Sam Delaney has something to declare.
“Hungarian? You're half Hungarian?” I asked the first time I dated the girlfriend who would later become my wife. I was 20 years old and an unsophisticated traveller. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d even heard of Hungary until she mentioned it. And even then I couldn’t be certain she wasn’t just making the whole thing up for a laugh.
It sounded to me a bit like a planet out of Star Wars. I pictured it as a cold, bleak land occupied by dusky belly dancing women and the sort of sinister, mustachioed men who enslaved bears and forced them to dance in the town square for public entertainment. Yes, my mental imagery was based largely on a mishmash of ill-informed Russian and Turkish stereotypes but, like I say, I was an unsophisticated traveller.
She told me she wanted me to go over to meet her dad. I sat on the plane sulkily contemplating a freezing cold fortnight queuing for fish in a blizzard and eating pickled cabbage for pudding. Then we touched down in Budapest and all my prejudices were gradually dispelled. It was hot and sunny. Her dad drove us from the airport pointing out all the bullet holes that riddled the city-centre architecture. “I fired some of those bullets when we tried to drive out the Russians in 1956,” he casually explained. My eyes widened with excitement. It felt like having Indiana Jones for a father-in-law. The whole place seemed so glamorous and dramatic.
Later, he took me to one of Budapest’s multitude of beautiful yet inexpensive spas – where the whole city just seemed to loll about all day next to hydro-pools, sipping beer and eating these special local doughnuts called langos. In the evenings, we sat around in gorgeous outdoor restaurants where the food was almost entirely meat and gravy based, and they served tasty local wine by the tumbler full. In short, this place was Shangri-La for the lazy and hedonistic young man I was (and the equally lazy, almost as hedonistic and slightly older man I now am). I might not have actually proposed for another 10 years but I think I made my mind up during one of those hot afternoons at the spa that I would have to marry into this family of Magyars. I mean, why wouldn’t I have done? Most people’s in-laws seem to live in Dorking or somewhere.