Friday, June 30, 2006

Friday other-half-of-thirteen

Can't be bothered to focus on reality today, so I'm just going to lie. Six-and-a-half times.

1. My new high-tech-optimum-security work ID makes me look lithe, attractive and awake.
2. More fried cheese? What a delicious meal prospect! You can never have too much fried cheese.
3. With practice, I will able to walk between the raindrops, ensuring my freshly dry-cleaned suit does not get soaked.
4. Mmmm…. Rusks! The breakfast of kings!
5. No, your 3-hour teleconference is not distracting me in the slightest. I quite understand that you have to shout to be heard in Bulgaria.
6. Wow! When I said how much I loved fried cheese I was really hoping you'd double my portion! Thank you, from the bottom of my clogged dorsal aorta.
½. Secretly, I find accordian music rather appealing. (I think that's a cry for help.)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Thursday Half-a-Thirteen

Six-and-a-half things that whisper "You're not in Kansas London anymore."

1. Loo cubicles are complete self-contained little rooms with their own light switches. Running water, a lock and electricity - you could move in.
2. The excitement of a choice between either a 3l or 10l flush.
3. The weight of a dish appears on menus. Not like "6 oz. steak". I mean like, "Pasta with pomodoro sauce and parmesan cheese - 120 grams", "All salads 150g including 50g meat/fish/cheese".
4. Obvious to some, but traffic goes the other way (yes, I still court death by tram regularly each morning when crossing the street. Damn but those things are quiet).
5. No turnstiles in metro stations.
6. Contra-instinctive shop etiquette: change and payments go in the little dish/tray by the till, not directly into the shop assistant's hand. This still feels as if I'm being rude.
½. Coffee is more concentrated (smaller and stronger).

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Thinking about Cliff Richard always makes me mindless with terror, so after yesterday's assorted debacles I decided to vanquish negative vibes by listening to Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots about ah… four times. Fear not for the sanity of my neighbours, flatmates and colleagues - I used headphones.

But there is something about lyrics that boldly strike out for bonkers story-telling territory that makes me happy. Especially when they involve aliens, orcs and denizens of the primal seas at the centre of the earth. I love lyrics that skirt the edge of danger; ever-vulnerable to that one over-wrought line or polysyllabic word that tips them over the precipice and onto the jagged rocks of ridicule. I even love it when they take the plunge, although I'm less likely to play the results on permanent loop.

Perhaps back in the late 60s/early 70s many songwriters didn't give a laughing gnome for vertigo. It's more likely that the mastadon-felling quantity of toasted magic toadstools they consumed had them convinced they could soar like wonky technicolour eagles over the dangerous waters beneath. But man, or rather maaaaannn, did they write a lot of silly stuff. And nothing can cheer me up more quickly than a grown man in a fright wig, platform boots, cape and luminous green tights singing impassioned lyrics about antediluvian druids, Stonehenge and the furry feet of hobbits. Don't knock it, it works.

Part of the fascination lies in trying to decide whether or not they're being serious, since some of the efforts resemble Spinal Tap out-takes. The alternative is marvelling at what might be required to take this seriously. The image forms of hairy people sitting in a circle around a bubbling pot of tie-dye, saying things like, "Wooahh…interplanetary spacecraft…flown by…those are some nice fur leggings maann…maybe with hooves?...uhhh...what rhymes with dolphin?"

Anyhow, in the middle of all of this, it occurred to me that I don't actually have a theme tune for Prague. And it would distress me if I ended up with some hideous or deeply embarrassing default song as a consequence of buying the wrong tape mix or hearing something on the radio one to many times.

Of course now that we have iTunes this is less of an issue than it has been in the past but still, I worry. These things can creep up on a person, and before you know it, "The Horse with No Name"* is irretrievably lodged in some sick, twisted part of my psyche as The Official Theme for This Period of My Life and there's nothing I can do about it.

So obviously as a start I had to google for song lyrics with "Prague" in them somewhere (googling for "Czech" + song lyrics just brings up incomprehensible pop songs and rap lyrics that I'm sure Mrs. Jana would not approve as learning aids). So far, the news is not positive. The best of the bunch is Damien Rice's Prague, but although he does arrangements with a cello (more cello in pop is a good thing, just like there should be more brass in pop too) his style is a little mournful for this purpose. But all this leaves me with so far are:

OMD, Radio Prague
Babylon Whores, Death in Prague
Killing Joke, Jana
Half Man Half Biscuit, All I want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit
The Dead Milkman, The Infant of Prague Customized my Van.

Suggestions on a postcard, please.

*Too late for this one - it's already the theme to the summer of '91. Curse you, GCSE music analysis exam. Whyohwhy did you have to pick that year to go all pop-tastic on us?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

I demand a recount!

You Are 86% Evil

You're the most evil person you know.
Even Cliff Richard is a little scared of you.

This travesty of a poll is clearly rigged. When I find out who stole that 14%...

Monday, June 26, 2006

It is a time of dread...

The axial tilt of the planet know as "Earth" has caused solar energy to fall on central Europe at a more direct angle. Inland humidity has reached 64%. The incessant heat has begun to make its effects felt on the helpless. Denizens of this climactic zone have been driven to ever-increasing extremes of fashion in the quest for relief from the oppressive temperatures, known as "summer".

In the check-in queue for a certain budget airline at Prague airport, weary travellers bask in the air-conditioned cool, little caring that the single trainee on the desk means it will be over an hour before they can finish. At least they no longer have to move (much).

One man in particular appears to have caught the spirit of the season by its neck and wrung it like a soggy flannel. Proud and tall he stands, skinny of limb and knobbly of joint. His dark hair is neatly combed over his bald spot, his beard is full and lush. His glasses are large, with thick dark frames. His feet are in dark dress shoes polished to a mirror shine; the hems of his white socks precisely bisect his legs at mid-calf height. From there, the blinding white of pipe-cleaner legs is only enhanced by his luxuriant body hair.

His black cotton thigh-length shorts are neat and perfectly pressed, with knife-edge creases down the front. There are unmistakable signs that this appearance is the product of planning and effort. Above, despite his presence in a public airport where temperatures are chilly enough to require jackets, his checked cotton short-sleeved shirt is buttoned only to the naval. The air-conditioned breeze whispers over his body with predictable effects on parts of his anatomy most would prefer to ignore.

Presumably for the visual delight of all others in the immediate area, his shirt falls open in starched folds about his torso, revealing the glorious round fullness of his firm, high beachball belly. It bears a peculiar V-shaped burn in glowing red streaked in white. It mesmerises. Members of the queue consider setting up a sweepstakes on whether his waters will break before he reaches passport control.

'Tis true that clothes do not make the man: they are mere packaging. But packaging bears labels, and in this case a hazard warning that states, "Beware, English abroad". Sigh. Y'know, my flatmates, they are American. And the only Americans that seem to make it over here are young, lithe college kids in trendy sportswear. The Brits, by contrast, look as if their ideas are derived from the "before" segment of "What not to Wear" and then customised with cast-offs from a charnel house. So the comparisons are becoming painful.

Anyhow, I'm no fashionista. I wear funny red shoes. But if this is what it's coming to, can I become a cultural refugee? Or is there a way to lobby easyjet to stock muumuus and gags for such passengers? Because between this and the drunken compliments on how fluent my English is for a "Czech bird", I'm beginning to get a little testy towards my fellow countrymen. Now, where did I put my sharp stick?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

But Madame, zese posts, zey are laik buses!

…but not the routemaster *sniff*

Was actually going to save this for tomorrow, but can't be bothered to sit on it 'til Friday. Besides, who knows what I'd catch? At last, a possible solution for those times when a gaping dateless maw looms large in my social life.* Celibacy has never looked so good.

Ten Green Bottles

Forgive me. I have been somewhat distracted by (in no particular order).
1. Work.
2. Study/writing thing. I defy you (okay, maybe just me since I can't use one word where a sentence will do) to write a mere 2000 words on power. 2000 words? Surely you jest? I have that and a warehouse of sofas whose backs are stuffed full of such words. I will not be chained by your pesky word limits - do you hear me? What? Marks deducted? Oh. *wearily picks up chainsaw and continues editing*
3. Online kerfuffle.
4. Homework of the Czech variety.
5. Loose boulders in Switzerland (see 1).

So to keep things here ticking over, thought I'd fulfill rpc's request for a photo of Mrs. Jana. She's sensitive on these matters, so I hired someone to distract her. Since the hapless volunteer rapidly lost lower-limb function and collapsed on the floor, the proportions shown are somewhat misleading. She is in fact several inches shorter than me, although her hair is normally much taller. It's tricky to pick her out when she's not wearing her glasses, but she's the redhead on the right.

Right. Now to find some of those cats you wanted.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Drive-by post no.2 (with a side of spicy curly fries)

On other seasonal matters, even if you don't follow the footie, Nancy Dell'Olio's diaries as published by the Grauniad are much fun.

Drive-by post no.1 (with onion rings and root beer)

Oh yay! A weekend of eating sun-warmed strawberries and gorgeous salads in people's gardens. It's been bloody marvellous. Summer has finally y-bloody-well-cumen in, loude sing cuckou! Louder (and unashamedly poppier) still sing The Pipettes. This song makes me want to doo-wop down to Dotty P. and blow next month's budget on polka-dot frocks. Catchy as hell and pure summer froth. Listen at your own risk.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Three Little Words

…but they're probably not, "Have a banana."

You know Mrs. Jana? The formidable lady who is supplying me with the linguistic tools for my assault on the Czech language? She who cheers me ever onward as I traumatise my hapless colleagues and random strangers with feats of verbal daring? (There's a lady in the sandwich shop near work who visibly flinches and retreats behind the crusty rohliky when I walk in the door.)

Well, she is a woman of Machiavellian cunning. She was clearly unconvinced by my paltry excuses for a lack of grammatical precision when ordering beef stew with dumplings during Tuesday's role play exercises. (Curse you a thousand times, oh bizarre-rules-of-declension-that-only-affect-masculine-animate-nouns-which-category-deceptively-includes-dead-animals-and-fish-but-not-eggs.) She views with scorn my plans for a 4-day weekend of frolicking in parts Britannic.

And so, to prevent me backsliding, she has given me several sheets of fruit to identify. Easy? You might think so. And perhaps with a dictionary, it might be. But so far, late nights at work have been an obstacle to acquiring that particular learning aid. Especially as Mrs. Jana recommends a "special" one with pictures. (Should that make me laugh or cry?) So instead I may end up in the fresh produce section of my local Albert, notebook and sheets in hand. This may be the straw that breaks the Black Ox's back after that check-out debacle with the unweighed bag of carrots.

But here's the rub(-arb). I have just received a text from her, which reads: "I am waiting". Nothing else. No greeting, no sign-off, no smiley faces.

Now I can tell myself that this message has been hovering somewhere in SMS-space since my slight delay in arriving this morning. Messages occasionally do this and it is of no concern. But the part of my subconscious that remembers what it was like to be a small squishy primate beleaguered by big pointy-toothed beasts is very very afraid.* Waiting where? With what? An AXE??? Eeek. Or perhaps even Oook.

*On re-reading, I dimly recall reading something similar in a Terry Pratchett?? In which case, apologies/credit to him.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

"She did it the hard way" (Bette Davis)

The famous last words post/game below reminded me of my favorite epitaph, evah. Yes, it's possible to have one. No, this doesn't make me weird. Of course there's always Spike Milligan's famous, "I told you I was ill" (in Gaelic). But for sheer relish, language and content it has to be the one I came across in the church of St. Andrew's, Bramfield, Suffolk on a quick trip to that corner of England about a year or so ago. The church is noted for its detached tower, but even better, it's graced by the memorial stone of one Bridgett Applewhaite.

According to the venerable church historian, D.P. Mortlock, (now that's a proper name, none of this Bluebell Madonna twaddle for him), the Ecclesiological Society magazine of 1846 refused to print the full text of the memorial as it was "so very revolting and profane that we shall not defile the pages of our publication by reproducing it…"

On the other hand, I fully intend to sully the pages of this publication at any possible opportunity, so here's the full text, verbatim.

Between the Remains of her Brother EDWARD,
And of her Husband ARTHUR,
Here lies the Body of BRIDGETT APPLEWHAITe
After the Fatigues of a Married Life,
Born by her with Incredible Patience,
For four Years and three Quarters, baring three Weeks;
And after the Enjoiment of the Glorious Freedom
Of an Easy and Unblemisht Widowhood,
For four Years and Upwards,
She Resolved to run the Risk of a Second Marriage-Bed
But DEATH forbad the Banns -.
And having with an Apoplectick Dart
(The same Instrument with which he had
Formerly Dispatcht her Mother)
Toucht the most Vital part of her Brain;
She must have fallen Directly to the Ground
(as one Thunder-strook,)
If she had not been Catcht and Supported
By her Intended Husband.
Of which Invisible Bruise,
After a Struggle for above Sixty Hours,
With that Grand Enemy to Life,
(But the certain and Mercifull Friend to Helpless Old Age,)
In Terrible Convulsions Plaintive Groans, or Stupefying Sleep,
Without Recovery of her Speech, or Senses,
She Dyed, on the 12th day of Sep in ye Year of our Lord 1737 and of her own Age 44.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

On the home letch

The Czech Rep. is supposed to be one of Europe's property hotspots, where investors from all over feverishly snap up real estate like hot palačinky. Those in the know mutter sagely about the EU, stable economy and plans to adopt the Euro in 2010.

These arguments have their place, but I suspect the pundits have neglected to give enough credit to the wily ways of Czech marketing. This is the central panel of a billboard advertisement for a new suburban development outside Karlovy Vary. I stand astonished at the way it elegantly sums up the tremendous advantages of buying on this estate. Lovely brickwork.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Practice makes...

Just in case my comment in the last post about mangling Czech at my long-suffering colleagues led anyone to believe that I was suffering from delusions of adequacy in this language, here is a true and accurate account of this morning's efforts.

I have translated it into English with appropriate adjustments for accent, vocabulary and the conversational style and panache of a voluble 3-year old going through that phase where they say the same thing over and over and over and over again, possibly accompanied by rhythmic beating on a saucepan. And I'm probably making myself look good here.

Me: Gott mourning, Janoš*
J: Good morning.
Me: Hello-jour, JanOhš?
J: Hello.
Me: How ere yeuh, Janoš?
J: Who's been here before. Fine, and you?
Me: We- Weh- Whee- Fine.
J: Can no longer speak as breathing and speech organs fully compressed by fit of hysterical laughter.

I turn to my new victim. He is hiding under his desk but fortunately I am still able to shout in the direction of his feet:

Me: Good morning, Pre- Pzh- Prshemsyl.*
P: In muffled but fluent English. You can say Premek, it's easier.
Me: Still in English. No, it's okay. I have to practice.
P: Sighing noise drifts up from under desk. It's Přemysl.
Me: Pzhhrrremyls. No hang on, Przhm- PrzhemSYL.
P: Sobbing noise emerges from beneath desk. That's right. Swiftly changes subject. In Czech: How are you?
Me: Hello. How are you?
P: Fine. And you?
Me: We- Weh- Wherh- WELLuhgh.

(Still more peculiar noises emerge from beneath desk, but Přemysl is trapped by his ergonomic office chair and cannot move without tearing his trousers 'neath my dainty foot.)

Me: Goudd wheekEND?
P: Yes, thank you. And you?
Me: Yes. Yes, I have a goudd wheekEND. (Cannot do past tense yet). On sotto voce: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, SAT- Saturday I wakeuppp 5 hours 30 minutes (note: digital time only). We go to metro stay-shUN. In English: No, wait… In approximate Czech: STYA-shun. (Bangs desk with with fist to emphasise required stress on first syllable). We read. We swim. We ski. In English: What's "wait"?
P: In Czech. Wait.
Me: We wait. Our... In English: oh shit, what's friend?
P: In Czech. Friend.
Me: Our frie- rzfi- compani-onions they come. We go-by-vehicle (Czech verb for "to go" depends on transport used) tah Florenc. We-nous-allons-go-by-vehicckle Karlovy Vary. We walke Karlovy Vary. We walke Loket. 18 kilometre. We are big hongryie. We eat Loket.We slep slope, in English: oh dammit. Back to Czech for foreign idiots: SLEETP! We wakeoupppp. We walke Loket. We sees castle. We go. On, muttering: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, resonant and booming: SUN-day we walk... in English: shit sorry, more Czech for idiot foreigners: go-by-vehicckle Prajj.

(Looks round for reassurance and paeans of adulation. J is studiously at work, wearing headphones. Apart from the odd scuffling noise, there is silence from beneath desk.)

Me (soldiering on bravely, like good little Švejk): We go-by-vehicckle at 13 hour 0-50. In English: No wait, shit, ummmmm… Czech version 1.0: 15? 50? 500? 32? English: Oh yeah, Czech: 5!…. Hour 0-5. I am glad it hap-PY wheekehnd.

(Beams with exhausted pride at mastery of newest construction. Tears are running down Janoš' face. Přemysl appears to have abandoned his trousers and escaped by removing his desk drawers and the back of the stationary cupboard. Silence falls like a lead knedlik [potato dumpling]. Enter Maciek, pursued by a bear. Or was it bare?)

Me: Gott mournang, Maciek.*
M: In fluent English: I am Polish. I don't speak Czech.
Me: Tough. Goudd Mournzingg, Maciek.
M: Sighs. Realises efforts to fend me off with a rolled-up newspaper are in vain. Hello.

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent victims of linguacide.

PS. Edited 'cos my opinion of my html skillz was a tad over-inflated and I messed up a load of the nested stuff, then did a double post. Sorry.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Hezky Víkend, beguine again

Since I absolutely dread speaking "foreign" English, where you just say the words MORE... LOUDLY... AND... SLOWLY... WITH... CLIPPED... ENDS... UND... A... FUNNY... ACZENT... AND... NOT... GRAMMAR... NEIN!... NE!..., I'm having Czech lessons with the delightful and only mildly terrifying Mrs. Jana. Due to her ability to look fierce at 7:30 in the morning, we've already whizzed through the innumerable greetings that pepper the Czech day: Good Very Early Morning, Good Morning, Good Slightly Before Noon, Good Noon, Good Afternoon, Good Evening and Good Night (mercifully all situations can be covered by this idiot foreigner under the umbrella pleasantry, "Dobry Den"). Yay us!

Mrs. Jana has now declared her mission to haul me through the intricacies of verbage and the accusative case (singular) by my quaking earlobes. This means that I can now say many useful things, to wit: "I have a good book, He has a modern car, They have a tall brother." I can also tell time, but only in digital, since apparently the o'clock business is the sort of thing that makes students or even this befuddled studentka run away screaming into the night.

Being the generous sort, I absolutely insist on inflicting my new-found knowledge on my Czech colleagues, and even the Polish ones if they don't duck fast enough. Luckily so far they've found this hilarious rather than insulting. However, the time has now come for me to stop using the nifty photocopies provided by Mrs. Jana, who has been making stern noises of late. Therefore I have bitten the bullet and acquired a copy of Czech Step-by-Step, billed as "The most beautiful textbook in 2004 in CR". I haven't yet removed the cellophane to unveil the beauty that must surely lie beneath its glossy yellow cover decorated with little footprints, but will be sure to report when I do.

In the meantime, the blurb inspired me to have a look at the covers in the the "Women's Fiction" for inspiration. Cue childish giggles from one corner of "Knihy Dům" in Wenceslas square. But I think this section requires my handy-dandy digital camera to do it justice. Another time perhaps, unless they arrest me for attempted cover art plagiarism or some kind of weird book stalking.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

These are the days when you wish your bed was already made...

Last few days:

EvilAuntiePeril: -3 Blogger 10,385,029.
My "sit bones": 2 Oversized man's bicycle: 59
My sinuses: -39.5 Czech weather: 29.89 bar

Luckily, I have found the street of a thousand health food shops. Or rather, two health food shops, an up-market organic restaurant and a Hare Krishna bakery. My poppyseeds now have an extra-good-no-cruelty-to-chickens karmic aura.

And yet...

Your Famous Last Words Will Be:

"I dunno, press the button and find out."

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Running on Fumes

You know how it's really very hard to concentrate when there's building work going on? When men in paint-spattered work clothes are raising dust and carrying out manly tasks with tools in a carpetless corridor the other side of the office door? When the noises of real work echo smugly round the building? You know how it's really really hard to… Oh yeah.

It's forcing me to pronouce the words in my mind as I write them, rather than just letting them slide out of my mind and onto the screen. It's intensely irritating and feels as if my keyboard is inexblicably sticky. I'm twitchy, under constant threat of ambush from a new noise. Drrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Pause. Drrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Blessed silence.
Ah… Peace
Anxiety creeps in.
Still quiet but,
No, be calm...
Any minute n--



But although I am eyeballing these particular specimens of Czech manhood (hee! I said manhood!) with some disfavour, all is not lost. This morning on the way into work, a particularly shaggy gentleman staggered his way onto the train and slumped down in the seat next to mine. He then proceeded to pass out and exude a rather pungent and noxious vapour.

I began to contemplate important matters: Exactly how rude it would appear to get up and move to the other side of the train post haste? Should I warn everyone in the vicinity to switch their mobile phones off lest a random spark ignite the gases filling the carriage, turning the train into a rattling early 70s Soviet art deco inferno of doom? Could I hold my breath for another three stops?

Then the gentleman in question awoke and began to address me in Czech. Apparently assuming from my lack of response that I was deaf rather than ignorant, he leaned closer and began to speak more loudly and distinctly at a distance of about 6 inches from my right nostril.

I re-checked the number of stops to my station and stared blankly ahead. My mind frantically worked. Would hysterical screams be an unforgiveable breach of etiquette? How long would it take to develop psychic powers? Would groaning repel or attract him further? When would the gas masks descend from the storage area above my seat?

And then, to my complete astonishment, a Czech teenager clad in football kit who stood nearby turned to the gentleman in question and began to chat with him. I have no idea what he said, but it was clearly compelling. It distracted the gentleman in question out of my personal space for the rest of my journey, leaving only a trace of odorous steam and a huge sigh of relief behind him. My hero.