Thursday, October 30, 2008


If you do not live in the UK or do not regularly follow the news from there, you are probably unaware of the main story of global significance that is the number one headline in all newspapers, on the TV broadcasts, everywhere.

No, it isn't the US election, and no it isn't the financial crisis. It's not the earthquake in Pakistan or the US attack on Syria. Neither is it the humanitarian crisis in Goma.

It is in fact the moral outrage of the nation's shocked conscience over a prank call on a radio show. I won't go into all the details since it's not terribly interesting when all is said and done, but the upshot of it is that the pages of the Daily Mail are overflowing with outraged blue-rinsed grannies and other moral crusaders calling for the BBC to be disbanded. (These people, with no apparent irony, will also rail incessantly against "political correctness" - ie the attempt to minimise offence caused by language - but obviously making the leap and realising that there is a contradiction is impossible in these small minded little-englanders). This hysteria is being whipped up by papers such as the Daily Mail which is a newspaper of extreme ill-repute, in order to pursue their "demolish the lefty BBC" agenda.

The BBC in its cravenness has bowed to this ludicrous pressure and suspended the two people responsible, one of whom has now quit. I despair of my people sometimes.

How does this effect me, other than there being pages and pages of rubbish that I have to search through on UK based websites in order to find what's actually happening in the world? Well, the weekly podcast of the radio show in question is actually very funny - it has moments of being rubbish, and moments of cringe-inducing stuff, but in the main is a really excellent radio show. I can see how a lot of people can't stand the guy - Russell Brand - who does it, but that's kind of beside the point. Anyway, that podcast will be no more, and the amount of interesting material available from my homeland has been reduced. And all because of a bunch of braindead wankers and sheep led by the braying mouthpiece of vileness, the Mail.

Anyway, if you want to laugh at their idiocy, rather than being utterly infuriated by it, you can indeed still find amusing content from the UK on the internet - in this case at spEak You're bRanes. Highly recommended.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Four heads are better than two

So, nothing much happened at the big head-of-state clash here on Thursday. Solyom expressed support for the idea of autonomy, and Basescu said (again) that Hungarians would have as much autonomy as Romanians, and presumably he'll do as much about that as he previously has - i.e. nothing. After a couple of photo-ops, Basescu buggered off, leaving Solyom here for an extra day or so hanging out with the Szekelys. I discovered this on Friday morning when (a) because it was raining, and (b) because I needed to speak to Bogi's teacher, I drove her to school. The rain meant the traffic was particularly bad and chaotic, but it was on the way home that I attempted to drive past the town's main hotel, and was diverted (with everyone else) down some dirt track side street so as not to, I dunno, drive too close to a room which had the president of Hungary in it.

Anyway, he stuck around to dress up in local costume and look a bit if a pillock, have a chat with László Tőkés, in Csiksomlyo (for someone who's famous for being a Reformed Bishop - as ever, a smile is raised by that phrase of which I never tire - Tőkés seems to spend a lot of time hanging out with Catholics), and generally do the Hungarian tourist trail, followed daily by tour buses from all over Hungary of people wanting to look at the ethnographic museum of Transylvania and patronise their poor oppressed Magyar brothers.

Coincidentally, while I was sitting here in what became (at least for half an hour or so) the centre of post Trianon mittel-European politics, Mrs H. was off in Bratislava in which two other heads of state were hanging out. Well, the UK's head of state was, and I presume that Slovakia's was there too, since I understand if someone comes visiting you have to hang around and welcome them. Though I suppose you could leave a note on the immigration booth at Bratislava airport

Dear Betty,
Sorry I can't be here to meet you, but I've had to pop out to the Ukraine for a pint of milk. I should be back in a couple of hours, but in the meantime, let yourself in, put your feet up and make yourself at home. There's some Bryndzove halusky and some beers in the fridge, and one of my flunkies will show you how the TV works. I'll be back soon, and we can have a good old chinwag about the war and that.

Actually, she is the head of state of more than just the UK, but of loads of places, isn't she? So that means Mrs H beat me to the crown of being-in-the-place-with-the-most-heads-of-state-in-it on Thursday. Damn. The Queen alone is the head of state of 16 different places (according to wikipedia), which means that she's like some mini-walking version of the UN. I wonder if she's ever been at war with herself?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Cold Turkey on Bread

I have given up bread. Not permanently, but for the time being. I haven't eaten so much as a crumb of bread since Monday. This is quite frankly, the hardest thing I have ever given up - and I have, over the years, given up a lot of things, many of which are regarded as quite seriously addictive.

So, why, you may be asking, have I chosen to give up bread? Well, primarily it is an attempt to shed a kilo or two. You see, I love bread. I really love bread. I eat it for breakfast dinner and tea (or, if you prefer, breakfast, lunch and dinner). Bread is delicious, and filling and it can be modified in many different ways. And the bread in Romania is particularly delicious (or at least the bread here is, I'm not really sure if it's a country wide phenomenon). So, because of this craving for bread, and the advantages of having many many delicious loaves everywhere, I eat a lot. And, not uncoincidentally, I have gained a certain amount of weight since I arrived here. So, I thought I'd better cut down a little, but rather than just limit my number of slices per meal, I thought I'd go cold turkey and see how it went.

Well, it's going really hard. Every meal, I wonder to myself "Maybe I could just have one slice. That won't do any harm" I walk into the kitchen for any reason, and my eyes are drawn to the breadbasket. I crave it. Really. I am increasingly convinced that it's an actual physical addiction, since it is so strong. Even writing this is sending my stomach into rumbling overdrive, as my mind repeatedly inhales the word bread...bread...bread...

Now I;ve never heard of any ingredient in bread that would make it physically addictive, but I'm convinced there must be one. This is not just a psychological thing, this is real and physical. The few times I've stopped drinking coffee have had a similar (yet less powerful) effect, and when I gave up smoking I had nothing like this sensation.

So, can anyone tell me if I'm dreaming this, and whether there really is any addictive ingredient in bread that my body is craving? And if so, can I get a patch for it, or something? Gluten gum? A yeast patch? There must be some way of dealing with this?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Double header

There are two heads of state just outside my apartment at the moment. Is there a special term for that - a brace of heads of state? A pair? A not-very-dynamic duo? Two heads must be a mutation I suppose.

No, you did read that right, I didn't mean to say heads of cabbage or lettuce, they are definitely heads of state. They're speaking in the main square here which is right outside on the occasion of October 23rd (which is the anniversary of the 1956 revolution in Hungary as I'm sure I don't need to remind you). Anyway, to commemorate the date the presidents of Romania and Hungary are performing in some kind of symbolic Simon and Garfunkel reform in Central park hands across Transylvania type gig.

October 23rd is a good day for Basescu to reach out in tis way since it's a holiday untainted with any form of Romano-Magyar political baggage, and presumably everyone can agree on it. So, reckon it's a good thing that he's doing this. I'd have thought the president of Hungary (his name's Sólyom, by the way, but I had to look that up, since his role is more or less ceremonial) would have other commitments today, since it's such a big deal back at home, but somehow he's decided to come here instead. Anyway, I'd take picture but the batteries in my camera are out and I've lost the cable for my phone. So, I probably won't bother.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Going by the book

It is an exciting day for me. Well it's not actually much different from most other days to be honest, but I'm trying to build this up in my own mind a little. The reason is that this book is (I believe) officially published today. It's a cracking read, a real unputdownable, page-turning potboiler, and it it ought to be on everyone's christmas stocking wishlist. It's perhaps not going to win the Booker Prize, though it would be nice to be nominated.

I haven't actually seen a copy of it, and have no idea when I will (I'm supposed to be getting some, sometime), but it is out today. I think when a title of this magnitude and of this universal interest comes out, the authors are expected to do the breakfast TV shows, appear at book signings around the country and just generally lap up their celebrity status. Strangely I haven't yet been asked to do all that media-whoring. No idea why.

Seriously though, I think with every copy sold I make something massive like 70p. So go crazy, buy three or four, and with my vast royalty cheques I'll buy you a bottle of Ciuc one day.

Writing for CUP was something of a long drawn out experience with a drafting process taking in 4 different stages (ie I was sent the pages to review 4 different times) a dedicated editor, someone looking up references to check that we really did quote properly, etc etc. We started writing the bloody thing two years ago. Contrast with the process when I wrote the book pictured to the left, which was published by Polirom - a very well respected Romanian publishing company - the process of which was basically signing a contract and then letting them get on with it - someone did go through it and proof read it, I know because there were a few typos in my document that were dealt with before it emerged, but I certainly wasn't involved, and it only took them a month between getting the book for the first time and it appearing in a genuine bound-and-all copy

Anyway, I might permit myself a small glass of something to celebrate later.

Transylvania Cliche Watch (3) (and final)

Very poor showing from the headline writers after last night's game. Obviously coming up with something for a 0-0 game is too difficult for the cream of the UK's cliche-wielding hacks. There were one or two "toothless Chelsea" lines (though it wasn't toothless Chelsea so much as outplayed Chelsea). The only real contender for the crown of most badly written report came (surprisingly) from the Independent, with Jason Burt's report entitled "Drogba ankle injury drives stake into Chelsea's season" which is about as melodramatic as anything Stoker could come up with (Oh, woe, poor Chelsea, a player is out injured for a couple of weeks, what will they do with such limited resources?).

For future journalistic reference, writers from Britain need to know the following (all these mistakes have appeared this week):
  • Cluj is not west of Bucharest (or at least it is only so in the same way that Edinburgh is west of London).
  • The name of the team is not CFR Cluj-Napoca. The official name of the city is Cluj-Napoca, but the team is CFR Cluj (or, if you want to go the whole hog CFR 1907 Cluj). Just as the team owned by Italy's slimeball extremist prime minister is AC Milan, not AC Milano.
  • Steaua did not lose to Dinamo on the last day of last season to hand the title to CFR Cluj
  • Count Dracula was not a real person
  • Vlad "the impaler" Ţepeş did not do his impaling in Transylvania, as he spent almost no time here, being in charge in Wallachia, not Transylvania.
  • Maurizio Trombetta is a genius (this is not correcting a mistake, just a statement of fact)

[Oh, and by the way, the best written piece on the whole "who are this CFR Cluj team?" question, came unsurprisingly from the best UK football source, When Saturday Comes. No, I didn't write it, in case you're wondering]

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Transylvania Cliche Watch (2)

This is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel (or, I suppose, biting the neck of a giraffe), but as the game approaches, the media has struck a rich vein of Dracula references and has sucked upon them wildly. For the match reports I'm going to have a scoring system:
10 points -"XXX drove a stake through the heart of the plucky Transylvanians"
5 points - "Chelsea scented blood", "... sank their teeth into..."
3 points - all bad dracula puns (e.g. "much was at stake", "fangs a lot", "made it count", the fans were going bats", etc etc)
2 points - any mention of garlic, crosses (in a non footballing sense), coffins, stakes, blood, necks, jugulars, vampires, bats and Bela Lugosi.

Some more examples from today's previews:

"We'll put bite on Dracula boys" is the classy headline in the Daily Star, the paper that manages to make The Sun look highbrow. But in a race to the bottom, the Sun reported on the story that Chelsea brought their own food taster and that they won;t eat the food in a five star hotel (what five star hotel? I've never seen one in Cluj) with the headline "We'll Try the Stake" (it's worth clicking on that link, if only for the ridiculous picture of a punctured-neck John Terry trying to beat Dracula in goal. Oh, and the last line of the article).

Outside the British media, things are no better. Fox Sports has "Blues Go For the Jugular in Transylvania", while AFP go with "Chelsea will be hoping to sink their fangs into Cluj's jugular when they travel to Transylvania - the land of horror story icon Dracula."

It may be that CFR have decided to play this overkill up somewhat though, with Sky Sports quoting Juan Culio as telling The Sun "It is true we want to suck the life out of the big clubs. If we beat Chelsea we will all be as famous as Dracula." a quote which they probably made up (it is The Sun, after all). However it is possible that he did say it, since he is pictured in the Romanian press dressed as Dracula and renamed Draculio

And finally, the stuffy and conservative Daily Telegraph finishes its piece with the line "Cluj-Napoca is the third largest city in Romania and the capital of Transylvania, made famous by the gothic horror novel Dracula, and more recently the Cheeky Girls." That will be good news to the people of Cluj, not that they've been made famous by Romania's top university or being the birthplace of Matyas Kiraly/Matei Corvi. No it's all about the Cheeky Girls. Contrast this with the Times, who actually do a decent job of outlining the club's (and the city's) history.

Last update in the series tomorrow (time permitting)