Day 347 - Easy Riders, Raging Baby

AKA - Lake Cesspit

FRIDAY

We’ve just arrived at a lake on the Hungarian/Austria border that quite magnificently translates as Lake Cesspit.  The in-laws are with us and the plan is to hire three bikes between the five of us (the five includes baby Mila), and then spend the next three days making our way around the lake.  We hire the bikes and off we go, looking uncannily like an alternate reality Goonies.  Zsuzsa has elected to drive today so it’s just me, the in-laws and a baby.

The scenery is spectacular and as I mend my merry way through the Austrian countryside I can’t help but feel like I’m in the film Easy Rider.  I’m playing Peter Fonda and naturally, Mila is Dennis Hopper.  You don’t need me to tell you that the mother in law is obviously Jack Nicholson.

SATURDAY

We’re staying in a lovely little rustic motel/vineyard just over the Hungarian border.  It’s three in the morning and Mila is wailing like a banshee.   Alas, it’s my turn to deal with her and Zsuzsa’s turn to pretend to be asleep.  With Mila screaming as though she were on fire, I decide to change her nappy.  I put her down on the spare bed, turn on my phone torch, remove her nappy and then fumble around in a vain attempt to put a fresh nappy on her pink little butt.  Mila is refusing to play ball and is howling and rolling around on the bed like a South American footballer following a rogue gust of wind.  I’m exasperated.  I’m tired.  I’m also naked by the way.  Suddenly the door to the hotel room opens and in walks the mother in-law to help calm my distressed baby.  Did I mention I was naked?  I’m also surprised as I thought our door was locked.  The mother in-law sees me and continues with her relentless advance.  What the devil is she doing!?  I then notice that she doesn’t have her glasses on and is yet to realise that the only thing I’m wearing is a look of utter despair.  I do the only thing that I can do and dive for cover behind the bed.  Luckily, Zsuzsa intervenes and shepherds her mother out of the room like a trusty, old sheep dog. 

It’s now the following morning.  It’s my turn to drive and we’ve agreed to regroup in an hour or so in the next village.  Mila’s fast asleep in the back of the car as we approach the Austrian border.  I notice border police stopping cars and get a familiar feeling.  It’s the same feeling that I get every time I walk through the “Nothing to Declare” section at airports.  Namely, the feeling that I am coming across like a heroin smuggler.  Every time I try and appear as un-heroin smuggler-like as possible, but in my head I’m exuding heroin-smuggler-ness.  Now, as I approach the border police, I’m trying desperately to not look like a child snatcher!  I pull to a stop and the border policeman’s mirror tinted face glares in.  I smile at him, probably in the exact style of a child snatcher.  He waves me through and I breath a sigh of relief.

Twenty minutes later and I’ve reached a village called Rust, parked in a street called Seekanal and I'm awaiting the cyclist’s arrival.  At least I hope that’s the street name rather than some kind of designated activity area.  After a full day of cycling yesterday, I’m a little sore, and that’s pretty much the last thing I’m seeking right now if truth be told.

Absolute gangsters

Absolute gangsters

SUNDAY

The final leg of our cycling adventure.  We spent last night in a spa-hotel and we’re now sitting in a lovely little pop-up cafe/bar in the middle of a vineyard.  The temperature is in the mid-thirties so we’ve found a little shade to cool ourselves while we quench our thirst with white wine spritzer.  

“Mila had five poohs today!” Zsuzsa proudly announces.  “Two before breakfast!  Just like her Daddy!”

Naturally both Mila and I are furious with her mother’s loose tongue.  I’m internally debating how to deal with her, when Mila takes the bull by the horns.  She reaches out, grabs her mother’s drink and pours it away.  Unfortunately for me the majority goes over my crotch.  My hands and my clothes are drenched.  I sigh and then turn to face the sun in an attempt to dry off.  Out of the corner of my eye I notice the father in-law watching me.  I turn to him and he smiles.

“Foreskin.” he says.

“Uh.”  I reply.

“White wine.  Good for skin.”

“Oh.  Is it?” I say.

I have to admit, I'm a little relived.

A few hours later and our cycling adventure is over.  We’re all tired and sore, and as we head back to Budapest I’m remembering when I used to (try) to play the guitar.  After a while the skin on the tips of my fingers became hard and tough to deal with the constant strumming.  As I nurse my sore bottom I can’t help but wonder if cyclists experience a similar phenomena.  I mean, do all professional cyclists have very tough butt skin?  Don't pretend that it’s something that you’ve never pondered.   

That's all folks!

That's all folks!

Day 335 - The Inconvenient Tooth

AKA - The Dentist's Chair

I’m sitting in a dentist chair in the heart of Budapest.  A dentist with a thick Hungarian accent, who looks uncannily like the insane, evil surgeon from The Human Centipede is just about to drop a bombshell on me.

“Dead.  It is dead.” he says nonchalantly.

“Are you sure?” I respond.

“Yes.  Your tooth is dead.  Pretty sure, I am.”

I didn't even realise it was ill.

I'm taken aback by his matter of fact tone.  He sounds like a heartless, Eastern European Yoda!  Where the devil is his bedside manner?  Does he not realise how close my tooth and I were?  He was one of my favourites!  Undoubtedly in my top thirty two!    We’ve spent nearly thirty five years together since he first tore his way through my infantile, gummy mouth.  We’ve shared so many good times, so many meals out together.  So many gastronomic adventures!  He was there when I first kissed my wife!  Right in the thick of it, the pervy little bastard!  Am I just meant to let him go?  Just like that? 

Hang on a minute.  He said “pretty sure”.  Maybe he’s wrong.  Maybe he has been wrongly pronounced dead, just like Tom Hanks in the film Castaway?

“Only pretty sure?” I ask.

At this, the dentist picks up the liquid nitrogen drenched piece of cotton wool that he was only moments earlier applying to my sadly deceased tooth with tweezers, and presses it against one of my other teeth.

“Aaaaaarrrrggghh!” I respond.  The pain is excruciating!    

“If still living it was, the same pain you would have felt.”

Fuck you Yoda!

“So what now?” I ask nervously.

“Now holes I will drill in to the tooth, treat the root with tiny needles and then next week we will meet for a new tooth.”

He wanders off and returns a few seconds later holding a drill.  He holds the drill ominously, leans over me and peers at me over the top of his glasses.  He smiles.

“Now, I will drill you.  If pain you will feel, raise your hand.”

Fear is rising.  What if this is all a horrible mistake?  What if my tooth isn’t completely dead?  What if it's just in a coma?  What if it wakes up just as this animal is about to drill in to its living nerve?

The dentist thinks for a moment.

“Although to be fair, you won’t actually need to raise your arm if you feel pain.  Scream you will!  Agony it will be!”

Wonderful stuff.

I hear the whirr of the drill and I am afraid.

The drill connects with my tooth and the process begins. 

“There is a film.  An old film.   A film with Dustin Hoffman.” The dentist says over the excruciating sound of the drill boring in to my poor tooth.  “The name,  I don’t remember.  But there is tooth drilling with no pain killer.  Excellent way to get information!”

Er…

The drilling stops. 

“Using a series of tiny needles I will now treat your tooth.” he proudly claims.

I decide that I need to climb in to my ‘mind-bungalow’, which is very similar to Sherlock Holmes' ‘mind-palace’, but more homely and without so many levels.  I clamber in and begin to write a short script in my head.  It’s a about a police officer named Tim who’s on a raid with his partner, Steve Guttenberg (‘star’ of Police Academy, Cocoon and Three Men and a Baby).  In this script Steve Guttenberg is playing himself.  They're chatting in a police car about the breakdown of Tim’s marriage.  Then they're entering a drug den in an attempt to apprehend drug lords.  A shoot out ensues and the baddies are shot.  Suddenly other police officers arrive and arrest Tim and Steve.  We discover that Steve Guttenberg is imaginary, the shot people aren’t drug lords and that Tim is simply a civilian having a mental episode following his divorce.  Tim gets sent to prison, but he doesn’t mind, because as luck would have it, he’s put in the same room as his dear friend and hero, Steve Guttenberg.

The dentist puts his tiny needles away.  He’s finished.  I’m thinking about my script idea and wondering if he’s sneakily slipped me any psychedelic drugs.

“Next week, same time?” he asks.

I nod sadly and head home to organise a memorial for my beloved tooth (RIP).  I will give him the sea (aka wine) burial he always dreamt of.

Day 243 - Dr Body

AKA Head, shoulders, knees and toes...and anus

I’m at a doctor’s surgery due to a renegade toenail, and the lady behind reception has just asked me for my mother’s name.  I'm a bit flummoxed.

“My mother’s name?” I ask.

“Yes please.” she replies.

“But I'm forty!”

“It’s for security purposes.” she says matter of factly.

“Security?”

“Yes.”

I’m still confused.  I didn’t realise that my mother was such a big deal in Budapest.  Although saying that maybe I should have twigged a few months back when my brother came over to visit.  We went to the Sziget Music Festival and the people on the door wouldn’t let him in until he’d dropped my mother’s name.  I thought it was a bit strange at the time, but now it all makes sense.  My mother is obviously a big name in Budapest.  Her name opens doors.  All this time, I never knew.

I take a seat and wait.  A few minutes pass.

“Girit.”

“Girit!”

“Girit Hootkinsh!”

I turn around to see who this Girit fella is.  Poor guy!  He sounds like something that men in fluorescent jackets put on roads after heavy snow.  A few seconds go by and nobody stands up.  Slowly it begins to dawn on me that the receptionist is talking to me.  I am the mysterious Girit.  I am snowy road's worst nightmare.

“Uh, yes?” I say.

“Dr Body will see you now.” replies the receptionist.

Dr Body!  This is now my second favourite doctor’s name after Dr Pop, the doctor who my wife often saw while she was pregnant.  I’m now intrigued as to what will greet me behind Dr Body’s door.  Will it be a spandex clad aerobics instructor from 1980’s British breakfast television?  Will it be a new villain from the Spider-Man universe?  Will it be Elle McPherson, having recently graduated from Hungarian medical school?  

I open the door and feast my eyes upon Dr Body.  Somewhat disappointedly there’s no spandex, no super-villain and no antipodean super-model.  He’s just an unassuming grey-haired Hungarian chap.  He fixes me with a kindly gaze.

“Halo.” he says.

“Halo.” I reply.

“Angol?” (English) he asks.

“Yes!” I reply excitedly, relieved that I’m not going to have to put my Hungarian medical language knowledge to the test.

He beckons me to take a seat.  I comply.

“What is problem?” he asks.

“My toe.” I say.  “I think I have an in-growing toenail.”

He motions for me to remove my shoe and sock and I do.  I mean, why wouldn’t I?  This is Dr Body!  THE Dr Body!  When Dr Body asks you to do something, you bloody well go and do it!

He studies my toe for a while, strokes his chin and then delivers his expert verdict.

"I think I am going to have to remove some of your knee.” he says.

This is unexpected news.

“My knee?” I say, a little confused and also a tad concerned.

“Yes.  Your knee.  Just a little.”

This has come as quite a shock.  I didn’t even realise anything was wrong with my knee.  I’m also beginning to question this man’s medical credentials.  Maybe he's like one of those reflexologist people who think they can fix a sore throat by rubbing your little toe a bit.  I decide to interrogate him.

“Are you a toe specialist?” I ask, in full David Frost mode.

“Toe specialist?” he replies.  “No, no, no.  Not toe specialist.”

Hmmm.  Zsuzsa told me I was seeing a toe specialist.

“No.  My specialism is the anus!”

Wait.  What?

“I go in the anus.  My speciality is this.  Anus specialist!” he says, a worrying twang of delight in his delivery.

Hmmm.

He beckons me to lie down.  I do it because he is Dr Body, although I'm now a lot less enthusiastic in following his orders than I was a few moments ago.  After all, I don’t know what part of me is in the firing line.  My toe? My knee? Maybe my beloved anus?  I’m on edge, my eyes frantic as Dr Body pulls out a sharp instrument.  I want my mother here with me.  As a known face around Budapest she would ensure that no harm came to any of my parts.  Dr Body spots my worry and he tries to relax me.

“Okay.” he says.  “I will just remove a little knee.  No problem.  Very little pain.”

Nope.  Still worried, although also relieved that my anus doesn’t appear to be on the menu.

I’m like a frightened rabbit as Dr Body, as quick as a flash, grabs my foot, sprays freezing spray on my toe and cuts a piece of my toenail off.  He shows me the bit of severed toenail.

“See.  Just a little bit of knee.”

I put my sock and shoe back on, covering up five of my ten tiny knees in the process, leave the surgery and hobble home to ask my beloved wife why she felt the need to send me to see an anus specialist.

Day 42 - Running Out of Names

Running Out of Names

Sadly neither Jet or Jinx made it on to the shortlist

Sadly neither Jet or Jinx made it on to the shortlist

Our baby is now five days overdue and we can’t decide on a name.  If we were having a boy the name was long decided and agreed.  Hugo Zoltan Hutchins!  He would no doubt have been both a comic book character and a wizard.  But little Hugo will just have to wait as, unless it’s a boy with a micro penis, all evidence suggests that we are having a girl, and we are more than delighted with this.

“Why don’t we call her Sonia?”  my wife suggests.  I almost choke on my yogurt, which I’m confident would have been a world first.

I show her a photo of the Eastenders character called Sonia and she gets my point.

“What about Uma?” I ask.

“Are you insane!?” she growls back.  

I take this as a maybe.

This game of baby name tennis has been going on for months now, ever since our twelve weeks scan where we discovered that we were most likely going to welcome a little madam in to our world.  The drama is also heightened on discovering that you are not allowed to leave the hospital in Hungary until a name is registered!  Yikes!

I decide that a run might help with the baby name idea generation.  I am also spurred on by the realisation that I may have to take my top off in a hospital in the next few days for some skin to skin action with a new born baby.   

It’s midday and I am running around Margit Island like an unconventional English/Welsh gazelle.  It’s over thirty degrees celsius and I am the living embodiment for the Noel Coward song, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”.  I am now rather regretting my running decision. 

Half way through I spot a leafy little exercise yard and instantly decide that this is a perfect excuse to take a break from my foolhardy run.  I study the machines on display and make a calculated decision that the peculiar devise that allows you to swing your legs from side to side is probably the least taxing of all the available machines.  After all, what more do you want from exercise than to relax?  So on I hop and begin the bizarre routine of swinging my legs from left to right.  It’s in the shade and I start to smile as I feel my life-force returning.  But then something dreadful happens.  Something almost too ghastly to even mention.  A man makes his way towards my machine, and as bold as brass, hops on to the section that opposes me and begins to swing his legs about.  He is facing me, our noses are centimetres from one another.  His breath is caressing my skin.  I am horrified by this brazen display of disregard for the unwritten rules of personal space encroachment.  But not unlike Theresa May, I resist the urge to immediately trigger Article 50, as being British, the last thing I want this random chap to know is that I feel uncomfortably by his unbelievably close presence.  So, with my heart composing it's own hardcore drum n' bass 'tune', and with every fibre of my being secretly screaming “What the fuck are you doing you scoundrel!?”, I try and play it cool.  This begins with a nonchalant scratch of my shoulder with my chin.  It provides me with the perfect excuse to move my face in to a safe zone.  But I immediately realise that this is only a momentary respite as I can only scratch my shoulder with my scratching chin for so long without appearing to have descended in to madness.

 

The Circus Maximus

The Circus Maximus

I need a new 'face safety' strategy.  In a eureka moment it comes to me!  I will study the ground for a while as though it is as fascinating as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel!  But it’s no use.  I can’t continue to look at the ground for more than fifteen seconds for fear that this stranger will suspect that I am looking uncomfortable, and as a Brit, it is in my DNA that I must do all that I can to avoid this shame.  I reluctantly decide that there’s only one thing for it.  I brace myself and then slowly, calmly and assuredly look straight ahead, in to the eyes of my aggressor.  Our eyes meet and it is horrible.  If we both extend our lips we could probably kiss.  And in this bloodcurdling moment I’m now afraid that this is what he has in mind, so I quickly glance at my wedding ring in the vain hope that his eyes will follow.  But they do not.  This bushwhacker is made of sterner stuff and will not be fooled by ‘sleight of eye’ tricks.  I want to grab him by the ears, shake him and forcefully say “I don’t know what you’re used to around these neck of the woods you cretin, but in Britain we respect each others personal space!”  But it’s no use.  This man is a shameless bastard, plus I don’t know the Hungarian for “neck of the woods”.  Or “cretin”.  Or any of the rest of it.  So I look at the ground again.

Eventually, after what seems like an eternity, but was probably actually less than thirty seconds I decide enough is enough.  You have won sir.  You have won!  I hop off the machine whilst whistling, trying to act as nonchalant as possible and involuntarily break in to a peculiar display of lunges to help me appear so.  I don’t think it worked.  I then run away as fast as my tired legs and shaken mind will carry me, a mentally broken Brit in a land full of foreign, personal space invading madness.  

About a hundred metres down the road I spot a little stall, selling beer.  I decide to stop.  I remember that all of the world’s greatest ideas are generated in a pub.

Day 35 - Waiting for a Girl Like You

Waiting for a Girl Like You

Hands on Dad (not a painting of Freddie Mercury).

Hands on Dad (not a painting of Freddie Mercury).

Speaking as a man who is yet to witness a baby tearing his wife’s perineum apart with just its head, I think it’s the waiting that’s the hardest part.  We’ve been on tenterhooks for two weeks ever since the doctor remarked that the baby could come at any minute, but so far ‘nada’.  We can't go too far from base camp, I can't drink booze despite being surrounded by delicious Hungarian grape juice wherever I turn.   So we just sit and wait and when we’re not sitting we’re walking.  In fact, we’ve probably covered every yard of Budapest in the last week.  Which when you consider that my wife has to carry her belly in her arms, is quite a feat.  Across streets, over bridges, to fröccs and langós festivals, over hills, to a Picasso exhibition, through markets and even to a concert (Budapest Bar) she has carried that gigantic belly in her tiny arms.  She may look like an Easter Egg with legs, but I have to admire her pluck.   

In dire need of a wheelbarrow

In dire need of a wheelbarrow

But anyway, I’ve now been in Budapest for about a month and I’m with a friend at a small beer garden (Spiler) near Buda Castle.  The friend has a two year old child and he may not yet realise this, but he is my Obi-Wan Kenobi of fatherhood.  With Junior’s arrival looming large I am looking for reassurance, guidance and a few handy tips of how best to keep a human cub alive.  I’m also trying to assess just how tough the first few weeks of parenthood might be.

“You know the first couple of weeks with the baby?” I say.

He throws back the hood of his robe, leans upon his staff, looks me in the eye and then wisely replies, “Yes”.  This is good.  So far, all positive. 

“Will I be able to get any sleep?”, I ask.

At this he laughs so hard that food comes out of his nose.  I am surprised by this response.  Mainly because he wasn’t even eating at the time.

“I didn’t get any sleep for the first three months!” he snorts.  “You’re going to be so tired that you won’t be able to feel your bloody face!”.  He chortles.  “Take my advice young padawan.  Get as much sleep as you can now as you won’t be able to sleep once the baby arrives!  You’ll look and feel like SHIT!”. 

Naturally, I am thrilled by these words. 

"But still, I guess I should count my blessings that I don't have a nine to five job at the moment.  Right now every day is Saturday!", I remark, striving for an upbeat finish.

"As soon as the baby comes everyday will be a Monday!", he sneers.  

I consider whether I need a new Obi-Wan, whilst wondering if my friend has ever considered a career as a motivational speaker.  

A snap of Liberty Bridge from one of our many walks

A snap of Liberty Bridge from one of our many walks

Lazy bastards lounging on Liberty Bridge

Lazy bastards lounging on Liberty Bridge

Nevertheless I have tried to take this sagacious advice on board and have been attempting to hibernate as much as possible.  For two weeks I’ve been half man, half dormouse, but as we reach the finishing straight it’s not as easy as one would think to pop off to the land of nodsville.  The reason being is that I have discovered that once darkness falls I now achieve an unnaturally high state of alertness.  I am a cowboy sleeping with one eye open.  A praying mantis poised to strike.  A man shitting it that his wife is going to go into labour.  I think this newfound ability stems from someone once telling me that babies are most likely to come at night.  The ‘apparent’ reason being that our instincts tell us that as it’s quiet, there’s a lesser chance of predators being around.  I think this sounds like 'utter bollocks' as surely more predators come out at night, but nevertheless my subconscious mind believes them.  

Pablo Picasso The Finger Puppet.  The toy that all kids crave for.

Pablo Picasso The Finger Puppet.  The toy that all kids crave for.

It’s two in the morning.  My wife gets out of bed to empty her battered bladder.  Like a ninja I sense her stirring.  My eyes shoot open and I sit up in bed, like a meerkat on speed.

“Are you alright honey?  What’s up?”  I ask, but before she can reply I am already wearing trousers and searching for the car keys. 

“Need a wee.” she wearily replies.  My trousers are off and I am back in bed.  But I cannot sleep as I am fully alert, heart pounding.  About thirty minutes later I eventually begin to drift off.  Then up she clambers.  I’m awake again.  I’m wearing trousers.  She is weeing.  Back to bed.  Repeat every thirty minutes until dawn.  

Come on Junior!  Please don’t take after your mother and be late.  We’re waiting for you!

Nearly being a father is tougher than I’d imagined.

Budapest Bar

Budapest Bar

Day 6 - Radio Fame

Radio Fame

Today I was interviewed by one of Hungary’s biggest national radio stations about the Brexit.  And this is unusual as in my six days living in Hungary I have hardly ever been on the national radio.  So when I was contacted by the radio inviting me to share my thoughts, I decided to break my ominous radio silence and the whole of Hungary breathed a collective sigh of relief.  

“Would you prefer to speak in English or Hungarian?” I was asked.  I pondered this dilemma for a few moments before deciding that I’d probably struggle to get my succinct political thoughts across using only the four words of my Hungarian vocabulary.  Especially seeing as one of those is ‘paradiscom’ (tomato) and another ‘fogotmos’ (to clean ones teeth).  You can listen to the full interview below, but if you find yourself struggling to understand the Hungarian translation that has so rudely been placed on top of my sweet voice, it roughly translates as “Bollocks!  That’s me fucked then!”.

It’s crazy to think that I was the glue that kept the UK together.  Of course, I’d always expected that this was the case, but it was only once I actually left the country and witnessed it’s catastrophic collapse in to to chaos and parody from afar, that my instincts had been proven right.  We’ve voted to leave the EU, the prime minister has resigned, the candidates to replace Cameron remind me of the end of the film Ghostbusters when the heroes were asked to choose their destroyer.  Scotland might bugger off and they might take Northern Ireland with them.  The inhabitants of Hull have all turned blue. 

The people of Hull

The people of Hull

Pretty soon we’ll undoubtedly run out of petrol and be ruled over by Immortan Boris.  The next thing to go will be the food and we’ll have no choice but to become cannibals, or something much worse…vegans.  But I’m afraid I can’t come to the UK’s rescue on this occasion.  I’m out here for at least a year now and have a miniature wife and an even more miniature baby to think of, so the UK will just have to pull itself together and get on with things without me.

Immortan Boris will hoard our women

Immortan Boris will hoard our women

It's only a matter of time before we are forced to become cannibals or dare I say it...vegans

It's only a matter of time before we are forced to become cannibals or dare I say it...vegans

I’ve decided that I won’t let fame change me.  I may be Hungary’s hottest new radio celebrity, but I have to keep my feet on the ground.  I have a young family to think of.  I won’t go down the same route as the Justin Biebers and Kim Kardashians of this world.  You might be sceptical of this, but I promise you, I won’t.

But anyway, I imagine you're currently trying to work out what a Hungarian radio celebrity does to distract himself from the shitty mess that is The Brexit.  Well, the answer is get out of the city and enjoy some of the delights of Europe’s largest lake.  I’m of course talking about Lake Balaton.  So, we're now jumping in our Skoda Yeti hire car and will shortly by cruising down the M7 like some kind of Hungarian P-Diddy and Jo-Lo, Petofi Radio blaring out 80’s Hungarian hits as we go, in a desperate attempt to forget all of the chaos in my homeland.

Until next time.

Day 2 - The Sausage

The Sausage

I’ve been in Budapest for two days now and I fancy a sausage.  As luck would have it, I’m standing outside a shop on Szent Istvan Kerut that looks suspiciously as though it may contain sausages.  I wander inside and intrepidly make my way through the shop.  Aisles of tinned food, bottles of potent spirits, fresh tomatoes, peppers and cheeses try to put me off the meaty scent, but they are doomed to failure.  Nothing can stand between this man and his sausage. 

I reach the back of the shop and I am delighted.  For in front of my sparkling eyes lies some kind of sausage Babylon.  Rows and rows of delicious, processed, animal meat hang, delectable, delightful and practically screaming out to be devoured.  “Come eat us!” they plead.  “You are our destiny!” they somewhat creepily chant.  But the path to my sausage destiny is not as simple as you may be currently imagining.  Oh no!  For I must first get past the sausage guardian who stands before me, behind a meat counter, guarding her meaty treasures.  I am not fooled by her appearance.  She may resemble a sweet, if slightly hairy, little Hungarian lady, but I know she is carved from granite with an unbreakable, iron will to protect these sausages from the unworthy.  She has sworn an oath to these slender tubes of meat, and around here that means something.

A meaty Babylon

A meaty Babylon

Cautiously I take my position in a three person queue.  Another elderly Hungarian lady comes and stands to my right and this throws me.  Who is this brazen harlot, this free spirit, this renegade who doesn’t abide by the law of the queue.  Stand behind, not to the side!  With my British upbringing, naturally, I am falling apart inside.  While this battle is enraging, the leader of the sausage queue claims her meat and moves aside and the queue moves forward.  Surely this challenger to my rightful throne will now hold back a step so that order can be assumed?  But no!  What is this treachery!?  She moves forward with me, in unison!  We are side, by side!  My mind is racing.  Beads of sweat are forcing their way through the pores in my forehead.  I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, that the next three minutes were some of the most stressful of my lifetime as this mental and physical battle took place.  But, with a series of throat clearings, a subtle use of elbows and an ability to spread myself to three times my usual width, I eventually thwarted the challenger, despite her aggressive use of walking stick.

And now I’m at the counter, just me and the sausage guardian, face to face.  But, then it hits me.  I haven’t chosen my sausage poison!  I had been so engrossed in fighting off my queue challenger that I hadn’t prepared myself mentally for my next challenge!

“Szia”, bellows the guardian menacingly.  

“Uh, szia”, I skilfully retort.

“Kekndflsecnejnflzefmwmdzzwsnz?” apparently asks the guardian.  

And in the heat of battle I panic.  All of those Hungarian classes that I have been taking to prepare me for this epic moment are wasted.  I can barely remember English.  My queue challenger shuffles behind me, with menace.  In that moment all I can do is grunt and point at one particular sausage adorning the wall.  The sausage guardian looks at me and seems confused.

“Horz!”, she says.  

I have no idea what that means.  I mentally travel back to my Hungarian class in London, racking my brain.  No, ‘horz’ is a new word for me.  I nod defiantly.

“Horz?” she says again, although this time adding a question mark.  

The sausage guardian is apparently perplexed by my choice of sausage.  Is this a trick?  I need to be assertive and demonstrate that I am worthy of this treasure.  I need to display my balls of steel (not literally).  I compose myself.

“Igen, köszönöm szepen”, I reply, suddenly delighted with my use of the native tongue.

The guardian, clearly impressed by my linguistical magnificence, but trying to play it cool, shrugs, grabs the sausage from it’s hook, wraps it in paper and hands it to me.  I return the kind gesture by crossing the guardians palm with forint, turn and triumphantly leave.  I have won.  I am the penitent man!  I have passed the test.  I have seen off my challenger.  I will now return home to my basecamp, present my heavily pregnant wife with the fruits of my victory and we will enjoy sausage!

Thirty minutes later.

“Honey.  Why have you bought a horse sausage?”

We order a pizza.

Day 1 - Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Blending in with the natives

Blending in with the natives

It’s my first full day in Budapest.  I wake up, the sun is shining.  Yes!  Take that UK!  Shove your erratic weather right up your rainy anus!  My heavily pregnant Hungarian wife, who at this late stage of pregnancy is beginning to resemble a pregnant guppy, is in the kitchen making coffee.  I step out on to our little, but delightful balcony, survey the scenic Buda hills, take a great big contented breath of Buda air, and then it hits me.  Bloody hell, it’s hot!  Very hot.  I immediately make a calculated decision that it’s too hot for pants and this, obviously, makes me happy.

The wife

The wife

“Morning honey”, my miniature wife beams, waddles over wth her big fat belly full of baby, and hands me a piece of paper with an unusual number of ‘Zs’ on it.  I look at the paper, puzzled.  “This is your list of challenges for the morning”.  Have I woken up in The Crystal Maze?  As wondrous as that sounds, alas the answer is no.  I’ve been given a number of ‘The Apprentice’ style challenges to complete, assuming of course, that it was an episode of ‘The Apprentice’ where they were challenged to go and buy nectarines.  The thing about me, probably one of your favourite bits about me actually, is that I’m bloody brave.

“I accept your challenge!  I will buy you fruit!”

And so off I trot, to the wild plains of Buda, a warrior in flip flops, armed only with a piece of paper covered in ‘Zs’ and a mobile phone with a dodgy reception.  Shortly after stepping outside I notice something unusual about my hair.  It has become apparent that my hair and the Hungarian climate are an unusual, dare I say it, heady mix.  Back in dear old Blighty my hair is slightly wavy, but nothing too extravagant.  However, after a little under five minutes in the mid thirty, Hungarian heat, my hair has decided enough is enough and is making a play to become exceedingly extravagant.  My hair has turned in to Liberace.  Suddenly I’m a white man with an afro, or so it feels.  I need too check this bad boy out before meeting my friendly local greengrocer who I’m sure, even before meeting him, is called Laszlo.  

Being the eagle eyed swine that we both know that I am, I spot a darkened car window just a few metres ahead and on the other side of the road.  Bingo!  I momentarily wonder if there are Bingo halls in Budapest and then flip flop over to the car, looking around to avoid appearing like a preening, vain peacock wearing a David Hasselhoff wig.  With the coast seemingly clear I peer in to the dark, back seat window and begin inspecting the damage.  Verging on a code red, curly hair disaster, but I can manage this.  With a bit of spit and a fleshy five pronged comb I can tame this frantic beast.  And so I set to work.  

You know how when you’re in a lit room and the lights go out, and for a few moments everything is pitch black, but then gradually, your eyes adjust and you start to make out shapes?  Well the same is actually true for darkened car windows.  I’m leaning right in, staring so intently at my own reflection that I can count my own pores, when something moves.  It’s in the car.  I adjust my gaze slightly and then lean in further to inspect the movement.  What I see chills me to the core.  There’s somebody starring back at me.  A pair of eyes.  A startled pair of eyes.  A startled pair of female eyes.  A mother’s eyes.  A breastfeeding mother’s eyes!  I am staring intently at a breastfeeding mother, discreetly, feeding her tiny baby.  Oh, the horror!  And yet I’m still staring, like a rabbit caught in the headlights!  Must…stop…staring!  The expression on the woman seems to be changing.  Anger is replacing fear!  I do the only sensible thing that I can do.  With all of the blood drained from my face like a piece of halal meat, I mutter the words “sorry” under my breath, turn and hurriedly canter away, flip flops clopping like a mule.

Back in the safety of the flat, moments later, I tell my wife the bad news.  “All out of fruit sorry honey”.  The streets of Buda are fraught with peril.  The next twelve months could be dangerous.

The Prologue

Budapesten Élek!

I live in Budapest.  This is very odd as I don’t usually live in Budapest.  In fact, I’ve never lived outside of the UK, but here I am, sitting on a sofa in my new digs in sunny Budapest.  A soon to be forty year old, soon to be first time father, immigrant.  My heavily pregnant wife is currently on the phone, speaking to her mother in tongues.  Some Hungarian duck pate is lazily lounging on a piece of Hungarian bread on a table next to me.  All of the food products in our kitchen have an unnatural number of ‘Zs’ on their packaging.  If I look up, my view is of the Buda hills.  It’s sunny and hot outside!  No, this is definitely not London in June (which according to the grumbles and moans that I’ve read via Facebook is currently suffering rain on a biblical scale).  I arrived two days ago and still feel very much like an old cat, torn from his natural habitat and dumped in to a new home.  I’m discombobulated, sniffing all of the new corners of my home whilst resisting the urge to pee and mark my territory.  What am I doing here?

Well as all good stories should begin, it started with a brain fart.  “What if we move to Budapest for the first year of Junior’s life?”.  We initially dismissed this thought, but soon realised that it wouldn’t simply dissipate like a well behaved fart into the ether, no matter how vigorously we wafted.  

Naturally there were opposing thoughts that did their best to put us of the Budapest scent.  “What about my job?  What about our mortgage?  How would we watch Masterchef?”   But then that little brain fart slowly became a brain hurricane, battering all obstacles in it’s path and turning the opposing thoughts on their heads.  “What if I quit my day job and pursued my dreams of being a full-time writer?  Why don’t we rent our place out?  We can stream Masterchef via the old tinterweb can’t we?”  And so I did it.  I quit my lovely, secure day job in London and we found renters for our London basecamp.  What followed were several weeks of blind panic.  I’d wake up in the dead of night, mind racing and heart pumping.  My thoughts during these wee hours usually went along the lines of…

“Fucking hell!  What in the name of God have I done?!  I won’t have a job!  Nobody will understand me!  I’m going to be forty!  I will be forty seven when my child is seven.  But that’s only three years from fifty!  When I’m fifty, that’s only ten years from sixty!  I’m supposed to retire at around sixty five aren’t I?  I’m a mere half a century from the probably end and I’ve just quit my job to go and live in a country where they speak in mostly ‘consonants’ and I have a baby on the way!  Help me!”

But with the unwavering support of my miniature wife, my tiny tower of strength, I got through those dark hours, and now here I am in beautiful Budapest, trying in vain to understand what on earth everyone else is saying, whilst eating an unnatural amount of sour cream, and with a heavily pregnant little lady by my side.  The next 12 months or so should be an interesting ride, full of cultural clashes, sleepless nights, shitty nappies and me being a clueless father in a foreign land.  So like a slightly more hirsute Captain Jean-Luc Piccard, I’m going to chronicle my adventures.  Here we go…