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...

Friday, May 04, 2007

Gone to Budapest... a train and everything. Back soon.

I think I need intensive hydrotherapy of a Hungarian kind. The almost uncontrollable urge to write something that while definitely not a book review,* might contain an actual opinion about something related to the contents of said book is just about killing me.

In the meantime, sitting on my hands while my mind does the boggling thing and my mouse does the link-surfing thing seems the safest option, since I have no time. Dammit.

*As opposed to yet another nail in the cherub-bedecked coffin of civilized discourse and a crushing blow with an unflatteringly large, spiked mace to the spiritual welfare of the world as we know it. Probably it also eats grubs, wears a smelly dressing-gown all day long and neglects its monthly waxing appointment.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Brief with pictures

Ahhhh… spring. In the immortal words of the bookseller who flogged me a less-than-fragrant bouquet of second-hand paperbacks last weekend, "Now that the weather's nice, there's lots of beautiful, sunny places in this town to hang out for a few hours reading a good book."

Of course, that loud-voiced and defiant tweaker-of-the-noses-of-the-stern-and-unyielding-lords-of-literary-irony thereby trigged the immediate execution of sod's law. The git. Probably worked out that it's an easy way to bump up sales.

But at least the weather's still hanging in there. *touchwood*