At some point while I was in mid air, Cameron and Salmond signed a referendum agreement. It seemed appropriate somehow, as a yes vote would make me as much as a foreigner in Scotland as I am in Budapest. And if Britain were to leave Europe, as one of the crazy cabinet had just suggested, I might have to get myself out fast, before my fair home dies from the cold.
I worked thru a copy of the New Scientist on the plane. It was classic New Scientist – cover story announces that the grand unified answer has finally been found. The article turns out to be an interesting exploration of a branch of physics, finishing with the ‘possibly this could lead to a new way of unifying the four laws of physics with quantum theory’. It was about thermodynamics and the second law which as a youngster I felt sure must be wrong. Indignantly I cried – but a brick is more ordered than a swamp, a house more ordered than a brick, a book more ordered than a million conversations that led to it. But growing up, like a man accepting at last that he grows old, I can fight the second law no more.
The article suggested time was just a unit of entropy, a marker to designate the ever increase complexity, again like an aged brain filled with more thoughts and regrets than a young one. Maybe that’s why we yearn to stay young, and why as soon as their child is grown up a parent wants grandchildren from them, so they can hang out with such a low-entropy being once more. Maybe not. For when the sun shines – as it did on day 3 – I remember that the second law refers to closed systems. The earth is far from closed, and as the sun pounds us with her power every second, when the clouds are parted, there’s no risk of heat death for a few billion more years. Keep it grey and cloudy for a month, and it feels like there’s only so much juice to go round, and what there is must be conserved. So if I must live somewhere as an expat, not a native, maybe one with a steady supply of sunshine.
I’ve chosen to explore a new kind of life, after a year or two of alarm bells regularly ringing as I slip into an aging, balding, widening monotone of tech support peppered with occasional speaking engagements and tempered by bouts of excess. Instead I want to try out one where I work and travel at the same time. I want to see more of the world and – except for a meeting every once in a while – I work only from my laptop. AirBNB makes it cost not much more to rent an appartment than I was paying for my flat and office in Glasgow. And I get to see the world and taste a bit of that ek-stasis – movement – ecstasy.
It’s an experiment. That’s why I’m blogging it.
So I got off the plane, lost in thoughts about entropy, dopey from too little sleep and suddenly aware that I didn’t know a single word of Hungarian, not even ‘thank you’. I’d downloaded two free aps earlier – Lingapol Lite and En-Hu Free and while I stood in the wait for baggage I took a look. En-Hu Free was a dictionary, useful, but not the phrases I needed. Lingapol gave me ‘essentials’ for free and I could upgrade with more complex phrases if I needed. The interface was straightforward – and soon, with relief, I learnt that Helló means Hello and that goodbye sounds like ‘see ya’. But there’s no numbers or how to ask for a coffee so I paid 69p for the upgrade. All those other aps that asked for me to pay up-front may have been better, but I got to taste enough of the developers’ skills to not think twice about it.
Still, I spent my first 24 hours speaking little, ashamed to be so lingually lacking. But then I noticed that a lot of the people speaking in English weren’t Brits and Americans – they were Europeans too. It’s far more likely that a Croatian and a Dutch woman will both speak English together and – I’m not sure why I’d never noticed this before on all my travels – I realised how lucky I was to speak that language. It’s a bit like carrying travellers cheques. The music in the shops, from Queen to any number of obscure indie bands – even the (amazing) Hungarian band I saw on my second night, mixed Hungarian rapping with soulful verses in English. We have such an inferiority complex us Brits that some tend to compensate with bravado swagger, but we don’t need to. People here seem to like that I am from England, which is quite a novel experience.
I did have a bit of a moment tho, as I tried to find my way to the flat. I get on the bus OK. Spent a while at the bus station trying to find the metro station, and find only a ticket machine which takes coins. I return to a shopping centre to break my 1000f note, go back to the machine, seem to have lost the coins, and go thru my pockets a dozen times to try and find them. I listen to the conversations like they will start to make sense to me but they are indecipherable. I try to read the signs and notices like I might guess how to pronounce them but I’m lost. I realise I am quite a stranger here. So I go back to the shopping centre to change another note and – tho I’ve avoided Tesco’s for some years – fall into the superstore like it was home. George Michael plays and even that is welcome. It’s remarkable – there’s Tesco’s Finest and Value and tortelini packs and ready meals with english names. I wonder around now, so tired and my brain so exhausted from having taken too much in, that I zombie around the aisles with my wheely suitcase. There’s Kettle crisps and Warbuttons and Lurpack Organic, and never have I felt so happy to see brands I know.
The irony that a year to the day after the start of the European Occupy movement, I’m finding brands as the one common language that helps me connect with this foreign world. It made me think what my great-uncle Ernest, had pointed out the day before. In reference to the Nobel price he put it simply – “after centuries of fighting, European countries were getting better and better at having wars with each other, and in the last one 60 million people died [2.5% of the world population]. So the European project was just to make absolutely sure that we were all so connected thru trade that it could never happen again.”
Maybe Milliband was right, and capitalism is the ‘least worse’ system we have, in that it encourages countries separated by traumatic history and language, to work with each other. And maybe it’s changing into something different now, a kind of networked capitalism that is much less hierarchical and more-decentralised – because that’s how the web works, both culturally and technically, and the web’s the only growth area left.
I make it to the flat – which also speaks the international language of Ikea, tho thankfully with a local accent. It’s perfect, this is what I need. A place to write, a city to walk in, and few excuses to go home. Very grateful, even if running out of cash.