Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Death Of The Rural Bus. Few People Care

A week ago, I read an article by Geoffrey Lean in the Daily Telegraph entitled: 'Will the country bus come to a grinding halt? It followed another article in the Financial Times last year about more or less the same thing.


It was an interesting article with many valid points about Beeching style cuts (20% in the last year), rural passengers being stranded, jobseekers will find it harder to access work, less shopping trips, big hit to the rural economy, local people being unable to get to hospital etc etc.

He may well be right. But he just scratches the surface. A). It is now 26 years since the de-regulation of the bus industry combined with the British love of independence, choice and a motor car. B). There aren't that many people living in rural areas and successive governments gamble that the level of protest will be small and manageable. You won't therefore see 300,000 Countryside Alliance supporters marching through London in an attempt to save there local bus.

Why not?

Because attitudes, needs, desires and expectations of the British public have changed so greatly in the last 20 years. The bus industry hasn't matched them. Buses are old, dowdy and unexciting in rural areas. It seems that it has become the graveyard for ex-city buses. I look at the local buses around our area and they seem to vary from 7-years-old to 15+.

You would think if you wanted to attract people away from their cars, then buses would be cheap, spotlessly clean, wi-fi, given special routes to avoid traffic to all places and above all, offer a pleasant experience.

Instead travelling on a cattle wagon is nearly equal to the local bone-rattler.

So why should people care? Oh the odd one will. There are some whose lives depend on buses. The councils have been responsible for losing routes because several school buses, which doubled as passenger services cannot have any adults on board anymore, as a result of Child Protection and safeguarding Children. There used to be a Post Bus too, but in many areas this seems to have disappeared.

Yet with the lack of services the complaints have been minimal. The general public, in the main, don't like buses. They want their cars. They want to go whenever they please. Even though it costs far more. No Government is going to tax the motorist off the road. That would be political suicide. They will nudge and connect with the feelgood factor as they play with electric and more green options. But they won't grasp the nettle that if you want an all singing all dancing transport network, we all have to pay for it. Joe public will not delve into his pocket for buses.

So we have a muddled together compromise of a system which just gets by. This is Britain. No one will complain. It'll do. Councils have spyed a cheap way to cutcosts, taking expensive rural contracts off the bus companies, giving them to charities, who they fund which means the council in effect become a bus company by proxy. These charities cut the services to the bone, but still run one service a day, which ticks the right box.

God forbid the Community Bus, which central government is advoctating. Look at the communities track record in wasting money in grand village hall and other schemes. Heavens above, if the community are allowed to run a bus. The last community bus in my neighbourhood was used by the local youths to go to a pop concert several hundred miles away. It had only been going for ten minutes, when it was pulled into a lay-by and surrounded by a large amount of police, who were acting on a tip off. A large number of drugs were recovered. the bus never made it to the concert.

A Dial N' Go bus was also run. It never went anywhere because there was no mobile phone reception so nobody could dial the driver. After an initial row, I used to see the bus parked in a field on top of a hill, with the driver asleep at the wheel. Though there was now reception, still nobody dialled.


50 And It's All Downhill From Here

You know when you turn 50.

Apart from the cards and messages of sympathy, funny things seem to happen. I spent my birthday with a taxidermist. I was there on quite another matter altogether, and not discussing the quality of embalming fluid which could be used on me if I so desired to be stuffed.

I did once sit next to an extraordinary old lady at dinner once. Pompously and trying to elicit some small talk, I asked her:

'And what do you do?'

'I stuffed Lenin,' she replied. And that was that. My small talk in the area of stuffing Soviet Communist Leaders was non-existant. I therefore spluttered and turned to the lady on my right, avoiding the question: 'and what do you do?' just in case the reply was equally out-of this-world.

Turning 50 allows you the luxury of doing what the hell you want to do on your birthday. I think it is the first time I have done that since I was 4. the usual strange things happened as I was driving along. I passed a horse and rider, whose right hand clasped a mobile phone to his ear and his left hand was wrining something down on a folded notepad. Where the hell the reins were, it was best not to think about.

Around the next corner there was a traffic jam. A bus had embedded itself int the back of a post van. Or the post van had pushed its rear into the front of the bus. I do not know which. Either way, it meant that there would be a delay to delivering the mail that morning. My mail. My birthday mail.


In hindsight I wish it had been delayed for longer. I received five cards with the number 50 printed on the front in large, glittery raised type. Two cards with the word 'OLD' prominently written. One with a badge with 'I am 5', several with various cryptic remarks and one which pronounced in pastel colours: 'With Deepest Sympathy.'

Victor Hugo compounded my happy day by writing: 'Forty is the age of youth. Fifty is the youth of age.' Just what I needed, a Gallic attack on your birthday.

I think he will be proved wrong. I am looking forward to my twilight years. Probably because that medical science will be so advanced that I will live to a great age, with the occasional visit to the garage/hospital for something similar to an oil change and filter replacement.

Watch out. Here comes the first 100-year-old bus driver.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Life On An Ocean Wave - No Thanks

It's not been a good year for boats.

'It's a ship, man, a ship,' an irate ex-navy man once yelled into my ear on a crowded underground carriage when he overheard me talking with a friend.

The trouble with being stuck on a tube train is that you are packed together like sardines and it was impossible to get away from this man's ire.

'What's more it's a she,' he went on. 'She's NOT an it'

Boats have never been an area I've either been very good at or enjoyed at any time in my lifetime. In fact I had prior warning when I was 2 1/2 and was sitting on the wall of the very upmarket and sometimes snooty Bembridge Yacht Club on the Isle Of Wight. My poor father, not being a sailor had drawn the short straw and had to do the babysitting and we sat watching little dots on the horizon with sails on top racing each other. One of these dots contained my mother, who was equally not a sailor but had been carted off by a more capapable cousin.

Back on land, as I was devouring the flake on top of the 99 cone father had bought to keep me quiet, a Rear Vice Admiral in full and pristine white uniform ill advisedly walked past.

'Oh look, Daddy,' I said in rather too loud a voice. 'It's a painter.'

An easy mistake. Anyone could have mistaken the whites of one of the commanders of the Royal Navy for the overalls of a decorator. He didn't see the funny side though and we were evicted. So I never did get to see my mother's surprise triumph in finishing second in the race.

From that moment on me and boats just didn't mix.

I used to get seasick watching the Oxford and Cambridge boat race on t.v. So being on a ferry was a terrible mistake. I was probably the only person to be sick on the Dover-Ostend Sealink ferry before it had even left the port. In Bremerhaven whilst the DFDS ferry was gently bobbing on the dock and friends and family were waving and happily talking to each other between deck and quayside, the atmosphere rapidly descended into horror when a green faced Brit retched and threw up over the side. Amongst the shouts of 'Mein Gott', 'Scheisse' and 'Das ist unglaublich', the ship and the dock emptied and I was left alone, feeling wretched.

It was little better on the Boulogne ferry in a Force 9 gale. I actually rather enjoyed it and was feeling fine until another passenger was sick on my shoes. The long trip to Santander was better and worse, thanks to a rugby club from Sussex, on a tour of Spain who terrorised the ship. An hour after leaving, they were singing. Two hours, they had drunk the boat dry. Three hours they were rampaging around the ship and all the crew were so frightened that they had locked themselves in the broom cupboard. The next morning I went on deck to find fifteen grey faces staring out to sea, saying nothing.

On inland waterways, my experiences were worse. My first trip on a narrow boat in the Regent's Park Canal ended in my first boat crash. As we were ambling along at less than 3 m.p.h, another boat came hairing out of a tunnel on the wrong side of the river at an equally hairy 3 m.p.h and we had no option but to ram into the towpath and the front of the boat lodged there and all us passengers were flung to the floor with flailing arms and legs in the air. When another boat came to tow us off the riverbank, we began to sink.

I learnt from the experience, because some years later on a barge holiday on the canals of Alsace, I was the cause of a bateau mouche in Strasbourg having to take evasive action and smack into the bank. I was driving. What a mistake that was. We had all just had a particularly good lunch, washed down by many bottles of Pinot Gris. That aside, no one told me that as we were sailing through strasbourg, we were near the Rhine and the currents became stronger. Also no one told me that there was a strict traffic light code at various intersections which all river traffic had to adhere to.

I blindly ignored all the red lights on one sharp corner to suddenly come face to face with an enormous bateau-mouche, crammed full of tourists. Even through the glare, the blind panic and the pleasure boat driver's sunglasses, I thought I could see the whites of his eyes. He spun the wheel like Captain Jack Sparrow, slammed the throttle into reverse and still managed to utter some French obscenity and shake both fists, raising the middle fingers as he did so. There was a horrendous crunching sound and then silence followed by a roar similar to the sound of people celebrating the winning goal at the FA Cup Final.

I looked up to see we were wedged together. We were regrettably wedged together in the busiest part of Strasbourg, where on this beautiful summer day, the cafe's were heaving with lunchtime folk. They had never seen anything like it. And they would probably never see anything like it again.

I have to be thankful for three things. One, the Gendarmes seemed to be on their lunch break. Two, the skill of the bateau mouche driver managed to get us disentangled and we went on our separate ways. And three, the bateau mouche was sealed and air conditioned - otherwise I felt the driver would have got out and punched me on the nose, he was so angry. One hour later, still driving around the Strasbourg canals, we met again.

'Yoo-hoo' yelled all the girls on our boat and waved heartily to him. The same two middle fingers were visible as he pushed down hard on the throttle to get as far away from us as possible.

The news of the Italian cruise ship is just a reminder of how perilous the sea can be. My Grandmother was killed during the war on the SS Empress Of Britain. In my lifetime I have seen the Torrey Canyon, the Exxon Valdez, the Herald Of Free Enterprise and the SS Estonia, to name but a few. When in the Philippines I remember thinking if the boat I am on goes down, I will make a good snack for a shark. I have been to a funeral of a sailor of a Polish boat which sank in the North Sea.

The Costa Concordia is just another. The trouble is that everything is being built bigger and bigger, so if there is a disaster in the future, there is a possibility of large number of casualties.

Me - I'll be sticking to the pedalo at a pond in South Shields. With my seasickness record, that will frighten the ducks.


Saturday, 28 January 2012

Where Has All The Flowery Language Gone?

It has taken one whole week to realise that the letter from Uganda might have been a scam.

It took me another week to realise, for certain, that it was.

It was thanks to a letter I found at the bottom of a drawer. Sent fifteen years ago by a friend who had been scammed by a guy from Zaire.

He loved the man's gall and use of language and gall. He had obviously been sitting writing this letter with a copy of Who's Who on one side of the desk and the Oxford English Dictionary on the other. Remember it was before the days of Google. He has misused the dictionary splendidly. Perhaps by now he is a scriptwriter for a soap opera. He deserves success.

The letter goes:

Dear Sir,

I beg to come near your honour to wish you birthday and to ask you help.

If anyone deserves a Birthday (10 December 1925) Bright with happiness and cheer. There's no doubt it's you dear Sir Leviathon Pinkerton Frobisher Brabinger, Happy Birthday, happy year. Light all your Birthday. And good luck all your pathways. Bless in some delightful way. That you may feel life's worthwhile. To greet with sunny smile. Happy Birthday 10 DECEMBER 1996.

Kindly absurd me that I tell you concerning my miserable person. I'm married and father of one daughter. I'm disgraced in life, fit in by exhilerating garb and hyps, alimentation, a bag full with grass where my body finds pause, my studies missed by penniless and less of sustenance. All this life dwelling into charity.

Wishfull to brighten up, josteled by the wind, I have no hope in the future. Dear sir, I am disarous to proceed with  studies and to find speedy financial possibility that can help me to calm famine. Then after more difficulties to whom I can't meet I call over from your willing assistance with:

- 500 £ and CAMERA plus Zoom (sending will be recommended with acknowledgement to avoid theft).

I expect to hear from you favourable because you're shrewd. My piteous request should raise up to you sympathy and altruism.

I very much appreciate your interest at me and hope that you will not hesitate to let me know if I can be of any additional assistance.

Truly yours.

Nelson Bloggs
P.O.Box Zaire

(Names, dates etc  you may have suspected have been changed)

I was sympathetic until he asked for a camera. Not just any old camera, but a camera with zoom. But regardless of whether it is true or a scam, the thing I like best is the flowery use of language. It highlights the boring state of the English language today. Whenever you turn on the television or radio there are people speaking in clinical language about 'fatalities', 'inappropriate behaviour' and general other stilted forms of slang, text speak or officialese or pseudo-American and Australian phrases as 'Hiya' and 'I'm good thanks'.

That's enough of a rant from an ageing grump. Nothing you can do about it. Language is always evolving. I guess if you can't beat them - join them - so see ya. ciao ciao, mea culpa and hasta la vista baby.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Uganda And The Mystery Of The Aircraft Shower

Still with the memory of the flight home, I opened the first letter, addressed to my dead father, which had been lying damp on the doorstep, which was from Uganda.

A holiday? A friend who had moved to Kampala?

No such luck. My deep suspicious mind were aroused and alerted when I began to read:

'Dear Fellow Christian,
Greetings to you in christ's name. I praise God for this opportunity to write and share my problem with you in christ,s name.

I felt sorry for the guy. He said he was an orphan. His parents and two sisters were burnt to death in a house which caught fire at night. The doors had been locked from the outside. The killer was still at large. Petrol had been poured onto the house.

He and his brother had escaped the fire as they had been visiting their 86-year-old grandmother.

Now he needs his school fees paid. Two semesters at £950 per semester = £1900...and money to pay for the shock of it all.

I know how he feels.

But it is a sad state of life, that however much I might believe him, it would be wrong to send any money. Would it really go do the right place? Is it an elaborate scam? How did he get my father's name and address? He hadn't been reading the death columns, which seems a flippant and callous remark. But these days Uganda, with the intrnet is no backwater and can check worldwide matters.

I returned to the thought of my return journey home. It looked suspiciously like the same aeroplane in which we went out in, and showered me when we landed. I had the same seat but this time the front lavatory was 'Out of Order' and everyone was forced to use the one down the back. When we landed I did not receive a shower of liquid.

Then my mind started working overtime. Water ...broken lavatory ...

No it couldn't have been. I couldn't have been sprayed with the liquid from the broken .......

I'll take the train the next time.

On The Border, Lost In Time

Border towns around the world are often the same.

Years of wars, moving boundaries, feelings of distrust, discomfort or just downright hatred have moulded many of these places. You've only got to go to Longtown or Berwick-on-Tweed on the English/Scottish border to feel the angst which still bubbles just beneath the surface.

The Czech/German border seemed equally gritty. It was a grey place and you could feel the coldness of forty years of Communism. Where there is now just a road and a bridge, you could still feel the spectres of the old customs blocks and watchtowers.

Border towns seem to attract border businesses. If you look at the old Western films, even in the 19th Century, there usually seemed to be a Chinese business in a Dodge City or Tombstone. So, surprise, surprise, the first restaurant I saw in the Czech republic was  the Asia Restaurace.

All the border towns I have been to have businesses with glamourous names, often belying what is really inside. Style Island and Pall Mall promised more than they offered.

Try it the next time you go to a border town. See if you can find the names of the business which are full of promise. It makes a pleasant change from the multi-national chains you find on our High Streets.

Snow Tubing - German Style

Yes the Germans have it organised.

When there is not much snow there are still multiple chances to do yourself some injury. Snow Tubing is in fact something you can do in Britain. If you go to Bracknell or Norwich they will give you a rubber tyre and you will be able to fly down a dry slope at high speed. They call it Sno-Tubing in Bracknell, possibly to try and hide the fact that that there is no snow, whilst in Norfolk they describe it as 'one of the fastest growing winter sports' and 'a cushioned ride as you glide down the slope.'

Even the Americans, who seem to be a little more extreme and have real snow, tend to go down the hill in a straight line, similar to a slide at a soft play park.

In Germany, things are different. They are more raw.

'If the hook comes off the T-bar ... for christ's sake bale out,' were the encouraging words from my friend as I wedged my ample bottom into the rubber dinghy. 'Last time a lady didn't, when the hook came loose near the top and she gathered speed and flew into the fence at the bottom. Stupid woman. She was badly bruised.'

At that moment I felt the strain as the rope went tight. It made a protesting noise and the rubber ring with me inside it reluctantly took off up the hill. The protestations continued the whole way up. When the rope wasn't groaning, the hook was trying to detach itself and the ring was veering to the left and the right, in what seem an attempt to dislodge me.

Ha Ha, I thought. No chance. I'm well and truly wedged.

Then the realisation that I would end up wrapped around the fence at the bottom began to dawn as I would not have an earthly chance of baling out.

Then I was there. At the top. The hook detached itself. The ski lift continued, but I went over a steep drop and started my descent down the bobsleigh track. The tube soon picked up speed. Alarming speed, aided by my vast bulk. I accelerated round the first corner faster...faster...faster.

At each bend, the snow tube and I went higher and higher. The second last bend I headed into thin air, before being reunited with the track. I wet my knickers.

Then it was over. It was absolutely brilliant. If it had not been for the indignity of having to have three people pull me out of the tube. There was a brief moment when I thought the operators were going to seek some butter and a crowbar. But then I surprisingly was free, accompanied by a mixed sound which was like a sloppy fart and a champagne cork popping.

Will I do it again? Like hell I will, but only in Germany. It would be too tame anywhere else.

Perhaps it is the luge next.

Knedliky To Knodel - The Same Route To The Stomach

One of the good things about going skiing in the North of the Czech Republic is that you are not too far from Germany. Christmas in Germany is special. It is magical and seems to be the perfect antidote to British over commercialisation, the fear of offending someone and the general, steady deterioration of taste when it comes to Christmas lights or decorations.

Nothing flashes, the lights are predominantly white or yellow and soft. Decorations are tasteful and carved

Even the snowmen exude a certain style and German-ness. They do not look as if they have arrived straight out of a box from a factory near Guangzhou.

'You can tell a Chinese Christmas decoration a mile off,' a vicar, who also had been a missionary in China, once told me. 'It's all in the eyes. The Chinese designers cannot get the eyes right. Father Christmas often looks a little like a taller and more rotund Chairman Mao.'

Of course, there is a certain eccentricity in German design too. This is the main decoration outside Altenberg Bahnhof. Though it smacks a little of 'Anthony Gormley does Christmas', it is tasteful and does not leave you contemplating what the message is.

I love Germany. The Germans do things properly. 'Urggh - why are you going there?' asked a friend before I went. 'The food is absolutely reeevolllllltting ...' she said, enjoying the moment and pulling a face, I presumed in case I had not got the message.

More fool her, I thought. I've always thought the food was good. You can still get veal. The salads were the best I have had and the Schwein Schnitzel was twice the size of the one in the Czech Republic and the drinks are wide and varied. Excellent german white and reds, gluhwein, glogg, beers and finished off with the local Altenberger Gebirgsbitter, a mountain schnapps made from bitter herbs.

And how can you beat a Hot Chocolate like this? Everything fresh. Everything simple. Everything with taste. It's sure to be like that back home.

Um...where's the microwave?

Friday, 13 January 2012

Guest And Fish Stinks At Third Day

Czech food is meaty. It is heavy to some. A difficulty if you are looking for kosher food. Even harder if you are a vegetarian. Below is about as vegetarian as you can get. Potatoes cooked in six different ways. Actually fried in six different ways - chips, hash browns, rings, croquettes, pommes duchesse, and one I had never seen before. On top of this is some coleslaw, some potato salad, some red cabbage and a couple of salad leaves.

But who's complaining?(apart from the vegetarians those who have to eat kosher food). I like Czech food. It is very tasty. Pork schnitzels, Serb pork, Moravian pork, pork with cottage cheese, pork with sauerkraut and dumplings. All excellent.

Every morning at 7am, I was awoken in our guest house by a pungent smell. It was a family run b&b and the elder members of the family did the cooking. I woke to the smell of goulash soup being freshly made with strong garlic overtones. Rather like the Bisto Kid, I dreamily sought out the source by patrolling up and down the corridor in my dressing gown, eyes three-quarters closed.

The only trouble is that old greedy guts here has scoffed so much that I will be four kilos overweight on the way home. The Viet Cong always said that American troops and other Westerners smellt like rotten meat and could be sniffed from several miles away. that's what an old Australian Special forces veteran told me. they would use it to their advantage and when an American patrol went through, they would hang back and hide. Sure enough, more often that not, a group of Viet Cong soldiers would follow. The ambush was set.

So pity the person who has to sit next to me on the flight home. With little other food than pork inside me - I don't even want to hazard a guess about what I smell like.

The Romas Of Usti Nad Labem

Usti nad Labem sounds a romantic place.

Well the station is clean, the buses are new and there is an attractive castle on the hill, which overlooks the wide River Labem or Elbe. It should be a beautiful town due to its location.

As I contemplated in the darkness,whether it was or not, an enormous Policeman breezed past  and grabbed a dusky looking man standing further up the platform. Perhaps he was a member of the Roma community who were in Usti in relatively high numbers.

Oh well, I'm only changing trains here and the Teplice train is due in 10 minutes.

Until that is, the sign changes and announces it is running 20 minutes late.

And 20 minutes soon becomes 50.

Just as it flashes up to 50, the burly Policeman returns and is aiming purposefully at a group of suspect looking youths. It is time to give up on the train and get out of here.

Taxi! Taxi!

To Pee Or Not To Pee - That Is The Question

Strange how language twists and turns through history.

Everywhere you go on the continent seems to be a blast from the past when seeking out a lavatory. WC seems to be the standard description. I bet most Europeans don't realise that W.C. stands for Water Closet.

We on the other hand have rejected WC and turned to the word Toilet, related to the French word 'toilette', maybe, but who cares?

When you are in a hurry, verging on desperation, it doesn't matter what the hell the thing is called, so long as it is open for business - Latrine, khasi, dunny, thunder box, shitter, netty, washroom, john, public convenience, loo, lavatory, office, foreign office, throne room, crapper, outhouse, can, dookie, men's room, boys' room, ladies, gents, rest room - rr, comfort room - cr, commode, potty, biffy, privy, midden, cess pit, donicky or even riding a porcelain bus.

The Czech loo was closed.  There was a very detailed notice about the Christmas opening hours and how much you had to pay the attendant in the kiosk.

This was the second time in a week that I had been taken short. Both were at railway stations. In the UK, luckily it was quiet and there was a hawthorn bush close to the railway sidings. No doubt I will be on CCTV, but I pulled my cap as far as I could over my eyes, in the unlikely event that the cameras had iris recognition technology.

The Ladies were open, however, in the Czech railway station. My daughters came rushing out with hoots of laughter as they grabbed my camera and hastily went back in, saying:

'You won't believe this, dad. It's this sign you see.... it's odd that it is above the wash basins in the ladies....

Something has been lost in translation, perhaps.

Czech Railways - It Restores Faith In The Train

When you see smiling, smart ticket collectors on a train, similar to the lady in the poster above, I seriously considered taking up trainspotting as a hobby.

Oh how easy it is to run down Britain and the overpriced, overcrowded, oversold and over-almost-about-everything-else rail network. The Czech railways seem to work mostly, apart from the apparent unwillingness to replace light bulbs in many of the carriages.

But I can live with that.

Clean trains. regular. Reasonable prices. Not too crowded, and above all else a train in which you can open the door and windows by yourself. It was a joy to be away from the usual sweaty cigar tubes, regurgitating the stale air and pumping out freezing cold air conditioning.

Even the ticket collectors smile as they come into each compartment. It was reliving the romance of my youth where comfort was paramount on the railways.

It wouldn't work at home. Health and safety would stop doors and windows being opened. And the train companies would never allow compartments as they would dent their profit margins and fewer sardines could be crammed into their tin cans.

The stations in the Czech Republic all seemed to be manned. Staff came out and waved discs. There were porters, interesting shops, good food and coffee.

It actually made the inglorious performance of public transport quite enjoyable.

Toot Toot.

Beer Makes Beautiful Bodies

Are the Communists still in charge?

Looking at the above tower, it could easily be mistaken for a Warsaw Pact watchtower. Frighteningly it looks remarkably similar to some of the new Affordable Housing being built in the North of England as well.

But it's not.

It's just some local politician in the Czech Republic's attempt to encourage tourism for the region. The main problem, regardless of the design is that there is no huge benefit to climbing the tower, as the view is not much different from that on ground level.

It has had the desired effect and tourists flock to see it.

It's mid-winter and the apple trees are still laden with fruit. It is warm. Unusually warm and therefore it is  consoling to find that climate change is not just confined to the UK. What is refreshingly different is the peace of the place. Here is a village where little stirs. The smells of the countryside are not spoilt by traffic polution. You can walk along the roads without fear of some idiot deliberately driving at you.

You can go to get fresh milk at anytime. Just take a jug to the dairy farm and they will fill it up - fresh from the cow.

We arrived at four o'clock at the local bar. On the gravel outside were laid out two dead and gutted wild boars and a badger. The hunting season was in full swing. Inside the bar sat the hunters, next to the poachers, next to the local policemen. Everyone knew everyone. They had obviously been there for most of the day.

In the middle of the beer and Becherovka drinking males sat a local farmer's wife who was a collector of anything to do with cows. Having passed around the Christmas presents she had received, varying from playing cards to key rings, she stood up and said:

'Now boys, you've gotta see this,' (in Czech) ... at which she stood up, took her jacket off and revealed a new t-shirt. Her front was covered with the head of what looked like a smiling Guernsey cow on a blue background.

The associated throng seemed to be more interested in what lay behind the cow's head. Time for another piwo.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

A Frenchman In The Czech Republic, A Lightweight Subaru And An Airline Bath

Have you ever wondered what a Frenchman in the Czech Republic would look like?

Well you do now.

In no way does it capture the romance and mystique of an American in Paris, our man in Havana or an Englishman abroad. In fact you might well think that he is a local Czech tourist, out on a Sunday afternoon stroll on the way to the bar, as he seems to blend in so well to the local landscape.

He should do. He has lived in the Czech Republic for nearly twenty years. He speaks the language like a native and has embraced the culture with both arms.

His taste in cars may be eclectic. You don't often see these little Subaru people carriers around. Possibly this is because when they are filled with large Europeans such as myself who have just devoured large plates of Moravian pork, the enging tends to struggle to get the overburdened vehicle up the Bohemian hills.

His wife is fortunately a very good artist. An artist who is beginning to go places (even in a Subaru people carrier with a two stroke engine). Remember the name, Nikola Novakova http://www.nikolanovakova.com/
She will be sought after one day. Her paintings, I mean.

So this is who I am staying with in the Czech Republic. It will be a blast. It always is.

Though this was not the first blast I had received in the Czech Republic. I had already had a blast on the outward flight from the UK. Having once watched Air Crash Investiigation on the Discovery Channel and having had seven close shaves whilst flying from missing the runway, an enging falling out of its casing and being close enough to an Air India jumbo jet over Bristol that you could see the passengers faces, makes you a little more observant when boarding a plane. It has never stopped me flying. If you are going to go, then youare going to go and there is nothing much you can do about it. Statistically speaking, it is less likely that it will be on an aeroplane.

This particular plane looked old. There were rust marks and the odd crack on the outside. Inside the plastic pannelling was ill fitting in places and coming away from the wall in other areas. So I suppose it wasn't a great surprise when the plane touched down on the runway at Prague, a spray of cold water splashed down on my head. The more the plane breaked the stronger the shower of water was.

'Oh that's not nice,' said the stewardess matter-of-factly. 'And they've just repaired it too.'

Vitejte v Ceske republice.