Almost Autumn

Ever been walking on a staircase in the dark and misjudge the number of stairs, your foot flailing in empty space? Such bumps are a necessary step in the revolution of the world.

I have nearly witnessed all 4 seasons of Prague. Having arrived in February, I grabbed Winter by the tail and saw the roofs lined with snow which fell in great clumps onto the street. Spring popped up quickly and was gone in an instant, replaced by Summer’s fires. Autumn feels a second Spring, cutting with a new found rain and colder air. At least the clothes I arrived with are now suitable attire.

The foliage is still green, but the leaves are turning. By next month it may be something to really write about and by the month after that they will all be dead. Funny how seasons still surprise me in my advanced age.

The city’s energy has become somewhat lethargic after the heat of August, but it has woken with a new calmer vibration. This marrow deep resonance reaffirms the wisdom of former choices and suggests delights are to follow.

Besides the chill and the damp, Autumn also brings my old frenemy – darkness.

And darkness beings with it richer scenes to study the interplay of architecture and society. Buildings that would be abhorrent in other circumstances take on a new life here, mingled as they are with past structures.

The ticking of the traffic lights beckoning one to wait continues, but it is no longer a stupid tune of my own devising. It is a harsh logic.

All in all, the adventure of life continues. Make sure to make the most of it, and stop once in a while to take it all in.


Nest month I intend to write and publish one short story a day, make sure to stay up to date as it happens!

Brown paper packages, tied up with string

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Happy World Smile Day

Today is one of those days that went right. Excellent classes, where I know the students learned something, wonderful conversations with my colleagues, and an incipient evening of Irish stew.

Additionally, I got a call from DHL to tell me they were delivering something at that moment and did not know which flat. I was confused by a Czech text message I had received the day before and thought I needed to pick something up, not that I was being forewarned of a delivery. Luckily, my flat mate was in and signed for the package. My love, who had turned up on the street during the call, meanwhile seemed in similarly high spirits. The world was good and I would handle the packages later.

Did I say packages? I meant packages:

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My favourite things

Both my condoms that actually fit AND my passport arrived on the same day from the same courier. A big hand for Her Majesty’s Passport Office. It took less than a month for an application made overseas. In addition, said application involved having the photographs countersigned, no easy task from abroad.

I’m full of praise today, and thought I might give some advice to the bepenised people who practice, or at least want to practice, safe sex. A miraculous invention, so simple it shocks the mind that it took as long to happen as it did, condoms that actually fit are available from several different places. You can purchase them at sex shops, probably best use a measuring tape first to get your size right, or online. The particular company I used, theyfit.co.uk, even has a handy penis measuring print out. If you don’t have a printer, they also have a “feel” quiz where you describe the sensation of regular condoms and they suggest an appropriate measure.

These things are particularly handy, geddit, and increase your pleasure manifold. Invest today!

Your brain is correct. This has been a Public Service Announcement lauding both Her Majesty’s Passport Office and TheyFit condoms.

Now, to quote my good friend Teddy’s favourite and most important question, what’s made you smile today?

Good Habits, Bad Habits

Now for an update of where I’m at. As honest as a person can be at 10 in the morning before properly alive though, strictly speaking, I have been a bit of a morning person for some time.

It’s probably one of the Good Habits I developed at a young age. We only had one upstairs shower, and my brother and I had to race to get to it. First person in the shower was the first person to get breakfast. The second person was just left lolling around in a half awake stupor, unable to eat until the ritual ablutions. So from at least 8, I endeavoured to be the first washed and the first at breakfast and this has led me to be far keener and more active in the morning than in the afternoon. Still a Good Habit as there is a far greater pressure to be places on time than there is to be awake and 100% all day. First impressions are everything.

Now, the stuff I’ve kept from you, fellow travellers, in the interest of not scaring anyone. In the past months I have had two occasions where I lost important things.

The first time I lost my wallet and glasses, after a night on the tiles that ended when a Czech woman woke me in a park. A wallet is nightmare enough, but could you even imagine the crippling horror that manifests itself in a Czech bureaucratic building without the ability to even see the letters or numbers? Can you imagine having to do this multiple times? Being stopped by Czech police and asked for ID, feebly holding up a picture on an iPad and hoping it is good enough? (Apparently, it is not good enough for their purposes). That was my first week of July. I got fined by metro police.

It wasn’t pretty, but I survived. As I have said other places, I have an exceptional taste in friends – another Good Habit.

The second time was more serious. This is a cautionary tale for all travellers. Do not try this at home, even with adequate adult supervision.

One night, after leaving a party, I got drunk and woke up with no watch or bag. Contained in said bag was my journal, full of several irreproducible poems, and my passport.

If you love travelling, you must hold onto your passport. For the past two months I have been unable to leave the Czech Republic. This would be fine, except I want to wander around and see the cool things in nearby Austria, Poland, and Hungary. While the EU technically has passport free travel they do still perform routine checks at borders, and I do not trust that a photocopy and a police report, written in Czech, will suffice when it comes to border guards. It reads strangely to Czech speakers, what would a Hungarian make of it? They don’t even call their police police (Rendőrség).

Both of the above stories have one clear similarity. Yes, we’re talking about the most major Bad Habit.

I have been drinking too much. I have absolutely been drinking too much. I have been absolutely and terrifyingly out of control drinking too much. It makes me reckless.

And not reckless as in harmless reckless, I mean shit the bed reckless (not literal). Waking up in a park wasn’t enough for me. Oh no, I couldn’t rest with only losing the ability to see and buy food. I had to lose my poetry, graduation watch, and the one thing that is supposed to guarantee me legal protection around the world. What the fuck.

Fortunately, with careful planning, good friends, and some self-awareness, I am getting back on track.

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I got a pair of new glasses for a song. My love bought me a new wallet, which she gave me the day after I lost my passport. It took me a while to accrue funds and actually sit down and do it, but I have ordered a new passport. Most importantly, I have set myself a limit of three drinks in a night. I have mostly held to that for the past two months and I have lost nothing else.

I will finish with some pieces of moralising.

If you are travelling anywhere, you must pick up and cultivate some Good Habits and shake off the Bad ones you will inevitably have gathered in a long life. You should plan your finances accordingly as the types of incomes most travellers and wanderers get is very temperamental and you will have sudden shocks to contend with. When making friends, find good people who will help you if you stumble and who will encourage you to be a better person.

Do these things and you will have a considerably better time overall.

Then again, the good news with losing things is that it gives you more to win.

 

To the Lost, From Those That Remain; Or, Why Prague

So here’s a story, well-told, often repeated, containing a Lie and a Truth. For more detail, consult my first entry on this blog. 23 year old misses his friend, books a trip to see her, wine turns 5 days into 2 months. He gets a job, he gets a girlfriend, he joins a community, he embraces the culture with it’s plentiful meat, dark humour, and warm below the surface people. 2 months turns to 7, seasons change, and here I am with a fortnight’s worth of luggage seeing very good wear.It’s a good story, one I’m happy to tell, mostly True, fits my image well. It’s missing something.

No regular person or even an extraordinary one as I pretend to be sometimes would ever make that jump without something else motivating them, pushing them, or else driving them. As I have said elsewhere, in several places, teaching doesn’t exactly create fat stacks of wealth and prestige. It doesn’t by itself create greater freedom, there are still bosses and there are still customers even if the personal relations differ greatly. It doesn’t fulfil a person’s wildest dreams, though I have been exceptionally lucky/very deft in making good friend and occasionally wise choices. No.

This is the reason, the real, overriding, reason that I came to Prague.

A new story. A boy, recently finished university, out in the Big Bad Real World, making money, making networks, making some form of cobbled together life of drink and companionship, missing something important. Changes jobs to get out of his home city. It draws him back. Irrevocably. But something has changed, in the city, in him, hard to say. It does not feel like a home. It feels like a haunted house.

For the four years of university he had made friends and acquaintances, had the prestige of studying in one of Scotland’s top academic institutions, and had the pleasure of a fine setting and fine folks. At the beginning of every year, effervescent, adolescent joy at meeting people from around the world, a continual influx of new people to love. Every 3 – 6 months though, well, the tide goes out as well as comes in.

They leave. They always leave. The boy never realised such things though they happened all the time. Wrapped up in the moment, the eventual parting always seemed so far off and the company always seemed so worth it. But, see, they left. And he remained.

Part of them stayed. In memory. Every corner, every bar, every alley, every nightclub, every walk, in every part of the centre. Ghosts. Scores, hundreds, even. I couldn’t handle it. Each street became like that square on Monopoly you dread because it signifies the loss of everything. That one Orange property that some tactician has filled with hotels. Every street bore a flat that I recalled, and the recollections grew too many and too difficult. The first was hard enough. My Ex’s street, jutting like a dagger through the Heart of Newington.

Others followed, in varying intensity and character, and by 23 years old with all the uni pals gone and a new clutch of them, made through a Norwegian, going off to do their thing I’d had enough. I needed out.

So I got out, but I may never truly escape. I realise now that I’m back in a similar uni situation. English teachers are by nature rolling stones. Tide goes out as well as the tide comes in. Already the group recedes. The girl I came to see moved home. Others move abroad as the East is where the money is. Some find different opportunities. It’s easier now as there isn’t a time limit I just keep forgetting about, the outflows and influx comes at different times.

Still, I fear the eventual half life. That point where I can see the switch so clearly and memories again flood everywhere. The tide comes in and the tide goes out. One day the same will be true for all.

Cesky KrumLove

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This weekend, I was in Cesky Krumlov celebrating my girlfirend’s birthday – she was also there, in case you are wondering and can sustain a bad joke and the self-aware, self-referential, commentary which followed it.

It was, by all accounts, an amazing trip. The city is more like a town from what we saw, though there were definitely the houses of real people just outside the centre, behind the castle and on the far south bank of the River Vltava. It is the same river as that which goes through Prague, but it meanders more here and curls itself around the centre.

The weather was gorgeous, almost as gorgeous as the girl whose birthday we were celebrating – forgive the mush but next to good food, sunshine, and fun, mush is among my favourite things.

Speaking of mush, the Czech food is certainly not mushy here. It is strong meat, very flavourful. At one restaurant we visited, it was cooked over a log fire in the centre of the restaurant. It took a while to come out, but if you are there and eat meat it is highly recommended to give Satlavska a try.

In terms of places to stay, we were given an ideal recommendation of Hostel Skippy. Check out the view of the riverside private room!

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One of the major advantages of the hostel, other than a nourishing but surprisingly affordable breakfast, decent alcohol prices, cleanliness, good coffee, and friendly staff, was the fact that from the terrace you get to watch kayaks and canoes capsize.

“It is pleasant, when the sea is high and the winds are dashing the waves about, to watch from the shores the struggles of another”

– Lucretius

What more can I say as sound travel advice?

Well, the journey from Prague is a little long by train. You have to go to Ceske Budejovice, then switch to one going to Volary. The wait for the transfer is about half an hour, and the trains suffer from the same problem as many Czech trains. From Prague to Ceske Budejovice you are liable to look out the windows and see only concrete. The West Highland line, it ain’t. Furthermore, the train from Ceske Budejovice seems to venture through numerous small stations and I can’t help but feel that takes a while longer than you might want. The bus seems quicker and more direct.

Cesky Krumlov definitely costs slightly more than Prague, but what of it? It feels nice to not feel like I’m counting crowns – 1 of which is equivalent to 3p in UK terms – in order to survive in Prague. Fortunately, as I wrote about in a former post, I saved some before this month and even more fortunately, a bag of gold basically came sailing through my window before this trip. It’s great to feel like a provider, and my girlfriend seems to have appreciated it. I will know if, when she is finished reading, she kisses me on the cheek.

As a final sign off, presenting the most spectacular street name of the trip.

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Jam Today

When I was 22 or so, I wrote a comic play in which a flat’s money troubles are solved when bags of gold fly through a skylight at the end. It suffered from several problems along the way, the dialogue was gold but the direction was a bit dry, plus the plot wasn’t fully up to scratch. That endin though: so positive, so optimistic and, occasionally, so true.

A student paid me recently and this puts me in a far better mood for the coming month. Now, I havea weekend away with my girlfriend for her birthday and currently I am eating toast with jam.

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So no updates for a couple days. I will leave you with what I feel is some great advice for English teachers and for all people who earn their money in occupations with occasionally irregular cash flow. Plan accordingly.

if one month you work a ton and are paid well, make sure to put some of it away. Lean months do exist. Summer has been a bit temperamental, one month more than enough to live, the next barely enough for rent and other associated costs. Make sure you keep some surplus to balance out the shortfall or you will find yourself in a tickier bind than I have just escaped.

Beware the Summer shortfall. Rejoice in the Septmber inundation. Eat toast, frequently.*

 

*Unless you are gluten intolerant

Short and Sharp

If I do say so myself.

How can I talk about everything that goes on here in a short post? How can I find the words to make the Difficult easy, the Ugly palatable, and the Joy effervescent?


Brevity.

Summer’s short teaching hours supply
Drinking making things disappear
Pleasure popping people’s pain.


Now onto the cooking segment.

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I have discovered, partially through my own experimentation and partially from watching others and hearing their advice, that eggs make a most excellent ingredient in most things. My mate Teddy advised it as a great addition to basic ramen, rendering the stuff almost nutritious. Through my own experimentation, I’ve found it makes an excellent dish to fry penne pasta in egg and add whatever you want to flavour it/bulk it up. Finally, I made a miracle happen by turning taco meat sufficient for only one shell into enough to make four, with the mere application of a couple eggs while refrying. Thanks, Eggs. Theggs.

On the weather report, it’s very hot and very humid. Autumn can not arrive soon enough. I love lounging in the sun as much as the next cat, but there comes a point where one tires of occasionally needing more than one shower in a day. Advice to any future Scots who travel abroad to teach (probably a very small subset of readers, but you never know), always remember that the month you travel in is in a different season than other months. If you arrive in late Winter, it will become Summer in 4 months. Pack accordingly. Our clothes are heavier than most.

Lastly, let’s look at the satisfaction metre: well, this bad boy had had it’s ups and downs, swings from 3 to 11, scraping 2 at one point, then 15 the next, but right now, it looks to be a steady 7. It’s been hard keeping it as high as that this month, owing to things I fancy are already public enough knowledge, but I maintain my standards. It’s always better to be optimistic, but veer towards actions that will make that into reality, rather than wallow in reality and let that particular swamp swallow you whole without giving it a good kick or two on the way down.

As long as I keep striving on with that motivation – I am happy.

Thomas Gray, Eat Your Heart Out

Now, generally, as a person, I have been accused of being easily pleased. As if I am happy at anything, find everything interesting, and will say that I prefer anything which is currently the situation. Perhaps. Perhaps I quite easily bear the tumultuous world we find ourselves in. Perhaps I do occasionally say I like soft or hard vegetables depending what is on the end of my fork. Perhaps I can live in shared accommodations or in friends’ flats for a month and say it’s great, and two months later say I really enjoy living alone. Maybe I am easily pleased. But let me tell you right now that I feel, it is my impression and all my senses tell me, that I am having the time of my life.

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The. Time. Of. My. Life.

There are several reasons for this. There is a supreme balance to my universe right now: between friends, and work, my flatmate being awesome, and my girlfriend staying with me as well while she prepares to move into a new flat. It is primarily to her that I write this. Consider this a Very Public Display of Affection, my love.

It is a renaissance. My mind is more active and awake than it has been in years. Every day, I am learning and growing. Every hour is a joyful experience. Every minute feels stretched out, and the pleasure expands and I feel thoroughly good.

We visited the small town of Kutna Hora recently. In this town, there is an ossuary of tremendous size. 40 to 70 thousand human bodies have been taken to pieces and rearranged into a place of art and worship. It is an aching reminder of mortality and the fact that every day we are working towards the end, though, in most cases, fewer people will see our bones and think about the potential lives we experienced, fewer people will take pictures of the remnants of our lives to share them around the world, and, fortunately, fewer people will leave coins in our eyes for luck or for superstition.

 

After we we had seen and appreciated the scene, we decided to stop for lunch. We went for ribs.