2018 Grateful 49

I often wonder why I’m so busy, always running around like a blue-arsed fly, meeting someone, doing something, going somewhere. It was only this week, when the talented Bobacsai Zsolt resurfaced on the blogging scene after a long hiatus, that I figured it out. Reading his piece on the busy trap and the need to waste time consciously, I was struck by what he said about busyness being a learned behaviour.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen either of my parents sit and do nothing. Oh they sit, but while they’re sitting, they’re reading or doing the crossword or napping. They spend time outdoors, but they’re gardening or walking or playing golf. Apart from a few failed experiments with meditation, I don’t think I’ve ever sat and done nothing. So this week, I tried. For no predetermined period of time, I simply sat and did nothing. I did myn’t lie down – I sat. And sat. And sat. And, when after 20 minutes or so I started twitching, I rejoined the world. On reflection, I definitely felt all the better for it.

Bobacsai speaks of wasting time consciously, something that goes so much against my grain, if you hugged me, you’d get splinters. I’m all too conscious of how little time there is in a day or a week, in a month or a year. And knowing that it could all suddenly end is hardly affirmation that it’s okay to waste it. I no doubt waste time unconsciously – sitting in front of the big screen watching episode after episode of whatever series has my attention. I can sit for hours reading a book when perhaps I could (or should) be working. Flittering away those hours is usually met with feelings of guilt, pin-pricks of conscience that tell me I could have put them to better use.

Instead, though, I should be wasting time consciously, says Babocsai, and for a whole day – not just 20 minutes.

[..] no TV, no internet, no phones, no screens of any kind. Unplug yourself for this one day. Don’t even read a book. Ideally, you’d go to a lake in the woods and stare at the water all day. That’s how you properly, consciously waste a day.

Luckily, I have a lake in the woods practically in my back yard (something I’m exceedingly grateful for and appreciative of). So I’ve made an appointment for myself in early May to go there and sit, for a day. I’ll have my thermos and my sarnies and I’ll just sit. No book. No phone. No pencil and paper. And we’ll see how I get on. In the meantime though, I’m going to continue sitting and doing nothing for short periods every day until I can build it up into a couple of hours with no residual guilt. Small steps.

Doorstep discoveries

I had an appointment to have an MRI during the week. I opted for a clinic I’d been to before, as I knew how to get there. It was relatively close to home but in my mind would entail public transport. But himself pointed out that I’d be quicker walking. One minute quicker, to be exact. So, off I took, wending my way through the back streets of the VIIIth district.

My first surprise was a fabulous Art Nouveau (am open to correction here, but I think that’s what it is) apartment building in need of repair opposite a school on Szűz utca (I wonder how Virgin Street got its name?). I stopped twice to look – once on the way there, and again on the way back.

On to Tavaszmező utca, where two majestic buildings sit opposite the Óbudai Egyetem (Óbuda University). From what I can find out, one is (or was) Magyar Királyi Állami Főgimnázium (Hungarian Royal State High School). Across from it, sits the equally splendid A. M. Kir. állami mechanikai és órás ipari szakiskola (State Industrial Mechanics and Clock School) – what it is now, I’ve no idea. The area has been pedestrianised and is a gorgeous spot, boasting a specialty coffee shop that I plan on revisiting. Műterem Kávézó has a newish old-looking coffee machine that I am now coveting.

Magyar Királyi Állami Főgimnázium

 

A. M. Kir. állami mechanikai és órás ipari szakiskola

Onward then to Mátyás tér, where I found where I want to live next. I have a thing for winter gardens. I’d been there years ago, before the area had a facelift, and had enjoyed an afternoon/evening of music and craic at a street party.Where have the years gone?

In the square, there’s a statue of Bauer Sándor, a young man I didn’t recognise but whose story I think worth repeating.

Born in Budapest in 1952, he lived for a while on my street, on Üllői út (not sure where, but I’ll be checking). Young Bauer realised quickly that in a Communist system, talent doesn’t count for much. It was all about who you knew, not what you knew. He read a lot, and was especially interested in history. In the cellar of his apartment building, he ran a youth club, attempting to get his contemporaries to see the evils of dictatorship and take the road of armed resistance. Tyranny and oppression were the enemy. In the afternoon of 20 January 1969, at the age of 17, he took himself off to garden of the National Museum at Kalvin tér, doused himself in petrol. and set himself alight. A few hundred people bore witness. 

A few days earlier, on 16 January in Prague, 21-year-old Jan Palach had done the same. He died on 19 January, the day before Bauer lit his match.  Bauer, apparently took his lead from him, telling onlookers that a cseh testvér is megtette (the Czech brother also did this).

Bauer wrote a will and farewell letters to his friends and family. With second- and third-degree burns covering 15% of his body, he was taken to hospital in critical condition. On 22 January, still in his hospital bed, Bauer was arrested. He died the next day. He was buried on 28 January in a closed funeral with details of his death and what he had done not made public until 5 February. His grave, apparently, was under watch for many years. A nearby street bears his name, though I’m not at all sure what the connection is with the area. I’m left wondering what purpose his death served. His mother, apparently, lived to see a new century. I wonder what she thought, too. 

I didn’t find all this out until later though, so unhampered by what I’ve only recently learned, I walked up Bauer Sándor utca on to Teleki László tér where I found a market hall, complete with stalls of fresh produce, great meat, and a few knickknacks to boot. And all within a 20-minute walk of my front door. How spoilt am I?

I really must get out more often.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Grateful 50***

There’s lots of talk about Millennials these days, about their sense of entitlement, about their heightened expectations. I had to go to the Net to see what ages are included in the definition and from what I can see, Millennials are those aged 18 to 35 today. I know a few and entitled isn’t a word I’d use to describe them. But hey. Anyway, I was more curious about the generation that follows – the Linksters. These are those born from 2002 onwards apparently. And, as I read, they’re called Linksters (or Generation Z) because they’re the ones who’ve been linked into technology from the start. They’re the tech-savvy one-year-olds who are puzzled when a picture won’t swipe. They’re the ones who probably won’t ever see the inside of a bricks-and-mortar bank, or perhaps buy a real book, or maybe even go to the cinema.

I’ve heard a number of TV and radio reports this week where Linksters were being interviewed and I’ve been seriously impressed with their self-confidence, their fluency, their assuredness. Blown away, in some cases. But I stopped to wonder whether self-confidence equates to capability. You can have all the confidence in the world but lack the ability needed to take you all the way. Will these fall short?

Then I saw an article about a group of 9th graders who could teach me a thing or two. They noticed that their concentration suffered if they slept with their mobiles by their heads so they decided to experiment and see if there was any scientific reason for this. They sowed some watercress seeds and put one sample in a room without wifi and another in a room between two wifi routers. All other conditions were equal. The results were quite alarming.

In a wifi free room, the cress flourished:

And in the room with wifi?

I’ve been thinking about this all day. I keep my phone in my bedroom at night because it’s also my alarm. I’m not too worried about calls or messages – I just want to be sure that I wake up. Suitably concerned, I’m on a search now for an old-fashioned alarm clock. The windy up kind. And there’s a wifi router in the bedroom, too. That’ll have to go.

I suppose I should be grateful to the Linksters for bringing this to my attention – I might now wake up awake in the mornings. But it’ll take practice. And I’ll need to remember to wind the clock. And I’ll need two at least. And… ahhhhh

 

***FACT CHECK UPDATE – apparently there’s some doubt about the accuracy of the experiment reported: https://www.snopes.com/cress-wifi-experiment/

Julian – thanks for ruining my weekend

I have a fleeting interest in Internet governance. I’ve read Jovan Kurbalija’s book An Introduction to Internet Governance, a free resource that pretty much explains it all in terms I can understand without being in the slightest bit condescending. I have what I’d call a reasonable understanding of what’s going on in the realm, but I try hard to ignore it all. Because, if I stop to think about it, I start to panic. Not a full-blown panic attack that’s visible to whomever is around, but the more insidious kind that wallows in the pit of my stomach and induces a nervousness that can make me think terrible things.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog for DiploFoundation asking Google to stop doing my thinking for me. That was back in 2012. I’d accepted that this was simply the way the world was headed and I’d better get used to it or emigrate to Eritrea, the world’s least-connected country, apparently – but it does have a dictator. The whole Wikileaks thing annoyed me. I thought it a tad irresponsible of Mr Assange to wantonly damage the fibre of diplomacy, particularly that of a country, which at the time had a president who was doing his damnedest to defer to diplomacy whenever possible. Back in 2013, as one of many telephone conversations were leaked, I worried for a while that the threat of exposure on social media might be enough to influence behavior. Diplomacy, by its very nature, requires discretion and while I’m all for blowing the whistle on corruption, I think some modicum of sense needs to be exercised before taking that deep breath.

Then this morning, I get an email saying that the attached article might be of interest to me, as I have some interest in Internet governance. Curiosity got the better of me. And I read it. And I wish I hadn’t.

Caitlin Johnstone writes of how Julian Assange keeps warning us about AI censorship, and we’re not listening. I’m no great fan of Assange, but he seems to know what he’s talking about. And he has a point about Wikileaks being the equivalent of the Alexandra library – but I still wonder if we really need to know everything…  Anyway, the article linked to this video – and that winded me.

A Daily Mail run by AI? Some might argue that this would be an improvement. But the thoughts of being manipulated without being aware of it, is scary. And yet I’m not stupid. I know I’m being manipulated. But what do I do with that knowledge? Some days, it’s just easier to go along with it. According to Assange:

When you have AI programs harvesting all the search queries and YouTube videos someone uploads, it starts to lay out perceptual influence campaigns, twenty to thirty moves ahead. This starts to become totally beneath the level of human perception.

The idea of Google and Facebook and their ilk as superstates is quite worrying. The idea of them using AI to control the masses is even more troubling. Johnstone summarises it thus:

What this means is that using increasingly more advanced forms of artificial intelligence, power structures are becoming more and more capable of controlling the ideas and information that people are able to access and share with one another, hide information which goes against the interests of those power structures and elevate narratives which support those interests, all of course while maintaining the illusion of freedom and lively debate.

The danger is lurking. It’s out there. I know I should be responsible and give it due thought, but some things just don’t bear thinking about – not on a Friday.

Still feeling Lucky

I saw the movie Lucky on Sunday. It’s now Wednesday and I’m still thinking about it. I alternate between mentally drafting my end-of-life plan, and wondering at the loneliness of life. I can’t get him out of my head.

Each day for Lucky was routine. He’d get up. Light a cigarette. Go through his daily ablutions. Do his exercises. Then he’d head down to the local diner where he’d sit and do his crossword. Next, he’d stop by the corner shop to pick up milk or cigarettes before heading home to watch his game shows. That evening, he’d hit the local bar where he’d sit a while with his mates before going home to bed. One day followed the next, all with a repetitive sameness. He had regular interactions. People knew him to talk to but no one really knew anything about him.

Lucky looked at life through a veil of cynicism. We get glimpses of this through is comments and see how he’s lived through snatches of conversations he has with random strangers. He notes the difference between being alone and being lonely and I suspect he doesn’t consider himself lonely, until he sees what he’s missing.

This movie has stayed with me for days. Perhaps because so many elderly people live in my building, all of whom have their daily routines. I know old people whose friends have all died, whose children are busy rearing their own families, whose partners have long since gone. Some of them are treading water, warming an armchair, waiting to die. Others will be dragged kicking and screaming from the world, their exit the same as the way they came in.

What keeps niggling at me though is what happens when there’s no routine. When there’s nowhere you’re expected every morning at 7 or every evening at 4. What happens when there’s no pattern? Who misses you then? Who raises the alarm when you don’t show?

A few years ago, this sort of stuff bothered me. I had just one regular appointment – on Wednesday mornings. If I fell and cracked my head getting out of the bath on a Thursday, it would be a week before anyone missed me. Calls or texts going unanswered would be written off to busyness.  Emails left unattended likewise. And who’d follow up? We’re all so busy doing and going and seeing to stuff that an absence might bother us temporarily but then would be forgotten in the manic minutiae of daily living.

I might deplore sameness, predictability, routine. But sometimes they have their uses.

That said, when the little old néni who sits beside me at mass in the village didn’t show up one Sunday and I saw a funeral leaving the village the following day, I assumed incorrectly that she’d died. But she showed up at mass the following week – all smiles – back from her holidays. I’d thought the worst but at least I missed her. I went on holiday for three weeks in my first year in BP and the only person who’d noticed I’d gone was the waitress in the café on the corner. Living with someone changes all that. It’s one of the pluses.

 

 

 

 

2018 Grateful 51

A 90-year-old atheist has outlived and out-smoked his contemporaries, and as he comes to terms with his own mortality, he searches for ever-elusive enlightenment. So reads the blurb for the movie Lucky. I hadn’t read that before we decided to go. It wasn’t my pick. I’m not sure I’d have gone, had it been left to me to decide. Which would have been a shame.

A veil of reflection settled over the audience as the credits rolled. I’m sure everyone was contemplating their mortality and resolving to make a will and draft an end-of-life plan. Even if you don’t have much by way of anything material, an end-of-life plan seems like a good idea. It’ll make little difference to you – as you’ll be gone. But it might make it a little easier on those you’ve left behind. Note to self duly made.

It reminded me a little of another favorite – The Station Agent.

When his only friend dies, a man born with dwarfism moves to rural New Jersey to live a life of solitude, only to meet a chatty hot dog vendor and a woman dealing with her own personal loss.

Both are slow movies with not a whole lot going on, on the surface, but they run deep. In Lucky, the late Harry Dean Stanton played the leading role. He died in September last year, aged 91, a few months after the film was released. What a poetic last movie to have worked on.

It got me thinking. About death. About how I want to die. About burial vs cremation. About how long I’ve left to do all the things I want to do. About what exactly it is I want to do. About what’s important. About what matters. About the sort of funeral I’d like. About making a will. About the burden and responsibility that comes with owning property and having stuff. About obligations and whether they’re real or perceived. About the attractiveness of Jack Reacher’s life on the road. About the increasingly frequent urge I’m getting to step outside the circus ring and swap the insanity for simplicity. About how happy I feel inside when I’m telling people of the beauty and solitude of the kis-Balaton.

I made a conscious decision last year to step back and reduce my level of commitment. I promised myself that I would be more respectful of my time and learn to say no, politely but emphatically. I won’t change overnight. It’ll take a few months to work through it. I’m making slow but steady progress, though, and for the first time in a long, long, time, I have time. And for that I’m grateful.

As for the movie:

On Rotten Tomatoes, Lucky has a rating of 98%, based on 92 reviews, with an average score of 7.9/10. RogerEbert.com gave the film four out of four stars, writing that the film is “the humblest deep movie of recent years, a work in the same vein as American marginalia like Stranger Than Paradise and Trees Lounge,’ but with its own rhythm and color, its own emotional temperature, its own reasons for revealing and concealing things.”

 

(c) Jonás Mátássy

Birds of paradise

I dislike the mindlessness induced by social media. I loathe the barrage of advertisements I’m subjected to when I engage with it. And I resent the fact that Google and its ilk, with their algorithms, attempt to do my thinking for me. But occasionally, just occasionally, Facebook sends me something I like.

Budapest Up Close is a Facebook page with the tagline: A look at the people, art, innovation, business, and ideas from a land that has influenced the world for decades yet remains a mystery to many. Okay, I thought, a pleasant change from the usual naysaying press that overshadows this country. Curiosity piqued, I made a coffee and sat down to check it out. I was particularly interested in the art offer, as I’d recently come by some spare white walls that needed a little something.

One post caught my eye: paintings by Hungarian artist, Karl Meszlényi. I clicked on the companion website and lost myself in his world. As I scrolled through his work, I fell in love with a painting of a stork in full flight, wings splayed, feathers flighted. Back to the FB page to send a message enquiring about prices and lo and behold it turned out that I knew the woman behind this initiative – American-born Liz Frommer, a long-term Budapest resident.

Frommer is helping promote up-and-coming Hungarian artists, of which Meszlényi is one. But more than simply showcasing the art, she’s all about the artist. Yes, I could go to a gallery and pick my painting, but through Frommer, I got to go to Meszlényi’s studio, meet him in person, and discover the mind behind the magic.

Meszlényi has been drawing since he was 14. Back then, he wanted to be a helicopter pilot. Instead, he was drawn to art and took up painting when he was 19. But it wasn’t until four years later that he had sold and saved enough to pay his University fees and could enrol in Eszterházy Károly College in Eger, where he learned the finer aspects of his art.

A self-professed painter, rather than an artist, he dabbles in all media – pencils, oil, mixed media, acrylic, watercolour – and has several thematic concepts he follows. Birds are a speciality, as are horses and lions and abstracts. He’s drawn to the freedom of birds, their colours, their expressions. I fancied that some of his subjects seemed a little cross, but all of them are exquisite. Curious at the distinction he drew between artist and painter, he explained that artists express themselves while painters study the techniques of visual communication. I liked this, noting to myself that by his reckoning, I’m an artist, but as a painter, I fail miserably.

Meszlényi’s city studio is a small room in his mum’s flat in the XIVth district. Shedding our shoes at the door, we picked our way through into the front room where sparkling wine and cheese and crackers awaited. That wine and art go together is an indisputable fact in my world. I silently applauded. We chatted for a while, with Meszlényi talking about his life, his studies, and the fire that robbed him of so much of his work. He spoke of his collectors, the many ardent followers of his art who live in Brazil, Germany, the USA, the UK, and other countries around the world. [He recently sold at a piece at Saatchi Art in London.] He spoke of interviews and exhibitions, of fame and fortune, of what it takes to make it. And all the while, a little more of the essence of who he is escaped.

Primed and ready, he began to pull out canvases of various sizes and shapes and colours and forms. He paints big, and bright, and bold. And I was lost in an abstracted Rorschachy world. I saw caves and waterfalls and stalagmites. I saw mushroom clouds and tornados and spilt pots of jam. I saw parrot tails and tidal pools and dressing-room mirrors. And these were just the abstracts.

I can’t comment on Meszlényi’s technique. I can’t critique his style. I can’t tell you if he’s good or great or the next Audubon. All I can say is that his work is evocative, it is expressive, it is ebullient. Even the most delicate of his birds oozed character. And the more I looked at them, the more I focused, the more the story developed. I was tripping.

I know I’m given to rhapsodizing. When I find something I like, I get a little carried away. But this was a quieter, more reflective trip. I didn’t like everything I saw. Not every piece had something to say to me. But the ones that did spoke volumes. And lest you think that I’m losing it, check out an interview Meszlényi did last year with Zoltan Alexander of ZOLTAN+, former Editor of the New-York-based Ubikwist magazine, who also visited his studio. He had this to say: ‘To my total surprise I was stunned. “Am I with the incarnation of Pollock-Twombly, wrapped in the dark life of Rothko?” I asked myself. Rarely, I have seen such passion coming from such a young artist. The love for his work was instantaneous.’ And while I can claim little knowledge of the worthiness of art other than what it does for me, personally, she knows a thing or three about the world of painters.

I came, I saw, I fell in love, and I pick up my pieces in January.

Meszlényi is one of the growing cohort of artists that Frommer is promoting. She’s been around them for years, socialising with them and appreciating their work. And with Budapest Up Close, she’s on a mission to bring the world to them, one person at a time.

If you’re in the market for some statement pieces or simply want to see a painter in their home environs, contact her at lizfrommer@gmail.com

 

Tar 170 x 125 cm mixed media on canvas and wood

First published in the Budapest Times 12 January 2018

2018.10.31 Editor’s Note: The article has been updated to correct an error. The interview with Karl was done by Zoltan+ as now noted and posted by Gianni Couiji.  www.zoltanplus.com

Loving Vincent

I can’t remember the last time I was at the movies, so to say I’m completely out of touch with what’s on right now would be an understatement. My curiosity has been piqued though by the latest Golden Globe awards as I’m a great fan of the bould Martin McDonagh and am keen to see his Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. My man McDonagh calls himself an ‘equal opportunities offender’ … gotta love it. In an interview with Yahoo News, McDonagh spoke about about the rewatchability of movies – and the blandness of today’s offer. We chose tonight to go to the flics and picked one randomly from the choice of English-language or subtitled films showing early evening. Loving Vincent. And, rather coincidentally perhaps, it has to be one of the most rewatchable movies I’ve seen. Ever.

Set a year after the death of Vincent Van Gogh, the movie – in its entirety – is painted. Yep. Each scene. Fabulous stuff. And it took forever. The Guardian ran a piece on it back in October, when it first came out. The opening scene took 6 hours per frame so each second took 2 weeks.

The entire script was shot in live action in 14 days, on partial sets and in front of green screens at 3 Mills Studios in London. This footage was then handed over to a team of over 50 painters in Gdansk, who meticulously turned each frame into an individual painting. In the end, the team produced more than 65,000 frames in oil paints, on more than 850 canvases.

When each new character is introduced we see them for the first time in the position Van Gogh painted them. No wonder it all looked a tad familiar. The animation is brilliantly done and the characters look like the actors who play them. It bugged me no end because I couldn’t remember what I’d seen Chris O’Dowd in (Calvary) but I was quite chuffed to recognise Helen McCrory (Peaky Blinders) and, of course, Saoirse Ronan and the gorgeous Aidan Turner (quite the nod to Ireland in this line-up).

 

The film is beautiful. Spellbindingly beautiful. And to think that Van Gogh started painting in his late 20s and in 7 short years painted 800 or so paintings, selling only one in his lifetime. So much about the man I didn’t know. But he’s been on my mind. At a workshop recently, the topic of how to pronounce his name came up – Van Go, Van Goff, Van Gock…. the jury was out. I checked with the BBC Pronunciation people and they advised:

At the Pronunciation Unit, we don’t expect non-native Dutch speakers to pronounce his name with a perfect Dutch accent. Instead, we recommend the established Anglicisation van GOKH (-v as in vet, -g as in get, -kh as in Scottish loch).

The things you learn.

Art is definitely featuring in my life so far this year. But more on that in the days to come. If you’ve not seen Loving Vincent, it’s worth a gander.

A letter to the President

I’ve never been one for protesting, for signing petitions, for writing letters of complaint. Yes, I can bitch and moan with the best of them, but I have this irrational fear of having my name on a list of watchables. I say irrational, because in all likelihood it’s due to nothing more than an overindulgence in Cold War books and movies and a rather fertile imagination. I have no problem writing about stuff that bothers me, or speaking up about things I think unfair, but in my mind, large crowds are at the mercy of the state police and petitions are a matter of public record. Both bring out the heebie jeebies in me. Irrational, I know.

Seven years ago, back in 2010, I first wrote about Dr Ágnes Geréb. Dr Geréb had been

…recently arrested and [was] facing charges for reckless endangerment committed during the line of duty, […] An experienced doctor and midwife, she has attended more than 2000 home births (i.e. not in a hospital). […] Dr Geréb had a patient whom she had advised not to choose home birth as the patient had some sort of blood clotting disorder. During a scheduled prenatal appointment, the patient suddenly went into labour and the baby was delivered – apparently there was no time to get her to the hospital. When born, the baby had breathing difficulties. Ambulance staff called to the scene began resuscitation and took the baby to hospital. Dr Geréb was subsequently questioned, arrested, and taken into custody.

Two years later, in 2012, I wrote again. This time, adding my voice to the international call for clemency for Dr Geréb.

On February 10th, 2012, the Budapest Appeal Court announced the verdict in the case of Dr. Ágnés Geréb (an OB/Gyn as well as a midwife) and four other Hungarian midwives. The terms of Ágnes Geréb’s sentence of two-year imprisonment were tightened, a ban on practising doubled to ten years.

The ruling was put on hold while the clemency petition ran its course. In 2015, I shared an appeal for funds from her Campaign. With an update.

Arrested and imprisoned without trial five years ago for practising midwifery, Dr Geréb was later released to house arrest in December 2010 where she remained until February last year. Imagine not being able to leave the confines of your house for years. I go stir-crazy if I can’t leave for three days! In 2014, the conditions of her house arrest were relaxed a little so while she can travel in and around Budapest, she can’t venture much further afield. A prison as beautiful as Budapest is still a prison if you can’t leave.

The appeal process continued and hope that Dr Geréb would soon be free of all this was mounting. And then came the news this week. Yesterday, 9 January, a Budapest court ruled that an original lower court verdict of February 2012 against Dr Geréb would stand: 2 years in prison and a 10-year suspension from doing what she does best – helping mothers in their choice to give birth at home. No more appeals are possible. The sentence will come into effect within weeks. In the coming days, Dr Geréb will have to decide whether to go down the clemency route again – for a second time – or go to jail. These are her only options. Enough, already, I say.

Freedom for Birth and other mothers’ rights activists are in shock today, as the news spreads throughout the global community of Dr Geréb’s supporters. Calls have been made to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboards) and write to President János Áder, asking him to step up to the plate as the head of a European State, and put an end to this.

I’m not a mother. I have no clue what it’s like to have kids.  But I’m a great fan of choice. Last time, more than 6000 people from all over the world  signed a petition for clemency, recalling that it is the ability to choose that makes us human. This time, even more signatures are needed. More voices need to be heard. I’ve penned my letter to the President voicing my outrage and asking him to do his bit to end this debacle. I’ve received notification from his office that it is being processed. I’ll live with my irrational fear that I’m now on a watchlist as it’s an infinitesimal price to pay to add my voice to the outrage.

Ágnes Geréb does not belong in jail. She should be out assisting those women who have chosen to give birth at home. She should be out facilitating a Hungarian woman’s right to choose.

 

2018 Grateful 52

If I told you that this author has received numerous awards for their writing and holds not one but twelve honorary doctorates from universities in Europe and North America, or that they have a CBE for services to literature from Her Majesty in the UK and were also another by the government of Botswana for services through literature … would you know of whom I was talking? Yep – and I bet it was the Botswana bit that gave it away.

I first came across Alexander McCall Smith when I picked up a copy of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency many many moons ago. I thought it delightful. I loved the characters and the setting and promptly added Botswana to my list of places to visit. I read the first ten books in the series and passed them on to friends all over. I now see that McCall Smith didn’t stop writing when I stopped reading – I have another eight to go.

His protagonist is 34-year-old Mma Precious Ramotswe. After her dad dies and leaves her some money, Mma Ramotswe ups sticks and moves to the capital of Botswana, Gaborone, where she buys a house for herself and finds an office for her new detective agency. She gathers a cast of regular characters around her, each one quirky and interesting in their own right. Her cases are often more about the people than their problems and her constant reference – a book by Clovis Andersen on the Principles of Private Detection – is sometimes hilarious in itself.

Last year, while in Geneva, I picked up a DVD of the TV series at a church fete – the first series. Last week, I finally got around to watching some of the opening episodes. I felt a rush of nostalgia for a time when simplicity was fashionable, when movies and TV shows didn’t need car chases, sexual exploits, and gruesome murders to keeps us engaged. I felt myself morphing into the adult I swore I’d never become, reminiscing of times long gone where things were cleaner, simpler, and more humane. Ah, back in my day…

Maybe it was the stark contrast in ways of life – Botswana could hardly be more different from Budapest. Or perhaps it was the colours of Africa juxtaposed with the goose-laden greys of winter on the Kis-Balaton. Or maybe it was the growing need in me to get back to where it all used to matter. Whatever it was, Mma Ramotswe and her mates made an impression and in their tender, unsophisticated, pragmatic way, gave me the kick up the arse I needed to start 2018. And for that I’m grateful.

My plan for this year is to live simply, to spend my time wisely, and to make whatever it is I do worthwhile.