2017 Grateful 1

Hard to believe that another year is almost over. As I watched the last sunset of 2017 at 4:13 this afternoon, I was a little all over the place. So much has changed and yet so much is still the same. I’m checking the news regularly to see what’s happening in Iran as a couple I’m very fond of are there right now and I’m worried. But then I tell myself that nowhere in the world is any safer. At least there, the angst is visible, on the street, more honest somehow.

We were walking the island, watching the fishermen wade into the Kis-Balaton looking perhaps for tonight’s supper. We’d left a roast in the oven and were looking forward to dining well later this evening. Earlier today, Maria Popova’s weekly mailing had popped into my mail box and once again, Walt Whitman got more than an honorable mention. [Brainpickings is an excellent website, worth checking out, especially if you’re resolving to broaden your horizons in 2018.] This time, it was in connection with expectations. According to Whitman:

The trick is, I find, to tone your wants and tastes low down enough, and make much of negatives, and of mere daylight and the skies.

The mere daylight and the skies had stuck with me, and as I watched the sun go down in all its glory, I gave thanks, for the millionth and one time, that happenstance had introduced me to Zala Megye and afforded the opportunity to step off the ratrace and be still.

Because, as Whitman said:

After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, love, and so on — have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear — what remains? Nature remains; to bring out from their torpid recesses, the affinities of a man or woman with the open air, the trees, fields, the changes of seasons — the sun by day and the stars of heaven by night.

As we prepare to do the local version of doorstepping, I’m grateful that tomorrow, a new year begins, another chapter in a story that is replete with supportive family, great friends, fine wine, good books, and the wherewithal to travel. What more could a body ask for.

Wishing you and yours a happy, peaceful, and prosperous New Year.


2017 Grateful 2

Some of us have defining Christmas moments, that exact time when we realise that it’s Christmas. It can be shopping on Christmas Eve, the first eggnog, the first piece of Turkey. Perhaps it’s not till Christmas morning that the penny drops or maybe it’s the office party. It could be the arrival of the first Christmas card or the opening of the first box of Cadbury’s Roses. For me, it’s when I hear Fairytale of New York for the first time. The original version by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl.

I have memories from years back of SN, home from NY, getting up on the couch and belting it out in Northbrook. I have memories of AMcC doing something similar. I have mental images of stopping still in London as it came over the airwaves or giving it gusto, turning the CD up full blast as I drove the Richardson Highway in Alaska. But until this year, I never knew the story behind it. The bet behind it.

Over annual Christmas pints with old friends from the Bank, DS explained that Elvis Costello had bet Shane McGowan that he couldn’t write a Christmas duet to sing with Cait O’Riordan (Costello’s future wife and then bass player with The Pogues), a song that didn’t mention Santa Claus or presents or Christmas trees – or any of the usual stuff that goes into Christmas hits. That’s the version I like (and the one Shane McGowan tells too). But there’s another version. Accordion player James Fearnley says that back in the day, manager Frank Murray suggested that The Pogues do a cover version of Christmas Must Be Tonight. But, he said: “It was an awful song. We probably said, fuck that, we can do our own.” I prefer McGowan’s story.

This year, I heard Ed Sheeran’s attempt to cover the song with Anne-Marie – and I cried. It was tantamount to blasphemy. And he rewrote the line ‘you cheap lousy faggot’ to ‘you cheap lousy blaggard’. When Ronan Keating and Maire Brennan mangled their version, they changed the line to ‘you’re cheap and you’re haggard’. Why? Why? Why? If I could give a present to the world this year, it would be context. Forget sanitizing or rewriting history – it was what it was in the time that it was. Let it be – just don’t forget the context.

Released for Christmas 1987, and billed as ‘an unreal fantasy of 1940s New York dreamed up in 1980s London’, this classic makes my Christmas. BBC Arts did a number on it last week and I learned that the title is nicked from JP Donleavy’s novel A Fairytale of New York. I hadn’t realised that Christy Moore had covered it, on his own, too, in the 1990s. And that version, apparently, Shane likes.

But for all the times I’ve heard it, for all the times I’ve sung along, I’ve never quite realised how sad it is… and perhaps that’s what appeals to me. A little bit of realism at a time when the world is caught up in the commercialism of it all, the TV version of Christmas.

“Fairytale Of New York”

It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me,
Won’t see another one
And then he sang a song
The Rare Old Mountain Dew
I turned my face away
And dreamed about you
Got on a lucky one
Came in eighteen to one
I’ve got a feeling
This year’s for me and you
So happy Christmas
I love you baby
I can see a better time
When all our dreams come true
They’ve got cars
Big as bars
They’ve got rivers of gold
But the wind goes right through you
It’s no place for the oldWhen you first took my hand
On a cold Christmas Eve
You promised me
Broadway was waiting for meYou were handsome
You were pretty
Queen of New York City
When the band finished playing
They howled out for more
Sinatra was swinging
All the drunks they were singing
We kissed on the corner
Then danced through the night

The boys of the NYPD choir
Were singing ‘Galway Bay’
And the bells are ringing
Out for Christmas day

You’re a bum
You’re a punk
You’re an old slut on junk
Lying there almost dead
On a drip in that bed

You scumbag
You maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God
It’s our last

The boys of the NYPD choir
Still singing ‘Galway Bay’
And the bells are ringing
Out for Christmas day

I could have been someone
Well, so could anyone
You took my dreams
From me when I first found you
I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can’t make it all alone
I’ve built my dreams around you

The boys of the NYPD choir
Still singing ‘Galway Bay’
And the bells are ringing
Out for Christmas day

That last verse gets me every time.

Christmas 2017 dawned for me on Thursday night, in the Shakespeare in Dublin, when the song came over the air and the company embraced it. There might have been 40+ years in the age span from old to young, but nobody noticed. And while I might have been grateful the next day had someone pointed out that I’m not as young as I think I am, I wouldn’t have thanked them on the night. ‘Tis good to know that when the occasion calls for it, I can still find the wherewithal to keep pace. And for that I’m grateful. And that I don’t have to make it alone… well, that’s another reason to keep singing.


2017 Grateful 3

Time is something each of us gets in equal, albeit limited amounts. We each get 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 52 weeks in a year. Some of us get more years than others, but their makeup is the same. Time is one of the most valuable commodities we have. We sell it for wages. We barter it for help. We donate it to good causes. We spend it on family and friends. And we waste some of it, too. Coming up to Christmas, a lack of time is one of the loudest complaints heard. There’s so much to do. So many places to go, so many people to meet. And the closer it gets to Christmas, the shorter time gets. This is particularly true, I think, in the expat world, as we ready ourselves to go home, where we begin the battle with time all over again.

And yet, today, on a Saturday so close to Christmas, the turnout in Szilaspogony, in Nógrád county, Hungary, was nothing short of amazing. Volunteers from America, Canada, England, Hungary, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Nigeria, Philippines, Russia and Scotland turned out in force to help decorate the village nursery. Armed with drills and screwdrivers, furniture was assembled, shelves were mounted, dolls houses and train tracks were put together, pictures were framed, books were unwrapped, cots were mattressed, stools were covered, curtains were hung, and lights were strategically positioned, transforming the old nursery into a fairyland for the village kids. Prior to our visit, the Mayor’s office had organised local volunteers to paint the room with paint we supplied, so we had a blank canvas to work with.


Szilaspogony has a population of just over 300, about 80 of whom are children. Those aged 3 to 6 attend the village nursery. There’s about 25 of them in all. The local mayor (the first woman to hold such an office in the county), the wonderful Tünde Józsefné Bódi, who is three years into her first five-year term, took the time to fill me in on what was going on locally. Unemployment, surprisingly, isn’t an issue. There is work for all those who want to work; her office sees to that. Her concern is about example. She worries that the village children – who in times past went from the nursery, to primary, secondary, and tertiary education, some graduating as scientists and now working at universities like Oxford – are not being shown the way forward. Parents are concerned with the basics. The children are well turned out and cared for. But there’s a settling … a contentment with just enough, rather than ambition to make a better tomorrow.  Tünde Bíróné Katona, who’s in charge of the Nursery, seconded this. She called it a ‘crisis situation of values’. The children in her care are taught to read and write and count. They learn to socialise with each other. They learn right from wrong. They get the grounding they need to go on to primary school but few, if any, will continue to secondary education. Perhaps just two from each group. The example simply isn’t there. The push isn’t there. The vision isn’t there.

And that got me thinking.

The children, in awe of their new home from home, were a little distracted when it came time for them to put on their play. They acted out the scene at Bethlehem, complete with the Holy Family, shepherds, wise (wo)men, angels, and the star. They watched the audience, not just their parents and teachers, but a bunch of strangers speaking an odd language, who had descended on their village for the day, armed with gifts and good will. I wondered what they thought. What their parents thought. And some part of me hoped that this example might go some way towards giving them a glimpse of a world outside, a world that, with a little application, is within their grasp.

What they might not realise though, is that Clarke & White Property sponsored all the paint needed to refresh the walls and ceiling. On the day, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce donated the cots, mattresses, and curtains, St Andrews Egyesület provided the educational toys, train sets, dolls, board games and such, and the Irish Hungarian Business Circle provided the fixtures and fittings. The rest of us simply showed up. It was quite the cooperation. And all this effort was coordinated by Zsuzsa Bozo and her Letters to Santa charity. The children send in letters to Santa, and his local elves get to work filling out the orders and making their wishes come true. The nursery was in need of a facelift, a remodel. Mayor Tünde told me that some of the furniture  being used had been there in her day, when she was in nursery school, and that, she winked, wasn’t today or yesterday. But more importantly than more modern stuff, brighter toys, newer books, the kids needed to see how special they are, to see relative strangers coming together, working together, to make a difference to their world.

I’m grateful that I got to be part of it. That I got to see the light glimmer in those little minds. That I got to see the spirit of Christmas in action. And that I got fed (the village treated us to a fab lunch featuring all sorts of delicacies, including a delicious wild boar/venison stew). Roll on the 25th. Am ready.



[Note: Post Grateful 52 explains the Grateful concept]

Zala Springs

2017 Grateful 4

I’m lazy. I can be very lazy. And sometimes my CBA attitude has a price. I’d heard tell of Zala Spings, the golf course complex that opened near the village back in 2015. It’s just off the main road to Zalaegerszeg and if you’re heading to the thermal spa at Kehida and take the back road through Zalacsány, you’ll see it, too.

I noticed it last winter but wasn’t at all impressed. It looked like a poor attempt at emulating the K Club, or Mount Juliet, two rather spectacular golf courses in Ireland. I’ll fess up. I was feeling a tad superior wondering how Hungary could ever compete with Ireland or Scotland when it came to golf courses – the tradition just wasn’t there. But, of course, the competition was only in my head. It happens sometimes.

Friends in the village had told me that their recent visitors had been to dinner there and while a little pricey, they said they were impressed. I pooh-poohed. Impressed with the food maybe, but the course? Nah.

Of the visitors we’ve had to date, none has been a golfer. We’ve passed the golf club numerous times and have never ventured in. Until yesterday. And I was wrong. Yep. Wrong. The place has potential. It ranks as No. 1 in the list of 100 golf courses in Hungary and has had some interesting reviews.

Zala SpringsFirst of all, it’s not a golf club, it’s a golf resort. Situated about 2 hours drive from Zagreb, Budapest, and Vienna, it’s a prime location for golfers who like their style or timeshare travellers who want to spend 4 weeks a year on what could well be (become) a championship golf course (five Par 5 holes and lots of water hazards would make for a challenging round of golf). The 2-4-bedroom apartments are ready to move in to and judging from the site plan we saw, lots more are to be built, assuming there’s a demand. The website isn’t clear. I’m not sure if you buy the apartment and then they rent it for you or whether you just buy a time share. But either way, if you’re in Zala country, it would be quite the place to stay.

Green fees will set you back about €60 but it seems you can buy a day pass which presumably will let you play all day for a few euro more. The Pro shop is a tad on the expensive side, possibly catering to the fat pockets of golfers on tour. The entrance is quite impressive and the airiness of the clubhouse is rather lovely. Yep – I was definitely wrong.

Their New Years offer is a steal – overnight stay, gala dinner, dancing till dawn, all the wine and champers you can tipple, and then breakfast the next for under €100 per person sharing. An attractive proposition but I’m not sure I’m ready to mix with the country club set just yet.

Still, it taught me something, a lesson I’m grateful for: I need to rein in my dismissiveness until I’ve actually checked whatever it is out in person. Lord only know what else I’ve been missing. I really must visit that Doll museum in Keszthely.



2017 Grateful 40

When a seven-year-old child has no idea what they want for Christmas, you might immediately think that they have so much already that there’s nothing left for them to ask for. But when that seven-year-old child cannot answer the question because it’s one they’ve never before been asked, it’s enough to make your heart break.

Hos utca 15

This week, I went to visit some families living in two tenement buildings in Budapest’s Xth district, not far from Stadion, a part of Budapest tourists and many locals never see, Hős utca 15/a and 15/b are home to some 600 people, about 130 of whom are children. These 300 one-roomed apartments were built back in 1939. The conditions are dire. A gas explosion resulted in higher common costs for tenants, only half of  whom live in council-owned flats; the others are privately owned. The local development strategy seems to want the building levelled but there is no place for the people go to. Those who have council leases will not have them renewed on expiration. If they have kids, they’ll be taken into care until the parents can find alternative accommodation. The local government has ruled that it has first refusal on any flat offered for sale but the paltry 1.5 million huf (about €4800/$5600) on the table won’t rehouse the sitting tenants. The street, which translates into Heroes Street, is in the middle of an area bordered by the Anti-Terrorist Unit HQ, Zrínyi Miklós National Defense University, and a police station. The mind boggles. What should probably be the safest place in the city, is one that is anything but.

We got there about 4pm and met with Zsuzsanna Urbanovszky from Kontúr Egyesület. Zsuzsanna has been volunteering at Hős utca for about four years and it’s immediately clear that the children like and trust her. We were in safe hands.

This YouTube clip was filmed in 2012 and believe me, nothing has improved. It gives you an idea of what the place is like.


We met some other volunteers in one of the flats that Kontúr uses. The door was locked at all times, even though kids were coming and going. Kontúr is cooperating with the Letters to Santa initiative. In its third year, it’s probably one the most rewarding things I do each Christmas. The brainchild of Zsuzsa Bozo, kids fill out their letters to Santa and then volunteer Elves make sure that Santa delivers on what they’ve asked for. It’s hoped that 50 of the 130 or so children will participate, but it’s proving difficult to get the completed letters back. Parents are reluctant to let them visit the little community centre, and even more reluctant to commit to taking the kids to the party where the presents will be distributed on 22 December. More are suspicious about why the Zsuzsas are doing this. Gifts without strings are rare in their worlds.

We wandered upstairs and down, ably guided by a ten-year-old girl, who, if she had a magic wand, said that she would stop people robbing. Later I met a five-year-old who, with her magic wand, would change the windows in her flat into doors. A couple of young boys told me that they’d make people stop fighting. The doors are grilled, padlocked, and chained. The windows are boarded up. The passageways are dirty, smelly, and full of rubbish. There’s an air of abandonment and yet there’s evidence of life. Shadows flitted about the landings, silhouetted by the glow of a cigarette or the reflection of a phone. Everyone greeted us politely. No threats. No lewd comments. No smart remarks by the groups of young men that hung out in the stair wells. Three women and a child wandering freely in a part of town that the police are reluctant to patrol. Yes, Zsuzsanna has earned respect.

I was walking, head down, making sure I didn’t stumble or fall when I passed a pair of shiny leather shoes sitting beneath a pair of well-pressed trousers and an expensive woolen overcoat. I looked up in surprise. Definitely not a local but one who walked as if he knew where he was going. Drug dealer? Money lender? Who knows.

For some strange reason, the Hanoi Hilton came to mind. Perhaps it was the bars, the flittering shadows, the disembodied voices. Perhaps it was the poverty, the filth, the squalor. Or maybe it was that sense of imprisonment that defied freedom of movement. People are certainly free to come and go, but few, if any, ever truly escape.

And yet, there is a pride visible in the homes. Clean, tidy spaces, furnished with old furniture and hand-me-downs. The children are well turned out, polite, and friendly. They have a fascination with manó – leprechauns – asking if I’d ever seen one and if there was really gold at the end of the rainbow. They showed me their letters, explaining what they wanted, asking me to check on the Net to make sure Santa knew the specifics. I learned a lot about Hungarian YouTubers and Soy Luna 🙂 and today, we went shopping for five.

Hymnist Henry Burton wrote:

Have you had a kindness shown? Pass it on.
’Twas not given for thee alone, pass it on.
Let it travel down the years,
let it wipe another’s tears, till in heaven the deed appears – pass it on.

If you want to get involved, check the Facebook page. Consider passing it on.

For the Zsuzsas in this world, who give so graciously of their time, and work tirelessly to better the lot of others, I’m grateful. Ladies, you do the world proud.


PS – the observant regular reader among you will notice that I’m out of sync on my grateful numbering – back to normal next week.

2017 Grateful 47

There was mad panic in my house this evening. I lost a week. I was all set to write my  Grateful 4  blog about celebrating Thanksgiving in the village and what a great time we had. I was going to write about the hunt for the turkey because turkeys cannot be found in Hungary until December when you can get massive ones but if you’re in the market for a 6kg bird in November, you may as well be looking for ice cubes in the Sahara. And we tried. We tried the travelling butcher van. We tried the market. We tried the supermarkets. We had even sourced two 3kg birds on the north side of the Balaton and I was prepared to travel. But, as luck would have it, I stopped off in Metro on my way down last week and found one, lone, single, solitary 4.4kg bird that came with freezer burns but hey, those could be cut off.

I was going to write about the joys of cooking dinner for 8 using a gas oven that could just about hold said 4.4kg turkey and four rings ranging from very small, to small, to sorta medium, to what passes for big. Thankfully, the lovely RWs at the other end of the village took in the spuds. But the pressure was on. I was trying new dishes – like Asian sprouts and a maderia/mushroom/green bean casserole. I was all set to do the bourbon hasselback sweet potatoes but I was behind schedule and the guests had started to arrive.

Yes – me – behind schedule. I was going to blog about that, too, before I lost the week. I’d spent far too long that morning figuring out how to make paper napkins look like turkeys. You gotta love YouTube. It really sucks the time out of the clock and shoves it forward. My turkeys ended up looking more like swans because I didn’t have the patience to find the foil the lovely woman said I’d need. But the thought was there.

I was also going to mention that our little party of 8 was representative of 7 countries: Austria, England, Hungary, Ireland, Malta, Serbia, and the USA (x2). Countryside cosmopolitanism at its best. Age wise, we spanned 40 years from oldest to youngest. And I’m proud to say that none of us had a real job (as in one you have to get up in the morning and go to, clock in and clock out, and then ask for holidays) – something all of us were very grateful for indeed. Most of us had been there at some stage in our respective lives and none of us wanted to go back.

I was going to share the diversity of discussions which ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime, from politics to parochial gossip, from recent awards conferred to what Wikipedia had to say about those in our party famous enough to warrant a page. But my missing week put paid to all that.  And then I did the math.

I was on Grateful 4 which would suggest that there were only three more weekends after this one till the end of the year. I checked the calendar just to be sure and found that December has five weekends so I was really missing two weeks, not one. I went back and trolled through my Gratefuls to find that I was had posted 42&41 together one week and the following week, instead of 40, I did 41…again. And then went to 39. So I skipped 40. And I’d skipped 47. Now, you may think this trivial, but believe me,  doubting my ability to count backwards from 52 could have series repercussions. My faith in myself right now is low (thinking turkeys and swans) and I don’t need any more self-doubt.

I tried going back and renumbering the posts but that would invalidate my links and create all sorts of headaches later. Then I remembered that video I’d watched earlier in the week about how, for (some?) Native Americans, Thanksgiving is a day of mourning. And I got sidetracked. I watched some more videos (all contradictory, I might add – does anyone know the truth?). I read the comments (and some downright nasty ones ,too) and chased up referrals. And I lost a couple of hours. But at least I found my two weeks – and for that I’m grateful.


2017 Grateful 5

Many, many years ago, while living in London, I had the great fortune to go see Maya Angelou live. My memory of the particulars is sketchy. I think it was a smallish room, perhaps a community hall, with a stage. The audience numbered hundreds rather than the thousands I’d imagined a legend like herself would draw. Whether that was because tickets were limited and we were damn lucky or because the wider world didn’t know she was there or think of her as someone to go see, I’m not sure.

I’m a fan. I read and quote her work and always learn something from her poetry. I worked with a gal in Los Angeles once who was so obsessed with her that she was planning to move to Winston-Salem on the off-chance of running into her idol at the grocery store.

Born in 1928, Marguerite Ann Johnson’s life began badly. She was raped and sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend at the age of 8. He was caught, jailed for one day, released and murdered four days later. Maya stopped talking.

I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone…

It wasn’t until she was 14 that her teacher, Ms Bertha Flowers, helped her talk again. Of many firsts in her life, her first first was probably to become San Francisco’s first Black female cable car conductor. Her son Clyde (Guy) was born when Maya was just 16, a single mom, working as a waitress to keep them together. In 1952, when she began her singing career, she took the name Maya Angelou. Her interest in music and literature blossomed as did her activism in the Civil Rights Movement. She toured Europe with Porgy and Bess and began what would become a habit – to learn the language of the countries she visited. In 1959, Martin Luther King Jr asked her to be the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The following year, she met Vusumzi Make, an activist from South Africa and all three move to Cairo, Egypt where she edited an English language weekly The Arab Observer. She later moved to Ghana before return to the USA in 1964.

Somewhere along the way, she met Oprah Winfrey and became her mentor. At Bill Clinton’s inauguration, Maya read her poem On the Pulse of Morningit would win a Grammy that same year. It was one of many awards she would go on to receive.  There is so much about the woman I didn’t know. Her film Georgia, Georgia, filmed in Sweden, was the first screenplay written and released by a black woman. She married Germaine Greer’s ex-husband, Paul du Feu. And she directed the film  Down in the Delta, featuring Wesley Snipes. And there’s so much more.

Why she’s in my mind today is that a friend posted a link of Facebook that got me thinking. It was titled How to change your life in one second flat.

According to Maya, there are four questions we subconsciously ask ourselves with almost every interaction we have with others:

  1. Do you see me?
  2. Do you care that I’m here?
  3. Am I enough for you, or do you need me to be better in some way?
  4. Can I tell that I’m special to you by the way that you look at me?

Katherine Schafler, NYC-based psychotherapist, writer and speaker, explains the theory behind it all far better than I could. 


I’m guilty of stumbling on the first one. Do I see you? Did I look at the cashier at the market today? Nope. Do I look at the waiter, the church collector, the postie? Maybe. Sometimes. But more often than not, I’m rushing. I’m not looking. I’m not connecting. I’m not seeing.

And those times when I do stop and look and see, they make a difference. At the World Bank meeting in Dubai many lifetimes ago, a Bangladeshi kid was stationed at our conference bus stop. His job was to be there in case any of the delegates needed to return to their hotels. Each day, in the sweltering heat, we’d chat a while. About him, his family, his life. He told me to try smoking a hookah pipe. And then he asked me which flavour I preferred. On my last day, my last bus ride from the venue, he gave me a present of some apple tobacco. It had cost him a day’s wages. I knew better than to refuse but I did ask him why – and he said: Because you saw me.

I’d forgotten that. I’d forgotten what a game changer it can be if we actually ‘see’ people. This article reminded me of what I’ve been lax about. And for this reminder, I’m truly grateful.   And think, that’s only Question 1.

2017 Grateful 6

I don’t think I’ll ever grow up. Not really. I might get a little more responsible, a little more sensible, a little more pragmatic, but at heart, I’ll still be that gullible kid who believes in magic, in fairies, in ghosts. I needed very little persuading when the lovely GZs suggested a trip across the border into Slovenia to Bukovniško lake and its magic forest. Not too clear about what to expect herself, she sold me on the idea of healing energy and curing waters.

Back in 2001, Dr Ilija Čosić (who, as far as I can tell, is a writer/professor from Novi Sad in Serbia) visited the lake and mapped the bioenergy and radiesthesy. [I had to check that one out: Radiesthesia is the science of using the vibrational fields of the human body to access information about other objects of animate or inanimate nature by establishing resonance with their energy fields, using specially calibrated instruments and a scale of qualitative measurement to decode this information.] He and his team of experts found more than 50 energy points clustered around two power lines that cross right where the church of St Vida (St Vitus) sits in the middle of the forest.

They focused on 26 energy points that are clearly marked for specific ailments. Stand or sit at any of these points, arms relaxed, palms facing the ground, and you will feel the energy manifested as a warm, tingling sensation or a cool breeze. And if you don’t feel anything, then that particular spot is not for you.

I looked at the list of 26 energy points and made my selection. I didn’t want a conveyor belt experience. I wanted to treat the specifics.  I stopped first at No. 2 – just because stress is nasty. It was pleasant, but more because I was out in the forest rather than feeling any surge of energy. So, nothing I can’t manage myself, I thought. I stopped at No. 9 because I have cholesterol issues but I didn’t feel much by way of anything. I can stop worrying about that then.  Next I went to No. 15, the rheumatism and arthritis spot and after a few minutes in situ, my palms started to tingle and heat up. Damn, I thought, that pain I’ve been feeling is real. I then stopped at No. 24 – limb pain and muscle inflammation) – same thing. The full list is quite something and I’m sure something has gotten lost in translation.

1: Gallstones and kidney stones

2: Mental, emotional, stressful, depressive problems

3: General back pain

4: Leg ulcer diseases (arteries)

5: Small and large intestinal diseases, including hemorrhoids

6: Headaches, dizziness, vertigo

7: Respiratory diseases (trachea, lung inflammation)

8: Migraine problems and tension in the head

9: Diabetes, cholesterol, liver, pancreas, spleen

10: Skin diseases (inflammation, acne and psoriasis (psoriasis) [the recommended retention time on it is 30 minutes]

11: Strengthening the immune system

12: Vascular diseases (venous vessels) and varicose veins and knots

13: Chest problems, pleurisy

14: Cardiac vessels

15: Rheumatic diseases (rheumatism, arthritis)

16: Gastric, duodenal and colorectal inflammation (acid, ulcer)

17: Alcohol, tobacco, and drug addiction

18: Urinary system, prostate and fertility (inflammatory diseases)

19: Blood pressure

20: Eyes, ears and nose (inflammation), partly also of allergies

21: Gastrointestinal disorders (diarrhea and constipation, abdominal cramps and tension)

22: Respiratory allergies – bronchitis

23: Malignant or benign tumors

24: Limb pain (muscle inflammation and osteoporosis)

25: Strengthen and improve the blood count

26: Enhance life energy and increase frequency cell vibrations

The church of St Vida, at the centre of the energy lines, is like something out of a fairy tale. Back in WWII, there was a wooden structure on the site. During a battle not far from the chapel, one partisan managed to escape (they were hiding out in a local hunting lodge). Badly wounded, he crawled to this sanctuary. It was open then (unlike today). He didn’t expect to make it through the night but when he woke the next morning, all was well. Legend has it that he came back after the war and built the structure we see today.

Bukovniško St Vita's chapel

Not far from the church is the spring of St Vida. Bathing your eyes in the healing waters is said to improve your eyesight, and indeed local lore has it that many have been cured. Washing your hands and face can improve your skin. And drinking it is recommended to calm anxious nerves. GZs had done her homework so we’d brought empty bottles. But had we not, the information office has water cans for sale (when they’re open).

The lake itself is man made, and is about 2 metres deep. There’s a trail around it and a couple of picnic spots, too. It’s stocked with fish and fishing licences are available for purchase. All very relaxing on a cold November Saturday but I’d imagine it would be teeming on a hot week in August.

Bukovniško lake

Bukovniško lake

Bukovniško lake

As with anything good these days, there’s a caveat, a sort of disclaimer that says that one visit won’t do it. You need to come back a number of times within a short period. Not that I need much of an excuse to visit Slovenia. This weekend marks the beginning of a long-promised break, a chilling out period, time spent reflecting, reading, and writing. And if I can fit in a couple of more trips across the border – I’ll be even more grateful for the joys of village life and the access to other worlds that living so remotely affords.


PS There’s also quite a spectacular adrenaline park just at the entrance, one of the best I’ve seen. It would take about 2 hour to get around it and is suitable for ages 4 upwards.




2017 Grateful 7

On the plains of hesitation bleach the bones of countless millions who, at the dawn of victory, sat down to wait, and waiting – died! So said William A. Lawrence, and in fairness, the man has a point.

Procrastination. It’s a slow killer. It robs us of our time, screws with our dreams, and turns life into as series of tomorrows. Although scoring off the scale in Belbin’s team scoreboard as a completer-finisher, I still need to cross that initial hurdle and start.

Most effectively used at the end of tasks to polish and scrutinise the work for errors, subjecting it to the highest standards of quality control.
Strengths: Painstaking, conscientious, anxious. Searches out errors. Polishes and perfects.
Allowable weaknesses: Can be inclined to worry unduly, and reluctant to delegate.
Don’t be surprised to find that: They could be accused of taking their perfectionism to extremes.
I’ve given a number of workshops lately and if I believed in conspiracies, I might be justified in thinking that the universe was conspiring to send me a message. Three presentations in particular stand out. One said that it takes just 20 hours (45 minutes a day for 27 days) to master the rudiments of anything. Another said that an experiment showed that 90 something percent of people who wrote an appointment for the gym in their calendar actually went. And a third talked about happiness.
The first I like. In theory. But committing to 45 minutes for 27 consecutive days is proving difficult. Now, had I to have some sort of medical treatment that required the same commitment, I’d have no problem finding the time. Or if I was on parole and had to report in daily. Or if I had accepted a challenge to say a decade of the rosary in a different church every day for 27 days and a trip to Mecca was riding on it – then I’d find the time. But to learn Hungarian? I’m struggling. Being of a rather anal disposition, I’d prefer it to be the same time every day. But do I want to commit to being up and at it by 7.30 am every morning? Or curb what little social life I have these days by committing to 7.30 pm every evening? And during the day? That doesn’t suit either.
I know I’d be a lot happier if I could speak to my neighbours. I think I’d be a lot less happy if I could really understand the conversations on the metro or the tram. One of the advantages of not really speaking the language is that I’m saved the drivel.  I can avoid the banality, the complaints, the negativity so evident in tone on public transport. Do I really want to open those floodgates?
But, I don’t want to die not having had a few decent conversations in Hungarian with people I couldn’t otherwise talk to. I don’t want to be the procrastinator Lawrence talks about. So, I’m biting the bullet.  I’m going to try the 45 minutes of concentrated effort. Except that 27 days is a lot and I only have a clear stretch of 14 so I’m going to do 45 minutes twice a day for 14 days starting 10 November. And then we’ll see. Gotta be grateful for small steps. 




2017 Grateful 8

I’ve been around the block a few times. I’ve met my fair share of people in places I’ve visited, lived, and worked. Many of them are but vague memories from a distant past. Others are permanently etched on my brain. Some I hold close to my heart. And a few, a small few, have taken a sliver of my soul and called it theirs (they’re my soulers). All have contributed somehow to making me the woman I am today.

You might think that the soulers are the ones I’m closest to. Not true. I might have met them fleetingly, in passing, friends of friends. I might not know their birthday or their dog’s name, or even if they have a dog. I might know very little about them other than that one thing that resonated with me and made me look at the world in a different way.

I heard this week that one of my soulers had died. He fought an eight-month battle before waving the world adieu. I have no doubt that he’s gone on to bigger and better things and that the world’s loss is truly heaven’s gain.

I met J when I was visiting South Africa a few years ago. [I think of him as Big Mac, his email handle :-)] He and his lovely wife E took me to visit the township of eSizameleni. When they retired around 2005 and moved into a retirement village, they tithed money from the sale of their house and committed, through their foundation, Smiley Families, to helping the resident gogos (isiZulu for grannies) and the kids they’re rearing. That middle generation has been all but wiped out by AIDS – and those healthy enough and lucky enough to find work often have to travel to it, leaving their parents at home to mind their children.

What impressed me most, during that brief time, was Big Mac’s empathy. He wasn’t blinded by grandiose thoughts of doing good. He wasn’t prescribing what he saw as a fix for what ailed the people or the township. He wasn’t out to convert the world to his way of thinking. His lot, as he saw it, was to try to make their lives a little less bleak.

He wore his religion lightly. He was a man of faith with a staunch belief in his obligation to help, to do what he could for his fellow man.

Our core function is to hold a monthly service to provide spiritual support for some of the grannies and the 60 women-headed households in eSizameleni township here in Wakkerstroom. Together with a religious service we provide a nourishing soup for all those who attend. A local baker provides fresh bread for each meeting and everyone gets at least one loaf of bread together with about three litres or so of soup to take home.

I saw videos of these get-togethers. The happiness. The joy. The smiles. And all from a people with little to be happy or joyful or smiling about. Inspiring stuff.

I asked him once about what would happen when he and E were no longer up to the task, not knowing then that it would only be a matter of years. He said they were planning to send four of the younger adults (18-28) on a Christian Leadership course which they hoped would:

…equip them to someday take over from us when we can no longer do things and thus ensure the future of Smiley Families when we are gone.

I really hope this happened.

When I had it, I sent money. He asked me once what I wanted him to spend it on. Up to you, I said. Your call. You’re there. I’m not. One Christmas, he bought the gogos some hampers but instead of the usual groceries, he told me that he’d included

…special treats that would help take their minds off the grinding poverty of their daily life.

Another time, the local lads wanted to play in the soccer league and needed kit. My money helped suit up the team. He sent me this photo – one I look at periodically when I feel as if nothing I’m doing matters a whit. It never fails to make me cry and remind me just how lucky I am to have been born into the life I live. There, but for the grace of God and all that…

He was in the UK a couple of years back and I made it my business to be there at the same time. We met in Durham. He was a little older, a little slower perhaps, but he still had that glint in his eye. He still radiated the same pragmatic goodness that drew me to him. That evening:

I had the privilege of sitting around a dinner table with four South African friends with a combined age of 270+ years. Talk was not of pains and aches and pills and potions. There were no complaints, no regrets. Instead the conversation was futured with new opportunities, new travels, and new friends. No one was even close to being ready to sit back and retire to suburbia. Aging gracefully is truly a case of mind over matter.

Just when I can see the light at the end of my dark tunnel, others are about to enter theirs. My thoughts and prayers go out to Big Mac’s family and friends. I will be eternally grateful that through his ministry he gave me the opportunity to help, to do some good, to make a difference in someone’s life, however slight. He did so much for so many without expectation of anything in return. He helped me build a yardstick by which I measure goodness and served as a constant reminder that something as simple as a bowl of soup and a box of groceries can make a difference.