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In the final throes of the fiasco at Heathrow airport, and its inability to cope with a few centimetres of snow prior to Christmas, I awaited the safe return of my children from London.

Their flight had been delayed by an hour, that was all, but due to a high temperature I was unable to drive and fetch them, so I sat at home, waiting. I sent a text message to my daughter asking if they were on their way. “In a taxi like none other!” came the somewhat cryptic reply. I wondered: was a year out of Hungary really sufficient to dim her memory of the driving antics of Budapest taxi drivers? I was otherwise unable to find an explanation for the puzzling text message.When the three of them finally arrived, we were given a detailed narrative of their return journey from Ferihegy airport in a car belonging to the newly-appointed official airport taxi company, Főtaxi:

John had sat alongside the driver, the two girls in the back. It was dark and cold, and the silence in the taxi prompted John to encourage the driver to switch the radio on. He flicked from one station to the next, but the choice seemed to be politics or techno. A sideways glance at his passenger confirmed that this was not what he had been hoping for.

“Do you like singing?” ventured the chauffeur.

“Well….she does,” replied John, indicating his girlfriend in the back seat.

Needing no further encouragement, the driver pressed a button, at which a small screen popped up between him and John. Simultaneously, the two small screens in the back of the headrests lit up for the girls seated behind. Then, casually holding the steering wheel with one hand, he produced an IPod with his other, starting a rapid search through its library. Having found what he was looking for, he pressed PLAY and the music started – Maria Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You; strangely, however, her voice was noticeable only by its absence.

It was at this juncture that, alongside adjusting his Satnav with one hand and holding the steering wheel with his other, he produced a microphone from his lap and began to sing along to the lyrics, reading them from the small screen, all the while driving at speed towards the city. And then, moments later, he produced a second mic and handed it over to the girls behind him.

John suddenly became aware of flashing blue and red lights behind them – he waited for the inevitable: that their car would be overtaken by a police vehicle which had obviously observed the antics of a driver multi-tasking to an unprecedented degree, even for Hungary. But no. Their chauffeur had merely switched on the rear disco lights to add to their total Karaoke Taxi Experience.

(www.karaoketaxi.hu )


Christmas: Now....

Andrássy út – a magical avenue of glittering trees, festooned with hundreds of thousands of lights; the ragged and hopeless huddled in every underpass around the city; the Christmas tram twinkling its way along the Pest river bank; Christmas stalls of colourful, handmade crafts; the scent of candles, the aroma of cinnamon, apples, oranges and mulled wine; Gerbeaud’s advent calendar windows opening to brass music; the reek of the poor and homeless attempting to warm themselves on public transport; designer shops, designer presents; Disney-on-Ice; domestic present-buying disagreements on engorged shopping-mall escalators; charity appeals; tinsel, light, silver and gold, garlands of pine; roasting chestnuts; McChristmas; poverty in the midst of plenty.

...and Then

Wind-blown cables of multi-coloured light bulbs in dark streets; shadows on the ice; quiet; deep, deep snow, unimagined cold; the Danube, frozen; hour-long queues for the annual delivery of oranges and bananas; no foil to roast meat – all redirected for the wrapping of szalon cukor for Christmas trees; first attempts to wrap parcels for posting, devoid of sellotape – not permitted, only string (for Customs purposes); excitement at discovering tinned salmon, brightly coloured Chinese notebooks, Milka chocolate, East German Christmas imports; stalls of gaudy tree decorations: glitter-coated yellow and orange fir cones; home-baked gingerbread; gatherings of friends exchanging unexpected finds and homemade beigli; quiet; peace; plenty in the midst of poverty.