Saturday 9 December 2017

Two Months In Budapest…

It really has been two months since I squashed as many of my belongings as I could into two suitcases, leaving pretty much everything that was precious to me behind, not for the first time in life, and moved to Budapest, a city that is as diverse and exciting as it is dated and surly with the weight of its past.

Its past is an immense treasure, uncovered piece by piece, day by day, as life here goes on. The first thing I learned was always to look up. I have since realised that it should be always look everywhere. You never know what next point of interest is hiding around the next corner, beneath your feet, or towering above you.

My first weeks here were a wonder – the novelty of everything new, everything waiting to be discovered. I was here and despite the terrible stress of my day job, despite the culture shock and despite a horrible cold/fever that plagued me for those first weeks, I could not have been more hungry to experience all that my new home could offer.

Somewhere between then and now the great many administrative tasks I have had to negotiate in a language I cannot speak have put a more dull coating on my new existence. Apartment hunting – landlords, agents, tenants, appointments – always a bit of a bore. Opening a bank account – not so easy when you realise that English speakers are the definite minority. Thankfully a recommendation from a colleague solved my issue. And residency permits. Who knew as a European – for indeed we Brits still are European for now, and long may it last – I needed one? Queuing for nearly and hour in the cold then for almost as long again in a stuffy hot hall amidst a nervous, eager, frenzy of immigrants clutching passports and paperwork, desperate to be allowed to stay in a country where they have secured jobs and laid roots all the time knowing that it could all be snatched away. I almost felt guilty that firming up my residency status was so easy in comparison – I only needed to provide my signature 10+ times on papers I could not read (placing a lot of trust in my translator there!) to get a printed, laminated card that makes me an official Budapest resident now.

And from immigration I move to poverty, for it has become very apparent that many Hungarians are living in poverty. Homeless roam the streets even more visibly than back in Birmingham. Their makeshift homes and tiny communities are evident. I cannot understand them when they speak, but when they smile and greet me good morning on my way to work my heart aches. This is a city where you cannot recycle glass at your home – something that enraged me initially – but now I know if I get my glass empties to someone homeless, they can exchange them for a few forints at a supermarket. I may not be able to solve their problems, and I ‘do not judge’, which is all they ask of me when I pass by, but I can send a few forints their way. How they choose to spend it is up to them.

This is a city where a ‘few forints’ can buy an exceptional cup of soup or a pretty decent ‘daily meal’. Another thing I have realised is that here, with my ‘British’ salary, even on a single income I am far nearer the ‘wealthy’ end of the living spectrum than I ever have been before. This is a country where first class train travel, luxury spa treatments and slap up three course meals with drinks are very affordable. This is a country where I qualify for a premium bank account, for goodness sake. Me. I have my own banker.

This is a parallel universe, but not one that is easy to digest. Maybe I should be revelling in my comfortable status, but it actually leaves a bit of a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. The difference in perception of money, value, affordability, between myself and my Hungarian colleagues, is jarring. For me, being able to buy a two course lunch, every day if I wished, for about £2.80, or a very, very tasty fresh soup for £1.40 is a miracle. To them it is ok but they can’t afford to do it very often. To me, jumping on a train from Budapest to Vienna with a return first class ticket for less than 40 euros was a miracle. To them, it is an occasional trip that would need planning and saving for.

I have lived the highs of Budapest, and I have seen and heard the lows, and I have had wonderful days, and I have had days that are not so wonderful. Is that any different to life anywhere else, at any other time? Had I not come here, would I be sipping a glass of wine, eating olives, and tapping out my thoughts just the same as I find myself doing tonight?

The language is my main problem, fact. Going to places. Doing things. Shopping. Online shopping. When you realise that you cannot read or even pronounce almost every word you see, and cannot converse with people, life becomes hard. Every task that would usually be easily accomplished takes ten times as long as it should and comes with an added level of stress and challenge. Today I managed to buy the correct postage stamps in the post office from a non-English speaking clerk. And this is a great achievement of the day. I have to try and focus on the positives and take something from each experience.

So here is the best thing I have learned since moving to Budapest: the things we take for granted in life are blessings. Without them life becomes much harder, much sadder at times. We can become easily disappointed with our own limitations. So we must try not to. We must try not to get downhearted, and we must try not to take things for granted. Where we have advantages, comforts, benefits, we must appreciate them, because for those who do not have them, life is not so tinted with joy.

Elloise Hopkins.

Sunday 22 October 2017


Walking the streets of a new city, looking around shops and studying products as though everything is totally new to me because packaging is no longer in a language I can understand, taking nothing for granted anymore, I am seeing the world and all of its parts in a new way.

All around me I see imitation. Is anyone satisfied with being him/herself? In people, products, places it is there. It seems as though everyone, everything, everywhere strives to be someone, or something, or somewhere different. 

One of the main shopping streets here is known as the Champs Elysees of Budapest.

Why can’t we stand alone? Why can’t we be ourselves?

As I look around me I see groups of young people dress in the same way, style their hair the same, make themselves over in the style of someone else – a stranger on their morning commute, the still, serene face from a magazine, their closest friends, their greatest rivals. They wear matching bracelets, buy the same cover for their identical mobile phones, live in the same area, visit the same places.

It appears to be in our nature to mimic what we admire. To crave it for ourselves. To always want to better ourselves in some way. To be in a better place. To become that which we admire. Life is short. Perhaps it should be no surprise that we want more from it. But by wanting more do we miss the chance to enjoy what we have?

No matter how deeply it runs, no matter how great the effort to achieve that imitation, the copy is never as interesting, as convincing or as good as the original. It is the original’s very uniqueness that makes it worthy of imitation in the first place.

A crude experiment helped me realise this conclusion. Take two make-up palettes, one from a big name brand with a high price tag, the other from a high street store with a scandalously cheap price. The low end product is a blatant homage to the first. Same colours, same theme, same attempt at scenting the product, same cute presentation. Both portray an appealing picture, but when it comes to the detail the low end copy falls short. The cheap plastic casing has already broken whereas the high end metal tin is flawless. The eyeshadows themselves are an inferior product. Application is hard work for a finish that looks less polished and is not as long lasting as the original.

Before I tried either of them I suspected this would be the outcome, but I had to try. And there it is. Imitation. A desire to bring something better to within our grasp. It will always be there, because even when we know we have found something unique, something worthy of being up on that pedestal, we cannot help but reach for it.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday 14 October 2017

One Week in Budapest…

Well almost a week. I arrived in my new home on Monday. Already I have walked sooooooo many miles to and from work and spent the evenings exploring possible areas to settle, have greatly enjoyed the autumn sunshine, eaten a rose-shaped ice cream and listened to a band play beside the basilica, and begun to get used to being in a place where everything beside a few high street shops is unfamiliar.

Life is officially an adventure and learning experience from hereon in.

What have I learned so far?

1) In Budapest, always look up. There is so much cool architecture and design here and if you don’t look up you are guaranteed to miss a gem, like in the photo above. I saw this while waiting to cross the street on the way to work. The photo doesn't really do justice to those paintings.

2) English is not as widely spoken as you think it would be. I will have to rapidly learn some basic Hungarian to avoid any more awkward charades-meets-Marcel-Marceau moments.

3) C&A is my new favourite shop. In the UK we lost it around the 90s but here it lives on in splendid fashion!

4) I am possibly in the best place for Halloween. There is a pumpkin festival. Yes, really!

5) The way the morning light hits the Basilica is magical.

6) Eating lunch on the bank of the Danube is magical.

7) Living in Budapest may well be magical.

Elloise Hopkins.

Sunday 1 October 2017

Budapest: The Next Chapter…

Where have I been? What have I been doing? Why the silence? Why the distance?

Only a major life change/decision could keep me so preoccupied, and it has.

The next chapter of my life will begin next week when I move to Budapest.

That’s right, I am moving to Budapest!


Life never turns out the way you think it will.

The offer of relocation came from the day job. After a lot of deliberation, surprise, awe, joy, puzzlement, musing, major excitement, etc. etc. I decided to go.

It was the only decision I could make. No regrets. No wondering what if.

There will be ups. There will be downs. There will be the Danube and Margaret Island, there will be rose shaped ice creams and thermal spas, there will be a proper winter and a beautiful summer, and there will be enough culture and history to hopefully keep the downs at bay. I spent four days there in May and loved it. I hope living there will be just as magical.

I am moving to Budapest. Wish me luck and if you are ever there, let me know!

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday 29 April 2017

Crayola Colour Mood...

Spring has sprung, well and truly, making my colour of the moment the lush Maximum Green. Maximum Green! Can you get any richer a green?

Spring means traditional celebrations of new growth, the build up of crops, flowers, bird song and the lighter, brighter pathway to summer. Spring is for awakenings and change.

Spring means spring cleaning, time to spruce up the home, and time to spruce up your life. Spring is for new starts, not those flippant, desperate ones you strive for in winter at the beginning of the new year but the true new starts of spring, of lighter mornings, warmer days and the dawning of hope and happiness.

Spring means getting outside, shaking off those lazy winter blues and breathing the air. Breathe it all in!

I have spent the last weeks walking in the countryside, getting spring into my lungs and a spring back into my step. As the miles fall beneath my feet I feel the possibilities of life and future creeping back to hug me in a grassy, mossy, ferny blanket. The reassurance of spring.

So for today I consider myself fully immersed and committed to all that spring brings. When in doubt, breathe in the Maximum Green and indulge in Spring 2017’s Crayola Colour Mood.

Maximum Green!

Elloise Hopkins.

Monday 13 March 2017

The Few That I Don’t Review…

When people from my ‘other life’ find out I am a book reviewer they very often ask what I do if I get sent a book for review and don’t like the book. It is a good question, if a little negative, but it has to be considered.

Not every book is enjoyed by everyone. We do not all read for the same purpose. We do not all seek the same satisfaction from our reading material. Any book has the capacity to inspire some and deter others.

I could easily name a handful of books written by established names that I was convinced, prior to reading them, that I would love them, but actually failed to connect with them in the way I thought I would. Similarly I could name a handful of books that at first glace at the cover or the blurb – I know, don’t judge, right? – I wasn’t convinced I would enjoy, that have turned out to be wonderful.

So what do I do with the few books from my reviewing hauls that I just cannot get into?

Answer: I do nothing. If I can’t finish a book, or if I finish a book but just did not feel inspired, excited, or connected enough to it to write a review, then I don’t write one.

This answer has shocked people. They have been shocked that I put out no review rather than putting out a negative review. They wonder why I do not publish a review explaining what I thought didn’t work about it and why.

But that is the point. Just because it didn’t work for me, does not mean it won’t work for other readers. It is all subjective. We are all very, very different. Yes we are.

I read a book recently and struggled. It appealed to me initially because the cover endorsement was by one of my all time favourite authors. The cover art was attractive and the story sounded like a lovely piece of escapism. So I should have loved it, but in the reading I struggled. I struggled to connect with the narrator right from the start. I struggled to see where the story was going or what kind of story it was. I struggled to read on, even though there were some strong images and a lyrical, historical, magic feel to the whole thing. I struggled to the end and I started to write a review. Then I stopped. For some reason this book just wasn’t speaking to me. I don’t know why. Even now when I see other people's praise of it, I am not sure exactly why. It just did not work that way for me.

In every review I write, I begin with a summary of the who’s, how's, what's, why’s, or where’s of the book, to give the reader a taste of what they may find within it. I find this part usually flows really easily but for this particular review I didn’t make it past a paragraph. The words just would not come. I closed the document and resigned myself to this being one of the few that I don’t review.

I won’t tell the world what I didn’t like about this book. I won’t tell the world what other people might not like about this book. Because what good is a negative review to anybody? Who does it benefit, really, if I taint your view of what a book may be, because of what it was to me? Do you really want to miss out on your next gem because – due to circumstance, personal taste or the mysteries of the universe – for me it just wasn’t a gem?

So that abandoned review, and the book it relates to, will linger in the archives, leaving its future readers guarded from my opinions. One day it may speak to me and be granted a second chance, but for now it is left in peace, intact and waiting discovery by those who may look upon it more favourably.

Elloise Hopkins.

Sunday 29 January 2017

Trainspotting, 20+ years on…

Trainspotting was released in 1996, and certainly then and in the subsequent years I know I watched it quite a few times. On this particular then-15/16-year-old it made an impression.

Hard hitting. Real. Instructive. Tense. Well crafted. Loud. Cool. Brilliant.

Looking back, those are some of the ideas and impressions I have of the film but in the years since the mid-late 90s I don’t think I have seen Trainspotting more than once. Twice, perhaps.

With the sequel pending and a re-watch scheduled, this month I tried but could not really remember much about the original film. I had strong visual impressions of a couple of characters and a handful of key moments but little more than that. Certainly the storyline had become lost to me among those main elements – the music, the clubs, the pain and the drugs. But something else in that film had spoken to me. At the time it had felt so significant, yet whatever magic Trainspotting had over us 90s teens, now, as an adult, grown and changed over again since then, I could no longer grasp it.

In fact many of those original commands that as a young teenager had seemed so old and far away – “Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers […] Choose your future. Choose life.” – were now a very real part of life (except for my television which is modestly sized at best and the compact disc players which 20+ years on are just about obsolete).

2017. Me. Older. More grounded in life. Sadly aware of the harsh, sick, contradictive and often hard-to-stomach parts of reality that along with the lighter side form life. Real life, which my 16-year-old self had but little exposure to. How would a film that was, in its time, poignant, symbolic and significant, in a real if indefinable way, speak to me 20 years on?

On re-watching I was surprised to discover that I had remembered the story, and far more of it all than I thought. That magic was real; Trainspotting evidently did speak to me back then and leave a much clearer and longer-lasting impression than I thought. In all its grim, gritty, grainy truths, amidst the swearing, the violence and the filth there lurks a wonderful study of human behaviour, relationships and survival, which is just as true of today as it was of then.

There are moments when you laugh. There are moments when you cringe. There are moments when you turn away from the television but even turning away is not enough to banish the horror that is being presented. There is no getting away from it. And should there be? Has the lust for life truly gone? Should we face it anyway?

Those who know me or who have read my blog before will know that I am always dubious of a sequel. Yes, of course, there have been many brilliant sequels over the years. Specific ones. You know which ones are exceptional. There have also been an awful lot more terrible sequels – and re-makes, while we’re on the subject – which should never have been made at all, and I always fear a bad sequel, so the prospect of T2 Trainspotting after all these years rings a few bells, although seeing the original line up still involved and knowing it is in Danny Boyle’s capable hands reassures me no end even if I once again cannot understand the title.

The end of Trainspotting left 90s Renton certainly more hopeful than the beginning found him, although his path was far from easy or clean. Did he grow up to be just like us, with our 9-5s and indexed pensions, getting by, looking ahead to the day we die? I have purposefully avoided any discussion of or spoilers about the sequel – I prefer to make my own first impression – but having today been reminded of how good a film was presented to me in 1996, I look forward, with glee and apprehension, to what the new instalment will bring.

I also look back and I wonder… In another twenty years will I once again be inspired to choose my future and choose life? Will I once again reach back, holding only vague memories, and find much deeper impressions left behind by an inexplicable magic?

Elloise Hopkins.