Thursday, May 24, 2007



National anthems tend not to do modesty very well. Germany is simply above all, the French have their foreign cohorts, hordes of slaves, impure blood, and ferocious soldiers, and the British one is all about scattering enemies, knavish tricks, and rebellious Scots getting crushed. The Czech one is pretty pastoral by comparison, being full of murmuring streams in meadows, trees whispering among the rocks, and so on, but towards the end it does tell us that the country is an earthly paradise for the eyes.


And, it should add, for the mouth, especially if that mouth belongs to a beer lover. Czech beer is renowned the world over and the citizens regularly occupy top place in the global consumption table. You could always get some of the beers outside the country - my decision to come here in 1989 was partly induced by a bottle of Budvar beer (the real stuff, not the coloured mineral water they produce in the Benighted States) - and now there's a lot more that gets exported. I was in a pub in London not long ago where you could get Zubr and Litovel, two of our local beers, albeit at outrageous prices; you can pretty much have a bath in the stuff here for the price of a pint there.


But it's not all good news. Veteran drinkers love to moan that it's not as good as it used to be, and although there's a Czech saying that any government that raises the price of beer is doomed, prices have been sneaking up, to the extent that beer is now almost as expensive as it was in Britain thirty years ago. And although the family silver has been very explicitly not put up for sale, not all the smaller breweries have survived. The one in Olomouc, opened in 1897, didn't quite manage to hang round long enough to reach its centenary, for example. Its flagship beer bore the same name as the patron saint of the country and the man to whom our cathedral is dedicated - Václav.


Last year, however, a beery phoenix rose from the ashes, as the Svatováclavský pivovar, the first home brew pub in Olomouc, opened its doors in the city centre, a mere hop, skip, and jump from the square. They do a range of beers, including the traditional 'desítka' and 'dvanáctka' (ten and twelve degrees Balling respectively) but also a wheat beer and one with cherries, which isn't nearly as disgusting as it might sound. And the food is good too. And it's approaching lunchtime. And it's time to bring this post to an end...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Football again. I wrote here a little over two months ago that Sigma Olomouc would not go down to the Czech Second Division because there are “enough teams below them that are even worse”. I was right, but God, it was close. Sigma’s less-than-glorious record in the twelve games played this spring:

HOME: Played 7, Won 1, Drawn 2, Lost 4

AWAY: Played 5, Won 0, Drawn 2, Lost 3

However, two teams go down, two of them, believe it or not, managed to be even worse than Sigma over the course of the season, and it’s those two that go down. So, farewell, at least for one season, to FC Slovácko and Marila Příbram.

FC Slovácko are no strangers to trouble and controversy, having got into deep trouble during a corruption investigation a few seasons ago – there are many who claim that Czech football is rotten to the core in this respect. They survived but emerged with a changed name, something that happens all the time in this league.

Marila Příbram, too, have got form in both these departments. They were deeply involved in an affair that resulted in then high-riding Drnovice ending up being relegated to the Third Division not so long ago, and nobody is going to miss them much either, and not just because of the dull and negative style of football they play (15 goals scored in 29 games in the 2006-7 season, for example).

In better times, as Dukla Prague, they won the old Czechoslovak League eleven times and competed regularly in European football, but they were never popular – Half Man Half Biscuit may have immortalized them in music, but they were much too closely associated with the Communist regime for the tastes of most people in this country. Once that regime went, the writing was on the wall. I saw them play at home against Baník Ostrava in 1990. In the stadium there were a few hundred old codgers nodding off and dreaming of the good old days, a thousand or so orcs from Ostrava rampaging round the stadium at will, and me and my mate Mark cowering somewhere between the two.

Later they shipped out to Příbram, a town to the south-west of Prague, and gradually metamorphosed via being Dukla Příbram into the unloved bunch they now are in rather the same way as the Crazy Gang of Wimbledon wound up among the concrete cows as the MK Dons. Marila, I believe, manufacture paint. Watching their products dry is infinitely more stimulating than watching the team play; I’m glad they’ve gone.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


As you might expect from the inhabitants of a country which has lengthy borders with Germany and Austria, Czechs are very fond of eating all sorts of pork products. Go to any supermarket or butcher's shop and you will find not just lots of pieces of dead pig au naturel but also a splendid variety of ham, salami, smoked meat, cold cuts, and much much more.

There's even something called a 'zabijačka', roughly translated as a pig slaughter, which is a big social event. People buy a piglet and fatten it up and then, when it's good and big, someone comes and kills it for them and they make a big party out of the whole thing, with family and friends all joining in and cooking and smoking and salting everything but the squeak. There is, of course, plenty of eating and drinking involved on the day. Being a hypocritical English city boy who likes his meat in anonymous chunks rather than carrying reminders of where it comes from, I've never been to one of these, but a mate from Wales did, in 1990. He's been a vegetarian ever since.

One aspect of this orgy of porkiness that does rather disappoint me, though, is in the realm of sausages, which may strike you as pretty weird when you consider that in Britain, where I come from, what passes for a sausage is often more like a condom filled with brown bread. True enough, but it is really hard to find decent sausages for grilling here; what they go for instead is ones that you heat up in water, which are all well and good but somehow don't quite hit the spot.

However, one area which doesn't disappoint is how they advertise them. The jolly couple at the top were on the side of a delivery van I spotted in South Bohemia, and, while very cute, they pale into insignificance in comparison to this guy:

He is the human face of a pork products company from Kostelec, a town in the south of the country,and you can see his face on delivery vans and billboards all over the place. While Czechs see him just as a symbol of a culinary tradition, I, and many others, are startled by his obvious homoeroticism; a gay friend I showed a tin of the sausages to almost fainted on the spot. "Oh my God!" was his comment when he recovered. Just look at that facial expression...

I've always been quite a fan of the guy - there's something in me that just loves blatancy - and so you can imagine my joy when a Czech newspaper, Lidové Noviny, used him as the illustration for an article they ran last weekend about the nation's diet being less than perfect in health terms. Here he is in their version:

Enjoy your meal...