer next year, if I’ll have him.  Now there’s an expectation that needs to be dampened. The thoughts of spending a whole summer in this city is bringing me out in a cold sweat, which in this horrible heat is no mean feat.

But I’m glad he was so impressed with Budapest living. And I’m glad he met some new people and had a chance to be himself, to show some independence, to fly on his own. And I’m grateful for all I’ve learned this week and for the tiny increase in my patience levels. It’s been fun.

 

On being an aunt (3)

Emboldened by my self-perceived success with three 13-year-olds, and having enjoyed another whole day with just two of them, I was feeling brave. This time I borrowed three other kids and took four of them to the zoo.

I’d spent the previous day in Palatinus, the open air pool complex down on Margit Sziget (Margaret Island). It all went to plan. Not that I had a  plan other than to lie in the sun and read while the two boys amused themselves on the slides and in the wave pool. They took their charge seriously and dropped by every hour or so as agreed to give me time to take a dip in the pool. They also came by when they were hungry. They’d only met a few days before and yet they seemed to intuitively know what the other wanted to do. Amazing how simple relationships and friendships can be before we start adding judgement, preconceptions, and expectations to the mix.

budapest-palatinus

But to the zoo.

I have sod all experience when it comes to kids. Add this to a heightened sense of awareness of other people and a sometimes overpowering streak of consideration and you’ll get to the basket of nerves I was when we set off.

Is it possible to control four kids between the ages of 11 and 14? And even if it were, should I be bothered? Shouldn’t kids be let do kid things and make noise and ask questions and enjoy themselves without me, the adult, raining on their parade? Yes, I reasoned, they should. So I promised myself that I would swallow the chastisements and bite my tongue any time I felt the urge to caution or to reprimand. I told myself that no matter how loud they were, they were just being kids. And the rest of the world would just have to deal with it.

zoo2I nearly came a cropper when I opted out of the America House (in Budapest Zoo, there is a series of houses that are home to animals and birds from various parts of the world) and went for coffee. One of them came with me and within earshot of a lone woman enjoying her latte and her book, I was quizzed on Knock Knock jokes. The lady seemed a tad annoyed but that was nothing to when the others joined us and began to explain, at full volume, what they’d seen. I stifled a ssshhh and let them at it. She packed up her book and took out her paints and resigned herself to a less than peaceful second half to her coffee break. Fair play.

Only once did I hear the s word – spoil sport. But I was right. There is a limit to what they can be let do and there is a time when consideration of others and a certain amount of awareness of the consequences of your actions is needed. He got over it. Eventually. And I learned that far from being seen and not heard, kids need to question, to explore, to laugh aloud, to run riot … they need to be kids because they’ll be adults long enough.

I made the fatal mistake of commenting on how sad the rhinoceros looked and how cramped his space seemed to be. That set them off on a series of evaluations of the amenities other, smaller, animals enjoyed. And then wondering about whether the animals were happy. And for a while I thought I was going to have to deal with a minor bout of hysteria. Thank the gods for ice-cream.

My 4pm meeting was postponed till 5 so I had an extra hour to fill. We hit the lake in Varosliget where I rented a paddle boat and sent them off to sea,  figuring that if they capsized, there were plenty of able-looking blokes in staff t-shirts on hand to save them. One did slip and fall on  their back in water and I was proud that I didn’t panic. They were laughing so I took that as my cue to ignore the incident and say nowt.

It was bloody hard work though, keeping an eye on them and keeping track of them and answering the litany of questions that arose on stuff I know nothing about. It was humbling in a way. And it was instructional. And perhaps I’ll be a little more tolerant of other people’s kids in future and not expect them to be little paragons of virtue, sitting quietly and behaving. Perhaps.

 

It’s all happening in vibrant Veszprém

One of the best things about Hungary is the festivals. On any given weekend you can find something going on somewhere. Sometimes you get lucky and find two festivals going on in the same place, the same weekend.

IMG_6813 (800x579)We headed to Veszprém last weekend for VeszprémFest, the annual five-day music extravaganza that turned teenager this year. I was really looking forward to the outdoor gig in front of the Archbishop’s Palace in the Veszprém Castle district. I’m quite partial to a little Baroque with my bopping. We’d booked into the charming Éllő Panzió because it’s within walking distance, so we were set. But fate took a hand.

IMG_6777 (800x600)IMG_6792 (800x600)On Friday night, we were to see Mancunian Lisa Stansfield but such was the demand that they had to move the gig to the outskirts of the city to the Aréna. I’m used to the strictures of Budapest venues where you can’t take a photo without being publicly reprimanded and have to check your coat in the cloakroom and dare not stand up in your seat unless everyone else is standing, too.  But within three songs, she had the crowd out of their seats and swarming the stage. People were recording tracks on their phones, taking videos, and snapping happy. It seems like anything goes.

On Saturday night, it was Jamie Cullum. He was rained out though, and moved inside to a curtained section of the Aréna. Not as popular at the box office but an amazing gig. If Stansfield was good, Cullum was awesome. The festival is quite something.

A few years ago, they started a complementary Rosé, Riesling, and Jazz festival to run the same week. Lots of vineyards participate offering some excellent wine choices, good food, and three jazz gigs centre stage each evening in Óváros Tér . Thanks to the lovelies Szandra and Irma from Győr, who generously shared their taxi and got us back into town on Friday night in time for the last session, we had a blast. And we figured we could make it back for the second half of Fábián Juli & Zoohacker the next night, too, but the weather gods intervened.

The city is a year-round hive of festivity. My picks for the rest of the year are the Street Music festival (22-25 July), the Fairy Tale festival (18-20 September), and the Veszprém Games, an international art competition and festival that runs 7-12 October. And if those don’t grab you, there’s plenty more.
IMG_6849 (600x800)IMG_6846 (600x800)IMG_6842 (800x600)The city has a lot to offer by way of things to see (even when it’s raining non-stop and the temperature has dropped 15 degrees overnight). There are a couple of excellent exhibitions currently going on. In St Emeric Piarist and Garrison Church, there’s a gorgeous display of photos of frescos from a church in Romania (now on my bucket list) and across from St Michael’s Basilica (where we saw three weddings, on the hour at 2pm, 3pm and 4pm!!!) there’s a fascinating exhibition – Test és lélek a Nagy Háborúban (Body and Soul in the Great War) – that looks at preaching in the field, military hospitals, and medical practice in WWI. Powerful stuff.

The city can hold its own foodwise, too. Fejesvölgy Étterem – a traditional Hungarian restaurant – did everything right, from the service and the food to the drinks and the price. They were turning people away.  The more contemporary Elefánt Étterem was just as good in its own right. Apparently, a third one to watch (recommended by the lovelies) is Chianti but we had to leave that till next time.

And there will be a next time. The locals are friendly, quick to help, and very tolerant of mangled Hungarian pronunciation. Just over 90 minutes from Budapest by train, Veszprém is a gem of a city that is worth considering next time you want a change of scenery.

First published in the Budapest Times 22 July 2016

On being an aunt (2)

When it comes to dealing with kids, I don’t have any experience to draw on, other than vague and somewhat distorted recollections of what it was like for me way back when. But that was back in the day when we were thrown out of the house after breakfast on a Saturday morning and told not to reappear until 1pm and then it was out again till tea-time at 6pm. We owned nothing that had a plug on it. Batteries were about as technical as we got. And we had to make do with games we made up as we went along.

Life was simple… and safe.

So although I have clear memories of being 13, comparing it to being 13 today is a little like comparing snakes and ladders to minecraft. I figured it might help to borrow a couple of other 13-year-olds and let them all amuse themselves. Take the pressure off and limit my interaction [it takes serious energy to keep up a conversation with these kids].

dinoszaurusz-kiallitas-millenaris-jegyek-belepo-living-dinosaurs-budapestWe headed over to the Dinoszaurusz Kiállítás (Living Dinosaurs) exhibition in Millenáris. I figured it should keep them amused for a couple of hours at least, but hadn’t reckoned on the short attention spans that are a byproduct of our multi-media age. In under an hour they’d seen all they had to see. And this was not part of the plan.

I remembered that to keep me amused on long car journeys, my mother would make me memorise stuff. I can recite the 32 counties of Ireland and all the towns and villages you passed through on the road from Waterford to Dublin (before the bypasses). I remembered how my dad quizzed me on where the four sugarbeet factories were and which team played in what GAA sportsground. I needed to keep them occupied. To keep them engaged. To keep them focused on something other than being bored. So I wrote out 12 questions (all dinosaur-related) and told the three lads to go find the answers [In fairness, I had warned them at the start that there might be a quiz.]

First question they asked: Is there a prize? Yes.
Second question: What is it? A pizza lunch – as much as you can eat.
Note to self: Food is still a winning factor.

There’s a lot to be said for competition and cooperation. Two of the three read Hungarian so they had an advantage but the 12 questions were divvied out in such a way that all three could contribute. There are some managers I know who could learn a lesson from this. [My bonus question was: Guess which of the dinosaurs Mary would like to have as a pet. The answer: The one she likes most. These boys ain’t stupid.]

Over pizza afterwards in Marxim, the conversation was broad and wide-ranging covering everything from Euro 2016 (and the accompanying changes to European geography since its inception) to what Trump as President would mean for the world. Conversation flowed freely, each feeling comfortable enough to contribute their take on the world without fear of judgment or recrimination. There are some teachers I know who could learn a lesson from this.

I was mega impressed when my lad offered to pay and then thanked the other two for coming along. There are some adults I know who could learn a lesson from this.

They might have learned loads about dinosaurs but I reckon I learned a little more about kids and how much they could teach us, if we only took the time to watch, listen, and engage.

PS Exhibition is well worth a visit – the T-Rex is positively life-like.

 

 

On being an aunt (1)

They say if you don’t find a missing child within 48 hours, the chances of it all coming out good aren’t great. Those first 48 hours are crucial.

After last year’s successful (!) attempt at taking charge of one of my teenage nephews for a whole 10 days, unsupervised, his brother had to have his turn, too. This year, better versed in my limitations I offered a week rather than 10 days. He arrived yesterday morning.

Many moons ago, in Alaska, I met a family of five very different children. I wondered then, as I wonder now, how kids growing up in the same environment with the same set of stimuli and the same two parents can be so very different (and yes, I’m a woman without issue).

It’s the laid-backness of it all that brings the pressure to bear.

What would you like to do? What would you like to eat? When would you like to eat? Any question beginning with what or when is invariably met with a useless variation of I don’t know, I don’t mind, I don’t care. Beautifully delivered mind you, with a hint of conciliation and an element of wanting to be as little trouble as possible.

I did my usual check of electronic equipment that had been brought with him so I knew what I was up against and to my shock, there was only his iPhone. Impressed, I stated the one rule we had to abide by – no phone use in company. An easy one that. As long as he showers every day, brushes his teeth morning and evening,  and sticks by the phone rule, he can go to bed when he likes, get up when he likes (unless we’ve agreed a schedule), and eat what he wants. He’s on holiday and I’m his favourite aunt (even if I’m just not with it).

We wandered around, took the tram, went shopping for dinner, and then came back home to unload. I suggested we pop out for a lemonade to meet some mates of mine. ‘Next time’, he said. ‘I promise I’ll go next time, but not now.’

So not four hours after he’d arrived, I left him to it. I said I’d be back in an hour. And I was. But I was too late. I’d lost him. He’d disappeared. And now, nearly 48 hours later, I’m wondering how I can get him back.

Poke2Until yesterday, the lovely church across the road from me was just a church. Now, though, I realise that it’s a Poké stop, somewhere you  can get potions to heal your sick Pokémon. Yesterday evening about 7 pm there was a major panic as the Poké gym in Google Play (just behind the flat) was attacked. In the battle that followed (which we watch, live), it went from a Level 4 gym with a prestige of 10575 (?) to a Level 1 gym that was unmanned. He’d briefly considered a takeover but didn’t have the whatevers to do what was needed.

After dinner, we spoke about going for a walk, a suggestion that elicited something approaching a groan, until a river was mentioned. And then it was all enthusiasm. A complete 180. Whatever, I thought. Just go with the flow, Mary. You don’t need to understand the whys and wherefores of the teenage mind, just go with it.

That was before I knew that MagiKarp hang out by the river and if you catch 101 of them you can trade them for 400 pieces of candy that you can then evolve into a Gyarados – and a Gyarados might have saved the gym. Ye gods!

I feel like I’m living with an alien. I don’t have the language, the words, the bandwidth to follow what’s going on. When did play get so complicated, so insular? On the tram, he pointed out all the adults (yes, adults) who were also hooked to their phones, feverishly swiping and whatnot – they, too, were on the Pokémon Go. He told me stories of people walking off cliffs while playing Pokémon Go. Of Pokémon hunters being mistaken for burglars and getting shot. Of car accidents caused by diverted attention. All mad.

Today, we met some other kids. First up, another 13-year-old who had vaguely heard of the concept but really knew nothing about it. All attempts to explain the fascination were met with one word: Why? My kinda kid. Another one, although not a player herself, could answer every question he put to her: How many teams? What colours are they? What’s the highest level of whatever? Okay, so she knows the theory but hasn’t succumbed to practice. But my lad, he’s been bitten. And bitten badly.

I should be proud. He’s a Level 9 (in just a few weeks of playing). He’s a smart kid. He’s a nice kid. He’s a good kid. I just wish he’d come back from Pokéland and do kid things.

Tomorrow, I’m playing the Aunt-knows-best card and we’re ditching the Pokémon. We’re going to see some dinosaurs. I just hope I get through the day without him pointing out that perhaps I’m one 🙂

2016 Grateful 24

I’ve gotten used to being shortchanged when it comes to entertainment. Gone, I thought, were the days when the fortune I shelled out for a concert ticket would guarantee me at least 90 minutes, if not two hours, of solid entertainment. A bit of banter was something I’d come to expect, that somewhat old-fashioned concept of rapport.

The more gigs I went to, the more disillusioned I became. Sinéad O’Connor’s 60 minutes of sunglasses in Budapest last year left me cold. Stacey Kent’s more recent concert (same city, different venue) would have been more suited to a jazz club than a full-on arena. I think I slept through parts of it. But then along comes Jamie Cullum and gives me reason to hope.

IMG_6890 (800x541)I bought his Twentysomething CD back in 2003 and was impressed. I’d not heard much of him since but the name stuck in my head. That’s not to say though that he wasn’t busy doing all that had to be done to earn himself the accolade of ‘most successful UK jazz artist ever’ with sales of 10 million albums under his belt.

IMG_6809 (800x600)It’s hard to label him – jazz, pop, rock, he does it all. He collaborated with Clint Eastwood on the music for Gran Torino. He was the first DJ to play Gregory Porter (who was on stage in Veszprém two days before Jaime) on radio. His radio show on BBC2 has been licensed all over the world.

For a young lad who used to play weddings and bar mitzvahs in the UK (he put himself through college on the proceeds), he’s come a long way. Perhaps it was at these gigs that he learned how to engage his audience. And that, ladies and gentlemen, he does brilliantly.

IMG_6898 (800x627)I watched in last night in Veszprém and for nearly two hours marvelled at the dexterity with which he put us, the audience, through our paces. The guy is a genius. It was his first time playing in Hungary and apparently the gig was streaming live on the Net. He was posing for photos with young ones at the edge of the stage. He came down into the audience and sang to and danced with fans. He conducted us thousands to the point where he had us alternately whispering and screaming as he played along.

There was a young lad beside us who had waited 10 years to see Jamie perform live and he wasn’t disappointed. His appeal spans generations and without exception, everyone from 12 to 70 was on their feet by the end.

IMG_6863 (800x600)The gig wasn’t  a sell-ouIMG_6879 (600x800) (2)t. It was to have played in the Castle but we were rained out and moved inside to the Aréna where both side sections were curtained off. The night before, Lisa Stansfield had packed the house. She, too, had been moved, but because she’d sold out the Castle and ticket demand was huge. But I can testify, first-hand, that those there last night got the far better deal.

Some might remember his tour in 2003 when Amy Winehouse opened for him IMG_6917 (800x600)each night (or for when he opened for Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden). Others might remember his first TV appearance on the Parkinson Show. More again might know him for his recording of the lead single from the film Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. [And I quite fancied a likeness between himself and Mark Darcy (aka Colin Firth). In fact, I was quite taken with how he could easily be the cheeky younger brother.]

He’s also sung Frankie the Frog in the movie Meet The Robinsons and is responsible for the sound track for Grace is Gone (remember, the John Cusack film?). And of course, there’s his collaboration with Clint Eastwood on Gran Torino – a classic.

He has duetted with Stevie Wonder, performed a private gig for the Queen, and headlined at Glastonbury. There’s little the man hasn’t done, and few awards, if any, that he hasn’t won. He’s also a keen photographer and a magazine publisher. [Note to self: get a copy of The 88 – billed as a heavyweight journal that is  ‘an occasional magazine for the adventurous thinker’.]

IMG_6944 (800x600)Throughout the gig, he moved from one number to the next with an alacrity born of practice, segueing through genres with jazz, pop, hip-hop, electronic, and rap. I recognised some of the standards with his version of Singing in the Rain the best I’ve ever heard, and all the more endearing because we’d been rained out and he’d just moved the party.

And for those still wondering what he was all about, he introduced When I get famous, a poignant song about a short lad of slight frame who couldn’t get any girl to go out with him back when he was in school. Not that, he said, it was in any way autobiographical [he’s now married to the gorgeous Sophie Dahl].

I loved loved loved his song on These are the days and wondered why I thought he was strictly a covers guy. I’ve spent years thinking he was a cover guy. How wrong was I. Jamie, I’m sorry, but anyone how knows me knows that I’m musically illiterate.IMG_6936 (800x600)

As he played High and dry, you could have heard a feather fall. It was this he conducted the audience in – it had to be one of the best finales I’ve seen ever. When he left the stage with his band, the audience kept up the humming … and humming… and humming. And then he came back, on his own, and sang for us as if each of us was alone with him the room. Just him and his piano and the wonderful theme tune from Gran Torino.  When he was done, he got up, thanked us get again for a great night, said his goodbyes, and left.

And the crowd stood silently and respected this. No more calls for encores. No more entreaties to come back. Just a quiet acceptance that each of us had been privy to something very special. And for that I’m truly grateful.

No matter your taste in music, if you get the chance to see Jamie Cullum live, take it.

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Spread the love

Prior to Euro 2016, I wasn’t a great lover of international football. And I’m still not.  I can’t get my head around the number of zeros in some of those boys’ salaries. I have a hard time dealing with putting a monetary value on someone’s talent to the tune of tens of millions of euro, even though I know this is done in the Corporate World on an average day. Yes, I know they train their little socks off. And they work hard. And they sacrifice so much in their determination and commitment to win, but I simply don’t get it. What’s the attraction?

Why do millions of people put their lives on hold for four weeks as they watch their teams’ progress? Why do thousands more put themselves in debt to go abroad and support their teams in person? Why do people get so hyped up about 90 minutes of fancy footwork, theatrical romps, and jibs and digs? What’s the attraction?

When your home team doesn’t make it through to the final 16, there’s the disappointment to deal with. No matter what the odds, there’s always hope that a miracle will happen. I was lucky. I’ve moved around and could draw tangible if tenuous loyalty lines to other countries. I followed Ireland of course, even if I spend too much time bemoaning the Irish Manager’s lack of dress sense. I followed Hungary, too. Watching Hungary play on the big screen with thousands of Hungarian fans was incredible. I also followed Wales because I like the Welsh and was surprised to see that they play something other than rugby. I got into Iceland because they are fun and I’m sure some of those players have had ballet training. I’m not quite sure what I’d have done if any of these teams had had to play each other. But it never came to that.

When we boarded the plane to Lisbon a few weeks ago, Ireland had a 1-0 lead over France. It was half-time. I was hoping and praying that we’d pull it out of the boot and make history. By the time we landed in Portugal, that dream had died. I rode the Welsh wave in the surfing capital of Ericeira as they made their way through to the semi-final. And I hoped and prayed some more. And it worked. They got through. A group of 20 or so of us watched the Wales-Portugal semi in a little pub down by the beach called Café Joy. Mostly Irish. Mostly rooting for Wales (except the one Bremainer who has yet to forgive them their vote in the Brexit referendum).  But they fell to Portugal. And the Portuguese went mad.

eurio2016Our flight home from Portugal last Sunday had lots of free seats. There was a final to watch. And when the captain announced the final result, the fans around us asked where they could buy champagne in Budapest after midnight. I like those priorities. Nice one, Portugal.

I realised then what the attraction was. It’s not the soccer, per se, it’s what it represents:  a chance to focus on something bigger; a chance to suspend reality for a while and live vicariously through lads who live vastly different lives to ours; a chance to hope for a miracle that just might happen.  But mostly though, it gave us the opportunity to take pride in countries which, for various reasons, we might be a little disillusioned with right now.

Euro 2020 will mark the 60th anniversary of the competition and will be held in thirteen cities in thirteen different European countries. And while I still prefer rugby to soccer and doubt that I’ll ever fully appreciate the multi-million-euro pretty-boy antics of international football, I quite enjoyed the buzz. So spread the love, I say, spread the love.

 First published in the Budapest Times 15 July 2016