Here Comes the

 

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Recently I finished a read through of the great work of Alasdair Gray, Lanark, an astounding book that everyone should read at least once, and cannot help feeling like the titular character in one important area. The first and last thing he does in the book is look towards the sky.

First post of a new year and already it is turning into a shitshow of piss scandals, possible Russian interference in elections and collusion by the incoming POTUS, Theresa May leaning towards a Hard Brexit which may precipitate a second Scottish Independence Referendum, big things in Northern Ireland as a corruption scandal threatens the peace process, and other newsworthy events of colossal importance, but let me take a brief minute to instead talk to you about the sun. That big hot thing.

Several of my most important decisions are based on it. I remember when I first arrived in this city. Nothing to do but figure out how to get in touch with my friend, find my hostel, and map out the region in my mind. My first steps were all guided by where the light was. A choice between a sunny street and a gloomy one.

It’s easy to forget that it’s up there illuminating and radiating, but it fills me with hope that for at least a few hours a day we get some natural light. It’s especially comforting on cold days. While it’s often not great in the morning, either burning the day into existence or shrouded by dark clouds behind an impenetrable horizon, today it felt like some consolation that in my home town it would not rise for another half hour.

The sun is a great seasonal worker. It puts in 8 hours in Winter and 16 at its height. Inconsistent, sure, but it gets the job done. Unfortunately, our world is not set to maximise this time.

I remember the darkest days of Winter in Scotland. For some reason, I always ended up in especially dark places for work. On the shortest day of 2014 I think I maybe saw it for 15 minutes. 2015 found me in some huge warehouse style building for much of the day, maybe half an hour of natural light. Last year, by this standard, was a huge success. I must’ve seen the sun for an hour or more.

So, I hear you getting bored back there, what is the point of this all then? It’s a pretty valid question and I wish I could tell you but since I can’t, here instead is a take away offering: Find something important but mundane. Focusing on that will make you far happier than decrying all the bad shit going on. Bad shit will go on for bad shit seems to always go on. If you look at your mundane but important thing though you can at least sometimes acknowledge that not everything is terrible.

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!

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.

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.

A Log of Smells

it is morning and the air is crisp until tobacco smoke fills it and I once again break my stop. It’s happening more frequently, I need to find a new way.

I spray some Issey Miyake and all feels well. It is my trademark aftershave and has been for several years now. It recalls my brother, who bought it for me, as well as good memories of nights and days that I won’t forget.

Half 6, out the door. The air is crisp again, but tempered by dog shit, cigarette butt. I light anew.

Down into the metro. The smells are clean, as sanitising fluid on concrete should smell. The lady who normally greets me with ‘dobry dano, hezky den’ as she hands me a copy of the metro is not here today. I hope she is well. My nose is overtaken by the oil of he escalators, the engine of the metro.

A Coffee Shop. Int. Day. Freshly crushed coffee beans, hot milk, sugar caramelising as I drop a packet into mine. It is good. The lesson goes well.

Half 8, got a real hunger for chicken, head to my favourite fast food. But I wish I had more. At 8:43, I realise I left my passport at home.

 

 

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The Colonel Sends His Regards

 

Rush home, as fast as transport and my sizeable legs can carry me. Ignore smell. More important I arrive as on time as possible.

Arrived further out than I have gone before. More tobacco smell, but also some open grass. It’s good that in the middle of a business park they find space for something natural. Otherwise, we all might lose our minds.

Class finished for 5 hours, to the school. Spend a while drinking coffee, instant with a drop of cold water to minorly improve flavour, and reading stuff before afternoon cancels and I invite Maura out for a drink. Frothy, hoppy, flavourful Kozel before the tram home.

All is human bodily aroma and grey.

Back at the flat, say hi to a baby. Give up lift to baby’s parents until 1st floor, where I get in. The Father warns me it smells like someone who hasn’t washed for a week. Hearing him, I get in to a gust of disgusting dog odour.

The bouquet of the city.

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.

Snapshots from an Unloved Part of Prague

Without question, it is easy to see why nobody talks big of Hostivar or the area around Skalka. Where it is not industrial it is residential, with simple 2 story houses or single floor bungalows. Here are a few reasons to be happy.


Taking the 125 back from my last morning class. The sun high, blazing hot on my back and arms. I had tasted tobacco which slipped out the end of my cigarette, as I have recently been smoking them sans filter due to laziness in buying more. It tasted bitter, but it had been a great morning.

On the bus, I positioned myself on a chair then moved closer to the window to catch the rays – greenhouse style. I will be tanned soon.

My movement, stretch, and the silly face I pulled caught the attention of an old lady sitting opposite.

That’s how I made a friend.

She said something in Czech and I responded in as much as I knew to explain that I did not, in fact, understand Czech. I can at least apologise for the fact.

At every turn of the bus, I stretched so as to reach the sun, and he old lady smiled at my efforts. She gave me a sweet. It was a hard boiled liquorice and I thanked her.

A tale of the universal language of smiles and a love of hard boiled but sweet things.


It is morning and I am heading into my first class. On the bus, a mother is feeding her son pieces of banana. His little blonde head and excited face pleased me greatly.

I too am excited at the prospect of bananas.


Something I have learned teaching English is that everyone has their own particular topic that you can ask them about and they will talk for minutes at a time with no prompting. For some, it is their work. For some it is international development. For some, it is ethics. For mothers, their favourite topic is often their children.

One-to-one class. Revising vocabulary from previous lessons and checking how well she has remembered it. We read an article and have a bit of a discussion. She has less to say on he subject than in previous weeks.

I ask her about her weekend plans and her face lights up. She talks about her children and a competition they are in. She explains the competitions history, and it’s logistics, and why her children play that sport. She is happy and is producing great English.

Sometimes, you just need to know what people want to talk about.


When I get off my last bus, I rush down the stairs of metro station, frequently pulling up my trousers as I appear to have lost an inch or two in waist while here, probably all that rushing, and I jump onto the metro with a good deal of time to spare and nothing to do.

Something more special happened last I was in that station. The doors were closing, I abandoned hope, but the guy in front of me, denim-clad, big hair, bigger beard, jams himself in the middle of the doors. The doors reluctantly open. I thank him. We share a laugh.

And we go on with our days.

I wonder if these people know how much better they made mine?

Self-sufficient by August

I saw the stars last night. I was in Riegerovy Sady with my friends, Kacie, Teddy and Keegan, when I looked into the night and realised I could draw constellations. It turns out this city does, indeed, contain other worlds.

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Speaking of other worlds, the city of Prague was delighted to receive an invasion of swamp monster looking statues. This one is particularly cultured and found near to the theatre. It’s squidish features appeared to have few effects on the local populace, but I suppose this is why one needs an eye which is unused to such things. Edinburgh only has statues of various tyrants and eighteenth-century philosophers. We do not commemorate our alien visitations so obviously – the parliament building notwithstanding.

In earlier posts I may or may not have mentioned tackling the new currency. It’s a difficult thing, my mind used to measuring things in their pound weight and figuring out their utility that way, but the koruna definitely has a different feudalistic quality. The Czechs don’t even have a monarchy but measure it in crowns for tradition’s sake – the worst reason for doing anything in my book but to each their own. As it turns out, measuring things in crowns is not nearly so difficult as I expected. Just budget by how many hours it took to get however many crowns and go from there. Due to budgetary constraints, another pet peeve, I should finally be fully self-sufficient by August.

A keen lesson for anyone who goes abroad and lives like a millionaire tourist for several months as that is what their savings permit; spend a little more frugally and watch your cash flow as reserves are exhaustible and most every employment in the world does not pay you for over a month. It’s basic information but somehow I always forget.

The good news is with a little talent at making friends and a lot of positive vibrations, the world will dance to your command. And those stars, your fellow stars, my fellow stars, we shall be together.

Back in the Action

I have been back in Prague a little over a week since my trip home to Edinburgh, a renegade flurry of seeing friends, avoiding paying any money for drinks as Prague prices have ruined me, shady dealings, going to a poetry thing, and imagining what kind of life would actually be possible there. Important to say I think I’ve made the right decision in coming back.

Besides the obvious facts of missing my parents and friends, and the incipient start of that glorious Festival, there is one more thing I missed about the capital of Scotland. In a world where stuff gets bigger and bigger, villages become towns, cities become mega-cities, Edinburgh retains a kind of small-scale charm. It is far wider than it is tall. Though it has several dominating natural features, these are not overpowering. The buildings gracefully curl around the edges of cliffs and perch gently atop the ridges and hills left by volcanos which were torn apart by glaciers. Anyway, awful for tangents, what I miss are the stars.

There are no stars in central Prague. There is a well-run public transport system. But no stars. There is a wealth of culture and entertainment. But no stars. There are hundreds of churches, museums, gorgeous squares. But no stars. There is a river and a castle. No stars.

I’d taken this for granted until one night back in Edinburgh. Walking back from the centre, the chips in my hand smothered in salt n sauce, I took a trip by the canal. It is dark. The path is moderately lit. As long as no dickhead cyclists act like idiots on a mission in the dark with no lights on, it is perfectly safe for a tipsy traveller to make their way. The canal waters are still. They reflect the streetlamps on the bridges above, the lights attached to appartment buildings, too. But the stars to which I referred were not merely a reflection of this image, no. I looked up, and there they were.

An uncountable number of stars forming patterns above.

I stood a while and thought a bit. That Edinburgh sky. The position of each of those ever-burning fires, which would take us millennia to discover were gone, as they would nevertheless shine. Those stars which made the deep-fried-potato-with-chippy-sauce-eating author stand still. Where less than a mile from the deserted but fully lit city centre, on a weekday, there is not enough light pollution to blot out those celestial… diamonds.

But a single incidence of shock at being able to see the spheres is not enough to keep me there right now. I must move forward. I must stabilise my life here. I must try everything I can to make my way in the world and prove that I can do it, and that my choices are not vain fancy but actually meticulously plotted points on an upward trajectory. If I cannot find the Prague stars, I must become one.