When narratives break – Thoughts on the Czech election

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PRAGUE, Czech Republic – As the dust settles and clears following the recent Czech election, nobody looks especially cheerful. This is part and parcel of the normal Czech attitude to life. The country is pretty good, it’s culture satisfying and beer cheap, but corruption is an acknowledged issue, and there are complaints about the food quality and relatively low wages by European standards. Still, people don’t walk around with big smiles and don’t shout their political affiliation from the roofs.

Looking at the newspapers it could be tempting to look at the recent election gloomily. Indeed, ’Is the Czech Republic Turning On the West?’ by Jochen Bittner in the New York Times is keen to fit the Czech election into the narrative of Europe veering to the far-right and anti-establishment figures taking hold around the world. Though the ascendant far-right is a problem in Europe, the Czech Republic is neither distinct in this category nor especially pronounced. The far-right AFD got more of the vote (12.6%) in Germany than the far right SPD got (10.6%) in the Czech Republic. Furthermore, there is a real problem in how newspapers are reinforcing a broken narrative – that of the anti-establishment.

It happened in America with Donald Trump. He framed himself as somebody different and the news ran with that angle. Where was the criticism about the billionaire schmoozer sucking up to all kinds of political power? That gets hand-waved as “Just business”. He got painted as anti-establishment despite the fact that he’d made fat stacks from that very system. Where is his motivation to change it? A true anti-establishment candidate would have fewer riches and less grease on their palms.

This is a problem with Bittner’s take. He tells the same story about Andrej Babis (last name pronounced Babish), the winner of the Czech elections, framing him as an anti-establishment underdog. How Bittner accomplished this feat while noting that he’s a billionaire and the former finance minister is anybody’s guess. In truth, Babis is as establishment as Emmanuel Macron. He’s as connected to the political elite as anybody. Just because the guy under investigation for corruption says he is against corruption, doesn’t mean you should agree with him.

In fact, journalists more than anybody should be prepared to speak truth to power and call out politicians when they attack the status quo while embodying it.

Too many news sources have gone with this angle. The Guardian and The Independent have also fallen for this narrative. It is an extremely narrow read of the situation. The Financial Times is much more measured.

In addition, Bittner is extremely uncharitable towards the Czech people, most of whom didn’t vote for Babiš or Tomio Okamura of the SDP. Bittner is prone in his NYT piece to suggest the election results are some failing in the Czech electorate. He makes out that they are somehow unequipped for democracy and have illiberal minds. It’s a particularly offensive mischaracterisation of the Czech people, a people for whom freedom is so important. If the Czech seem not as eager to grasp further EU integration as others it probably has something to do with their history under Communism. The Czechs have fought vigorously for their democracy and independence and are hesitant to give it away quickly.

As it stands, I can only comment so far on this subject. My Czech skills are limited to finding simple objects and basic conversation. This being acknowledged, I can see a narrative and can smell when it’s wrong. It’s evident that even newspapers that are normally very good are pushing a narrative of right-wing and anti-establishment victory, probably owing to the current US situation. More people should counteract this because it’s spreading mistruths and making right wing dominance seem an inevitability. It is not an inevitability and people need to rise up and create a non-horrifying political party that can win votes.

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A Pumpkin Patch in Prague

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That “don’t touch the pumpkin” sign was a good idea but a bit in vain. Kids touch everything

The weather has turned autumnal and the leaves have gone fallish and so we went to the botanical garden to look at the harvest. Pumpkins, of course, are not native to the Czechs Republic, or even the entirety of Europe really. They are as American as pumpkin pie. Therefore, if you’re looking for images of the best pumpkins you could ever see I implore you to get an Instagram account and look up #pumpkins #pumpkinpatch #us #idontuseinstagramsodontknowpreciselyhowthetagswork. If, though, you are here for some pictures of nature and probably a bit about love and babies then do stay. Pull up a hammock and settle in for my tale.

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There’s a snake in my introduction!

The botanical gardens in Prague are up by the zoo. It’s a very strange bit of Prague because it has that sort of geography like you’re always going uphill. Uphill to get in and uphill to get out. Still, it’s a nice part of the city to get a panoramic view

[Imagine a panoramic view of Prague here]
{Caption: Somehow it’s uphill over there too!}

Prague is essentially a bowl, all the outlying parts are higher than the centre.

 


{Caption: Artist’s rendering}

The pumpkins were a lot more impressive than I was expecting, really. I’d seen pumpkins before but not with the sheer variety of those on display here. They ran the gamut of size, colour, and shape. It was like one of those Dove natural beauty adverts where they are selling soap by showing pictures of different sized women’s bodies, but with pumpkins and dirt instead.

While I liked the display, my fiancée took exception to the overly bumpy ones.

The main reason we went to the botanical gardens was of course for the pumpkins. To my Scottish and other non-Americans readers, did you know pumpkin patches are a huge thing to Americans? I really can’t remember us having them. Then again, they are one of these traditions that are quite fun to graft onto our own traditions as it’s surprisingly entertaining to look at what are essentially lots of squashes.

Her: “I like having someone to go places with”

When my fiancée said that it took me by surprise, in a sense. On the one hand, why wouldn’t she be pleased, I’m a catch. But on the other she does a huge amount of the thinking about our activities so it sometimes feels more like I’m some kind of event parasite. But nah, turns out I’m good to be around for her. And she’s brilliant for me, too.

[All right, all right, save it for the squashed pumpkins, you’ve done your mushy bit this month]

So yeah, I love her very much and want to stick with her.

One thing that I got thinking about in the gardens, other than how pleasant the air was and how I should get out of the city more, was how it seems everyone had a pram and two toddlers. Some of them had a pram, two toddlers AND a papoose. It really reminded me how much I want kids.

Strange thing for a man to be talking about, I’m sure, but I’d properly like a couple of kids and preferably in the next few years. I can’t be doing with the current vulgar habit of fucking around for 20 years. I fucked around for 2 or 3 years and it felt like too long; the occasional burst of pleasure punctuated by long sullen dry spells. Quite boring when hardly anyone commits to anything, just like diplomats or civil servants too afraid to pre-guess the aims and intentions of the decision makers who just smile vaguely. Not my cup of tea, really. I’d prefer to get started on life already.

There’s this view going about around millenials and kids, like we don’t want them or something. It’s identical to most theories about millenials in that it ignores the most pertinent root cause: millenials aren’t having kids because millenials don’t have money, basically the same reason we don’t own a lot of diamonds. Instead we have student debt and increasingly pricier rents as buy-to-let landlords convert a lot of housing stock to AirBNB. There are loads of external reasons why millenials aren’t having kids, but I think, personally, we’ll just have them anyway.

Just like how Sheryl Sandberg said that women who wanted to get ahead in their careers and lives had to “lean in” to additional responsibilities and work priorities, millenials who want kids need to have them regardless of any help we’ll get. The situation isn’t perfect for having kids? The situation is never perfect for having kids. People have them in all weathers and situations, however. People have them in wars and famines. If you delay having kids because of the economy or not owning a house there’s a very real chance you’ll delay it too late.

So today’s lessons; pumpkins are wonderful, they are a good tradition which is very entertaining, and if you want to have your own little pumpkins you need to lean in to the additional work they require. I think it’s a good nutritious balance of information for a Sunday.

The writer of this piece’s fiancée is doing yoga right now and it’s quite entertaining to watch. If you, or anyone else you know, have pictures of pumpkins, do share them in the comments section below.

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Widdle pumpkins

The Centre of Light – Signal Festival 2017

Going to write two of these things as there are so many photographs of light shows and I want to do them justice. Catch part II, maybe tomorrow or something

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“Constrained Surface” – Ryochi Kurokawa

One of the most fun things about city life is the sheer variety of events. The week just past was Signal Festival 2017. The Signal Festival is an annual exhibition of art installations, all of which are centred around their use of light and sound.

My fiancée and I were actually shushed during the above display, which was funny as the sound was primarily a type of industrial-ambient, the clanking of chains and the sound of a nut being thrown into a metal bucket. Eerie stuff. It’s somewhat like asking somebody to be quiet because you can’t hear the rain on the window.

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“#glass” – Tets Ohnarib

Before anyone gets to thinking I’ve become conscious of marketing, that hashtag was part of the title of this piece – I do my research.

It’s a really cool concept. So the two pillars look like they have shattered and spilled all over the ground, but the breakage defies physics. After all, it wouldn’t break in a full circle, that’s crazy talk. In addition, the pillars are still intact. It made me reflect on how things are not always as they might appear.

That’s the power of misdirection.

And the point of misdirection is normally stage magic. And what could be more magical than your audience becoming the performers?

This piece, “Heardt” by Anna Feyrerová, Bára Anna Stejskalová, Richard Dobřichovský and Tomáš Bukáček, performs precisely that. A piano connected to the lights to create different patterns based on the music played. Anyone could sit in the piano and create the show, though it seems most people who tried had at least some skill when we were there.

They also weren’t that drunk because, and this will surely shock some Prague people, did you know we can no longer buy drink in Prague 1 after 10pm? What is this, Scotland? I tell you, this city is changing. Not necessarily for the better.

Anyway, here’s a idea of me dancing with two tins at the “Beyond” (Playmodes) exhibit in Old Town Square.

You know how I like to tell a story, well what’s the story here? The story is that the true story is the light show you find along the way. Like, check this out –

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Prague Castle from across the Vltava

And to conclude, the festival is really cool, sadly a little short, and my bird likes expensive tins, but more on that next time.

The writer of this piece is a fan of art and light and hopes that he brightened your day.

A Love Story – What you learn from paperwork

In our increasingly global world it’s easier than ever for people to fall in love, regardless the colour of their passport. In the past it feels like a lot of these relationships would have been merely sexual, but it is stunningly common to find someone who isn’t from your country. I am one of three Scots that I knew in their 20s in a long term relationship with a non-Scot they met in another country. It’s brilliant, but it does present a challenge – borders.

And not just borders. The men and women who police borders.

Strangely, borders don’t come up in many love stories. I hear love story and I think dramatic death. It’s weird because if anything borders are far sadder. Imagine being stuck behind a basically invisible line, the person you love on the other side, and not being able to embrace or kiss them. With death, it’s just over. With borders you coninue living, but separate. It’s brutal, and it’s been the case for millennia.

Today is a nice time to live, relatively. It’s easier than ever to be with people you want to. It’s not always amazingly quick and it’s rarely totally simple, but with a few strokes of a pen you can be together. Treaty of Westphalia, be damned.

What this means, though, is that you have to do a lot of paperwork. Sometimes it’s in a foreign language, but I imagine it’d also be a bit of a pain to do in your own. It often involves going to several offices and waiting behind a different interminable queue of sweaty, irritated people in every one. It almost always has the impassive face of an office worker at the end. She sees hundreds of cases a day, from a thousand different tired faces, and she doesn’t like to bend very much.

All this paperwork has made me realise two contradictory thing. First of all, a form cannot express everything about a relationship. How could I explain to them that they should let my fiancée stay in Europe because I love it when she sings The Proclaimers in the kitchen and it’d please me greatly if she kept doing it?

These forms are obviously made to protect the border from being crossed by people they don’t trust to have good intentions or whom may become burdensome on social service skills or whatever, but at some point they realised they had to let people in love be together or lose some of their humanity, but if the form cannot encapsulate such information then how can they tell anybody is really in love and is justified in having one by such precepts? I’m sure less than reputable characters are willing to dive into the morass of bureaucracy. It’s a problem and it’s why borders are policed so heavily. People will do dangerous things to get into or out of some places.

Secondly, however, and in total contradiction, the process proves I love her. It’s quite apparent I love her. I am willing to do the paperwork. I can wait in the queues. I can go to offices staffed by Ukrainians and demand updated forms of a contract to prove we are together. I can be very persistent and light fires under bureaucrats to keep the process moving because I know she has a time limit so I also have a time limit as we are sharing our life and if these office sloths don’t stamp a little quicker it’s not just their time and not just my time but our time they are wasting.

Paperwork signifies commitment, and it teaches you to be true in your choices as well as your signatures. You don’t want to have to do more than you have to.

The writer of this piece is bristling with italics and has decided to itch them out on the end here for catharsis.

The Hangover

Right, so it’s this post.

Pictured: A classier drink than I was imbibing last night

The Czech Republic has many great traditions. They terrify children in December and eat fish for Christmas dinner, which probably terrifies the fish, who live in the bathtub for several days before they are cooked. Their love day is the 1st of May and you’re supposed to kiss your love under a blooming tree. I did not this year because I was hungover. Today I saw a sign advertising “burčak” – young wine.

The young wine season is late August, September, and early November. You can find out more about it here. It’s a very exciting time of year as the drink is delicious. It tends to be a low ABV, about 4%, but it still has active yeast in it and so it gets more alcoholic in your belly. You are supposed to drink as much burcak as you have blood in your body, 5 litres, over the season. It can lead to some rough mornings.

Another tradition, more local than national, is sangria night at Bukowskis. Every Tuesday ladies can go and get free pitchers of sangria. They are not supposed to give it to men, but my fiancée loves me. Still, I also bought my own drinks last night to allay suspicions. Simply red, nothing fancy, it’s from a box. Still, the wine was better than the sangria, oakier, fuller body, and much better scent. Then again, you may have noticed I’m avoiding the massive element in the room – the huge elephant in the tomb.

The aftershock

Because, really, what’s is life but one long sesh punctuated by hiccups and hangovers? In the words of Jack Donaghy, “Men need alcohol. It’s the first thing every civilization makes, along with weapons and shelters to enjoy prostitutes.” I just had to look up what came first, domesticated dogs or alcohol. It may be a tie, about 10000 BC being an estimate for both. Man’s best friends. Fundamental though it may be, I worry.

I worry sometimes because my hangovers are particularly vile. It’s like my body wants to get away from my brain. It wants to sweat, piss, shit, and vomit. My thoughts go to funny places and I can’t control them. Some days I can’t stomach anything and can’t eat till the evening.

If I can’t fit in my kilt before I get married, I will ask for two litres of wheat beer, 48 hours, and 0 questions.

It makes me hate absolutely everything. Myself, people around me, the world. I’m not good to be around when I’m hungover. My demanding and angry side is given full reign.I often shout “cuddles or get the fuck out!” if I’m disturbed while in my pain. I repeat it if they don’t make a choice quickly and without fuss.

I really want the cuddles, by the way. So if I ever shout that at you, now you know. I want somebody to hold my body together.

Today was especially bad because I had to go to a government office. Government offices are uniformly terrible everywhere. Especially the ones which are designed for foreigners. It seems like it’s the government department that countries are least fond of supporting. There were loads of people and the office had only just opened. Compounding this stress is the fact that the workers in the foreign department only speak Czech. I understand this is the Czech Republic, but you’d think they’d have at least some other language skills given their job is almost entirely dealing with non-Czechs. Fortunately, I had a lovely freelance visa agent named Jitka Peterkova helping me, so I just sat dumbly while contemplating the meaning of suffering and she did all the talking, occasionally she handed me a bit of paper to sign. Additionally, she also got there early to get a ticket so we got in and out really quickly.

Love Cats

The best cure I’ve noticed for it was suggested to me by my mate Sam. He instructed me one morning to go to the kitchen and drink water. Lots of water. So much water you feel your stomach could burst. And then some more. This trick has worked for me a couple of times but it is by no means perfect. In fact, sometimes it just gives me more water to violently expel, more fuel for the fire.

I’m less worried about my overall drinking these days as I pretty much have it under control. I’m drinking roughly a third as much as I was at the same time last year, cheap bevy is great but dangerous. So I’m forgiving myself today. I don’t hate myself. My rage is conserved for slow walkers and standees on the wrong side of escalators. This hangover has been a timely reminder that I need to be careful. Sitting around and hating everything might be a good hobby for a philosopher looking to prove nihilism, but it is not conducive to a well lived life.

On the periphery between life and death, the writer likes long walks by the River Lethe and the Water of Leith. One is good to remember and the other to forget. Once the post hangover gloom has been vanquished by the breaking sun of recovery, the writer also likes writing imagery.

Changing the Time

History and memory are vital, interesting, and important. With all the talk of statues in the news thanks to the recent fight in Charlottesville, VA I want to the tell you a story about one such statue in Prague: the metronome in Letna Park. The metronome in Letna Park swings back and forth counting the seconds, symbolising the time lost to Communism. Long may it swing and remind people of the horrors of the dictatorships the city suffered in the mid-20th century. The story is far grander, however.

It swings…

And swings back

And swings again

See, that metronome was built in 1991 on top of the massive stone plinth, which had been intended for another statue – a giant statue of Stalin standing in front of some Communist archetypes.

Stalin standing in front of a worker, mother, farmer, and soldier

Locals called it ‘the meat queue’, due to the food shortages in the city after the war.

The statue was the result of a strong personality cult for Stalin. The cult was strong in Prague, with believers occupying several positions in government. They renamed a major street Stalinova, Stalin’s Street. They wanted to build the biggest statue of Stalin in the world, and they did. It weighed 17000 tonnes. It also took 800 kilograms of explosives to destroy.

In 1962, on orders from Moscow, the statue was taken down. Locals gathered to watch the rubble taken through the streets. One story says one of his ears became a bathtub.

Nikita Kuschev, Stalin’s replacement, had been very quick to condemn Stalin once he died. Kruschev made a speech in 1956, three years after Stalin’s death, where he said they had to change their approach to Communism and leadership. The Communists instituted a massive shift in how their country was run, a shift which included taking down some of the statues.

Stalinova in Prague was renamed Vinohradska, which to my untrained ear is ‘Wine Castle Street’. Far preferable to Stalin Street. Imagine hating a guy so much that you mashed a couple nouns together and added street to the end of it rather than kept his name on it. It’s be like having ‘Fan Sofa Street’.

So in light of recent events, what can we learn from the Communists here? Sometimes you don’t have to remember history through the lens of hundreds of statues or of particularly big statues. Sometimes you can remember history with plaques, artistic statues such as Prague’s metronome, or by picking street names that are less controversial – people have to live there, how would you like to live on Cunt Street?

It’s a fairly basic ask from those against the statues. Perhaps a better solution is to put up a sign beneath the statue with a list of pros and cons about the person, so people can actually have a debate about them and do some research. Still, sometimes you need to revise parts of your history. You can still remember things, and I hope you do. That we have grandfathers and remember more of our past is one of the key differences between humans and the other great apes. Maybe it is more important to remember the things that were true in the past which should be changed today instead of getting stuck in a rut, deifying stone or copper impressions of some dead guy.

The writer of this piece is probably preaching to the converted, and would now like everyone to turn to page 4 in their hymn book.

Love Shack

Besides food, a place to stay is the most important human need. On top of this, it needs to be more than just a place to sleep. It’s  not just important to have a place that feels like it’s yours; it is vital. It’s egocentric, but so much of the world is extensions of us as people. The way a person dresses is a physical embodiment of how they want to be seen. A person’s body language is their soul expressing itself through form. And a home reflects how a person wants to be in their free time, and how they want to live. Where you live, then, is an important choice. How do you want to live and how do you make it happen? Today I want to tell you what home means to me.

A painting from a Slovak artist, Gregor Dalecky, that I feel an affinity with

2015 was a truly insane year for me. I switched jobs three times and changed where I was living 5 times. In none of the places I lived was it possible to change much. I could move my stuff in, but the basic amenities were not mine to change. The cutlery belonged to the owner of the place. Most of the glasses and cups were not mine. The plates were all basic. For a time, I lived in my parent’s house, but I felt like more of a guest there. It isn’t my childhood home, since they have moved into the city, so I basically had the guest room there. It’s a room for their many friends and visiting family members. It was fine, but not mine.

My parent’s house is only a home insofar as my parents are there and I love them very much.

The year after was all change. My first two months in Prague I slept wherever I could, hostels, Roisin’s, Teddy’s, my fiancée’s (pre-relationship). Dossing around, practically homeless, but with the kindness of new found friends to house me. It took a while to find a place to stay and rent, but I got there eventually. It was alright but nothing special. A place to kip, listen to music late at night without disturbing anyone, and accrue mess. Everything was from IKEA. The kitchen was a bit of a nightmare as it had no window and even less counter space. I have no idea how that is legal. Kitchens need windows. When my fiancée agreed we should look for a place, it was my main demand: a kitchen with a window.

Finding a place was a challenge as the rental market is a bit weird, but when we eventually found a partially furnished flat in the centre of our favourite area with a window in the kitchen, we snapped it up.

Our kitchen window – Toaster from Tesco, Kettle from my mate Damien’s girlfriend Hanicka, Vase from Butler’s (a gift I got my fiancée), Candles from Tiger

We had a house, but how to make it a home? We had to make it colourful and beautiful and comfortable.

Our sofa, a bit beat up and second-hand but very cosy

“A house that does not have one comfy chair in it is soulless” – May
Sarton

A home needs to feel comfortable and secure. It’s also important to have a way to separate yourself from the other people you live with. For though I love my fiancée very much, and she concurs, it is of critical importance that we have more than one place to sit. It was her idea that we should go for a sofa, and she found it on one of Prague’s buy/sell/trade groups.

Let me tell you, I know moving furniture. I have previously been a furniture delivery assistant and I have dealt with moving a sofa on spiral staircases before. Prague has hard twists. It was a good thing we asked The Little Van That Can man, Scott, to help us out. He’d moved this type of thing before and knew how to take it to bits in the right way to get it around corners. Still, there was a three story climb as there is no lift.

Ahh well, I am no stranger to slightly uncomfortable shoulders.

What’s nice about making a flat together is that we’ve both had ideas and have made suggestions. We don’t disagree on much because her taste and vision is very good. One area which is particularly nice is the kitchenware.

Where the magic happens

Implements and tray

Over a month before we decided we’d move in together I remember when she mentioned the cool knives she saw. At first I thought that a knife was a knife and as long as it was sharp I was happy. Then she showed them to me and I was especially happy. Why not have useful things that also look good? They are also very easy to spot in a sink if they ever get mixed in with the rest of the dishes. We haven’t found much use for the tray, but it’s cheerful so it’ll do.

“A home without books is a home without a soul” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

A subsection of our books

We both travelled here and hence don’t have many books. We both really like books however so have done our best to own at least a few. Real books are valuable because they have a whole other feeling to them than the e variant. While I rarely remember much prose anyway as I find it less memorable than poetry, I remember it even less when it is in ebook format. The books in the top left hand corner are my Dr. Seuss library, a modest collection but I began collecting later in life and Dr. Seuss is kind of pricey in the UK. In the top right, you can see two Slovakian books about bears. My fiancée is a collector of Slovakian books about bears. On the bottom shelf, there is an eclectic shelf of cook books, Lanark by Alasdair Gray, Franz Kafka’s collected works, How to Manage Your Slaves, and an Alien Encyclopaedia. We found that last one in a book shop in Edinburgh and she wanted it because she loves The X-Files.

Furthermore, that same tower has part of our souvenir collection.

Eclectic shelf

Collecting souvenirs is apparently controversial, as a lot of people think it’s not “real travelling” if you take anything back to remember it. This article very convincingly argues otherwise. We like to find things when we travel. They are cool reminders where we’ve been. In the above linked article there are some tips for how to find good souvenirs.

On that shelf, we have some Russian dolls, a wee Hungarian man, a couple of postcards and This is Prague, a book on the city’s history. Each of these objects is special, my fiancée spent time in Russia, we visited Hungary together, and our wedding invites are on postcards. Prague is where we met and live. This city will always be special to us, why not take things to remember it by? Why not display them here while we live here? We’re expanding our own personal history.

Making our flat together has been a wonderful opportunity to work together. We have shared responsibility for collecting and paying for items, even if I’ve done more of the physical lifting and she’s done more of the metaphorical lifting by finding them. We’re sharing a vision of what kind of life we want and what we are willing to do to get it. My wedding proposal may not have been the most planned or most romantic, but it was extremely honest. I proposed in our flat. The flat we built together. I told her I love her and want to continue building this life together.

The writer of this piece is, despite popular belief to the contrary, neither a puppy nor a cutie. His face is steely, as are his abs, and his eyes have a cool blue-green thing happening which completes the look.

Please find below pictures of other cool things we have. It hurts me that I couldn’t write about all our cool wall art and the meaning behind every object, but such is life. If you have any questions don’t be afraid to ask!

 

Cork collection, dated. Spare keys, a vase, and a picture frame with Czechoslovakian stamps 

Glassware and cups; bought, given, and taken

She has shown me Community and I like it

A ladder that we thought was a real ladder but makes equally good display shelves

‘Hlavni Nadrazi’ by Lukos Hey, he’s a good guy

Left to right, 1950s Russian theatre poster, a painting bought on Charles Bridge

A picture frame that looks like a theatre, made by my friend Cat as an engagement gift. Fairy lights bought by my parents also in shot.

Vintage Russian ‘days’ posters (“First day of school” “First day or holiday” etc.)

A fridge, looking homely with photographs, magnets, and a painting by my fiancée’s niece

Tour Guiding

So it’s still the Summer months, and as a result a lot of people have been going places. From the age of 18 till now, I’ve lived in the places people like to go – Edinburgh for the Fringe, the West Highlands for the West Highland Way, and Prague for cheap alcohol and cigarettes and vibrant Central European history.

Gotta love that Central European history

Since I have always lived in nice places I never used to think people were visiting me so much as the area and so I always tried to know what was what wherever I was. Where were cool places to go and good things to do. It’s valuable knowledge. But the skill to pull it off is something else.

As I’ve said elsewhere, you’ve got to tell them a story. People need to hear interesting information that they can relate to and which changes their perception of the world. My brother managed this when he showed me Barcelona and told me about everything that had happened in the city after Franco. The Olympics, the Catalonian Independence Movement, their more liberal drug laws and graffiti. It helps you get to know the soul of a place to understand its history. I have endeavoured to do the same.

In Edinburgh I mostly told the story of the Fringe, and our cultural history. It’s the most interesting part as the city has had few wars in the previous few hundred years. There’s also some interesting things about shit, sex, and murder. Trivia is always handy to make a place more alive.

For the West Highlands, I told the story of serenity. Of a peaceful haven away from the rush of the city. It’s a bit more of a low key story. Not my favourite one to tell but valuable for the growth of one’s soul. If there’s one thing we can all benefit from, it is more soul.

For Prague, I have tried to sell its history and architecture besides the obvious alcohol and cigarettes, which sell themselves as they are a quarter and a tenth the price of the UK respectively. That’s not enough though as people could get that anywhere, if they wanted really cheap substances then they’d go to Romania or Ukraine. Prague’s USP is the fact that it is the least destroyed city in continental Europe.

You can find buildings from all eras unmolested by the major fighting forces of the 20th Century despite the fact it’s very central. There were pains, to be sure, many political prisoners and Jewish people sent to camps by the Nazis, commemorated by golden stumbling stones. The people also suffered under the Soviet Union, and elements of the totalitarian regime can be seen ingrained into buildings. Still, for all this suffering, they are still kicking and proving themselves as an independent country. I love Czechs. Also a bit jealous of the fact they’re an independent country able to prove themselves and Scotland isn’t, but that’s not presently important.

It’s fun showing people around. Prague has become a kind of second home to me. I know lots of little stories about the place as well as many of the substantial details. Even when I don’t know exactly what I’m talking about though it has been totally fine. I have realised that people are indeed here to see me and not just the place. They’ve always visited me primarily to see me. I’m kind of a big deal.

My good friend Cat and her girlfriend Aimee are over visiting. It’s a bit tight, four in a room, but it’s glorious fun. Today we had breakfast and walked a lot, all the way from our flat to the castle. The whole way I was just throwing all the accumulated knowledge from the last year about the city. It was a very good day. It’s brilliant to reflect on how the world grows with your knowledge of it, and how a place can become so much more the more connected to it you become.

So, if you’re interested in Prague and want personally shown about, do get in touch! I love to share what I know.

Writing a little less today than yesterday, but in a more manageable bite sized piece, the author needs to go down to the shops to fetch milk and flour.

Cooking; Rough and Smoothed

Regular readers may know my love of food, typified by my Magical Listicle Tours and my sappy fiancée piece. It’s not all cakes and going to restaurants, though.

In keeping with my part lifestyle, part philosophy, part travel, part whatever, blog – today I want to give you some of the hints and tricks that keep me in fine form. There is no magic, here, just some particular tastes. Home cooked food is one of those things that belongs in everyone’s priority lists. The value of cooking your own food is incalculable. It can be great for fostering friendships and building loving relationships. So here are a few of my favourites, with links to where I got them, or how I developed them.

it’s important to remember when dealing with all these recipes to make them your own. If you really love garlic, multiply it. Got a sweet tooth, bang in more sugar. If you’ve got a craving for salt, by all means, don’t let me or the recipes stop you. You are the master of your own plate!

Shakshuka

The link above goes to Smitten Kitchen, a wonderful food blog with tons of recipes. Here’s one I’ve made and which has become part of my repertoire. Shakshuka is amazing and all it takes is oil, onion, garlic, a tin of tomatoes, some spices (cumin and paprika), and eggs. The link above tells you a fuller method than this, and they suggest parsely and feta cheese to put on top. This dish was prepared minimally using the items listed above though and was delicious. Adding at least a teaspoon of sugar to the tomatoes is probably a good idea as tinned tomatoes sometimes lack that crucial pop.

It takes about 20 minutes. Definitely something for lovers or singles looking to impress their date by cooking. It is vegetarian but not vegan. The sauce itself is lovely though and I’m sure creative vegans can make it work.

Coq au Vin

Know what? I’m not going to sugarcoat this one with food photography. This dish is chicken and red wine. It’s amazing how a French name can make terrifying what is actually pretty pedestrian and essentially peasant food. This one is butter, shallots, garlic, bacon, thyme, mushrooms, wine, chicken stock, balsamic vinegar, chicken on the bone cut up into 8 pieces, parsley and black pepper.

But you know what it actually is? Chicken and wine. The other stuff is extra. The recipe they give in the above link is delicious and I recommend you follow it, but don’t sweat the parsley. It tastes great otherwise.

This is an example of one of those dishes which is within the grasp of everyone as it is just throwing stuff together in a pot in the vaguely right order. The only thing it really needs is time. (1hr)

The recipe calls for good wine, but I’m almost certain that’s a con. Save the good wine for drinking and just toss in a full-bodied Bulgarian merlot, or something red with undertones. No need to throw the baby away with the bath water.

This one is good for families, probably better for those with adult children instead of actual babies, but I don’t think cooked wine has much of an impact as far as alcohol goes. It won’t exactly get your kids half cut. In addition, also a great dish to impress that special someone on a special or normal night.

Romance has never been so easy. Chicken + Wine = Delicious.

My Tomato Sauce

So here’s something original. Before I begin, full credit goes to my mum for introducing this to me, my brother for giving me a couple pro-pointers, and the Edinburgh friends who gave me constructive feedback behind my back that all my cooking tastes the same. Believe me, if you could make something like this you’d probably also get obsessed. And so we begin.

Requirements
– Tinned tomato, chopped or peeled depends on preference
– Salt and Pepper to taste
– Sugar, two teaspoons
– Oregano, probably a couple teaspoons.
– Cumin for earthiness, probably a teaspoon
– Paprika for fire, probably a teaspoon and a half
– Garlic, as much as you can bear, crushed.
– An onion, mid-sized chopped small is good.
– Vinegar, a few drops.
– Balsamic vinegar, a few fewer drops

You may have noticed that this is the least precise recipe in the world. Truth be told, this recipe has a history and needs to be learned and personalised. Sometimes you’ll eat with a spice addict, looking at you Kari, add a couple blasts of chilli powder. Some people don’t like garlic, and you’ll need to chop it smaller or take it out entirely. Some people can’t stand the earthiness of cumin so you need to use it sparingly.

The point is, I can’t tell the future. I tend to freepour all of the above ingredients from their powdered sachets, minus the garlic and onions which I chop then fry. It’s all to taste, because life is to taste.

Cleaning Up

I hate cleaning up, but sometimes it’s necessary. It’s good manners for the eater to clean up for the cook. So, this is an acknowledgements section to all the people who’ve given me their skills, and whom I could not attribute above. My dad for his mean omlettes, strongly advise everyone to learn omlettes as they are very quick, easy, and nutritious. My dear friend Cat for her butterfly chicken recipe, essentially you butterfly chicken (chop it along the middle and open it), cram it with cheese, then close it. Roisin for telling me some of the tips to veganise dishes (not veganised here as I don’t know all the ingredients). And my fiancée (with two e’s) who cooks at least half of the meals and smiles approvingly at the other half.

 

How to Make Goals That Stick

Today I want to talk to you about goals. It’s not exactly my best skill. I’m more of an improvisational on the fly, off the wall kind of guy. For a long time, I figured things happened to me, I just went with it and it worked. Then I noticed that that was a fairly passive way to interpret my life. True, I have many advantages that cannot be ignored. I’m from a good family and we didn’t have major money worries throughout s good bit of my life. Yeah I was hit by a van when I was young but I’m mercifully totally fine. Still, even with these advantages and luck some part of the success I’ve gained is probably down to my actions. I put that down to setting mid-term goals and sticking to them. Here is how you do it, in three five steps. Following that, find my own story of how well I’ve kept to my plans.

1. Make a specific target, make sure it’s reasonable and possible
2. Set your timeline. Six months is good for most tasks.
3. Check it halfway through. If possible, try and overperform since if you are two-thirds done at the half you are golden.
4. Find some way of remembering it. My last set of aims are pretty memorable, as you will see below, but if it’s more abstract make a note or visualise it in some way.
5. Be prepared to work towards it as nothing comes totally free of effort.

I took the photo above on the 29th of December last year. Coming back from my parents’ house I realised I had a few decisions to make. My goal setting is based upon having a general idea of what I want to be the case in six months, then narrowing it down to specifics. There were three major questions. Where was I going to live? How would I convince my girlfriend to marry me? What was I going to do for money? I knew she loved me because she’d been saying it for a few months at this point. I also knew I loved her, I’d been saying it about the same amount of time plus a couple months because I’m impetuous like that. With cards like these, it could either be a matter of time or it’d need a little massaging. I’m good at massaging.

So I set some goals in my head. I’d ideally like to live with her. Fortunately, we’d been talking sbout this before we separated for Christmas with our families. It would take some time to find a flat in the city. It has a very quick rentals market, but half of them are for ‘next week’ or ‘ASAP’. We talked and decided we’d take our time. She would leave her place as she had to give a month’s notice, while I’d never met my landlord and had no contract so we felt there was a possibility to hang around for a while in case we didn’t find the right place. I made myself available to visit as many places as possible, leaving my evenings free for flat viewings. It took a while to find the right place but eventually we managed it and gave my landlord a very short notice period. He kept the deposit.

Oh well, you win some and you lose some.

My other idea was that I wanted a ring on my girlfriend’s finger within 6 months. There was a challenge to this which was outwith my control as she had said she didn’t want a total surprise proposal. She had to give me permission. It’s a quite rotten trick as it limited my scope for dumb romantic gestures, but it was a blessing that I expected when I did ask she would say yes in all but the most appalling conditions. I left her stewing for several months after she gave me permission, partially because good rings are expensive and partially because I wanted it to be a little bit surprising. In the end I used a placeholder ring. We’re millenials. We’re broke and we’re killing diamonds. Part of my current 6 month plan is to get the funds together for the proper ring. We shall see. I am good at plans.

Which brings me onto the third question. What was I to do for money? My first option, and the one that I’d prefer, was to continue as I was. I adore teaching English as a foreign language but a major money earner it ain’t. Unless you go to China or some select countries in South East Asia, I hear Vietnam is a gold mine, but I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t want me to leave her for months just to pay for her ring and our subsequent wedding. I have looked at building a schedule with more high earning classes and fewer cancelling time wasters, but it isn’t perfect. What I’m saying here is that this goal has thus far not been met because I haven’t adequately prepared myself to meet it.

This is another problem of goals and why so many people have trouble with them. Goals are great, but what if you’re happy where you are in one area? For six months I’ve struggled to reconcile my need for money with my income stream. Make no mistake, I’m a lot more comfortable this year than I was last year. Basics are covered with a bit left over for special extras, but weddings are not just special extras like a weekend in Hungary or a holiday to Croatia. (I understand if that sounds petulant. For reference, I live in continental Europe and buses cost next to nothing).

And so I have a choice to make on how to answer the money issue. There are opportunities in Prague that may prove fruitful but I will have to actually go out and seek them. I must do this without sentimentality. I must set a specific target, and probably a monthly one would help too, and throw almost everything at it. Potentially I will need to sacrifice something I like a lot in order to be with someone I love much more. As many plans as I may make, it seems an inescapable truth of life that we have to privilege some wants over others. I will always privilege her.

Feeling a little sappy and afraid he’s giving too much away, the writer of this piece is concerned that chatting so often about his fiancée may mean he runs low on killer lines for his vows. Thankfully, he’s evidently a sexy hotbed of ideas as he’s now on day 16 and post 18 of his 31 day post-every-day-of-the-month challenge. Do forgive the bragging, but here is a goal I set myself and I’m so far doing it exceptionally well. Do follow and tell me how you keep goals, it’s lonely on this soapbox!