My Adventures in Hungary I’m just back from Budapest, where I was a guest at Atjarocon onOctober 25th 2003. Atjaro is the new Hungarian SF magazine, and“atjaro” means a portal or passageway, though only if I put the accentson the right letters, which I daren’t do because of eccentricmisbehaviour on the part of Windows XP. My Hungarian hosts were wonderfully inventive in arranging excitingadventures. The last time I was in Budapest my friends Ata (composer ofthrilling computer games music) and Kriszta showed me more regularsights such as the Citadel, the Castle (with its ancient dark Labyrinthbeneath, home to artefacts of an imaginary ancient civilisation), andheroic statues of Magyar chiefs arriving from Siberia on horses withantlers. This time the accent was on transport – cars, trams, subwaytrains, light aircraft. On the first night after dinner we had a carcrash. Peter hadn’t drunk a drop but he was quite excited, so he forgotthat the dark cavernous street we were zooming along didn’t havepriority over the dark cavern that intersected it. BANG, directly intothe door I was sitting beside. For some reason uniquely that night I’ddecided not to fasten the seat belt, so I was able to lurch into thecushion of Laszlo rather than sharing space with the intruding car –owned ironically by an insurance company manager. The demise of the car meant that Adam took me and Roberto (Quaglia) toa bar to explain in sign language, Klingon, and a few words of English,how I would get to the con the next day. (Roberto and I had realized atHungarocon a few months earlier that the Hungarian language, beingconnected with nothing else on Earth, is probably Klingon.) Tracing theroute of the red Metro line across the map was okay, but then I must“Go villamos!” Pronounced villamosh. What or where was villamos?Inspiration struck me. Might it perhaps be a tram? The vocab in myBerlitz Hungarian for Travellers confirmed this, although I soondecided to alter the title of the book by pen to Klingon forSurrealists. “Yellow villamos!” cried Adam triumphantly. Clearly Ishould catch a red or blue or green villamos. Fortunately Peter turnedup an hour later and commented, “All villamos in Hungary are yellow.The number of the villamos might be more useful.” So the next morning I sallied to the subway to cross from Pest intoBuda, and actually arrived on a number 51 villamos at Mom Park, wherethe con was happening. Unfortunately I alighted from the tram beside apark, which confused me. Was the con in a tent in the park? Shiveringin the arctic breeze, I gazed skywards for inspiration and discoveredthe words MOM PARK adorning a huge shopping centre. I was to discoverthat MOM stood for something like Magyar Optical Manufacturers, whichhad occupied the site previously. An excellent venue, full of shops and warm air, with a cinema complexup top where Atjarocon was happening. Various radio and TV interviewsoccurred, one with a show hosted by actress Zita who played the Queenof the Vampires (until killed within a few minutes) in the recentHollywood movie Underworld which was filmed in Budapest and itssubways. Before my question and answer session in the main hall I’ddecided to do a 5-minute burlesque skit of Warhammer 40K, and hadrequested a commode or potty to represent the paralysed superpsychic40K Emperor’s prosthetic throne, but only a black plastic bucket wasforthcoming. However, by putting this single stage prop over my head,this also enabled me to give the audience greetings from Darth Vader.By coincidence the Klingon name for a bucket is vödör, pronouncedVedder. Darth Vader had previously endeared himself to the whole ofHungarian fandom after Hungarocon by pouring half a dozen of the bestHungarian red wines down his sink back home because they weren’tsupersweet like the white Tokaji he had enjoyed. He should have added abag of sugar to each bottle. I’m best known in Hungary so far because of my 40K books, which allre-appeared while I was in Budapest as a vast omnibus hardback volumeweighing a ton, and also because of AI. Zsolt, who already publishedthe 40K books separately, mentioned that he was recently drivingthrough the red light district when he saw a prostitute standing on thepavement reading my Space Marine. This is true popularity. Next day Zita was having a sightseeing flight in a tiny Cessna from agrass airfield, so she invited me and Roberto along. It was the firsttime any of us had been in such a small plane, but fortunately I hadrecently been on a terror ride at St Giles Fair in Oxford, so I waswell prepared. Misty day; blue Danube in the distance. After we gotback Zita’s dog suddenly took off right across the airfield and wasnearly killed by a glider taking off, but it jumped the cable just intime, and returned very worried, trembling, ears flat back. Another super adventure was riding the whole of the Budapest subway upfront in the driver’s cab, because she, Sylvia, was one of theconvention organisers. We saw the parts passengers don’t see, such asthe secret tunnel to Parliament and the blast doors installed by theCommunist government. Yet another super adventure was a highspeed drive in a lurching,farting vintage Trabant (the people’s “paper Porsche” of old EastGermany) through cobbled streets, ending up finally on a rooftop carpark where Roberto and I were allowed to race the Trabbie around. Thisis all excellent material if I need to write a historical spy novel. A pub called St Lancelot’s specialising in medieval English banquetswas wonderful too. Fire-eaters, belly-dancers, suits of armour,sword-fighting, the works. Since I’ve never been to an English medievalbanquet in England, it was quite surrealistic to experience one for thefirst time in Budapest. Since our hands were greasy from tearing wholechickens and porks apart, and since the ashtrays were a foot across inthe shape of round battlemented castles it seemed a good idea toconstruct an army of monsters from the surplus bones and meat andvegetables and skewers and lay seige. The staff seemed to admire ourfood art. By now Roberto and I were well aware that journeys in Budapest withnative guides start out by going in totally the wrong direction, thencorrecting to a different wrong direction, only gradually convergingafter an hour or so on one’s goal, but he still fell into the trap ofbeing guided in his big silver Mercedes to a place of interest out oftown, which involved taking two and a half hours to leave Buda, wherehe was staying, via three crossings of the river over the very samebridge into Pest and back again. Getting out of town should have takenabout fifteen minutes. So when we finally arrived at our destinationdarkness fell and we had to leave promptly, to become trapped in a twohour rush-hour queue returning to the city. Consequently, when we wentto the Franz Liszt Museum the next day on foot, I used my own map,which prevented straying, although our hosts complained at how fastRoberto and I seemed to walk. “You have only been here a few days! Wehave been here for years!” Can it be that the gravity of Budapest uponits inhabitants increases as time goes by? Oh what surrealistic fun it all was. What lovely meals and wines andbeers and hosts and buildings and much much more. And yes, theHungarians probably are Klingons, or some sort of delightful alien.When I was teaching Adam some more English in the airport beforedeparting I asked, “How many fingers on your hand?” and he answered,“One Two Three Four Five.” “That is a thumb,” I corrected him. “No, “he insisted, “it is a finger! I have five fingers!” Stick out your fifth finger in Budapest for a ride on a yellow villamos.]]>