People of the Puszta

When you come from a family of the ultimate not-haves, just how cool is it to be able to hold up a book and say: “This has been written about us.”?

And a good book at that?

People of the Puszta by Gyula Illyés (English translation)

Well, you can take it from me: it is cool. Precious, in fact. So much so that I wanted to make sure to pass this book on to my children.

Gyula Illyés

Gyula Illyés came from a piss-poor family in a puszta in the middle of Transdanubia, within a few kilometres of where my family comes from. By talent and hard work, he somehow managed to rise from the world of the puszta to become a famous writer and intellectual. He was only a few years older than my great-grandfather – who too was from a piss-poor family. The childhood Illyés describes was still pretty much the childhood my grandmother had; she remembered some of the events described in the book. I myself spent the long summer vacations of my childhood right there where many of these events happened; my grandparents, aunts and uncles speak with the same accent Illyés did. I used to drop into the same accent within days of arriving to my grandma’s house, every time.

The Puszta & its People

To understand where Illyés and my family come from, you have to understand the concept of the puszta as it then was in Transdanubia, Western-Hungary, because  generally in Hungarian and in the world this word is better known to mean big sweeping plains (like the steppes of Russia, say). A Transdanubian puszta on the other hand was a kind of a hamlet (if you can call the handful of buildings a hamlet) on the big farm estate.

In the beginning of the 20th century, when this book is set, most land in Transdanubia was held by a few big families who hardly ever even went near their estates but employed a farm manager or agent, who then managed the work force. This work force was invariably composed of the landless peasantry of which there was ample supply (despite of high rates of emigration to America). The peasants were hired as day labourers and if they managed to get a more permanent position, such as a coachman or a wheelwright, they were given some huts to live in right there on the puszta. Their life was very much like the life of a medieaval serf; their prospects to better themselves practically non-existent.

My great-grandfather was one of the lucky people: he had a permanent position. Moreover, he was employed as a coachman by the local landowner at a time when he couldn’t get any other work. He had come back from a Russian POW camp in the aftermath of World War I and as such he was ‘tainted’ by communist ideas and nobody would employ him. Thankfully the local land manager knew the family well and was not worried that my great-grandfather would want to start a communist agitation on the estate! (Nor did he.)

The people, my family included, lived in low single story houses which consisted of two rooms and a kitchen. These were strung out in a row:

room 1 – shared kitchen – room 2

Each family had a room to themselves, that sometimes meant twenty people in the same room: several generations. The families decorated their room as best as they could which was nothing much. They were often short of having enough furniture even. The floor was a dirt floor, ie. just the ground trampled solidly underfoot. This was the same in the kitchen which was shared with the neighbouring family. Each family had its side of the kitchen, so to speak, where they kept their pots and pans and their meagre supplies – having to borrow a spoonful of sugar or a few potatoes from the fellow kitchen user or the neighbours in the next building was common. No bathrooms of course; outhouses were built instead well away from the living spaces.

… I can remember only the house with its two tiny rooms adn the earth-floored kitchen in between. The yard stretched as far as the eye could see. When I first struggled over the well-worn threshold, the infinite world lay at my faltering feet. The house stood on a hill. Beneath it in the valley lay the puszta, which conformed to the usual pattern. To the right lived the steward, the farm foreman, the mason and the wheelwright; in the same block of buildings were the forge and the wheel-shop. To the left were three or four rows of long farm servants’ quarters, then there ws the manor-house among its age old trees, the the famr manager’s dwelling. Immediately opposite was a large cart-shed in Empire style, behind which on a little rise stood the granary and the ox-stables. All around lay the endless fields, speckled with the white smudges of distant villages.

The puszta families lived in a sort of timelessness. It’s not that area had no history (it has plenty and varied, all the way back to the Romans) but they themselves, being uneducated knew nothing much about it. Their life was ordained by the seasons.

It was something of a disgrace to be a puszta-dweller; it implied having no roots, no native land and no fixed above – which of course is true.

…If you want to know where a puszta-dweller comes from, you do not ask him where he lives or even less where he was born, but who his master is. My own family served mostly the Apponyis, then the Zichys, Wurms, Strassers and Königs and their relations – for the landed gentry were apt to exchange their servants for with their relatives: thus a clever cowman, a good-looking coachman or a deft-fingered gelder would be transferred or even presented to one of the relations, this being regarded by the servants themselves as a mark of special disctinction.

The lives of the families were mostly directed by the local landowner or his agent: it mattered little which puszta a child was born since the administrative arrangements kept changing (ie. which nearby village the puszta happened to be belonging) and the families could be uprooted from one day to another and transferred to another estate owned by the same land owner.

So we wandered from place to place, sometimes taking all our odds and ends, our collapsible hen-houses, our hens and the cow; sometimes it was only to visit relatives, a brother or sister-in-law who had suddenly been snatched away after living nearby for five or six years. Sometimes we drove all night and all morning in the wagon, but we were never away from a puszta, and felt at home everywhere. The house were I was born did not belong to my father, bu in the land of my birth, I received an unrivalled inheritance. I can call half a county my own.

The Gentle Back of Beyond

The Sió near Simontornya [Photo by blatniczky via Wikimedia Commons CC 3.0]
If the lives of the puszta people sounds bleak, it is because it was. But that’s not to say that there wasn’t beauty or joy in it. Families were tightly knit and supported each other. The landscape was gentle and is captured by Illyés in a beautiful, lyrical manner.

It’s a landscape of gently rolling hills, covered in wheat and corn fields, or sunflowers bowing heavily with full heads. Rows and clumps of trees break up the fields here and there, together with streams and small ponds in clearings, where nothing stirs the surface of the water and the vegetation around is lush and fresh green even in the hight of summer. The smell of hay and manure wafts across the roads which lead to the villages. The roads are edged with rows of poplars and acacias, and in their shade in August you often see camping tables set out piled high with fresh watermelons for sale. A large number of the puszta hamlets had a name prefixed with mud (as in Sárszentlőrinc, Mud St Lawrence); not so surprising perhaps because the the nearby Sió (a river and canal in one which connects Lake Balaton to the River Danube) supplies abundant water in the area. There is even the odd castle or castle ruin: for example Simontornya castle (hardly more than a keep) still has cannon balls embedded in the walls; whether fired by the Turks or the Labanc (Austrians during the Rákóczi War of Independence) the locals no longer remember; it was just another siege they withstood.

Everybody knew everybody among the puszta folk in Illyés’s time, and that still applies a hundred years later. When I walk down the street in the village (there are hardly any pusztas that still exist), sooner or later I’m bound to be hailed “You, my child! Are you not the daughter of So-and-so?… How does it go with you?” And you find yourself answering deferentially to an old birdlike hag whose name you don’t know, and who is dressed in full black from the hand-embroidered kerchief tied around her head to the buttons on her sensible shoes. Because however far you have risen out of the puszta, you are still one of them. In the end, I’m only the second generation, the second person of the family to have let. I might not remember the old people are, but they sure remember me and this provides me with a strange reassurance that I, as an individual, matter.

Conclusion

All this and more Gyula Illyés writes about in his wonderful book. People of the puszta is a part an auto-biography, part sociography (of a society that has now mostly disappeared), part a description a landscape, meshed with bits of the cultural heritage of the people who inhabit that landscape. Overall, it’s a wonderful concoction of a book and I can only recommend it, even if you have zero interest in the topic as such. I leave you with this recommendation:

A beautifully written, moving work of art.

(The Times Literary Supplement)

The Books that (Literally) Changed My Life

Not necessarily good books, you understand! 🙂

Life Changing Books

Have you ever thought about the books that changed your life? If you haven’t, try now: I guess that immediately a handful of books will pop up in your mind. But these are not the books you want. These are the good books, the memorable books that you read and re-read and cherished over the years, the ones you talk about so much that your long suffering friends and family can finish your sentences for you. No, these are not the books that changed your life; or at least, not in most cases.

But the books that changed your life? Truly changed your life? The ones that helped form your personality and beliefs, the ones that led you to pick your career, that led you to the chance encounter with the love of your life, the ones that helped you through a personal crisis? What are the books that changed your life? They’re surprisingly hard to pin down.

Girl with a Book by José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior. Source: Wikipedia

The Books that Changed My Life

Here come mine (and they might turn out to be quite a bizarre collection):

Lassie Come Home

The endearing story of a faithful dog by Eric Knight, the ultimate animal adventure that has been turned into innumerable cutesy film series absolutely nothing to do with the original story. 

What it did for me:

It taught me to be honest. It taught me to be honest in a way that you can actually keep it up for an entire lifetime. As the elder Carraclough demonstrates to his son, Joe, there often is a tiny wriggle room.

But only a tiny one.

Swallows and Amazons

The kids in this Arthur Ransome book are let loose outdoors – in a way that hardly any children nowadays are. In my time, we were still not as corralled, and were allowed out to explore and have fun. And we made our friendships and fought our own fights, instead of attending play dates organised by our mothers two weeks ahead.

How it changed me:

It turned me from a book reader hiding in a room into an outdoors kid, who went out to climb trees and rocks, explored the woods, crawled among the metre tall grass pretending to be an Apache sneaking up on the pale faces, swam in the river and went down to the boating lake and taught herself to row. Reading about adventures is good but living them is better. And let’s not forget what made it all possible: What would have become of the Swallows without Susan’s sturdy common sense and ability to organise? I know people who are incapable of packing a rucksack, or indeed wouldn’t even dream of carrying one.

Don’t Panic

(And always know where your towel is!

One of the many self-help books out there on the market; in no way remarkable (which is why I’m not bothering giving you the author). But it was the first I ever self-help book I read and it made me realise how stress or long term abuse affects us, how it can generate physical symptoms, and how the effects maybe only appear years later.

What it did for me:

I learned to stop my hiccups! 🙂 (Seriously.)

Stopping hiccups was actually just a side effect of my reading this particular self-help book about stress. What the book really taught me was that from learning how to stop hiccups to overcoming panic attacks, the answer is as much in our minds as in the pills our GP can prescribe us. 

There are self-help books on practically everything – and obviously, some are better than others. They are worth considering as a resource when you’re up against something new. As they say, wise people learn from other people’s mistakes, while fools keep committing the same ones. Knowledge is power: once you understand what’s going on in your mind and body, in your work place or your family life, you can devise strategies to cope and to improve the situation. 

Mike at Wrykin

One of those P.G. Wodehouse books that almost nobody reads or even heard of: an English boarding school story which introduces us to the character of Psmith. But it was the cricket mad title character Mike who was responsible for changing my life.

How this book changed my life:

The chapter in question contains a long cryptic description of a school cricket match which awoke an interest in me for the game. This interest led me to dedicate my MA thesis to the intertwining of cricket and nationalism in the British Empire; and the research I had to carry out to be able to write it brought me in contact with a certain number of Englishmen. 

I ended up marrying one of them.

Winnie-the-Pooh

An endearing story of a silly bear  that I cherished through childhood – and one that like Lassie Come Home was bastardised by the film industry – but it’s not here on its merit as a children’s book. I really, really came to appreciate Pooh Bear’s philosophy as an adult in a time of adversity, after I became terminally ill.

What it did for me:

It reminded me to try living life simply, immersing myself in the precious moment, enjoying the simple things in life, like a bit of fresh bread, the sunshine on my skin, the spring breeze in my hair, refusing to worry about something that might never come to pass.

The Japanese call this Zen and surround it with rituals and teachings that are meant to help you to acquire the habit of living the good life.  I wish I cultivated the skill earlier; I would have had a happier life, with less worries. But it’s never too late and you don’t have to learn to meditate either…

On Liberty

Well, now, a political-philosophical essay, and I don’t like either politics, or philosophy… 

But I grew up in a Communist country where access to information was limited and a free discussion of political opinions was not recommended if you wanted a quiet life. The result was that at the famous ‘change of the system’, as the fall of communism is referred to in Hungary, my political views were hazy in the extreme. I knew what I disagreed with but was unable to articulate what I believed to be right; I had no coherent picture in my mind as to what the world should look like. And then I picked up this slim volume in a foreign language bookshop in Budapest, in the early 1990s. And the world suddenly fell into place. The 19th century English philosopher and member of parliament (and an early champion of women’s suffrage), John Stuart Mill, knew how to put into words the ideas which I was only groping for.

What it did for me:

It provides the ethical background to everything I do and believe in. It gave me a yardstick too against which to measure if I come across a particularly puzzling ethical dilemma. I try to live my life according the principles John Stuart Mill articulated so clearly: live and let live.

Others

There might be others; in fact, I’m sure there are. But these came to mind for now; a strange little collection.  

Have you got any books that you feel that had a lasting impact on how you live your life? Please leave a comment below and explain why.

Links (Lists of life changing books):
10 Life Changing Books That Stay With You
27 Books That Can Change Your Life Forever
30 Classic Books That May Change Your Life

Lockdown Diaries III, Day 29: Stargazing

I always loved to sit out in our garden at night and gaze at the stars. I would sit out even in winter, wrapped up in mountains of blankets.

When we first went into lockdown in the spring, stargazing proved a great escape and I decided to improve the experience by creating a classical playlist on Spotify.

Photo by theartofsounds2001 via Pixabay [public domain]

I now remember the evenings of last summer. I listen to my stargazing music and seek solace communing with the stars in spirit… 

stars in my eyes
wishing to see blossoms
on weeping cherries

(Matsuo Basho)

 

Lockdown Diaries III, Day 28: Terminally Fabulous

Death Bed Diaries? 

I can only apologise again for the way I’m neglecting Lockdown Diaries III. But the progress of my illness made me unable to do anything much, and that includes blogging. Today is a ‘good’ morning – may it last more than a couple of hours-  so here I am with another entry. 

In the last couple of weeks, during the hours of suffering, my thoughts sometimes toyed with the idea of changing focus and reconfiguring Lockdown Diaries III into Death Bed Diaries: at least it would allow me to vent and so give myself psychological relief, even if no physical relief. And I thought of others in the same situation, and their families and how it could help them to know they’re not alone.

There was a blog out there once that I used to read, Terminally Fabulous, written by an Australian girl in her 30s. It was brutally honest in her description of cancer, the horrific treatments she underwent, the sufferings at the end when the doctors could do no more for her. She had a wicked sense of humour and many a times she made laugh while I cried for her at the same time. I used to read it when I was really in the dumps with the treatments and it helped me. Her name was Lisa Magill and she died a few years ago. Her blog has been published posthumously (in 2019) in a book form under the title of:

Terminally Fabulous: A young woman’s fight for dignity and fabulousness on her terminal cancer journey by Lisa Magill and Geraldine Violet Magill

I recommend it to you all. You can buy it on Amazon (and elsewhere).

But when it comes to me…

Death Bed Diaries? No, thank you.

Lisa was inspirational and I wish I had the kind of talent that she put into her writing. But regardless of my lack of talent, the truth is that being that brutally honest and putting out my whole soul for all of you to see is just a step too far for me. So do not fear: Waterblogged was always a book blog and a book blog will remain to the day I die. We’ll keep the death talk to minimum. 🙂

Thought for the Day: Euthanasia (Assisted Death)

There is one controversial question that I would mention though. Euthanasia, or if you will, assisted death. This is legal in some countries; but not in England. Regardless of your personal stance – ie. regardless whether you would choose to take advantage of it, were it available for you – I ask you all to consider: should not it be available for people who wish to avail themselves of it?

I’m under the care of an excellent and dedicated palliative team but despite of that I have suffered a tremendous amount in the last couple of months. The last few weeks and days were particularly brutal. My palliative doctor recently had to admit that she’s already given me everything and there’s nothing more she can do to make me any more comfortable. I don’t want to distress you with the details but death is vastly preferable to the hours when the suffering is most acute, and every day there are endless hours like that. Palliative care, with all the brilliant medications it has, still cannot control all pain and discomfort and cannot therefore stop terrible suffering. I cannot be the only one, and death is not expected for weeks yet because, despite of the cancer, the rest of my body is still young and healthy and refuses to give itself for beaten. This leaves me in a prolonged limbo between life and death, drags out my suffering and there is nothing anybody can do. Only if you witness it (may you never have to), can you understand what I’m talking about.

I repeat it again:

Palliative care, despite of their best efforts, is not able to control all symptoms, all pain, all distress and discomfort for all patients, and cannot therefore stop terrible suffering. I’m the living, suffering evidence of it.

As a society, we pride ourselves of on our humanity. If you had a pet, a dog or a cat, in similar position as I am, you would not hesitate to put it down, to spare the animal unnecessary weeks or months of suffering. Should we not have the mercy to offer the choice to people who are terminally ill and whose symptoms cannot be controlled sufficiently to spare them pain and suffering? It is not beyond the wit of man to devise sufficient safeguards to ensure that this right to choose would not be abused. Nor are we talking about making people undergo euthanasia against their will.

But I think it should be a basic human right to be able to say: enough.

Dignity in Dying

To be able to go into a hospice, surrounded by your family, to whom you could say goodbye while you’re still coherent, while you can still cry and smile for the last time together and while you can give them a last hug. And then when you said goodbye, to be given that one shot (or be allowed to administer it to yourself), that will put you to death, painlessly. So that you can die tranquilly, in dignity, surrounded by love – instead of alone, screaming in pain.

Is that too much to ask?

The Story of My Life in n Books

When I first thought of this post, I knew I was dying but time was still on my side; in consequence, I didn’t even get past the first sentence before I pushed it aside. Time was too precious to be writing something this final; I preferred to concentrate on living.

That’s been last summer and early autumn. It is winter now, and time is no longer on my side. I frittered it away, living it up, doing rather than writing, enjoying rather than philosophising. I took my moments in the sun, I plunged into the waves of the sea, I sipped golden margaritas at sunset savouring the taste of tequila over the salt, bit into lavishly buttered freshly baked bread in the morning. The miles still melted away under my walking boots and the horizons were still open although I knew I would never now reach them. And I had the company of my loved ones.

It’s winter now and my strength is spent; my horizons have closed. And I’m no longer well enough to write a good post perhaps. Merely sitting up tires me so much;  typing is a physical effort. Yet I before I die, I’d like to leave this summary of my life in books behind. I hope you’ll find some good books among them to consider and if you’ve ever enjoyed my blog, you can learn a little bit about me.

But it’s not chiefly for you, the casual reader. I dedicate…

My Life in n Books: The Books That Made Me

To Sophisticated Young Lady & Young Friend of the Elephants
Both of whom inherited my love of good books

I hope you’ll find it interesting.

I. In the Land of Magic

  • The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm
  • The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen
  • Seventy-seven Hungarian Folk Tales by Gyula Illyés

I don’t know how much you remember about the books you read – or rather, were read to you – before you reached school age. In my case it’s easy. I’ve still got them on the shelf.

From toddlerhood to age 6, when I entered primary school, I lived in a magical land of iron-nosed witches and gingerbread houses. In the land of dark forests, where princesses turned into ravens, frogs had to be kissed, valiant tailors won the hand of the king’s only daughter for saving his kingdom and animals talked. Sounds familiar? These are the Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. Their enchantment never wore off although I haven’t picked them up for a few years now. 🙂

The Brothers Grimm were ably accompanied by the heartbreakingly beautiful tales of Hans Christian Andersen – the Little Mermaid and the Snow Queen were my particular favourites – and by a totally different read: down-to-earth Hungarian folk tales, full of worldly wisdom. These were tales about smart farm yard animals, beginning with the one about the little cockerel who outwitted the Turkish emperor, all the way to the dog that got bested by the cat, about smart peasants outwitting the devil, and many tales of of the type of ‘one good turn deserves another’.

The story of the three golden hairs of the devil, for example, anyone? 🙂

II. The Years of Innocence & Wonder

  • Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
  • Mondák könyve (Book of Legends) by István Komjáthy

When you go to school, the world opens up. Like most children in Hungary, between age three and six, I attended kindergarten (a type of nursery school) all day, so being in a community and having to conform to rules was not the big change. The change came in that in big school we sat in pairs in benches, facing forward towards the teachers, with textbooks and exercise books crowding our heavy school bags and instead of playing, we now had formal lessons. Silence ruled in the classroom from day one of year one, the teacher alone spoke. Kindergarten was small – a couple of classes in each year group; big school was big: four classes in each year group, and multiply that by eight year groups, thirty-two classes. The oldest kids were fourteen, and we were more scared of them than we were of the teachers. The headteacher was higher than god; I didn’t got to see him until I was in year eight and even then his mere physical presence scared the living daylight out of us.

I remember getting repeatedly lost in the building while trying to find my way across paved courtyards from the dining hall back to class; I remember walking down endless white-washed corridors with closed doors on both sides from behind which came the quiet hum of the lesson going on, I remember everything being so big and mysterious and full of promise. Because in big school we were introduced to the mysterious world of letters and numbers which spoke a secret language which you had to decipher and master, for some not quite clear reason – and then when you did…

When you did, the world opened up as a completely different place. It was as if you just saw the world for the first time ever. On the way home from school I was endlessly fascinated by all the things I could now read: shop signs, street names, the number on the trolleybus, the price of the ice-cream. Instead of a jumble of confusing pavements, Budapest was becoming a city with structure, with a transport network, with places of entertainment… Mastering reading and counting meant pocket money, which in turn meant ice-cream and cake-shops and buying books and toys that I chose – not my mum.

Winnie-the-Pooh, with its simple beautiful philosophy, was my particular favourite that accompanied me to adulthood and to which I can still turn for comfort and peace; while the the enchanting Book of Legends about the origins of the Huns and the Hungarians stretched my imagination and formed my identity, leaving such an impact on me that thirty years later I took the trouble to translate it, albeit in an abbreviated form, for my own children.

III. Life Is An Adventure

  • Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransom
  • Karl May and his ilk
  • The Leatherstocking Tales by James Fenimore Cooper
  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
  • Two Years Vacation by Jules Verne
  • The Kon-Tiki Expedition by Thor Heyerdahl

By the time I hit age ten, I was living in books. The real world – school, home, parents, what friends I had – was just an illusion, a figment of my imagination. I passed through it unscathed, unaffected, uninterested even. Inside the cover of whichever book I chose was the real life which I wished to live and did live. A life of adventure. I walked the book landscape talking to book characters and played my part in their adventures as myself or as taking on one of their characters. I was sensible Susan cooking breakfast over the campfire on Swallow Island; I was Wah-ta-Wah fleeing from the Hurons; I was Jim in the apple barrel overhearing the plans of the mutineers on board the Hispaniola… I rode into battle behind Crazy Horse at Little Bighorn, I sailed under the seas in the Nautilus with Captain Nemo, and Athos, Porthos and Aramis (not to mention D’Artagnan) gave me my first fencing lessons.

Life as an adventure was good – it made the difficulties in real life less important. I was in a new school which I hated: but school bullies, complicated maths problems, scary teachers and being forced to eat spinach sauce with boiled egg for lunch could be survived. Even my dad being away for a whole year working abroad and my mother’s illness… I coped with it all, hardly noticing.

IV. Life Lessons

  • Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight
  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Of course, eventually I had to return from inside the pages of my books and start taking part in real life.

Lassie Come-Home and The Little Prince were both compulsory reading in year 5; and were the only ones I liked. They are also the books, together with Winnie-the-Pooh, which helped me form my first notions on what is right and what is wrong, what is important and what is not. They served as my first compasses in the complicated situations that real life threw up.

Lassie’s story taught me two things: that love and loyalty mattered above all and that honesty was something non-negotiable. When Joe’s dad explained to his son that he couldn’t have the dog anymore because they sold it to buy food, that was that. No matter how many times Lassie returned home, she had to be given back to the new owner. Keeping her would have been dishonest. When you’re poor, and have nothing, not even enough food, you still can have honesty. Nobody can take that away from you. This simple concept defined my moral stance for the rest of my life. (It helped that my grandmother taught me the same life lesson.)

The Little Prince taught me slightly different life lessons but they too stayed with me to this day. To be open-hearted and kind, to begin with. To look for good in others. To understand that you have to dedicate time and effort to achieve something. To believe in the power of love and in friendship. To understand that you have to nurture love and friendship otherwise they might wither. That it’s important to savour the moment… And to understand that what’s really important is inside, in our thoughts and our hearts.

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: The Little Prince)

Every child should read The Little Prince – one of the most beautiful books on love and friendship – written by a French pilot who was playing a deadly hide-and-seek among the clouds against the Germans in World War II even as he wrote this tale of humanity.

V. Cinderella & the Wicked Stepmother

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

My mum died when I was thirteen, after a long illness. I didn’t know it at the time but it was a genetic illness and it’s the same that’s killing me now. My father, who loved her very much, went to pieces, and within months, brought another woman home to live with us, soon marrying her. I never found out why the new wife hated me but for the next five years I lived the life of Cinderella, minus the protective fairy god mother, while she alternated in the roles of various wicked fairy tale stepmothers, depending on the mood she was in. She stopped short of acting out Snow White’s stepmum but that’s about all the good I can say of her. Perhaps this is why I was reading the rather disturbing stories of the Brontë sisters over and over during those years.

VI. On the Road towards Adulthood

  • Catcher in the Rye by D. J. Salinger
  • Antigone by Sophocles
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  • The Day of the Dolphin by Robert Merle
  • The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene

Modern day Cinderellas still go to school and my great place of safety in my teenage years was, in fact, my grammar school, where I made some life-long friends and where my teachers attempted to make a creditable human being out of me, despite of the terrible situation I had at home.

I had a great literature teacher and even if I hadn’t, I’d have read a tremendous amount. The list above shows the books which made the deepest impression on me in the four years of grammar school while I was trying to learn to make sense of growing up and the adult world around me. They helped to form my political opinions, my artistic opinions and my literary taste in general.

In every book I was reading during these years, I was also, invariably, looking for an answer to my wicked stepmother problem. I had particularly high hopes when I embarked on Hamlet – can you imagine my total disappointment then, when I found that Shakespeare’s solution to the problem was to massacre everybody at the end? Couldn’t see how I could benefit from that! I just had to soldier on, until I managed to grow up and move away.

VII. Out Of This World

  • The Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett
  • The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Tales of Pirx the Pilot by Stanislaw Lem

The years of growing up under the proverbial wicked stepmother were hard, as you can understand. I needed escape and frequently. Books remained my friends and I immersed myself in fantasy and sci-fi.

VIII. Long Summers in the Country

  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • People of the Puszta by Gyula Illyés
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

My physical escape was the summer holidays, when I was often sent down to my grandmother’s house in the countryside for a few weeks. Life there was quiet, with nothing much to do (at least for me). My grandmother was not well educated but she liked to read, especially in winter and had an interesting collection of books, mostly given to her by other family members. I worked my way through them all.

Repeatedly.

The most noteworthy among them is People of the Puszta: a part sociography, part autobiography by the Hungarian poet and writer, Gyula Illyés. Illyés was roughly contemporary with my great-grandfather and he was brought up in the same tiny area of Transdanubia where my family lived and still lives. The people of the puszta are Illyés’s people; and my people. My grandma spoke the same accent, lived in exactly the same way as Illyés has described in his book. The events that took place in this tiny area (a few square kilometres, no more) of Transdanubia, in the first half of the 20th century are all true as described by Illyés; my grandma bore testimony to it to the last letter, including the crucifixion of the unpopular local policeman on the pub door of Ozora by the drunken peasants one Easter Sunday…

When I consider how poor a family I come from, a family of real not-haves, to be able to hold up a book and a good book at that, and be able to say: “this has been written about us!” is a wonderful piece of good fortune.

IX. The World is Your Oyster

As we know, Cinderella escaped in the end. I turned 18, moved out, went to university, took a degree in literature and started to learn English. My reading horizons became very wide open indeed… as they remain ever since. Can’t possibly list all my favourite readings and authors over the years but here are some of the very best:

  • The Honour and the Glory by Graham Greene
  • Persuasion by Jane Austen
  • La morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
  • Captain Alatriste by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
  • The Empire of the Sun by J. G. Ballard
  • No One Writes to the Colonel by Gabriel García Márquez
  • Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby
  • Kim by Rudyard Kipling
  • Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa
  • The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers
  • 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
  • A Passage to India by E. M. Forester
  • Ransom by David Malouf
  • The Samurai by Shusaku Endo
  • The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

X. Whenever It Got Too Much

Adult life of course was not without its vicissitudes. And whenever things got too much, I had a trusty band of prolific writers to turn to:

  • Pigs Have Wings by P.G. Wodehouse
  • The Golden Rendezvous by Alistair Maclean
  • Sindzse szeme (The Eye of Sinje) Leslie L. Lawrence
  • The Last Place God Made by Jack Higgins
  • The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
  • Piece of Cake by Derek Robinson
  • Happy Return by C. S. Forester
  • Master & Commander by Patrick O’Brian
  • On Basilisk Station by David Weber

I took Pigs Have Wings into the hospital with me when I gave birth to Sophisticated Young Lady, since it’s such an entertaining book and hospitals are gloomy places even if you’re only there for childbirth. But Sophisticated Young Lady was born by emergency caesarean, and when I tried to read my book during my recovery, it made me laugh so much, it hurt. I had to send it home and get my husband bring me something a lot more boring… Can’t remember what he found.

XI. Nothing New Under the Sun

As I became older, I turned away from novels a little bit and started to read more history. Travel narratives, from ages long bygone, can be particularly fascinating. I discovered a couple of historians who can spin a good tale (and discarded by the wayside others who might have an encyclopaedic knowledge but they would bore the hind legs off a donkey with their narrative). Most of this reading seeped into Waterblogged – the blog I only started because I got fed up with my family pulling faces at me at the dinner table whenever I got overenthusiastic about Herodotus…

  • The Great Siege: Malta 1565 by Ernle Bradford
  • Historical travel diaries (Felix Fabri, Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta, Francis Drake…)
  • The Histories by Herodotus
  • Anabasis (The March of the Ten Thousand) by Xenophon
  • The Adventures of Captain Alonso de Contreras
  • City of Fortune by Roger Crowley

The Posts I’ll Never Get To Write

I had always more ideas for posts than time to write them and now I have run out of time completely. I always assumed that my writing output would eventually catch up with the constant influx of ideas during my retirement but as it turns out I will not live to retire¹. So if you’ve ever enjoyed this blog, here are some of the topics that I was going to write about had I lived longer: you might enjoy delving into them in your free time. You know – some not so well-known books to read, the unlikely life stories of some historical persons of whom you’ve never heard, commentary on poetry, life advice from a distance of millenia… the sort of stuff Waterblogged is all about. 

1. Advice from Ancient Rome & Advice from Ancient Greece

Ancient authors have given us many bons mots. A collection of snappy lines, practical advice or philosophical statements, from the inscriptions over the temple of Apollo in Delphi to the speeches of Seneca would make an entertaining, thought-provoking reading.

Similar Posts that I Did Write:
The Master of Cold Mountain
The Dark Side of Life (In Nine Haikus)

Quotes from Great Travellers in History

If you like travelling and you like history, then reading the diaries of travellers from earlier times is a real treat. To be sure, some of them would make climbing Mount Everest sound dull, but there were plenty out there who could tell a tale. Some of them have been frequently cited on this blog and I intended to write an introductory post to bring great travellers’ tales together.

Similar Posts that I Did Write:
The Burning Mountain of Huexotzingo
Thirty Pieces of Silver
Felix in the Bath

A Walk with Gerald Brennan in the Sierra Nevada

Gerald Brennan was an English author who wrote several very good books about life in Spain in the first half of 20th century and about Spanish history, as well, as the 1936-39 Civil War. After he was demobbed at the end of World War I, Brennan lived in Andalusia for several years and he’s very picturesque descriptions of the area as it then was, not to mention the people and the customs, is well worth reading. I particularly recommend South from Granada. As Brennan also maintained himself on the periphery of the Bloomsbury Group, the visits of his London friends to his house in Spain, occasionally provide a somewhat unexpected and bizarre counterpoint to the rest of the book.  

For this particular post I had in mind chapter 14 of Brennan’s South from Granada. The title should speak for itself. 🙂 A treat for hikers.

Lost in a Book

Literally or metaphorically – which book would it be for you?

Similar Posts that I Did Write:
They that Go Down to the Sea in Ships
Books That Transport You

The Unlikely but True Story of Móric Benyovszky, the Hungarian King of Madagascar

The title says it all: it’s a very unlikely but true story of a minor Hungarian nobleman who had to flee home in the 18th century and ended up becoming king of Madagascar.

Similars Posts that I Did Write:
Brother Julianus: Quest for the Lost Homeland
Implacabile: The Corvette that Never Was

Stories in the Dark

A reading list upon the theme of – dark. 🙂

There could be so many variations on this… Night time stories, space stories, gothic horror… the darkness of the man’s soul.

Similar Posts that I Did Write:
Dark & Moody
Submarine!

The Man Who Foresaw the Future

The stories of Jules Verne were not simply cracking adventures but he also described things as yet uninvented: travelling by submarine, going to the Moon, flying aeroplanes…

Similar Posts that I Did Write:
The Three (Spanish) Musketeers
Who's Who (Obscure Authors)

The Dictionary 

A poor lonely Hungarian, without applause or money but inspired with enthusiasm sought the Hungarian native country but in the end broke down under the burden.

Count István Széchenyi

Back in the beginning a 19th century, there was a very poor young man from Transylvania who wanted to find out about the origins of the Hungarians. Where? In Tibet, of all places. He made his way to Ladakh and ended up writing the first Tibetan-English dictionary and grammar. Today, he is considered the founding father of Tibetology… and in 1933, he was declared a boddhisattva (a Buddhist saint, in effect).

The strange and ascetic life of a brilliant and obsessed recluse scholar, Sándor Kőrösi Csoma.

Similar Posts that I Did Write:
Part of the Folk Process
The View from the Ivory Tower
Beats Working in a Bank

The Final Days of Suleyman the Magnificent

If you bothered to read my recent History of Hungary in a Dozen Maps, then you should have an idea of what this post would have been about! 🙂

Ten Proverbs To Live Your Life By

Could you think of ten proverbs that sums up your beliefs and would work as life advice for your children?

A Similar Post that I Did Write:
Seven Quasi-Religious Sayings to Annoy Your Children With

The Sea! The Sea!

One of my favourite military history books is Anabasis, also known as The March of the Ten Thousand by Xenophon. It tells the story of ten thousand Greek mercenaries fleeing all the way from the heart of the Persian Empire after a lost battle, marching across hostile territory, fighting their ways through hostile mountain tribes, suffering hunger and cold, relentlessly pursued by the Persian army. It’s a great story of endurance, of landscapes and of everything ancient Greek. I was really hoping to get the Landmark edition of Xenophon to accompany my Landmark Herodotus – with maps and notes and illustrations and essays in the appendices. It was to be published last November but, perhaps because of coronavirus, it’s now not going to published till next November. Too late for me… but not for you.

Similar Posts that I Did Write:
Save the Trinidad (The Unwritten Biography of Cayetano Valdés)
Hero Under the Death Sentence
The (Novel) Life of Britain's Greatest Frigate Captain

The Definitive Reading Guide to the Best Stories of Herodotus

More best of Herodotus – Of course! 

Don’t be frightened by the size of the Histories. I bet you read lots of longer books (which were a lot worse too, like perhaps, Game of Thrones?) All the good stories are there in the Histories, you just have to find them. The trick is to pick it up and dip into it every now and then. But how I would have liked to have written the definite reading guide to the most entertaining stories of Herodotus! 

Similar Posts that I Did Write:
The Best Stories of Herodotus (And Why You're Going to Read Them)
An Evening with Herodotus

And the Best Stories of…. 

…many others.

There are authors you just have to keep going back to. Like Herodotus above. The likes of Felix Fabri, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, John Smith (he of Pocahontas fame), and others. Some of them had appeared on the blog already, some, like John Smith, never got beyond my notes. But I would have liked to write more about them all, because they tell cracking tales!

Hungarian Historical Legends

We’ve got so many really entertaining ones – and they are so little known!

Notes:
¹ I'm terminally ill and have only a very short time left. You can read a little about it in my post Open Letter To My Oncologist

Lockdown Diaries III, Day 18: Beds without Patients

My apologies: Lockdown Diaries III went a shameless eleven days without posting about the latest miseries caused by coronavirus. This, (surprisingly!), was not due to the lack of happenings: we’ve now got a Tier 5 introduced now on top of all the other tiers, we cycled through several reopening date for schools until they will now only reopen after February half-term… and so on.

There was also the whole delightful shebang known as Brexit; with or without an agreement, by now I’m not sure which it came out in the end, nor do I care any  more. We can’t do anything and go anywhere anyway. Life has ground to another complete halt and for some more of us, it will never start up again.

Last March, as the coronavirus cases started to rise, we all had to put our lives on hold – to protect the NHS.

As a society, we went through a lot in order to protect the NHS: People lost their jobs, children didn’t go to school, non-urgent¹ medical procedures were postponed, holidays were cancelled, weddings repeatedly rescheduled. We let our loved ones die alone and unvisited in hospitals, care homes and hospices; we let funerals pared down to such brutal basics that they provided absolutely no comfort to the mourners.

But for what? Coronavirus is still rising. We’re no better off than we were last March. We’ve undergone all this s**t for no benefit whatsoever. Except of course – we did protect the NHS.

For whose benefit, I’d like to know?

Because it’s not for the benefit of the dying, who are facing, on a daily basis, the unpalatable choice between receiving palliative care at the cost of never seeing their loved ones again  or struggling with their end-of-life symptoms alone at home, under  palliative remote control.

Which do you prefer, my dear:

      • to have your family around you while you’re still well enough to be able to see their faces, touch their hands, listen to their voices
      • or to have your pain and other horrible symptoms be brought under control so that you suffer less but never see them again?

The crisp, white, empty beds in hospices all over the country bear mute testimony to the answer.  

On top of all the months they have already spent shielding alone in their bedrooms, wistfully gazing out of their windows, the terminally ill do not want to continue to also die alone.

Notes:
¹ What is a non-urgent medical procedure anyway? Surely, you either need the procedure (in which case it's urgent, so that you can stop suffering and be healed), or you don't need the procedure at all (in which case it should have never been suggested to you in the first place).

La historia de Hungría en doce mapas

Read this in English

Después de las historias de Inglaterra y España, aquí viene la historia de unos de los estados nacionales más antiguos de Europa que existen continuamente – Hungría. Ya sabes: uno de esos países de los que nadie ha oído hablar nunca.

La poca gente que sí que ha oído de Hungría puede dar fe de que Hungría destaca en el mundo por tres cosas: 

  1. Hablamos un idioma insoportable (uno que ningún extranjero sabe dominar)
  2. El emperador Solimán, conocido por algunas almas equivocadas como el Magnífico, ha sido, literalmente, fastidiado hasta la muerte por los húngaros¹
  3. El cubo de Rubik

Por supuesto, hay otras cosas de las que Hungría puede estar orgullosa: como ser el país con la peor hiperinflación del mundo (1946), o, para ser más positivo, tener más premios Nobel, campeones olímpicos, e incluso Gran Maestros de ajedrez per cápita que la mayoría de los otros países… ²

Pero pasemos a las mapas!

Continue reading “La historia de Hungría en doce mapas”

Lockdown Diaries III, Day 7: A Miserable Christmas

What with people not being allowed to visit their loved ones for Christmas – except if the loved one was dying – and, while we’re at it, not being allowed to get marry either – except if the bride or the groom was dying – coronavirus made for a pretty miserable Christmas for lot of people.

(Like those lorry drivers for example stuck in the UK in their lorries.)

Recommended Reading for a Miserable Chrismas:

So… here’s a reading list to consider while you’re stuck in your freezing lorry, in a hospital/hospice/care home without visiting hours or alone in a flat with the enormous turkey that the family who were meant to eat it can only admire via Facetime…

  • Les Miserables by Victor Hugo 
  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  • The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare 
  • Father Goriot by Honoré de Balzac
  • Germinal by Émile Zola

As a particular favour to all those trapped lorry drivers who cannot just pick a book off the shelves, most of these books are old enough and famous enough to be available for free online reading on Project Gutenberg! 🙂

In a State of Grace?

Quote of the Day

Anonymus

There is a narrow passage between the sepulchre and the wall nearest to it, so that he who would pass through it can only do so with difficulty, and has to drag himself through the stone work. There is a common fable that no one who is living in mortal sin can pass through this place. This I consider to be a fable, for all of us passed through it; whether we were all in a state of grace, God only knows.

(Felix Fabri: The Wanderings of Felix Fabri)

Note About the Author Picture

No known image exists of Felix Fabri (1441-1502), the Swiss/German monk who made a two pilgrimages to the Holy Land in the 1480s and kept a detailed diary of his journeys.

The image above, therefore, is of another unknown monk, known in Hungarian history as Anonymus, which is Latin for ‘nameless’; he was the notary of King Béla III and author of the Gesta Hungarorum, the first history of Hungary in the beginning of the 13th century.

Life Flies (La vida es muy breve)

Quote of the Day / La cita del día

Omar Khayyam (1048-1131 A.D.)

Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

(Omar Khayyam: Rubaiyat)


Dejemos que los sabios parloteen
Nada de lo que dicen es cierto, excepto que la vida es muy breve.
Se fue la flor marchita para siempre;
el resto es mentira y locura.

(Omar Jayam: Las Rubaiyat)

Lockdown Diaries III, Day 3: View from the Forbidden Island

Photo by Kelli McClintock via Unsplash

Since we became the pariahs of the world, with countries refusing flights and ferries from the UK, there developed a long queue of lorries outside Dover – all those lorries that can no longer drive onto the ferries that no longer sail… The hardship for the British drivers is one thing but I’m really sorry for those foreign drivers who were on the last leg of the journey back home in time for Christmas and instead look set to spend their Christmas in the freezing cabins of their lorries, far from home and lacking even basic amenities, like toilets, although one would like to hope that the authorities will sort something out for the stranded drivers ASAP, if they haven’t done so yet!

Recommended Reading from the Forbidden Island:

It seems appropriate to read books about miserable castaways, shipwrecked and marooned sailors and the like and luckily world literature has plenty to choose from!

  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe 
  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (set aside some cheese for Ben Gunn this Christmas)
  • The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne
  • Two Years Vacation by Jules Verne
  • The Lord of the Flies by William Golding 
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  • The Island by Robert Merle
  • The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor by Gabriel García Márquez
Links:
Ten of the most vivid accounts of being marooned in literature (The Guardian)
6 Famous Castaways (History)

Lockdown Diaries III, Day 1: Christmas Cancelled

Here we go again.

The government actually had to invent a tier 4, so that we could be put into it.

Christmas is officially cancelled and the rats are flying the sinking ship. Er… I mean people are abandoning London (and taking the virus with them), although personally I’m not willing to criticise anybody without knowing their circumstances – let each settle with their own conscience whether their journey is justified. I can imagine circumstances in which it would be; like visiting your dying mother, for example.

The government is disgusted, of course. I’m not sure what they expected, announcing at 4 pm yesterday that nobody is allowed to go and see their family for Christmas, with the rule coming into effect from midnight: Predictably, everybody mobile enough packed their suitcase and boarded the next train out. 

Recommended Reading for the Latest Lockdown:

  • A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe (I’d say the title speaks for itself)
  • The Decameron by Boccaccio (people entertaining themselves in a 14th century lockdown in Italy)
  • Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (for those who can’t do Christmas without soppy stories)
Links:
⇒ You can read the official rules for this latest lockdown here. (And yes, it does say you can still visit your dying mother. That's about the only thing you can do, in fact.)

The Greek Language (La lengua griega)

Quote of the Day / La cita del día

Odysseas Elytis (1911-1996)

I was given the Greek language;
a poor house on Homer’s beaches.
My only care my language on Homer’s beaches.
Seabream there and perch
windbeaten verbs
green sea-currents amid the azure currents
which I felt light up in my viscera
sponges, medusae
with the first words of the Sirens
pink shells with their first black shivers.
My only care my language with the first black shivers.

(Odysseas Elytis: Psalm II)


La lengua me la dieron griega;
la casa pobre en las arenas de Homero.
Unica cuita me lengua en las arenas de Homero.
Allí sargos y percas
verbos sacudidos por el viento
corrientes verdes entre las azules
cuanto vi que se iba encendiendo en mis entrañas
esponjas, medusas
con las primeras palabras de las Sirenas
conchas rosadas con los primeros estremecimientos negros
Unica cuita me lengua con los primeros estremecimientos negros.

(Odysseas Elytis: Salmo II)

Open Letter To My Oncologist

Dear Doctor,

I spent the last week organising the photos I took in the summer and early autumn. My husband and I went hiking and we took the children to a couple of short holiday breaks: to Lyme Regis, to Jersey and to Gibraltar.

On our last fling in the October half-term I still managed to chalk up 18 kms on the Rock in one day and got to see the monkeys and the tunnels, the cave and the view towards Africa – the closest I’ve ever got to another continent… 18 kms, over the course of a whole day, with lots of rest; I was quite impressed with myself although it’s a far cry from the times when I could hike 30 kilometres a day on the South West Coast Path, only three years ago, without collapsing at the end. Of course, that had been before I met you. Just two months before I was diagnosed with final stage cancer.

Jersey was beautiful. We hiked the north coast ending on the beach in Plémont Bay, going for a swim and rinsing off the sea salt from our skin under the waterfall in a cave. There were some beautiful sunny days and we saw dolphins in the sea jumping around our boat. This is the one thing we can thank coronavirus for: we’d never have gone to Jersey if we could have gone to Spain or Italy instead.

Coronavirus was a real blow for us this year, as you can imagine. I was relatively well and I knew I was running out of time, yet I couldn’t do what I wanted to do: couldn’t travel, couldn’t visit my family, couldn’t even go a museum or to eat out. I was stuck in our house in London, in lockdown for months; so much about enjoying the last year of my life. The November lockdown was particularly galling: after we returned from Gibraltar, I had literally nothing else left for me in life but going swimming while I still could. Instead, once again I was forced to sit at home, while my strength slowly ebbed away. I watched the leaves on the trees in the garden turning rusty; mellow hues of yellow and red mingling with the still surviving bright green reminded you that autumn was here. I listened to the horrid screeching of the crows. Nature was slowly dying, just like I am; I would have liked to see the snowdrops come out next year.

The swimming pool has since reopened but I’m no longer able to go to swim. So I’m sitting here, listening to the rain, trying to organise the photos and remembering Jersey and Gibraltar, the fossil coast in Lyme Regis and swimming in the sea. Remembering the laughter of my daughters.

Our last holidays.

Doctor, I would really like to thank you for these holidays because without the treatments that you prescribed me in the last three years I would not have been alive to go on them. 

I would like to thank you; but the words stick in my throat. Because if it was up to you, I wouldn’t have been able to hike along the north coast of Jersey; I would have not been able to swim in the sea. I would have been in hospital, choking while I was being administered a chemotherapy agent that I became dangerously allergic to many months ago; I would have been lying in bed, looking out at the sky through my bedroom window, unable to get up; or I would have been vomiting convulsively into the blue wash up bowl that three years ago found its way from under the kitchen sink to under our bed and never had a chance to go back. Or, possibly, I’d be screaming hysterically at my husband or my daughters, half crazed with this unspeakable suffering that your treatments had repeatedly inflicted on me.

Each time when your treatments reduced me to a quivering helpless blob of jelly, I scraped myself off the floor, rebuilt my muscles and forced my dying brain cells to reanimate themselves. Fourteen times through fourteen rounds of chemotherapy. Fourteen weeks when I was too weak to rise from bed, to hold a book or to sit without support on the toilet. Twenty-eight weeks when I could only negotiate the stairs in our house on all fours. And in between? Trying to raise the children, trying to pretend that I was still a wife, working beyond my strength trying not to lose my job. Because even with the NHS, cancer is expensive. And if you’re under 55, you’re not even entitled to ill health pension although your boss is entitled to dismiss you if you’re too ill to go to work.

When we started all this, you told me that all my hair would fall out due to the chemo but it would grow back. You were right: it did grow back. Sort of. I always had thick, abundant, healthy hair; what grew back was not its original colour, not its original texture – and incidentally, was only half as much. The second course of chemo thinned that out to only a third of the original amount of hair; and it’s nearly all grey now. You forgot to mention that my eyebrows, eyelashes, and all other body hair would also fall out, including the hair inside my nostrils; like my hair, they didn’t grow back fully either. Have you ever thought about how useful eyelashes are? They keep dust and rain out of your eyes. And the hair in your nostrils! Such a laughable thing but when you haven’t got any, you constantly have snot drooling down onto your lips because no matter how fast you whipped that tissue out, you were too slow. 

Chemotherapy kills all fast growing cells; that’s why my hair fell out. That’s why my muscles were destroyed. That’s also why my brain cells died. That is why, while writing to you, I have to keep going back and look in the dictionary for the correct spelling of all those words that the spell checker underlines with little red dots. I used to be a linguist, you know. I taught myself several languages but now I regularly mix up their and they’re and there

It wasn’t just the chemotherapy: you gave me other treatments in between. You told me I couldn’t have immunotherapy as it had a high chance – 2 or 3 % I think it was – of killing me outright. I did wonder why that mattered given that you had told me five minutes earlier that you couldn’t cure me? Instead, you prescribed me hormone therapy: you said on the average it gave people two years of life, with hardly any side effects. It lasted just about half a year, but it wrecked my knee joints and my back, aged me about five years physically, and in company with the steroids, it made me grow a faint beard and a moustache. 

The day after receiving the death sentence from you, I joined a local gym which had a swimming pool and signed the one-year contract. I’m afraid I lied to the gym manager; I claimed to be healthy. I was wearing a wig at the time, but there was no reason for her to suspect; I looked so young. And lying saved so much hassle; I’ve became quite adept in it since this ridiculous coronavirus hysteria started, so that I would not be denied entry to hotels, pools and restaurants on account of being ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’. Not that you would have minded me returning to taking exercise. And you were always willing to accommodate me when I asked if I could fit a short family holiday in between appointments, for which I cannot thank you enough – those holidays were what kept me sane. 

In the past three years I had been through some horrible suffering caused by the cancer; and some quite as horrible suffering caused by your various therapies. I don’t blame you for my suffering: you did your best. It’s just your best wasn’t good enough. 

I’ve got genetic cancer. I was diagnosed within ten days of the first symptoms manifesting and yet by then it was metastatic and in its final stage. You should have called it terminal from day one but you doctors seem very reticent of using that word. It’s only terminal when the patient’s got less than six months to live. Of course, I had less than six months to live at that point, but you had treatments to offer, so the word didn’t appear until this June. Thinking about it, you still haven’t used it.

We’ve got three years of history together: longer than some marriages last. I remember some inconsequential little details that you probably don’t recall. Like when you told me in the beginning that I had 50 % chance to survive for five years. I looked it up since: it’s 17 %. Or when you asked the nurse in the hospital why I was crying after you casually told me that my cancer was almost certainly final stage and almost certainly genetic. Or when you told me that you couldn’t cure me. I remember that quite well, because it was my husband’s birthday; I’m afraid the news quite spoilt it. It was at the usual pre-chemo appointment; this was to be my eighth round of chemo; I thought I knew the routine by then. But you just came out with there being no point in me having the chemo as it had stopped working… And do you remember when I turned up for my appointment and waited 4 hours in your waiting room, only for you to decide that you didn’t need to see me and not even having the courtesy to come and explain why not? I was rather annoyed then; life is so short and time is so precious. My time especially.

But the real disappoint was my last treatment. The PARP inhibitor: a brand new treatment barely licensed and supposedly particularly effective for genetic cancers. Not that it cures them, of course. But it bought some people on the clinical trial three years of life. Three years! You can almost finish bringing up your children on that.

You first told me of the PARP inhibitor when I asked for genetic testing back in December 2017. I remember the occasion well, because I had to insist to get that genetic testing; you told me that it’s not done unless there were two previous cases of the cancer in the family and I only had my mother. Unfortunately, I knew nothing of her family; for all I know, all the females died young of the same cancer. But I have two daughters and I insisted that I be tested; and when I told you that my mother died aged 39, you agreed. I myself was 49 then and my younger daughter 12. The same age I was when my mother became ill.

The PARP inhibitor was supposed to give me one to three years of good quality life. I went through so much to become eligible to receive it!… It’s very well tolerated, you said; but within two days of starting on it, I experienced chemotherapy levels of nausea which took over a month to get under control. Nobody in our hospital ever had to come off the PARP inhibitor on account of anaemia, you said a month later, when I first presented with a life threatening level of anaemia. We’ll find you the right dose, you said, and it’ll be just as effective. I expect you to be on it for years, you said.

Less than six months, several dose reductions and blood transfusions later, you had to conclude that not only the PARP inhibitor nearly killed me and made my life a misery but apparently it never worked at all. Oops. 

That was when you recommended more chemotherapy. A third course because I responded “well” to the previous two. You said it could give me a year; maybe more. It was June 2020, two years after you told me my cancer was incurable, almost to the day.

“Well” of course is a relative term both when we’re talking about ‘responding well to treatment’ and ‘the treatment being well-tolerated’.

The first chemotherapy you gave me had 80 % chance of working. I remember this because I asked you what if I was one of the 20 % and you said we were not going to talk about that now. You said that often in the past three years; we never talked about what would happen when your treatment didn’t work. You always simply said that you had lots of other treatments. I was never an assertive person; and although it did rather bother me that I was expected to make treatment decisions without having the full picture, I never rebelled.

The second chemotherapy, which I had to undergo when I became disqualified for the clinical trial to get the PARP inhibitor owing to a very nasty complication that you forgot even to warn me about, only had 60 % chance to work. 

But I was lucky. I responded “well” to both: that’s to say, each chemotherapy bought me just about half a year, which is the minimum for it to be considered a success. Not that the cancer ever went into remission, oh no, not that; but it was knocked back and stopped growing for half a year. I could have even enjoyed those half years if I was ever allowed to recover from the side effects of chemotherapy. Instead, each time I immediately had to go onto another debilitating therapy: hormone therapy first, then the PARP inhibitor.

And so you now recommended me a third course of chemotherapy. You said that if I didn’t take it, I had less than half a year to live; but if I did, you were confident I could live at least a year; it could be followed by a fourth and a fifth – yes, there’s even a fifth! – course of chemotherapy. You described this third course of chemo as well tolerated and with a good success rate. 

Well, the ‘good’ success rate is 30 %. 

As for well tolerated: unfortunately you described every treatment I underwent so far as well tolerated. Perhaps you’d tolerate them well; for myself, I can see little difference in the amount of suffering the cancer caused me and the amount of suffering your treatments caused me.  

When I objected that I’m now seriously allergic to one of the chemotherapy agents involved, you said I could be admitted to the hospital for chemotherapy, instead of having the chemo as an outpatient. 

Well, I’ve been on the oncology ward before; I know what it’s like. There’s always somebody screaming in pain or having hysterics at 4 o’clock in the morning; I get woken up every 3 hours throughout the night to have my blood pressure taken although never in my entire life, and that includes the moment when I was told that I had incurable cancer, was there anything wrong with my blood pressure. And when I said to the nurse, I don’t mind you taking my blood pressure if I’m awake but if by some miracle I’m actually managing to get some sleep please, please don’t wake me up to take it – well, then I got woken up so that I could confirm that I really didn’t want my blood pressure taken at 3 o’clock in the morning. Kafka wouldn’t have been able to think it up.

You said on day 1 I would go to hospital and have my first drug and be ill for a week; on day 8 I‘d have the second and be ill for another week; on day 21 we’d start all over again. To repeat six times; as a minimum I’d be very unwell for two weeks out of every three for the next half year. And I know from experience that chemotherapy side effects are cumulative: I finished the second course of chemotherapy more than a year ago now and I still continue getting stupider. My brain cells are still dying.

So I said, thank you, doctor, but no, thank you.

You seemed to take it quite well, at first. We agreed I would think about it and discuss it with my family, and you’d phone in a week’s time. You phoned a day later than you said you would, when I was not expecting the call and as a consequence I had difficulty to collect my thoughts but my decision was unchanged. When I explained I wanted this summer without doctors, you tolerantly agreed; then tried to schedule me for a scan and another appointment in mid-August. After some haggling, we agreed to put it off till September.

I didn’t really want to have the scan or the appointment in September. By now I’m allergic to the dye used in the scan too and I expected that at the appointment you would try to pressure me into accepting chemotherapy – but my husband persuaded me to do this one more thing. For all of the family’s sake, including myself, of course.

At this last appointment, everything turned out to be as I expected. The “could live a year” from June became “years” practically guaranteed by September. You were very persuasive; gentle but firm. I came out of your office totally bewildered and wondering if I fatally misunderstood something in June. If I had thrown away years of good quality life. If in fact I could have lived three more years to see my older daughter to gain her master’s and to bring my younger daughter to the brink of adulthood before I keeled over.

I didn’t of course. I checked with my husband as to what you said to him in June; I checked with my GP; I checked online in medical studies. The chances of me living years, no matter how much chemotherapy I agree to, are negligible. But you would happily give me chemotherapy till the day I die. 

Doctor, you cannot cure me. Admit it and move on; that patient sitting outside your office right now – perhaps you can cure him.

There are studies about this, you know. About doctors misleading patients intentionally or unintentionally. Doctors in denial. Doctors unable to tell the patient that she’s dying and that there is no more they can do. Doctors interpreting everything in the light of the most possibly positive outcome and ignoring all the negative statistics.

Doctor, I say this not with anger but with the best intentions: get some training in how to deal with terminally ill patients. I know your job is hard but believe me, it’s not as hard as being terminally ill. Between you and me, you are the lucky one.

Had you been honest with me from the beginning and gave me a genuine say in my own treatment, perhaps I’d have accepted your advice for one more course of chemotherapy. And if it worked, perhaps I’d have lived a year longer. But you have never been honest, and I don’t trust you any more.

Doctor, please listen carefully: you can’t treat a terminally ill patient the same way as you’d treat somebody who has a chance to survive. The terminally ill have different priorities. Survival is no longer an option. I told you what I wanted in so many words; why didn’t you listen?

If I took your advice in June, I would have been robbed of four months of happiness. Four months without needles; four months when I could sit out in the garden in the sun instead of sitting in your waiting room, four months when I could swim in the sea, go hiking and play Scrabble with my family. Four months of parenting… Four months of life, doctor. That’s what you would have taken away from me; and that was all that I had.

If I accepted your recommended third – and fourth, and fifth – course of chemotherapy, I would be left completely destroyed both physically and mentally. Living with chronic cancer is already bad enough: it destroys both the patient’s personality and her body. It puts unbearable strain on her relationships: even the strongest family members, friends and colleagues can crumble in the end and have to abandon the patient to preserve their own sanity. 

For me, it’s important to die while I’m still me: while I can still laugh, with hair on my head, with my face recognisable. I want my daughters to remember me mooching around the Greek temples of Agrigento in Sicily and climbing to the crater or Vulcano, a mere two weeks after my last dose of chemotherapy – a triumph of will despite my destroyed muscles; I want them to remember me as I stood on the cliff overlooking Plémont Bay in Jersey, at the end of a day’s hike, in walking boots, with rucksack on my back, the last September of my life. I don’t want them to remember me as a hairless, wrinkled, shrivelled shapeless form on a hospital bed, with tubes leading out of every orifice or as a shrieking, intolerant harpy.

You told me I should expect to die before Christmas; at the moment it looks as if I might make it into January. For my family’s sake, I hope I will; dying at Christmas is shit timing. And we both know that I will suffer a lot more before I die. If I was a dog, you wouldn’t hesitate to put me down to spare me suffering but because I’m a human being, I’m denied euthanasia. 

Have you thought about that yet, doctor?

Wishing you a long and healthy life,

Your Dying Patient

Poetry Underfoot

In London, you can come across random poetry in the most unexpected places. Poetry on the Tube is well known by now and has been copied by the public transport systems of other cities, such as Budapest. But how often do you walk down a pavement and find that you’re walking over poetry?

London South Bank:

Richard Sheridan was a playwright at the end of the 18th century; and his comedies still play on London’s stages… well, when they are not closed for coronavirus, that is.

Brother Julianus: The Quest for the Lost Homeland

Or the How the Window on the Origins of the Hungarians Slammed Shut in the 13th Century

I have recently finished a post, The History of Hungary in a Dozen Maps, and while writing it I’ve done a bit of research on the travels of a Dominican friar, Brother Julianus in the 13th century. Originally I was going to include it all in the post but I quickly realised that it was going to be long enough without this kind of detail. And yet, the story of Brother Julianus is worth to be told – it’s the story of setting off into the unknown, of encountering great hardships and coming back with great discoveries. A little bit like the story of Marco Polo, who only fifty years later went all the way to China. Marco Polo was a merchant; Brother Julianus was… a historian? a dreamer? a missionary? or perhaps a Papal spy? We don’t really know. What we do know is that Julianus set out to look for the ancient Hungarian homeland, found it and came back with the news of the rising Mongol Empire. 

Note: If you're not familiar with early Hungarian history, you might want to read A History of Hungary in a Dozen Maps, at least the part which relates to the migration of the Hungarians towards the Carpathian Basin, before reading on.

Brother Julianus’s Quest for the Ancient Hungarian Homeland (1235-1237 A.D.)

Brother Julianus (with Brother Gerhardus) points towards the ancient Hungarian homeland, statue in Budapest [Photo via Wikipedia]

We don’t know much about Brother Julianus, apart from his travels. We don’t know where he was born, or how old he was when he went travelling. We have no picture of him to show us what he looked like. He was a Dominican friar, and he set out from Hungary in 1235 in search of the Hungarians who according to the historical knowledge of the time had been left behind during the wanderings at one of the earlier homelands. 

Julianus was actually not the first Dominican friar setting out from Hungary towards the east. The Dominican order in Hungary sent out missionaries beyond the Carpathians in the east to work among the neighbouring Cumans during the 1220s. The Cumans, originally not keen on the foreign missionaries, changed their minds after a Mongol attack, coming even to accept Hungarian suzerainty. Perhaps this was the moment when King Béla and the Dominicans started to contemplate seriously to start a search for their Hungarian kindred, further east. The old chronicles rather vaguely put the old Hungarian homeland somewhere called Meótisz, an area north of the Sea of Azov. King Béla sent out Brother Ottó with three companions towards the east, probably in 1231 or around. Three years later Ottó returned alone, in the guise of a merchant and terminally ill. He died within eight days of arriving home and if he said anything about where he’d been, no records survived.

The First Journey of Brother Julianus (1235-1236)

In 1235, possibly only after a year of Brother Ottó’s return, four more Dominican friars set off from Hungary: Brother Julianus, Brother Gerhardus and two other friars whose names we do not know. Searching, like Brother Ottó must have been, for the ancient homeland and their kindred folk living there.

Julianus and his companions made their way to Constantinople where they took passage on a ship crossing the Black Sea. From here they went on towards east and arriving in the lands of the Alans, around the northern shores of the Caspian Sea, where they stayed for about half a year. They found no Hungarians and their situation was difficult; the decision was made for two of the friars to turn back from here while Julianus and Gerhardus set off north.

Julianus and Gerhardus, ill equipped and uncertain of the way, crossed a desert area, only just about managing to reach the Muslim town of Bunda on the other side. They walked through the desert for thirty-seven days; by the time they arrived in Bunda, Gerhardus was very ill. Exhausted by the journey, he died within days. Still Julianus did not give up: he took service with a travelling Muslim priest in order to continue his journey. He finally arrived to Volga Bulgaria where…

In one of the towns of that country, which – as they say – can mobilise fifty thousand warriors, the friar found a Hungarian woman who had been given in marriage into this town from just that land which he was seeking. This [woman] explained to the friar which road to take and stated that at the distance of two days’ walking he would certainly find the Hungarians…

The first journey of Brother Julianus. [Photo credit unknown, retrieved via Google Search from tortenelmiportre.blog.hu, now inaccessible]

Incredibly, Brother Julianus found the descendants of those Hungarians who chose to stay behind some four or more centuries earlier – and they could still speak to each other without needing an interpreter! He named their land Magna Hungaria, Great Hungary.

[These Hungarians] Are pagans. They have no idea of God, although neither do they worship idols; they live like wild animals. They do not till the land, they eat horse, wolf and similar meats, they drink mare’s milk and blood. They rich in horses and weapons and very brave in warfare. From the traditions of old they know that the other Hungarians are their descendants but they don’t know where they live now.

Julianus only stayed with the Hungarians in Magna Hungaria for a month; being alone, he feared that should anything befall him, his discovery would be lost. He left Magna Hungaria on 21 June 1236 and instead of returning via Constantinople, he followed a northern trade route recommended to him by his fellow Hungarians; a trade route of the merchants of Kiev. He arrived safely back to Hungary on 27 December 1236.

In addition to bringing news of of our Hungarian kinsfolk in Magna Hungaria, he also brought news of the rising Mongol Empire:

The Tatar [Mongol] nation is their neighbour. When these Tatars attacked them, they could not overcome them in battle, in fact, in the first battle [the Hungarians] defeated them. Therefore they offered them to become their allies and so together they destroyed fifteen countries completely.

This named friar met some Tatars on the land of the Hungarians, and including the envoy of the ruling prince of the Tatars. This could speak in Hungarian, Russian, Cuman, German, Bulgarian and Tatar, and this same man said that the Tatar army, which was then at the distance of five days’ walking, wanted to march against Germany and that they were only waiting for another army which had been sent by the ruling prince to destroy the Persians. This same man also said that on the land of the Tatars there was a large nation which was bigger and taller than all other people and they had such large heads that their heads were out of proportion to their bodies. This nation wanted to break out of his country and intended to wage war on all who dared to resist, and they wanted to destroy every country that they could conquer. 

(Relatio fratris Ricardi,
the report of Father Ricardus to the Papal Court about Julianus’s first journey)  

Julianus’s first journey was written down by Father Ricardus after his return to Hungary, who reported on the journey to the Papal Court.

The Second Journey of Brother Julianus (1237)

A year later, in 1237, Brother Julianus tried to return to Magna Hungaria but was unable to reach it – it had already been overrun and destroyed by the Tatars (Mongols) and of the Hungarians who had lived there no trace remains.

That’s how we lost the opportunity to ever learn more about our origins…

Julianus recounted this second journey himself in a letter to Salvius de Salvis, the Bishop of Perugia, a Papal legate. The story he told included relatively little information about the Hungarians of the east, and none of them really new; which is not surprising as on this second journey he never reached Magna Hungaria, only heard about its destruction. So the letter mostly talked about how the Tatars rose to power and what wars they fought, including their campaign against Persia, their defeat of the Cumans, their fifteen years of war with the Hungarians of the east… As his source Julianus cited Pagan Hungarians, Bulgarians and others, who fleeing the Tatars had told him these things ‘in their own words’. 

The letter also includes an entertaining description of the Khan’s palace, clearly based on hearsay, which, frankly, could have come straight out of the tales of the One Thousand and One Nights

He [the Khan] has such a huge palace that a thousand horsemen can enter through one gate, and having bowed to him, the horsemen can also leave, staying on horseback. The aforementioned leader had himself made a huge and high bed, resting on golden pillars, a golden bed, I say, with the costliest ceiling; on which he sits proudly and glorified, covered in expensive clothes. The gates of the palace too are all made of gold, and his horsemen pass through it safe and sound. But if foreign envoys, whether they enter through the gate on horseback or on foot, if they touch the threshold with their feet, are cut down by sword on the spot; all foreigners have to enter with showing the greatest respect.

Julianus’s most valuable information, and one that history proved reasonably accurate, however, was his description of the Tatar campaign plan against Europe – how the Tatar army had been divided into different parts and sent against different countries, and what was the Tatar mode of fighting:

… it is said that they fire their arrows for longer distances than other nations. At the first encounter, it looks as if they were not merely firing arrows but as if a rain of arrows was falling from the sky. With their swords and their lances they are less skilful in combat. They organise their army so that every ten man is led by a Tatar, and every hundred by a captain…

The kings, princes and nobles of every conquered country, who are likely to organise resistance, are killed without delay. Then they send the soldiers and strong peasants into battle in front of themselves, giving them weapons and forcing them to fight. They leave other peasants, less fit to fight, to till the land, and they distribute the wives, daughters and female relatives of all the men forced into battle or killed among the peasants left to work the land…

Those soldiers who are forced to fight get little reward if they fight well and win – but if they fall in battle, they are no longer a problem. If, however, they retreat in battle, the Tatars kill them immediately; and so the fighters prefer to die in battle, rather than be massacred by the Tatars… 

They do not besiege strong castles; they first destroy the land and rob the people, then collecting these people, they drive them into battle and to the siege of their own castles. I cannot write anything else of the multitude of this army but that the soldiers of all conquered countries are driven in the front and are forced to fight.

The Khan’s Ultimatum to Hungary

Julianus finished his letter with describing the plans of the Tatars against Europe and quoting the text of the Tatar ultimatum to Béla IV, King of Hungary. 

It said by many, as a certain thing, and the Prince of Susdal had sent a message through me to the king of Hungary, that the Tatars are holding council night and day over how to defeat and conquer Christian Hungary. They are alleged to have decided to march on afterwards, to conquer Rome and the lands beyond Rome.

Therefore they [the Tatars] sent envoys to the king of Hungary, whom – as they crossed the country of Susdal – the prince of Susdal captured, and the prince took from the letter addressed to the king [of Hungary].

I and my companions saw these envoys. The prince of Susdal gave me the aforesaid letter, which I carried to the king of Hungary. The letter was written in Pagan characters but in the Tatar language. Therefore the king found many who could read it but none who could understand it. But as we travelled through Kerman, a big Pagan town, we found a man who translated it for us. 

And the translation is the following:

“I, the Khan, the envoy of the Heavenly King, to whom power was given on earth to raise those who submit to me and to oppress those who resist me, am much surprised about you, king of Hungary; that when I have already sent envoys to you for the thirtieth time, why are you not sending any of them back; nor do you send me your own envoy and a letter in reply.

I know that you are a rich and powerful king, that you have many soldiers and you rule a big country alone. For this reason you find it difficult to submit yourself to me out of your own will; yet it would be better and more beneficial to you if you submitted to me willingly. I have found out also that you are protecting my Cuman servants. Therefore I order you not to keep these [the Cumans] with you in the future, and do not oppose me on their behalf. They find it easier to flee than you do, as they have no houses, and wandering with their tents perhaps they can escape me; but you, who dwell in houses, who have your castles and your towns, how will you escape from my hands?”

 
 
 

The Aftermath: The Tatar [Mongol] Invasion of Hungary in 1241

You would have thought that King Béla IV, having been amply forewarned by the Tatar ultimatum, had as good a chance to defend his kingdom against the Tatars as anybody could wish for. The Tatar manner of fighting too wasn’t that different from that of the Hungarians of some three centuries earlier. Nevertheless, when the Tatars broke into Hungary in 1241, in the battle of Muhi by the River Sajó, the king’s knights suffered a devastating defeat. Béla IV managed to escape with his life but he was pursued all the way to the Adriatic Sea; the Tatars then devastated the country, killing and capturing the population. The Tatar rule in Hungary only lasted a year but the loss of life and the material damage was tremendous. 

Further Reading (sorry but not in English):
Relatio Fratris Ricardi, the report of Father Ricardus, held in the Vatican Library
⇒ The letter of Brother Julianus about his second journey to the Bishop of Perugia (Hungarian translation available here)
⇒ The chronicle of Bishop Rogerius, survivor of the Battle of Muhi, who escaped from captivity as the Mongols left the country

Lockdown Diaries II, Day 27: Biased

After an inordinate delay, the bus at last turned the corner and pulled up alongside the pavement. A few people got off, a few others got on. I was among the latter. I got shoved onto the platform, the conductor vehemently pulled a noise plug and the vehicle started off again. Whiel I was engaged in tearing out of a little book the number of tickets that the man with the little box was about to obliterate on his stomach, I started to inspect my neighbours…

(Biased from Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau)

And here’s my effort:

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Thank God! The bloody lockdown is finally over! Well, sort of. But I am declaring it to be over, and never mind the remaining restrictions. The main thing is, as far as I’m concerned, that tomorrow my swimming pool will open again and I don’t care about the rest. Of course, the government – idiots, the lot of them – might yet change their mind and put us back under lock and key again.

But I’ll deal with that when it happens!

Over to you. 🙂

Writing Challenge:
Just a reminder that you can join in this writing challenge, based on Exercises in Style by French author Raymond Queneau, by writing an entry (post it in the comments section below or, if you prefer, on your own blog and link to my relevant post) using the prompt from Queneau each day.
More information in the original post here:
Lockdown Diaries II, Day 6: With Raymond Queneau
Have fun!
Recommended reading:
Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau

 

Lockdown Diaries II, Day 25: Official Letter

I beg to advise you of the following facts of which I happened to be the equally impartial and horrified witness.

Today, at roughly twelve noon, I was present on the platform of a bus which was proceeding up the rue de Courcelles in the direction of Place Champerret. The aforementioned bus was fully laden – more than fully laden, I might even venture to say, since the conductor had accepted an overload of several candidates without valid reason and actuated by an exaggerated kindness of heart which caused him to exceed the regulations…

(Official Letter from Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau)

And here’s my effort:

Sunday, 29 November 2020

Dear Sir,

I wish to bring to your notice the following facts relating to the – shop selling ethnic food in the neighbourhood of -.

Sir, this shop occupies an extremely small floor space and in accordance with the COVID restrictions currently in place in the said locality, is forced to limit the number of shoppers on the premises. On the 29th of November, this resulted in an exceedingly long queue outside of the aforementioned shop.

I’m happy to inform you that all customers, none of whom were English, queued outside in an exemplary British manner, waiting for their turn without grumbling. I myself witnessed this, being part of said queue for fifteen minutes, with my younger daughter, whose behaviour upon this occasion proved a credit to her upbringing.

In the sincere hope that the COVID restrictions will ease in the very near future, 

Mrs So-and-So

Over to you. 🙂

Writing Challenge:
Just a reminder that you can join in this writing challenge, based on Exercises in Style by French author Raymond Queneau, by writing an entry (post it in the comments section below or, if you prefer, on your own blog and link to my relevant post) using the prompt from Queneau each day.
More information in the original post here:
Lockdown Diaries II, Day 6: With Raymond Queneau
Have fun!
Recommended reading:
Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau