Sunday, 9 November 2008

No country for old men

Continuity and contrast as we enter the next historical stage

Budapest in Autumn, an on-and-off golden November, the tourists largely gone, prices in the shops often above those in the United Kingdom. Not exactly the socialist country from which Conductive Education emerged blinking into world attention in 1984, but a fully fledged member of the capitalist European Union, totally different in so many ways but somehow exaactly the same as it used to be. No longer in Eastern Europe (that has been abolished) but now part of Central Europe, at the very heart of the continent, yet somehow still striking the visitor as not just foreign, but very, very foreign indeed.

I have been giving a lecture in Budapest, at a event run by the Moira Conductive Education Centre (more of this in a later posting). I arrived here in Budapest late on Thursday, and on Friday and Saturday I barely stopped over the course of rather longer than should be waking hours. Today has been Sunday, R&R in near-deserted downtown Pest, but this will be followed by further frenetic activity till I tip exhausted into a plane late on Tuesday, home in bed by two on Wednesday morning, then a lecture at NICE at 0930.

Just like the old days when the first pioneers struggled to get the conductive ball rolling here in Budapest (while simutaneously back home juggling with media, parents, finance, politicians and their own personal commitments) as well as the communication sytems of the day allowed.
Well no. Not in all respects.

What is the same, or at least powerfully evocative?

The frenetic pace for a start. The need to squeeze in every opportunity that arises for fear that it will not come round again. This time, for example, I had to forego the chance to meet an old lady, now in her eighties, who was reportedly treated by Ándrás Pető here in Budapest right back in 1942 or 1943. This would have been my earliest personal sighting of the mysterious Dr Pető after he vanished from history in 1938, but there just wasn’t time.

The crazy language. Lots of people here now speak English or German – and are pleased to admit it. At one time those who did tended to keep it dark. Even so, move out of the city centre to the places where ordinary Magyars work, live and play, then you may be swiftly and awkwardy thrown back on your own linguistic devices, and the Hungarian language takes no prisoners!

The food. Its smells, its colours, its flavours, its sheer meatiness. Its accessibility: there will soon come a point when you need to take a break from eating, and rest your alimentary sytem, and this is more easily said that done.

Add these together, throw in the excitement of the continual talk, the possibilities, the perceived threats to your own personal agendas… and the result may seem to be irresistable exhaustion, till the mad merry-go-round sweeps you up again and throws you back into the fray.

So, what’s different?

Lots. Here's some of it.

First, the people. Most of the dramatis personae of twenty years ago have vanished from the map, and so have the institutions and hopes, the plots and ambitions, that they represented. Major players of the first years of the internationalisation of Conductive Education have taken the Ozymandian path, their monuments already crumbling to dust. As the saying goes, they are history. Even the next generation is looking tired and heading towards the end of its run.

Put it another way, many of the people whom I have met this last couple of days are 'new'. True I have known some of them for a dozen years or so and remember their first coming on the scene. A dozen years? A long time for some perhaps but only fairly recently have most of this generation risen to commanding positions in the sector. But by now it is already most apparent that a new generation has indeed taken over Conductove Education.

Difficult to generalise, and the point will perhaps be returned to at a later time, but this new generation is different from the one now passing into history. In one way they are the same as 'we' were, in our late thirties through to mid-fifies, a good age for taking the levers of power. They already have some little experience of life to help guide them on their particular ways, and the ambition and ideals, energy and drive, the sheer time to give to these in the belief that their hopes can be fulfilled.

And already, over their heads, the next professional generation is coming over the horizon – and they are more different still. And they don’t seem so patient!

New people, already talking about new priorities, with growing recognition that the world in which they will have to lead Conductive Educaion will be very different from the one that went before – and that old ideas will have little place there.


Comparison with times past may draw out many lessons. One simple one that the past couple of days has brought strongly home to me is that I no longer have the energy and drive etc to be found to the generation now taking over the world of Conductive Education. Not for the first time, I find myself remarking ’I’m just not up to this’.

So what am I doing here, I ask myself, a veritable dynosaur, a professional generation older than almost anyone else left in the game?
What indeed? Perhaps it’s time for seriously planning an exit strategy!

No country for old men
I am Ozymandias, King of Kings
There have been a few of these in Conductive Education over the years. No doubt there will be more!
Male life expectancy in Hungary
Better news then from the Hungarian demographic front.


  1. Don't get overstressed just because of the new generation and the growing field! This is what we dreamed about, anyway.
    You needed here, dyno :))

  2. Moi, stressed? Au contraire...!

    Rather, I rather enjoy watching the parade and, like that great old skiffle number used to say:

    'I sometimes have to smile; Watching all the young folk, putting on the style'.