As the week draws to a close, I’m officially confused. Even more so than usual. Back in 2009, I went on a road-trip to Eastern Hungary and saw one of the simplest and most beautiful churches I’ve seen, ever. Since then, when I think of Gothic, that’s what comes to mind. So yesterday, in the Church of St George in Spišská Sobota, I was a little taken aback to read that it was Gothic, too. And the two couldn’t be more different.

img_7106_easy-resize-com Just as we went in, a busload of Austrian tourists descended on the place and we got lost in the crowd. Taking photos was verboten and usually not one to break the rules, I put my camera on silent and shut down the flash. But when I could, I snapped. I made my peace with God figuring that such a beautiful place deserves a wider audience.

It’s a miracle that the five Gothic altars have survived as long as they have (the earliest dates back to the 1400s) and are in such good nick. They’re stunning.

img_7116_easy-resize-com    img_7109_easy-resize-com img_7108_easy-resize-com

img_7115_easy-resize-com

The 1464 Altar of the Blessed Virgin features the four principal virgins (a new one on me, one that leaves me wondering what made them principals?): St Dorothy of Cesarea, St Catherine of Alexandria, St Margaret of Antioch, and St Barbara of Nicodemia. The two on the right look shinier than the others because they’re copies. The real ones were stolen back in 1993. Is nothing sacred any more?

img_7118_easy-resize-com img_7107_easy-resize-com

But beautiful and all as the altars (and the Holy Tomb) are, it was the modern-day stained glass windows that mesmerised me. Added over time from 2007 to 2013 they’re quite something. Each has a story. I could’ve looked at them for hours trying to interpret their meanings. I didn’t manage to get photos that did them any sort of justice, but someone else did. They’re worth checking out.

I’ve banged on before about modern architecture and the shortsightedness of urban planners ruining the look of places so I was really glad (and grateful) to see that it is possible for old and new to coexist and harmonise. It’s a matter of taste. When fifteenth-century Gothic can sit quite happily beside twenty-first-century whatever, that’s something to behold.

Higher up the Tatras, in the town of Nový Smokovec, there’s an Evangelical Church with one of the most interesting altar backdrops I’ve seen. One that makes Christ look positively human. That too, I could have looked at for hours, but the church was locked up and standing on the wrong side of locked doors shortchanged the moment.

img_7154_easy-resize-com

And not alone am I confused, I’m also a little worried. September is officially over. And October has opened with a bang. Today, Hungary will to the polls in a referendum that asks the question:

Do you want the European Union to be able to mandate the obligatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary even without the approval of the National Assembly?

Critics say this is the Hungarian version of Brexit – I hope that’s an overreaction. But for months now, the city has been awash with billboards asking questions like:

  • Did you know? More than 300 people were killed in terrorist attacks in Europe since the start of the migrant crisis.
  • Did you know? The Paris terrorist attacks were carried out by immigrants.
  • Did you know? 1.5 million illegal immigrants arrived to Europe in 2015.
  • Did you know? Brussels wants the forced resettling of a city’s worth of illegal immigrants into Hungary.
  • Did you know? Almost one million immigrants want to come to Europe from Libya alone?
  • Did you know? Since the start of the immigration crisis, sexual harassment of women has increased in Europe?

I worry that the propaganda might have taken hold. I hope not. It remains to be seen whether reason prevails.

When you go to Sunday mass in a small village where everyone knows everyone, you’re bound to stick out if you’re not a local. When you don’t plan ahead and pack your Sunday best, it’s difficult to adhere to the dress code. The men, for the most part, were all suited and booted with collars and ties. The women were all pressed and dressed giving their best handbags an airing. Dark, sombre colours were the order of the day.

His bright turquoise hoodie over a shirt and grey jeans glowed like a neon light on the approach and got the heads turning from a distance. As we walked to the door, three ladies standing sentry looked me up and down with the practiced eyes of mothers who’d sent an army of kids to school after a hands and nails check. My Hungarian isn’t what it should be but I know enough to know that my cropped pants were worthy of a comment and three sets of raised eyebrows as was the fact that I was wearing no socks. I had no argument. My mother would have said exactly the same in a look that would have creased the trousers, too. Okay for a weekday mass but definitely not what to wear on a Sunday.

But it wasn’t the clothes that did me in. ‘Twas the lipstick. Bright red. To match my scarf. I like a little colour. But it screamed HARLOT!!! I took solace in the fact that the village would have something to talk about for the week ahead.

Kneeling is part and parcel of the Sunday aerobics class that many non-Catholics view as mass. But in this particular church, the kneelers were so low that it I went into freefall when I took the plunge. Assuming (incorrectly) that mass the world over has the same kneeling points, I didn’t check what everyone else was doing before I sank to my knees, dropping from a height onto uncushioned slats. I managed to stifle my curse before it escaped and bounced off the walls. I looked around to see everyone else bending forward but not kneeling. Things are different in the countryside.

I usually leave mass then the priest leaves the altar. But having learned my lesson, I stopped and waited to see what everyone else did. No one moved. One old néni (auntie) pulled out her rosary beads as the choir sang on. To my shame, I thought ‘Oh no, not the rosary. We’ll be here till lunchtime.’ I looked around in something approaching a mild panic and thankfully hers was the only purse to open. But not until the last note had been sung did anyone make a move. The priest had vacated his spot a good three minutes earlier. No one was in a rush. Things are different in the countryside.

We were out in under 45 minutes. Budapest mass is closer to an hour or more (depending on where you go). My father is a firm believer in the 3-minute sermon and will just about tolerate a 40-minute mass. He’d have done okay. With years of research under my belt, I’ve come to the conclusion that Hungarian seminaries teach their seminarians that the minimum length of their sermons should be 10 minutes. And most oblige. As a minimum.

szodavizOutside, there were lots of friendly good mornings and plenty of interested looks but no approaches. We must have screamed NOT HUNGARIAN. We decided to walk up the village to the local bar/shop/tabac/café to check it out and get a bottle of szódaviz (soda water). You put a deposit on the spouted bottle and bring it back to be refilled. They’re hard to find in Budapest so I had been quite excited when I’d spotted a man leaving the premises the previous day with a box of six. I’m easily pleased.

In we went for a coffee. It was just coming up to 9am. One chap was happily sipping on his pálinka (Hungarian fruit brandy) and another two were enjoying a beer outside.

Pálinka in small amounts is a medicine, in large amounts a remedy, so Hungarians say.. Our grandfathers liked to start the day with a small glass of good pálinka and were convinced that they owed their health to the benevolent effects of the distillate.

A fourth came in as we were there and ordered a bottle of Törley pezsgő (Hungarian sparkling wine). He was celebrating (a new grandchild, I think). He asked for four glasses and they all had their toast. A couple more turfed up. All on bikes. We moved outside to one of two tables to have a second espresso (great coffee am happy to say) and I noticed that I was on display: the sockless harlot in the red lipstick, a lone woman among all these men. Things are different in the countryside.

Next time I go to mass, I’ll wear socks and tone down the lippie. The hoodie will be replaced by a jacket but the suit and tie won’t be happening any time soon. It’s the earliest I’ve been up on a Sunday for a while. Been to mass. Been to the pub. And still home by 10 am.

As a new chapter unfolds, life is promising all sorts of interesting experiences. This week, I’m grateful for the nudge from JFW. I’m already going through the calendar to see when I can come back and for how long I can stay. Sunny days in late September, falling asleep to the sounds of ducks on water and waking at cock crow to the baa’ing of sheep. Restorative. Good for the soul. Practically a religious experience in itself.

I count. Obsessively. Steps. Station stops. Train carriages. Luggage coming off the carousel. Don’t know where it comes from, or why I do it. I just do it. Nothing to worry about.

But now I’ve gotten into timing. In fairness, I’m not timing everything. Just how long it takes my neighbour to pee.

For those of you not familiar with the structure of the old udvar flats (flats built around a courtyard) in Hungary, flats share ventilation shafts. It runs floor to rooftop and often sits between buildings (as in my case). Most of the rooms with windows facing the shaft are loos, bathrooms, offices and in my case, all three.

I keep the window open. And for years, life has been great. Okay, so a couple of years ago, during the summer (queue open windows) someone in the next building got a girlfriend/boyfriend and were at it day and night but the relationship was short-lived. It only lasted a couple of weeks. And I wasn’t timing things then.

But about three weeks ago, someone new moved next door, kitty corner across the shaft (a whole 3 meters window to window, if that). Oftentimes I can only hear him talking. Occasionally I get a glimmer that there might be a second person living there. I think he spends a lot of time on the phone or on Skype. He’s Asian. And man does he have a problem.

peeHe pees often, and for ages, with great sound effects that bounce around the shaft like a cat on speed. [His longest sigh of relief clocked in at 7.5 seconds.] I’ve been noting the times. Automatically. No clue why.  Perhaps I see a court appearance in the future when one of the old nénis (aunties) in the building has had enough and gets her nephew to sort him out.

Today, a relatively short pee culminated in a screaming kung-fu body grunt that sounded like AIYEEEE HUFU GANGEEEEEE, whatever that might mean. It’s maddening. Frustrating. And just a tad too personal for my liking. And because he’s in the building next door, I don’t even get to glare at him. I feel cheated. Maybe I could turn it around though, and record him, and then sell it to a website that collects such sound effects – yes, there is one.

When he has to sit on the loo, he takes his phone with him and scrolls through the ring tones, catches up on his videos, and laughs at the good of it all. At least that’s what I imagine he’s doing – I’m tempted to buy a mirror on a stick. [BTW his long sitting was 17.8 minutes.]

When I happened across the Bertrand Russell’s interview from 1959 that I mentioned in a previous post, I so wanted to take his moral advice to heart.

The moral thing I should wish to say… I should say love is wise, hatred is foolish. In this world which is getting more closely and closely interconnected we have to learn to tolerate each other, we have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way and if we are to live together and not die together we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.”

I wonder though if he had any idea back then just how closely interconnected we would be. But I take his point. My ability to tolerate  my peeing neighbour is vital to the continuation of his life.

 

Friday evening. The last day of the working week. The question of who was going to go down the pub for drink would inevitably raise its head after lunch, when all anyone could think about was not having to come to work for two days. The stalwarts, those who were religious about kicking off their weekend with a couple of pints of a Friday evening, spearheaded the recruitment campaign. Those who recognised the danger of going ‘just for one’ and still had vague memories of how the previous Friday night’s excursion had carried over in to Saturday morning were a tad more reluctant to commit. Others, who had sworn ‘never again’ would leave it to the last minute to say – Ah, what the hell.

I was a great fan of the FND, when I had to escape from under the yoke of someone else’s corporate harness. Before I knew that Americans for the most part prefer to socialise at home, I remember being completely shocked when my workplaces in California didn’t engage. Now, every day is a Friday or a Monday or a Wednesday. I don’t have weekends. I work when the work is there and don’t when it’s not. The FND may as well be the WND or the TND.

This weekend though, we decided to have that FND. But not go down the pub. We walked over Rákóczi híd, the most southern of the Danube bridges in Budapest.

Photo by Tibor Polinszky

Photo by Tibor Polinszky

Previously known as Lágymányosi híd, this massive steel girdered construction which runs parallel with a railway track was opened in 1995. The views upriver were spectacular. We were heading  to Kopaszi gát, a landscaped peninsula accessible from the Buda side, a relatively unknown spot in the city, a smaller version of Margit Sziget the island which lies off Margit híd farther north.

lebistroLined with bars, restaurants, and cafés, the river runs down both sides. We saw two wedding receptions, one kids’ party, and numerous other picnics and meet-ups. The place was buzzing. We walked the length of it and decided to stop at Le Bistro for a fish dinner on the way back. It’s a little more spendy by way of drinks than other places, but it’s the one I tend to gravitate to. I got to speak Hungarian with the waitress, all evening. She was patient with me. Very patient. And didn’t once lapse into English although she speaks it. We sat with our FNDs, overlooking the river, watching the rowers make their way up and down the water. A far cry from a London or a Dublin pub on a Friday evening.

20160909_192019_resizedHeading back around 9pm, we stopped on the steps up to the bridge to peek in at the live gig going on at the old Zöld Pardon (aka ZP) which is now the Barba Negra Track. While the crowds sang to the stage inside the venue, others had brought their beers and blankets and were enjoying free music from the bridge. Kowalsky meg a vega were on stage and sounded good. Good enough to keep an eye out for them in future, when we have that blanket and that beer.

barba_negra_music_club_0We walked between Müpa and the National Theatre and marvelled, not for the first time, how beautiful both buildings look at night, all lit up. We had a choice of trams and let fate decide where we’d go next. If the 24 came, we’d head back to the VIIIth; if the 2 came, we’d go to Bálna (the Whale) and have another FND by the river there.

Nehru-part, the park between Báross tér and Bálna that is named after the first Prime Minister of India, has been undergoing a facelift for most of the summer. It reopened last week and is quite something. Fearless teens were busy trying out their bikes, scooters, and skates, hurtling through the air, falling and picking themselves up again without so much as a grimace. The multicoloured lounge chairs were full of groups of young people sorting out the world. The basketball courts waited to be discovered. Those too old to try the swings in daylight were getting in touch with their inner child.

sts2 st3 st2

st2small basketballcourtsmall[And yes, you sharp cookie, it does look too bright for that time of night… photos taken later.]

We sat for a while over a few hosszúlépés and talked about how good life is, how blessed we are, and how grateful we are to live in this city and when the yawns started to come more quickly, we knew it was time to leave. We decided to walk back through the IXth, up Ipar utca, to Bokréta, and back home. Along the way, we stopped for a nightcap at a cheerful neighbourhood bar on Ferenc tér – the only non-nationals there. The bells were chiming midnight as we unlocked the front door. A lovely Friday evening. In a lovely city. What’s not to be grateful for?

 

 

Last week, I gathered some of my miscellaneous currency – you know the bits you have left over after a trip and are too lazy to do anything with? I had notes from Romania, Croatia, Serbia, Switzerland, and Turkey. About €10-20 worth of each so not an unreasonable haul. Me and my man in the Northline booth, a young lad of about 30, were getting on just fine until I went to give him 30 Turkish Lira. He waved it away, dismissively, with an attitude. When I asked why, he roared at me.

NO!

I asked why again, thoroughly confused, and got an even louder: I SAID NO!!

Up till this point, language hadn’t been an issue. And I had no reason to expect it to start now. I counted to six and asked again, quietly, Why? Sure after four consecutive transactions, I at least deserved an explanation.

And I got another maniacal: I SAID NO!!!!

Still in control (barely), my heart thumping and my teeth clenched I told him that there was no need to shout at me. I could hear him perfectly well. [Man, I sounded so like my mother.]

He screamed: I SAID NO!!!!!

I didn’t know where to go with that so I told him that I really hoped his day would get better.

THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH MY DAY. I SAID NO. NO.

I didn’t stay to argue. And I won’t be going back there any time soon.

I called my bank today. I wanted to transfer money from my euro account into my Hungarian forint account, both of which are in the same branch. I was curious to know what it would cost me and what sort of rate I’d get. I also needed to clarify the difference between foreign currency and foreign exchange.

Because I’m an individual not a corporation, they could offer me 301 ft for my euro. If I was a business I could get 305.

But I have a business, I said. I can transfer it to that account. It’s with your bank, too.

No. As I would be the one transferring the money, it would be classified as an individual transaction.

So I thought, if I withdraw the money, walk outside, change it at a different Northline office, I can get 308 ft. Then I can come back and deposit the cash in forint.

Yes. But withdrawing the euro will attract a 1.09% charge, he said. Of course, we wouldn’t charge you anything to accept the forint.

How do banks get away with this crap?

Last week, Louis CK commented on how we’re all using the Christian calendar to date our cheques. I, for one, would love it if we could all use the same currency, too. Think of how much it would improve my life: no mad men with a pathological dislike for handling Turkish lira screaming at me, no unseemly profits for my bank for its discrimination against individuals and its penury currency exchange rates.No blood pressure issues for me.

On the grateful side: I didn’t shout back. I’m learning that I need to pick my battles and that sometimes, I simply can’t win so best not to even attempt the try.

Back in 2001, when I had a feeling that my time in the USA might be coming to a close, I took a road trip with the inimitable RosaB. On our way from somewhere to somewhere in the State of Alabama, we passed a billboard for the Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman. Then we passed a second. By the time we hit upon the third, the advertising had done its job and we left the highway to see what the fuss was about.

Built by a Bavarian Benedictine monk, he himself a little on the small side, too, the four acres is known far and wide as Jerusalem in Miniature. Not far into the twentieth century, Br Joseph’s job was to man the pumps and watch the oil gauges at the Abbey’s pump house, a mind-numbing task he did for 17 hours a day, 7 days a week. To keep himself sane, he started to build little grottos around tiny statues. He made tiny copies of the Holy sites in Jerusalem and eventually had enough to put together a miniature of the city. The monk had rarely travelled so he built his pieces from images on postcards. [I still send postcards – maybe somewhere, someone might put them to use. You know who you are.]

The Abbot of the monastery would have made Walt Disney proud. He soon cottoned on to the winner he had within his walls. He had great plans for an OTT religious grotto, carefully landscaped, meticulously made. Work began in 1932 in an abandoned quarry in the Abbey’s grounds and today, it’s visited by millions. It was one of the highlights of a memorable trip. Well worth a look if you’re in the vicinity.

Fast forward a few years, and I’m in the UK. I’d gone to meet my then boyfriend who was on leave from the QEII. We ended up in Wimborne with its 1/10th scale model town. An idea that incubated during the 1940s, it opened to visitors in 1951. The buildings are made from concrete with beech windows. I still remember feeling like Gulliver as I wandered through the tiny streets, afraid to put a foot wrong lest I step on something or a little someone. All very real it was.  Another lovely memory. Another one worth a visit.

In Portugal recently, we happened across a third such marvel in the village of Sobreiro. Aldeia Tipicia (typical village) was a the brainchild of potter José Franco who began work on this masterpiece in 1960. Driven to preserve the customs and crafts of Portugal, he wanted to replicate the old workshops and stores, the houses, and the communities that were all in danger of being swallowed up by progress. He also wanted a miniature village for kids, with working windmills and all sorts. Later he added a third part – an interactive children’s agricultural centre inside some castle-like walls. Franco died in 2009 leaving a legacy that,  like the others, and indeed like Miniversum here in Budapest, is still working its magic.

Because no matter what adult worries and concerns you might have going in, when you happen upon these miniature places, you can’t help but revert back to being a child. Rediscovering the open-mouthed child-like awe often jaded by cynicism is quite the experience. I found myself pointing and exclaiming like a kid on Christmas morning.

None of the visits were planned. But all happened when I needed some perspective. Someone up there is looking out for me. For this, and for the artists like Br Joseph and José Franco who made them possible, I’m truly grateful. Cost of entry: free. Recalibration: priceless.

IMG_6713 (800x600)IMG_6712 (800x600)IMG_6709 (800x600)IMG_6706 (800x600)IMG_6705 (600x800) (2)IMG_6704 (800x600)IMG_6703 (800x600)IMG_6702 (800x600)IMG_6722 (800x600)IMG_6720 (600x800)

A conversation I had last week …

‘Oh’, says she. ‘Fancy coming shopping? I’ve got to get something to wear for tomorrow night.’
‘Where are you off to?’ I asked.
‘A posh do, at the Marriott.”Fancy’ says I, wondering when she’d moved into the realms of poshness and why I had been left behind.
‘Yes’, she went on. ‘Got a printed invitation in the post last week. Didn’t say much, mind, other than where it was on and what time. Here, have a look.’
‘Nice, very nice’, says I, turning the card over in my hand. ‘Nice typeface. Very chatty. But you’ve read it wrong. It’s not at the posh Marriott hotel; it’s at that laid-back pub around the corner, the Marionette. So wear whatever you’d normally wear out to the pub at the weekend.’
‘But it was a posh invite’, she said, obviously disappointed.
‘Look on the positive side’, says I. ‘At least you got something in the post this week other than a bill. When was the last time that happened and it wasn’t Christmas or your birthday? Isn’t that something to be grateful for?’

littlehtings2Amy Morin wrote in Forbes a coupe of years ago about seven scientifically proven benefits of gratitude. It

  1. Opens doors to more relationships
  2. Improves physical health
  3. Improves psychological health
  4. Enhances empathy and reduces aggression
  5. Makes you sleep better
  6. Improves self-esteem
  7. Increases mental strength

So there you have it… It was in Forbes and apparently it’s been proven to work. I’m not sure about the science, but I can say from experience that, apart from No. 2, I can buy into the rest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

budapest-palatinus

But to the zoo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Life was simple… and safe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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