Festive Seasons

Winter is a very popular time for celebrations, but I have a particular date of note in December – this one. On the 16th of December, 2004, I did not die.

To a lot of people, that’s no big news. Indeed, everyone over 12 has the accomplishment of not dying on that day 12 years ago. But not all of them were involved in, and I quote from my personal statement for entry to the University of Edinburgh: “an altercation with a van, which necessitated a 3-month stay in hospital”.

So, the story. 12-year old boy, fresh, new at high school, clever but a bit reckless, crosses the street behind a school bus. Standard practice, really. He and every other school goer went behind the bus at round about the same time. That day, he didn’t look quite hard enough, was standing too far to the left, and was struck by a white Ford Transit van.

That 12-year old was me. Got quite broken up over that. My left leg has the gnarliest scar you are ever likely to see in person. My right hand was somehow ripped in two – straight through the life line as a palmist would tell you, probably a bad omen but let’s shelve that for now. Add to that a stable fracture to the hip and an unspecified amount of brain damage – which hasn’t affected my ability to learn, process new information, or otherwise succeed in the slightest – yet I am totally fine.

it so funny how life takes turns like these. The true victims were my family, who had to sit around in anxiety hoping for some positive change in my condition. I do not envy them those 13 days of coma plus the months, even years, of worry about the rest of my condition. They are amazing people. This goes to my brother, who hardly let me lift a finger to get myself a glass of water in the first few months when I came home. It goes to my dad, who visited every night to bring me Frazzles bacon crisps and play chess with me. It goes to my mum, who was at my bedside every single day I was in hospital.

To finish, just a couple quick reminders. First, always cross the road safely as not everybody is as lucky to make such a perfect recovery a day I did. Second, make sure you let those you care about know you love them, a day you can never know when it’s too late. The worst that can come of telling people you love them is that the world will be a slightly better place for having more love in it.

Here’s to Vanniversary 12! Now over half a life away…

 

 

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.

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity-Jig

Home is a weird idea. Is it where your heart is or where your hat is? If it’s the latter, my home is in a warehouse in Edinburgh, and if the former, it is located somewhere in he centre mass of my chest right now, beating at a bit above 80bpm or so. But I digress.

Below is the view outside my folk’s place in Edinburgh before we left for Prague.

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For me, it was a return trip. Prague, the place where I have made a new life, full of friends and opportunities and a girlfriend. For my parents, though, Prague was some foreign mystical place that had captivated their imagination since the time before I was born. They had wanted to honeymoon here but had been deterred by Communism. Just another thing that regime stopped. They were full of excitement, but I think a little apprehension at what circumstance they might find their son living in.

All in all, I think they were pleasantly surprised. They found a city which is modern yet old, beautiful yet industrious. At first, I believe they were suspicious of the relatively low prices of the food and drink. These suspicions were quelled once I showed them the wonderful culinary delights of the place.

A day of wandering aimlessly, a day of visiting castles, and a day of art.

The aimless wandering took us to some Czech food. Lokal. My favourite place for Czech food as it is frequented by Czech people themselves. Good and authentic stuff, but I get them impression my mum didn’t quite understand the menu, or the size of the gram weight. She ordered a chef specialty and a main course. We ended up with a big slice of fried cheese, a bunch of sausages, a goulash, some rice in a soup like thing, and another main which I can’t quite remember. Enough for one other person! Oh well, I was hungry. Hot cheese and cold beer, though, has its issues.

We dined at their hotel that night. My girlfriend joined us there, but was aware of how overpriced it all was, as was I. Such is the fate of those who eat on Vaclavske Namesti. From that point on, I decided to take more action. We would only go to places where I knew they would get good value and the best quality.

The next day, my parents and I went to Prague Castle. We tried to go early to beat the crowds, but to no avail. The narrow alleys inside the castle walls were full with the human mass, every second or third step was to the side to avoid some group or other who closed ranks to avoid being separated.

After a decent walk around there, then down Malo Strana and into the Church of St Nicolas, I decided we should check out the far quieter Vysehrad – which used to be a castle but is now more of a stately garden.

The views there are immense.

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A little bit hard to capture a panorama that shows the enormity, as it is properly panoramic but I did my best, switching to a smaller frame when I saw another opportunity.

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At Vysehrad, there is a door which allows you to see down the Vltava. See, everyone is so focused on the castle they forget about the nature* that surrounds the city. There are some really green parts of the city if you only get to high ground and try to observe them.

A great day of castle visiting lead us into an evening of 10 koruna beers in Vinohrady, followed by a dinner at a Vietnamese near Namesti Miru, and sangria in Zizkov. It was fun showing off these parts of the city as they are a bit distinct and separate from the standard tourist trail. It also gave me a chance to show off the city at its best, the prettiness of Namesti Miru, the tastiness of the Vietnamese restaurants here, and the eclectic architecture of Zizkov (looking at you, creepy babies on a tower).

We finished their trip off with a day of going to two art museums, the modern one in Holesovice is especially amazing,

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Otto Dix pic

and then a night at Letna beer garden. On the way, we also got Trdelniks with ice cream rolls (available at a place near Hotel Clementium for all you salivating guests).

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Ice cream is already a game changer for the traditional Trdelniks, but add freshly made ice cream with fruit of your choice and we’re dealing with a whole new animal. I will say though, it’s kind of big and extremely sweet for one person so may be best to eat with a partner.

All over, it was a great trip. We went to some of my favourite places, and did some of my favourite things, and I got to see a bunch of art too. Normally, I wouldn’t pay for a gallery unless I knew it had something I wanted in there, but when you are bankrolled by visitors it is unresistible. I will close with this, thanks mum and dad for your continued support, your love, and for your visit.

 

*to my editors: I am aware this does not read correctly, but it’s a common Czech error which I think is lovely and poetic and here is used as a stylistic choice.

Wedding Bells

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So the reason I am back in Edinburgh briefly: my friend Daniel, whom I have known since we were 6 years old or so, is celebrating his marriage to Ella. They have known each other for several years, spending much of the time in different countries, but have lived together for at least the past year – calemdeical details slip the mind sometimes. I like the story of how they know each other and came together, a tale of how cheap international flights can facilitate a greater range of love than ever possible, and how travel can make strong relationships.

Yesterday, they held in drinks reception on the fifth floor, about as tall as most Edinburgh buildings are allowed to get as they have some rule about buildings not being taller then the castle. While there, I snapped the panorama you can see above. I had planned to write about the differences in architecture between Edinburgh and Prague, Edinburgh rougher and more challenging while Prague looks like a cake, but now I have another idea.

last night as the reception was ending, we were standing on the balcony overlooking the other side when Dan went around with a box. In this box were cigars. I helped myself. It began to rain and the cadre of international partygoers ducked under the lip of the roof to enjoy their cigars in dryness. I, however, had no seen good rain in a while!

I stood right in the middle of the balcony and drenched for a while, while puffing on a cigar. Certainly a very different experience.

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I missed the drenching of our grey land. Nothing quite like it. Though Prague does have lightening storms, so there is something to be said for that. And I keep sleep past 5 in e morning there. And the cars don’t move too slow to move out the way but quick enough to do some harm (they reduced inner city speeds to 20mph in Edinburgh and it seems really slow). All things considered, I am fairly excited to getting back.

DNR

Yesterday, I went to a lavish banquet dinner for my friend’s sister’s birthday at the Dome. The Dome has a gorgeous interior, very grand, all gilded and painted, but Inhad no camera with me so you’ll have to imagine it. It was an excellent night, the wine was filled and refilled, and the conversation flowed well. Then again, I forgot my main rule at banquet dinners.

Do. Not. Refill.

I have no idea how much I had because I rarely finished a glass before the waiter came round and topped me up. Don’t get me wrong, it was lovely, but it definitely messed me up. Still, looking good an only vaguely like a Renaissance Jesus painting.

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Very pretty, right?

So, some more thoughts on Edinburgh and it’s difference from Prague. I must say I have definitely come to appreciate Scottish office staff. Having recently visited a Czech office building to have a ticket replaced, I now realise that as annoying as our offices are, they at least work pretty hard to make sure you get what you want as quickly and easily as possible. Czech offices seem Kafkaesque.

You get there. You ask a person where to go. He tells you somewhere. You end up getting a new card for no reason only to then be told by the original guy you have to go to a different office and he quotes an unrelated price. You try and find out what your card is for but nobody can tell you. You turn into a giant insect. The walls fade. You get sent to another building but then get arrested and charged double the quoted price for no reason. Maybe they just hate giant insects and Kafka references.

Their offices are intractable. The corridors are winding, evening offensive to sight and strange smelling, the waiting rooms are full of beeping and they have an electronic number calling system which is not always sequential, everything is unduly long and feels terrible. By comparison, offices in Scotland are very gentle. The difference is no where more visible than the airport. Edinburgh is very light touch. They know what they are doing, they are obviously pretty attentive, but they don’t feel the need to grope you so hard it’s like a medical exam. You can get a free all body massage on the continent if you walk through a metal detector wearing a watch.

So glad that I have nothing official to do on this visit, though. So many of them end up putting you on the phone, and voice recognition operators are like a cruel joke to Scottish people. Shit. Just remembered I have to call an office and they use one of those.

So this weekend, as a special treat, expect daily updates from me. Today, I give you my get home treat…

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