The last time I went away for more than 48 hours sans laptop was in 2010. That was seven years ago. Seven years. Every holiday (?) I’ve been on since then I’ve worked. Not all of it, but some of it.  Enough of it to know that I wasn’t completely switching off, letting go, being present. Back in 2014, I managed to stay offline for 72 hours.

It’s a  symptom of the freelancer’s lot. You take the work when you get it because you never know when you’ll get the next bit. Add to that the fear of being disconnected and having some or all of your clients find someone else while you’re gone and then staying with them out of convenience. [And you know this will happen because convenience is why you haven’t moved banks in 9 years or changed utility provider even though you know you should.] And you know that no matter how good you are, you’re not indispensable. There’s no contract. No paid leave. No redundancy clause.

That said, I wouldn’t swap the freedom and flexibility that freelancing offers for anything less than 353 days of paid leave per year from a corporate. I like what I do and like that I can do it from just about anywhere. It’s the ‘just about’ that brings me out in a cold sweat.

I’m off to Cuba. I hear tell that you can buy (not inexpensive) 30-minute vouchers for the Internet but that the Internet there might not be quite as fast as the slow Internet here. So rather than put myself through the torture of watching a large file upload to an FTP and get to 99% at 30 minutes, I’m steeling myself to go dark. Offline. For 10 days.

I’ve done the unthinkable and told my regular clients that I’ll be incommunicado. I’m figuring out how to post an out-of-office message on my various email accounts. And I’m working like a mad woman trying to clear my inbox before I leave. By the time the holiday comes, I’ll be exhausted.

And that will be great. Because I’ll have ten whole days to recover. I reckon I can decompress on the flight and not start to experience the first withdrawal symptoms until Day 2 in Havana. By that stage, I’ll have found a cigar factory and will be busy testing a theory I have about rum and tobacco so the anxiety levels will be minimal.

From experience, day 3 is when the full impact hits – that disconnectedness, that wondering what I’ll be going back to, that faint niggling worry that the workflow will have stopped entirely. And knowing this, by day 3, I plan to be on a beach, somewhere near Trinidad, by the water.  And there’s very little, in my book, that seawater can’t cure. Bring it on, I say, bring it on. Who knows, it might be the start of a whole new career.

I’ve noticed that the meaner the world gets, the nicer I want to be. The crazier world politics becomes, the more simplicity I crave. And as we teeter on the brink of insanity, I’m spending more and more time trying not to lose sight of what really matters.

Ever wonder where your money goes when you donate to a charity, or sponsor someone to run a 10k, or buy a raffle ticket? All too often we never see the effect. We have vague notions, perhaps, of the difference our help may have made. Then again, perhaps we don’t care. Perhaps the giving is something we do automatically without wondering what next. Perhaps in our own little universe it’s not about ego or power or public recognition. Perhaps we don’t care about the applause or the back slaps or the congratulatory adulation. Perhaps we simply give to share and share to give.

Yet there’s a whole debate to be had about where to give, to whom to give, and why to give. I know I’ve had more than few conversations about it. I have an innate distrust of big charities and the money they spend on plush headquarters and fancy cars for their CEOs – but as was pointed out to me recently, if they want to attract big money, they need to have a big presence. On an intellectual level, I can see the validity of this. On an emotional level, I still have problems.

I prefer to support people I know involved in projects that are making a difference. Okay, so maybe these projects won’t bring about world peace, or make any sort of difference on a grand scale, but what they have in common is that they make a difference to someone.

My friend Zsuzsa B has adopted the village of Zabar in Eastern Hungary. At Christmas, I had a blast shopping for a 5-year-old girl, making her wish list a reality. Others did likewise and the kids in the village experienced the magic of discovering that wishes can come true. But it didn’t stop there.

These kids had never been to the theatre or to the zoo or eaten in a restaurant. Until recently, their universe was limited to their village and nearby towns. The capital, Budapest, the seat of their parliament, the home of their government, was some place they’d heard about but never seen. For them to have some hope of a better tomorrow, they need to see what’s out there, to broaden their horizons. And for this to happen, they need help.

A bus was hired. Arrangements were made. And 45 children from this remote part of the country embarked on a trip of a lifetime that included pantomime, elephants, and ice-cream. What an eye-opener it was for them. For those who helped make it happen, little else is needed by way of validation that to see the smiles on their faces. This video captures it all.

It is small initiatives like this one that make such a huge difference in the lives of these kids. And in these troubled times, we need to remind ourselves of what’s important and not lose sight of the necessity of doing our bit to make our world a better place.

In trying to find a word to describe a friend of mine recently, I had occasion to Google the term ‘giving people’. And once I’d stopped trying to remember how I’d found similar information before Google, I started to think. Three things struck me from a list of 10 things that supposedly characterise a ‘giving person’ and what they give to the rest of us. [All are relevant but these struck me as particularly pertinent.]

The gift of requesting help: Requesting help is is a difficult one. It’s something I’ve had to learn myself. It not easy because somewhere buried inside all our insecurities is that irritating voice that tells us that asking for help is a sign of weakness, of failure. But if we view it not as helping ourselves but as giving others the chance to help us, it takes on a different appearance. Giving people know when and how to ask for help.

The gift of opportunity: Our rhetoric is full of if onlys. I could spend the better part of a day listing mine: If only I spoke Hungarian, I’d apply to go on study tours. If only I had time, I’d spend two hours a day learning the one language I need. If only I had an ear for music, I’d be able to better pronounce my letters. For many with a community spirit, the if onlys could also include ‘if only I had the opportunity, I’d volunteer to do something good, to give something back, to help make someone else’s lot a little easier.’ Giving people do this – they create an opportunity for the rest of us to give something back.

The gift of purpose: In a world where insecurity is rife, change is a constant, and lunacy prevails, it anchors us when we have purpose, some clear, solid goal which we can work towards alongside others also intent on making our corner of the world just a little better than it was yesterday. Giving people give the gift of purpose.

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Just when I thought that my mate Zsuzsa Bozo had topped it all with the soup kitchen/feed the homeless drive she and her gang have been working tirelessly on, a wonderful initiative that the Caley and Age of Hope are facilitating, she goes and takes it one step further.

The cold weather is going to be around for a while and warm coats are needed. The Caledonia has joined the Free Coat initiative. It’s simple. If you have coats you’ve grown out of, don’t like, don’t want, are not wearing and they’re warm… hang them up on the coat-rack outside the Caley where those who have a greater need can come pick them up (and remember to bring a hanger, too). And if you don’t have coats that are warm and suitable but you still want to help, why not swing by any one of the many many many secondhand-clothes shops in the city and buy a couple. Then drop them by the Caley, and while you’re there, stick your head in the kitchen to see if help is needed to peel those veg. The soup drive continues all this week and ingredients are needed.

This week, I’m adding my thanks to those of the hundreds of homeless who are grateful for the soup and sustenance delivered through the good auspices of Zsuzsa and Ákos. Without their provision of an opportunity and a purpose and without their ask for help, the rest of us might well still be mired in a sea of if onlys. They are two truly giving people.

Zsuzsa shared this story with me, a story that has done its bit to restore my faith in human nature. I hope she won’t mind me passing it on:

I left the Caledonia, distributing the soups with Ákos and Gergő. Once we finished, I got out of the van, said happily goodbye to both of them, not realizing that I had no money or no metro pass with me. So I was there , out in Határ Ut, at the metro underground, thinking how I could get back… I spoke to the people of the street there (homeless). One old man went and came back, holding a ticket, he just bought. For me… that’s all he had.

Yep, you reap what you sow.

 

westI’ve been overdosing on West Wing, the old TV series starring Martin Sheen as President of America that ran from 1999 to 2006. The writing is clever, the dialogue witty, the characters eminently likeable. I’m addicted. We can go through anywhere from 4 to 7 episodes a night. Two episodes into series 2 and it’s not lost on me what perfect timing this viewing is. I look at Jed Bartlet and I look at the soon-to-be US President, and three words come to mind: Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot. And no, I’m not an idiot. I know that Jed Bartlet is a fictional character born of the pen of Aaron Sorkin. I haven’t lost the plot completely. And I know that the staff he has surrounded himself with, those who serve at the pleasure of the President, play a huge role in keeping this fictional America straight. And the more episodes I watch, the more I despair at what January 20th will bring.

During the week, I reposted a video by GQ on Facebook – I didn’t know the chap speaking but I could identify with his message. He spoke not of policies or mandates or great plans – but of the man himself. He showed tweets penned by DT that begged the question – Is this guy really all there?  I doubt there’s a writer in Hollywood who could come up with a presidential character quite like him and expect the series to be a success.

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I had two messages of note in reaction to my post. One pointed out there’s nothing that can be said that will change people’s minds. Like abortion and blood sports, both democrats and republicans have come down hard on one side and are intractable. My friend said that posting such videos would just lose me friends. And,  when I checked, they were right. I’m not nearly as popular on FB as I was pre-DT.  Ah well.

Another friend pointed out that the chap in the view was a ‘sports commenter and failed political commenter from a network that can not generate enough viewership to keep him in his time slot,’ branding him ‘an extremist on the liberal side of American politics’.  In public speaking, this is known as ad hominem  – an argument/reaction directed against a person rather than the position they are maintaining. But then, so was the GQ piece, although it was clearly positioned as such, perhaps for lack of a position to attack? Yep – intractable.

Anyway, I’ve decided that as my tuppence ha’penny isn’t going to sway public opinion, I will watch the unfolding drama with an interest born in fiction. I can’t think of it as anything else and find myself seeing the whole thing as a plot line, wondering which way it will go. And in an effort to compare like with like, I will use Jed Bartlet as my yardstick, because comparing DT to Barack Obama would be like comparing oranges and apples. [A shout-out to my US friends who are feeling the pain – thoughts and prayers with you as you battle to  make sense of it all.]

And, in the meantime, while the world continues to go off kilter, I will concentrate on what’s going on closer to home. While I’ve been down the country with my geese, Zsuzsa and the crew at the Caledonia and Ákos and his team at Age of Hope have been busy doing stuff that matters. Another 300 portions of soup have made it to the homeless. Ingredients are coming in. And people are turning up with their potato peelers to help out. Tomorrow, Friday, at 2pm, more help is needed to prep for the weekend. If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and work, drop by and help out. This is a time when you can really make a difference to the lives of others.

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You don’t have to look very far on Facebook and other social media to see people’s reaction to the current cold front that is sweeping Europe. It’s bloody freezing. Perishing. Mind-numbingly cold. And for those of us who have homes to go to, we can bitch and moan to our hearts’ content knowing that our discomfort is temporary. Fleeting, even. We can even opt to stay at home and not stir outside until the weather starts cooperating. But for hundreds if not thousands of others in cities like Budapest, life is a tad different.

They have no homes to go to. And perhaps for some who do, they’re faced with the heat or eat dilemma. Money is tight and people have to make decisions based on need. One homeless activist told of how he personally had taken ten dead people from their homes last winter – they’d died of hyperthermia, in situ, having chosen to eat.

There’s been a homeless chap camped under an archway on our street for the last few months. I’ve never seen him drunk or belligerent. He keeps his stuff tidy. And he always looks neat and relatively clean. He can leave his stash and it’s left undisturbed. No one bothers him. He seems to hold himself apart. When we’ve had occasion to interact, he is pleasant and sweet. A nice lad who could be anything from late 30s to early 50s. It’s difficult to tell.

When the cold spell hit, we were worried as he was showing no move to go to a shelter. We talked of inviting him home but this brought up a litany of concerns mostly stemming from the fact that our Hungarian and his English were nowhere close to facilitating a conversation that didn’t run the risk of being misunderstood. What if he was mentally unstable? What if he threw a fit? What if he was allergic to nuts? What if, what if, what if…

But the biggest what if was what if he died during the night and we had done nothing? In the UK you can call a number to report where someone homeless is camping out so that those working to help can come and do their thing. We rang a Hungarian friend to see if there was a  local equivalent. When we explained what was going on, she offered to come with us to talk to him and see what he wanted to do. He didn’t want to go to a shelter, even though one locally would have taken him in. He was adamant. It was dangerous in there. He preferred to take his chances on the street. He was working down on Mester utca during the day so only needed to get through the night. He could slip the night watchman a few forints and he’d let him sleep inside the building he was camped outside. We bought him dinner; she gave him money, and the next day he was alive. That was Thursday.

On Friday, as I was walking by, two policemen were talking to him. From what I could gather without loitering with intent, it seemed that he was still refusing to go a shelter. When they’d gone, I went back and slipped him some money for his bribe, feeling his hands to make sure he was warm. An hour later, a visiting friend told me she’d seen the cops there and she’d thought he had died. But I think they made him go inside, because he was back the next morning.

Respecting his right to decide, we brought him food and blankets to make the decision a little easier, and added money to facilitate his choice. Our conversation is always pleasant and he seems quite okay. But around the city, in the underpasses, other homeless are not coping as well. Cheap booze is fueling what often seems like a death wish. It’s hard to watch.

Budapest Bike Mafia and other activist groups are collecting blankets and food donations to distribute around the city. And when one of the city’s most socially conscious pub – The Caledonia – stepped up to help, we didn’t need to be asked twice. On Sunday morning, we went shopping for ingredients to make 200 portions of goulash soup to be distributed throughout Sunday night and 200 portions of a healthy tomato soup for Monday. We retired to The Caledonia and sliced and diced and cooked it all up. Kilos and kilos of fresh veg and meat. It was distributed that evening by volunteers from the Age of Hope Foundation who stepped in to help out those from Menedèk. Job done. Conscience appeased. And it felt good, damn good, to do something constructive. Giving money is easy, but when it comes to getting bang for your buck, using the money you could donate to buy ingredients and then help prep and cook is far more rewarding.

caleAkós from Age of Hope has said that they’d be happy to distribute more this week, if there is food to distribute. The shopping list, when it comes to feeding 400, is expensive. So we thought – why not ask others to contribute… and to help. Chopping onions, when done in volume, is a Zen-like experience. Ditto for peeling carrots. It can be very meditative.

What’s needed:

  • Onions
  • Celeraic
  • Fresh paprikas (the TV sort, I think they call them)
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes (fresh and tinned)
  • Garlic
  • Gulyas meat
  • Paper bowls/cups for hot soup with lids (Metro has them :-))

You can drop off all donations to the Caledonia, Budapest, Mozsár u. 9, 1066. They’re open from 2pm. And sure when you’re there, stay and have a drink and chop some veg. Restorative therapy has never been so cheap. You can make a difference. I am grateful to have had the experience. Thanks to Zsuzsa & Co. for making it happen.

Tip – Suck on a teaspoon while you’re chopping the onions and you won’t cry. It works.

 

Many, many moons ago, in an effort to cure myself of the habit of buying touristy tat when I travelled, I hit on the idea of a travel tree (along the lines of my travel bracelet). Before I can buy anything else, I have to buy a silver charm and a Christmas tree ornament (a challenge in non-Christian countries). The search for both usually uses up all of my shopping energy and takes care of that on-holiday-need-to-buy affliction that hits when the plane lands or the train draws into the station.

I’ve been doing this for years but have never gotten around to getting said Christmas tree, the thoughts of taking it down always a lot worse, on balance, that the idea of putting it up. The one year I seriously flitted with the idea, BZs showed up for breakfast sans car and put paid to that. The closest I’ve come is a white metal stand with hooks for ornaments that resembles a tree. But it doesn’t smell.

20161210_150212_resized20161210_150240_resized20161211_192443_resizedThis year, though, with visitors due mid-holiday and himself the antithesis of my do-I-have-to-be-happier-just-because-it’s-Christmas Scrooginess, we got a tree. A real, live tree (well, now dying but you get the gist). And it comes from our part of the countryside, too. I hadn’t realised that there are so many different kinds but thankfully, it was cold, I was in pain, I didn’t have time to dither. I picked the first one that spoke to me. A tad ungainly but it has character.

I dug out my boxes of ornaments, all carefully catalogued over the years, and began to relive my travels. I had to think on some of them, finding it hard to remember whom I was with and why I was there and what had taken me to Smithfield, Virginia in the first place. But as we dressed the tree and swapped stories, it came alive. Admittedly, thoughts of the hassle I was going to have repacking everything threatened to intrude and ruin the moment,  but I managed to get through it.

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20161213_163613_resized20161213_163802_resized20161213_163742_resizedlori-001-800x552One of my all time favourite ornaments though, was one I got when I was in San Francisco shortly after my bestie Lori died. That brought back a wealth of memories. The day after I got the news, I’d planted a tree in her name at an orphanage outside Budapest. It all seemed somewhat fitting. As I revisited the trips I’d taken and the places I’d been, I was at home with thoughts of friendship and travel – two of a long list of what I value in life.

Life changes – all the time. Things simply don’t stay the same. Managing that change and making the most of what we’re dealt is our challenge. Putting up a tree – that’s a start.

Walking down Teréz körút today, I noticed that it was trying to snow. It was bitterly cold. I’d just gotten off the tram and was heading to meet a friend for lunch. I was well wrapped in my designer-labelled, black, knee-length down jacket that I’d bought in the States earlier this year. It’s just about the only thing I own that has a label label, mind you. And it’s warm. I love it.

Anyway, tiny flakes of snow were falling from the sky. I was humming some Christmas song or other and really getting into the festive spirit – unusual for me. The snow kept coming. And then I looked again – a double-take. It seemed like the flakes were blowing horizontally from behind me – as if someone had a snowblower on the go. How odd, I thought. How very odd.

I walked some more and noticed that the flakes were getting  bigger. Much bigger. A particularly big one looked very much like a large feather. Before I had time to process the notion of flying feathers, I heard a familiar voice behind me.

Hey Mary, your coat’s been cut.

I turned, my brain taking a while to compute as it went through everything that could possibly have been lost in translation.

You look like a snowman!

I reached behind and felt my back, disturbing a mound of feathers that went flying. Yes – my coat had been cut. I took it off to see a ten-inch horizontal slash. I’d only been on the bloody tram two stops and had stood just inside the door, facing outwards.

20161214_164727_resizedMy mate popped into the discount store and bought some tape to stick me back together. All the while I was seething. I’ve never been a victim of car keying but I now know what it feels like. I wondered why – why would someone do this? If it was it deliberate, then why? It if was an accident, then why not fess up? I was rightly pissed off, I can tell you.

Some hours later, on calmer reflection, I realise that I’ve little to be worried about if that’s the extent of it. The coat is just a coat. I won’t be cold, or wet, or miserable without it. I won’t be homeless this Christmas, or hungry, or in fear for my life. I won’t lose my job. I won’t be dodging bombs or bullets. I won’t be living rough. I won’t be blackened with bruises or beaten senseless. And after this, I won’t be in danger of taking all this for granted.

The silver lining in the feathered cloud.

I’m gullible. I can be easily persuaded and often times find myself committing to stuff I really don’t want to do. Take last week, for instance. I had something to do and some place to go on Friday but I let myself be talked into going to a gig on A38 as well … for two reasons. (1) I’d never been and (2) my crush of 2016 was playing.

a38On the night, we ran around like the proverbial blue-arsed flies trying to do all we had to do and still make it to the ship at a reasonable hour. Yes, A38 is a boat, anchored by Petőfi híd, in the Danube.

On stage tbdhat night were the magnificent Braindogs. The collection formed to play a tribute night to Tom Waits back in 2004 and have been doing gigs together every so often ever since, and always on Tom Waits’s birthday. What a line up. London-based Soul-blues singer Ian Siegel (whom Tom Waits seemingly holds in very high regard, ranking him up as one of the best around); the brilliant Ripoff Raskolnikov from Graz (who some say could have been one of the greats worldwide had he had the ambition – now there’s a man who has mastered the meaning of ‘enough’); the ever-so gorgeous and talented Kiss Tibor from the Hungarian band Quimby and a regular with the Budapest Bár; Varga Livius, who also plays with Quimby; the mad pianist Nagy Szabolcs; and of course, my man Frenk, who this time left down his guitar and took up his drumsticks – so talented that man, so talented. It was a great night, despite my misgivings. And to think that I’d nearly cried off and given my ticket away. What I’d have missed!

A little into the gig, the penny dropped. We had tickets to another gig on Sunday night at Muzikum Klub to see a blues guy I’d never heard of (no surprise there, given how musically illiterate I am) – and it turns out that it was the very same Ian Siegel.

1060Word has it that had Siegel been born into a different generation and been gigging in the 60s, we’d be talking about him in the same breath as Van the Man and Joe Cocker. But the 70s were his playground.  Two years after he was asked unexpectedly to sing with this cousin’s band one night (he was a roadie with them at the age of 16) he picked up a guitar.  He was bitten. After  dropping out of art school and busking in Berlin, he started doing the circuit. His was a slow burner. Opening for Bill Wyman in 2003 finally got him the attention he deserved. He toured with Muddy Waters’s son Big Bill Morganfield and finally made it to the states in 2006 after topping the Soul/Blues/Jazz charts in Holland the previous year.

Of all the gigs he’s played, it was his guest appearance with 92-year-old jazz pianist Pinetop Perkins and some of the other remaining members of Muddy Waters’s band at London’s Jazz Café in 2005 that stands out. Later, at a festival in Norway, the boys returned the favour and joined him, unplanned, on stage. That I’d have loved to see.

This week, I’m grateful for the music – again. Last weekend it was Tchaikovsky, Schubert, and Bártok. This weekend it was The Braindogs, and Ian Siegal. You can’t say I’m not doing my homework. I’m grateful, too, that it’s all so affordable, so plentiful, and so much fun.

And, as an early resolution for 2017, I’m going to continue experimenting and call on my music-heads in Budapest (you know who you are) to keep me posted on stuff I might find interesting.

PS Ripoff Raskolnikov plays Muzikum on 22 December and I’m RAGING I’m missing it

 

Sometimes, life gets a little overwhelming. Twenty-four-hour days aren’t nearly long enough to do everything that needs to get done. And when my to-do list spirals out of control and spills over onto a third page, I have a tendency to sing my theme tune more often than usual.

Until this past weekend, I didn’t even know I had a theme tune, an utterance that has been popping out of my mouth with little bidding for years, usually when things are in danger of getting on top of me. Mine is simple – it goes something like this: oi, oi, oi-oi-oi. The inflection and the tone might vary but the words never change.

During the week, I took myself off to Kuplung (a great little venue on Király utca) to see Frenk – a Hungarian singer I’m particularly fond of. I first saw him play with Budapest Bár at Sziget a few years ago and have been a fan ever since.

One of my favourites of his is a duet he does  – Where the Wild Roses Grow – it’s guaranteed to improve my mood, no matter what state things are in. But the song on his playlist that is a tonic for all my woes is his version of Iggy Pop’s Tonight.

And it would seem that his mood determines how he sings it, too. I like it best when it’s just him and his guitar. There’s not much to the lyrics but there’s a verse that resonates and speaks of a quiet that is all too elusive.

No one moves
No one talks
No one thinks
No one walks, Tonight

There’s lots to be grateful for in Budapest – and one that ranks up there is the sheer variety of things to do in the city. On any given night of the week, there’s someone (many someones) singing or playing music somewhere. The gigs are affordable (often free) and can be found in all sorts of weird and wonderful places. Last week, too, I finally got to see Tchaikovsky’s Nutcraker at the Opera House and for the first time heard Bartók Béla performed by the Budapest Festival Orchestra in the fabulously restored Lizst Ferenc Music Academy.

Wasn’t it Plato who said music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul? No matter – I had a mad week last week and this coming one looks even worse. The few hours I spent in good company with great music were restorative… and Lord knows, I’m in need of restoration.

 

It’s hard to go back, they say. Things never quite live up to how you remember them. If they were great, they’ll be not so great. If the place was gorgeous, it’ll be a little less gorgeous. If your time there was miserable, it’ll be even more miserable.

Sure, I’ve gone to places and loved them and then gone back years later to find it had all changed, or it was smaller, grubbier, not nearly as nice as I remembered it. It could well have been, of course, that the company was different, or my mood had changed, and the place was still exactly the same. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it; I simply move on.

That said, when I go back somewhere and it’s even better than I remember, that’s bonus. Something to be grateful for.

A number of years and a lifetime ago, I was driving down by the Balaton on a Sunday morning and happened across an outdoor market in the village of Káptalantóti called Liliomkert. I remember being impressed at the time and thought that if I were down that way again, I’d definitely drop by.

Fast forward three years or so, and the same market came up in conversation with a friend whose mum lives in the village. Down by the Kis Balaton, this time, on a Sunday, we decided to take as spin over and check it out. It was a bank holiday weekend, so all the vendor stalls were taken. The place was heaving. The weather was cooperating and the sun was shining. It was a glorious day.

I came, I saw, and I spent my money. Three times, I got so carried away with being able to hold a semblance of a conversation in Hungarian, that I walked away without paying. Three times they called be back, looking for money. But such is life in the countryside that no one was all that bothered. They’d have caught up with me sooner or later.

I’m going through a phase at the minute, a painted phase. I’m quite taken with painted wood, something I wouldn’t have thanked you for eight years ago when I was doing up the flat in Budapest.  I was quite chuffed with this bench, a market find for the upstairs balcony. Come summer, I plan on taking my morning coffee sitting on it while looking down over the fields to the lake I know is behind the trees. Right now, it’s too bloody cold, although with the leaves gone, we can actually see the lake.

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And ever since I came across the idea of vertical bookshelves on a trip to San Francisco, I can’t get enough plant stands. As this is the only part of the house that has a wealth vibe (in Feng Shui terms), I needed something that would take a lot of very specific colours and a money plant to channel that chi. And ya gotta love the whole shabby chic thing… a great excuse not to sand and paint – just leave it. Peeling paint is all the rage.

Not quite sure what to do with a large white wall in a big kitchen space that will be redone (once the plant stand in the wealth corner starts producing money), I had a root through some carpets and kilims. And I scored this pair – hand-woven in Poland, with the original labels still attached. It adds some warmth, reduces the echo, and ties in nicely with some pieces I want to work on.

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There are few things I like more than a good market. Add the open air, some sunshine, and a little patience, and I am guaranteed a great day out. There was food, music, wine, coffee, pálinka, and lots to laugh about. Lots to be thankful for there. A must, if you’re in the neighbourhood.

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