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25 January 2017

On Parade – A Vignette from 1956

"We gathered at the side of the parade ground because we wanted a good laugh. The British regiment has a rather peculiar feature. It marches at double speed. The band provides a madly fast beat, and these boys – fine strapping lads – march to it as if they were taking part in a walking race. In straight lines, guns on shoulders."

We gathered at the side of the parade ground because we wanted a good laugh. The British regiment has a rather peculiar feature. It marches at double speed. The band provides a madly fast beat, and these boys – fine strapping lads – march to it as if they were taking part in a walking race. In straight lines, guns on shoulders. And, of course, they pant and sweat like hell.

After breakfast, along with the Vitéz boys, Gizi Kárász the one-time national table-tennis champion and Mister Bazsó, I went out to see them. By now only a company of infantrymen was left in the camp, plus the band. The rest had been sent to Suez. The empty dormitories were at our disposal.

It started to drizzle and we became bored by the spectacle, so it was time to return to our sleeping quarters. In any case Gizi Kárász wanted to wash some panties for her little girl. Sitting on the iron beds, Mister Bazsó entertained us, describing for the umpteenth time what a fantastic knitting operation he would open once he got funds for purchasing a few machines. He would use some of his original patterns which – as he told us – would win at a canter over any kind of Western competition. Back in Communist Hungary he might have become an international name but, fenced off from the West, it proved impossible to acquire the right kind of yarn.

The week before we wrote to my uncle, a London businessman, asking for a loan, but had received no reply as yet. Bazsó suggested I join his business as a designer he was willing to teach me the tricks of the trade – but I had different plans with the Vitéz boys. We hoped to buy a cottage where they could start repairing motor cars, while upstairs I intended to set up my artist’s studio.

On the bus bringing us to the camp from Biggin Hill airport a Hungarian interpreter woman told us that it was relatively easy to buy a small house on the outskirts of London. It would cost no more than a thousand pounds or so, according to her.

We discussed this during lunch. For pudding the army chefs once again served rhubarb and custard. To my surprise, the twenty or so Dorog coal-miners, who crossed the border to Austria as an armed revolutionary group, most of them rough, burly men in their forties, became instant custard lovers. They kept asking for more. Just as well since they were on the verge of returning to Hungary, complaining about the food.

After lunch our pocket money was distributed. An elderly Hungarian refugee from the 1930s was in charge of this, a stocky gentleman wearing a bow tie. He tried to be difficult with the Vitéz boys. A little slow on the uptake, the man did not understand that “Vitéz” was the boys’ family name and not the title “vitéz”, granted by Admiral Horthy’s pre-war regime to its most faithful followers. So he started to lambast them for “using a fascist title” adding “this won’t go down well with the British authorities”. He became so worked up that it took us ages to explain the situation. Of course, hed never heard of the famous motorcycle repair garage run by the boys’ father, Antal Vitéz, who in his youth was a motor racing ace.

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