Thursday, January 21, 2010


While lying in bed last night and enjoying the recollection of watching Liverpool finally finding a semblance of form and beating Spurs (God bless NOVA Sport), I found myself in one of those pleasant half-awake/half-dreaming frames of mind in which it suddenly occurred to me that I had seen Charlie (see previous posting) before somewhere. One swift Google search later and here we have not one candidate, but two. A third possibility might be Montmorency, the dog from Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, but enough is enough.

First up is the beast who was on so many of the old 78 rpm records my dad used to have when I was a kid and who I found here:

A bit chubbier, perhaps, and, in my admittedly jaundiced view, not nearly as handsome, but the colour scheme is, ha ha, spot on, especially round the ears. And here, in homage mode, is the other, Gromit of Wallace & Gromit fame, who I found here:

So it seems that my mutt has something of a pedigree after all. But I am not at all sure that I will be able to get him to pose for something like these; perhaps we could put an iPod on him...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Many years ago, when I lived in Whitstable, Kent, the landlord of my local pub once told me: "Simon, anyone who says you can't buy love has never bought a dog." It's one of the truest things I've ever heard.

Ten months ago, on a Sunday, our dog died at the age of thirteen and a half. Sigmund aka Sigi aka Smrdisaurus Rex aka a whole lot of other names of varying levels of daftness (no self-respecting Czech has less than half a dozen variants on their name, however prosaic it may be) was an Irish terrier. He cost 1000 Czech crowns and he repaid that a millionfold with all the pleasure and happiness he gave. He was exceedingly lively in his youth, in his old age he had a pretty powerful fragrance, he never got laid in the whole of his life, and he was greatly loved. It rained the day we buried him; it was a really bad day all round. Here he is:

A few weeks ago, some friends in the village called us. Did we want a dog that was staying with them? He'd been rescued from a guy who apparently just kept him locked up in a shed the whole time and they had hoped their own dog, an American bulldog bitch called Lara, would be happy to have him around as a companion. They were disappointed in that hope and now he needed a home. Initially we said no; we weren't ready for a new dog just yet. Then they called again; they'd advertised him and nobody had shown interest, so, with heavy hearts, they were going to have to take him to the shelter. We went round to their place 'to have a look' but it was pretty obvious what was going to happen from Lenka's first words when they opened the door: "Where's our dog, then?"

And so we are now sharing our home with Charlie, a two-year-old smooth-haired fox terrier (yes, another terrier). He cost nothing and so all the pleasure and happiness will be pure profit. He is exceedingly lively, with a Houdini-like ability to escape from the garden and a kind of four-legged pogo when he gets excited (which is often), and I don't think the neighbour's cat is ever going to come and visit again. We're working on the battery of nicknames; this is him.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


When I was at school, I was generally pretty good at geography. One thing that stumped me then, and still does now, was the statement in the textbook that we used that the Canadian Shield got its name because of its obvious resemblance to, well, a shield. I didn't get it then and I don't get it now. I can see the resemblance to, say, a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle in a state of semi-completion or perhaps the lungs of a heavy smoker, but in shield terms it just doesn't do it for me.

That's not to say that countries don't look like things. Well, at least some of them. Indonesia, with its 13,000+ islands, would doubtless present opportunities for an advanced chaos theorist, and Paul Theroux thinks Great Britain looks like a witch riding a pig, but he's a best-selling writer and thus no doubt has access to very good drugs. The rest of us are left with more mundane similarities. Like Italy being a boot - though not a football boot; look at that heel. No, it's a fetishist's boot. Chile is clearly a rough-cut walking stick or perhaps a
Twiglet (Google it if you don't know and are really interested), and, persisting with the culinary approach, Sri Lanka is definitely a nice fresh naan bread.

So what about the country I live in? From 1919 till 1938, Czechoslovakia definitely looked like either a heavily pregnant tadpole or a particularly well-nourished sperm. Then they cut off part of its tail after the Second World War and gave it to the USSR and it's now in Ukraine, which, incidentally, looks a bit like a tyrannosaurus in the right light. And then in 1993 Slovakia got given to the Slovaks and we are the Czech Republic. And we resemble a fish; to be more precise, an ornamental goldfish, one of those jobs with more fins and tail than a car built in Detroit in the 1950s. The head' s on the left, with the mouth about to swallow a place called Tischenreuth, and the tail has its epicentre somewhere round Ostrava; we see it in a three-quarter view as it swims away towards North-Western Europe, a metaphor if ever there was.

You don't see it? Try some of this and all will be revealed. I promise.

Friday, January 1, 2010


Having managed precisely two posts on this blog in the last two years, I have decided it's make-or-break time and that if I can't make a slightly better fist of this in 2010 than hitherto then it's time to knock it on the head. So here goes.

Like many of the good citizens of this fine country, I like nothing better than a glass or two of good Czech beer after I finish work for the day. Or sometimes even before or during, but that's not the issue here. The issue is that pubs, at least in some parts of town, seem to be turning into an endangered species. The reason? Lack of customers? In this country - you've got to be kidding! Pressure for healthy living? Forget it. No, it's the curse of the goddamn herna bar.

I was told not long ago that Prague has more of these places (a herna translates as 'gambling room', according to Fronek, the nonpareil of Czech-English dictionaries) than the whole of Germany, which is a truly scary thought. These places are generally open 24/7 and add whole new dimensions to the word 'sordid'; smoke-filled, full of bleeping fruit machines and the like, many of them offering free drinks to the saps who go in and lose on the machines, and they are EVERYWHERE. From the railway station in Olomouc to the building where I work is two stops on the tram or a 10-minute walk, and at the last count there were NINE of them on that short road. The alternatives, if you want a beer, are few and far between.

It would be bad enough if that was all there was to the story, but what's even worse is that it's not just a question of new places opening up but, sad to say, older and better places are going down the herna route as well. In an earlier post on this blog I sang the praises of a new home-brew pub that had opened up in the town, the Svatovaclavsky Pivovar; let's scratch that. Last time I stuck my head through the door I was greeted by a phalanx of gambling machines and a distinct dearth of tables, beer, customers etc. Sad.

Next time I'll find something more cheerful to write about. If there is a next time...