11. Budapest


I was really excited to be going to Budapest. The week before, for research, I visited my local library and got three CD’s out: Bartok and Kodaly, who were both Hungarian. And one by Nelly Furtado. But I was looking forward to being able to some stuff for my book about John, the businessman who travels a lot.

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‘John sits in the hotel bar and picks up the cocktail menu on the table. ‘It’s a difficult choice,’ the woman next to him says, leaning over slightly. They get chatting. And, a few minutes later, she tells him that the next day is a national holiday, one that marks the anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956. ‘Oh, what’s that?’ John asks, having never heard of this historical event before.’


IMG_3098I do really want to talk about the Hungarian Uprising at some point in the book. I don’t know, maybe I need to find a less clunky way of introducing the subject. But I loved my few days in Budapest, wondering around with my guidebook. I didn’t realise that, at one point, Budapest had the largest jewish community in central Europe and its synagogue was the second largest in the world.

I did start to wonder why I have to travel in order to feel something and inspired to write. I guess I do find it difficult at home. Coming back, I started to feel a bit depressed. And back at my day job, very quickly, all I could think about was going away again.

A few months later, in May 2010, my dad died. I couldn’t believe that I would never see this man, my father, again. Anyway, I wanted to try and write about the disease that he had, but found it really difficult. So I decided to create a character in order to do that: Steven. He also lives in Herne Hill. Anyway, his father is called Monty. And Monty has a disease called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, a sort of dementia that affects the neuro-muscular system. So things like walking, talking and swallowing become increasingly difficult.

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‘It’s a few years after the first signs of change, and Monty is in St Thomas hospital for neurological tests. Steven enters the room on the twelfth floor, sees him lying asleep on the bed, looking frail in his hospital robe. An hour later, Monty is awake, and they’re doing the Evening Standard crossword together. For years, he would do this every day. When he stopped, it felt like another marker of his deterioration. ‘Come on, let’s try,’ Steven today says to him. And sitting there, with his arm draped around Monty’s shoulder, he reads out each clue, a long silence leading to the correct answers.
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That night, Googling away, Steven discovers that the hospital is designed by YRM, the architects of Gatwick airport. He tells Monty this the next day, but Monty doesn’t seem interested. Shortly after, a man in a suit under a white hospital coat enters the room. They shake hands and he tells them he has some good news and some bad news. “Monty has a disease called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy,” he says. ‘It’s incurable and it will get worse.” “Then what’s the good news?” Steven asks. “Well, the decline could be quite slow,” is the answer. And a minute or so later, the specialist is shaking hands with them again and is out of the door. Leaving Monty and Steven to work out what any of this actually means.’
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