Monday, December 17, 2007


If it's blurry, it's only because my hands were shaking and my legs were numb. Does anyone know if they make flannel-lined jeans?

J., who is visiting from warmer climes, is looking rather chilled, but bearing up well, and appreciating the excuse to drink warming grog, warming hot honey liqueur, warming hot cider, warming hot wine and eat warming hot trdlo, warming assorted cookies and warming fried cheese. Now we're looking forward to the pre-Christmas Open Air Slaughter of the Carp.

Czech informants have also confirmed that some families still take home said carp and keep them in the bath for a few days as an alternative (something to do with filtering out the muddy water). Fortunately, we only have a shower, and I have laid down strict rules about the acceptable use of the washing machine after Ye Grate Fludes, I II and III, and Ye Majorre Delyuge IV.

Friday, December 07, 2007

CleaR! Bzzzp! Bzzzp!

"Hey, so have you got done your Christmas present shopping yet?"
"And it's already too late for some. Unless I order online locally."
"That's okay. Look, you can order the Philips HeartStart Home Defibrillator with Slim Carrying Case from only $1,275.00. Free shipping within the contiguous US."
"Not bad. They were saying the paper the other week how the exchange rate was getting more favorable."
"Yeah. You could probably get the storage cabinet as well."
"Nice. It's very clearly labelled."
"Only 4 in stock, mind you. Better get one soon."
"But if I order the HeartStart Defibrillator without the Slim Carrying Case for only $1,249.00 I can get the Free Philips HeartStart Home Automated External Defibrillator Adult Training Pads Kit instead."
"What a dilemma."
"Yeah. Maybe I'll just send those biscuits instead. The ones with vanilla filling."

Friday, November 30, 2007


Flatmate update:

She came, she collected, she went.

Have a new one now and am focussed on lowering my expectations mightily. I'm anticipating achieving suspicious serial killer behaviour by Wednesday (insert joke about muesli here).

Weather update:

Snooooolluussshh. But cold. The hat with the earflaps has come out of storage, and I am monitoring the incremental plummet of the temperature on the way into work via the digital display in front of the pet supplies store.

Edited to add: except for today, when it went up again. But there's snow in the mountains this year, and people keep sneaking off for mid-week skiing sessions

24 hours in Berlin update:

The only thing that it is possible to obtain in the big shopping mall atop Berlin Hauptbahnhof (I now call it Hbf for that air of Teutonic coolness) that I cannot buy here are fist-sized Dunkin' Doughnuts and fragments of The Wall. Instead, enterprising urchins supply the souvenir-hungry tourist with historic cobbles "from the streets of Old Prague", and we have endless variations on the twisty-sweet-bread theme, but while many are filled, none are fried.

Weird to think that only twenty years ago the sight of a Coke bottle was a novelty, and that a lot of the people I know here can still vividly remember the arrival of the first MacDonald's in Prague. But they did have little brown plastic hand-held video games of a fox/wolf and a duck. It seems a little like a parallel universe where the playmobil figures were machinists and miners, rather than doctors and firemen.

Back in Berlin, luckily for me, B. showed stunning resourcefulness in eventually locating me so I didn't have to take the last train back on Saturday and instead got my 24 hours in Kreuzberg.

DVD addiction update:

Six Feet Under. Blimey it's good. And I think I have a whole 6 seasons to catch up on. Woohoo.

Blogger language update:

It's gone back to Czech.

Mrs. Jana update:

It seems a second Mrs. Jana is hoving into view on the horizon. I will know more the weekend after this one.

Date update

I ate dates in Berlin. Also a persimmon.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Might be better to pretend that I published this about two days ago - it will be easier all round, and make me appear organised and consistent. Ahem

The Athenian Murders - Jose Carlos Somoza

I find it hard to believe that I have never unleashed the chains on my abiding and unspeakable desire for this book here before. But that's what the mighty power of the search engine shows. Shock. Horror. Smothered yawn. Be afraid. However, I re-read it recently, which makes it count in this mini festival of bookstravaganzic delights, allowing it (the mini-fest, that is) to live another day.

But enough of this introductory flimflam, I hear my inner monkey editor cry, speak more of this unspeakable love. For yes, this book contains innumerable shades of the love that dare not speak its name. Inter-textual love. Academic twistiness and japery of the driest kind. Philosophical shadow puppetry. Flagrant abuse of literary meta-jiggery. Tricksiness a go-go. I love it all with the unholy passion of a thousand geeky monkeys. The ones that are otherwise busily making rude shadow animals, sun-bathing and short-sheeting the Platonic bed.

For verily, these are Ancient Greeks of whom I write, or rather of whom the author writes and from whom I steal jokes. Smart koulourakia to a man, right down to their dusty ankles (except the one in the bath).

Well, actually, it is more that these are Ancient Greeks upon whom the author uses the character of the Translator to write or comment. Or their ideas. Except these might be copies of the original copy of the ideal first idea. And anyhow, what about those lions? See what I mean? This is book which defies anyone, least of all a lowly blogger armed only with the dubious merits of the English relative clause to shove its translated-from-the-original-Spanish-self into a halfway decent summary. It's a tricksy book about Ideas, lightly glazed with a few corpses, a sinister subplot (or is it?) and finished off with an anti-sleuth. I think the Salon article explained it best, and the Guardian review is more entertaining, which leaves me to only do my worst.

Basically it features:
Wolves (or lions)
Greeks (ancient)
Academics (ancient and modern)
Philosophy (mostly Greek and ancient)
Ideas-with-a-big-I. Bigger I. No, a really big I.
Texts. (not the SMS kind)
Budding insanity
Reality. (Jim)
Footnotes. Le sigh. Les bambi eyes. Le sigh.

A quick scan of the Amazon and Salon reviews, which are proper reviews with plot synopses and everything a prospective reader could desire, indicates that this book is of the love-it-or-hate-it Marmite type. I'd agree, although I'd add to my review overview that despite the inclusion of footnotes and such it's closer to Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next (not Nursery Crimes) books than Terry Pratchett, but not at all as cheerfully bonkers and far more menacing and introverted. Thursday Next's rather disturbing great-uncle professor who lost tenure under the darkest of clouds as written by Borges (he comes back later), perhaps.

A scan of the the reviews of the "urrggh, Marmite, blech"-type shows that this isn't the book for readers who just can't abide Umberto Eco and writers of his ilk. But I think that if it's just Eco's prose style that puts you off, rather than his content, it's worth looking at this book, purely on the grounds that Eco can leave the unwary reader feeling trapped in the coils of his rococco prose. Somoza's style (and oh, how I long to write Samosa's style) is less elaborated than Eco's and more lucid. The disorientating, clever twistiness remains, but I didn't feel as if I were also being showered with the shredded contents of a gilded thesaurus by a million pudgy putti.

The other thing to add to the review overview is that I wouldn't read this book looking for the next historical whodunnit à la grecque. Thither lies disappointment. There's a murder, but that's not really the whole point, and the ending isn't exactly Christie.

On the other hand if deep-down, you secretly rather enjoy following digs and snide asides as academics wrangle over obscure points and interpretations via cross-references and footnotes, even though you know this means you are turning into your father (hairy ears and all) you will probably enjoy this. Besides, it's a book about books, playing with other books.* If you like it when an author constantly pulls the rug out from under your feet, even if it's technically cheating (or at least, making up the rules as he goes along) read on.

For me, the best part of the book is sitting back, relaxing and letting the the author, or narrator, or translator or whoever mess with my mind. He or she or it or whoever might make things up. He might even take the piss a few times. But even though I've read it a few times now, this book invariably leaves me with the oddest combination of two very distinct, and yet long-winded feelings:

1.I get the buzz that normally happens when the stars align and somehow I'm able to work out a series of clues for a cryptic crossword.
2.But at the same time, it leaves me genuinely unsettled. Not in the the "AAa! Whatwasthatnoise? AAAaa!" way, though. Instead, it's in the "But what if I go to sleep and it turns out that this life is really something/one dreaming and then who/whatever is dreaming wakes up while I'm asleep and what happens then????aaaahhhh!!! No wait! What about what we see in the mirrors!!! aaah!!!!" kind of way.

Best to put it like this - it's one of the few books that actually made me think it might be a good idea to read some more Borges. One of these days. As long as there's enough coffee.

*Except they didn't really have books in those days. Or novels, as Salon points out. Probably they didn't have philosopher-detectives too, but at least there were libraries and monkeys. There were no monk-how do you know? you were too busy contemplating the exercise non-outfits of those ancient greek athletes. I WAS NO-- And anyhow, My mind was SO COMPLETELY on higher thin- do you know what people think when you stick a footnote like this at the end of this kind of review? Especially one where you name-drop Borges, TWICE. I'll tell you what they think. They think, "What a pretentious tw--"

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


…aka brief impressionist sketches of some recent (in the last year) book encounters. Still not reviewing them properly, I might add, and will likely be annoyingly nonspecific or focus on minutiae to the exclusion of all else.

The Privilege of the Sword - Ellen Kushner

I almost don't want to write anything about this book and why I love it with the unholy passion of thousand raging monkeys. Partly because I'd never heard of the writer or the book, and picked it up at random, unhyped, undusted and lonely off a "recent releases" bookshelf in a sci-fi/fantasy bookstore. Then I forgot about it completely for 6 months. So I started it with no expectations.

The course of true love went something along these lines: p.1, "ehh?" p.2, "er… not…" p.3 "re?...about thisoneohmygodmustkeepreadingohwowohwowAndAMadDuke!ooohwowohwowiloovveeyooouuboookyoulovelyboookdon'tennddmustn'tfinishnevereverenddddoohnnooopleeeaaassse! Swoon."

In other (real) words, it's the sort of YA fantasy novel that gets it somehow perfect. Perfect in that impossible, magical way that adult books simply cannot manage. I just want to hug it to myself and read it over and over. Talking might spoil it. The thought of breaking up the magic into digestible chunks of detail and peeling away at plot and character analysis makes me want to cry. That's how my Grade 5 English teacher killed My Family and Other Animals.

So I don't want to hype or vaunt or trumpet the praises of this book at all. I just want to leave it lying battered and well-loved in the corner of a bookcase at a friend's house so that you can pick it up at random on a rainy day. So that you can curl up with it in a warm, quiet corner at the top of the house. So that your flannel-clad and fuzzy-socked self can look out the window and see the rain-washed day outside when the world taking shape in your head becomes too bright to bear. So that you end up eating all the stale nuts and the squashed half-packet of digestives that were left out from yesterday's tea because absolutely the last thing you want to do is stop reading, get up, prepare and eat a proper meal. So that you can fall in love, too.

If you want to know what it's really about, there are proper reviews to read at Amazon, and also chez ames. As for me, I've managed to track down and acquire two other books by the same author. The only problem is that I can't yet bring myself to read them because I'm so worried that they won't have the same effect as this one.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Too embarrassed to call it anything but number seven

The thing is, someone else recently told me about one of their former flatmates, the pinnacle of whose appalling behaviour was his attempt to drive out P. from his council-provided splendour with twin offensives in the form of poor personal hygiene and flamboyantly noisy live-in lovers squatting on the sofa. This was followed up by a pathetic attempt to steal P.'s identity and thereby claim his benefits.

The plot was foiled by the aforementioned vociferous and as it turned out, spurned and vengeful lover Revealing All, and I mean All in the menswear department of Dickens and Jones. But it was the seventies, it might have worked.

I am now a little embarrassed at my previous description of my erstwhile flatmate's behaviour as "appalling". A trifle annoying perhaps. A mild social solecism. And of course, now that my own level of righteous anger has faded to mildly pissed off, I feel guilt and ashamedly petty about my own actions.

To sum up, I returned home after a week away to find a message that read, "I have decided I hate it here. I have left work and moved back home. I need to know what to do with the keys. Don't worry about paying me back for the rest of this month's rent."

This would be the person who had agreed that because of her lack of deposit and general uncertainty about life, the universe and tram times she would give me a definite 4 weeks notice of her plans to vacate or pay the difference. The one who had organised her entire life here (including a fall-back career and alternative Friday job) in advance from the other side of the world before arriving. The one who had never lifted a finger to do any cleaning and kept her own store of toilet paper in her room, since it seems that short lets do not dust or have a communal attitude to personal hygiene products (although other people's DVDs are another matter). The one who left only three days before next month's rent was due, which would make it a three days rent-but-no-tenant-bonus. Ice creams are on me.

A few weeks later, no sign of the keys in the post, but a further message, "My friends are coming to stay in Hotel XYZ for the weekend. Please take the things I left behind around to their hotel for me so they can bring them back for me. Don't bother about the food or anything, just the clothes, shoes and bags."

These would be the clothes that had been left in dirty piles on the floor (now laundered) or mildewing gently in the washing machine on my return. With shoes and everything, the enormous canvas holdall allocated to the task weighed about 20 kilos (44 lbs.) and would have required a taxi to deliver.

Gentle readers, I said no.

Today falls on the last day of the weekend of the visitation and I have not taken the items around. The weather is bad, the taxi drivers are angry, the hotel has steps. Twenty navy-blue, canvas kilos of guilt are weighing on my conscience with fraying straps.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Im Not Dedd Yet.

But I'm in some kind of doldrums, where I'm paddling furiously but don't seem to be getting anywhere fast.

Anyhow, in my "to blog" list appears the following:
1. Extended posting extravaganza on "The Colour Purple", including why I spell it wrong.
2. Some really good series books I've read lately (like, in the past year).
3. Spreading book love to a bunch of standalones too.
4. Kyrse of the Whamphyre Pt. 3278, rev.7a, or "If I skim read the LKH releases in hardback in Borders instead of buying them, it's a) not tight and mean, and b) doesn't count in the rotting of grey matter stakes (like calories from food you don't like, or eat standing up. Pun unintentional.).
5. Sausages.
6. Things that people miss in the Czech Rep. with a very long digression by a French person on seafood.
7. The Appalling Behaviour Of My New Ex-Flatmate Who Has Done A Runner. And she seemed so normal, too.
8. Should I get flying lessons?
9. Does anyone else always look to see who's listed in the copyright of a book?
10. House. Better in small chunks as otherwise, you see the joins.
11. Hair. Tralalala.
12. Greetings (not Hallmark).
13. Burčak. Drink it before it brews. It's cultural.

14. I'm hungry.

Problem is of course, that the more I don't write about them, the more I don't want to write about them. So I think I might jettison some of the trivia, and when someone takes this bloody grindstone off my neck (nose has slipped) I'll just do number 1.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Oooohhhh, ye'll take the high road...

Warning: This post is also going to be another one of those definitely-not-a-book-review-picky-harridan-spouting-bad-puns rants. Not a review, 'cos then I'd be adding my 2p/80 hellers to Amazon instead, and talking about characterisation and plot and whatnot, but 42 others have done this, with the average rating coming out pretty… average. Which would be my opinion, except for, well, what follows. Bear (hurhur) with me.

There's an episode in one of the Paddington Bear books (and I googled until I was getting very red-faced from some of the sites that did appear, but couldn't find the name) where the marmalade-munching bundle of good-yet-furry intentions goes to Scotland Yard to report a crime. Confusion, mishaps and hard stares ensue, followed by a swift resolution and a warming mug of hot cocoa. Awww...

But there's a clue to my dismay at my latest commute book here, because Paddington Bear lives with the Greens at 32 Windsor Gardens. This is located in Notting Hill. That would be Notting Hill, London, England. Like the film and the carnival. It's quite posh, actually. But the key point? Is the "England" bit. Note how it's not "Scotland". Scotland is a long way on paws (although not as far as Peru).

But of course, Paddington is anthropomorphosized bear, so perhaps we shouldn't rely on his sense of orientation. After all, who knows what kind of funny practices he might have picked up in Darkest Peru? That supra-cranial stash marmalade sandwiches is definitely suspicious.

So take the case of the most famous dope-addled detective of them all, Sherlock Holmes, who famously puffed on his pipe at 221b Baker Street. Again, in London, England. Where he would periodically show up his rival in detecting, Inspector Lestrade, who worked for Scotland Yard. Presumably also in London unless he had a very fast horse.

But shockingly (perhaps it's a cunning ruse to lull local criminal masterminds into a false sense of security by convincing them that the police have moved and are busy looking for nefarious deeds elsewhere) the Metropolitan Police Force, who police Greater London, have an HQ called, "New Scotland Yard". In England. Not Scotland. There's a big triangular sign in front that goes round and round and round and round... I've gone past it on the bus (yes, a red double-decker one).

Or perhaps it's just that 180 years ago, the public entrance of the police HQ was in Great Scotland Yard, and London being London, the name stuck, even after it moved few times (but only within London). What this says about Londoners, I'm not sure. It's probably not flattering. At least they stuck the "New" on at the beginning. Anyhow, keeping the name wasn't so much about foiling dastardly villains, but dastardly villainous filing. (oh help)

So if, say, a writer of contemporary romantic suspense were to feature a psychotic serial killer going on a mad rampage through the modern-day Highlands, I'm pretty damn sure that the local laird (uuurrgggh) wouldn't be calling for and/or dodging the attention of Inspector MacTypecast from Scotland Yard. There's that whole 12-plus hours journey on a very dull motorway with nothing but boiled sweets and local radio for sustenance for one.

Instead, Laird MacTitebreeks o' Leathern (uuuurrggh) would be enjoying a visit by representatives of the Northern Constabulary CID. Probably a whole bunch of them with forensic investigators and everything. Maybe a task force in fluorescent vests. Maybe even a secret subdivision of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency staffed by a brotherhood of vampires. Ian Rankin probably knows best.

Someone, somewhere is very glad I dumped that business about UK police ranks and how they're referred to in the vernacular.

In case anyone was looking to for the terrifyingly-long first draft mentioned elsewhere...

I have to apologise because I did promise elsewhere that I would attempt to tame the unfeasibly long first draft of my commentary-thing on The Color Purple and present it, nicely trimmed (possibly with lavender ribbons) in manageable chunks here this weekend. And I really did mean to. Had it all planned in my head and everything.

Problem is that I'm over HERE. And the laptop is over THERE. And the back-up server with all these personal doodads and mumblings is JUST A BIT TO THE RIGHT, NO WAIT, UP A BIT… LEFT… LEFT… NO! RIGHT! RIGHT! But the whole thing was just too huge for me to reconstruct over the weekend, so guess what this week's filling-in-the-gaps project will be? By next Sunday, there will be something along these lines, 'kay?


Then I started an entirely different rant, but that's another post for another time. Probably about 5 minutes from now.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


So last weekend, still in the grip of my emotional maelstrom, and made reckless by a clutch of last month's unused food vouchers* I went a little wild and experimental in the bio-food emporium owned by the 7th Day Adventists (closed on Saturdays - it's very disconcerting. No trading on Sundays is still the norm here for smaller shops).

I should probably add that as a tree-hugging, muesli-crunching, hemp-sandal-wearing herbivore I am a regular patron of this and other bio-shops. It's just that I normally confine my purchases to things I recognise and know how to cook. You know where you are with tofu - it's not usually going to do anything more vicious than wobble alarmingly and take on lurid hues when it's past the sell-by date. And green leafy stuff is pretty much universally manageable.

But all those little bags of dried things can be a little intimidating, and most of the powdered stuff comes hand-labelled with vocabulary that doesn't feature in my "Czech Step-by-Step". They frown on the sniff test in there, too.

However, novelty is a many-splendoured thing, and last Sunday the "novinky" section was filled to the bursting with little (recycled) plastic pots of crackery-biscuitty type things. So after much deliberation I picked up box of "orange-lemon-ginger flax rolls". Sounds yummy. Mmmmm…

Luckily, as a small child I used to eat paper, so the principal texture and flavour didn't come as a total shock. And then, the flax seeds added a certain je ne sais quoi to the whole chewing experience which can only be described as "mucilage". (Is that a word? I have done that thing with soaked flaxseeds as a substitute for egg whites but was never very convinced by it.)

But I did learn the Czech for "Slowly dehydrated at 48 degrees centigrade for several hours to preserve health and vitality." And this made me realise that rather than delighting in biscuitty-goodness itself, I was basically eating the mummified husks of biscuits. The only thing is that I'm not sure if they're meant to reincarnate of their own accord or if I need to stand under a pyramid holding a razor and a dead mouse first. Pass the natron.

*Is this a Czech thing? Because pretty much every company here seems to pay a small fraction of your salary in food vouchers. Just like luncheon vouchers, but they're far more widely accepted, and you can use them in most restaurants, cafés and even supermarkets… Rules and checkout ladies permitting

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Gone through the wringer have I...yes...

So... as of ten o'clock this morning, I am a real, genuine Evil Auntie. Words cannot describe (although I'm sure I'll recover shortly).

I've also just finished re-reading The Color Purple for banned books week at Smart Bitches'.

I have snot down my face and my favorite bookshop just gave me free promotional mug.

All in all, I'm an emotional yo-yo. Or is that Yoda? Yogurt?

Monday, October 01, 2007

There's a theme here... if I can just put my finger on it...

Obviously, I would be the one with wings.

I suppose it's one of those millenial things, but like a lot of people I know, the title used to describe what I do to keep the weresturgeon from the door doesn't really convey the vivid actuality my day-to-day existence.

Luckily, I've found a photo.

Afterthought: Is it just me, or does horror seem more horrible when spelled "horor"?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Have now reached chapter 13

In the below?

I was wrong. First of all, I've worked out that it's not a book. It's a character spec and storyboard for an RPG.

Secondly, my comparison with Boney M was a terrible injustice to one of the most notable jangly-pop-reggae collectives of the last century. They rhymed better, and had fewer annoying hobbies.

Finally, in a last-ditch attempt to lift the cloud of vwamphyrric gloom that was yesterday's post, and in the interests of fairness, some points of sweetness and light.:
1.The words are generally spelled correctly.
2.None of the character's names or hair colours (apart from a certain vagueness about the eyes) have changed midstream. I am very clear on the details of their physique. Man, big. Lady, small. Got it.
3.Same for the horses. Except there aren't any yet (werelynx, yes. horses, no) which is probably a relief.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Once again, I have fallen for the Kyrse of the Vwampyr (mwhahaha)™. Alas, all down to Robin McKinley's Sunshine, which I finally got around to reading. Hooray! A book that lived up to the hype that I have been oh-so-studiously avoiding. For once, the Buffy comparison was not unwarranted. It filled me with yeasty confidence in the possibility of other interesting-yet-unlikely-sounding books from the sub-genre in question.

Oh how wrong I was.

How wrong.

How very very very wrong.

Dufdufdufdufdufduf. Duf.

Mr. Lestat and J-C, (famed artistic creations of the vwamphyrrically bonkers kind, somewhat long-in-the-tooth, but that's muses for you) have a hell of a lot to answer for. Oh those… Carpathians, to paraphrase Boney M.

In fact, this latest book (for want of a better word, I mean, there are pages and a cover and actual printed words and such) reads to me like a Boney M version of "The Funky History of Drakula with lots of Russky-type-boinking and guns", sometimes set in Romania. Only with Italian subtitles. Featuring a nubile chorus of Egyptian gods wearing sparkly eyeliner and a ghostly, well let's call it a "tambourine", although that would be the wrong shape.

The only problem with that comparison is that I don't think Boney M took themselves quite as seriously as this book (or its heroine) does. No campy fun for us in our flowing pantaloons, oh no.

Still, there is hope. I'm only on chapter 7 (pages are turning quite slowly) and it's entirely possible that the heroine may smack her head against a convenient low-hanging tree branch, get amnesia and forget all the info she must dump along the way. Not sure what to do about every other character's single-minded determination to adore and worship every single fibre of her being, though.

Inadequately-researched digression into Romanian taste in popular music.

It was the chorus of happy Romanian peasants singing Peter, Paul and Mary songs in the pub, accompanied by the heroine on the guitar that pushed me to my current underpants-on-the-head level of despair and befuddlement. Actually, I asked the Romanians in the other office how they felt about Peter, Paul and Mary, or possibly, Petru, Pawel and Maria songs. But apparently, they like Shakira better. Hips don't lie.

End digression.

Since I'm now adament that I will finish this bloody book, I can only hope that there may be a cunning twist in the tail. Perhaps the heroine will whip out (maybe skip the whipping, though, because my imagination has enough to cope with, thankyouverymuch) the trusty, "main-character-as-evil-machinator" plot device (thank you, Dame Aggie).

She can then reveal that the entire preceding storyline is the result of a nefarious plot on her part to lobotomise every character with whom she comes into contact, turning them into brainless lumps of hunky man-jelly, who will be hers… (assume Truman Capote voice here) hers... to toy with... (a loony hand-washing gesture would not go amiss at this point).


Anyone else notice the dearth of decent female secondary characters when a heroine like this flounces, bitches and sweats perspires ahem, glows, her way across a few hundred pages of print?


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Lazy list

Ten things you can see/do in Prague that aren't mentioned in my very extensive collection of guidebooks (even the one that has reviews of, erm, houses of ill-repute).

1. Eat dumplings filled with smoked meat and served from a small brass cannon onto a wooden cheeseboard piled high with sauerkraut. (I've mentioned this before, but it's worth mentioning again).

2. See six German ladies of a certain age touring Prague in a seventy-seven year old, bright yellow, open-topped car with six wheels.

3. Have an excellent Thai massage.

4. Visit a museum dedicated to the most famous Czech who never lived, Jara Cimrman, including replicas of his most famous inventions, such as the triple-headed hammer, ladies' mugger-defense glove with retractable claws, or the gentleman's travelling chamberpot.

5. Drink an excellent cappuccino accompanied by a carrot "sandwich" (a slice of loaf that tastes a lot like a nutty carrot cake).

6. Not admire the statue of Jan Hus in Old Town Square because it's completely surrounded by hoardings for Skoda cars which are paying for its repairs, and beds of seasonal flowers, which aren't but make it look nicer.

7. Cruise the Vltava in pedalos (tide permitting).

8. Go roller-blading in one of the big parks outside the centre and play spot-the-most-obscure-yet-obscene piece of graffiti.

9. Wonder at the seemingly unstoppable flood of "Herna Non-Stop", 24 hour gambling shops (places too small and croupier-free to be called casinos) filled with flashing, ringing slot machines, a perpetual cloud of cigarette smoke and free drinks and snacks to playing punters.

10. Go(-)karting in Radotín, Europe's largest indoor karting track and finally understand where all the airport taxi drivers get their training.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

(i can has breef postz)

The short version of the post below?

Escalators in the Prague metro are rather long and slow.

The end.

Moving stairway to nefilim

Somehow, while I have had enough time to stumble across ideas for blog posts and even managed to worry them around enough to find some of the rough edges, I haven't really had the time to bash them into shape. Consequently, when I do sit down at a keyboard for bloggish purposes, I don't even know where to start. It feels as if all these whirling fragments of posts have clogged up my back brain and it takes enormous concentration to get anything down - even a hopeful list of topics.

Personally, I blame the escalators. Escalator-based differences are one of those things that I noticed when I first arrived here, but which rapidly became part of the day-to-day pattern of my life. When I was first getting to know the glories of the Prague metro system, my thoughts when escalator-bound would go something like this:

"Ticket stamping machine… where's my ticket? Oh yes, here. No that's used, okay, yes, here it is."

Silent squishing noise (yes, it is possible) as ticket collapses in ticket stamping machine. Squish again. Squish again.

"Okay… not the ticket. Different machine."

Whirrrrr. Bzzpp. (electronic date-stamping noise). Walk to escalator. Stand. Stare at the back of people's heads, trapped by the lack of appropriate Czech verbiage. Stand some more. Brain flips into the same semi-meditative trance of resigned boredom that causes me to read the ingredients listing on cereal boxes at breakfast and starts looking for escalator equivalent of a nutrition label.

"Ohhhh. Strange-looking Czech words on posters. I recognise that brand. And that one too. But not that one. Hey, I know that word. I think that one is advertising a language school. Yes, "jazyky". I know that word. And "anglic-with-a-hacek-tina" too. Wow. I can read some Czech. So I wonder what that is? Oh "divadlo". That's theatre. So maybe a play? Or seasons? It's a black and white picture of two people with angst in their eyes. With an owl. Must be a play. What's the owl for? How far? What? I'm not even half-way down this thing yet. Bloody hell, this is taking for-ee-vaaahh. Borrreeed.

"What play has an owl? This is a long escalator. I wish that man would move to the right. I wonder what Czech for "please stand on the right is?" Hmmmm… trees of the year. The June one is nice. In London, there are signs and announcements. Very leafy, that May tree. Tree of May. Whatever. Why aren't there signs and announcements? Or is it moving very slowly? In London, heavy breathing makes people move. Don't Praguers understand the meaning of heavy-breathing-at-the-neck? Damn. I think that was my train.

"Yes, look, people are getting on the escalator from that side of the platform. Isn't this light a strange yellowy colour? And the ticket machines are yellow too. This is a really long escalator. I wish I could walk. Or speak enough Czech to ask them to move. Maybe they're tourists. Tourists in London don't always understand the heavy-breathing-at-the-neck thing. Even though they have pictures with big red "X"s. And announcements. But the announcements are only in English. Which is pretty idiotic.

"And there's that whole slow time thing too. Maybe they don't get the need to rush. That's nice. It probably means fewer heart attacks. I'm sure I read somewhere that the faster people walked in cities, the unhealthier they were. These people are probably keeping me healthy. Which is good. Really. But also annoying. Hey, so that's what Bourne Ultimatum is in Czech. Could I get a tree of the year? I would probably feel healthier about the not rushing if I wasn’t breathing in this incredibly unpleasant smell. Especially through warm air. How do people do things like that in ventilation?" Ad nauseam (ahem, big klew about smell there).

Three hours later (okay, actually 2 and a half minutes. E timed one once. But it's a veeerrryy sloooowwwww 2 and a half minutes), I am at last able to admire the unique platform architecture and dulcet tones of the (occasionally) trilingual announcements, where the Czech takes twice as long as the German or English versions, leaving me in a permanent state of anxiety about what important travel-related information I might be missing.

"Bing-bing. Dear passengers, for your safety, you are please asked to remain standing behind the white line." Well, it's white and black. And more grey than white, actually. "Bing-bing. Dear passengers. Already this Saturday Prague will become the venue of the Mattoni Night Grand Prix. The night run in the streets of Prague will affect the city transportation in the centre of Prague between nineteen thirty hours and twenty-two thirty hours. There will be tram service disruption in the section…"

But these days, everything just blurs into the getting-to-another-place zone of empty-headedness. It takes something spectacular along the lines of battling clowns to shake me out of auto-pilot. Familiarity breeds contemptplation (hurhur). So as my daily two to four escalators become the only point in the day where I can actually go into slow time, they give me just enough time to get irritated by a bit of mental grit, but no more. Actual coherent structures would require a bit more of, well, everything.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Fancy a brew?

There's plunder, and there's, well, I don't quite know what to call it now.

Naïve fool that I am, I had always assumed that the reason I was hauling back crates of Brand Y. Tea for myself and assorted other expats was one of those home-away-from-home things. Some adjustments are harder to make than others, especially bleary-eyed, early morning ones.

While good coffee is possible to achieve by dint of much banging of the supersonic coffee machine and the stealthy substitution of some Lavazza or other decent beans (kept under lock & key), the concept of a nice brew is light years away from the paper bags of fruit-flavoured wood shavings that usually appear under the the label here. Then there's the whole issue of preparation. The boiling of water first and the right sort of milk.

And I love tea. Proper tea I mean. Thick builder's tea that turns the milk a robust shade of mahogany. Tea you can stand spoon up in. Coffee just doesn't quite have the same effect in the mornings, it's too edgy, too acid. I need a big mug of tea that's almost a meal on its own to strip the flannel from my tastebuds. And then I need a few more to fuel me through the day. Somehow, I always thought that my fellow-drinkers out here needed their imports for the same sort of reason. It's what we're used to, and things don't feel quite the same without it.

Except I was wrong. It's not just that.

The other day, the undercover musician (80 bags, hard water blend) revealed that his particular brand is more than just a pick-me-up. It's a pick-them-up too. "Them" being his series of outstandingly attractive girlfriends. Nothing to do with the jazz cool, the sunglasses, the ability to riff for 2 hours solid and jam with gypsy punk trumpeters from the former Yugoslavia until his fingers bleed. Apparently it's all in the tea. Drop-dead gorgeous supermodel-types from the Czech Rep., Serbia and points east love it. Having never encountered a good cuppa (strong, milky and a good slug of sugar) they think it tastes amazing. And more importantly, because he drinks tea rather than beer, wine or slivovice for refreshment during the day, he's considered more stable and less likely to be plagued by an over-fondness for adult beverages, instantly moving him several points above his peers in the dating stakes.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Never the twains

…and then the wireless vanished, and we were left alone with nothing to do as night fell but sing to the sea and the sheep.

Unfortunately, we couldn't remember the words of many trad. songs about the sea, or sheep for that matter, so our choice of ditties was perhaps a little light. We stood with our trousers rolled up to our knees in the surf and ended up bellowing out a few choruses of Drunken Sailor and Yellow Submarine before we stubbed our gritty toes back up the beach. It was nice.

But the best bit was getting there.

Not sure if I've mentioned it before, but I love trains. Not overwhelmingly or obsessively, you understand, but I think they are about my favorite means of transport. Somehow, going on holiday by train feels right. Going off for a weekend at the seaside by train is even more right.

This weekend, after the hard-core commuter line from Euston, followed by the usual hideous bank holiday mess around the Midlands there was the utter glory of a local service that ambled through North Wales, lurching between scenic splendours and industrial car parks. Periodically, after a flurry of engine shunting and frantic racing by confused passengers to the front or back two cars (as appropriate), carriage segments would break off to escape along branch lines to the sea.

My own fun-filled journey went something like this:

Euston. Fellow traveller missed train. Angry commuter line in shiny, yet souless Pendolino service to Wolverhampton. Had seat. Meanwhile, fellow traveller gets on another train. Goes wrong way.

Hellish bank holiday confusion/cancellation/delays at Birmingham New St. information desk. No seat, much waving of small pieces of paper.

Depressed local commuter line from Birmingham to Liverpool Lime St., descending at Wolverhampton. Had seat. Pieces of paper jettisoned.

Sit on Wolverhampton platform, looking anxiously at delay updates for train from Birmingham New St. that might-or-might-not be cancelled. Check clock. Fellow traveller has turned around and arrived in Telford by mysterious means. Check clock. An hour passes.

Train for Aberystwyth. It's the only one going anywhere Welsh-wards. Everyone else in Wolverhampton agrees and gets on the train. No seat. No carriage. Stand in loo. DUE TO THE CANCELLATION OF THE 18:42 SERVICE FROM BIRMINGHAM NEW STREET, PASSENGERS FOR ALL STATION**FRSTZZ** TO LL**-DDY*-*AOWFRSPZZ**DR SHOULD NOT CHANGE AT DOVEY JUNCTION BUT REMAIN ON THE SAME TRAIN AND F**PSS*8RR**--**RSTZ UP THE PLATFORM.


Train pulls out of the station the same way it came in. Seat is now backwards and disconcerts me. Night falls. Man from Birmingham with tent and beer produces map of North Wales and attempts to chart the course of his journey. THERE IS A TROLLEY SERVICE ON THIS TRAIN UNTIL BZZZST** Pencil line drawn by man from Birmingham with tent and beer falls into the Irish sea.

PASSENGERS ARE NOT PERMITTED TO MOVE BETWEEN CARRIAGES WHILE THEY ARE BEING DETATCHED. Run up the platform to the front two carriages at Machynlleth. Curse book-buying spree. Crash into fellow commuter, who has lost phone. Train turns around.THE TROLLEY SERVICE HAS NOW ENDED.

Train carriage is now devoid of life apart from selves, sleeping man from Birmingham with tent and no beer, and a family all speaking in Welsh. They wear shirts saying, "I support Wales and everyone playing the English." I hide behind book and fellow traveller tries to look Australian.


Phone rings. Friend with car who is picking us up asks that we get off at another station, which is the second-stop-with-the-same-name-on-the-line. Tells us this three times. I advise conductor of our revised destination only once.

Once is enough. She sniffs. "You'll need to get off from the middle doors here." THERE IS NO TROLLEY SERV-- I am too afraid to confirm if she has decided to drop us at the first or second-station-with-the-same-name-on-the-line.

The platform is the size of a bus shelter, and we have to go through a cattle gate to leave the station. According to the rail timetable footnotes, at request stops marked with "x" , passengers desiring to join the train are advised to make themselves clearly visible to the train driver from the platform. Shades of "The Railway Children", methinks.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Noswaith dda

So here I am on the official edge of nowhere, very far in the remotest bit of North Wales, behind a mountain and two miles from the nearest village, Ll--y-aedw-ch--dd-w-w-ll-dd or something like that. And yet, inexplicably I have better and faster wireless internet than I did in the centre of freaking London all week.

Gotta love the wonders of the modern age...

Alas, I still have no time for anything in depth, but getting here I realised that the Welsh and the Czech languages both share an extreme antipathy for anything that looks like a vowel. And the "ch" noise too.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Flash freeze

The Czech word for "ice cream" is "zmrzlina."

The Czech word for "ice cream cone" is "kornoutek."

The Czech word for "ice lolly" is "nanuk."

It's all good.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Plus ça change

The real trick here will be avoiding use of any of those words that attract the wrong kind of attention...

Now where was I? Oh yes, gyms. Well, one gym at a time - I'm not raving, after all - but more than one in total, if you see what I mean. So yes, gyms. Or more precisely, gym changing rooms and cultural differences thereof.

Because the people of that “island nation” that Coast was going on about? Well, they are rather on the shy side. So back in Londinium, every visit to the changing room was a complex exercise in advanced towel technique. Even the nature-loving, people-embracing, sandal-wearing patrons of the yoga place with open shower stalls would immediately wrap themselves in yards of cloth to cover the ten feet to the lockers once out of the magic circle of water. And unless they were examining the floor tiles, no one ever, ever looked below shoulder level.

So there were days when the sheer effort of managing to achieve the socially correct degree of coverage with the regulation two smallish terry rectangles while putting on a dry-clean only wool suit and insta-crease cotton shirt would all become too much. I would long to fling all coverings aside and prance about the place in my altogether, or at least not descend into hideous spasms of embarrassment if the bottom towel dropped at an awkward moment.

Of course, this means that I have turned into a prude. And here, in glorious Prahahaha, women (in keeping with my ingrained prudishness, my gym behaviour is strictly orthodox, so I know nothing about the habits of the other gender(s)) have a more, shall we say, “European” approach. Which is much more sensible, of course, but it is taking me time to get used to it. In my case it seems that personal prudishness, once acquired, is quite hard to drop, much like my bottom towel.

Unlike the hirsute, rather burly gentleman who checked in behind me the other day. When offered his allocated two towels, he loudly advised all and sundry that he only needed “the small one”.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Deep Cake Time

I've been sadly neglectful of the blog to date, for various reasons, most of them quite dull - even the one involving the cabbage. Actually, especially the one about the cabbage.To get some momentum, I hereby resolve to take a more splatter-gun approach to the the process. It means less planning, mainly, and probably more drivel. Oh well.

In the home-grown spirit that reflects the blog's latest direction, I wanted to mention a new-found reason to love Open University/BBC telly programmes. I've been watching the series, "Coast" (a tour around the coast of the UK in 12 episodes delivered by a mixed bag of academics). There's a bit in the one where one of the experts gives a basic explanation the creation of the Jurassic coast down Dorset & Devon way.

Picture the scene: the anthropologist (and I don't know why she's talking about geology, but as will soon become clear, this is more of an introductory session than an in-depth discussion that flings around words like "igneous" and "lithostratigraphic" with wild abandon) has hair dyed crayon-red and arranged in windblown plaits that clash with her maroon anorak. She is sitting on a flimsy aluminium table outside a seaside caff somewhere like Lyme Regis. It's windy, grey and looks like rain. A waiter brings her three slices of cake on a paper(edited to add) blue-edged, china plate. (Sorry, but I wouldn't want to give anyone the wrong impression, since apparently plates are quite important to geologists.)

Using the cake, the helpful academic piles up the Triassic (ginger) Jurassic (Victoria sponge) and Cretaceous (Madeira with extra peel) layers horizontally. Tilting the three-layer cake on its bottom corner to illustrate the way the strata sank to the east during the Cretaceous period, she then represented the coastal erosion that exposed all three layers with a plastic knife used to slice off the upper corner.

Cake, geology and probably a nice cup of tea at the end. Lovely.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Walks with sticks

Maybe I'm a bit odd but I've always felt pretty confident on the walking front. After all, I've been doing it for *koff*-ty-odd years. And it's not like I fall over or run into things a lot. People don't usually stare and point as I make my way around locations of interest. Nose in the direction of travel. Left foot, right foot, repeat. That about covers it. At least, that's what I thought until my perambulatory orbit collided (awkwardly) on holiday with The Walking Specialist. Woe for my ignorance.

Apparently I walk ALL WRONG. I'm a walking disaster. My hips lean at the wrong angle. My pelvis wobbles precariously over two thigh bones that twvIST. My big toes are not sufficiently grounded, while my knees drag. My ankles are like mush. My right arm swings erratically while my left arm swings not at all. My shoulders are poised as if to take flight while my head… oh dear… my head lies smashed in the chipped egg cup that is my neck.

Such was the verdict of the Nordic walking coach who examined my stride minutely and in slow motion (curse you modern, easy-to-use digital videography). In a clear example of my shallow wrong-headedness, I was more concerned about the unattractive wobbling of parts, particularly viewed from behind while walking up some stairs, but apparently this was the least of my worries.

After he had revealed my numerous ambulatory flaws, dwelling with enthusiasm upon my flailing calves as they cycled through a bizarre up-and-down motion that would likely leave me in traction after six months, the coach revealed that he had the solution to all my problems: Nordic walking. The walking of champions! (Well, off-season cross-country skiing champions.)

Nordic walking would re-educate my posture, lengthen my stride, burn fuel like a clapped-out, uninsulated boiler on "high" and give me good healthy lungs and moral fibre. I examined the coach closely and attempted to discern the level of health that might potentially lurk beneath his gently rounded belly. Was it possible his exemplary moral fibre was giving him bloat that morning?

Since the alternative was clearly to wheel away slowly in an invalid chair, covered in shame, I betook myself and my shambolic gait to a back field, clutching desperately at a pair of funny-looking sticks with pointy ends and sweaty leather wrist-straps. And there began the lesson.

"So the first thing you need to know about Nordic walking, right, is that it's not like ordinary walking, right?"
The class fiddled with their straps in expectant silence.

"The poles come here. At the sides, right? To start with just hold them loosely. Nothing to be afraid of, that's right. Just by your sides. Now walk."
We walked obediently, dragging our poles behind us.

"Now that noise, right? That noise is your friend. That noise tells you what your poles are doing, right?"
Scrape. Scrape.

"So what you have to do is grasp the pole and let your natural arm swing bring it forward. Then release. The noise, right? for the experts, it's a whisper."
Scrape. Scrape.
"Now go. Grasp. Release. Grasp. Swing. Release. Grasp. Like that."

I grasped, swung and released.

"No. Right, you need to keep the natural motion of walking. Opposite arm and leg."
I swung, grasped and released.
"Not quite. Right, try not to think about it."

I released, grasped and swung my pole between his specially-constructed lightweight Nordic walking shoes with greater forefoot flexibility.
"Oh. Shit. Sorry - I didn't mean for my stick to do that."
"It's not a stick."
"It's a pole, right? A co-wound carbon composite antishock Nordic walking pole that I have carefully matched to your height."
"Ah. Sorry."
"It's not a stick. It's an important fitness piece of fitness technology. It will change your walking, right? Your life will change."
"Pole. Got it."
"If you don't respect your pole, how can you respect your posture?"
"Absolutely. I absolutely respect my posture."

"It's just that the spike bit has caught on my jumper*."
"The pointy bit on the end of the stick, sorry, pole. It's caught in my jumper and you're standing on the sleeve."
"That shouldn't happen with the correct technique."
"Yes. Probably. But my physical coordination thing, you know... and it did."
"Nordic walking will improve your physical coordination. But you have to give your equipment the respect it deserves. Right?"
"Yes. Right. But right now, I mean, at the moment, my jumper?"
"And it's not pointy, right? It's an angled spike tip."
"Oh yes, I see. It's quite spiky."
"Right. A spike."

The off-season cross-country skiing champions do it on inline skates, apparently.

*also known as a sweater in other Englishes.

Monday, August 06, 2007

There are some horns.

Alas, and woe is me, for I am in a bit of a (garlic) pickle. On the one hand, I am doing (metaphorical – sorry, I never really got the hang of gymnastics) handsprings of potentially odorific delight. On the other hand, there is one of my nearest-and-dearest’s six month’s of collapsed-rail-tunnel commuting hell, and a presumed nefarious plot (not mine) to take over the world.

It’s all about supermarkets, kids.

Although Prague is lovely, and offers bountiful dumplings to the discerning palate, the food situation in this particular corner of the world is perhaps not as idyllic as other, more epicurean climes. Say the ones where vegetable sections are less focussed on novelty root vegetables.

In the interests of fairness, it’s not quite that bad (except maybe in the dead of winter). In fact, other places have been trickier. But my weekly shop occasionally involves some very energetic hunting and gathering over an entire weekend. And it’s not as if I’m compiling detailed lists from the ingredients sections of glossy food-pr0n-books. There are days when the thought of a decent ready-meal makes me weep with longing into my greasy takeaway pizza painted with barbecue sauce.

I admit I have been spoiled in the past, but in the face of uneven levels of freshness, it’s mainly the variety I miss. There are rumours about a mythical Thai vegetable store somewhere in darkest Vršovice that features untold herbivorous delights. And more rumours about a mysterious collective that arranges for deliveries of organic produce to an anonymous apartment block every third week after the full moon. But for me, it’s usually the local Albert. Because the other option is the supermarket that is eating the world. And I can't patronise this place without squirmy moral defeat and great risk to intra-familial relations.

So far, I have resisted the temptations of cheddar, proper tea and convenient late-night opening hours. Have suitcase, will import (*koffairmileskoff*). But now, weep for me. The mezinárodní nákupy* section of the Ebhil Giant has spread itself to the furthest corners of the mezinárod on a flying carpet of exotic sauces and stuffed vine leaves. And glorious, glorious garlic pickle

Yes, glorious, stinkalicious, pungent garlic pickle. The kind of bottled condiment I don't bring back because I am afraid of the ministrations of an overly enthusiastic baggage-mangler. The consequences of which would likely cause it to shatter in my luggage, leaving all of my belongings to marinate in garlic-scented deliciousness for however long it takes for easyjet to get off the runway plus flight time.


*international groceries

Saturday, July 21, 2007


...gone to the Motherland via a rather old-skool style residential course in Bath, complete with extremely uncomfortable mattress and endearingly eccentric tutor. (Done, hence earlier quietness).

Mainly I will be avoiding things electronic, although not quite to the point of sporting tinfoil headgear, I hope. I will probably also eat some strawberries.

In the meantime, something to consider may be sub-genre, or even genre hopping writers (I've taken Kelley Armstrong's new book with me). Or tango singing.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

In which things take a sinister turn… (including Blogger's inexplicable refusal to let me add a title. Which would be - if I could add it - Part Secundex)

Reader, I bought the book. Gripped by a fatal combination of nostalgia and pity, I shelled out 40 (£1/US $2) crowns for the x-actoed x-Lindsey. I couldn't help but think that almost any prospective buyer flicking through the mangled pages would have likely immediately returned it to the shelf. And then? Landfill.

Having bought it, it seemed only fair (and economical) to take it for a trip down memory lane. Which was when I discovered the full horror of the situation. Not the "of its time thing, either", although yes, I blush. (See below for details).

Anyhow, all that neatly excised early-80s "preliminaries-to-the-dance-as-old-as-time" malarkey? All those heaving, swelling metaphors sliced off and scattered to the (wild) wind? All those prurient gazes forever poked out with a big stick? All gone? Not ezackly. The unseen wielder of the blade missed a bit.

Quite a big bit actually. In fact something like 3 and a bit pages. And then another 2 page chunk. There are probably another few lurking to stumble up the unwary (somehow, nostalgia could only take me so far). The only difference between these scenes and the expurgated ones before and after were that the intact ones involved the heroine and her (eventual) wun twue wuv. Not the heroine and the villain most eeeeevillle. Or the heroine and admirers A, B or C. That's a Boolean "OR" by the way. It's not that kind of book.

But, yeah. Heroine, hewo and surprised-while-bathing-in-the-stream-leading-to-the-obvious scene? Well, that's okay, it appears.


Yep. It seems the mad axe editor had more nuanced views than I expected. It's not so much a blanket ban on smut, as a crocheted (matrimonial?) shawl. With some FLIPPING BIG HOLES in it. For the unseen hands that wielded the x-acto knife, it ain’t what you do, it’s who you do it with.

I repeat. Whaaaaattt???

And let me just point out for the record, that in certain cases, only a few words were chopped out. As in:

The first time she met him, even while he was demanding payment on the note he had won from her father, rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb Jessie’s body. ("Him" = unwashed mass of filthy-minded eeeeviiilllle villain. Jessie is the feisty rancher-girl heroine with a nice line in frocks. Hairoine too, looking at the cover. But seriously, how offensive can a master of eeeevilll be in roughly half a line? In her father's presence? When she has all that hair?)

Or: …Rodrigo, (not the hairo, as discerning readers will immediately realise on account of - Look! Cowboyspeak! - the slightly deflated nature of his mullete d'amor. Except I think Rodrigo's hair preceded his entry. Sorry.)

Rodrigo, standing at the window overlooking the courtyard, turned and saw her (or hair). The (dunno, but context dictates that it be about four words of window-based dodginess. Even in Amsterdam this takes longer. Maybe the pelmets cast shadows that looked like amusingly-shaped root vegetables on the hacienda floor.) but there was only one light, across the room, and it was impossible to see inside the curtains. (Wow. Impossible to see. As if he were night blind. That's almost as if he were actually blind. BLIND, I tell you. And EVERYone knows what makes people go BLIND. Cataracts.)

Or the missing 2 1/2 words (the first starts with "o", but it's a tricky one) and then second line when Jessie is chit-chatting to a wandering brave (not in the wild wind, it would seem, given the rather dull and stationary nature of their hair) who approaches her starlit campsite.:

"No o(oohhh? oooouuu? oowwwwu? oooobuggerit) the Cheyenne tongue?"
(Do NOT think that. Jessie is pure. She is good. She is innocent. She is...err...)
”I am Looks Like Woman, friend of the Cheyenne. I have a fire to share and food…”
(She is dumb. Sigh.)

And yes, I blush.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Would you? Could you?

I am somewhat perturbed…

Possibly even disturbed. Nay, even distrubed. And distroubled too. All of them. Because some unknown person, possibly not a million miles away from me may be all of this and more. Some individual who not inconceivably shares this city with me, who tromps over the same cobbles, rides in the same trams and patronises the same bookshops as me is a mutilater of book(s).

Last weekend I discovered a second-hand Johanna Lindsay novel with a full smutectomy. A surgical boob-removal of the printed kind.

Ladies (and gentlefolk who haven't turned away at the signs of an impending girlie froufrou rant) I am speaking of Brave the Wild Wind here. By Johanna Lindsay. Published in 1984. I read this book when I was fourteen. I may have ended up with some slightly peculiar ideas about ranching in late 19th century Wyoming, but I was not scarred for life. I knew breasts existed by then, even if they were but a distant dream. Heaving or not, they didn't do much sullying that I noticed. I still offer my seat to old people and pregnant women in crowded buses. I floss and eat a fibre-rich diet.

But the copy of this book that I picked up over the weekend to flick through in a wavelet of aqua-and-tangerine-tinged nostalgia has been altered by nameless hands. A knife has been used to carefully cut out lines of thund'rous passion. Or even just the odd thund'rously passionate word or two on certain pages.

Now these days, I might take issue with some aspects of the book that didn't particularly bother me when I first unearthed it in the stacks of a local library many, many moons ago. Lets just say it's "of its time". And in certain ways this actually makes it kind of interesting to revisit 20-odd years later.

But as for the slice and dice operation? A couple of possibilities occur to me.

1. Censorship (boo!hiss!). I can't imagine someone making lace from lasciviousness like this for their own personal reading pleasure. It makes the pages too hard to turn. It is far, far easier to just skim over the bothersome parts or even grab a handy marker pen if motes offend the eye to the point of blurred vision. At least this has the advantage of leaving the non-trashy, possibly plot-related passages on the reverse side intact.

I can't help but think that if gaps are the aim of the exercise, then this level of effort to excise squidgy bits from reading material indicates the determination to Make A Point. Look! Look at the gaps! Look at the emptiness where once was badness! Gentle readers, see how you too can save your fragile minds from this pollution! Seize your x-acto knives and free yourselves from the chains of overly-wrought passion!

So this leaves me with at least one possible alternative.

2. You know those notes created by cutting words out of printed material favoured by many old-skool whodunnits? After enough coffee I can imagine at least a few occasions when life in Prahahaha would require that someone communicate anonymously and yet amateurishly the need to press mounds, skim curves, and pebble all manner of things. It's that kinda place. Sticky glue, print-stained fingers and all.

But I do worry about what they did to the mule.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Still rainin...

...albeit with the odd break of sunniness. The staircase at home smells very peculiar, but the lights at work have stopped fizzing and flickering.

But I have to wonder if the friends of the Židovské muzeum v Praze, aka the Jewish Museum in Prague know something I don't. They appear to be building what looks like either an ark or a greenhouse around the back of the Pinkas Synagogue.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

It's raining...

...rain, mostly.

We are flooded downstairs. This is fun. Lucky I bought that new mop, eh?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Some like it...

Prague is still here, but it is hot, thundery and I am using a Czech keyboard which frustrates me far too much to type for very long.

For one thing, I cannot find the apostrophe key and hunting for it using combinations of Alt+letter has only produced a string of Polish letters and made me post this unfinished by accident. Three times. Besides, the novelty of typing đ, Ł, ř, ý ś & co. rapidly wears thin, to saz nothing of the annozance caused bz the waz that the "y" and "z" kezs are swapped around.

To fill in a very necessary gap which would otherwise be postless, here is a list of reasons why I picked up and bought or cruelly spurned certain books in a recent fleeting visit to Charing Cross Rd. It is of course absolutely nothing like a list I did a while back which may at first glance bear a striking resemblance to this list. It's a different bookstore. They are different books. In the interest of discretion, some of these are lies. And of course it's written on a Czech keyboard. Aka a Cyech kezboard. Backwards.

1. Back blurb refers to "magick". I have an unreasonable prejudice against this sort of spelling. It gives me hives.

2. Front blurb states perkily, "Fans of Laurell K. Hamilton and Jim Butcher will enjoy this fascinating tale..." I am conflicted, but eventually the other bit of blurb which mentions "biting wit" persuades me to take the glass half-full approach. I decide that the reviewer in question has probably not read an LKH book since Circus of the Damned.

(Upon reflection, a small quaking part of my mind now wonders whether the reviewer perhaps saw the more recent LKH efforts as mining an ironic vein of hitherto unsuspected profundity. And that "biting" pun? On a book with a vampire in it? That scares me witless.)

3. Front blurb states proto-perkily, "I adored this wonderful book! - Connie Mason." Eeek.

4. Hardcover copy of All Together Dead. Half-price because some of the pages are a bit damaged. I'm not picky. Woohoo!

5. Blurb states, "Fans of..." This means that the reviewer hated the book, and is desperately seeking a sub-genre to despise. (see 2)

6. No reviews, but 4 pages of extracts from gushing fans' letters. The more generous view might be that a cult is forming. I look terrible in robes.

7. Author was tragically eaten by crocodiles while researching/writing this book. It has been pieced together from bits of paper found in the dissected animals' digestive tracts. I wish.

8. How does author X find time to review all these books by authors A - Z? Ambivalence about author X teeters a bit more towards the maybe.

9. Cover. Aaak. Nobly, I rise above this, because the writer? She is da bomb.

10. Tom Waits.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Le portable est mort! Vive le portable!

Big. Heavy. Grey. Metal. Smelling faintly of those cinammon-candied almonds from the sandwich shop 'round the corner from work. These are just a few of the words people used to describe Della, my long-time laptop and dare I say it? Friend.

Yes, friend. For Della was always there for me through long hours of mortal toil. Through untold explorations of the wilds of the internet. Through sleepless nights tapping away to unravel the dark secrets of an essay-setter's heart. Spurned by burglars for her unwieldy size and loathed by baggage handlers for the same.

Very early she developed that endearing quirk of typing multiple letters in random order when her battery charge dropped below 60%, locking me out of any password-protected accounts. It started with the odd repeated comma, then a trickle of extra "V"s and "f"s became a flood of "£${{mTb99q]]"s. The half-bowl of butternut squash soup that was tipped over the keyboard in offering did little to appease her wrath.

Almost immediately after that, the mouse would stop working at the worst possible moment. The pointer would hover, frozen on the mysteriously-streaked screen while I frantically rolled the mouse over surfaces with varying degrees of roughness, and people commented helpfully on the smell of cinammon and almonds. Desperate banging-on-the-desk attempts to shake the pointer loose and free the fifteen-page unsaved document hidden by a randomly-opened folder directory were met with implacable disdain and sneering references to dog slobber on the power leads.

Then the USB port software began to reject all but the most carefully honed requests for retrievable disk access. The CD drive began to make horrible grinding noises when activated. My email began to freeze when opening anything above a certain size, or any attachments. And after the long three years that Della and I were together, she began to look worn. Bits of plastic and rubber would drop off, seemingly unimportant until she wobbled to a new equilibrium on the next flat surface. Small pits and dents appeared from nowhere, and the hinges were never quite the same after she fell out of a first- (ie. second in North America) floor window onto a passing café table.

And finally, Della is no more. She has gone to the gigantic computer superstore in the sky. There at last freed from earthly pain and flying condiments, she is one with the stars, her hard drive lobotomised by a great big mallet.

Requiescat in parts, Della. I'm sorry I had to hit you with a hammer.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

It's either this, or a review of property hotspots in the Balearics.

The other night I was trapped on the runway at Heathrow for about 2 hours in a tiny plane behind a male model (allegedly) while thunderstorms raged above Belgium (apparently). He had very nice arms, but wasn't much for talking.

Anyhow, I ended up messing around with ideas for SBTB's competition to write a Hoff-poem, (check out the links, especially the comments because some of the poems are bluddy brilliant) which probably didn't help with the conversation, since I ended up muttering a mantra along the lines of "Hoff?, Cough? Doff? Fer-goff? umm... Proff?" I think at this point he pretended to fall asleep.

Alas, I left it too late to enter, and then posted it in the wrong comments section (I think - I'm easily confused at the moment). Being lazy, I thought I'd just dump it here as well. Basically, it's either that or well... male models. Without the pictures. And besides, I need to go get dinner.

Haff a Hoff! Haff a Hoff!
Hoff a haff-hass-ter!
Hoffnapped by villains in vests,
Forced to eat pasta!
"Eat refined carbs!" they cried,
"Or fluffy bunnies die!
"You won’t be so stallionesque,
"Puffed-up by pasta."

"More refined carbs!" they said.
Mac and cheese was he fed.
"Deep-fried white eggy bread
"Makes waistlines vaster!"
Carb load was their vicious plot.
Carb load that in vain Hoff fought.
Carb bloat gave him Hoffin-top.
Not quite so stallionesque,
Now needs a basque...(er...)

Hoffin bulged o’er speedo trunks,
Hoffin’s not for Hoffly hunks,
Hoffin shades the Hoffly junk,
Damn all that pasta!
Faded the perma-tan,
Wobbles like custard flan,
Vision of Hoffliness,
Ruined by evil plan.
Who is this b-*bleep* it’s a kid’s show, dammit-astard?

Hoff knew those eyes that flashed,
Knew those veneers that gnashed
‘Neath caterpillar ‘tache
Sneered Hoffelganger, the
Evil Hoff-master.
"See my thick, chestly hair,
"Gold chains do nestle there,
"Mine is Hoff-power!
"Oiled leather pants I wear
"Tighter than plaster!"
Then he strode out and left --
Left Baked Alaska.

Hoffin speedo’s seams divide
Hoffins' awkward cracks cloth rides
Who runs with Hoffins, wedgified.
How to move faster?
Stolen stretch lamé thong,
Morally may be wrong
But thigh constriction’s gone.
Thus minimally dressed
He hoffled-poffed through dawn.
Hoff-power not denied,
Even by pasta.

Honour the Hoffliness!
Greater than any threats
That villains venture.
All evil plans foiled best,
Same time each week, an ex-
-citing Hoffenture.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Going, going, gong.

Last week, I went to several concerts as part of the tail end of the Prague Spring music festival As is the case with most things, there are many people out there far more qualified to review such events than yours truly, including the Visiting Music Teacher On A Half-Term Holiday (VMTOAHT - 'tis catchy, n'est ce pas?) who went with me. So what follows is definitely not a review of the concerts. Critics who have a better grip on their contrabassoon fingering technique than me can wrestle with the tricky nuances of mezzo-soprano soloist's coloratura passages.

An important thing to consider when arranging any concert is the whole ugly business of spectacle. After all, if there isn't something to look at, the more cynical members of the audience may wander off at the interval, grumbling about the price of tickets and beer before they can buy any of those commemorative T-shirts and limited edition socket sets. More performers in the world of pop/rock than you can chuck a scale model of Stonehenge and malfunctioning wardrobe at(,) know this to be true.

In the world of classical music, things are a tad more muted, spectacle-wise. That's how any fule know it's posh. Kinda like the way tastefully abstract visual metaphors rather than flowing tresses, lasers, pouffy gowns, muscular definition and elves with blue skin indicate respectable literature. (Note to self: Is it possible for a scantily-shirted humanoid with a well-defined chest, blue or not, to be an acceptable visual metaphor for a Great Narrative Theme, or does cleavage immediately sound the death knell of Great Art? Unless you're Richardson, of course, exploiting said bounteaous cleavage for your own nefarious purposes. Pamela Shmamela, apparently.)

Anyhow, a dearth of revolving stages and sparkly replica helicopters (although oddly enough, not necessarily straining bosoms) is usually a giveaway for the sort of concert where the audience is expected to assume either an earnest expression of restrained rapture (eyes-gently-shut-with-periodic-appreciative-inhalations-through-the-nose-during-emotional-passages) or intense concentration (eyes-gently-shut-with-a-slight-frown-and-periodic-small-yet-vigorous-nods-of-approval-of-that-rather-eloquent-rubato-leading-into-the-andante-passage). Tapping along is optional and should always be discreet. No one is allowed to wave their arms vigorously but the person with the stick at the front of the orchestra, or the occasional trombonist with sinus troubles. If there is no one with a stick, the person who most looks like they ought to have one usually wins the conducting free-for-all. Iron-grey hair and a dark suit help in this case.

Luckily for me, all the venues that featured as part of last week's whirl of concert attendance were equipped with bling in spades. Even at the gig where my view of the performers from the cheap seats was entirely blocked by a pillar, the obstructive column was liberally bedecked with ecclesiastical roccoco-a-go-go and a big picture of the Pope. Better yet was the view from the back of the rather stupendous bobbing combover we had when sitting underneath a big flag in the organ balcony at another gig.

But the most memorable was the music-from-the-kitchen-sink concert, which featured most of the instruments and orthodox novelty techniques from the western canon (but no canons or other light artillery, although there were some fugal passages). Audience members could happily debate the Hammond organ and flute duet during the interval, as well as thorny issues such as, "Was that a vibraphone in the last bit, or were they just happy to see us?"

Me? I was just waiting for someone to take advantage of the enormous gong propped up at the back of the percussion section. Something so large, brass and circular clearly was crying out for loud crash at a moment of high drama. Except it didn't. I don't know if it was a cunning ruse to maintain a thread of suspense through the event, or if I failed to appreciate the way some composer had counter-intuitively written a passage of extreme suspense where the instrument was stroked lightly with a paintbrush. But as the final note of the concert sounded, there was still nary a big bong to show for the whole two-hour musical extravaganza. And somehow, I still feel the lack.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Howl's moving


The curse of the drinking classes has cursed me bigtime. Something involving lead tablets in the walls of a cemetary probably.


Visitors with PLANS. They looom.


Essays due. Immediately.


(New) flatmates to find. Slightly less immediately. But I fear the cupboard-opening madness.


And the bathroom tap still squirts water in wholly unexpected directions when left unsupervised.

Probably the coffee isn't helping. And I really wanted to think about that poem too.

Gotta go.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Beehive behind the bonnet

Before the year is out, I will be a biological evil Auntie, rather than the "ties-of-friendship-rather-than-blude" evil Auntie I have been so far. The parents of the future be-evilled niece or nephew have been practising their parenting skills on the dog, so I am generally optimistic about the whole business of keeping the infant off the sofa and training him/her not to climb up the stairs, chew the bottom step to matchsticks or make messes on the living room carpet.

The dog has also been generous enough to allow me to practise my own evil aunting skills, which in her view generally involves letting her sprawl with pr0n-star abandon all over the older bro's fatboy (posh beanbag) revealing all sorts of Overly Frank Truths (it's a girl! it's a boy! later this year - it's a filled nappy!) to the world and shedding a good quarter of her body hair. Meanwhile I watch DVDs.

But while in the car on the way to the mouth of Wey this weekend with tricky, we were chatting about this and decided that in honour of the occasion I should probably up the evil quotient somewhat. We idly debated the possibilities of motorbikes, red leather, tattoos and a mysteriously untraceable smell, but in the end came round to the idea that the crowning glory could only be provided by my er... crowning glory.

Maybe it was the giddiness brought on by the pending weekend at the Great British Seaside. Maybe it was the prospect of greasy, paper-wrapped heaven in the form of the best fish and chips on the south coast. Maybe it was the Annual Trawler Race. Maybe it was the monotony and dull back pain induced by the Great British Bank Holiday Series of Traffic Jams. Maybe it was the ipod-wielding genius of tricky himself, and his selection of finest tunes. A combination of nostalgia and pop is a deadly thing.

But five and a half hours later, we poured ourselves onto the grey and windy beach utterly convinced that the ultimate badge of evil auntieness, the towering edifice that is the iron badge of the truly Great Aunt is the rock-solid, weatherproof, waterproof, wellie-proof beehive.

I'm off to find the lacquer and half a country cob.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Whitsun Bank Holiday report

Went to England. Got rained on. Saw many cute small children belonging to friends. Got sand in mouth. Came back. Got roasted. Changed trousers. Got rained on. Lost my will to grammarcate. Got thundered on. Ion activity in atmosphere stimulated plans for wholly new additions to English lexicon. Got lightninged on. Thought about hiding under the bed. Frame broke. Ate a sandwich.

And yes, it was/is a working day in the Ceska Republika. Despite their wild enthusiasm for Easter and May Day traditions, it seems that Pentecost/Whitsun is viewed with a more take-it-or-leave-it attitude.

On the upside, I have 22 kilos of new books to read. Just no time.
I have 3 lbs. of really lovely new tea to drink. But no milk.
The sunburn on the backs of my hands is fading. And also peeling.
I wrote a poem on the plane for SBs. Am unsure of the scanning and left it at home.
Friend is coming to visit for the Prague Spring Music Festival (& Fringe). Haven't bought any tickets yet.

So it's all a bit of a glass half-full, glass half-empty kinda day, which leaves me with no alternative but to go home and do impressionistic dance in my pyjamas to appease the broken mesh-like thingy from the tap in the bathroom basin which has fallen off, causing water to shoot out in wild and unexpected directions whenever it is operated.

Whatever else, at least there will be chocolate.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Canoe, canoe, canoe, canoe, canoe.

There were three of us in the boat that day - myself, F and the absent dog. Collectively, we were feeling rather liverish, the early morning start and preceding late night having dampened our normally ebulliant natures. Even the absent dog was inclined to tackle the situation with a marked lack of gusto. Indeed, if unevoked he seemed inclined to nod off and fade away.

Fortunately, the giant plastic tropical fruit replica in which we intended to descend the gleaming Sázava appeared both commodious enough to contain any volume of thunderous yawning, and stable enough to remain buoyant during even the greatest of ill winds and foul-blown tempers. As we launched our canoe and dipped our paddles in the crystalline waters beneath the prow, our slow retreat from the hurly-burly of the rental station eased our furrowed brows. A gentle breeze seemed to waft a sweet melody towards us.

"This is kind of fun."
"Yeah. It's nice. Does the absent-dog-with-the-cutsy-name like water?"
"No. He hates getting wet. But I think he might like this."
"Maybe when you follow the absent-dog-with-the-cutsy-name on his trip to the country-with-a-famously-big river you can go on a boat trip together."
"He might like that."

Silence fell. Birds chirped.


We exchanged waves of mutual geniality with passing Czech boatmen whose bonhomie was as huge and fizzy as the tins of Staropramen lager they brandished as a sign of friendship. As they passed us, still waving lit cigarettes daringly close to the sides of their inflated rubber raft, we fell silent as a mark of respect for their heroic drinking abilities.

A few miles passed with a rippled effect for added dreamy quality. But as the sun rose higher in the sky, it melted away the morning-glazed euphoria that had dulled our sharper edges and smoothed over the lack of sunscreen and insect repellent.

"Stop humming."
"Stop humming. It's annoying."
"Ok. Lets just make our way out of this flotilla of seventy-two identical bright yellow canoes. Their spinning is making me feel rather bilious."
"Fine. Oh, wait. Paddle left."
"Yes. Turn left."
"Turn left or paddle left?"
"Left! Left!"
"Which. LEFT??"
"The OTHER Left!"

Splish. Thud. Scrape.

"Okay. I'll just push against this rock and try to move us backwards. Can you see anything in our way?"
"There's a rock!"
"There! There's a rock!"
"What rock? Where? I can't see dammit."
"There! Theeerre!"
"Where's the bloody rock??"
"Rock! Rock! Rooooocccck!"

Crash. Thud. Flip.

"Paddles! Paddles!"
"Shit. Paddles!"
"My flip-floooop! Noooo!"
"Buggeryourflipflop. PADDLES!!!"
Lunge. Splash.

The genial laughter from some more passing Czech boatman did very little to improve the gloomy cloud which had settled approximately two feet from the left bank and half-submerged itself in some springtime rapids.

"Can you help me turn this thing over?"
"I've lost my shooooeee."
"It's landed on my foot."
"I can't walk. The rocks are too slippery."
"I don't like this."
"The absent dog wouldn't like this AT ALL."
"We. Need. To. Turn. This. Thing. Over."
"My clothes are completely drenched!"
"It's. Too. Heavy."
"I'm standing on algae! Algae!"
"For. Me. To."
"In bare feeeet!!!"
Lift. Alone."
"It was my faaavvvvooooooorriiiite!!!"
"AAAarrggghhh." Splash.
"It had floooowweerrs!"
"I caaaaan'tt seeeee!!!"


Sloshslosh. Splish. Splosh. Glug-glug.

Monday, May 21, 2007

I just called to say...

I haven't capsized and bumped my head on a rock while escaping from a team of crazed mad-axe murderers in a canoe, and then washed up in my artistically-dripping state and fetchingly-bedraggled (maybe some discreet skin showing) state on some exotic shore.

Nor has my charmingly amnesiac self then been discovered by a brooding, darkly handsome hero with a tortured past and secrets of his own which may uncannily eventually be revealed to bear some relation to my own problems, either directly, in the form of a common link with my own slavering mad-axe murderers (they killed his hamster) or in a burst of artistic inspiration, something on a more emotional-healing-type plane. For example, a dread fear of two-man canoes originally caused by a tragic accident which was by no means his fault, but for which he blames himself, and a consequent hatred and poor opinion of women who associate with canoes (the hussies).

In any case, said hero has not been mesmerized by my unearthly beauty, and carried me to his secret island paradise, far from from the madding-axe-murderer crowd. I have not looked adorably feminine in his only dress shirt and bare feet, nor have I warmed his tortured soul with a fantastic meal concoted from a packet of instant minestrone, some stale prunes and two tins of cheap lager. Alternatively, I have not been sweetly incompetent in the kitchen either: accidentally burning his only saucepan and thus forcing him to cook freshly-caught fish on a rock which I then refuse to eat on the grounds that I can't bear to eat the sweet iddle fishy-wishies.

I did knock over the sausage of a man of mature years in army surplus and a cowboy hat with a very long tail of some furry animal, though.

Life is hard.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Dancing on the head of a pun

Besides being owning one of those surnames that just cries out for an application of the finest punmanship, which I will resist, weakly, ardent 19th-century pan-Slavist Vaclav Hanka, occasional translator of Serbian poetry and professor of Slavonic languages was something of an artful forger. Allegedly.

Back in 1817, while rooting among big piles of Very Old Stuff in the church tower of Dvůr Králové nad Labem, Mr. Hanka (aka. pan Hanka. Not Hanka panka. Oh no. Because "-ka" is the diminuative suffix in Czech. That would make him "little Mr." If this particular noun-tweaking is even allowed because I'm pretty sure Czech only uses this as a casual feminine form. Or a declension of the name "Pánek", which is a completely different kettle of carp. And besides, even though Czechs take a more relaxed approach to word order, they still tend to put the titles before the name. Just like they don't capitalise them either. So pan Hanka he is and shall remain.) discovered some dusty old manuscripts. Big woo. After all, a manuscript is better any day than a tin of bell-polisher and a dead spider.

Pan Hanka (allowed to capitalise on his title, since I'm starting the sentence) was even happier with his discovery since he was one of the pan-Slavists (this time not one of those Mr. Slavists, but using the Greek-derived prefix that comes in handy in English when you want to talk about people sticking to an idea) who littered the early nineteenth century Central and Eastern European intellectual scene and didn't much care for the Austro-Hungarian Empire's assumptions of Teutonic cultural and political superiority.

Pan-Slavists also didn't favour the Ottomans much either, but the House of Osman were doing their wobbly imperial thing a little further east and so loomed less immediately on the particular corner of Europe where pan Hanka and his cronies hung out wandering along ancient folkways. I'll also leave the sticky Russian/pan-Slavic issue well alone.

Being something of a poetry buff (he'd published Hankowy Pjsne a couple of years previously) after Vacky Vaclav dusted off the papers and squinted a bit at the faded and Very Old Czechish Writing he doubtless did a traditional Slavic dance that hearkened back to his primordial Bohemian ancestors and just like his own language, stressed the first beat of every bar. It seemed he had discovered fragments of medieval Czech poetry, which would later be immortalised as the Manuscript of Dvůr Králové, or Rukopis královédvorský.

Only a year later Josef Kovář was doing some similar rummaging in the attics of Chateau Green Mountain when he came across some manuscripts of a similar ilk and age. These became known as the Manuscript of Zelená Hora, aka Rukopis zelenohorský, aka the rather swingingly-titled The Judgement of Libuše. Eventually these two sets of medieval manuscripts dropped the extra "R" and became the conjoined literary twin and snappily-named, "RKZ". Along the way, they inspired a welter of nationalist feeling, as well as yet more poetry, and all sorts of other cultural and literary homage along the way.

The tricky bit for the Slavic medievalists, Czech nationalists and general admirers of very old fragments of poetry that feature battles, birds of prey and very dark and stormy woods is that they probably weren't exactly really genuine actual medieval poems. Allegedly. But no less a person than Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, first president of Czechoslovakia and ardent nationalist did some of this alleging.

Meanwhile although the consensus in most of the published material I've come across similarly alleges, others continue to fight the good, albeit ink-splattered fight.

More thoughts later, promise. This was in the nature of scene-setting.


LookSmart's FindArticles - The language of nationality and the nationality of language: Prague 1780-1920 - Czech Republic history

Past & Present, Nov, 1996, by Derek Sayer

Monday, May 14, 2007

Something in the air

Right now, this very minute as I type these words, I have been in the glorious republic of Czechland for one year. Blimey.

When I first packed up my flat at about two weeks' notice, shovelled 20 kilos of essential books in my rucksack and headed off into the wilds of central Bohemia by the first easyjet flight available, the plan was to stay for a few months. But then things got all tangled up, what with that old Chinese saying, and something a Scottish bloke once said. Except I'm fighting the desperate urge to overwhelm this entire post with cliches. So I've gone agly. 'Tis all

Of course, if I'd have known, I'd have distributed books between the checked and hand luggage more evenly rather than doing it while at the front of a queue of sweaty, annoyed passengers off for their week in Tenerife. I possibly would have also revised my choice of storage companies. I would have definitely bought an annual metro pass at the first possible opportunity. And I would have absolutely picked an internet cafe that wasn't closing in about 2 minutes' time to write this post.

But that's the way the koláč crumbles.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Everything's bigger in Budapest...

The country...
The radishes...
The piles of smoked lard...
...and the rain.
...but at least it gave me a good excuse to play with the newly-discovered black & white function on my camera. I fear for the future - it's probably in sepia.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Clue in the Capering Caper

When I was a young, goggle-eyed stripling, brainwashed by the works of Carolyn Keene, I became slightly obsessed with mystery books. I probably spent a good three weeks one summer scouring my neighbourhood for signs of a shifty-eyed man in a trenchcoat, or peculiar old box in an antique shop which the owner refused to sell.

Sadly, the closest I ever got to genuine pre-teen mysterydom was pretending that some secret hollow in the tree stump in the back garden contained a clue to hidden treasure. Unfortunately, it rained overnight and the watch I cunningly concealed in order to "discover" it the next morning was covered in mysterious grubslime that seized up the works and gave the strap an unwearable gloopy texture.

A few days later, I discovered a taste for Sherlock Holmes and gave up my patient scouring of border of the living room carpet to discover a "clue" in the "mysteriously"-knotted fringe (forever after hopelessly tangled) in favour of stealing my father's magnifying glass to look for telltale traces of Turkish ash and raspberry jam smears left on the back fence by an eagle-eyed detective dressed as a simple-minded clergyman disguised as a costermonger. Not that I knew what a costermonger was, but I was convinced that if I looked hard enough I would find evidence of costers thoroughly mongered at 5 times magnification.

But in all of the mystery books I read during the glorious haze of childhood, explanatory chunks were always dumped wholesale into the first few chapters. As a consequence, the phrases "titian-haired girl sleuth" and "motherly housekeeper" are forever emblazoned on my memory. I know how many steps go up to 221B, and the meaning of "???" on a business card.

Anyhow, since I assumed that this sort of thing was meant as a quick catch-up for readers, I tended to skim those bits and just jump into the story. But what on earth does it mean when the same unvarying information about a character is littered through all the chapters of a book? I mean, I read more than one chapter at a time. I can retain simple information in the rapid-access bit of my memory for a good... oh...