2 6 / 0 8 / 0 6:
'h u n g a r i a n s a r e n o t m a m m a l s'


it was to be a trip of firsts, begun with a second; namely my second trip to budapest for 'work' (the inverted commas are there of course for those of you with an inkling to what i might have been doing out there). it was on. it was off. they had the budget. they didn't have the budget. the possibly maybe game, you know the sort of thing. after months of being neither on nor off, what i'd chosen to call 'onf', it was finally on.

two days before i'm to fly out, the police uncover what they insist on calling an 'alleged' plot to blow up several planes leaving from heathrow. cue draconian luggage restrictions and travel nightmares to end all travel nightmares.

hand luggage is restricted to 'essential travel documents', 'keys', 'prescription medicines', 'small wallet', 'glasses / sunglasses'. no foods, no liquids of any kind, no books, no magazines, no electronic devices (including electronic keyrings) and no glasses cases. all allowable items are to be carried in nothing more than a transparent carrier bag. i stuff all allowed into a see-thru carrier bag from 'hq hair', courtesy of hostess elisabeth, which is odd because one look at me and it's as crystal clear as the bag itself that 'hq hair' is something i don't have.

i was picked up at the flat at 11:00, and reached heathrow by about 12-ish. from then on all things went immediately to shit. heathrow looked like a cross between a refugee camp and the fucking last days of saigon, with literally thousands of passengers shuffling irritably around terminal 1, their every pore leaking the need to be somewhere, anywhere, else. the need to escape pushed their irritability towards panic. outside hastily erected marquees were full to the brim with the exhausted and their luggage. some people it appeared had been there since the day before; others just smelt as if they had been. armed police wandered everywhere, herding us into one area after another. a tannoy system announced little more than bad news: soon after i got there it barked "all flights up to and including 3:00 are cancelled" my flight was at 3:15 and so was safe... or so i thought. after two hours of waiting and wandering through the chaos and of course the rain the tannoy barks "all flights up to an including 5:50" are cancelled. arse. i call abby in budapest "it's ok" she says, i'm looking at the b.a. website and it says that your flight isn't cancelled, "o but it is" i insisted. and so it was too (i should point out at this point that should you ever need to call from a phonebox at heathrow, be careful which one you choose. if it's not a bt standard rate one then you may be paying as much as a penny a second). because i don't have a mobile phone i was told to meet up with richard, the only other of our number flying out that day, so i could be contacted.

now then at this point, to clear up any confusion, i have to mention that sadly m'colleague richard from the previous sojourn into hungary wasn't invited, this is a different richard, a slightly older richard... with somewhat less monstrous hands. lovely though the new richard was/is, m'colleague richard, if you're reading this, you and your/our unhealthy lemon fixation were missed, these are for you:

thenewrichard turns out to be a gleefully sensible chap, just the sort you want amongst the chaos that heathrow had become. before i knew it (or indeed an hour or more later) we were booked onto the 5:50 lufthansa flight to frankfurt, the idea being to then get a connecting flight to budapest... which, considering that i'd never had to get a connection when flying, i suppose marks the first first of the trip.

the check in hall of terminal 2 was like some vast biblical exodus. electricians had been drafted in to stand at the entrance to stop more people flooding in. apparently it'd gotten to the point of being a fire risk. our plane was an hour late leaving and we only just got our connection in frankfurt. hectic nonsense and air travel don't go well together. because of us getting two flights, we get two in-flight meals, which of course could have meant two helpings of involuntary regurgitation, but were a surprisingly palatable salmon (with a curryish topping) and chicken and bacon salad (luckily with more chicken and bacon than actual salad).

it was all shaping up as a great save from the nonstarter the trip could have been when we arrive at budapest airport... and our luggage doesn't. fuck. chalk up another first, as, even though i'd often feared this would happen to me, it never had. until now. forms were filled in, unconvincing claims of hasty retrieval made in broken english and we leave with a piece of paper between us, a pretty piss poor replacement for a l l o f o u r t h i n g s.

by the time we finally reach the hotel i've been travelling for 12 hours.

the hotel itself is verrry poesh and tries its best to make me feel better but in the end, as i sit on the bed, with only a tiny transparent carrier bag with fuck all of any use to me inside, it's watching an episode of 'knowing me knowing you with alan partridge' that helps me claw my way back from luggageless despair. "am i right?" "You're not wrong"

the four seasons is an impressive building, sat as it is almost on the banks of the danube and opposite the famous, if somewhat unimpressively named chain bridge. there's always a member of staff on the door to greet guests with a barely disguised bow and a scrape, a welcome which should serve as something of a warning as to just how obsequious these people have been trained to be. i don't mean to sound ungrateful, everyone was very helpful at all times but this kind of unending servile behaviour makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. at no point does anyone who works there talk to you as if it's their job to help you and they plan to do it to the best of their ability, they act more like they're terrified of something, maybe that guests will, if unsatisfied, 'have their jobs'. i felt like saying "listen, i'm just some chancer staying here on someone else's forint, just calm the fuck down." -hark at me sounding like some kind of communist. my one (and first ever, is someone keeping track of all these?) experience with room service (linguini with veal and basil bolognese) convinced me that, while i'm aware that it's hardly likely ever come up, i could never have servants. "can i pour your water sir?" um, no, thanks, it's right there, i'm capable of unscrewing the cap, lifting the bottle and filling a glass.

the hotel's breakfast menu had among its dishes 'hungarian eggs'... shows how ignorant i am. i had no idea that hungarians could lay eggs.

the first day had come and gone and still no news on my case. apparently they'd found two out of mine and richard's three bags but we had no way of knowing which, or indeed (and arguably more importantly) w h e r e.

i turn on the television and as part of the hotel's in house safety channels (what to do in the event of a fire, that sort of thing) are earthquake safety instructions... earthquakes? in hungary? really?

walking through the bar on the first day i passed a group of men, some of whom i recognised but couldn't place. it took me a while to realise that they were popular beat combo radiohead sans singer. apparently they had played a local festival the previous night and were staying at the four seasons. that evening i shared a lift with thom yorke, and d'you know, he didn't recognise me... the stooges were playing the same festival later that week but sadly we were all working too hard to make it. pah.

that night we were taken out to a japanese restaurant, where i was promised that they did teriyaki as well as sushi. we started with some miso soup (insert obligatory "me so horny" joke) but it was so unbelievably salty i couldn't finish it -i thought japanese cuisine was supposed to be healthy... because the teriyaki took longer to come, i was goaded into trying my first ever piece of sushi. i tried salmon, tuna and the ominously vague 'white fish'. it was ok but the best out of the three was definitely tuna. bit of soy, wasabi, very nice too. still didn't strike me as a meal though, more like a kind of damp snack. while there i also racked up another first by trying sake, which wasn't nearly as vile as i'd thought it would be.

i get back to my hotel room to find both of richard's bags mistakenly delivered there. which hits me immediately that of course my case is the one gone awol and that 'they' have no idea at-fucking-all where it is, let alone when it might possibly arrive. i start to think that it's like a murder, if it's not solved in the first 24 hours then with every hour that passes, it's less and less likely to be solved at all...

day two saw yet another first. because my luggage had failed to put in an appearance i had no electric shaver with which to depilate my face and because work demanded that i be nude of physiognomy, a very nice hungarian hairdresser chap called richard, or 'richy', wet shaved me (could that sound any more like a euphemism?). and though i was convinced my face would end up like raw hamburger he did a really good job. smooth as the proverbial.

day two was, shall we say, strenuous and left me horribly achey, so abby arranged for me to have a massage at the hotel that night. the front desk tells me that there's still no news of my suitcase. i imagine it floating across the indian ocean, or disgorging its contents onto a foreign landing strip somewhere. i'm moving ever so slowly towards acceptance that i'm never going to see it or its contents ever again. at 8 o'clock sharp i get a phone call and it's the masseuse. (good word masseuse, sounds like a collective noun for mooses: a masseuse of mooses). it seems that the hotel spa was fully booked so they had to hire in someone from outside and as she didn't have a card key couldn't come up in the lift. i go down to fetch her and when we're back in my room she asks if she can use my bathroom "to change". i say of course and in she goes. it then strikes me what a strange question this is. why would she need to change? and into what? i hear her flush to toilet. i note that she wasn't carrying a fold up massage table. sitting on the bed i catch my reflection in the mirror. i mouth the words no, surely not... she couldn't be, i say to myself, could she? it then hits me that i have no idea how i'll react should she come out from the bathroom in suspenders, or worse, naked; front runners are hilarity and panic, with panic nosing ahead. she comes out in... nothing more shocking than tracksuit bottoms and a vest top. i take a second to ponder whether my sigh of relief makes me less of a man and then she's asking me to strip off and lay on the bed. fear and laughter flicker again briefly then disappear. and a very good massage it was too, just the right amount of pain to pleasure ratio, the only odd thing being that it was done on the bed; laying there with my eyes closed hearing the creak of the bed and the breathing of some woman i don't know was very bizarre. just as she was kneading my buttocks (apologies, or indeed my compliments for the mental image) when my phone rang. it was polly, asking if i wanted to join the others for dinner. talking to one woman while another was engaged in what i'll describe as 'forceful buttock play' felt a little like a sordid threesome of some kind and so i declined the offer. the manipulation of the flesh went on. and no, she didn't ask me if i wanted "a happy ending". and so another first: a strange hungarian woman leaves my hotel room with more money than she came in with; leaving me strangely relaxed, in my pants, a towel wrapped around my waist.

and just then i get a call from downstairs. my case has arrived and is on its way up! hoo-bloody-rah. i almost hugged it. almost.

johnny foreigners are a funny bunch y'know. it was like the hungarians said "ok, we know that there are two types of bottled water, the still and the sparkling, but we can see a third way..." there is available in budapest a type of water which is neither one nor the other. it has the same bitter taste of fizzy water and yet is almost still. it's like sparkling water gone flat. you take a sip and you think you're fine and then it does something horribly unwholesome to your tastebuds, interferes with them, fiddles with them inappropriately. it's horrible. and these people choose to drink it... worse is the fact that if you ask for "still", you often get this flat bile of satan himself instead. savages.

marios was born in russia and brought up in poland, is 7 foot 2 and an ex professional wrestler. and that's real wrestling, not your wwf american acrobatics let's play pretend bollocks. he makes brick shit houses feel inadequate. this fucker is big. marios tells me i have "heavy legs". i didn't argue with him.

my first cartwheel!

and so there i was on my last day in hungary, laying on my back halfway down the stairs at budapest western railway station, staring up through the glass roof, and i got to thinking just how strange life, and in particular at that point my life, was.

the jury's still out on whether i now have my first cracked rib...

the four seasons has a spa on the 5th floor. included there are treatment rooms, a gym a sauna and steam room a pool and a jacuzzi. behold the pool:

ok, so not the biggest most impressive pool you've ever seen but for the 5th floor of a hotel i thought it was quite a good effort. it's whilst in the spa that i collect my next first, namely a dip in a jacuzzi. or was it a hot tub? is there a difference? it was certainly warm... strangers join me, a middle aged swede and an old american businessman. we nod our hellos awkwardly. the swede is quite gregarious and has obviously spoken to/bothered the american before. "so, how are things in chicago?" he asks pointlessly. "busy, very busy," replies the american, "there's a lot of... 'stuff' going on." cue the tumbleweeds... small talk stinks.

it won't surprise you to learn that this lovely young lady, a model, is very proficient at giving fellas the 'glad eye'. really, she could teach a class. i wanted to ask her what it was actually like being almost everyone's idea of 'beautiful' but i chickened out when i realised that it sounded like the worst chat up line in the world ever.

last first of the trip was my first ever vodka and red bull at the farewell (it was called a party but was closer to a) booze up, with optional dancing. this was followed by my second ever vodka and red bull and hard on the heels of that, my third... in the taxi back to the airport we're offered to be taken to a brothel. the driver has a brochure and everything. jason sitting next to me gives a very english "o thanks but we've got an early flight in the morning" and we all manage to maintain our dignity for queen and for cuntry.

the flight home is an absolute breeze compared to the hassle and furore that got me out there and i think i slip into a kind of waking sleep until suddenly i'm home again and it's time to run the gauntlet of the luggage carousels all over again...

recommended: (audio) the sound made along the cables of an approaching trolley bus / (comestible) cajun salmon on a bed of mashed potatoes and spinach in a red wine sauce / (visual) my suitcase returned! / (sensorial) masssssssssage

reviled: (audio) "still no word from the airport about your bags" / (comestible) flat fizzy water sold as still / (visual) 'last bag' sign on the carousel / (sensorial) luggageless despair